AMSTERDAM, March 18, 2014 — Vladimir Putin proclaimed today that Crimea belongs under Russian sovereignty, despite the fact that the recent referendum violates both Ukrainian and international law. While many in the West condemn Russia’s aggression, some continue to find excuses for Russia’s behavior.
Many people in the Western democracies have fallen for the propaganda of totalitarian governments and even admire those countries while condemning their own governments for their shortcomings. They don’t see through the propaganda and end up comparing apples to oranges.
Some Westerners, including journalists and opinion leaders, blindly repeat Russian arguments that the split between Crimea and Ukraine is democratic, Crimea belongs to Russia, and Russia has every right to take action.
The first fallacy stems from the argument that the referendum provides legitimacy to the action. Crimea held a referendum last weekend, and more than 96 percent voted in favor of becoming a part of Russia. Unfortunately, the vote was not as democratic and legitimate as it may appear.
Democracy does not mean a dictatorship of the majority. It may be about majority rule, but also about the protection of minorities. In this case, the needs of the minorities are woefully neglected. The most prominent case is the Crimean Tatars, who may be forced to live in Russia against their will. They see Russia as responsible for their deportation from Crimea to Central Asia in 1944. During the relocation, half of them died.
The legitimacy of the regional government that called for a referendum and decided to join Russia is widely rejected in the west. The regional parliament installed a pro-Russian government and sacked the old one after Russian gunmen took control of Crimea. How democratic is a vote if any opposing voices are threatened? The same people who expelled the regional government say that similar actions in Kiev — where a group of protesters ousted pro-Russian President Yanukovych — are illegitimate.
Thirdly, the quick implementation of the referendum raises questions. While a referendum can be a good way to make decisions, one with such far-reaching consequences needs sufficient preparation. People have to be informed of the repercussions of the referendum so they are aware of all the consequences. They have to cast votes without being bullied or harassed.
The Crimean referendum was a hasty move, it was not preceded by a public education campaign to inform people of possible consequences, and it was not free of intimidation. The outcome was almost certainly influenced by the heavy Russian troop deployment. As a result, Ukrainians and Tatars did not vote, so the outcome was skewed.
Some argue that Crimea should return to Russia because it is, effectively, already Russian.
Crimea become part of Russia in 1783, after the Russian empress Catherine the Great annexed it. Before that, it was at times independent and at times part of various empires. It was part of the Ottoman empire for 333 years, from 1441 to 1774. The majority of Crimea’s population is now comprised of Russian natives, partly because of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Stalin and partly because Moscow encouraged Russians to move to Crimea. Before they were expelled, Tartars were the majority in Crimea.
In 1954, Crimea become an independent region of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic by decree of Khrushchev. In 1992, Crimea decided to join the newly independent state of Ukraine, a status that was fixed in a treaty that was also signed by Russia. Based on that treaty, it is difficult to argue that Crimea belongs to Russia.
Another argument, that Russia has a right to intervene because Ukraine is in its sphere of influence, is weak and ignores the basic principals of independent, democratic countries.
It is time for people to wake up to the facts about Ukraine. There is a lot of propaganda regarding the crisis in Ukraine from all sides. Ignore the propaganda, look at the facts below that first layer of information, and make informed decisions.
It is time to stand up against Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. There is no legitimate argument for Crimea joining Russia. If we continue to find excuses for Putin’s behavior, it will not take long for him to target another country to expand his new Russian empire. The tone has already been set, and there are a number of neighboring countries that are rightly afraid of being next on the list.
Excusing Putin is nothing more or less than giving him the right to go on and annex more territories.