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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Bad Move By Russia on Sevastopol

The decision of the Russian parliament to declare the Black Sea port of Sevastopol an integral part of Russia is a provocative act with potentially inflammatory consequences that once again illustrates the frivolity with which this country's Soviet-era legislature chooses to govern.


In a resolution adopted Friday, the legislators declared that they were confirming Sevastopol's status as the headquarters "of Russia's Black Sea Fleet" within the borders of the city as drawn in December 1991; giving the Russian Central Bank the authority to include Sevastopol in its budget as of Aug. 10 this year; and ordering the Congress of People's Deputies to draft a constitutional amendment giving Sevastopol "Russian status".


This is provocative first of all because of Sevastopol's location. Seated on the Crimean coast, the venerable port is today part of Ukraine. As the home base of the disputed Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol has been the object of contention between Ukraine and Russia for months now. But the leaders of those two countries have sought to defuse the dispute through negotiation. Not the parliamentarians, however.


Asked whether negotiation might not be a better way to determine Sevastopol's fate than unilaterally claiming the city for Russia, Yevgeny Pudovkin, who drafted the parliamentary resolution, effectively told the Ukrainians: "We'll see you in court". Pudovkin maintained that Ukraine would not negotiate over Sevastopol and that the Russians therefore had every right to make it part of Russia via a constitutional amendment and then allow the case to be put to international arbitration.


The gambit is all the more provocative because the hardliners behind it in fact want not just Sevastopol, but the Crimea as a whole. The rich peninsula jutting into the Black Sea indeed played an important role in Russian history, but these revanchists are unwilling to leave the past behind and accept present day geopolitical realities.


The parliament's resolution is more than provocative, however; it is inflammatory. Given the current tension between Russia and Ukraine on matters as minor as border crossings and as major as nuclear missiles, for one state to declare it is appropriating part of another state's land is virtually a call to battle.


Exactly one week ago, Ukraine's parliament declared ownership of the nuclear missiles on its territory. Now the Russian parliament has sought to get some of that territory back. Where will these parliamentary games take us? At a time when the legacy of the Cold War increasingly can be seen on the battleground, such games are far too dangerous.