Not surprisingly, Sunday’s controversial referendum in Crimea resulted in a strong pro-Russia statement by the voters, and irrespective of how Americans in general and their government in particular may feel about the issue, it has become increasingly clear that Russia’s political and military ambitions in Ukraine have left Moscow virtually isolated in the world of public opinion.
The proof? The United Nations Security Council voted over the weekend to officially label the referendum illegal and even China, with a history of siding with Russia on major Security Council issues, couldn’t bring itself to endorse the Crimean referendum that Vladimir Putin has put so much of his energy into.
China didn’t actually join the Security Council majority and declare the referendum illegal. Instead, it abstained, and that by itself is significant and should send a warning to the Kremlin.
Here’s why: There’s a shabby history of China and Russia sharing positions on critical Security Council issues — for example, they were the lone members to oppose a proposal to punish Syria for its conduct in the civil war there — so this abstention on such a hot issue speaks volumes.
“The resounding message from today’s vote is that Russia stands isolated in this council and in the international community,” Mark Lyall Grant, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United Nations, declared.
“Russia alone backs this referendum,” he continued. “Russia alone is prepared to violate international law, disregard the U.N. Charter and tear up its bilateral treaties. This message will be heard well beyond the walls of this chamber.”
Western nations, including the United States, have threatened to impose hefty economic sanctions against Russia if it moves to incorporate Crimea.
The Security Council’s resolution would have reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” and would have declared that the referendum “can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea.”
The resolution also urged all parties to seek a peaceful resolution to the dispute through direct political talks, but that’s something Russia has so far refused to do.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the Security Council in advance that he would veto the resolution.
“We cannot go along with its assumption — that is declaring illegal the March 16 planned referendum,” he explained.
Churkin argued that under the U.N. charter, the Crimean people are entitled to self-determination and therefore Moscow “will respect the will of the Crimean people” as expressed in Sunday’s voting.
For her part, the United States ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said that in pursuing its aggressive agenda in Ukraine, Russia was violating the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force to acquire territory and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
She also argued that Moscow agrees with these principles “and defends all around the world, except, it seems, in circumstances that involve Russia.”
Russia may have the power to veto a Security Council resolution, Power continued, but it cannot veto the truth.
Invariably, China is sensitive to the issue of territorial integrity because it has its own hands full with Tibet and other restive areas and presumably Moscow’s tactics in Ukraine represent potential problems for Beijing down the road.
That would explain why China’s U.N. Ambassador, Liu Jieyi, although abstaining, called for an “international coordinating mechanism” to resolve the Crimean dispute.
So while Russia may stand alone among international powers, Putin will surely proceed with his strategy to restore Ukraine to its former status as a Moscow subsidiary. The Ukrainian people deserve better.
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