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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crimea: New Questions

A new correlation of political forces is taking shape in the wake of the Mar. 27 parliamentary elections in Ukraine and the plebiscite held separately among the residents of the Crimean peninsula. Crimea, granted to Ukraine in February 1954 by the former Supreme Soviet Presidium, and mostly populated by Russians -- nearly 70 percent of the 2.7 million inhabitants are ethnically Russian -- has posed vital questions, the answer to which is equally desired in Kiev, the Crimean capital Simferopol, and in Moscow:

?Should Crimea continue to seek political and administrative reunification with Russia, along with the economic integration that has already been cautiously begun, and, if so, what should be the response from Russia and Ukraine?

?What kind of influence will the new Crimean factor exert upon the fate of the Black Sea Fleet, a still unsettled issue in Russian-Ukrainian relationships despite a number of accords and joint understandings?

?Can Sevastopol, declared in 1890 as the main naval base of the Russian Fleet on the Black Sea and as a military fortress, recapture its noble historic and military significance -- either as a solely Russian naval base or as a dual-use naval staging point belonging both to Russian and Ukrainian Navies on equal footing?

The issue of Crimea and the subsequent problems dealing with the Black Sea Fleet and its stationing on the northern coast of the Black Sea are too delicate to try to resolve by strongly worded statements and bellicose threats. The landslide returns of the public opinion polls in Crimea, despite Kiev's attempts to stop them, showed how futile it is to try to intimidate people by switching off the potable water and electricity supply systems connecting the peninsula with the mainland, or by warning the Ukrainian armed forces and the navy to protect the area against "separatists" in the allegedly looming civil war.

The Crimeans also ignored rumors that Russia will not be able to support Crimea politically or to render economic assistance. They failed to be persuaded that the rights offered to Simferopol by Kiev are much greater than those extended by Kishinyov to the Transdniester republic in Moldova and by Tbilisi to the separatist Abkhazia. Neither side will be able to reverse the natural drift of events in the area.

Neither Moscow nor Kiev will get broad international support in a bid to reconfigure the borders in this southern part of Europe without the consent of the other side and the people of the Crimea. Politicians on both sides should bear in mind that currently the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are in favor of permanent possession of the Crimea, while the bulk of Russians would like to see the area, which has been inhabited and cultivated by Russia since the decree by Queen Catherine II of April 1783, as their own historic entity.

It is nearly impossible to hope that Russian will ever forget the fact that for many years the Crimea was a Russian province and a major Russian naval base.

Nor will Ukrainians forget that for 50 years the peninsula was in their hands. Nevertheless, no one must interfere with the desire of the Crimeans to expand their economic and cultural ties with any state on the globe.

The other issue at stake in the Crimea is the Black Sea Fleet -- its division and its basing. The recent elections and the plebiscite added a new aspect to the still deadlocked issue. Various politicians in Kiev have been obsessed by the idea of trading off the Black Sea Fleet to Russia on a quid-pro-quo basis: "The fleet is yours, while the peninsula is ours."

As it stands now, Ukraine would like to retain the Ukrainian share in the fleet, as well as control over Crimea. It is clear why Kiev desires to have its portion of the fleet. The only problem will be how to bypass the protocol signed in Massandra on Sep. 3, 1993 during a short Yeltsin-Kravchuk summit. The right to offer access or basing rights to the Russian part of the Black Sea Fleet may rest with Simferopol and Kiev simultaneously, and the local authorities of Sevastopol, if the people concerned can prove that the city was not given to Ukraine in 1954 because it enjoyed special status and had been, at least legally, under the rule of the central ruling bodies in Moscow under a specific decree of 1948.

It is absolutely unnecessary for both Moscow and Kiev to try to bring the Crimea exclusively into their political, military and economic orbits. As Leonid Kuchma, the former prime minister of Ukraine, once predicted, the peninsula could act as a locomotive to pull his country closer to Russia.

All three sides directly involved in shaping the destiny of Crimea -- Russia, Ukraine and Crimea itself -- must remain fully committed to the principles enshrined in the Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Charter for a New Europe and other international documents governing the principles of inviolability of borders and territorial integrity on the European continent.

There is a proverb: "If you try to please all, you please none." But the best way to please all here is to create gradually the Crimean Republic, a free trade area independent of both Russia and Ukraine acting as an equal partner on the international scene, a potential CIS and UN-member state.

It is equally important for Moscow, Kiev and Simferopol to establish and maintain political, military and economic equilibrium in Crimea, once labeled by its first president as "a bridge between Russia and Ukraine." But this can be achieved only by the spirit of goodwill on the part of the three sides concerned. By joint and constructive efforts they will be able to build such a bridge over the troubled waters of the Black Sea.

Vladimir Kozin is a Moscow-based foreign policy commentator. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.