Published in the Orange County Register on April 2, 2014. To access the original article, click here.
In a recent vote, 100 to 11 (with 58 abstentions), the world community condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea in a United Nations General Assembly vote on March 27.
The resolution called on all states, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alternation of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. It also asked that states “refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status ... including any attempts to modify Ukraine’s borders through the threat or use of force or other unlawful means.”
Faced with Russian threats, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan did not vote on the resolution. Other former Soviet Republics under similar heavy pressure, such as Azerbaijan and Moldova, defied the Kremlin and supported the resolution. Georgia and Lithuania, and traditionally neutral countries such as Costa Rica, Brazil, Nigeria and Singapore, rose to condemn the Russian violation of international law.
Anne Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation, pointed out the countries opposing Russia came from around the globe.
“It is a very big deal to make it clear to all Russians that the international community condemns this action,” she said. “This is not the story Putin told.”
As a General Assembly resolution, the vote was non-binding on its members. The U.N. had sought previously for a binding commitment through the Security Council, but Russia exercised its veto power to prevent its passage.
The 11 countries who supported Russian annexation are all countries that are traditionally anti-Western in their approach. The group was led by Russia itself, followed by the Communist-led or Communist-leaning regimes of Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Russian client states Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe also supported their patron.
Only two members of the former Soviet Union, the “Near Abroad” which Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to unite into a pro-Moscow bloc, supported the annexation: Armenia and Belarus. Armenia could not support a resolution condemning the alteration of another state’s borders by force, as it has been condemned four times by the U.N. Security Council for the same actions when it seized Nagorno-Karabakh from the Republic of Azerbaijan. Russia owns the Armenian energy grid and the largest Russian military base outside of Russia is in Armenia.
Belarus also rode to Moscow’s defense. Belarus’ economy is almost totally dependent on Russia’s, its source for energy and its major export market. All other former Soviet states either condemned Russian actions, or abstained. The almost universal negative response from Russia’s closest neighbors indicates that Putin’s plans for greater political or economic union with them is in serious jeopardy.
In remarks on the General Assembly floor, Cuba did not justify its vote as a support for Russia, but rather as opposition to the potential expansion of NATO. Nicaragua emphasized the importance of non-interference in the internal affairs of states, a remark that could be interpreted as a subtle rejection of Russia’s actions. The only two countries that gave whole-hearted support to Russia were Armenia and North Korea.
International diplomatic support for Ukraine does not necessarily translate into more active measures, however. Great Britain is scheduled to begin importing Russian natural gas in September, France has not canceled delivery of Mistral class naval vessels to the Russian fleet and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she would oppose additional sanctions against Russia. In the United States, President Barack Obama has called for diplomacy to solve the crisis. In Russia, President Putin has responded to the international community by continuing to reinforce units along the eastern and southern Ukrainian border.
James J. Coyle, Ph.D. is the Director of Global Education at Chapman University, and is chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy.