On Monday, Russia made a non-serious offer to settle the ongoing Crimean crisis. The key points involved international recognition of Crimea’s annexation by Russia, military neutrality and federalization of Ukraine, and establishment of Russian as a second state language of Ukraine. The offer is not serious because it would give Russia far more than it has already won on the battlefield. If the status quo holds, all Russia gets is a hostile Ukraine, an occupied Crimea (and quite likely a Tatar revolt), and a terrible international reputation.
However, a negotiated settlement is desirable, and any negotiated settlement must be consistent with the bargaining power of the different parties. Russia has Crimea now. To get them to give it up will require real concessions. Fortunately, some of those concessions would be desirable in any case to the US, EU, and ordinary Ukrainians. The neutralization of Ukraine would benefit the US and EU by removing Russian anxieties about NATO troops on their borders and avoiding any military commitments to Ukraine, while Ukraine’s potential military contributions to European collective security would have been minimal, given their pathetic military. Federalization and establishment of Russian as a second official language would benefit ordinary Ukrainians by taking the deepest political controversies in the country off the legislative agenda, thereby making Russian speakers and Russian-Soviet identifiers more comfortable with a united and democratic Ukraine.
But what to do about Crimea? It is unthinkable that the US and EU would ever recognize that illegal, unfree, and fraudulent referendum. However, there are other alternatives that may be acceptable to all sides. One possibility is the “Danzigification” of Crimea. The key points of such a settlement might be as follows:
- Both Russia and Ukraine may continue to occupy the ports and military bases they occupied before the Russian invasion.
- Crimea would not have any of its own military forces and would be prohibited from military alliances.
- Crimea may enter a customs union with Russia or Ukraine, as its parliament may decide.
- Crimea will be internally autonomous and will pay taxes to neither Ukraine nor Russia.
- Crimea’s constitution will guarantee the individual rights and collective self-government of all its ethnic groups.
- After 10 years, Crimea will have the right to join Ukraine or Russia, or to become independent. The process would require a majority vote in parliament and a two-thirds vote of the voting population in an internationally supervised referendum.
In broad outlines, this settlement would give Russia much of what they wanted, but would require them to give up immediate annexation of Crimea, in return for which they would receive the changes in Ukraine’s constitution that they desire.
Whatever happens, the US government should give way to the European Union negotiators, who have a much more direct stake in the matter than does the US. The US does not really have a reason to care who governs Crimea, but it does have an interest in peaceful, open-trading relations with the EU, Ukraine, and Russia.