The United States is attempting to place increased diplomatic pressure on Russia, in advance of the planned referendum vote in Crimea this coming weekend. Even if Crimeans vote to break off from Ukraine and become part of Russia, as many international observers are expecting, the United States will refuse to recognize the referendum, according to a Guardian article out today. This comes on the heels of President Barack Obama announcing, according to a Washington Post article out published late last week, economic sanctions against Russia, lengthy conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin offering him a “way out” involving negotiations with the new Ukrainian government, and a declaration that the current move by the Crimean people to become part of Russia was in violation of international law.
The problem with Obama’s reasoning, however, is that the Crimeans are not in violation of international law. Surly Obama must know that our own Declaration of Independence expresses the God-given right of people to separate and form their own government, as our ancestors did against the British government, establishing the United States as its own sovereign nation. Crimea must decide between a Ukrainian government struggling to establish itself despite the backing of the United States, and a stable Russian government that has strong ties to Crimea — most of the people in Crimea are Russian by ethnicity, after all.
The concern, of course, is that Putin won’t stop with just Crimea, and may seek to move into eastern Ukraine, the economic hub of the country. It would make sense strategically, in the long run, for Putin to follow the gas pipelines that extend from Russia through the Crimea to eastern Ukraine and into Europe. But I also believe that Putin is more cunning than his American counterpart when it comes to foreign relations, and won’t be eager to test NATO when there’s a process in place by which the Crimea — and perhaps other regions in Ukraine later on — will willingly become part of Russia.
Due in part to how President Obama has mismanaged other international hotspots in the last few years, the United States doesn’t hold the authority it once held on the world stage, and the declaration that the Crimeans are violating international law is an attempt to get other nations to help pressure Russia to not escalate matters with Ukraine by annexing Crimea. The United Nations won’t get involved as long as Russia sits on the Security Council, and as long as Crimeans decide to be annexed by vote, they do indeed have the right to do so. At the poker table involving Ukraine, it’s Russia who holds all the good cards, and how far the situation will go depends in large part on how many chips Russia wants to push to the center of the table.