Russia is not likely to disgorge the Crimea, annexed following Russian aggression and military seizure during the last month, any time soon.
So, should the West simply accept this fait accompli, be happy that Putin has not invaded the eastern Ukraine, and just get back to business as usual with Russia over the course of the next year or two?
Powerful commercial interests in European and also other Western countries would seem to support such a course of action, which can be rationalzed by stressing that the Crimea belonged to Russia for hundreds of years, and whatever the defects of the recent referendum in the Crimea, a majority of Crimeans most probably supported joining Russia. Moreover, some would argue, the West has not taken Russian sensitivities into account as it pushed the boundaries of the EU and NATO right up to the borders of Russia itself.
Like Kosovo, they might argue, the Crimea was a special case in which any violation of international law was not that serious, and should be put behind us. It was not as serious as the U.S. invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, for example.
Moreover, the imposition of further economic sanctions on Russia which would have a serious impact on trade, investment, and financial transactions would hurt the West as much or even more than they would hurt Russia.
Germany and Europe need Russian gas to get through the coming winter without extraordinary hardships being imposed on innocent, ordinary people. The fact that the U.S. is dependent on the use of Russian territory and airspace to complete its withdrawal of forces and equipment from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 represents a further, compelling consideration.
Moreover, Russian cooperative participation is needed in the “five plus one” talks with Iran over its nuclear program and non-proliferation cocerns felt strongly in the U.S., Israel and Europe.
Finally, Russian cooperation in finding any resolution of the civil war in Syria will be essential, U.S. and other officials have repeatedly stated.
In view of these circumstances, and Russia’s understandable desire to secure the naval bases where much of its navy is based, others would argue, the West can ill afford to continue or strengthen economic sanctions against Russia.
The better course, according to the views of many, would be to simply get relations between the West and Russia working smoothly again.
What, if anything, could be wrong with this analysis?
Shouldn’t the West just get over Russia’s annexation of the Ukraine, and get back to business as usual?
Of course, there is the small question of international law and the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force against another country’s territorial integrity or political independence, embodied in Article 2(4) of the Charter.
But what difference does that make, in the 21st century?
That is the question, the fundamental question, of the hour.
Comments are invited.
The Trenchant Observer
Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
El Observador Incisivo