Non-recognition of Crimea's status as part of Russia must be more than just words
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Western leaders have all been quick to proclaim non-recognition of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Yet just days after what could only very charitably be called a referendum on Crimea joining Russia (including a creditable 123% vote in favour in Simferopol and minus any option to remain in the country it has existed in for the past two decades) it seems the world is grudgingly accepting the inevitable, having offered only meagre sanctions, and apparently relieved that Russia appears to have settled for 'only Crimea'. If they're not careful their 'no business as usual' mantra will soon sound as tired and hollow as their 'red lines'.
In truth, Russia would probably have annexed it or set up a breakaway state there along with Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the early '90s had it not massively underestimated Ukraine's divergent political direction from that of Russia. It's difficult to see whether this will fulfil Putin's aim of bringing Ukraine as a whole 'back into the fold'; the two countries now have different sides of a historical grievance to rally around.
In the here and now, clearly the most immediate pressing concern is Ukraine's isolated military units in the peninsula. Whilst both their fortitude and restraint are commendable, there is no international military backing for them whatsoever, and if more of their lives are to be spared, it seems inevitable they will have to withdraw.
Then we must consider the issue of status. There is little prospect of a treaty or formal agreement here. Making any such agreement with Russia would be a catch 22, as making any new agreement would involve formally tearing up a previous one (the 1994 Budapest Memorandum). In so doing, what possible validity could a new agreement have if it could be torn up so easily? Therefore non-recognition seems the only way forward.
For this non-recognition to make any sense however we need to figure out what non-recognition will mean in practice. Non-recognition is absolutely right, but the problem is that if Crimea is treated as a part of the Russian Federation it basically will be. So the wherewithal of non-recognition and how it could work needs to be figured out quite quickly. As an example, Northern Cyprus is never shown on basic maps as anything other than part of the Republic of Cyprus, and this has never lapsed in 40 years. There was for a long time even a trade ban on the export of Northern Cyprus products, abolished only in 2003. Here Greece was the force to push this forward. Ukraine will be in a stronger position to push once the DCFTA with the EU is up and running.
As regards measures on the ground, non-recognition might involve cutting transport links. It seems to me that it would be adding insult to injury to allow Russian Railways to continue to operate trains to Crimea, merely 'transiting' Ukraine proper, and this is an obvious means of sanctioning the tourism industry there. There is a case for cutting rail links between Crimea and mainland Ukraine altogether in fact. In the case of Northern Cyprus, only flights from Turkey can fly into the territory. The same blockade might be enacted by the international community here. Alternative connections could be built up via, for example, Odessa.
Energy and water are also key issues. Many have pointed out that, with the ability to cut off the peninsula's water and electricity, Kiev has a potential card to play. If the prospect of a gas cut off rears its head once more, this is obviously an option. There will have to be some restraint however. A closure of the border similar to the closure the Spanish inflicted on Gibraltar for many years would only hurt families on both sides.
There should be vigorous public campaigns against organisations endorsing the change. For example, early rumours that National Geographic is to change its map may be the start of a capitulation that must be resisted through any means available. Disregarding all other arguments, it can simply be pointed out that no major power has recognised the occupation and that the case is yet to go before the International Court of Justice.
Sport is also a factor. UEFA could play a useful role in non-recognition of Crimea's Russian status. Tavriya Simferopol and FK Sevastopol currently play in the Ukrainian Premier League and should continue to do so, and UEFA has the power to make such decisions. In in
albeit more innocuous example, France's Evian TG FC were refused permission to play home games across the Swiss border in Geneva as it was in another state. On this basis UEFA should refuse to allow any teams from Crimea to participate in the Russian league structure, and threaten trouble if they do, with Russia's participation in the 2014 and hosting of the 2018 tournament potentially at risk. FIFA has always taken a hard line on political interference in the running of football (at least with African countries) so it should be difficult for Russia to force UEFA's or FIFA's hand.
Finally, there is the question of the endgame. Even the most optimistic would be hard pressed to think that Crimea will ever truly return to Ukrainian rule. Whilst before the Russian intervention it seems there wasn't a majority in favour of Russian rule, it will be equally difficult several years down the line to expect a majority to be in favour of Ukrainian rule. But it is reasonable to hope for a more legitimate settlement in Crimea in future. Little will be possible without democracy, and with Putin's situation apparently strengthened, there is little hope for the time being, but this illustrates the need for non-recognition to be maintained, for decades if need be, as with Northern Cyprus.
What Crimeans need to realise is that the dismantling of the Ukrainian letters on the front of the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea represents, in effect, the dismantling of autonomy. The Russian Federation is a federation in name only, and Putin has progressively abolished autonomy across the country during his rule. A once ambitious plan for Kaliningrad, for example, to be a 'Baltic Republic' using both the rouble and the Euro and forming a gateway to the EU was, with Putin's accession to power, promptly shelved. Look at Kaliningrad now-a neglected backwater from which Russians flock across the border to shop at cheaper Polish supermarkets. Crimea is also, for now, doomed to become such a backwater, and they will see that last week's fake foray into democracy bears little relation to the future, where elections will offer no genuine choice and factual information, from a media which has moved from bias to full on North Korea style propaganda, will be scarce.
In a post-Putin scenario however, the issue will almost certainly be revisited. It could be argued that, in a democratised Russia, if given true autonomy, with full language rights for minorities, there would be little reason to complain about Russian rule. If Tatar, for example, appeared on bilingual street signs alongside Russian, few could complain. Another proposal might be independence, and a parallel might be drawn with Slovakia, where a 10% Hungarian minority, despite many tensions, ensures that the rights of minorities are addressed. An independent Crimea would have a 15% Tatar minority and a significant Ukrainian population, so in a democratic scenario, the communities would each have to be taken seriously. If by then however the non-recognition policy has lapsed, that opportunity will be lost.
Remember that after three decades of occupation, the Turkish population of Northern Cyprus in 2004 actually voted in favour of reunion with the south. Many of them have taken Republic of Cyprus citizenship (not surprisingly as this is also EU citizenship). Ukraine should consider changing the law to allow dual citizenship for all those in Crimea who wish to remain Ukrainian (it would also be in the wider interests of a country which has consistently lost citizens since 1991). A lot depends on the capacity of Ukrainians to build a successful country that will weaken the will of Crimeans to keep it in Putin's prison. If the EU follows through and grants visa free travel to Ukrainians, as it will do for Moldovans this May, the idea of having a 'Russkiy pasport' already begins to lose its appeal. For Crimea, it might be the beginning of a long road back.