Crimea will on the 16th have a referendum on whether the region should join Russia. It is almost certain that the people will ratify the decision of the Crimean Parliament that they want to be a region of Russia not Ukraine. Ukraine has maintained that such a referendum is illegal so the Crimea’s vote is likely to inflame rather than dampen the tensions between Russia and Ukraine that have been near the point of war since Russian soldiers occupied Crimea as part of a Crimean self-defence force.
It is also clear that the broader international tensions will also remain. The G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, and US) has said “Any such referendum would have no legal effect… it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force… we would not recognize the outcome.”
So is there any possible solution to the crisis. It is clear that Russia and the United States (acting as proxy for the Ukrainian government) are a long way apart on the issue. The United States wants Russia to pull back its military from Crimea, and also its influence including halting the referendum vote. Moreover it wants negotiations with the current Ukrainian government which Russia refuses to recognise. Russia rejects such terms with the foreign minister Lavrov stating “To be frank it raises many questions on our side … Everything was stated in terms of allegedly having a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and in terms of accepting the fait accompli”. Russia says it has counter proposals that will comply with international law but has not given any clue as to what they might be. Assuming the Crimea is as far as Russia intends to go into Ukraine then the maximalist positions by the two sides might be said to be for the Russians; keep Crimea, Ukraine’s government replaced preferably with a pro-Russian government. While Ukraine’s position would be complete Russian withdrawal, and elections are held at the end of the year as planned.
So what would be the meeting point between such positions? Russia would likely be willing to take one or the other, neither of which the west or Ukraine are likely to consider a sufficient climbdown.
The question then is how to negotiate a situation where Russia gets what it wants but Ukraine maintains its territorial integrity. The Lord Owen, a former British Foreign Secretary, suggests leasing Crimea to Russia. Russia would negotiate a lease over not just Sevastopol as they have now but over the whole of Crimea. A lease would mean that the territory remains Ukrainian soil but Russia has complete or almost complete control over the administration of the region. It being a lease means that Ukraine would not simply be giving up the right to administer the peninsular but would be paid for it either through cash payments or through cheap oil and gas supplies from Russia.
Note: Lord Owen has now put a bit more of his thinking in an article in The Guardian.
 There is little point in me providing the history of the intervention when it is covered in the introduction to ‘This House believes Russia has the right to send troops into Crimea’
 G7 Leaders, ‘Statement calling on the Russian Federation to cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea.’, gov.uk, 12 March 2014, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-of-g7-leaders-on-ukraine
 AP, ‘Ukraine Crisis: Russia drafting counter-offer to US demands”, theguardian.com, 11 March 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/11/ukraine-crisis-russia-preparing-counter-offer-to-us-demands
Agreeing a lease would provide a much needed peaceful solution to the Crimean crisis which would not only solve the immediate crisis but would also prevent future flare ups. Shortly after Russian forces moved into Crimea Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk of Ukraine said “This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country”. It has not so far been a shooting war, and no one wants it to escalate. Russia’s UN Ambassador has said “Russia does not want war… We don’t want any further exacerbation of the situation.” But when there are constant tensions the best way to prevent a potentially unpredictable situation is to provide a solution to the situation. A lease should be considered.
 Zinets, Natalia, and De Carboonnel, Alissa, ‘Ukraine mobilises after Putin’s ‘declaration of war’’, Reuters, 2 March 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/02/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSBREA1Q1E820140302
Everyone wants a peaceful solution but that does not mean that a lease is the best solution. Having some form of shared sovereignty – Ukraine owning the land and Russia having the right to use it and control it requires a great deal of trust. This is especially true if the Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet were to remain based on the peninsula. With potentially overlapping jurisdictions there is a lot of potential cause for trouble.
There have been many suggested motives for Russia’s sending military forces into Crimea. Providing a lease on Crimea to Russia would provide a solution to most of Russia’s main objectives; the Russians in Crimea are protected, and the Russian hold on its Black Sea base is secure. More importantly the crisis started after the defeat of President Yanukovych and the resulting blow to Russian prestige in what Russia sees as a zero sum game (if one side wins the other automatically loses to the same extent). An invasion or Crimea regained Russian leverage but left Russia with little room to manoeuvre as any climb-down would leave Putin with nothing. A lease gets out of this zero sum problem as both can gain. A lease would enable Russia to make an agreement with the Ukrainian government and recognise that government without having to lose face as any other solution which maintains Ukrainian territorial integrity would.
If this conflict really is zero sum then a lease over the whole of Crimea is a big loss to Ukraine; it is after all losing a whole province in return for some financial assistance. Moreover we have little evidence that it really would mean Russia getting what it wants; Russia continues to deny that it even has military forces in Crimea, “these were local self-defence forces”, let alone spell out to the world exactly what its objectives are. President Putin says “This is a humanitarian mission” that “corresponds with our interests of protecting people who are historically tied to us”. If protection is all that is necessary then a lease should not be necessary.
 Siddique, Haroon, ‘Putin: Yanukovych ousting was ‘unconstitutional overthrow’’, theguardian.com, 4 March 2014 http://www.analystsforchange.org/2014/03/putin-yanukovych-ousting-was.html
Ukraine is in a dire financial situation; it has gone to the IMF seeking $15billion to help stabilise the economy with a bailout. The interim finance minister Yuri Kolobov suggests that even this amount will not be enough for the full year with Ukraine needing $34.4billion. Finance was one of the reasons why Ukraine turned to Russia in November 2013; Russia was offering money when the EU was not. The lease agreed for the Black Sea Fleet involves the payment of $90million per year and the renegotiations in 2010 involved giving Ukraine cut price gas as well. A lease for the whole of the peninsular with almost 2 million inhabitants and is close to the size of Belgium would cost a lot more, potentially enough to fill much of that financial hole.
 Talley, Ian, ‘IMF Making ‘Good Progress’ in Ukraine Bailout’, The Wall Street Journal, 13 March 2013, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303546204579437672180468290?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303546204579437672180468290.html
 Schmeller, Johanna, ‘Crimea crisis further imperils Ukraine’s economy’, Deutsche Welle, 4 March 2013, http://www.dw.de/crimea-crisis-further-imperils-ukraines-economy/a-17473302
 Harding, Luke, ‘Ukraine extends lease for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, The Guardian, 21 April 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/apr/21/ukraine-black-sea-fleet-russia
A lease is not all a financial gain for Ukraine. Any tax revenues from Crimea would be lost as they would instead go to Russia. As would any revenues from natural resources either now in the future; Crimea with its strategic location was intended to be the hub for gas pipelines across the Black sea so Ukraine would be losing transit fees.
While of the core points of sovereignty is that is indivisible this has not stopped the existence of other similar deals happening in the past. Locally the Black Sea Fleet is a good example
There have however been more famous examples in the past; the Panama Canal Zone was leased to the United States from 1903 to 1977 for $250,000 per year (later increased). There are other instances of territory being leased; the clearest example being Hong Kong’s new territories which were leased rent free for 99 years from 1898 after China was defeated by Japan – at the time there was a general view that if one great power gained then all the others have to as well. That leasing territory is an established practice means that it should be easy to apply to this case.
 Lowenfeld, Andreas, ‘Panama Canal Treaty’, Institute for International Law and Justice, http://www.iilj.org/courses/documents/PanamaCanalTreaty.pdf
 Welsh, Frank, A History of Hong Kong, 2010
Leases reflect inequality between those involved in the lease; Panama was much less powerful than the USA so had little choice – it also needed the money. China was a defeated state; it had just been defeated by Japan and had lost two previous wars to the UK. The treaties were considered to be ‘unequal treaties’ and those countries that were subjected to them threw them off at the first opportunity.
The US Secretary of state condemned Russia’s action in Crimea as "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text". Yet it is exactly 19th century thinking that expects that a great power will get away with launching aggressive acts against a weaker neighbour. If the result were to be effectively a hand over of Crimea, and a legal recognition of that status even if it is in the form of a lease Russia would be getting away with this act of aggression and might be tempted to try it again elsewhere. Russia has already got away with one aggressive act when it launched an assault on Georgia in support of separatist regions. Under such circumstances it is better for everyone if Russia is isolated and there is no deal that rewards and legitimises Russia’s acts.
 Dunham, Will, ‘Kerry condemns Russia’s ‘incredible act of aggression’ in Ukraine’, Reuters, 2 March 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/02/us-ukraine-crisis-usa-kerry-idUSBREA210DG20140302
While legitimising a reward for Russia’s actions may hurt it is far better that the dispute be resolved than it be left to fester. Under the status quo there are concerns that war will break out because the situation is unstable and Russia “reserves the right to take people [Russian speakers elsewhere in Ukraine] under its protection”. This is in large part a result of the Russians and Ukrainians not speaking to one and other as the Russians won’t recognise the Ukrainian government. Peace will only come when both sides give some ground no matter who is in the right. Under this deal there will be peace, not further aggression.
 MacAskill, Ewen, and Luhn, Alec, ‘Russia and west on collision course over Ukraine as talks fail in London’, theguardian.com, 14 March 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/14/russia-west-collision-course-ukraine-talks-fail-london
Although it is the region in which Russia has acted its interest in Ukraine is not just about Crimea. Foreign Minister Lavrov has made clear “Russia recognises its responsibility for the lives of countrymen and fellow citizens in Ukraine and reserves the right to take people under its protection”. A lease over Crimea will resolve nothing if it does not also resolve other issues between the two countries such as the protection of minorities and Russia’s economic interests.
Any deal for a lease would clearly involve negotiation on other concerns that Russia and Ukraine have. Russia would clearly need to renew its guarantees of Ukraine’s territory perhaps with the acceptance that the lease would become null and void if Russia again takes aggressive acts. Ukraine for its part would need to guarantee the rights of minorities; this should not be a problem as both countries are signed up to the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
 Council of Europe, ‘Geographical reach of the FCNM’, coe.int, 24 October 2008, http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/minorities/1_AtGlance/PDF_MapMinorities_bil.pdf
It is hard to see why Ukraine would be willing to sign a lease with Russia when Russia has already proven it will not stick to the terms of its lease. Russia signed agreements in 1997 that recognised Crimea as a part of Ukraine in return for a lease on the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Under that lease Russia was allowed to keep up to 25,000 troops based in Sevastopol so long as they remain on the base unless. Russia has violated both of these; its troops have clearly moved off the base without Ukrainian permission and it is estimated to have 30,000 soldiers in Crimea. When Russia has violated what would be a similar agreement once why should Ukraine believe it will not happen again next time Russia wishes to extend the lease either physically by incorporating more territory or in terms of duration.
 Felgenhauer, T., ‘Ukraine, Russia, and the Black Sea Fleet Accords’, dtic.mil, 1999, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a360381.pdf
 Boyle, Jon, ‘Ukraine says Russian troops in Crimea have doubles to 30,000’, Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/07/us-ukraine-crisis-troops-idUSBREA260PW20140307
Ukraine would clearly find it difficult to trust Russia however it has several reasons for doing so. The first is that Russia and Ukraine "for decades had warm and friendly relations" to which they can return if they sign an agreement. Second Ukraine has little choice; it does not have the military strength to oppose Russia. Finally the United States and other countries could be a part of the agreement providing formal guarantees which would provide much more guarantee of action to help Crimea in the event of a repeat situation in the future.
There is a lot more at stake than just the Crimean peninsula. While suggestions that it may destroy the whole international system are hyperbole the territory becoming part of Russia would be the most major territorial change in Europe since the unification of Germany and breakup of the USSR both of which were peaceful and mutually agreed events. The G7 notes “the annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states.” A lease however would be a de facto change of territory, a hand over from Ukraine to Russia. Hong Kong was on a lease from China but during that time it was essentially considered as part of the UK.
The big advantage of a lease is that it maintains the territorial status quo while giving Russia what it wants. If the concern is about the legal order and sovereignty of states then a lease provides the answer because the actual sovereignty over the territory is not handed over, merely the control over the territory and functions of that territory are.