What Europe can do for Crimea Lilit Mkrtchyan
Black Sea in Feodosia

Confusion, anger, frustration induced by the archaic, imperialistic approach of the Russian Federation in Crimea, these feelings have left the world in awe and stumbling over the question: what will come of Crimea? At this point in time, one simple answer exists: Ukraine and the West have lost Crimea for good.

There exist three ways in which the global community could have approached the situation to possibly maintain or reassert Ukrainian control over Crimea, relying on the rule of law, military intervention, and economic intervention. But these paths to conflict resolution do not stay open forever, sometimes closing with no guarantee of ever reopening.

Despite the fact that Crimea will most likely remain under Russian rule indefinitely, the international community has made it abundantly clear that it will not recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea. What can be expected as a result is a situation similar to that of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the Republic of Georgia: Crimea will be a de jure part of Ukraine and, for all intents and purposes, remain a de facto part of the Russian Federation.

Rule of Law: Involving the United Nations:

There is no question as to whether Russia’s move in Crimea is a violation of international law, particularly in the areas of national self-determination and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. This has been the primary basis for EU and US arguments to denounce the region’s independence vote and seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict. But the issue with international law is that it cannot function without the cooperation of all parties involved, an issue that is all too visible in the United Nations Security Council where the veto of a single permanent member can dismantle the entire diplomatic process.

Unfortunately, the Russian Federation is one of these permanent members and has used that power to thwart attempts by the international community to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis via diplomacy and dialogue. This is because the Russian Government does not see its annexation of Crimea as an invasion of a foreign country or the usurpation of its territory, as international law suggests. Rather, because ethnic Russians are the majority in Crimea, many in Moscow view the region’s accession into the Federation as protecting Russian citizens from what they deem an anti-Russian Government in Kiev.

As long as Moscow maintains this viewpoint, there is little the international community or the United Nations can do to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. And whereas Russia has officially welcomed Crimea as a subject of the Federation, it is abundantly clear that Kremlin will not be changing its justification to the invasion and lift its veto. Therefore, diplomatic efforts by the international community can be considered both fruitless and frozen indefinitely.


Military Intervention: Taking Crimea by Force:

There exists, of course, the possibility of military intervention to return Crimea to Ukraine. Although this possibility exists, it will not be implemented. There is no chance that the United States will engage in an armed conflict with Russia unless it or its major NATO allies are attacked first. Nuclear powers simply do not engage in direct military conflict with other nuclear powers. If any country were to attempt to retake Crimea militarily, it would have to be Ukraine itself.

But much like the Republic of Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetia War, Ukraine stands absolutely no chance against the larger, more advanced Russian military. Furthermore, opening a military engagement in Crimea would offer the Russian Federation the mandate to invade Ukraine as a whole and occupy Southern and Eastern Ukraine, both of which are majority ethnic Russian. A Ukrainian attempt to reclaim Crimea with the use of force not would only result Russia maintaining the breakaway region, but likely also end with Russian occupying and annexing other Ukrainian territories where ethnic Russians comprise the majority.

Such a move in Crimea by Ukraine would also be a poor move politically. Despite Crimea’s independence referendum being declared illegal by the West and marred by accusations of pressure and fraud, the majority of Crimean voters still support leaving Ukraine. Even if these elections were held under Kiev’s watch, the likelihood of not only a majority, but an absolute majority (60%) of Crimean’s voting to break away would almost certainly have been achieved. Forcing a territory to rejoin despite their clearly stated lack of desire to do so, could result in claims of imperialistic tendencies being reverted from Russia and directed to Ukraine.

Whereas the United States (the sole power capable of challenging Russia militarily) is unwilling to engage in conflict for a non-NATO member, and whereas Ukraine lacks the military capability to engage in either a defensive or offensive campaign, the idea that Crimea will be returned to Ukraine as a result of military intervention is inconceivable.

Economic Sanctions: Western Sanctions:

In a global political order where the US and the EU exist as economic hyper powers, the overall impact and effectiveness of economic sanctions can be as effective as military operations. As long as sanctions are properly timed and large enough to actually negatively impact the economy of the nation or region being targeted, economic sanctions can work. Unfortunately, US and EU sanctions against Russia were neither.

First and foremost, sanctions introduced by the EU and the US did not match the severity of the situation. When targeting a nation with sanctions, size matters. Russia’s geographic size make the nation incredibly self-sufficient, therefore sanctions against it must be large enough to inflict economic damage on a sizeable scale early on to force the Kremlin, a Government known for ignoring the views of international community, into constructive dialogue. Instead, both the US and Europe introduced minor sanctions, a blacklist of key figures in the crisis. These moves were immediately pinned weak and literally laughed at by President Putin.

Depending on the situation, the timing of sanctions can be just as important as their severity. In the case of implementing sanctions to counter a Russian invasion with intent to annex, it is essential that sanctions severe enough to generate results are imposed prior to annexation and integration. That deadline was March 18, 2014, when the executives of Crimea and Sevastopol approved accession to the Russian Federation. With Crimea now de facto a part of Russia, it can be assumed that no level of sanctions will result in a Russian handover of the peninsula and that the EU and US missed their opportunity to use sanctions as a tool to prevent Crimea’s annexation. Any further sanctions will not be for Crimea’s return, but to punish Moscow for taking it.

Although the West may continue with threats and sanctions, it appears that a viable solution to retain or retake Crimea no longer exists: the region will continue to be a de facto part of Russia.

Edited by: Lilit Mkrtchyan
Photo credits: Lilit Mkrtchyan