By Kyle Steenland, Feature Editor
Over the course of its 200-year history, the relationship between the United States and Russia has been symptomatic of their statuses as two world superpowers – riddled with ups and downs, and constantly tense. Even since the de-escalation of Cold War fears, petty political skirmishes blemish the two nations’ relations. For instance, Russia recently expelled exactly sixty American citizens from its country in a retaliatory effort against the United States after it expelled sixty Russia diplomats.
Russia’s recent actions in Crimea, however, threaten to bring those tensions to a boiling point. In what is appearing to be contemporary imperialism at the hands of the Russian government, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after its special forces occupied the peninsula and a referendum was passed.
For those who aren’t familiar with Crimea, it is a peninsula of approximately 10,000 square miles located in eastern Europe. It is surrounded by the Black Sea and the Sea of Azoz, and in 1783 actually was a territory of Russia resulting from the Russo-Turkish War. In 1954, Crimea was transferred to Ukrainian control by the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics, where it had remained until Russia’s annexation. Despite the transfer, Crimea’s population demographic is largely Russian and not Crimean Tatar. Further, most of the citizens report Russian as their native language, as opposed to Ukrainian. These facts helped to support Russia’s narrative that it was acting to protect Crimea’s citizens and their desires to join Russia.
The timeline of events leading to the annexation are well documented due to extensive media coverage of the violence and rioting. At the end of these events Crimean authorities passed a regional referendum to formally join Crimea and Russia. Yet, the referendum was later declared unconstitutional by Crimea’s constitutional court. The declaration of unconstitutionality was grounded in the Ukrainian Constitutional requirement that the changing of any territory of the Ukraine be resolved by an “all-Ukrainian referendum,” which was lacking in the referendum passed.
Russia’s actions also violated three international laws and a pledge specially made by Russia. Primarily, these actions violated Article 2, Section 4 of the United Nation’s Charter, which states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” This is a governing provision of the U.N. charter and is an article all members of the United Nations must abide by.
Russia’s actions also violated the Helsinki Final Act; the Russia-Ukraine Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership; and Russia’s pledge in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. The 1975 Helsinki Final Act contains no less than four sections concerned with international respect for the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of others, and refraining from the threat or use of force against other nations.
The Russia-Ukraine Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership was a treaty signed in 1997 between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to “respect and honor the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Finally, Russia’s pledge in the Budapest Memorandum included assurances against the use of force violating the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. The violation of these laws resulted in various economic sanctions such as restricting Russia’s access to financial markets and services, as well as embargoes on Russian exports and military goods.
These sanctions are severe, and they beg the question of why Russia would risk international fury in its territorial pursuit. In a word: energy. Russia’s energy section is approximately 25% of its GDP, and Crimea possesses valuable oil and shale gas resources in the Black Sea. Further, Russia supplies about 30% of the gas Europe requires, with nearly half of that gas flowing through Ukrainian and Crimean pipelines. By annexing Crimea, Russia solidifies control over the European energy sector.
This control comes at a cost though. Respect of each nation’s sovereignty is of the utmost importance in maintaining peace, and violating that sovereignty disrupts peace. Russia’s action here not only jeopardized the relation it possesses with the United States, but it inflamed tensions globally. While the severe sanctions were necessary to send Russia a message, perhaps with the return of Crimea the United States and Russia can begin fostering relations conducive to the betterment of the global community.