Proving that the U.N. Security Council can’t manage international crises, the Russian Federation vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution invalidating an expected March 16 referendum on Crimean independence. Using its veto for its own self-interest, Russia showed the current format giving the five permanent Security Council members veto power doesn’t always work. China, which usually votes with Russia, abstained from the vote just like they did when the Council voted to condemn Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, annexing South Ossetia and Abkasia. “Russia isolated, alone and wrong blocked the resolution passage,” U.S. U.N. Amb. Samantha Powers told the Council. “This is a sad and remarkable moment,” said Powers referring to Russia’s veto power that left the expected March 16 vote to stand, despite objections from Ukraine’s new revolutionary government.
Ukraine’s new revolutionary leaders, led by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyu, reject any attempt by Russia to split Crimea off from Ukraine. “As we speak, Russian armed forces are massing across Ukraine’s eastern border,” Powers told the Council, worried that the Red Army could move to annex other pro-Russian parts of Ukraine. When members of U.N. Security vote no on the merits but only their own self-interest, it should be grounds for expulsion on the Council. If matters involve any of the countries on the Security Council, permanent members should recuse themselves from veto power. Russia’s veto makes a mockery of the Security Council, obligated to vote on merits of international crises, not advancing agendas of Council members. If Security Council members could lose their veto power, they’d think twice before using it.
Ukraine’s Feb. 22 revolution that evicted Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich was a game-changer. Russian officials reject the legitimacy of Ukraine’s popular uprising in Kiev, forcing Putin to take defensive countermeasures, including annexing Crimea. Most Security Council members believe in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of U.N.-recognized member states. Whether you agree or disagree with toppling a duly elected government, it doesn’t give a foreign power the right to violate another state’s territorial integrity. Seizing Crimea, Putin violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity, no matter what the Kremlin thinks of Kiev’s new revolutionary government. “It is a secret to no one that the Russian Federation will vote against the resolution,” said Russian U.N. Amb. Vitaly Churkin. Russia defends the independence vote because of a dangerous power vacuum.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to back Ukraine’s new anti-Russian revolutionary government. Calling the new government “legitimate” doesn’t ignore the fact that it toppled a duly elected government. Insisting the Crimea vote has “no validity and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea,” the official U.S. position rejects any Russian attempts to change Crimea’s legal attachment to Ukraine. When the revolution happened Feb. 22, the U.S. government should have called for mediation to decide the fate of Ukraine with special consideration to the Russian Federation. Instead, the U.S. and European Union welcomed Ukraine’s new revolutionary rulers, no matter what the impact on Russia. Putin annexed Ukraine precisely because the West seemed to orchestrate the anti-Russian coup that toppled the Yanukovich government.
Putin’s decision to go ahead with a Russian-backed vote on Crimean independence runs counter to the international community. China’s decision to abstain from any vote on the resolution shows how far Russia has alienated members on the Security Council. Today’s veto resolution the “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” said Powers, agreeing with Kiev that Ukraine must be left intact. Russia’s decision to dig in on a Crimean vote directly relates to the Kremlin’s belief that the CIA sponsored the coup that eventually brought down Yanukovich. Whether admitted to or not, Kiev’s rioting escalated to revolution when the U.S. backed anti-Russian demonstrators looking to eventually join the EU. Taking Crimea was Putin’s way of countering U.S.- EU-backed revolution.
If Crimea votes as expected to join Russia or declare its independence from Ukraine Wall Street won’t be happy on Monday. Global instability usually causes a sell off in worldwide stock markets. Beyond some minor economic sanctions, there’s little the West can do to wrench Russia out of Crimea. If Obama makes good on his promise to apply economic and travel sanctions, the Russian Federation could retaliate in kind, scuttling efforts in Syira to dismantle chemical weapons and in North Korea and Iran to curtail nuclear activities. U.S. officials should be working with Russia to find common ground with Ukraine’s new post-Yanukovich government. “If the referendum takes place tomorrow it will have no validity, no credibility and no recognition. We trust Russia will take notice of this situation,” said British U.S. Amb. Mark Lyaall Grant, begging Russia to come to its senses.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.