Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the Commons Defense and Security Committee, says that the difference between Crimea and Chechnya is that “Crimea wanted to be part of Russia and Chechnya did not” and that Russia “instantly” recognized the right of the first and used military force to deny that right to the second.
In an interview in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” today, Rifkind, who earlier served in the Thatcher and Major governments, says that what Russia had done in Crimea was a bad thing because “for the first time since 1945, borders in Europe were changed by the annexation of one country of part of another.”
Moscow insists that Crimea was handed over to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, the British MP continues. But “this was not just the decision of Khrushchev. It was confirmed by the Russian government after the collapse of the USSR” by the Budapest Declaration and in other documents.
Moreover, Rifkind argues:
“if you want to change borders, you can do so only by negotiations and not by an intervention by force and a fictional referendum which as everyone knows was carried out extraordinarily rapidly.”
Scotland is currently in the process of conducting a referendum about its possible independence, but the run up to that has been “more than two years and [consequently] people have sufficient time to take a decision.” But in Crimea, the “referendum” was organized “in the course of four or five days without any preliminary agitation. The Russian government in essence controlled the process.”
Challenged by his interviewer to respond to the view that Crimea had long wanted to be part of Russia, Rifkind responded that “Chechnya wanted to be independent. Why do the Chechens not have the right to conduct a referendum? When they declared that they wanted to be independent, the Russian government responded: ‘No way’ and sent in the army.”
When his interviewer suggested that these were completely different cases, Rifkind responds “Yes. The difference is that Crimea wanted to be part of Russia and Chechnya didn’t want to. Fundamentally Russia always says its borders are inviolable and Chechnya, Daghestan and other territories cannot leave Russia.”
“But when Crimea declared that it did not want to be part of Ukraine,” he continues, “Russia instantly took to defend it and to conduct a referendum.” And Moscow insisted that what it was doing was no more than what was done in Kosovo. But that is not true: “Kosovo did not intend to become part of the US or Britain or another country.”
Russia in contrast blithely asserted that “now Crimea is part of Russia.”
Rifkind dismisses two other Moscow arguments as irrelevant to what the Russian government has done: That there are many ethnic Russians or even Russian citizens in Crimea is not compelling, unless Moscow is planning to do something in Latvia or Estonia like what it has done in Crimea.
And the closeness of Russians and Ukrainians as peoples is not compelling either, Rifkind says. “The last time” in Europe when that argument was made was in 1938 when Hitler occupied the Sudetenland. To allow that principle to be restored would threaten most if not all countries because they have minorities.
Asked if he was for the independence of Chechnya, Rifkind responds that “this does not have any relation to us. The Chechens must decide for themselves,” just as the Scots are deciding for themselves now. They are doing so by a democratic referendum and not proceeding in the ways Moscow has in Crimea and in Chechnya.
After his interviewer insisted that “Chechnya is our territory,” the British MP says that “London could say that Scotland is our territory. Scotland became part of Great Britain far longer ago than Chechnya became part of Russia. It doesn’t depend on us what part of the world wants to become an independent state.”
“Ukraine has been an independent country since 1991,” Rifkind concludes. “But what has the Russian government done? It has annexed Crimea without consultations with the Ukrainian government. Now it is helping those in revolt in Donetsk and Luhansk. We know what is happening there. How can you expect that Ukraine will say: ‘We love you, Mr. Putin!’”