Putin's most precious trophy. What will make Russia talk Crimea?
Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky's offer that the Crimea issue be brought to the Normandy Four talks, once again claimed that Crimea would not be discussed in any format, and that the question was closed to Russia.
Putin considers Crimea the greatest win throughout his rule
And this position on the part of the Kremlin is quite clear: Putin considers Crimea the greatest win throughout his rule. This is his most precious trophy. That is why the Kremlin chief categorically opposes discussing the issue of Crimea return to Ukraine in any format, because, from the point of view of the Russian establishment and Russian society, any discussion will be a show of weakness – something unacceptable, and never forgiven, in Russia, where you can do whatever as long as you are strong, but once you show weakness, your power and respect crumble to pieces.
So the question arises: what is capable of forcing Russia to become more talkative and agree to bring the topic of Crimea to the negotiation table.
Could it be European and U.S. sanctions? Restrictive measures imposed on Russia over the illegal annexation of Crimea didn't particularly alter Moscow's position and behavior. Moreover, the sanctions imposed lack consistency and don't imply Russia's exclusion from the diplomatic space. On the contrary, the Russian leadership keeps up communication with world leaders and, together with the Germans, is close to quietly completing the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine…
Under such conditions, the sanctions will, of course, be a sort of a nuisance to Russia, but they will certainly neither influence nor change the Kremlin's policies.
Could it be the decisions of international courts on Crimea? Well, Russia doesn't recognize jurisdiction of international courts. Moscow has t repeatedly stated that they consider Russian legislation to be superior to international law. Therefore, to any court ruling, Russia will simply say they won't recognize it.
Obviously, under Putin's rule, Russia will not discuss Crimea issues with anyone no matter how big the problems arise inside their own country
Therefore, it is obvious that under Putin's rule, Russia will not discuss Crimea issues with anyone no matter how big the problems arise inside their own country. Most likely, Moscow will propose to make Crimea an object of negotiation when no one else will need this any longer – in a situation of some catastrophic events for Russia, such as the country's ultimate collapse. That is, when the Russian state machine is no longer be able to function and when the "parade of sovereignties" begins across the republics of the Russian Federation, the Russians might want to discuss Crimea. But it is unlikely that at that moment anyone will be eager to discuss anything with Moscow …
But what should Ukraine do in such circumstances? What should be its approach to returning Crimea? Frankly speaking, we now have one way to go – to bring about the collapse of Russia: to support any centrifugal and separatist movements there, to work on deepening relevant social contradictions, etc.
"Lenin in a sealed rail car" is a famous model that was used by Germans during World War 1. Then the Germans deployed revolutionaries into Russia and succeeded in disintegrating the Russian state. Under those conditions, Germany secured a win over Russia.
All other mechanisms are ineffective. For example, the United Nations has recently admitted that Russians violate the Geneva conventions, deliberately relocating people from mainland Russia to Crimea, thereby changing the demographics of the occupied peninsula.
Such actions are posing a threat to Ukraine: if tomorrow the question of Crimea return arises, there will be many citizens residing on the peninsula who were never Ukrainians, therefore, they will form a sort of a "fifth column". Obviously, these people will be extremely negative about everything that concerns Ukraine, and ultimately they could form the base of resistance to the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty, even if Russia withdraws from Crimea permanently.
Meanwhile, for Russia, the UN decision will have no consequences because no new sanctions will be imposed over said actions. Russia keeps trading with the world, and the world keeps trading with Russia. World leaders keep meeting with Putin. This is the main thing. All other consequences are insignificant for Moscow.
The question is that any imposition of sanctions against Ukraine would be seen as a tragedy and catastrophe for us, while Russia sees them as a manifestation of the West's envy and an attempt to prevent Russians from raising up from their "knees".
Therefore, we cannot estimate today how remote the prospects are of returning Crimea. They are just too vague and uncertain.
The current state of affairs could linger for decades, or it could suddenly be resolved fairly quickly. It all depends on the stability of the Russian regime. In the meantime, it is stable and there are no grounds for its collapse. Therefore, it is not necessary to expect Crimea to return to Ukraine in the coming years.
Petro Oleshchuk is a political scientist, expert on international politics, and lecturer at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv