September 02, 2014

Is Crimea Russia's Payback for Kosovo?

Follow-up to The Carswell Effect: Dishonour and War from Mark Harrison's blog

A few days ago I wrote about how Europe is facing the threat of all-out war in Ukraine, but Britain's foreign policy is being disabled by anti-immigration gestures. There was one response -- Yes! I have a reader! -- which I thought was outstanding, and I'm going to write a whole blog about it. This contribution, by an author with the username Blisset, stood out for its dry humour, and also because it got so many things wrong in so few words. Here it is in full:

Wasn’t Serbia/Yugoslavia dismembered thanks to an invasion of USA and UK and allied forces after months of bombing by the USA and UK and allied forces on the Serbian/Yugoslavian capital?

If that happened 15 years ago, wouldn’t that be a strong, authoritative legal precedent for the USA, the UK and their allies to start bombing Moscow and invading the Russian Federation to give back the Crimea to Ukraine? :-)

Now I'll break it down into three parts. Here's the first part.

Wasn’t Serbia/Yugoslavia dismembered thanks to an invasion of USA and UK and allied forces after months of bombing by the USA and UK and allied forces on the Serbian/Yugoslavian capital?

No. Here's why not.

  • “Serbia/Yugoslavia": This term is misleading. Yugoslavia ceased to exist in 1992. Serbia (strictly, Serbia and Montenegro) claimed to be the successor state to Yugoslavia, but without securing international recognition. So, not “Serbia/Yugoslavia,” just Serbia.
  • "Dismembered": In 1992 Yugoslavia fell apart without any external intervention. In 2006 Montenegro left Serbia of its own accord. The only external force that was involved was the force that removed the province of Kosovo from Serbian control in 1999; Kosovo became independent, however, only under UN administration in 2008.
  • "Thanks to an invasion." None of these territories was invaded from outside the former Yugoslav Republic. The Kosovo war ended with the entry of peacekeeping troops into Kosovo, provided by NATO under UN authority. That wasn't an invasion.
  • "Months of bombing": The NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 followed many years of restriction of Kosovo’s autonomy and repression of Kosovan ethnicity, culminating in open conflict and a Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing. By the time the bombing started, half the province’s two-million population were refugees, hundreds of thousands having fled to Albania, Macedonia, and Bosnia.

Now the second part:

If that happened 15 years ago, wouldn’t that be a strong, authoritative legal precedent for the USA, the UK and their allies to start bombing Moscow and invading the Russian Federation to give back the Crimea to Ukraine?

No. Here's why not.

  • "Legal precedent": Russia now claims Kosovo as a precedent for Crimea, but at the same time Russia continues to withhold recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Evidently, Russia does not see Kosovo as a lawful precedent. Rather, it considers that Kosovo provided grounds for retaliation, or tit-for-tat.
  • Kosovo/Crimea: But Crimea is not a parallel to Kosovo. NATO intervened in Kosovo to prevent ethnic cleansing of the population, not to transfer its territory to Albania, the regional neighbour claiming ethnic affinity with the oppressed majority in Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing was not under way in Crimea or any other part of Ukraine before the Russian intervention. All opinion polls carried out before the Russian intervention showed large majorities in every province of Ukraine and amongst every ethnic group in favour of Ukrainian sovereignty and integrity.
  • Casus belli: Yes, unprovoked aggression and the seizure of territory by armed force are generally recognized as grounds for war, and the crime against Ukraine is particularly heinous given that at Budapest in 1994 Russia gave a solemn promise to uphold Ukraine’s frontiers. In that setting Ukraine would be justified in a proportionate military response. But let’s be realistic here, because there is a limit even to my sense of humour: Russia is a nuclear power, whereas Ukraine is not, having given up its nuclear weapons under the Budapest agreement that Russia signed. In any case, on a scale from zero (complete passivity) to 10 (invading Russia) the NATO response is currently registering something around 1 (targeted and financial sanctions). No one is thinking about bombing Moscow any time soon.
  • Invading Russia: It seems odd to worry about invading Russia when the problem is that Russia has invaded Ukraine. But I do not want invading Russia on anyone's agenda. I have friends in Moscow and Kiev and loved ones here who are of military service age. I don't seek conflict or advocate confrontation of any kind except that which will lessen the danger of a worse conflict in the future. What keeps me awake at night is the thought that lukewarm NATO support for Ukrainian resistance might encourage Putin to try to change the facts on the ground quickly and irrevocably by means of a sudden all-out war.

Third part:

:-)

Hahaha! You were joking all along. But I wasn't laughing. Here's why not.

  • Gesture politics comes in more than one form. I started from the danger of anti-immigration gestures, like Douglas Carswell's (he's the MP that defected from the Tories to UKIP). But anti-Americanism can be just as misleading. Underlying your response are two basic ideas. One is that Americans have sometimes behaved badly, so if America is for something, it must be bad for us. Free trade? Exploitation, obviously. Democracy? Hypocrisy. Another is the idea that America is all-powerful, so small countries are of no account. Yugoslavia fell apart? America did it. Ukrainians want to join Europe? America made them.
  • Such ideas arise naturally in the cultures of former great powers such as ours, formed by rivalry with America. They find a less tolerant climate in Europe's smaller democracies. Look at the revealed preferences of the smaller countries that emerged from Soviet domination in the 1990s. To the extent that they became democracies, smaller European countries from the Baltic to the Balkans got away from Russian influence as quickly as they possibly could. They turned to the West. They could not join the EU and NATO fast enough. But joining the EU turned out to be time-consuming and laborious, so they joined NATO first.
  • NATO did not make them join. They chose to do it. Having done it, they show few signs of regret today. There's a lesson in that somewhere.

- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Tyrion

    Hi Prof. Harrison,

    First thing first, it is a different person writing to you (2nd reader!). I will try to question you on your recent thoughts on Serbia and Crimea.

    First, you say ””Thanks to an invasion.” None of these territories was invaded from outside the former Yugoslav Republic.” Correct me if I am wrong, but NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 without an UN mandate, therefore, it was an invasion as not a single country or a military alliance has a right to use force against a sovereign country without a clear UN mandate. Yes, ””Months of bombing”: The NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 followed many years of restriction of Kosovo’s autonomy and repression of Kosovan ethnicity, culminating in open conflict and a Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing.” – but it does not give a legal right to NATO to bomb Serbia. And as NATO is just the US and its allies, one can say that the US had bombed Serbia illegally.

    The recent situation in Libya seems to be somewhat similar – the UN mandate did not give the right to use military force, but it did not stop some NATO members from using it.

    Secondly, you say: “NATO intervened in Kosovo to prevent ethnic cleansing of the population, not to transfer its territory to Albania, the regional neighbour claiming ethnic affinity with the oppressed majority in Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing was not under way in Crimea or any other part of Ukraine before the Russian intervention.”

    Well, would have you considered Crimea joining Russia legal if it would have happened after the civil war in Crimea, just like in Donetsk now? How many victims should be killed in a civil war or a local territorial conflict for it to be acceptable for the third party to use force without a UN mandate?

    Can anyone say that Crimea would have not followed Donetsk’s scenario if it did not join Russia? It is likely to be a zero-probability event if you remember why Crimean people were protesting in February. Crimean population, 60% of which are ethnic Russians (more than in Donetsk) were feared of the state law reducing the rights of their language and of the far-right activists in Kiev marching in favour of the ideas Crimeans were feared of.

    Yes, none of the above gives the right to any third party, including Russia, to invade Ukraine. But I disagree that Crimean referendum can be called illegal. If Crimean population was forced to join Russia against their will, would have not we seen on the news the protests against the invasion? If the journalists are not allowed in Crimea by military forces, why do they not talk about it. Crimea has disappeared from the news after the referendum. People voted to live, they did not want to wait until the civil war comes to their house. Just like “NATO prevented ethic cleansing in Kosovo”, Russia prevented the civil war in Crimea. The difference is that there was not a single town bombed, not a single person shot.

    So why then NATO bombing Serbia and Libya (and Iraq) is fine, but Russia facilitating a blood-less referendum in Crimea is not?

    02 Sep 2014, 22:30

  2. fresa

    Hello Professor Harrison,
    I am your third reader already. I want to say, that I agree to most of your points, but I would like to respond to person, who left the previous comment, Tyrion.
    Mainly, I would like to comment your two last paragraphs.
    You write: “If Crimean population was forced to join Russia against their will, would have not we seen on the news the protests against the invasion?”
    Well, actually there were some news about people in Crimea protesting against joining Russia. Mainly they were Crimean Tatars- the ethnic minority, who were deported by Stalin after WWII, and were allowed to return only after the collapse of the USSR. As not all were able to return after many years, as of March only 17 % of population of Crimea were Crimean Tatars, even though they were the majority before deportation. Them, joined by some Ukrainians, were the most active organisers of anti-Russian protests. You also said that”Just like “NATO prevented ethic cleansing in Kosovo”, Russia prevented the civil war in Crimea.” But is it really worth preventing a civil war, if you create another ethnic cleansing instead? After the referendum two most influential Crimean Tatars were banned to enter Russia, and therefore Crimea. There were other incidents, such as denying speaking their language in court, even though it is still considered official, even by Russian laws, and murders of some of them by racists, both from general public and Russian militants. Here is the link, but there were much more news about it, whick you can easily find.
    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/05/crimean-tatars-embrace-russia-20145135423720401.html
    And apart from it there are also appearing signs of discrimination of the ukrainian speakers, which is completely different story.
    Now, you also say : “If the journalists are not allowed in Crimea by military forces, why do they not talk about it.”
    Again, they do. It is, however, true that there were not many of them and mostly Ukrainian journalists. Some of them were captured by the so-called self defence forces of Crimea, as were also many pro-Ukrainian activists coming to Crimea.
    Again, here is the link
    http://en.rsf.org/ukraine-two-ukrainian-journalists-missing-10-03-2014,45977.html
    Now you say “So why then NATO bombing Serbia and Libya (and Iraq) is fine, but Russia facilitating a blood-less referendum in Crimea is not?”
    So, if someone did something bad, it is ok for others to do bad as well, even if it is less bad? If Hitler killed thousands of people, it would be ok for me to go and kill just one?
    But there are also other reasons, why Crimean referendum is illegal:
    1) It is against Ukrainian Constitution
    2)There were no trustworthy legitimate international observers – some data leaked from Russian officials suggest that there was only 30% turnout, compared with the official 80%, so according to that data most people boycotted the referendum. Which one of these figures is true, if any? We will never know, as the people who calculated the results were obviously biased, they could just told any percentage of their head, not even looking at actual results if they wanted/
    3)No representation of the alternative position in media. At the beginning of March all Ukrainian channels were turned off in Crimea by the so-called self-defence forces, and the huge proportion of population of Crimea does not use Internet. So, Russia could easily offer anything to people, such as huge pensions, higher wages, and there was no media representation for those, who could counter that.
    4) Short period of time between the announcement of referendum and when it took place – 16 days is not enough to analyse all the consequnces, so people may act emotionaly and not rationally.
    5) Presence of the so-called self-defence forces, which Putin himself later admitted to be his soldiers putting pressure on the citizens.
    So here are main points,why the referendum in Crimea is illegal, but there are many more.

    03 Sep 2014, 01:55

  3. Mark Harrison

    Thanks for two reasoned responses. One “small” point to @Tyrion: I doubt that any UN administration would transfer a territory such as Crimea from one state to another in the space of two weeks. It took nine years under UN administration for Kosovo to secure independence. But readers can make up their own minds.

    03 Sep 2014, 10:44

  4. Tyrion

    Dear both,
    Thanks a lot for your replies – I also have readers! I will just state a few points as a response to your comments:

    1) True, we will never know which effect was dominating – a threat of new Ukrainian government or the pro-Kremlin lobbying. We have to live in reality as history does not accept “what if” statements.

    2) Banning two Crimean Tatars from entering Russia is anything but not creating ethnic cleansing. More importantly is that Russia has passed the act of rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars, which Ukraine has not managed to do in over 20 years.

    3) When I talked about journalists not covering Crimea after the referendum I deliberately did not refer to Ukrainian or Russian media as their views will be biased – I had in mind European media which had extensive coverage of Crimean protests back in time. Yes, there are some coverage as the previous reader has mentioned, but my question was why the coverage decreased so dramatically rather than why there is no coverage at all. I personally prefer to make my own mind after analysing information coming from different sources, so, for that reason, very limited and occasional coverage is not convincing as it can easily be set up. I remember BBC coverage on the day after the referendum, admitting that happiness of so many people cannot be fake. This touches on your point about a low support of the “yes” vote in the referendum – if what you are saying was unambiguously true, European and American media would have covered it to much bigger extent and made it clear to everyone, including myself, that the results were set up. However, they seem to lack such evidence.

    3) “It is against Ukarinian constitution” – unfortunately, due to international law and recent precedents, the right of people to define the status of the place of where they live has always been above national constitutions and overruled it. Use Kosovo as an illustrative example, independence of which is also against the Serbian constitution. When Europe recognised its independence, no one remembered about the Serbian constitution, but everyone referred to the right of the Kosovars to define the status of their land. Why Crimea is different?

    4) Prof. Harrison, you are certainly right that an authority such as UN will never agree to transfer of the territory as quickly as it happened in Crimea. But this is the point which I have made earlier – what people do people prefer: waiting longer and having more innocent victims or the other way round? Crimea and Russia preferred the latter.

    I am not trying to defend Russia here, but I am only asking for solid arguments why Crimean referendum, given the situation in Ukraine, current media focus and recent international precedents, is wrong?

    Thanks for your comments and I would have liked to respond to all the points fresa has made, but, in the interests of keeping our conversation focused, I will stop here for now. But, if you want me to answer any of the specifics I have not touched yet, do let me know here.

    04 Sep 2014, 00:25


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I am a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick. I am also a research associate of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, and of the Centre for Russian, European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Birmingham. My research is on Russian and international economic history; I am interested in economic aspects of bureaucracy, dictatorship, defence, and warfare. My most recent book is One Day We Will Live Without Fear: Everyday Lives Under the Soviet Police State (Hoover Institution Press, 2016).



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