Kyiv, March 21, 2014. Vladimir Putin argues that he did not violate any international laws with his military occupation of Crimea and the staging of a local “referendum” there at gunpoint. According to Putin, his actions, including his deployment of “green men” – a term used by Ukrainian media to refer to armed Russian troops stationed in Crimea, whom Putin called the “self-defense of Crimea” claiming they were not Russian soldiers, who blocked and threatened Ukrainian military units in Crimea, were legitimate. His reasoning is that in 2008 while the U.S. and most Western nations recognized the referendum in Kosovo, Russia furiously opposed the results of the vote. “Crimea is similar to Kosovo, the West is rewriting its own rule book,” claims Putin. Yet, many representatives of international political, business and media community have a different opinion?
While Kosovo’s secession was illegal, according to Russia, breaking off parts of neighboring states is not something out of the ordinary for the RF, as evidenced by Russia’s behavior in Georgia’s breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While supporting by all means necessary, including with military intervention, the autonomy of pro-Moscow republics, Russia fought two ferocious wars in Chechnya to prevent even the slightest possibility of a separatist movement in the region.
“It goes beyond double standards,” Putin said, as reported by rt.com, commenting on the West’s recognizing the outcome of the referendum in Kosovo while condemning the Crimean “referendum” as illegal. Putin accused the West of being cynical when deciding on controversial secession issues according to its own geopolitical interests, occasionally changing the rules, while Russia is merely doing the same. And where is Ukraine in this “we’re just like the West” rhetoric? Putin is ignoring a number of facts and laws, and one of the key facts omitted by Russia Today (RT) news agency is that Russia de facto declared war on Ukraine, a sovereign state, whose territorial integrity Russia pledged to protect under the Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994.
President Putin is comparing Russia’s annexation of Crimea with the independence referendum in Kosovo of 2008 and the upcoming vote in Scotland. A number of international media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have argued that the situation in Crimea is in no way similar to either of the examples. However, Putin’s tactic of drawing analogies to these altogether different situations was to be predicted.
Regarding the upcoming vote in Scotland, “it was a series of democratic events that led to the decision to put leaving the United Kingdom to a vote,” reads rferl.org. “In 2011, the Scottish National Party, which was created on the basis of campaigning for independence from the United Kingdom, earned a majority in the country’s parliament. The Scottish parliament then approved legislation authorizing a referendum on secession. This was followed in 2012 by negotiations between ministers from the Scottish and British government, who reached agreement on holding a referendum in 2014.”
This could hardly be more dissimilar from the Crimean parliament being taken over by heavily armed soldiers, Crimea’s prime minister being forced to resign, then replaced with ex-convict Sergei “Goblin” Aksyonov, whose separatist party won only four percent of the vote in Crimea’s most recent elections. In addition, as many as 14,000 – 22,000 (according to different estimates) Russian soldiers have occupied Crimea since late February. The referendum, which was deemed illegal by the UN Security Council, the EU and the US, was planned in three weeks, all during a period of public unrest in Ukraine. Moreover, unlike the Scotland referendum with its “yes” or “no” question, the ballots in Crimea didn’t even offer the option of a status quo. In both Scotland and Kosovo people voted to become independent, not to join or be annexed to a third state.
When Kosovo’s assembly unanimously approved independence in 2008, Russia was outraged. Yet, “a brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians by Yugoslav army forces in 1999 led to a three-month NATO bombing campaign, which Russia adamantly opposed. Unable to get help from Moscow, then-President Slobodan Milosevic, who had skillfully and ruthlessly played off ethnic divisions in the region throughout the 1990s, was forced to approve an international peace plan,” according to rferl.org. Almost a decade after the brutal ethnic conflict and under close scrutiny by the UN, Kosovo’s democratically-elected parliament conducted a referendum and voted to officially separate from Serbia.
As for Crimea, there had been no conflict recorded until the Russian army occupied the peninsula. Despite Putin’s claim to the contrary, no ethnic groups were reported to be in danger until Russian troops set their rule of force – and now Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of the peninsula, hundreds of thousands of whom were deported in 1941 in an ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Josef Stalin, are in jeopardy.
As cited by Putin’s Voice of Russia, while the U.S. is not paying Kosovo for having its base there, Russia “pays 100 million dollars a year for its base. For almost 230 years the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been stationed in Crimea. Fifty years ago, Crimea was part of the USSR, whereas the U.S. simply occupied a part of the Serbian territory by means of aggression and is doing everything in order to create its puppet state there,” said the Vice-Premier of the RF Dmitry Rogozin.
So where does this leave Ukraine? It is evident that Russia concern about Ukraine’s territorial integrity or the rights of minority groups has been overstated because one of its goals is to secure its military presence in the Black Sea, free of charge. Yet, the Voice of Russia piece ends by drawing a seemingly irrelevant conclusion: “historical, economic and cultural relations with Ukraine give Russia the full right to interfere in order to protect its people. And what is the U.S. doing in Serbia?” Which makes one wonder, really: what is Russia doing in Ukraine?