Staunton, August 14 – Vladimir Putin’s current visit to occupied Crimea, his second, may not lead to the dramatic declaration of his plans that many expect, a Ukrainian political scientist says. Instead, the Kremlin leader may be using it to present himself as “a peacemaker” and to force the international community to recognize Moscow’s annexation as legitimate.
“Why should one expect something unexpected from Putin in Crimea?” Vladimir Horbach asks. “Most likely, he will speak in generalities and try to show to himself and to Russians that Russia has entered Crimea forever.” In pursuit of that, he doesn’t need to say much.
Horbach observed that as things have developed and continue to develop elsewhere in Ukraine, Putin has sought to treat his annexation of Crimea as something of almost historical interest beyond any challenge. Thus, going to the region and speaking with his officials is about stressing what he wants to show as the normalcy of it all.
“The last actions of the Russian authorities concerning the humanitarian mission to the Donbas or the lifting of annexationist timetables about ‘federalization’ and ‘Novorossiya’ testify that Russia is seeking a path for calming the situation” so as to ensure that it will retain Crimea for itself.
The humanitarian convoy “may be a distracting maneuver or it may be a provocation, he continued. “Beyond the borders of Russia itself, trust in the declarations of the Russian authorities has fallen so low that there is no room for it to fall further. Therefore one must be attentive to each move of the Russian side.”
“If Putin calculates sitting at the negotiating table,” Horbach said, “then exactly for that purpose could arise his presenting himself in the role of a peacemaker. He is correcting his image. Not for nothing did he at the same time play the role of mediator between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”
While he does so, of course, the Ukrainian analyst points out, Putin retains his opportunity for shifting in one direction or another, but he clearly wants to present his Crimean action as something finished and over. Something that the outside world must simply accept and Ukraine must never challenge.
In recent weeks, all too many people and officials in Western countries appear to have accepted Putin’s argument in that regard even while they express their anger about what he has been doing elsewhere in Ukraine. But it is important to remember that what Putin did in Crimea was an illegal act of aggression and occupation.
Consequently, it is worth citing the conclusions of the legal advisory group to the Polish foreign ministry which provides the clearest and most succinct reasons why Putin’s claims on Crimea are illegitimate and why the international community, however much some of its leaders would like to “look beyond” this issue, are required by international law not to.
“In light of international law, the incorporation of the Crimean Peninsula (Crimea), which forms part of Ukraine’s territory, into the Russian Federation qualifies as annexation, i.e. the illegal acquisition of the territory of another state by the threat or use of force,” the Polish legal advisors say.
“In this respect,” they continue, “Crimea remains an occupied territory under international law. The annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation has violated many treaties and fundamental principles of international law, namely the principle of territorial integrity of states, non-intervention into the domestic affairs of another state, and the prohibition of the threat or use of force against another state.”
“Consequently, the Russian Federation has violated Ukraine’s rights which enjoy international protection. Moreover, due to the special legal status of the principles of international law that have been violated, the Russian Federation has breached its commitments under law to the entire international community.”
The legal advisors also stress that, because of these reasons, “this community has an international legal obligation not to recognize the illegal situation that has been created by the illegal use of force in the form of armed aggression, and its consequences.”