Microsoft’s Story Highlights Why West Needs a Formal Non-Recognition Policy on Crimea Now

December 5, 2014

Staunton, December 5 Yesterday, Ukrainian and Russian media reported that Microsoft had implicitly recognized the Russian annexation of Crimea by requiring those using its products on the Ukrainian peninsula to apply for new licenses, a story that turned out to be false but that highlights the need for a formal non-recognition policy to clarify the legal situation.

After the story started to circulate Microsoft issued a statement saying that it had not sent letters to its customers in Crimea requiring that they re-license its products if they intended to continue to use them.

The company noted that Comparex, an IT company, had sent such a letter which included standard language about “the most suitable means of legalizing pirated products,” language that Microsoft said was “distributed in all countries” in which its products are used.” The firm said that these terms did not speak to the issue of recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Media reports had suggested that Maykrosoft Rus had “recommended to all its clients” in Crimea to inventory their computers and programs before December 30th of this year to ensure that they had the necessary licenses and that these licenses remained in force despite any political changes.

Despite these reports, Microsoft has done nothing to indicate that it somehow recognizes the Anschluss. But this story highlights the need for a clearly articulated and legally binding policy of Western non-recognition of the illegal Russian occupation of Crimea lest more such stories circulate or lead some companies to act as Microsoft has been accused of doing.

The International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization have been quite clear in specifying that they consider what Russia has done to be illegal and that any air or sea carrier which goes to or through Crimea puts itself at risk of loss because it will be in violation of insurance regulations.

And Western officials, most recently US Secretary of State John Kerry, have declared that they will never recognize Russia’s occupation of Crimea and that the only way for Moscow to end the current standoff is to withdraw its forces and return that peninsula to Ukrainian control.

But as the Microsoft story shows, such declarations are insufficient not only as a counter to Russian propaganda about Crimea, which will only intensify after Vladimir Putin’s declaration about “the sacred nature” of that land for Russians, but also as a basis for the actions of Western corporations and individuals who may have dealings there.

A resolution calling for such a policy and giving it some teeth has now cleared the International Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives with a unanimous vote. It should be passed as soon as possible and become not only the law of the land in the United States but a model for other Western countries as well.