We have an old-fashioned crisis on our hands regarding events in the Ukraine. It is a test of 21st-century diplomacy whether it can be resolved peacefully and with political foresight.
Current international law and global norms offer some guidance as to how the situation should be resolved. But as with every crisis, there are conflicting issues at stake. The challenge is to cut a critical path of principle through a complex situation of fact.
The two cardinal principles that underpin our international community are these.
First, non-violence and peaceful settlement: no crisis has ever been resolved in the modern era through the use of force. If force is employed, the tensions are simply buried. The Crimea will be no exception.
Second, sovereignty and territorial integrity: no country has the right to unilaterally intervene in the domestic affairs of another.
There can be no surrender of these principles. No subordinate reason can be advanced to overturn them.
Protection of civilians is not an automatic reason. The principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ accords primary responsibility to a government to protect its own citizens. If it is unable or unwilling to do so, it falls to the international community, acting through the UN Security Council, to step in. The UN can intervene to protect those people if egregious abuses of human rights are occurring.
But that is not the case here. And the ‘responsibility’ doctrine does not extend to the right of a neighbour to invade in order to protect people who speak a certain language or follow certain customs. That is 19th century style – not 21st.
Yet this is what Russia has done, and that is the justification it has given. It has claimed the right to intervene militarily in one portion of Ukraine, in order to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
That is not a valid legal basis for such an intervention. The increase of the Russian military presence in Crimea, beyond the bilateral agreement over the base, violates the territorial integrity of Ukraine and thus the UN Charter. It is, in short, an act of aggression. The Russian base accords Russia no special rights in Ukraine, any more than Okinawa does to the United States in Japan.
This is not to disregard the legitimate interests of Russia as a regional power in Eurasia. Nor is it to disregard the genuine needs of the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine.
It is simply to state the obvious – that aggression by armed force is not the way to solve these problems today. And that applies equally to all countries when they, too, contemplate aggression, such as the illegal attack on Iraq by the US, Britain and Australia 10 years ago this month.
The Crimea is not simply an issue for Russia. It is a global issue – a human rights issue, a democracy issue, a self-determination issue.
President Putin must make it clear that Russia will not take military action against the rest of Ukraine, but will engage in dialogue with Ukrainian authorities through the UN Secretary-General’s peace envoy. And the West must stop discouraging Ukrainian leaders from doing that. States that talk, don’t shoot.
The Green Party supports the call of the UN Secretary-General for an immediate freeze on military deployment, a dialogue between Ukrainian and Russian leaders under UN auspices, initially without the US or the EU involved, then a referral to the UN Security Council.