A number of  western media outlets are  making the claim that the 1992 constitution allows for full independence from Ukraine. This in their view validates the idea that on Sunday March 16th  Crimea is  choosing between joining Russia (irredentism) and full independence (secession). In fact the 1992 constitution which is the reference point for the second referendum question includes a clause “within an independent Ukraine”. Simply put  the second question in the referendum is  asking for a reversion to the 1992 constitution with Crimea AS A PART OF UKRAINE.

A direct translation of the referendum questions from Ukrainian and Russian to English confirms the choice is autonomy within Ukraine as per the 1992 constitution (Crimea is already an autonomous region with Ukraine) or joining Russia. There is not a single reliable source that states that the second question pertains to full independence or secession.  The choices are as follows:

  • Option 1: In favor of reuniting Crimea with Russia as a federal subject of the Russian Federation.
  • Option 2: In favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution of Crimea while maintaining the status of Crimea as being part of Ukraine.


Western media has misread  what Crimeans are choosing  based on that fact alone. But there is an equally more important second point which they have overlooked and that is the 1992 constitution was designed to give Crimea greater autonomy over its political affairs than did later iterations of the constitution under Kuchma…
That is what the second question is really all about and it presents an opportunity and creates space for both sides to negotiate no matter how small that space might be. Reading some Kiev papers  its clear that Ukrainians  think that giving Crimea even greater autonomy is akin to secession – greater autonomy is just a stepping stone to separation. We know that claim is not validated by history.

What the Crimeans have in mind is more akin to the kind of self government and sovereignty that Canada has negotiated with its native peoples wherein the relations between the two entities are on the basis of treaty obligations rather than political arrangements. It wouldn’t hurt if Ukrainians started thinking about federal systems and decentralisation as ways to offset the centripetal tendencies now in play across the country. Crimea has long grappled with a strong pro Russian element ever since it sought independence in 1991 but history has shown that these ultra-nationalists (several of whom I have worked with alongside the Tatar political and religious leaders, moderate pro-west Crimeans and the heads of 5 other minority groups in Crimea) have been convinced to stay in Ukraine when the conditions are right. Not all of these conditions may be met under the current circumstances. But that doesn’t mean the effort shouldn’t be made.
As I point out – everything should be on the table including territorial divisibility and autonomy for Sevastopol. Don’t believe people who tell you there is no peaceful option here. Just in the last 24 hours we have seen both sides – Kiev and Moscow – open up to the possibility of even greater autonomy for a Crimea within Ukraine. This will be the focus of discussions over the next five days – in addition to other options we lay out in our piece on peaceful options below.

Of course if you only believe that the outcome is fixed, and there is no room for negotiation then prepare yourself for what will follow. If you think the whole process is a sham and Crimea’s repeated claims to self determination are wholly manipulated by Putin then you probably think there isn’t much point in negotiating. If that is the case then the failure on the part of Kiev to retain Crimea will be extremely de-legitimising for its very weak government. And a loss of political legitimacy leads to challenges to authority.

Ukraine could be at risk of becoming a failed state. That is because a weaker Kiev can only strengthen the hand of Ukraine’s nationalists parties who already it appears have greater influence in government than ever before (for example the repeal of minority language rights, and the rising wave of antisemitism which are noted in my piece about the misuse of analogies). A weaker Kiev with moderates pushed to the sidelines will also give eastern Ukraine and possibly other regions like Odessa pause to consider whether being part of a rump Ukraine is in their interests. Of course Putin will be blamed for that too when they start looking for greater autonomy if not independence.

Relevant links and references:



By Prof. David Carment

Featured Photo by Oxlaey.com



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