At the risk of blowing up this blog, here’s a reprint of an email I just sent to some friends giving my contrarian 2 cents on Putin’s Crimean annexation:
While Russia is in clear contravention of international law, in terms of realpolitik I can’t fault them, and might do the same in their spot. If you take a look at the Crimean peninsula, you will see how absolutely strategic it is to Russia, both militarily and commercially. In real terms, the Russians simply can’t allow NATO to control the approaches to Rostov.
When you throw in the facts that the peninsula is historically Russian controlled, was until recently part of the Soviet Union, is at this time majority Russian, and would probably vote in a fair referendum to rejoin Russia… then the legalities in my mind become hopelessly muddled.
What are the legalities of Northern Ireland, Alsace-Lorraine, the West Bank, Hong Kong, Gibraltar…
Texas, Native American lands, Hawaii?
I do get that the deceptive tactics Putin is employing are reminiscent of Hitler’s. But that’s where the analogy ends for me. Putin’s aim isn’t war and conquest and “lebensraum” (nor the eradication of a people). And Russia has a huge and legitimate security interest in retaining the control over the Crimea it has had since time immemorial.
I’m getting a sense that the wise old heads in Europe are coming down on the side I’m advocating, rather than with the war-mongering Republicans. I also think that if anyone understands the complexities of the situation it will be President Obama, and he will walk a careful tightrope, as he has been forced to do so very often in his administration. And he will take the political lumps for doing the right thing and appearing weak, as he has also done so very often.
I am extraordinarily grateful he is our president in this situation, and not John McCain.
Here are a couple of thought experiments, in conclusion:
1) What if Russia were a beleaguered democracy, and the NATO nations were an ascendant league of repressive dictators? Would that change American perception of the legalities of annexing the Crimea? Might it in this case be referred to as a “rescue”?
Would the actual legalities be any different?
2) What if Cuba or Venezuela authorized the building of Russian naval bases and military installations on their territory? (That would I think be closely analogous to a potential NATO presence on the Crimean peninsula.) Would the United States bow to international law and let it happen?