The annexation of Crimea – Two years on. | World Defense

The annexation of Crimea – Two years on.


May 2, 2016
Apologies if this is not the right forum; I'm new around here.

A little over two years ago, on March 18, 2014, the Russian Federation formally annexed the Crimean peninsula, formerly a part of Ukraine, as a new Federal District. This was part of the larger and still ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but I would like this discussion to focus on the fact that one state annexed a piece of territory in opposition to both the will of much of the international community and the state from which Crimea was taken.

If you study history, this doesn’t seem like a very fantastical occurrence. After all, groups, empires, and nations have taken territory from each other since we first sharpened the end of a long stick. In the context of modern international norms, however, it was nearly unprecedented. Ever since the end of World War Two, invading powers have at least attempted to maintain the polite fiction of never formally annexing a piece of land without at least some bilateral cooperation. Territory exchanges happen all the time, and just recently, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to the cession of an island on peaceful terms.

Of course there have been a few exceptions. The two most important were the PRC's annexation of Tibet in 1951 and Saddam's swallowing of Kuwait in 1990. The former is still hotly debated (at least on college campuses) and the later was almost immediately reversed by an unprecedented coalition of nations from around the globe.

As such, the Crimea situation brings up important questions about our understanding of international law and geopolitics.

Has the absence of one state simply conquering a piece of another truly been established as an international norm, or was the absence of such actions simply a happy accident?

Has Russia's annexation of Crimea actually established (or re-established) a new norm by which one nation may claim to be the actual protector or guarantor of another country's minority populations (in this case a Russian majority-minority in Crimea)?

Can Europe as a whole, and NATO members in particular, depend on the United States to fully protect their sovereignty in the event that Russia makes further moves? Is American inaction over Crimea emblematic of increasing American wariness to get involved in foreign conflicts or did it serve as a 'wake-up call' to Washington?

For my part, I'm not sure we're far enough from the event to make any strong declaration. If I had to guess, I would say that the norm of “one state does not simply annex territory of another state” has indeed been successfully challenged. If another such incident occurs, I would have to say that the norm no longer exists in a strong form.

Interestingly, Crimea was annexed as its own Federal District, making it, by far, the smallest in Russia. This is what I would do if I was holding Crimea as the ultimate bargaining chip with the West, instead of fully integrating it with the Southern District. Maybe Russia has other plans after all.
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