Everything is very serious with Crimea. Even France is discussing it a couple of days before its presidential elections. One of the top candidates, François Fillon, suggests holding an international conference on the Crimea. These proposals were expressed earlier: by British parliamentarians, by European politicians. In Russia, such proposals emerged in March 2014 (I wrote about this in Novaya Gazeta then). 

But the Kremlin persists and does not want to admit that a gross error was made then, the error which has already drove Russia into isolation and turned it into a target for sanctions. And, most importantly, it made an enemy out of its closest neighbor [Ukraine]: taking advantage of its weakness (the political crisis in Ukraine can be compared to what Russia experienced in 1993), Russia tore off the territory that it first had transferred to its neighbour and had been considering it an unconditional territory of Ukraine for about two decades on the basis of signed international treaties. 

And President Putin clearly and unequivocally reiterated this: “Crimea is in no way a disputable territory. There was no ethnic conflict, in contrast to North Ossetia and Georgia. And Russia recognised the present borders of Ukraine long ago. We have virtually finished by and large our negotiations on the border, I am speaking now about demarcation, but these are technical details. But there are complex developments taking place in Crimea, inside the society [and communities] in Crimea; inside the [community of] Crimean Tatars, Ukrainian population, Russian population, Slavic population in general. But this is a domestic political problem of Ukraine. We have a treaty with Ukraine about our naval base there until 2017, and we will be ruled by this treaty.” 

That is why almost no one in the world recognises Crimea to be Russian. Only 10 out of the 193 UN member states (Bolivia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Sudan, Belarus, Armenia, Cuba and Nicaragua) recognised the new borders of Russia. 

But such a country like Russia can not exist without internationally recognised borders. And this problem, as well as the problem of sanctions, should be solved. A decision everyone is interested in, and first and foremost, Russia and Ukraine, means arranging and holding a legitimate referendum in Crimea under full international control. So that the results of this referendum will correspond to all international legal norms. This will require convening, at the initiative of Russia and Ukraine, of an international conference on Crimea with participation of all the interested parties. The decisions of the conference will be mandatory for both Moscow and Kyev. 

Only this approach has the possibility of lifting sanctions. And this is very important for Russia. Just consider the following: Russia’s losses from financial sanctions for the period 2014-2017 will amount to about USD 170 billion, or over 9.5 trillion rubles. This means that if sanctions are abolished, Russia will be able to, for example, increase all pensioners’ pensions by 30 per cent every year or raise every year either the consolidated healthcare budget  by 78.7 per cent or the consolidated education budget. And also Russia will be able to triple the average salary of all Russian doctors. 

It is high time to stop slipping into poverty. It is time to return to the field of international law and the Constitution of the Russian Federation. It is time to correct political errors.

These were Grigory Yavlinsky answers on the questions of readers of the Komsomolskaya Pravda via live broadcast.