Crimea Considerations

It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” [1] This underappreciated maxim can find no better usage than in connection with the ongoing crisis in Crimea, regarding which certain impressions have been created which have no more than a tenuous relation to reality as objectively discerned. 


If Russia has invaded Crimea, considered as a part of Ukraine, then this is a clear violation of international law. [2] The United Nations Charter plainly prohibits such a unilateral action, regardless of the pretext. But it is not altogether certain that such has taken place. Russia, in fact denies it, saying that the troops involved, which bore no identifying insignia, were pro-Russian militias defending Crimean autonomy. [3] No claims of omniscience will be offered here as to whether or not the Russian claims are true, and no panegyric to Vladimir Putin will be submitted, but recent history will inform the duly cautious to not be overly sanguine about American assertions in this connection. 


Crimea became a part of Ukraine in 1954 when Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union. This was done under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Prior that, Crimea had been part of the Russian Republic [4], also a republic of the Soviet Union, and, indeed, had been part of Russia for centuries. [5] At the time there were slightly more than three Russians in Crimea for every Ukrainian.


As of 2001, ethnic Russians accounted for 58.5 percent of the Crimean population. [6] Although many boycotted the referendum on the status of Crimea on March 16th, election officials reported the turnout of eligible Crimean voters at more than 80% [7], and 96.77% of those voted to rejoin Russia. [8] Although the West has dismissed the result as a vote at gunpoint, the outcome was widely expected in advance due to the presence of the Russian majority, and the deep historical ties of Crimea to Russia. 


The vote of the Ukrainian Parliament to remove President Viktor Yanukovych was unconstitutional. 338 votes were need to remove him under the Ukrainian constitution, for a three-fourths majority, but there were only 328 votes for Yanukovych’s removal. [9] Yanukovych was democratically elected, and there is a sound basis for holding that he remains the legitimate president of Ukraine.


While it might be suggested in some quarters that a military response by the United States would be appropriate here, the same UN Charter that made any Russian incursion into Ukraine a violation of international law also prohibits the United States taking to arms in this matter without authorization by the UN
Security Council. There are no U.S. security interests at stake in this controversy.

It would be unreasonable to expect any country in Eastern Europe to be dismissive of the possibility of
Russian aggression. To thus counsel them would be to counsel folly. And the Eastern Catholics in Ukraine are not wrong to remember the confiscation of their churches under the Soviet Union. But no cause is rightly served by ignoring the obvious, and the right of popular self-determination is a value that no one should try to gainsay.

Jack Quirk