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UKRAINE/ Gonchar: Putin is thinking of an Anschluss

In this interview with ilsussidiario.net, Ukrainian professor MIKHAILO GONCHAR highlights how Putin’s attitude towards Crimea and Ukraine puts all of Europe at risk

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Ukraine is still not at peace. Russia has condemned the “illegality” in the east of the former satellite country, criticizing the militants of the extreme right of “conniving” with the new authorities in Kiev. In a statement, the Russian foreign minister said last week that masked men fired on peaceful demonstrators. He also accused Ukraine of not respecting freedom of the press for having arrested seven Russian journalists. Ukraine and the West have responded to the Russian accusations, calling it blatant propaganda to justify the deployment of troops in the Crimea. Ilsussidiario.net interviewed Ukrainian professor Mykhailo Gonchar.

What is your evaluation of the ongoing situation in your country? And what about any foreseeable developments? Is a real armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia possible?

On the one hand, the country has gradually stabilized after removal of the Yanukovych regime that can be described as a regime of kleptocracy, corruption and crime. Society prepares for presidential elections on May 25th. On the other hand, a feeling of the war came to life for the Ukrainians, after the beginning of intervention on the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine in late February. Unfortunately, the military scenario cannot be excluded. Putin's Russia is committed to this, particularly rejecting diplomacy. A year ago yet at a conference in Warsaw, I called Putin’s policy towards Ukraine as an Anschluss, similar to Hitler's one with respect to Austria in 1938.

As to Crimea, it seems that the majority of the local population is in favour of Crimea’s independence, if not of joining Russia. Is the situation really this way? Is it conceivable to find a compromise solution respecting all rights, that of Ukraine to freedom and to territorial integrity and the right of the Russian-speaking people to self-determination?

The situation in the Crimea cannot be conceived only in terms of relations between the Ukrainians and Russians. Crimea is the only region of Ukraine where the Russians actually make up the majority of the population. Its ethnic composition is following: Russians - 58%, Ukrainians - 24%, Crimean Tatars - 12%. However, first of all Crimea is a land of indigenous Turkic Crimean Tatars ethnicity. The census of the population in Crimea in 1897 recorded a relative majority of the indigenous ethnic group - 35.6%, while 33.1 % were Russians. The current ethnic composition of the population is a result of Stalin's deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 and settlement of the Russians on the peninsula after the Second World War. These figures are important to understand that this region cannot be considered only in the light of the interests of the Russian majority on the peninsula. Russians are their own state. It's called the Russian Federation. Crimean Tatars have no other land, except the Crimea, and the possibility to return to their motherland they received only when Ukraine became an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Namely being the part of Ukraine, Crimea received constitutional recognition of its autonomous status, but Crimea cannot be regarded as the "Russian autonomy" of Ukraine. Crimean Tatars did not see themselves as part of Russia, a country that destroyed their four centuries old state in the 18th century after having occupied the Crimea, and completely deported them from their native land in the 20th century. Ukraine is the guarantor of the rights of the Crimean Tatars. This is one of the most important reasons why Ukraine cannot agree on the "return of the Crimea" to Russia.

How is the stance of the Russian speaking population in the Eastern and Odessa regions?