Tony Brennan is Acting British High Commissioner, Canberra.
There's been a lot of talk about referendums in recent days.
The vote taking place in Crimea this weekend has drawn widespread international criticism, including from UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at AUKMIN on Tuesday. But some people have likened the Crimea vote to the referendums in Scotland later this year and in the Falkland Islands a year ago this week. As Acting British High Commissioner, I'd like to make a few observations about these misleading comparisons.
A choice isn't a choice when it is made with a gun to your head.
Those voting in Crimea will be faced with a referendum consisting of two questions:
- Do you support Crimea’s reunification with Russia?
- Do you support the restoration of the Constitution of the Crimean Republic of 1992 and Crimea's status as a part of Ukraine?
That is a vote to either become subjugated by Russia or to vote for independence (as was claimed in the 1992 constitution), with no guarantee that Russia will show any more respect for the sovereignty of an independent Crimea than she did for the territorial integrity of an independent Ukraine. The status quo – Crimea as an autonomous republic within Ukraine — is not on offer.
Whatever its outcome, the vote is both illegal and unconstitutional: there can be absolutely no doubt about that. The terms of the Ukrainian constitution are unequivocal: the vote can only be convened at the request of three million citizens; it must be an all-Ukraine referendum; and it can only be called by the Ukrainian parliament. None of these conditions have been met.
The vote will be illegitimate. How can a ballot held in the shadow cast by the presence of armed Russian troops, in a region under military occupation, be anything else?
These questions should be settled in free and fair referenda.
We will see such a referendum, held in peace and with the consent of the central government, in Scotland later this year. And we saw such a referendum last year in the Falkland Islands, when 99.6% of the population expressed their desire to remain as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, despite Argentina's sovereignty claim. It was good to see Julie Bishop mark the anniversary of that referendum at AUKMIN by stating that the wishes of the island's inhabitants should be taken into account in the resolution of this issue.
But Sunday's referendum in Crimea will be neither free nor fair.
For the last two decades, we have sought to put the tension and mistrust of the Cold War behind us: to recognise the powerful and positive contribution Russia brings to the international community and to the prosperity of all our people.
We continue to urge President Putin to use his authority for the good of Crimea, Ukraine, Europe and Russia, and end this crisis. A vital first step will be for Moscow to refrain from recognising the outcome of Sunday's farcical referendum. After all, it will have no legal effect. It will have no moral force. And the result will not be recognised by the international community. It should not go ahead.