Don’t forget about Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea

August 28

A generally insightful post by Max Fisher of Vox, argues that Russia has effectively invaded Ukraine by inserting troops into areas of eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are battling Ukrainian government troops:

Russian military forces are crossing the border into Ukraine in what is clearly a hostile invasion and act of war. That includes Russian artillery, Russian tanks, Russian-trained irregular forces, and even uniformed Russian soldiers who have admitted on camera that they are Russian military ordered to invade by their commanders….

Fisher criticizes Western governments and public opinion for refusing to clearly recognize that an invasion has occurred, and suggests that this failure may be due to the gradual and initially stealthy nature of the Russian intervention.

But Fisher does not mention the fact that Russia already invaded Ukraine in a much more blatant and obvious way months ago when it occupied and annexed Crimea. Even Vladimir Putin admits that Russian troops were involved. The fact that the occupation was preceded by a fraudulent referendum and an invitation from a pro-Russian regional government installed by force and fraud does not make it any less an invasion and occupation of another state’s territory. And it’s an invasion that is utterly indefensible as a matter of both international law and political morality. Moreover, as a report by Russia’s Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights noted in April, Russia’s occupation has already led to serious human rights violations, including numerous restrictions of freedom of speech and press, persecution of the Crimean Tatar minority, and efforts to suppress the pro-Ukrainian Kiev Patriarchate Orthodox Church.

Sadly, amnesia about Crimea is evident not only Fisher’s post, but in much of the rest of the current public debate about Russia and Ukraine. In the discussion over whether Russia has “invaded” eastern Ukraine in recent months, few mention that it already invaded Ukraine in a more blatant way months ago, and continues to occupy a large swath of Ukrainian territory. While Putin’s efforts to aid the brutal separatists in Eastern Ukraine are reprehensible, at least the West continues to oppose them, and Ukrainian forces may well defeat the separatists before Russia is willing or able to provide them enough assistance to save them. By contrast, little effort is being made to challenge Putin’s annexation of Crimea -a much more flagrant invasion that has largely become a fait accompli. It may be that nothing can be done to reverse it, at least in the short term. But we should at least remember the true nature of what has happened, and look for opportunities to change it in the future.

UPDATE: I have made a few minor additions to this post.

UPDATE #2: The US and NATO now say there are as many as 1000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, and that they are actively involved in the fighting. They cite lots of evidence to prove the point. But in many ways, this is merely an extension of Russia’s previous invasion of Crimea rather than a completely separate incursion.

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and popular political participation. He is the author of "The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain" (forthcoming) and "Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter."
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Ilya Somin · August 28