Ban Ki-Moon’s Special envoy Robert Serry manhandled, blocked, and forced to abandon mission in the Crimea; Repercussions from the Ukraine in the East China Sea and beyond

Nostalgia hit of the week: The Beetles, “Back in the USSR” (available on YouTube here)

Putin’s Answer to Diplomatic Initiatives

Russia’s answer to the diplomatic outreach extended by the West since Monday was given on Wednesday in Simferopol, in the Crimea, where U.N. special envoy Robert Serry was forced to flee his car when his driver was pulled out and replaced by someone unknown, as others entered the car. Serry pulled away and proceeded on foot. he was chased through the streets of the inner city until he found refuge in a cafe named the “Wiener Märchen” (the Viennese Fairy tale).”

The cafe was then blockaded by Russian soldiers or militiamen with a threatening mob outside. Only after Serry agreed to end his mission in the Crimea did the Russian soldiers or militia members outside the cafe form a corridor for him to exit. He ws retrieved by a U.N. vehicle which sped directly to the airport, from where he departed on a later flight to Kiev.


(1) Benjamin Bidder (Simferopol), “Krim-Krise: Prorussischer Mob jagt Uno-Beobachter durch Simferopol,” Der Spiegel, 5. Marz 2014 (21:15 Uhr).

(2) Somini Senguptamarch, “Senior U.N. Envoy Threatened at Gunpoint in Crimea, New York Times, March 5, 2014.

(3) (Avec AFP), “Le cauchemar de l’envoyé spécial de l’ONU en Crimée, Le Soir, 5 mars 2014.

Die Vereinten Nationen wollten sich ein Bild von der unübersichtlichen Simferopol auf der Halbinsel Krim machen. Doch prorussische Demonstranten jagen die Uno-Leute so lange durch Simferopol, bis die Vermittler die Stadt fluchtartig verlassen.

Demonstrators also threatened the members of on OSCE observation team in Simferopol.

Thus, taking his moves from the playbook of Bashar al-Assad, who used similar tactics to obstruct the work of U.N. observers present to oversee a U.N.-arranged ceasefire in Syria in March, 2012–eventually forcing them to abandon their mission after repeatedly coming under fire, Putin continued playing his double game, spewing lies and propaganda about what has been going on in the Crimea, while his soldiers and agents on the ground consolidated their military seizure of the Crimea and undertook increasingly provoccative actions.

The powder keg is dry, and there are many with matches who could set it off.

Putin and Lavrov, meanwhile, continued to maintain in public that the uniformed men without insignia were not Russian military personnel. Their assertions even reached the ludicrous extreme of their feigning a lack of knowledge of who these men are.

Despite Putin’s charade, which seemed like a scene out of Woody Allen’s 1971 movie farce Bananas, the undisputed fact is that Russian military forces control the Crimea and everything that happens in it. Under international law, even if the anonymous soldiers were not Russian, Russia would be responsible for their actions due to its de facto control over the territory of the Crimea.

Putin is acting like Hitler in the Sudetenland in 1938. He has flagrantly violated the most fundamental legal norm of the postwar (post-1945) legal and political order, which is based on the establishment of the United Nations and the probition against the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of its Charter.

Repercussions beyond Ukraine and even Russia’s neighbors

NATO and the West would be tragically mistaken if they were to interpret Putin’s actions as having repercussions only in Central and Eastern Europe.

Just as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harborin 1941 was partly a product of Hitler’s Anschluss or forced union of Austria with Germany in March, 1938 and the chain of events which followed, including the forced annexation of the Sudetenland on September 30, 1938, Putin’s military intervention in the Crimea could unleash forces in Asia which could lead to the resolution of conflicting maritime and territorial claims between China, Japan, Korea and other countries in the region by the use of military force.

Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria in March, 1938 was followed by his forced annexation of the Sudetenland on September 30, 1938 (with the agreement of France, England and Italy in the infamous Munich Pact), his invasion of “rump” Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, amd finally his invasion of Poland on Septemer 1, 1939, which set off World War II. In 1941, he even invaded his recent ally (through the Molotov-Rippentropp Pact), the Soviet Union.

The critical point to understand is that the international legal and political order is indivisible. The cornerstone of that order is the prohibition of the threat or use of force Force among states, particularly aggression in the form of military intervention. A corollary of that prohibition is that the fruits of its use will not be recognized by international law. Wcithout these norms, and their vigorous regarffirmation whenever they are vgiolated, acceLerating instability would enter the system as a whole, shaking it until it collapsed.

Aggression, lies, and bad faith diplomacy must have consequences. The Soviet invasion of Hungary (1956), Czecholslovakia (1968), and Afghanistan (1980) had consequenes. The fact the illegal use of force by Russia in Georgia in 2008 did not produce serious conquences for Russia–permitting business as usual to continue–has helped lead us to where we are today in the oUkraine.

If Russia’s military intervention in Crimea is allowed to stand, the international community should not be surprised if one day an Asian power decides to use military force to settle its claims to the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.

There are other territorial claimss and disputes In the region which one or another other power might be tempted to try to resolve through the use of military force. Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, it should be recalled, was based not only on the experiencep of Europe leading up to and during WW II, but also on the depredations in China resulting from Japanese aggression in the 1930’s and against the United States in 1941.

International peace and security are indivisible. That has been the vision of the founders of the United Nations and also of their successors, and the experience of the last 75 years. Understood in this light, it is clear that Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, if it is allowed to stand, could have the most significant of consequences.

The Trenchant Observer
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About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.