Should I stay or should I go? Why the UK should stay out of the Crimea issue

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Iván Farías, Doctoral Researcher in the Department of Political Science and International Studies argues why the UK should stay out of the Crimea issue.

The Republic of Crimea is said to be at the centre of a dispute between the Russian Federation and the international community. Such dispute arose when about two weeks ago, 96.7% of the voters participating a referendum held in the peninsula supported the accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia. As a result of the referendum, the Republic of Crimea, formerly part of Ukraine is now the (de facto) newest territory of the Russian Federation.

The result was not unexpected. With large numbers of Russian-speaking Crimeans and Crimea-based Russian passport holders boosting the ‘yes’ side, and about 38% of the Crimean population boycotting the referendum, the outcome was as predictable as rolling a loaded dice.

On this basis, some countries, namely the G7, have been very vocal about the alleged illegality of the referendum, its result and its implications. The United Kingdom has been no exception. Its political leaders have vociferously argued that the Crimean referendum should not be recognised. Simon Smith, the British Ambassador to Kyiv, recently stated that the referendum “should not be regarded as a legitimate expression of popular will on the part of the peninsula’s population”. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary William Hague contended that “Russia cannot simply trample over international law” and that Moscow’s move to annex Crimea went against the principles of territorial integrity and non-use of force. Finally, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that “it is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders, on the basis of a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun”.

There seems to be something wrong in annexating a territory from a neighbouring country which is (was?) in the middle of a revolution. It seems to be something akin to stealing your neighbours’ possessions while their house is on fire. The argument is then that it is in everyone’s interest to protect the neighbourhood from individuals who take advantage of people at their most vulnerable. In this analogy, the United Kingdom is thus only contributing to protect the European neighbourhood and the world from bullies like Russia.

Yet, the United Kingdom is not the long-time champion of freedom and sef-determination that Smith, Hague and Cameron portray it to be. It took the United Kingdom six years to recognise the independence of Ireland, a country which it historically ruled with an iron-fist. Oppression, rather than freedom, describes more accurately what India endured under British rule. The British government did not hesitate to send its military forces on a 12,000-kilometre journey across the globe to ensure continued posession of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. For some reason, the referendum in Ukraine, biased in favour of ethnic Russians, is illegal and illegitimate but the referendum held in 2013 in the Falkland/Malvinas, among a population of transplanted British islanders, is not. And now that Scottish independence is on the table again, England, the UK’s most populous and economically powerful country, has not hesitated into using scare tactics to maintain Scotland in the Union. Behind all of these historical developments lies the same idea: for the United Kingdom, freedom and self-determination are not cherished ideals, but only concepts whose meaning can be adapted to suit the foreign (and domestic) policy objectives de jour.

The United Kingdom seems to be interested in boosting its moral credentials on the promotion of freedom and self-determination by taking part in this alleged dispute on Crimea. Staying out of the issue could actually better serve such purpose.

Originally published in Ivan’s blog  03/04/14

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