On the 27th February 2014 soldiers seized the Crimean Parliament. They did not have insignia but raised a Russian flag above the building. The Crimean Parliament then voted to dissolve the regional government and elected a new pro-Russian leader Sergey Aksyonov. He promptly requested that Russia provide help to ensure “peace and calm” within the Crimea.
Following the ousting in a revolution of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Yanukovych and the loss of influence this represented Russia has been happy to oblige. Russia already was engaged in a show of force with military exercises along Ukraine’s borders. It also already had troops at its Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea. Unmarked troops and helicopters, though believed to be Russian, occupied Sevastopol and other Crimean airports taking over the transport infrastructure. In order to prevent a response from Ukraine Russian troops surrounded Ukrainian bases and demanded they surrender. Ukraine’s verbal response was tough with the Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk saying “This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country”. Ukraine therefore clearly believes that Russia had no right to send forces into Crimea, a sovereign part of the country. However Ukraine has agreed with the calls for restraint, it has mobilised its army but has made no move to engage the Russians and has refrained from allowing its troops to use force in Crimea leading to tense but peaceful standoffs. The endgame is integration of Crimea into Russia. A Referendum on the 16th March showed that 97% of voters in the Crimea want to join the Russian Federation. The final result is therefore that Crimea is lost to the Ukraine, but there being a result does not necessarily mean Russia’s actions were just and moral.
Crimea itself is a peninsula out from the south of Ukraine into the Black Sea. Crimea is strategic in large part because of the good harbours it has, something that Russia otherwise lacks. It was historically Russian having been taken from the Crimean Khanate in 1783. Historically in Russia it is notable for being the sight of heroic military action; the Crimean war against French and British invasion in 1854-5, and a nine month siege of Sevastopol by the Wehrmacht. A Century after the Crimean War in 1954 Khrushchev handed over the Crimea to Ukraine, the reasons are disputed, but as both were a part of the USSR it may well have simply been for convenience as there is a land bridge from Ukraine but not to Russia.
History and geography are not the only causes of tensions; it is culturally and ethnically more Russian than Ukrainian too. Crimea has an ethnic Russian majority with 60% of the population being Russians. 10-12% of the population is Crimean Tartars and firmly opposed to Russia as a result of having been deported by Stalin. The balance is mostly Ukrainian. The language is Russian and as a result most people get their news from Russia.
Russia has clear interests in Crimea and has basing rights for up to 25,000 troops in Sevastopol which is the main base for the Black Sea Fleet. These forces in Sevastopol both ensure that Russia is particularly concerned about the security of the peninsular and that it has the means to make its views felt. It cannot be surprising then that Russia, feeling its citizens and interests threatened in the province, acted using these forces that were to hand in Crimea.
 Ibid, p.91.
President Yanukovych is Ukraine’s legitimate President. He is therefore perfectly at liberty to allow Russian troops into his country to keep the peace in much the same way as countries around the world welcome US troops on their soil as protection from external threats or UN peacekeepers to keep the peace domestically. Yanukovych in a letter to Putin called “on the President of Russia, Mr. Putin, asking him to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.”
This is a very different situation from a government inviting in UN peacekeepers. First the Russians are an involved party – part of the cause of the conflict due to the protests in Kiev first breaking out due to Yanukovych turning from the EU to Russia a country so involved would never be asked to be involved in a UN peacekeeping force. Secondly a UN peacekeeping force requires not only the approval of the government but of the UN Security Council. This has not been forthcoming in this case.
On the other hand it is different from basing in another country as the US does as that does not involve coercion. Or for that matter taking vital strategic points such as airports and surrounding the host countries military bases.
The current government in Ukraine is the result of an illegal coup. On the 21st February Yanukovych and the opposition in Ukraine agreed to EU proposals that restored the 2004 Ukrainian constitution and set Presidential elections for later in 2014. The two sides were “to create a coalition and form a national unity government”. Thus Yanukovych was to remain President until the next elections. The opposition however ignored this deal. As Putin puts it “They immediately seized his residence rather than giving him a chance to fulfil the agreement... He didn’t have any chance of being reelected.” The Ukrainian opposition used illegal and unconstitutional means to effect regime change. Russia therefore has a right to act to protect those who there has been an “armed seizure of power”.
Acting due to a change of government is not the prerogative of another state. Putin is within his rights not to recognise that government and to grant asylum to former president Yanukovych but not to take action within the Ukraine to change the situation.
The coup however was not a coup but an abdication. “Yanukovych has lost his legitimacy as he abdicated his responsibilities. As you know, he left Ukraine – or left Kyiv, and he has left a vacuum of leadership.” It was therefore Yanukovych who essentially decided that he was no longer in charge by leaving Kiev and not making any statements for several days. Moreover the Ukrainian constitution (both 2004 and 2010 versions) gives the right to impeach the President to Parliament this is what the Parliament has done.
Russia has a strong claim to the Crimea; The territory was only handed over in 1954 by Nikita Krushchev for political reasons. Previously it had been Russian for three hundred years. Historically Crimea is Russian not Ukrainian. Culturally Crimea is important to Russia too, it was the main Russian tourism destination during the Soviet Union and Symbolised Russia’s gains in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Russia for most of the 1990s refused to accept Ukraine’s independence, let alone Crimea that Crimea should be a part of it with the Russian Parliament engaging in actions such as declaring Sevastopol a Russian city. Therefore the sovereignty of the region should be considered to be contested.
Historical and cultural claims are not worth much when it comes to sovereignty over territory; if they were then every country in the world would be involved in disputes with their neighbours. In 1994 Russia agreed the Budapest Memorandum with the US, UK and Ukraine in it committing “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine [and] reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine”. Russia signed agreements in 1997 that recognised Crimea as a part of Ukraine in return for a lease on the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Russia has therefore not been contesting sovereignty and so has no legal claim.
It is the people of Crimea who are important and their interests should be considered. Putin told the Federation Council that Russia is responding to a “threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation… and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory”. Russia needs to protect both the Russian citizens who are in Crimea and the ethnic Russians who look to Moscow not Kiev.
The Crimean parliament has agreed to hold a referendum on 25th May on “Autonomous Republic of Crimea has state sovereignty and is a part of Ukraine, in accordance with treaties and agreements.” This was put forward to 16th March with two options; Do you support Crimea's reunification with Russia? Do you support the restoration of the Constitution of the Crimean Republic dated 1992 and Crimea's status as a part of Ukraine? The 97% vote for joining Russia and 83% turnout conclusively show that this is the will of the Crimean people.
“Russian mobilisation is a response to an imaginary threat. Military action cannot be justified on the basis of threats that haven't been made and aren't being carried out.” Argues US UN Ambassador Samantha Power. There is little threat to Russian citizens or minorities from the new government. Putin has accused the new government of intimidating minorities and increasing anti-Semitism but Ukrainian Jewish organisations have said “does not correspond to the actual facts”. Any protection of citizens should not be pre-emptive.
While it is right that the Crimea should be consulted on its future this should be done without any Russian intervention. Having Russian soldiers on the ground biases any referendum helping to make it illegitimate. With the referendum having happened after intervention Russia cannot say it was reacting to the demonstrated will of the people.
The Russian parliament has agreed to approve force “in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots” The Russian Federal Council approved the move unanimously so allowing Russian troops to be used. This gives President Putting the authority to use the Russian military in Crimea, or elsewhere in the Ukraine, if he believes it is necessary.
The Crimean Parliament has also asked to join Russia and is to have a referendum to show the support of the people for this action. “From today, as Crimea is part of the Russian Federation the only legal forces here are troops of the Russian Federation, and any troops of the third country will be considered to be armed groups with all the associated consequences.” This clearly gives Russian troops the right to be in Crimea.
Approval by one parliament may make the action legal within Russia but it does not make an invasion legal under international law. The Russian parliament has no legal authority over Crimea or other regions of Ukraine so cannot authorise the use of troops within that country – that is something only the Ukrainian parliament, or in extremis the UN Security Council can authorise.
Similarly the Crimean parliament cannot legally simply decide that Crimea is no longer a part of Ukraine, even a referendum does not enable such a transfer of sovereignty. Self determination should be internal, not external.
The legality of Russia’s invasion of Crimea is simple “Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine violates international law.” The UN Charter is unambiguous “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.Russia has both threatened the use of force by its parliament authorising the President to use force on Ukrainian territory and actually done so by sending troops into Crimea. The only legal way for the UN Charter’s prohibition on force to be avoided is through a Security Council mandate. Which Russia does not have.
Russia is hardly the first nation to send troops across a border without UN Security Council support, indeed there is quite a list; Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo. All undertaken by western powers. Russia is not threatening the use of force it is simply guaranteeing that its citizens will not come to harm and putting the military on standby just in case such protection is necessary.
States are allowed to take measures for “self-defence if an armed attack occurs”. The movement of troops across the international border from Russia into Ukraine, and from the Russian base in Sevastopol clearly is a violation of sovereignty and Ukraine if it wishes has every right to use force to defend itself even if the Russians don’t fire first.
“Ukraine is not [only] our closest neighbour, it is our fraternal nation... we will not go to war with the Ukrainian people.” There have been no shots fired and the action is not a hostile act, it is simply to protect the Crimeans. Russia has not engaged in an armed attack as the forces in Crimea have not fired a shot.
If Putin is truly concerned about Ukraine’s government being illegitimate and unconstitutional then he should be supporting elections as soon as possible to settle the question of who the government. Putin himself accepts that Yanukovych has “no political future” and helped him for “humanitarian reasons”. If this is the case then military action in Ukraine is superfluous; what Russia needs is a new government in Ukraine that is legitimate. The action in Crimea however simply unites Ukrainian opinion against him making it less likely that a pro-Russian candidate stands a chance of winning the election. Already 58% of Ukrainians support integration with the EU. A rash attempt on Crimea could ensure Putin permanently loses Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence.
Negotiating with the new government would mean recognising it. Russia may well recognise a new government after elections are held and the government is once more legitimate but until then there is little to negotiate. Moreover elections must be held only when there is stability. At the moment Russia won’t recognise any elections because they would be held under a situation of terror where “there is the danger that a fascist element will come to the fore, and some anti-semite will come to power.”
President Putin has noted the west is being hypocritical by highlighting their role in the middle east over the last decade. And it is true that violating the prohibition against force does not carry any immediate sanction, and that which it does carry are discretionary to individual powers. However that does not mean the violation does not matter; instead it means that any attempt to annex Crimea will be seen as completely illegitimate. International institutions are also likely to react, albeit slowly and not very effectively. Institutions such as the Council of Europe demand “Ukraine's territorial integrity must be respected and international commitments upheld” while the OSCE is sending monitors to Ukraine. Some institutions may exclude Russia altogether; there have been suggestions from Secretary of State Kerry that Russia could be thrown out of the G8.
This action by Russia shows (once again) that the consequences of violating international norms is practically zero. As such the action damages the credibility of that norm, especially when applied to a powerful state like Russia. The main problem is Russia is a member of these organisations; as a Security Council member the UN can do nothing, similarly it is blocking a full scale monitoring mission by the OSCE. As for the G8, a talking shop, is Putin really likely to care?
The United States wants to isolate Russia economically with Kerry threatening Putting “He may find himself with asset freezes, on Russian business, American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the ruble.” Even without economic action Russia is already suffering fallout from the markets. The Moscow stock exchange fell 11.2% - or almost $60billion. The ruble reached all-time lows against the dollar and the euro and the Central bank was forced to raise interest rates by 1.5% to prevent further losses. Longer term investment is likely to be hit as US and European companies are less willing to invest in a country with an aggressive foreign policy.
While there has been some economic fallout for Russia this is likely to only be temporary, as the risk of actual conflict goes away the markets will return to normal. There is almost no chance that there will be any sanctions that do real damage because much of Europe is dependent on Russia for gas; Germany gets around 39% of its gas from Russia, and this accounts for almost 9% of its energy consumption and other smaller economies in Eastern Europe are even more dependent. Impose sanctions and Russia could squeeze gas supplies.
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