A year has passed Russian annexation of the Crimea. The international community has never formally recognized the transfer of sovereignty, but the same had to accept it as a done deal. Meanwhile, all claim the primal right to the peninsula on the Black Sea. But it is a wrong criterion. That’s why.
“Crimea is ours,” Who said that? The answer is easy: all. Russians shout it, Ukrainians say it in a low voice, even the Tatars try to affirm it. The truth is that the Crimea is of those who have it. Today, it is a fact, it’s Russia. Yesterday it belonged to Ukraine, the day before yesterday again Russia, once, perhaps, it belonged to the Tatars. And before that, well, there were dinosaurs. And what about the people who live there? After all, it matters little.
International recognition is a palliative that was invented to try to stem the way from time immemorial the boundaries of the world were changed, by force. This is not to say that Russia has acted in the right way. It means that the rules that Russia has broken are written in the sand, and that sanctions to enforce them are just blunt weapons. They hurt, but do not kill. The chanceries of the world knows this well, and the annexation is a chapter now archived. That’s why no Western country asks that Russia return the Crimea to Ukraine. No one is really willing to spoil relations with Russia (nor even to make a war) for a peninsula that has taken off.
A wrong criterion
The reasons usually used by Russian diplomacy and media to give international law support to the annexation – excuse me, the return – of Crimea, are basically three. One, Crimea was and has always been Russia, was assigned to Ukraine during a night of alcohol by Khrushchev when the borders within the USSR were only administrative, Ukraine would have to “give it back” immediately after independence. Two, Crimeans have freely chosen by plebiscitarian popular referendum.
The mistake that many observers make is just trying to argue or refute the first of two. The search for a primordial right on the peninsula can only have two goals, entertain at the bar who is interested in geopolitics or justify a posteriori what is the international equivalent of a theft. Reasoning in the same way, the whole map of Europe should be redesigned as it was at the time of the Roman Empire.
Russia had probably its reasons. But in international politics, as among ordinary citizens, it doesn’t legitimize the breach of the rules. If you steal at my home, I have every reason to steal your wallet. But any court would sentence me for theft. This is what the international community has done with Russia, but the stolen goods are now given up for lost.
The law of the strongest
The “referendum” was the slap in the face loudest supporters of international law. And it is an insult to the intelligence of the listener each time it is cited as the moment legitimizing the annexation. It was a caricature of democracy, whose organizers have managed to violate all the possible rules in a vote, even those of common sense. It has taken place at 10 days’ notice, without a proper campaign or public debate, with the political leaders of the country being unable to visit Crimea, and in the presence of many thousands of Russian troops from. And then, crowds of voters going to and fro in the polling stations with an open bulletin in their hand, unfolded bulletins casted in transparent ballot boxes, sometimes by happy children. Finally, the questions on the ballots. The two options were: 1. “Are you in favor of unifying Crimea with Russia as part of the Russian Federation?” 2. “Are you in favor of the restoration of the 1992 constitution and the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?”. The second question was a bit difficult: the constitution of 1992 was adopted after the collapse of the USSR and immediately canceled by Kiev because it gave to Crimea the status of an independent entity.
People who wanted to express the desire to remain part of Ukraine could only choose between becoming part of Russia now or a little further.
Because the Crimea belongs to the strongest. And those who live there, after all, does not matter.