In his interview with the Voice of America, Andrei Kozyrev, first Foreign Minister of Russia under President Boris Yeltsin from October 1991 until January 1996, spoke about the problems caused by the annexation of Crimea. The main issue is that Russia has dropped out of the international community of law and order.
Kozyrev maintains that “when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia entered into an agreement according to which the boundaries that existed at the time were to be preserved. We (the Russian government in the early nineties-Ed.) discussed this for a long time and concluded that these boundaries must be respected. Additional international treaties were signed when I left my post, and these must also be upheld. It is most unfortunate that the current Russian government has decided to violate so many international obligations. I think that sooner or later Russia will have to return to a semblance of legality and observance of law and order. Only then will the fate of Crimea be decided, but before this happens, all international relations and agreements should be fully reviewed and another government must be elected in Moscow.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union , the Crimea question became a major issue for the Russian government. Immediately after the Verkhovna Rada proclaimed Ukraine’s Independence, the spokesman for the Russian president, Pavel Voschanov, announced that the future of Crimea was directly tied to Ukraine and it was up to Ukraine’s government to resolve it. However, the Supreme Council of Russia immediately raised the question of Sevastopol’s Russian status. Moscow then tried to fuel pro-Russian forces in Crimea, while the election of Crimea’s President Yuriy Meshkov was a step towards a possible separation of Crimea from Ukraine. Why did it not happen? Not only because the Ukrainian government was still a strong Soviet structure and could resist external aggression, but also because the Russian leaders, namely Yeltsin, realized that their country would be ostracized if it seized a foreign territory. Indeed, at that time, Moscow refused to integrate territories that were actually controlled by Russia – Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. So, in the end, it looked as if there would be no more territorial conflicts in the former Soviet Union.
By stealing Crimea, Putin and his country are now facing a very difficult dilemma – either strive to impose a complete review of the existing world order, or return “the stolen goods” and be re-admitted to the international community of law and order. Firstly, Russia is simply not strong or wealthy enough to demand a review of world order. Yes indeed, Putin is fomenting artificial tension by taking part in conflicts being played out in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, but very different forces and powers are needed to radically change the situation, really transform Russia from a regional bully into a major world player. That’s why the civilized world is inclined to consider the Russian regime and its recent territorial acquisitions as temporary, and expects that after the collapse of Putin and his criminal clan a more amenable government will appear in Russia, individuals one can actually talk to.
People in politics are different from mutants in that they observe the principles of law. A voluntary and unconditional return of Crimea will be the first condition for the perception of Russia as a partner, rather than a dangerous and unpredictable opponent. Moreover, the return of Crimea, as well as punishment of all the guilty parties will be the first step towards restoring neighbourly relations. However, I have no doubt that the majority of Russian society will perceive the return of Crimea as an act of national shame.
Yeltsin and Kozyrev were much more far-sighted than Putin and Lavrov. They were well aware that international shame can be easily avoided – Do not steal what belongs to your neighbour!