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‘Russian forces in Ukraine could be a stabilizing factor in a country with no legitimate govt’

Published time: March 01, 2014 20:43

Pro-Russian protesters wave a Russian flag and hold a banner reading "Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) is illegitimate" in front of the regional administration building during a rally in the industrial Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 1, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

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As President Putin weighs using military forces in a Ukraine plunging deeper into political turmoil, Alexander Mercouris, international law expert, tells RT that the presence Russia’s forces could be a restraining factor for all the parties involved.

RT: From the point of view of international law, from the point of view of that perspective, where does Russia’s approval for the use of armed force actually stand then? If it does indeed send forces to Ukraine?

Alexander Mercouris: The Russian position is based on an agreement which was made between Mr. Yanukovich and the opposition leaders as they were on the 21st February, in which Russia is named and in which in effect it is a kind of co-guarantor. That agreement was torn up. What then happened over the course of the next couple of days is that Yanukovich was illegally overthrown.

Law is like a web. If you start unraveling part of it, then the whole thing basically falls apart. It’s very difficult, it seems for me, for people who want to criticize the Russians for doing what they’re doing to start discovering illegality now, when they have so-far completely disregarded it up to now. It depends in terms of international law, a great deal upon what the Russians do.

But the important thing to understand is that there is no legitimate government at the moment in existence in Kiev.

RT: There’s no decision made of course. They have made it very clear that there’s no decision as to whether those troops will be deployed but your thoughts if they were to be deployed, what sort of impact could that have on the situation?

AM: I think that in the Crimea it would stabilize it. The point to make about this particular resolution is that it’s not in-fact confined to Crimea. It’s about the Ukraine in general. We have to wait and see what would happen in the rest of Ukraine. There’s been a great deal of disturbances in the eastern Ukraine. But in the Crimea itself, I think, essentially it’s an accomplished fact – the Crimea is not obeying decisions from Kiev. It would require force by Kiev to bring Crimea to heel and Russian intervention there would prevent that and that would stabilize the situation.

RT: Apart from any form of intervention by force or the presence of troops, is there any political way out of this deadlock between the Crimean authorities and the Kiev authorities who don’t recognize each other?

People walk at the Independence square in central Kiev on February 28, 2014. (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki)

AM: What the Russians are saying is that we should go back to the agreement that was made on the 21st February, which would effectively mean Yanukovich going back to Kiev and resuming the position that he had before as president – and going back to the proposals that were made then.

That may sound a very surreal option, but who knows all sorts of extraordinary things have happened up to now. For the rest, my personal view is that we will probably have a situation like we have seen in many other places, where Kiev effectively loses control of the Crimea, Crimea goes its own way and the situation is kept in a kind of legal and political suspended animation.

RT: How would Crimea go its own way? There’s talk of federalization or perhaps Crimea could also become a republic of Russia?

AM: Federalization can only happen with some agreement in Kiev, of which at the moment there is no sign.

Association with Russia – we’re talking about annexation with Russia – the Russians at the moment are ruling that out and nobody in Crimea seems to be supporting that.

Most likely we would have a kind of de-facto independence, in which the Crimea is effectively economically, politically and militarily integrated into Russia, but is not formally part of it.

RT: And what does Kiev itself, in this government, which is regarded as illegitimate, it wasn’t elected, was it? It’s an interim government. What do you see as the solution there: snap elections, is that possible in this chaotic situation? Obviously, there has to be an election of some sort to get a legitimate government in there in Kiev.

AM: Indeed there does.

Protestors stand on a military armoured vehicle in central Kiev on February 26, 2014 (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

The problem is the elections that are being called which are on May 25, are not recognized as legitimate by many people in Ukraine, and it’s entirely understandable why. Because the people who will be administering those elections are the people who overthrew the government on February 22. Those people who supported that government are not going to trust the people in Kiev. It’s very difficult to know the way forward in this situation. There might have to be negotiations, but it’s entirely possible, it seems to me, that various regions in the Ukraine are simply going to go their own way and are not going to pay increasingly little attention to what Kiev says and does.

RT: But it could be very messy, couldn’t it? In effect people are talking about civil war.

AM: It is already very messy. I hope that civil war doesn’t come. I don’t think it will, because the areas are actually fairly clearly defined from each other.

RT: But there are minorities, there are the ethnic Tartars and the ethnic Ukrainians. It’s not going to be that clean cut that’s the problem isn’t it?

AM: It’s not going to be clear cut, but that’s why the presence of Russian troops might stabilize the situation. I know there will be people outside and inside Ukraine who will be very angry about their presence but the fact that they are there could be a stabilizing factor acting as a restraint on all the various parties involved.

RT: The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting over the Ukraine crisis just in the next few hours. How could that affect Russia’s potential military deployment in Crimea?

AM: I don’t think it will make any difference, frankly. Russia has a veto position in the Security Council. It’s already made its decisions. China, which I understand is another veto-possessing country, has made it clear that it’s siding with Russia in this matter. I think the decisions are going to be made in Moscow, not in New York.

People watch Kiev's Independence Square from a balcony on February 24, 2014. (AFP Photo)

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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