If Crimea is already lost, who is next?
Imagine visiting or living in Montreal, a Canadian city rich in history, culture, and diversity. While enjoying the many shops and restaurants, imagine next, to your disbelief, you see a column of French armoured personnel carriers rolling down Sainte-Catherine Street. Suddenly, you pull out your smartphone to find it has lost its signal due to mobile phone and Internet services being cut. To figure out what is happening, you approach a person on the street and the person replies by saying they have heard French destroyers are sailing down the St. Lawrence River. The person also tells you that a French ship has been intentionally scuttled in the waterway in order to control entry and exit.
When you get home, you turn on the television to learn CFB Montreal has been surrounded and tense standoffs between Canadian and French soldiers are continuing. Additionally, images are being broadcasted of people wearing ski masks that are standing atop of the National Assembly in Quebec City while lowering the Canadian flag and raising the flag of France in its place. The nightly news also mentions that French government officials have justified their actions by claiming that French-speaking people living in Montreal are being persecuted and that their lives are in grave danger. In addition, a referendum to secede from Canada has been announced by Montreal’s municipal government after its buildings were stormed and occupied.
What would you do? What would Canadians living across the country think after learning about what is transpiring? Equally important, how would the federal government and Canada’s allies respond to these acts of French aggression? Would they be able to show restraint or would trigger-happy fingers, perhaps accidentally, slip causing the situation to further escalate and spiral out of control?
The above scenario regarding France invading Canada is of course fictitious and purely hypothetical. Yet this crude analogy demonstrates the absurdity of Russia’s current actions in Crimea while it continues to illegally violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil has encouraged the Crimean government to cut political ties with Kyiv and to proceed with plans on holding a spurious plebiscite concerning Crimea’s secession from Ukraine.
In fact, the wording of the two proposed ballot questions guarantees a favourable result for the Crimean authorities, as voters can only check boxes marked ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ in regard to supporting Crimea’s secession. Assuredly, the vast majority of states will not formally recognize Crimea’s independence for a variety of reasons, particularly as the vote will be held under duress and intimidation. Governments are also cognizant of the inclinations of many concentrated ethnic groups in numerous countries that are in pursuit of greater autonomy or outright independence.
However, due to the unlikelihood of Russian troops fully withdrawing from the Crimean peninsula and returning to their bases, a return to the status quo ante is seemingly improbable. For instance, the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia stand as a stark example of Russia’s repeated breaches of international law, despite calls from the international community to adhere to the principle of non-intervention and respect Georgian sovereignty.
The Georgian ‘precedent’ and the lack of military-response options have led many analysts, pundits, and government officials, including former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to conclude that Crimea is already lost. The ‘West’ and NATO are clearly not prepared to risk personnel in a fight to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to scare off the Russian bear.
After Yanukovych’s government was overturned, an opportunity presented itself and Putin seized it. Current U.S. and EU reactions will have limited effectiveness, as Russia has lost trust and faith in multilateral institutions. This indicates an increasing Russian proclivity to see hard power as the true currency of international relations.
While recently responding to criticism and defending Russia’s intervention in Ukraine to a group of journalists near Moscow, Putin remarked, “We are often told our actions are illegitimate, but when I ask, “Do you think everything you do is legitimate?’, they say ‘yes’. Then, I have to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where they either acted without any UN sanctions or completely distorted the content of such resolutions, as was the case with Libya.”
The “you’ve done it, so why can’t I/we do it?” approach is extremely dangerous, as the door encouraging powerful states to intervene and exploit much weaker states further inches open.
In reality, history and practice have shown that legitimacy lies in the eyes of the beholder when it comes to evaluating intervention, particularly for “humanitarian” reasons. There are countless examples of states or groups of states intervening for supposedly-altruistic reasons despite the questionable accuracy of such claims. States have done so by choice with regard to their respective national interests.
It is imperative, however, that all forms of “intervention” not be met with immediate opposition but rather should be disaggregated in order to distinguish between warranted and unwarranted or permissible and impermissible forms of intervention. Although this is not easy to do, the task of drawing a clear line has proven extremely difficult and the need has become much more urgent given contemporary international political realities and conduct of recent cases of intervention and non-intervention.
The case of Crimea is a case in point. Russia’s actions are clearly both unwarranted and inexcusable. Furthermore, Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula is another case to be added to a long list of interventions encouraged by the exercise of power politics. Unfortunately, Crimea’s inhabitants and the Ukrainian people will have to live with the consequences. Who will be next?
The Prince Arthur Herald
Nick Krawetz holds an MA in Political Studies (International Relations) from Queen’s University and a BA (Advanced) in Economics and Political Studies from the University of Manitoba. He has also recently been involved in the organization and planning of demonstrations in Winnipeg in support of Ukraine’s democratization and European integration.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons