The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution on Thursday that invalidates the Ukrainian referendum to secede from Russia. The resolution claimed the referendum violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity and international laws against annexation. An overwhelming majority in Crimea voted in favor of the referendum.
A tense situation has been building in Crimea since Russian troops began to occupy the Ukrainian peninsula over a month ago. Russia claims the annexation will protect the Russian-speaking majority in Crimea, and has claimed that the recent ousting of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was the result of a fascist coup.
Carrie Booth Walling, professor of political science, believes that Russia’s occupation of Crimea is a violation of international law.
“The United Nations Charter prohibits the use of military force against fellow UN member except in self-defense or with authorization of the United Nations Security Council,” Booth Walling said. “Thus, Russia’s action in Crimea is classified as aggression under international law and a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Russia’s defense for annexing Crimea has been to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.
Geoffrey Cocks, professor of history, believes that it is in Russia’s best interest to control Crimea, but not due to protection of Russian speakers. Gaining possession of Crimea, a large naval base, would also mean securing a warm water port. This is essential to Russia because its other ports freeze during the winter. Russia has very little access to western seas except through the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. Controlling Crimea would open a large trading and military base for Russia.
“I don’t think the Russians in Crimea needed protection, but having said that, most Russians in Crimea are happy to be part of the Russian empire, and the Russian empire is happy to have Crimea for its own economic and strategic purposes,” Cocks said.
Cocks says that economic, linguistic and religious differences between Ukraine and Russia have clashed historically.
“Whatever Putin is doing, I think, is to reassert the power of Russia as he sees it on the world stage,” Cocks said. “The issue of Ukraine is complicated by its own history. It’s not simply as if Putin has invaded a country that had nothing to do with Russia as it existed before him. That doesn’t necessarily justify what he’s done, but it does put it in a context in which there are many Russians in Ukraine who would support the re-annexation of Ukraine.”
Cocks also made note of the Tartars, a minority group of Muslims who live in Crimea. The Tartars are Turkish by descent and have a history of conflict with Russia. They have fled Crimea as they fear bloodshed in the near future.
“Their situation will probably be worse, now that Crimea is part of Russia,” Cocks said.
Booth-Walling agreed that Russian encroachment in Crimea would lead to even worse consequences.
“I do not think that these fears are unfounded,” Booth-Walling said. “Russia’s actions are such a brash violation of international law that if it is not properly punished by members of the international community then its government is likely to be emboldened and engage in future power grabs.”
Rahman Isayev is an Albion senior from Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic south of Russia. Isayev believes that Russian intervention in former USSR satellites has been derogatory to the peoples of those nations in order to further Russian interests. He cited the 2008 South Ossetia War in Georgia and Russia’s ethnic cleansing campaigns in Chechnya as examples of Russian influence expanding at the expense of local populations.
“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has shown aggression towards the post-Soviet countries,” Isayev said. “Russia’s argument for invasion is always that they want to establish more democratic politics in those areas. However, that’s not the case. In my opinion it’s not right for Russia to do that.”
Isayev said that strong U.S.-Azerbaijan relations would hopefully prevent a similar situation from occurring in Azerbaijan.
Whether Russian intervention in the former USSR’s sphere of influence will become more commonplace is yet to be seen. Cocks feels that the strategic value of Crimea is the primary reason for Russia’s role in the current Ukraine crisis. He speculated that eastern Ukraine might join Russia and western Ukraine could carry on, with support from both Russia and the West.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
This story, originally posted April 2, was updated April 22 to correct the spelling of Dr. Carrie Booth Walling’s name.