1997 Treaty gave Moscow right to send army into Crimea before referendum, Chizhov says

Troops of the Russian occupation force on parade in Sevastopol, Crimea on May 9, 2016 (Image: sevas.com)

Troops of the Russian occupation force on parade in Sevastopol, Crimea on May 9, 2016 (Image: sevas.com) 

2016/05/20 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics

A senior Russian diplomat has just come up with a justification for Russia having sent 9,000 military personnel into Crimea before the Moscow-organized referendum that is likely to backfire on the Russian government in its relations with any country with which it has a military agreement.

Russia's permanent representative at the EU Vladimir Chizhov during the interview with DW journalist Tim Sebastian (Image: DW)

Russia’s permanent representative at the EU Vladimir Chizhov during the interview with DW journalist Tim Sebastian (Image: DW)

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told Deutsche Welle that Moscow’s dispatch of these troops even before the vote that led to the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula as something it had the right to do under a 1997 treaty between Moscow and Kyiv.

According to that agreement, the Moscow diplomat said, “Russia received the right to a military presence in Sevastopol,” where its Black Sea Fleet is based, and to the presence “throughout all of Crimea “of not more than 25,000 personnel.” At the start of the Crimean “crisis,” there were only 16,000 Russian forces. Moscow thus had the right to send 9,000 more.

When these forces were originally introduced, however, they were dispatched without any indication of their nationality on their uniforms and became the notorious “little green men” that formed part of what has become known as Russia’s “hybrid” war in Ukraine. But it has been clear from the outset that these were Russian forces.

Vladimir Putin admitted as much in his April 2014 televised “direct line” program and even expanded on it in the course of the film “Crimea. The Path to the Motherland.” But in both cases, he justified his dispatch of Russian forces there not in terms of a treaty right but as a step made necessary by the need to “block and disarm” Ukrainian forces on the peninsula.

Troops of the Russian occupation force on parade in Sevastopol, Crimea on May 9, 2016 (Image: sevas.com)

Troops of the Russian occupation force on parade in Sevastopol, Crimea on May 9, 2016 (Image: sevas.com)

Chizhov’s claim of such a right, the latest of the evolving set of Russian explanations for what happens, is disturbing because it suggests that Moscow may use treaties it has with several other post-Soviet countries about basing rights to introduce forces in this way to destabilize their governments or even seize territory.

His words are all the more likely to have such consequences because of his response to another Deutsche Welle question. Asked whether Russia had made mistakes in recent years, Chizhov said that “no one is perfect.” But then he added in what some will see as ominous the following words:

“If one examines the post-Soviet period,” the top Russian diplomat at the United Nations says, “then one of the mistakes which Russia committed or more precisely the Russian leadership of that time was that it has made too many concessions to Western partners.” That is “a mistake,” the Kremlin clearly wants to “correct.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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  • MichaelA

    explains why russia has no friends