Eric Posner Argues for Legitimacy of Crimea Referendum
Crimea’s planned March 16 referendum on whether it should leave Ukraine and join Russia is underhanded, dishonest, and absurd—and completely legitimate. Vladimir Putin has yet again maneuvered the West into a corner. Jujitsu-like, he is using one of our most prized institutions—international law—against us. This is not the first time, and so calls to punish Russia and start a Cold War II are understandable. Yet we should swallow our pride and let him bask in his victory. In the long run, it gets him nothing.
Putin’s first victory against the West took place in 2008. At the time, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two renegade provinces in Georgia, were controlled by pro-Russian governments and patrolled by Russian peacekeepers. When the pro-Western Georgian government sent in the army to reacquire control of South Ossetia, Russian military forces moved in and crushed the Georgians. Russia then recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, in clear violation of Georgia’s sovereignty. The West condemned Russia’s actions but did nothing. Some Western analysts blamed Georgia for starting the war, but Georgia was merely trying to assert control over its own territory, which it has now irrevocably lost.
Putin’s second victory came thanks to President Obama’s rash announcement last year that the United States would send bombers into Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against civilians. Obama claimed that international law provided a basis for U.S. military intervention—but was blocked in the Security Council by Russia and China. In a Machiavellian op-ed obligingly published by the New York Times, Putin pointed out that U.S. military intervention would violate the sovereignty of Syria, breaking international law and harming the U.N. system...