Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea has been strongly condemned by the U.S. and the European Union. Particularly vehement in his opposition has been Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. His reaction begs the question, “If Crimea is not Russian, why does he claim that the Malvinas are British?
There are several historical and geopolitical reasons that explain why Russia claims Crimea is Russian. On 19 February 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union issued a decree transferring the Crimean Oblast (province) from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
This was widely considered a “symbolic gesture” marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming a part of the Russian Empire, at the time when Nikita Khrushchev -a Ukrainian native- was the General Secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. When asked about the present situation, Mikhail Gorbachev, a darling of the West, stated, “Earlier Crimea was merged with Ukraine under Soviet laws, to be more exact by the [Communist] party laws, without asking the people, and now the people have decided to correct that mistake. This should be welcomed instead of declaring sanctions.”
If the annexation of Crimea was forceful, so was the British annexation of the Falklands.
On Jan. 2, 1833, Captain James Onslow of the brig-sloop HMS Clio reached the Spanish settlement at Port Louis. Onslow requested that the Argentine flag be replaced with the British one, and the Argentine administration was deported to Montevideo.
Because he was under numerical disadvantage, Argentine Lt. Col. José María Pinedo chose to depart without fighting. Despite Argentina’s protests, the colony was established with nationals of the occupying power, and the islands continue under British administration.
The illegality of the seizure of islands was recognized even by British officials.
In October 1936, John Troutbeck, head of the American department at the British Foreign Office stated, “The difficulty of the position is that our seizure of the Falkland Islands in 1833 was so arbitrary a procedure as judged by the ideology of the present day. It is therefore not easy to explain our possession without showing ourselves up as international bandits.”
The United Kingdom thus shaped a made-to-measure community in the islands in a process that was never accepted by Argentina, which firmly and repeatedly rejected it. At the same time, however, Argentina has shown its firm willingness to resume bilateral negotiations in order to find a solution to the dispute in accordance with the United Nations mandate.
The Argentine position is shared by the international community, which has declared itself in favor of the resumption of negotiations in several regional and bi-regional forums such as the Ibero-American Summit, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC,) the Arab and South American Countries Summit (ASPA,) the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA,) the Rio Group (an international organization of Latin American and some Caribbean States), the Group of 77, and the African and South American Countries Summit (ASA.)
The situation is aggravated by the unilateral activities involving exploitation of renewable and nonrenewable resources that the United Kingdom conducts in the area under dispute in violation of a U.N. resolution. These activities are contrary to the letter and spirit of the United Nations relevant resolutions on the question of the Malvinas Islands, in particular resolution 31/49.
This U.N. General Assembly resolution calls upon both parties to refrain from taking decisions that would imply introducing unilateral modifications into the situation while the islands are going through the process of negotiations recommended by the General Assembly.
In a referendum that took place in the islands on March 10 and 11, 2013, 99.8 percent of their inhabitants chose to remain as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. That referendum, however, goes against 10 resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and more than 30 resolutions of the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization. They emphasize that only through negotiations between the conflicting parties can an appropriate settlement be reached.
Similar resolutions were put forth by the Organization of American States (OEA) as well as by the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. All those countries have banned Falklands-flagged ships from docking at their ports.
In addition, member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and MERCOSUR have signed a special declaration where they maintain that the referendum neither changed the essence of the question of the Malvinas Islands nor puts an end to the sovereignty dispute.
Those born on the islands are a minority, and the electoral body was comprised essentially by those who are British citizens. Great Britain insists on the right to self-determination of the inhabitants of the Falklands. Asking British citizens if they want to remain British is a futile exercise that undermines the essence of the dispute on which the United Nations has repeatedly issued resolutions, which have been systematically ignored by Great Britain. Britain continued occupation of the Malvinas doesn’t put an end to the sovereignty dispute over the islands, and only assures the perpetuation of the conflict between Great Britain and Argentina.
Dr. César Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.