Crimea referendum legitimate

Mark Merritt

Mark Merritt
Mark Merritt

Thousands of ethnic Russians across the Crimean Peninsula, a scenic enclave on the Black Sea’s northern coast, took the streets en masse Sunday, March 23 celebrating their reunification with their ancestral motherland by way of referendum.

But the legitimacy of that referendum remains controversial. Washington and the European Union are boisterous in their condemnation.

President Obama said Tuesday, March 25 that he is willing to up the ante by strengthening sanctions against Russia.

Nevertheless, the Crimean people have exercised their right to self-determination, a virtue granted to them by the U.N. Charter.

On a turnout of 83 percent, an alleged 97 percent of voters sought incorporation with the Russian Federation. These numbers may seem inflated, perhaps even fraudulent given Russia’s military presence in the region. But they are neither surprising nor unique compared to similar referendums of the past.

In 1993, for example, 99 percent of Eritreans favored separation from Ethiopia. Croatia and Macedonia secured their independence with approval ratings of over 90 percent.

Last year, the Falkland Islands held a referendum concerning its status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. Of 1,517 voters, on a turnout of more than 90 percent, 1,513 obliged to remain a British territory.

The U.S. has recognized these states’ sovereignty and has also endorsed referendums across the globe.

In a 2006 interview with NPR, Joe Biden (then a senator) suggested severing Iraq into three regions to curb sectarian violence. Democrats and Republicans supported the initiative. Iraqi Kurds salivated over the concept of an independent Kurdistan. Few cried foul.

Yet Washington has little regard for Crimean autonomy. The West’s incandescent hypocrisy on these matters is difficult to ignore. Washington dissected Yugoslavia by ballots and bombs. Why then should it lambaste the will of the Crimean majority?

Russia isn’t angelic in any regard. Vladimir Putin, the proverbial schoolyard bully, has disregarded the territorial integrity of nations in the past.

Putin’s cronyism and suppression of Chechen sovereignty are far from admirable. He has also violated the U.N. Charter by authorizing the invasion of Crimea. But it’s unclear whether the presence of Russian troops had a crucial effect on the referendum’s outcome.

Displeasure with Kiev’s pro-EU government spread throughout Crimea before the Kremlin put boots on Ukrainian soil.

The Russified cities of Donetsk and Sevastopol swelled with anti-rebel sentiment early during the crisis. Some Crimeans even posed for selfies alongside balaclava-clad troops, their supposed invaders, during the first wave of the invasion.

Sunday’s referendum and subsequent annexation weren’t flawless. Both defy Ukrainian and international law. They are undeniably illegal under the U.N. Charter.

But Crimea’s cultural affiliation with Russia is legitimate, sanctified by history.

For this reason it would be wise to respect the Crimean people’s sovereignty and recognize their right to self-determination.