After last week’s election, Donald Trump was hoping he could change the dialogue from electoral politics to international relations. That was not helped when Trump proudly proclaimed himself a “nationalist,” and French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech, saying that nationalism is the opposite of patriotism, and further suggested that Europe should develop its own army, as a counterbalance of Russia, China, and the U.S.
There was another European issue that has been on the minds of leaders. That is the continuing question of what to do about the Russian annexation of Crimea, in 2014. No one seems to know how to resolve what some see as an attack on Russia’s neighbor, Ukraine. So far, the only response has been economic sanctions.
Trump’s response has been inconsistent. On the one hand, he says Crimeans are really Russians, anyway, since they speak Russian, so what’s the big deal Trump hinted that the U.S. might simply recognize Crimea as part of Russia. “They’ve spent a lot of money on rebuilding it,” Trump said on June 9, declining to criticize Russia for annexing its neighbor.
On the other hand, Trump has said the annexation was a terrible thing, saying it was former President Barack Obama’s fault, without saying what Obama might have done to prevent it.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin says Trump thinks the annexation was illegal.
“Well, posture of President Trump on Crimea is well known, and he stands firmly by it. He continued to maintain that it was illegal to annex it,’ Putin told a joint presser with Donald Trump following the talks between the two leaders in Helsinki,
“Our viewpoint is different,” Putin went on to say. “We held a referendum in strict compliance with the U.N. Charter and the international legislation. For us, this issue — we put paid to this issue.”
Therefore, Putin wants relief from sanctions that were imposed after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. In fact, Putin says lifting the sanctions would help everybody—according to Radio Free Europe.
He said the measures were “harmful for everyone — those who initiated them and those who are targeted by them,” adding [sic] that it was in the interest of “everyone” to lift them.
The sanctions, as well as a drop in oil prices, have contributed to a two-year economic recession in Russia.
Russia’s relations with the EU remain strained by its aggression in Ukraine, its role in the Syrian conflict, the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, and other issues.
One may wonder why Putin annexed Crimea, knowing that it would cause international condemnation. It’s pretty clear that it was Putin’s idea of MRGA—“Make Russia Great Again.” That’s the “me-first” nationalism that led to the First World War, and the Second.
But why did he know he could get away with it? Because unlike most Americans, Putin knows history. Crimea had previously been part of Russia. Then Soviet Premier Nikita Kruchev “gave” it to Ukraine (a country we used to call “The Ukraine,” which means “the outerlands”—as if the country were just a “suburb” of Russia) in 1954.
Though Khrushchev’s gesture had unclear motives, it didn’t seem like a problem for Russia at the time, only garnering a one-sentence write-up in the official Soviet newspaper. It became a bigger issue in the region once the Soviet Union collapsed decades later.
The “gift” meant little since Russia and Ukraine were both merely “republics” inside the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).” It would be like when Michigan traded the area around Toledo in exchange for the Upper Peninsula—a purely internal affair.
Even today, the people of Crimea are primarily Russian, and in a 2014 referendum, 95.5% of those who voted, chose to be part of Russia, although the legality and results of the vote were questioned.
The peninsula is not going back, because the residents don’t want to go back. And that leaves us at a deadlock, in which self-determination is on Russia’s side, while international order seeks the former status quo.
International law requires respect for national borders. We couldn’t stand for Hitler’s invasion of Poland. And GHW Bush told the world, “This will not stand,” regarding Saddam Hussein’s identical annexation of Kuwait. In both cases, the invader claimed to have a right to the area, based on historical borders, just as Russian now does.
So why didn’t the world act against Russia? Some may say Barack Obama was too laid back, but there was also no serious uproar in Europe. The conclusion may be that the world has decided that crises like this can and should be handled peacefully, through economic sanctions.
That leaves us at a standoff. And that leads to this writer’s proposed solution.
While the method by which Russia took Crimea was against international law, the people of Crimea were pleased. Some say they would fight if Ukraine tried to take Crimea back. It would be awkward, and maybe unfair, to undo the action. Yet, we don’t want to encourage such annexations.
How about if Russia were to pay Ukraine for the loss of Crimea? That way, it would be a simple real estate transaction, something Trump would understand. Russia could pay in the form of natural gas, which could be valued “retail,” making the cost less painful—and would be offset by lifting the sanctions on Russia since the sanctions were due to the annexation.
To make the offer even more palatable, negotiators could work out a deal, in which Russia would withdraw its troops from the eastern part of Ukraine (without admitting, publicly, that they were there). That would be similar to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis resolution between Kruchev and John F. Kennedy. Private negotiations, which included an agreement to remove our (basically obsolete) missiles from Turkey, allowed Kruchev save face for removing his missiles from Cuba, in exchange. (Cuba’s Fidel Castro was less happy about that.)
This could resolve the economic problems of both Russia and Ukraine, as well as settle the hot war that’s been going on there.
As a “real estate” deal, who would be more appropriate to pull this off than Donald J. Trump?