Russia's federalisation plan for Ukraine sparks criticism

27/03/2014

The West supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and calls for united actions against Russian interference.

By Rati Mujiri for Southeast European Times in The Hague -- 27/03/14

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Russian soldiers storm a Ukrainian military air base in Belbek, Crimea, on March 22nd. [AFP]

EU officials and analysts are denouncing a plan put forth by Russia to create a federalised system in Ukraine, calling it an attempt to split the country.

Soon after Russia annexed Crimea last week, following the results of a disputed referendum, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy speaker of the Russian Duma, proposed dividing Ukraine along the lines of an infamous Nazi-Soviet pact.

Zhirinovsky, who usually voices the Kremlin's ideas and plans, sent official letters to Poland, Hungary and Romania, proposing that those countries take back regions of Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The letter suggests Ukrainian regions Volyn, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil and Rivne would join Poland, while Hungary and Romania invite Transcarpathia and Chernivtsi to join them.

"It's never too late to correct historical errors," Zhirinovsky wrote, according to Reuters.

Poland's Foreign Ministry confirmed the letter was received, saying that no one considered this letter seriously.

The regions were part of a secret protocol of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that divided several European countries into Soviet and Nazi "spheres of influence," and led to the invasions of Poland, Finland and several Baltic countries.

Political analyst Vladimir Fesenko, director of the Penta Centre of Applied Political Studies in Kiev, said Russia's plan would either destroy the state system of Ukraine or divide the country.

"The federalisation is the light version of destroying Ukraine," Fesenko told SETimes. "With that, [President Vladimir] Putin is trying to weaken central government and destroy the new-born system. He will try to destroy it step by step. Federalisation is a bomb, which no one knows when will be exploded. Putin is trying to put that bomb in Ukraine… his [Putin's] main goal is not just Crimea, but the whole Ukraine."

However, Fesenko said the Russian army won't move to the continental part of Ukraine because "Russia's economy is not ready" for the war and if "Putin is clever enough he won't do it."

"We must be sure that problem in Crimea won't become a bigger risk and we won't stand in front of military actions," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Brussels on Sunday (March 23rd). "That's why all sides have to start negotiation about next steps in Crimea. I think the best idea will be demilitarisation. I hope that negotiations will start."

Russian armed forces have continued attacks on Ukrainian military bases in the peninsula. The Russian national flag has been raised at the sites of at least 189 Ukrainian military units deployed in Crimea, according to the Russian Defence Ministry press service. One Ukrainian soldier was reported killed during the operations.

The non-Russian population is leaving the peninsula. According to the Polish news agency IAR, 32 Crimean Tatars asked Poland to grant them political asylum.

Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andrei Deshitsa warned about the increased military threat and possible escalation of Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

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"We don't know about what is in Putin's mind and what will be his decision," Deshitsa told reporters. "That's why the situation now is more dangerous than it was yesterday. If Russian armed forces will start occupying eastern regions of Ukraine, it will be difficult to convince our people not to defend themselves from Russian occupants."

The West is working on a diplomatic solution while imposing sanctions against Russia.

"We all must unite," European Parliament member Johannes Cornelis van Baalen told SETimes. "No one can violate territorial integrity of another country. We must show Putin that if he continues to go against international society it will harm the Kremlin and not us. Ukraine is united and this occupation won't last for long time."

What are the most effective steps the international community should take to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine? Share your thoughts in comments.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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