Thursday, September 15, 2016

Baltic Recovery of Independence a Model for Crimea, US Ambassador to Kyiv Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – Crimea will be returned to Ukrainian rule in much the same way and for many of the same reasons Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania regained their independence because the West never recognized their occupation by the USSR as legitimate and because the three peoples remained committed to national sovereignty, Marie Yovanovitch says.

            The US ambassador to Kyiv tells Kyiv’s “Pravda” newspaper today that “we believe that in the end, Crimea will be returned to Ukraine. But when is alsoa correct question. Possibly,” she continues, “my answer won’t seem a happy one, but the majority in the West see this process as analogous to the positive example of the Baltic countries.”

             “Over the course of many years,” Yovanovitch says, “these states were included in the Soviet Union, but the US never recognized their annexation. In Washington throughout this period continued to work the diplomatic missions [of the three countries] and in the end succeeded in getting their independence back.”

            That took five decades, her interviewer pointed out, who then asked whether Crimea might be returned sooner.  “On the whole,” the ambassador says, “the world is now moving much more quickly. And therefore I also consider that Baltic history perhaps is not the best example.”

            “But the example of the Baltic countries is important, Yovanovitch argues, because it shows that if people feel themselves strong and have the support of the international community, then in the end, [this] history will be completed as it should be.”

            Like many other Western governments, the US has said since Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea that it will never recognize the forcible incorporation of the Ukrainian peninsula into Russian, but Ambassador Yovanovitch’s words are the closest yet to a declaration by a senior American official of something like the non-recognition policy the US had about the Baltics.

            Her words bring the US into line with the position the EU adopted in March 2016, and they are most welcome to this author who not only worked for many years on non-recognition policy with respect to the Baltic countries but who called for a non-recognition policy regarding Crimea in April 2014 ( 

            Three aspects of Ambassador Yovanovitch’s remarks are especially important given her invocation of the Baltic precedent and implicitly the Stimson Doctrine on which non-recognition policy was based:

·         First, non-recognition policy does not constitute a promise by the US or the West more generally to “liberate” anyone or that the return of Crimea to Ukraine will happen anytime soon.

·         Second, as in the Baltic case, US non-recognition policy with respect to Crimea does not preclude the development of relations with Moscow. Baltic non-recognition policy lasted as long as it did precisely because it allowed that kind of flexibility without a sacrifice of principle

·         And third, it lays the burden for the return of Crimea to Ukraine precisely on the peoples directly involved, the Crimeans and the Ukrainians. US non-recognition policy encouraged Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians to feel that they enjoyed the support of the international community, but they liberated themselves by their disciplined approach. The ambassador is implicitly suggesting that the Crimeans and Ukrainians must pursue a similar path.

But there is one issue that the ambassador did not address and that both Ukrainians and Crimeans should focus on: what will non-recognition policy involve in this case? The Baltic countries were states with which the US had diplomatic relations prior to the Soviet Anschluss, and the implementation of non-recognition policy reflected that.

As the ambassador noted, it involved in the first instance the continuation of relations with the diplomatic representatives of the pre-war governments with all the features of such ties, including national day statements and the like. It also included prohibiting visits by senior American officials while in office to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

What will US non-recognition policy contain with respect to Crimea? Few expected the Soviet occupation of the three Baltic countries to last as long as it did. Most thought it would be ended by the decisions of a peace conference after World War II, a conference that never in fact took place.

And as welcome as the maintenance or even tightening of sanctions against the Putin regime would be, the reality is that if Russian occupation of Crimea lasts for some time, there will be enormous pressure in Europe and the US to lift them.  What Ukrainians and their friends need to know as soon as possible is how a non-recognition policy will work in that event.

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