The Crimea annexation matters because it establishes a dangerous precedent amongst nuclear states that foreign intervention is a legitimate response to disputes between neighbors. It encourages countries to view force as the final arbiter of difference when negotiation and rule of law should instead have the final say. How should China, India and Pakistan view the ongoing series of events in Crimea? China certainly could see justification for aggressively resolving the ongoing dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands with Japan. Likewise, India and Pakistan could well see a reason for finally resolving the crisis in the Kashmir through force. International law is far from perfect, but it stands as a bulwark against the aggressive fancy of potential warmongers. A referendum in Crimea could have been legitimate, but no vote is valid when it is coerced through the barrel of a gun. Russian troops initiated the vote’s occurrence and guaranteed its success, and this is where the trouble arises. Global acquiescence to Putin’s land grab threatens the stability of the world system and needs to be met with equal measure. The significance of Crimea comes not from the loss of the land itself, which, according to some commentators, actually costs the Ukraine money, but what the seizure of the terrain means for the global community. The United States and the European Union need to make their commitment to the territorial rights of the Ukraine clear by doing three things:
1. Tougher sanctions.
The sanctions enacted by the global community are hardly significant enough to cause Russia to rethink its decision, and this is the first place where the Kremlin can be squeezed further. It’s fantasy to imagine that sanctions will reverse this forced annexation, but they might impact Putin’s decision calculus in the coming months. Germany, as one of Russia’s largest gas importers, could fiscally impact Moscow’s bottom line in a way that few other states can. NATO officers warned Sunday that Russian war games on the Ukrainian border seemed eerily similar to preparations for invasion. Tougher sanctions might convince Putin that further armed aggression is unlikely to win him any friends.
2. The United States and other European powers should move to censure Russia in the United Nations.
Russia’s seat on the Security Council would prevent any action from that organ of the UN, but the General Assembly could still be utilized to express global displeasure. Worldwide criticism of Russia’s action would underscore the country’s isolation. This would help counteract the narrative of Crimean liberation that Putin has been espousing and put him firmly in the wrong.
3. Real military aid to Ukraine.
The interim Ukrainian government has requested military aid from the United States but has been only provided with army rations. While food is important, more substantive steps should be taken to supply those on the front lines of Russian militarism. There is, however, growing bi-partisan support in the Senate for equipping the Ukrainian army with more than just food. This is a necessary step in deterring further Russian hostility in the region and ensuring the safety of the Ukrainian people. Small arms, communication and logistical support should all be made available to the Ukrainian army. This would send a clear message to Putin that actual material support is behind Western rhetoric.
The sum of these actions would signal a clear message to Russia and the world about Western intentions in Crimea. Armed aggression between states cannot stand for accepted behavior for the resolution of conflict. While these actions seek to isolate and weaken Putin’s hold on power, the avenue for recourse with the West must remain open. The Russian people must be told that American and European actions are not directed at them but the whims of their quasi-dictator. It is a tragedy that relations between Russia and the United States have again reached this low, but we cannot stand idly by and watch as force again becomes the mark of diplomacy in international affairs.
Colin Scott is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Wednesday.