The situation in Crimea has changed. Much of what I said earlier has become invalid, and several people have been asking my opinion. A new situation is quite clear:
1. Russia’s occupation is no longer within legal bounds. Either they are violating it by sending in troops with no identifying insignia, or else they have a responsibility to defend Ukrainian sovereignty against these illegally armed and unidentified men, under their 1994 and 1997 agreements with Ukraine.
2. The planned referendum on Crimea is not legally binding in the least. Undertaking a referendum while foreign soldiers and heavily armed, unidentified men control the territory is nowhere close to meeting internationally established criteria for a binding plebiscite. Moreover, a plebiscite on joining Russia is a very different thing than a referendum on independence – the Kosovo analogy breaks down on that point. If Russia persists in recognizing it as legitimate and the results as valid, they will be in an inarguable violation of their treaty obligations and the ideology of sovereignty they espoused right up until their invasion of Georgia. Indeed, the US and UK have an obligation as well to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity – we also signed the Budapest Memorandum as nuclear powers encouraging Ukraine to give up its own deterrent.
3. Legality notwithstanding, Ukraine ignores the results of this referendum at its own peril. Ukraine has only a legal right to the territory – if the population wants to leave, and Ukraine cannot militarily hold Crimea, the legality is really a moot point.
My personal opinion is that Russia deserves whatever sanctions they get, and more – they have utterly trampled on international law and their own legal commitments. However, if Ukraine can allow Crimea to go peacefully to Russia or to independence and maintain the rest of its borders, that’s their best option. In pulling Crimea and potentially Donetsk away from Ukraine, Russia is winning the battle but admitting they’ve lost the war – if they thought they could bring Ukraine back to the fold, they wouldn’t remove a million Russians from the Ukrainian electorate.
As for what the US and EU can do – while some liberals choose to believe that our money there accomplishes nothing, this is clearly false. If Ukraine can avoid a debt crisis and maintain the trade favors being offered by the EU, they may well move towards resembling Poland or Lithuania. And a Ukraine that has a Polish standard of living without the Crimea is far better off than one with a Russian standard of living with Crimea.
NOTE: What follows will not illuminate anything about the Ukraine.
I should clear one thing up. I do not support using covert means to destabilize elected governments that continue to hold free and fair elections. This is not the situation in Ukraine – though Yanukovych was elected in a fair election (when his opponents were running the show), he himself has yet to run one. Moreover, while I believe wholeheartedly in supporting non-violent demonstrations against those who run false elections, to the extent that the CIA or other US government agencies were involved what has happened in Ukraine, I think the risk was far too great to justify, and I will stand by that assessment even if the situation ends peacefully. This position of mine is not new – my initial post about Ukraine, before anything happened in the Crimea, maintained the same position, as have all of my comments. Those who claim or imply otherwise, including those who would do so by rather creepily taking screenshots of my Facebook page, are misrepresenting what I’ve said quite clearly. I’ll get to that at a later time, when I have nothing better to do. God willing, I will always have something better to do than engage with them.