An interview with Marie Mendras by Felix Riefer in three parts.
/e-politik.de/: Putin is saying that Crimea was always Russian…
Mendras: which is not true. Crimean’s history is a history of imperial ins and outs.
But on December 1st 1991 a referendum was held on the whole territory of Ukraine to confirm the choice of independence. It was before the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The election was held in good honest transparent conditions with observers. A huge majority voted for independence, over 90 per cent. Even in the Crimea peninsula with all the ethnic Russians there was a majority for independence. Crimea is an autonomous republic within Ukraine, and has remained under the military control of Moscow. There was no threat against Russian interests in Crimea.
/e-politik.de/: What’s going to happen now?
Mendras: The peninsula is now a province of the Russian Federation, but in violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and in violation of international law. This annexation by Russia is not recognized by foreign countries.
It will be a tough time for the inhabitants of Crimea. Crimea is very poor and up until now had many ties to Ukraine concerning the supply with water, electricity or employment. Even if the bridge suggested by the Russian government is built, that will take two to three years and will cost quite a bit.
/e-politik.de/: What will happen to the Crimean Tatars?
Mendras: Most of them ignored the so-called referendum. Like many other ethnic groups they have been deported during Stalin times and came back to Crimea during the 1990th. Can one deprive them of their territory? Because that’s how they feel. They have been victims Moscow’s under Stalin and never wanted to be ruled by Moscow again. The Ukrainian authorities expect many Crimean Tatars to ask them to be resettled, because they fear mistreatment if they will stay in their native land.
/e-politik.de/: Will Crimea be enough for Putin? Wouldn’t it be simpler to go further with the annexation, maybe up to Odessa?
Mendras: As of now, no one knows. There was a first objective, which was to take over Crimea. And there was a second objective since November – to sabotage the peaceful movement of Maidan. Putin wanted to stop the democratisation trends inside Ukraine’s society and not let a new independent Europe oriented government in Kyiv develop. The fall of Yanukovych was not expected by Moscow, so Putin had to adjust to this new reality. That made him very nervous, angry, so that he has been led into an scenario of revenge. It is clear that Putin wants to make life very difficult for the interim government and for the people living in the eastern provinces of Ukraine. He will try to shed doubts on the upcoming presidential election of the 25th of May. He knows that, if the elections are held in chaotic conditions, maybe with subversion, with troubles, the legitimacy of the new president will be undermined.
So I think that in a way we are going from a first phase of a “Spetsoperatsiya” using the KGB language, “Special Operation Crimea”, to the second phase of the special operation: how to “undo” what has been accomplished in Ukraine, namely a peaceful revolution against a bad and corrupt regime. This is the second operation of Vladimir Putin and his close men like Sergei Ivanov or Igor Sechin are probably heading at.
/e-politik.de/: What can be done against this “special operation”?
Mendras: This is of course where Europe’s and America’s positioning and policies are most important. They have to support Ukraine to make sure that the Ukrainian state can be ruled and elections can be prepared, so that this transition period is not too long. And, of course, Europe, the United States, Canada, NATO, which are all very important partners of Ukraine, and the United Nations, have to put sufficient pressure on the Kremlin, so that the Kremlin cannot go further in terms of military aggression.
This is why the policies of sanctions, of NATO consultations and open security support for the Baltic States in Poland, are in my view extremely important to impose restraint and contain the Kremlin’s adventurous course. Because, as is often the case when a big state has so easily – in just a few weeks – taken a small territory, it may be of course tempted to take more, because it has been so easy. It is our responsibility, together with the Ukrainian legitimate authorities, to make sure that Vladimir Putin is deterred from destabilizing other parts of Ukraine.
This interview was held on the 20th of March in the French National Centre for International Affairs CERI, Paris.
Medras, Marie (2012): Russian Politics The Paradox of Weak State, Hurst, London, and Oxford University Press, New York,. 288 pages.
Images are copyright of Devyatka Site (Wikimedia Commons)