Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Lessons to be learned from Crimea

By Li Chung-chih 李中志

Despite the concerns of the international community, the results of the referendum in Crimea, Ukraine, on March 16 were as predicted: The Crimeans voted overwhelmingly for unification with the Russian Federation. There are divergent opinions on whether it was a good choice.

However one thing is certain, and that is that if it had not been for the political corruption of the past 20 years and the government’s inability to rule, Russian President Vladimir Putin would never have dreamed of the return of the Crimea Peninsula to Russia.

As for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, removed from the presidential seat last month, perhaps his greatest “contribution” to Russia was not his pro-Russia stance. Rather, he was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as he was the cause of a revolution that allowed external forces to intervene politically and touch on the sensitive issue of ethnicity. Russia then quickly seized the chance to awake the Crimeans’ selective memory of the past, emphasizing the good old days under Russian rule.

Ever since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in 2008, it seems that he has been heading in the same direction.

The crisis in the Black Sea has caused quite a few Taiwanese to think about Taiwan as being in a similar position to Ukraine. They have compared Crimeans to pro-unification groups, who they regard as traitors wanting to sell Taiwan down the river. This is a strange analogy. It is an insult to the Crimeans, and causes the nation to lose focus on its own situation.

Although there are a number of similarities between Taiwan and Ukraine, the two countries find themselves in different situations.

Ukraine, with strong Western support, is an independent and sovereign state recognized by the world. Taiwan, on the other hand, is like an abandoned orphan, and it is not strange that given Beijing’s “one China” policy, journal articles like academic Bruce Gilley’s “Not So Dire Straits: How the Finlandization of Taiwan Benefits US Security” in Foreign Affairs in 2010 and academic John Mearsheimer’s “Say Goodbye to Taiwan,” in The National Interest this year, have been appearing.

Since Taiwan is stuck between China and the US while Crimea is stuck between Ukraine and Russia, the nation shares more similarities with Crimea than with Ukraine. Should Taiwanese not support the majority of Crimeans who wish to secede from Ukraine?

Oddly, Crimean “self-determination” took the form of a unification referendum without the option to choose independence.

One option was to join Russia and the other option was to stay within Ukraine and restore the 1992 Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The problem is, like the Taiwan government’s so-called “1992 consensus,” the 1992 constitution was a wishful creation.

How could Kiev tolerate Crimean self-governance? When the “one Ukraine” framework was formed, Kiev abolished the 1992 constitution right away and wrote a new one.

Under such circumstances, how could the Crimeans have any faith in the restoration of the original constitution? As a matter of fact, Crimea thought it was a smart move to invent the 1992 constitution. By rushing to recognize itself as part of Ukraine, it created an excuse for Western countries to tie it to Ukraine for the sake of their own interests.

At this point in time, any post-referendum tensions have not been relieved and the Russian parliament might still vote to occupy Crimea after Putin formally declared the Crimean Peninsula part of Russia three days after the referendum. If Russian troops enter Ukraine to take over Crimea, a clash between East and West could occur.

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