Russia’s Federation Council yesterday adopted, by a margin of 110 to 14 with 7 abstentions, a statement and a resolution claiming Ukraine’s city of Sevastopol for Russia. The statement refers to Sevastopol as "part of Russia’s territory," accuses Ukraine of "aiming to tear it away," and calls for observance of Russia’s territorial integrity and security interests in resolving the problem of Sevastopol’s status. The resolution condemns "Ukraine’s refusal to recognize Sevastopol’s Russian status" and mandates the formation of a Russian commission, involving the presidency, the cabinet of ministers, the Federation Council, and the Duma, to draft a law on Sevastopol’s status.
Both documents also include language about the Russian and Ukrainian peoples’ "brotherhood" and the need for good-neighborly relations and "civilized" negotiations. The chamber accepted the thesis of its member and initiator of the documents, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who stated in his presentation that Russia has an historically inalienable title to Sevastopol, that legally the city never became part of Ukraine in either Soviet, Russian, or international law, and that Moscow must get Ukraine to acknowledge the existence of a territorial dispute as a start toward resolving it. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, Western agencies, December 5)
The Duma has already adopted at least two resolutions claiming Sevastopol for Russia. Such resolutions are nonbinding, and Russia’s executive branch has until now distanced itself from them by stating the "official position" that Russia lays no territorial claims to Ukraine. However, yesterday’s resolutions appear to mark a turning point and should force Kiev and Western governments to face up to the full implications of this development.
The Federation Council consists in large part of President Boris Yeltsin’s appointees, the great majority of whom evidently endorsed the territorial claim. Until fairly recently, the Kremlin was using that critical mass in the Federation Council to soften or bury such initiatives. This time, the move went ahead amid indications of executive branch consent. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on December 3 discussed the issue in terms similar to those used by Luzhkov and the nationalists, invoking "Sevastopol’s soil packed with Russian bones" and urging Ukraine to negotiate with Russia over Sevastopol proceeding from the city’s legal history. (Itar-Tass, December 3-4) During the latest rounds of Russian-Ukrainian negotiations on the Black Sea Fleet (late October-early November) Chernomyrdin and senior members of Yeltsin’s staff cited parliamentary initiatives regarding Sevastopol as a lever to pressure Kiev into concessions.
Luzhkov is a quasi-"liberal" reformer and at the same time a consistent promoter of Russian irredentism in Crimea and hegemonic goals in other parts of the "near abroad." His position indirectly answers Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma’s recent, rhetorical question as to where Russian moderates and democrats really stand on policy toward the newly independent states. Recently reelected overwhelmingly as mayor of Moscow, and virtually safe from nationalist pressure in that relatively liberal constituency, Luzhkov does not need to instrumentalize nationalist issues for staying in office. Even if Luzhkov concluded that he needs to emphasize such issues as a post-Yeltsin presidential hopeful, his action and the vote in Russia’s Federation Council yesterday prompted Ukrainian deputies in Kiev to reflect that "Russian democracy tends to stop at the Ukrainian border." (UNIAN, December 5)
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