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As Others See Us: the view from Crimea

There are plenty of separatists in Europe who dream of a Scottish-style referendum. But there are some unionists too.

Take Crimea. The Black Sea peninsula is this week marking 22 years since its people voted for full autonomy from Ukraine - many in what they saw as a first step to reunification with Russia.

Now the first and only president of the short-lived “Republic of Crimea” has called for a “Scottish solution” to decide the fate of one of Europe’s most beautiful corners.

Yuri Meshkov - described by Russian media as living in Moscow “in exile” - last week waxed lyrical about the democratic example shown by First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron.

“We are proposing the most peaceful way to resolving an obvious conflict, caused by the division of Crimea from its people, from its motherland,” he announced at a Moscow press conference. “As God is our witness, we are so far in favour of a peaceful European-style, Scottish-style resolution of our conflict.”

Yes, Yuri Meshkov is a unionist, a Crimean Russian unionist, who wants an independence referendum.

The former detective - who served just over a year as president of Crimea in the mid-1990s- still sees a referendum sparked by a victory by Scottish nationalists as the best way to reunite Crimea with Russia.

A bit of history: Crimea used to be part of Russia until one-time Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev handed the peninsula over from the old Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the old Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954.

This little bureaucratic transfer was irrelevant until Ukraine and the Russian Federation split up as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Crimeans, however, had seen the writing on the wall: they voted in January 1991 to pull the territory out from under the wing of the Ukrainian republic.

By the mid-1990s Meshkov and his “Republic of Crimea” was trying to pull the peninsula closer to Russia. President Meshkov even changed the clocks in the republic so they chimed the same time as those in Moscow, not the Ukrainian capital Kiev. This did not go down well with the Ukrainian parliament, which shut down full-scale Crimean autonomy in 1995.

“England conquered Scotland by force of arms,” Meshkov said last week, revealing he doesn’t know as much about this country as he thinks. “Ukraine first illegally cancelled Crimea’s autonomous status and then by force of arms liquidated the Republic of Crimea.

“Scotland has maximum powers within Great Britain and these in no way can be compared to the slavish powers of Crimea within Ukraine.”

Meshkov’s big gripe is that while Scottish desires for “maximum freedom” were taken seriously in Europe those of his own region are ignored.

Crimean politics are tricky - but I think interesting for anybody following the Scottish debate.

Many voters on the peninsula (officially called the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and enjoying limited devolution) support the current Ukrainian government, which has its power base in the more industrially developed and Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

But the region remains a potential flashpoint between the two biggest Slavic nations. Ukrainian nationalists passionately believe the peninsula is Ukrainian. Some object to the presence of Russian servicemen on the peninsula. This, I reckon, should get the attention of Scottish political anoraks.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is still based at its historic home on Sevastopol, Crimea’s main port.

This is under a post-Soviet deal that some have suggested could be adapted to keep UK subs - and perhaps Trident missiles - at Faslane long after potential Scottish independence.

One more small potential Crimean issue that might pique the interest of Scottish “Indy planners”: many residents of the peninsula carry Russian rather than Ukrainian passports.

What would happen if many people currently living in Scotland decided to retain UK citizenship after independence? Ireland and Britain, of course, solved this by effectively declaring each other’s citizens not to be foreigners. Russia and Ukraine still haven’t quite figured the issue out.

Some Ukrainian media, meanwhile, can sound pretty hostile about Scottish independence. But that is another blog: one, in fact, that you can find here.

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