Thanks to the way in which the Ukrainian territory of Crimea chose to hastily declare its intent to reject Ukrainian rule in the heat of an armed invasion and Russia’s swift annexation of the former Soviet territory, the crisis in Ukraine is certain to either further escalate or eventually sputter out with long-lasting consequences for Russia. Had the referendum been conducted in a more careful and legitimate way, Ukraine and the West may have begrudgingly accepted the result and allowed Putin to keep his spoils, which would have cost Russia little more than the trust and unguarded cooperation of the International Community.
In the eyes of Ukrainians, these actions will not be forgotten for generations. In accordance, anti-Russian sentiments and movements will spread like wildfire, burning any chance of a constructive Ukrainian-Russian partnership in the foreseeable future. This means Ukraine will become far more pro-Western than would have been possible. At the same time, spreading fear and civil unrest can only translate into greater instability and the rise of anti-Russian extremist groups. In turn, Russia will seek to eliminate this perceived threat before it can become reality; therefore, future Russian aggression against Ukraine is likely forthcoming and must be stopped.
In the eyes of Putin’s government, they are simply acting as the West does, thus any manipulations of the facts are just as valid now as when the West does it. In the eyes of Pro-Russian Crimeans, their referendum was a valid act of democracy, thus Putin’s argument appears valid. The difference between the Western, Ukrainian view and the Russian, Crimean view is that the ill-democratic referendum was not truly impartial or representative. More importantly, democracy only functions when there is balance, i.e. democratic actions must be balanced with the rule of Law. Without this balance, voter impulses tend to be destructive to the democratic process, thus the world must regard the referendum as invalid.
In the eyes of Westerners, Russia’s actions are seen as an act of piracy, because the territory is owned by the Ukrainian People and the People of Crimea must follow Ukrainian law, including when they want to secede or leave their homeland. Meanwhile, the West cannot tolerate Russia so blatantly undermining the credibility of the International Community, despite its size and influence. In fact, its size and influence mean the West must react. Consequently, the US and Europe wisely began sanctioning leaders within Russia’s government with other efforts likely on the way. At any rate, the West must either severely punish Russia’s indiscretions now or face future acts of aggression, including those against other neighbors and states economically dependent on Russia.