An article in the December 14 issue of the Russian Defense Ministry’s organ Krasnaya Zvezda hints at the possibility of territorial claims with respect to Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Under the seemingly predestined (unless pseudonymous) byline, Yaroslav Yastrebov (Yastrebov means “hawkish”), the article purports to cite the late Ukrainian Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil as having predicted shortly before his death in March 1999 that “if [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin resigns, our borders will be in danger of being redrawn.” One year after Yeltsin’s resignation, the article bluntly warns Ukraine against “caring for rivalry with Russia more than it cares about Ukrainian sovereignty in the Crimea,” with the implication that the latter can be conditionally secured if Ukraine defers to Russian interests in the Black Sea.
Specifically, the article targets the Ukraine-NATO Distinctive Partnership for having placed NATO in the position of “Kyiv’s political-military ally.” And it singles out the Verkhovna Rada’s Chairman Ivan Plyushch for praising that relationship. That reference constitutes, however, an indirect warning to the real architects of Ukraine’s relationship with NATO–to wit, President Leonid Kuchma and his closest advisers, such as Volodymyr Horbulin and Yevhen Marchuk.
Strikingly, Krasnaya Zvezda cites the history of Imperial Russia’s expansion in the Black Sea basin to justify contemporary Russia’s “strategic interests” in the Crimea, where a Russian fleet is based, and in the Turkish Straits to the south. “The Black Sea Fleet played a very important role in Russia’s forcing open the Turkish Straits and conquering the Black Sea’s Caucasus coast in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this regard, Russian interests clash with Turkish interests in the region. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Istanbul hopes that the international status of the Straits would be reconsidered, so that they become Turkish. The recent incident with the [unfinished ex-Soviet aircraft carrier] Varyag, which Turkey did not allow through the Straits, is another move toward making the Bosporus and Dardanelles Turkish.”
The officially inspired article goes on to accuse Turkey of “supporting the Crimean Tatar radicals” and maintaining a “palpable presence of the Turkish intelligence services in the Crimea.” These claims seek to build a case that Ukraine is unable or unwilling to enforce her sovereignty in the Crimea and that it allows NATO member Turkey to operate against Russian interests there. Krasnaya Zvezda cites the Communist chairman of the Crimean Supreme Soviet, Leonid Grach, as supporting these accusations during his recent visit to Moscow. And it further quotes Grach as calling for a “full-fledged solution of Crimean issues with Moscow’s support.” With that, the Russian military is signaling that it is in a position to work through local political forces in the Crimea and encourage separatism, if Kyiv remains unreceptive to Russian interests there.
Grach headed a Crimean Supreme Soviet delegation to Moscow on November 21-23. There, on behalf of the Crimea, he signed a set of agreements on cooperation with Russia’s National Reserve Bank and the Vneshekonombank (Foreign Trade Bank). The agreements include provisions to attract Russian capital investments to the Crimea, to empower those Russian state banks to administer some Crimean internal loans and otherwise to oversee Crimean banks. According to Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and to Crimean Prime Minister Serhy Kunitsyn–who is loyal to Ukraine–the Russian authorities interfered in Ukraine’s internal affairs by authorizing the state banks to sign those agreements. The financial-banking system in the Crimea forms a part of Ukraine’s. Grach, for his part, exceeded his powers on two counts: first, because the Crimean Autonomous Republic as a constituent part of Ukraine lacks the powers to sign agreements with foreign governments; and, second, because the financial issues which form the subject of those agreements are in any case within the competence of the executive branch, not the legislature.
Grach signed, moreover, an agreement of intent with Moscow mayor Yurii Luzhkov to start in 2001 the construction of a bridge over the Kerch Strait between the Crimea and Russia’s Krasnodar Krai. That, too, is an interstate matter within the competence of the central government in Kyiv.
Like Crimea’s Supreme Soviet, the Sevastopol City Soviet also has a Communist majority–an even heavier one of 70 to 75 percent at that. On December 15, the city soviet unilaterally resolved to introduce the Russian language as the official one in the city of Sevastopol. Under the resolution, Russian will henceforth function as the language of recordkeeping, communication among state and public bodies, management of enterprises, document circulation and public communications and announcements. The unilateral decision violates Ukrainian legislation both substantively and procedurally.
Ukrainian public associations in the city pointed out in a protest statement that the decision can not be construed as defense of the Russian language, inasmuch as Sevastopol has only one Ukrainian school out of sixty and only one Ukrainian-language newspaper–a monthly–compared with forty Russian-language newspapers. The move in fact aims to continue the policy of linguistic russification. The city authorities, moreover, authorized in early December the formation of a militia–self-styled as “Orthodox”–to counteract alleged Tatar Muslim “extremism.”
The convergence of the military newspaper’s warning, Grach’s moves in Moscow and the measures in Sevastopol suggest that Moscow may be preparing to orchestrate trouble through leftist, irredentism-prone groups on the peninsula as a means of pressure on the Ukrainian government (UNIAN, November 26, December 15, 18; Krasnaya Zvezda, December 14).
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