Staunton, March 27 – Under international law at the present time, one country can interfere in the affairs of another “either as response to aggression, as a defense of its own citizens, or in reaction to massive force and genocide,” Vladislav Inozemtsev writes in today’s Vedomosti.
But Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea, which he justifies not in terms of these principles but rather in the name of defending ethnic Russians as such, have the effect, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society says, of throwing the world back not to Soviet times but to a pre-Westphalian world.
Russian commentators have tried to muddy the waters about the situation in Crimea by insisting that the was a revolution in Ukraine and that this was illegal. But “every contemporary nation began its history with a revolution,” Inozemtsev says, “and every one of them involved force and ‘excesses.’”
But “this is not the most important thing,” he continues. What is is “the enormous dissonance between the rhetoric and actions of Russian leaders and existing international practice.” That current international system is based on “the principle of sovereignty and the non-interference of states in the affairs of one another.”
Obviously, that principle has been violated many times, but what Putin has done represents a greater violation than those in the past. Ukraine has not met any of the conditions under international law that could justify intervention, “and even if you consider Ukraine a failed state, this is not the basis for intervention.”
And indeed, Moscow political figures have not so much invoked them as tried to come up with a new one by their talk of “the threat to the security of ‘ethnic Russians’ and even ‘Russian speakers.’” By doing so, Inozemtsev says, “Moscow de facto has declared a civilizational rather than legal basis for intervention.”
Unless Russia were to declare itself an ethnic Russian and Orthodox state, something that were it to do would mean that “the country would simply case to exist,” Moscow has no right to defend its co-ethnics or co-religionists beyond its borders. The only exception to this rule in the international system is Israel which has defined itself as a Jewish state, he says.
If the existing principles are thrown out the window as Russia has, Inozemtsev continues, one can easily imagine “what would happen,” and “no one wants a war of all against all.”
Other Moscow efforts to justify what it has done in Crimea are equally without foundation and carry great risks. There is no basis for invoking the right of nations to self-determination because “the Russian minority in Ukraine is not an ethnos deprived of statehood” or a colony.
Moreover, Moscow’s claims about the supposed large number of “’citizens of Russia’” in Ukraine are “doubtful” at best, Inozemtsev says. Few ethnic Russians living outside the Russian Federation in 1991 got Russian citizenship then, and relatively fewer Russians moved from non-Russian countries to Russia than in the opposite direction.
“Consequently,” he writes, “Russia has ascribed to itself the right to ‘defend’ the interests of people who are in the first instance citizens of another country which creates the basis for an extremely broad interpretation and a large number of new conflicts.”
The conclusion that follows from this, he says, is “simple.” By its messianism, Russia has turned away from “contemporary legal principles in favor of the re-animation of ethnic and religious identity as more essential than membership in a political nation.”
And that means, Inozemtsev says, that “those who consider our country 30 to 40 years behind Europe are seriously mistaken. The lag is not less than 365 years,” the period that “separates us from the Treaty of Westphalia which ended religious wars in Europe and offered the authorities of each country the right to take decisions about the fate of their own citizens.”
If the situation continues to develop alone the lines Moscow has pursued in Crimea, the Moscow commentator says, “the next stage of our political evolution will be the justification of crusades.” After all, there already appears to be a “consensus” in Russia about the “infallibility of ‘the pope.’”