With A Forced Referendum On Joining Russia, The Crimea Crisis Gets Worse Putin could have got most of what he wanted through diplomacy. But now it seems that he wants all out victory. Dangerous game.

By Paolo von Schirach

Related story:


March 7, 2014

WASHINGTON – I recently argued (see link to a related story above) that the Crimea “is gone”. I pointed out that Russia does indeed have a case for obtaining a “special status” for the (mostly Russian) Crimea. I thought that the easy way to get to a “de facto” Russian Crimea could be a constitutional arrangement agreed upon by the new government in Kiev whereby the Crimea will become even more “autonomous”. This arrangement would be “de facto” independence. This way everybody (so to speak) would be satisfied.

De facto independence for the Crimea

The Russians, by exerting pressure, would get most of what they want. The Ukrainians would save face because they would maintain nominal sovereignty over the Crimea. The international community (Europe and NATO countries in particular) would note that there has been no change of international borders on account of military actions.

I argued a few days ago, and I still argue today that this path to a diplomatic “solution” was wide open.

I also added that this forced constitutional change within the Ukraine would set a bad precedent, in as much it would have occurred because of military pressure. However, i thought that –unless we are ready to move into an open US-Russia military confrontation over the Crimea– this would be the least damaging outcome.


Well, it looks as if Putin is not satisfied with the idea of getting what he wants through a diplomatic settlement.

He wants “victory”. 

If this were not so, it would be impossible to explain Russia’s decision to force an immediate referendum to be held in the Crimea, in a matter of days, in order to have a formal secession of the Crimea from the Ukraine so that the region would immediately become part of Russia. As I said above, Putin could have obtained most of this by agreeing to a formula that would have granted “de facto” independence to the Crimea, even though the Ukraine would have kept nominal sovereignty over the region.

Now it gets a lot more complicated 

But now –with this forced referendum to be held in just a few days– all this gets a lot more complicated. While nobody doubts that many if not most of the ethnic Russians in the Crimea may indeed prefer to become part of Russia, the fact that this unprecedented change of internationally recognized borders happens while the Crimea is under Russian military occupation, (by the way the Russians deny this, claiming that all those soldiers are local volunteers), invalidates any idea of people exercising their sovereign right to self-determination.

Sanctity of borders

Even the mostly timid Europeans would have a hard time swallowing this forced secession. Let’s remember that the basic principle of post-WWII European security is the sanctity of borders.

Indeed, if you are in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, independent Baltic States with sizable Russian minorities within them, the implications of the forced incorporation of the Crimea into Russia, if the rest of Europe decided to look the other way, are very obvious: “We may be next”. If indeed Putin wants a referendum in the Crimea that most countries would have to denounce as invalid, then getting to a peaceful resolution of this crisis, with all parties reasonably satisfied, becomes a lot harder.

Another miscalculation?

Or may be Putin, this time probably miscalculating, believes that Europe will do nothing, while America (as always) is all talk and no action?

In other words Putin may truly believe that, even as his behavior becomes more and more outrageous, he can get away with it because the decadent West has no strength to resist him.

No need to repeat here that many unnecessary conflicts originated in such miscalculations.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *