The 2014 revolution by the Russian speaking population in East Ukraine finally resulted in the separation of Crimea, based on a legal Declaration of Independence of the Crimea followed by a people’s referendum on joining Russia, based on the right to self-determination according to the Baltic states when, in 1990, they declared independence from the USSR.
It’s clear from the official declaration by the Supreme Council of Crimea on the peninsula’s independence that this legal, legitimate act is founded on international law and the people’s right to self-determination. Moreover, it is also based on the so-called “Kosovo precedent”, created by the west in 2008, which boomeranged back to Ukraine six years later.
Basically, the “Kosovo precedent” was a flagrant violation of international law, including the UN Charter and UN Resolution 1244 on Kosovo. This “precedent” was first created in 1999 by a brutal NATO military aggression on the independent and sovereign Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without any mandate of the UNSC, followed in February 2008 by the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence by the Kosovo parliament, and its recognition by part of the world. This was how the West created the “precedent” which by definition has to be a unique case in international relations, theoretically meaning that it cannot serve as a basis or example for any similar case in the world.
However, in 2010, this “precedent” was legally established by an opinion of the UN International Court of Justice that a proclamation of Kosovo independence did not violate international law on self-determination (independence). This is true, but it does violate the UN Charter on the territorial integrity of states and their domestic law. The court’s opinion is formally of an advisory nature, but in practice it has serious implications and consequences. The first was the Crimean case in 2014, as clearly stated both by the Crimean authorities and the Russian government.
Undoubtedly, the “Kosovo precedent” not only shook but destroyed the foundations of international law, based primarily on the UN Charter and subsequent resolutions. Thus it had a “boomerang effect” with regard to the case of Crimean secession from Ukraine and annexation by Russia. We must remember that Crimea broke relations with Ukraine for the same formal reasons used by the Albanians in the 2008 “Kosovo precedent”. Nevertheless, the western countries recognized Kosovo independence from Serbia but not the Crimean, Donetsk and Luhansk separation from Ukraine, regardless of the fact that all of these cases are based on the same legal and moral arguments. Moreover, as opposed to the “Kosovo precedent”, the separation cases in Ukraine are based on the results of plebiscites.
The western policy of double standards is very visible from the following written statement on Kosovo independence by the US, dated April 17th, 2009 and submitted to the UN International Court of Justice:
“Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.”
We did not hear similar statements by the US administration on the independence cases of the Republic of Serbian Krayina, the Republic of Srpska, the Republic of Transnistria, the Republic of Abkhazia, the Republic of South Ossetia or three separatist republics in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The UN International Court of Justice accepted the US statement, and on July 22, 2010, it stated that “No general prohibition may be inferred from the practice of the Security Council with regard to declarations of independence,” and “General international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.” According to the above statements, it’s clear that Moscow was absolutely right about Crimea’s secession, with one important distinction: Russia did not bomb Kiev!
As a matter of fact, the West did not offer Belgrade the possibility of federalizing Serbia and Kosovo: Kosovo independence was advocated as the optimal solution. However, Moscow is advocating federalization as the best solution for the Ukrainian crisis with the East Ukrainian Russian-speaking regions as a single federal territory. Crimea, following the logic of both historical and ethnic rights, must stay in Russia, since the peninsula has been Russian for most of history. The scenario of a federalized Ukraine would lessen the new Cold War between the West (the NATO and the EU) and the bloc of countries around Russia, China and Iran. However, if the western mentors of the Euromaidan government in Kiev reject Russia’s proposal it is probable that Ukraine will be left to commit suicide, as western double standards will continue to have a boomerang effect on East Ukraine and the Odessa region as well.
The current Ukrainian crisis can be resolved according to the 1667 Andrussovo Treaty signed on February 9th between Poland-Lithuania and Russia. According to that treaty, the present-day territory of Ukraine was divided between two states: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (the Republic of Both Nations) and the Russian Empire, with the Dnieper river as a demarcation line. Russia received from Poland-Lithuania territories eastward of the Dnieper, including Kiev and the Zaporozhie region (from both sides of the river). The Dnieper became a border between “Europe” and Russia, with Ukraine divided into two borderlands. The Slavonic word Ukraine means borderland in English. Its ultimate destiny is clear even from the name of the country. The case of the Republic of Serbian Krayina proved it clearly in the 1990s – a Borderland can be only a periphery of a state, it does not matter on which side.
We cannot forget the humanitarian intervention aspect of the final solution of the “Ukrainian Question”. In general, “intervention” is considered as forcible action committed by some state(s) against others, without the consent by the attacked side. Therefore, “humanitarian intervention” is a military intervention carried out by some state(s) to protect human rights (usually minority rights). Speaking from the point of view of morality, a humanitarian intervention is grounded, or (mis)used as a formal pretext, the notion of being “humanitarian” meaning to be concerned about the interests of and benefits to mankind by reducing suffering.
The concept of humanitarian intervention has been (mis)used, especially after the Cold War, in the cases of Iraq (in 1991 to create “safe havens” for the Kurds by establishing a no-fly zone policed by three NATO pact countries: the USA, UK and France), Somalia (in 1992 to create a protected environment), Haiti (in 1994 to restore order by the civil authority), Rwanda (in 1994 to create a “safe zone” for Hutu refugees), Kosovo (in 1999 to protect the Albanians from Serbia’s military and police forces), East Timor (in 1999 to prevent possible ethnic cleansing by Indonesia’s security forces), and Sierra Leone (in 2000 to protect UK citizens during a civil war).
Very controversial wars of humanitarian intervention in the above-mentioned cases, in which only the western powers participated, were formally justified on humanitarian grounds. However, in most of these cases, the intervention had a political and geopolitical background, as is clearly shown in the cases of Kosovo and Sierra Leone.
In the Kosovo case, the intervention was committed in a context of fear of ethnic cleansing. A 78 day NATO air campaign, conducted without UNSC authorization, finally forced Serbia to withdraw its military and police forces from the province. Kosovo was occupied by NATO troops, with the creation of a huge US military base, and finally separated from Serbia by a proclamation and recognition of independence, which was in fact the ultimate geopolitical goal of the 1999 ‘humanitarian’ intervention.
In Sierra Leone, after a prolonged civil war, the UK government decided to send British military forces to the country, formally to protect UK citizens, but in fact ultimately to support the elected government against rebel forces accused of carrying out atrocities against the civilians.
Here, we come to the crux of the current Ukrainian crisis and the “Ukrainian Question”. It is well known that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is fascinated with the 1999 NATO Kosovo humanitarian intervention, seen as a major humiliation for Russia. It is also well known that the Euromaidan regime in Kiev committed terrible war crimes in the Donbass, which can be classified as ethnic cleansing and even a form of genocide, as thousands of Donbass inhabitants were brutally killed (among them around 200 children) approximately one million of them becoming refugees in Russia.
For Moscow, it is easy to “prove” acts of war crimes by the Kiev Euromaidan junta in Donbass, as it was also very easy for Washington to formally “prove” Serbia’s war crimes in Kosovo before the NATO intervention in 1999. As a result, Moscow could launch a ‘humanitarian’ intervention in East Ukraine, leading to its final separation from Kiev. A “Kosovo precedent” is still on the books.
The author is a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences, Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania. He wrote this article especially for RI.