Crimea deal could herald peace between Russia and Ukraine

Transcript of video by Professor Stefan Hedlund on peace negotiations with Russia.

Why must Crimea top the agenda in any peace negotiations with Russia?

Professor Hedlund:

The common understanding is that since Russia refuses to hand back Crimea to its rightful owner, which is Ukraine, there is no real sense in talking about it. So the issue has been what is known in diplomatic parlance as ‘parked’, and we should instead focus on getting a solution in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine.

I think this is wrong, and for several reasons. Given that Russia refuses to even acknowledge that it is party to the conflict in Donbass it is very hard to get any talks together.

In Crimea, Russia is definitely acknowledging everything it has done – although it claims it was rightful – so Russia is at the table and we can start talking.

And if we get a deal on Crimea, that could be a back door into getting a deal on Donbass, and that in turn could get a back door into solving the problems of security order in Europe as a whole.

And add to that, I believe the structure of a deal in Crimea would be easier than the structure of a deal in Donbass because Crimea is more of an isolated problem.

What would a deal to unlock serious negotiations look like?

Professor Hedlund:

It would have to have several steps; the first would obviously concern sovereignty.

Russia will not hand Crimea back to Ukraine, that’s quite obvious. But instead of pursuing a bargaining strategy where you say ‘you have to do as we tell you’, a bargaining strategy could be formulated that creates maximum confusion by throwing in Kosovo, the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, South Ossetia, go back to the Helsinki Final Act.

If you throw as many cards as possible on the table, it generates a situation where you can bargain. Everybody can get off the table saying ‘I got something’. And I can make it look, to my home audience, like I got away with the win. And that is important.

And we should also remember that the Baltic States were annexed by the Soviet Union, but the West never recognised that formally. Still, it was possible to do business there and to deal with Moscow although we had this fundamental disagreement. So there is precedent there.

The second step would need to be the recognition that there is a win-win, and to convince the Russians that there is a win-win. And that is by trade and investment.

If we lift sanctions from anybody who comes even close to Crimea, which is the case now, and allow foreign investment and foreign business with Crimea both from outside and from Ukraine, then that would take a big load off the Russian Federal Budget, which would be very helpful. So via a business angle both sides could win. There are a lot of foreign businesses that would love to go into Crimea, with the resort areas and the offshore drilling prospects. So that’s an obvious second step.

The third step would need to be the recognition that Russia does have legitimate security interests in its naval bases in Sevastopol. Before the Yanukovych government collapsed, which triggered the crisis and subsequently the war in Ukraine, there was general recognition that Ukraine was non-aligned, and should remain non-aligned. And we should go back to that. And go back to guarantees that Russia has the naval base in Sevastopol for a long time into the future. That would defuse a lot.

If we could add some security guarantees that Ukraine would not shut down water and electricity supply to the bases in times of crisis, and maybe lift sanctions from anyone who wants to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait, so that Russia gets a connection to the Russian mainland. That would also create security on the Russian side.

So a deal comprising these components, I believe, would be acceptable for the Russians, and they should be acceptable for the West given the tremendous wins we could get out of it.

Given the current stance on sanctions, how likely is this scenario?

Professor Hedlund:

Oh, I don’t think it’s likely at all. I think Western politicians have locked themselves so hard into a confrontational stance with the Kremlin and Mr Putin, maintaining the fiction that they are going to force him to do what they want, that they’re not really ready to think outside the box.

Any talk of Crimea would be ‘you turn Crimea back to Ukraine or else’. The problem is, there is no ‘or else’ because we have taken all force options off the table so Russia knows it will get away with blue murder, and sanctions aren’t working.

So I don’t think this is something that will happen. But I think it is essential to show that there are options here. And its essential mainly because if we don’t do anything to unlock negotiations that will get Russia back to the table, then the alternative is simply frightening.

The war in Donbass is probably going to start again very soon, we’re going to have a ‘Minsk 3’, a new peace agreement that nobody believes in and meanwhile Ukraine is collapsing. And we cannot allow that to happen.

It’s high time now to start thinking about something that people have already said is unthinkable. Namely, start with Crimea, and go from Crimea move to the Donbass, and from there to get Russia back to the international bargaining table for a solution for getting us all back on track on cooperative security in Europe.

This is really important. The alternative is simply quite frightening.

Photo credit: dpa

  • The internationally recognised Ukraine territory of Crimea was annexed by Russia in March 2014.
  • The Ukraine armed forces were evicted from their bases on 19 March by Crimean protesters and Russian troops.
  • The military intervention and annexation took place in the aftermath of wide unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.
  • The annexation was condemned by many world leaders, as well as Nato.
  • It was seen as in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandumon sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, signed by Russia