Crimean Dissonance: Will Russia Ditch the Friendship Treaty with Ukraine?


January 16, 2018 – Fort Russ News –

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold – 

On January 14th, important news came out of the Russian parliament. The first deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration, and Relations with Compatriots, Konstantin Zatulin (from the “United Russia” party), proposed to denounce part of the Russian-Ukrainian Friendship Treaty – in particular, its stipulation on mutual recognition of territorial borders. Zatulin believes that the treaty “one-sidedly benefits Ukraine.” 

By being a signatory of this agreement, Zatulin believes that Russia “has confirmed that it considers, say, Crimea and Sevastopol, part of Ukraine’s territory.” Zatulin has also pointed out the discrepancy between the treaty and the current political situation – Russia’s past recognition of Ukraine’s existing borders was justified by “friendship, cooperation, and partnership” between the two countries, which is diametrically opposite to the current situation in Russian-Ukrainian relations. To recall, on a legislative level, Ukraine has called Russia an “aggressor state.” 

Zatulin thus stated: “Therefore I propose…to denounce it in the part concerning the second article, namely, the recognition of borders.” 

This statement by such as a prominent politician and one of the veterans of the struggle for Russian Crimea has not been met with any legislative initiative. Perhaps, as I thought in similar situations in the past, it will remain but a personal opinion. 

However, the current situation seems to suggest that, despite the conservative and overcautious policies of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is reason to believe that Russia very much could opt to reconsider the legitimacy of Ukraine’s existing borders. 

Around a year ago, in an interview with Radio Sputnik I posed the possibility and feasibility of Russia withdrawing from the agreement with Ukraine over the blatant hostility demonstrated by the post-Maidan Ukrainian state. This opinion of mine seemed radical then. But today, Zatulin’s statement has been welcomed rather calmly by the Russian political establishment and been met with approval in Russian society. 

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In the meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has commented on Zatulin’s statement, saying: “I know that State Duma deputy Konstantin Zatulin has publicly brought up and drawn attention to the fact that one of the treaty’s articles appears to be irrelevant given that Crimeans have freely expressed their will in Crimea, after which Crimea became independent and then re-united with Russia…Yes, international legal documents are important, but I believe that we will continue to respect the borders of Ukraine as formed following Crimea’s annexation.”  

Therefore, for now, the words of this first deputy of the State Duma’s Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration, and Relations with Compatriots, should be seen an as an element of information warfare, as a diplomatic “reconnaissance” move. This, in turn, could be followed by a diplomatic offensive. 

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Ukraine is the one making this possible. Ex-Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was one of the initiators of Verkhovna Rada resolution #1854 which called Russia an “aggressor,” has also called for the friendship treaty between Ukraine and Russia to be torn up. Tymoshenko’s statement is consistent with the logic of Ukrainian legislation, but contradicts Kiev’s foreign policy. Hence why Tymoshenko’s call was not followed by an actual denunciation of the 1997 treaty, which would have been suicidal. 

However, Ukraine has committed plenty of other suicidal mistakes, such as Verkhovna Rada Speaker Parubiy’s statement recognizing Ukraine as the successor of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, not the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This effectively deprives Ukraine of the historical rights to the territories of Crimea and other regions of Novorossiya which were not part of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. Kiev also thereby loses the territories of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic which were handed over to Poland on December 2nd, 1919. 

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Until recently, Russia was the main guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity – much to the chagrin of many Russian patriots, including myself. Zatulin’s statement, to say the least, suggests a serious alternative to the present policy status quo. 

From now on, all further hostile actions by Ukraine against Russia – and there is no other kind of actions to expect – will work towards strengthening this alternative. 

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public Initiatives. 

Jafe Arnold is Special Editor of Fort Russ, Special Projects Director of the Center for Syncretic Studies, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Eurasianist Internet Archive. Holding a Bachelors in European Cultures from the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Arnold is currently undertaking his Masters in Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 

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