The Crimean parliament on Tuesday said it would declare itself independent if its residents approve a referendum to split off from Ukraine — an ambiguous legal maneuver that could offer a way of de-escalating the standoff between Russia and the West.
The Associated Press
KIEV, Ukraine — The Crimean parliament on Tuesday said it would declare itself independent if its residents approve a referendum to split off from Ukraine — an ambiguous legal maneuver that could offer a way of de-escalating the standoff between Russia and the West.
The referendum called for Sunday proposes seceding from Ukraine and becoming part of Russia. But the Crimean parliament's declaration could put the bid to join Russia on hold, depending on the outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin's bargaining with the West.
The dispute between Moscow and the West over Crimea is one of the most severe geopolitical crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Russian forces have secured control over the peninsula, but Western nations have denounced the referendum as illegitimate and strongly warned Russia against trying to annex Crimea.
Crimea, where Russia maintains its Black Sea Fleet base, became the epicenter of tensions in Ukraine after President Viktor Yanukovych fled last month in the wake of months of protests and otubreaks of bloodshed.
The Crimean parliament's move is "a message to the West that there is no talk about Russia incorporating Crimea," said Kiev-based political analyst Vadim Karasyov. "It's a tranquilizer for everybody — for the West and for many in Ukraine who are panicking."
Karasyov speculated that Crimea could exist as a "quasi-legitimate" state, while Russia and the West negotiate.
After a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, some leaders in Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia lobbied to join Russia, but their request was never granted.
Putin's "task now is to get a stake in the shareholding company called Ukraine. He believes that the West now has the majority stake and he doesn't even have a blocking package," Karasyov told the AP. "So Crimea is an attempt to get a blocking package."
Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, rejected proposals to draft new legislation to facilitate Crimea's accession into Russia. Zheleznyak wouldn't elaborate, and it wasn't clear whether his statement signaled the Kremlin's willingness to relax tensions or was part of legal maneuvering over the annexation plans.
If Putin can't negotiate a solution to the crisis with the West, the Crimean parliament's move could also facilitate accession into Russia. Under current law, Russia needs to reach agreement with a foreign state to incorporate part of it. Crimea's declaration of independence could solve that, though the West made it clear it would not recognize the annexation.
In a sign that some members of Putin's entourage would prefer a negotiated solution to an all-out confrontation with the West, Konstantin Remchukov, the well-connected publisher and editor of the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, spoke strongly against annexing Crimea. Remchukov, who avoids criticizing Putin, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the move will trigger painful Western sanctions and cripple the Russian economy.