By Joseph Klein, Special for USDR
In the phony Crimean referendum held on Sunday March 16th, 95.5% of voters in Crimea have supported joining Russia, Russian officials say. The vote was boycotted by many Crimeans loyal to the Ukraine central government in Kiev, including Tartars who make up about 12% of the Crimean population. Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s leader installed last month after the Russians effectively occupied Crimea, announced that his government will formally apply on Monday to join the Russian Federation. Shortly after the polls closed, the Obama administration issued a statement rejecting the referendum.
The United Nations Security Council voted Saturday March 15th on a draft resolution addressing the Ukrainian crisis, which was supposed to send a signal to Russia to back off from moving ahead to absorb Crimea into Russia. It doesn’t seem to have had any effect. Russia has said that it will respect the results of the referendum.
Thirteen members voted in favor of the draft Security Council resolution. China abstained. Only Russia, not surprisingly, voted no, which killed the resolution because of Russia’s veto power. In the best line of all the statements made by members of the Security Council following the vote, France’s UN Ambassador, Gerard Araud, exclaimed that “Russia vetoed the UN Charter.”
The vetoed draft resolution began with a reference to Article II of the UN Charter, which calls for member states to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. It cited bilateral and multilateral agreements that Russia had signed guaranteeing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. It stressed the importance of maintaining an inclusive political dialogue in Ukraine that “includes representation from all parts of Ukraine,” and reaffirmed the Security Council’s “commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” Finally, in keeping with these principles, the draft resolution criticized the Crimean referendum to endorse the secession of Crimea and absorption into the Russian Federation. It declared that “this referendum can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea,” and called upon all member states and international organizations “not to recognize any alteration of the status of Crimea on the basis of this referendum.”
In the midst of the discussions following the Security Council vote, Ukrainian UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev made the dramatic announcement that he had just been informed of the movement of Russian troops from Crimea into the Ukraine mainland, signifying a dangerous expansion of Russia’s aggressive moves into Ukrainian sovereign territory. “Stop the aggressor,” he pleaded to the Security Council. His plea came two days after Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk turned toward the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, and bluntly asked whether “Russians want war.” Ambassador Churkin responded that neither the Russian government nor the Russian people wanted war.
Perhaps the Russian people themselves don’t want war, but Russian President Vladimir Putin takes no stock of what the Russian people may think or want if he has a different opinion. He has turned the Soviet Union Communist dictatorship into a pre-Soviet style Russian imperial oligarchy under one-man political rule. Now, as the New York Times described the situation in Crimea,
“[W]ith a mix of targeted intimidation, an expansive military occupation by unmistakably elite Russian units and many of the trappings of the election-season carnivals that have long accompanied rigged ballots across the old Soviet world, Crimea has been swept almost instantaneously into the Kremlin’s fold.”
The provocative actions of Russian forces inside Crimea, and now possibly within the Ukrainian mainland, speak louder than Ambassador Churkin’s assurances of Russia’s peaceful intentions.
Russia’s persistent attempt to justify the Crimean referendum as an exercise in self-determination is, as Ambassador Power said last Thursday in response to my question regarding this Russian assertion, nothing more than an attempt to define self-determination as “Russia-determination.”
In deference to the principle of territorial integrity, international law is loath to recognize a unilateral right of secession for all peoples. Russia acknowledges in principle that secession is justified in only exceptional circumstances, but claims that what it calls a coup d’état in Ukraine by “radicals” justifies the right of the Crimean people to secede from Ukraine if they wish. The problem with this argument is that it is not up to Russia to determine the legality of the change of government in Kiev and, on that basis, inject its own military presence in Crimea in support of the referendum.
Russia is free to accept as citizens in its own country Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine who no longer feel safe living in Ukraine under present circumstances. But the Tartar minority now living freely in Crimea, who have suffered deportation and killings at the hands of the Soviets when they controlled Ukraine, have nowhere else to go and remain safe. Crimea is their homeland. Russia of all countries, given its past brutal treatment of the indigenous Tartar population in Crimea, has no business forcing its will to favor one ethnic group over another in an independent country on the other side of internationally recognized borders with Russia.
In any case, Russia’s oft-stated rationale for providing military support to the Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine — that these citizens’ rights are being violated by ultra-nationalist “radicals” entering Crimea from other parts of Ukraine – is bogus. According to international monitors who have tried to gather evidence of human rights violations in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine, no evidence to date has been found to back up the Russian claim. And Russia and its allies in Crimea are not providing any support for such international monitors to enter Crimea safely, suggesting that it is they who have something to hide.
As for Russia’s superficial comparison of the Crimea referendum to Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, United Kingdom’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant summed up the response best in his remarks to reporters after Saturday’s UN Security Council meeting:
There is no comparison between the two cases. The Kosovo vote for independence, declaration of independence, came after a brutal war in which, as you say, there were massive human rights abuses; hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and the Security Council Resolution 1244 itself accepted that the status of Kosovo was disputed. None of those conditions apply in Crimea.
In his remarks on Saturday explaining Russia’s veto, Ambassador Churkin lashed out at both the proposed resolution and its supporters. He accused Ukraine of having blood on its hands as a result of the violent protests last month that led to the ousting of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. And he challenged Washington “to tell the truth” about its own role in the events leading up to the crisis.
Speaking about truth, U.S Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said during her condemnation of Russia’s veto that, while Russia has the power to veto a Security Council resolution, “it does not have the power to veto the truth.” She placed the blamed for the crisis squarely on Russia’s shoulders:
The crisis came with a label – made in Moscow. It was Moscow that ordered its armed forces to seize control of key facilities in Crimea, to bully local officials, and to threaten the country’s eastern border. It was Moscow that tried to fool the world with a false narrative about extremism and the protection of human rights – about refugees fleeing, and about attacks on synagogues. The reality is that the part of Ukraine where minorities are threatened is Crimea, where Russian forces have confronted Ukrainians, and spread fear within the Tatar community – which has endured Russian purges and ethnic cleansing in the past and fears now that this bitter past will serve as prologue.
Ambassador Power accused Russia of double standards when it came to the issue of territorial integrity, a principle which Russia has supported in the past. As for the Crimean referendum, the “whole world knows,” Ambassador Power said, that it “was hatched in the Kremlin and midwifed by the Russian military. It is inconsistent with Ukraine’s constitution and international law. It is illegitimate and it will have no legal effect.”
Russia had not a single supporter on the Security Council. No other member spoke out in favor of the Russian position. Most of the members forcefully condemned Russia’s actions and rationales. Some noted the cardinal UN Charter principles at stake, as well as Russia’s violation of its own bilateral and multilateral agreements with Ukraine in which it promised to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
China, while abstaining and raising concerns about the timing of the resolution, emphasized its consistent support of the principle of territorial integrity and the need for political dialogue. Its Ambassador Liu Jieyi was the voice of moderation and reconciliation, suggesting the establishment of an international coordinating mechanism to discuss the crisis, restraint by all parties to the conflict and increased financial assistance to Ukraine through international institutions.
The price Russia will pay for its naked aggression against Ukraine will, at minimum, be international isolation and sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned of serious consequences for Russia as early as Monday if Russia does not back off. The European Foreign Ministers will be meeting on Monday. The United Kingdom’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters after the Security Council session adjourned that “[I]f the referendum goes ahead on Sunday, then I think we can see a reaction from the European leaders on Monday.”
Sanctions and asset freezes may be too little too late. Moreover, Putin can retaliate, causing severe disruptions to American and European businesses operating in Russia and cutting off fuel supplies to Europe. Moreover, Asian countries are far from likely to participate in any sanctions.
There is only one language that Putin understands – military pressure. That means, at minimum, an announcement by the Obama administration that it will install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic after all. And, for good measure, the Obama administration should make clear that it will plan for installation of such systems and other highly sophisticated military equipment in the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and in western Ukraine if Russia does not immediately withdraw its troops back to where they belong.
Today Russia stands exposed as an outlaw state operating in the same manner that led to two World Wars. As French UN Ambassador Araud noted, “We are going back to 1914, and we are in 2014.”