After seeming on the verge of war in the weekend, the situation in Ukraine seems to have temporarily stabilised, after Putin said there was no need to send troops to Ukraine. The use of force however is still a last resort. While suggesting that an invasion of Eastern Ukraine isn’t going to happen soon, this does ignore the thousands of Russian troops currently occupying Crimea. Ukrainian soldiers remain barricaded in their bases, surrounded by Russian soldiers. Earlier on Tuesday Russian soldiers fired in the air when other Ukrainian soldiers attempted to enter their own base. So how has Putin justified the Russian actions? And how do these justifications stand up?
“Events in Kiev amount to an anti-constitutional coup”
Putin makes a good point with this. The way Yanukovich was voted out of office by the parliament was possibly unconstitutional, and was at the least very unorthodox. However it is a vital point that Yanukovich left Kyiv for Kharkiv, and took away the security around government buildings. The opposition and protesters merely filled the power vacuum he left behind.
As for whether the protests leading up to the bloody events of February 20th were a coup, it depends on whether you side with the protesters or not. There were protesters, mainly Right Sector nationalists/fascists, who used violence against police. But the protests were peaceful until the police tried to clear the Maidan by force. The use of snipers by the police was also illegal, as protesters who posed no threat were shot. But Putin is certainly right to say that this was not the usual way to remove an elected President, no matter how corrupt.
Russian forces have not taken part in operations in Crimea
This is a lie. Russian troops are active in Crimea, they are blockading Ukrainian bases, and they are outside of their legal naval base in Sevastopol. The armed men who took over government buildings before the weekend were heavily armed and all equipped with the same weapons and uniform. A far cry from the protesters in Kyiv seen with air rifles. While there may be some “pro-Russian militia” as Putin calls them, Russian troops are definitely occupying Ukrainian territory. Every journalist in Crimea has confirmed this.
- The BBC’s Mark Lowen was told by an armed man that he was “a Russian soldier, based usually in Sevastopol”.
- Russian Armoured Personnel Carriers have been seen moving around Crimea, flying the Russian flag.
- Russian vehicles have been seen with licence plates from other parts of Russia
- Experts have said that the weapons and gear carried by the soldiers is only used by Russian elite soldiers such as the Spetznaz.
- Personal friends of mine living in Crimea have told me that there are Russian special forces present in their town, a long way from the naval base in Sevastopol.
Stating that all the actions taken in Crimea were by local pro-Russian groups flies in the face of reality.
Russian actions in Ukraine are in accordance with international law
This is also untrue, though it is made more complicated by the fact that the US and France have also taken actions in the past that were similarly illegal. Russia had no permission from the UN to intervene, and there was no immediate threat to civilians to justify this intervention (see the next point below). Russia has produced a letter by ex-President Yanukovich asking Putin to use force. However this is invalid for two reasons, the first being that the constitution of Ukraine states that only the parliament can authorise foreign troops in Ukraine. It’s also invalid because the letter is dated to the 1st of March, three days after Russian soldiers first entered Ukrainian territory.
However, the West is on shaky ground in condemning Russia for an illegal invasion. The US invasions of Iraq in 2003 or Grenada in 1983 were not approved by the UN, and there was no immediate threat to civilians or to the US. Grenada was condemned by the UN as a violation of international law. Both France and the UK also have a history of intervening in African conflicts. However the statement all children hear growing up applies here too: “two wrongs don’t make a right”. The Russian intervention is still illegal.
Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine are in danger from nationalists and neo-Nazis
While some in Ukraine may feel this way, nothing has yet happened to make these fears real. They have a real cause for complaint in the fact that their interests are not represented in the revolutionary government. Taking away Russian’s status as an official language at regional level was also badly timed by the government. But there have been no attacks on Russians or anyone else since the revolution, despite Russian claims to the contrary. It is understandable that people in the East of Ukraine feel uncertain and afraid seeing images of protesters taking control in Kyiv. However there has been nothing that in any way would justify armed intervention.
Crimea would choose to join Russia anyway
While the majority of Crimeans are ethnically Russian, 24% are ethnically Ukrainian and 12% are Crimean Tatar. These last two groups are less enthusiastic about joining Russia. The current Prime Minister of Crimea, appointed in the last few weeks, is a member of a party that received only 4% of votes in the last election. While the majority of Crimeans certainly are against the new Ukrainian government, the actual numbers in favour of re-joining Russia are unclear, and there are plenty of people who want the situation to remain as it is.
Both sides of the East-West divide can be accused of hypocrisy. The West is now condemning an illegal invasion while having conducting plenty itself. However, the hypocrisy of the Russian leadership is stunning. Time and time again they have blocked even criticism by the UN of the Syrian government, which has committed huge violations of human rights. In a bizarre comment the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday “An intervention through force under a pretext of protecting civilians causes the opposite, multiplies the suffering of peaceful citizens, and strips them of their fundamental human right – the right to life”. Thus begging the question “what is Russia doing”.
Finally, in recent days I have heard online and in conversations people repeat the above points about the hypocrisy of the West. There have also been plenty of people saying the West pushed Russia into action. This may all be true, but we cannot forget the country at the centre of this. This crisis is about Ukraine, and it is not Ukraine’s fault that the West lost some of the moral high ground. Ukraine shouldn’t be a plaything of the East or West, it deserves to be able to determine its own future. The next few days will show whether or not it will be able to do so.
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