Vladimir Kornilov: What Did the “Historical” Crimea Declaration Change?

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



Ukraine continues to thank America on its knees for the “historical” Crimean declaration. Moreover, it is only the Ukrainian side that strenuously tries to connect the name of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to this little three-paragraph document, probably, to prove its “historical” character.

What did this “epoch-making” document that was noticed much more in Ukraine than in the US change? Indeed, nothing at all. As the Embassy of Russia in the US correctly noted, “We have not learned anything new. It is yet more proof that our partners live in a different dimension”.

The US once again confirmed the non-recognition of Crimea as Russian, having called on Moscow to end its “occupation”. Very few people paid attention to the “argument” that the State Department attached to this declaration. In fact, there was only one “argument”: Crimea’s return to Russia allegedly “undermine a bedrock international principle shared by democratic states: that no country can change the borders of another by force”. Would you look at that! This was stated by the Americans, who for many decades have invaded other countries, overthrown legal governments, and, sometimes, changed borders too.

The notorious example of the violent dismemberment of Yugoslavia is on the lips. And let’s also remember the not very old example from history connected to the disintegration of Sudan. 22 years of civil war and 100,000s of victims preceded the dismemberment of a huge African country in which the American CIA took the most active part — doesn’t this contradict the “bedrock international principle” mentioned in the Crimean declaration?

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And now let’s remember how many years the “civil war” in Crimea lasted and how many victims did it claim? What use of force does the State Department speak of in its “historical” declaration? What city of Crimea did Russia bomb to “change the borders of Ukraine by force”? Or the democratic referendum held in Crimea is that cruel violent action that Pompeo angrily condemned? As you can see, these questions are rhetorical because the answers are so obvious.

In its Crimean declaration, the State Department itself unambiguously drew parallels with the notorious Welles Declaration of 1940, in which the US didn’t recognise the Soviet “occupation” of three Baltic republics. Immediately after the declaration of that document, the American newspapers also called it “historical” and “exclusive”.

Nowadays this document is remembered quite often, however, people somehow lose sight of the fact that the US partially forgot about it literally a year later — from the moment it entered into a military alliance with the USSR against nazi Germany. And somehow this declaration didn’t prevent two countries from cooperating during different periods of their history.

Washington absolutely forgot about it when the time came. When at the 1943 Tehran conference there was talk about Soviet troops occupying the Baltics, the US President F. Roosevelt jokingly assured the head of the USSR J. Stalin that he “isn’t going to declare war on the Soviet Union on this basis”. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the post-war borders of Europe were then discussed by the leaders of world powers both at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, but the question of the borders of Poland and Germany caused many more disputes than the belonging of the Baltic republics.

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Moreover, Sumner Welles, the author of this document, was the only person who, during a discussion about post-war borders, remembered the declaration of Welles. Having already lost his post as the Deputy US Secretary of State, he published the book “The Time for Decision” in 1944. And there he allowed the thought that the Baltic countries still can’t forgive him for: “Maybe the people of the Baltic states seek to be an integral part of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics”. What an instructive lesson for Pompeo, if only he decided to remember the declaration of Welles!

We should emphasise that allies in World War II recognised the borders of the USSR, including not only the Baltics, but also Konigsberg (nowadays Kaliningrad). Then, in the process of anti-Soviet hysteria in the West, the Welles Declaration was sometimes remembered in the US Congress, however this didn’t get in the way of developing cooperation with the USSR (once again, when it was necessary for Washington).

It is clear that the fate of the “historical” Crimean declaration – which the Ukrainian President Poroshenko can wave in the air, but Washington will periodically forget about it, will be the same. Although this document gives a certain benefit.

It’s not a secret that after the American President Donald Trump made a number of statements about Crimea, some Russian experts once again had the illusion of the possibility of the anti-Russian sanctions being fully lifted. And the existence of false illusions is always harmful. I hope that now such illusions will be more infrequent, which will allow to build less idealistic and more pragmatic projects in the international arena.

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It is necessary to understand: the “Crimean” sanctions against the Russian Federation are for years and for decades. There is only one option for their full removal, and it was the then candidate for US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who directly pointed this out in January, 2017. He said that Washington will agree to recognise Crimea as Russian only if Ukraine also agrees to do it.

I will add the following: or what will remain of Ukraine… Therefore it is this scenario that Moscow should base its work on. In any case, this looks more realistic than the expectation of Washington making some decisive unilateral steps in this direction.

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