Russian annexation of the Crimea: “A criminal violation of international law” for Merkel in Moscow, but not worth mentioning for Kerry in Sochi

Merkel in Moscow

Germans know something about international law, which is enshrined in Article 25 of their Basic Law or constitution, while Americans seem to have forgotten all about its meaning and significance.

At a joint news conference with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Sunday, May 10, 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined the impact of Russian military actions in the Ukraine on German-Russian cooperation, declaring,

“Through the criminal and illegal, in international law, annexation of the Crimea and the military conflicts in the Eastern Ukraine this collaboration has suffered a heavy setback, because we see in these actions a violation of the bases of the common European peace and security order.”

The original German text follows:

Durch die verbrecherische und völkerrechtswidrige Annexion der Krim und die militärischen Auseinandersetzungen in der Ostukraine hat diese Zusammenarbeit einen schweren Rückschlag erlitten schwer, weil wir darin eine Verletzung der Grundlagen der gemeinsamen europäischen Friedensordnung sehen. Dennoch und das ist für mich gerade in diesen Tagen von ganz wesentlicher Bedeutung ist die Lehre aus der Geschichte, dass wir alles daransetzen müssen, Konflikte so schwierig sie auch immer sein mögen friedlich und im Gespräch miteinander zu lösen das heißt, auf diplomatischen Wegen.

–“IM WORTLAUT: Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und Staatspräsident Putin am 10. Mai 2015 in Moskau,”Die Bundesregierung, 10. Mai 2015.

The simultaneous interpretation by a Russian interpreter and the official Russian transcript omit the word “criminal”.

See “Merkel’s Remark On ‘Criminal’ Annexation Omitted In Russian Translation; Lost in translation?” RFE/RL, May 12, 2015.

To watch the press conference in German and Russian on YouTube, click here.
See “LIVE: Merkel and Putin hold joint press conference in Moscow …
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbyUqvkPrwA”.

Merkel’s prepared statement at the press conference, equivalent to a historic speech, is worth reading closely. It expresses, with great sincerity, the deepest remorse of the German nation over the monstrous depradations it under Nazi rule inflicted on the population of the Soviet Union. It is unflinching in its full acceptance of Germany’s responsibility for those actions. The statement is deeply moving. It may be cited by historians in a hundred years.

In calling for the need to learn from the lessons of history, Merkel’s linking of the crimes committed by Germany under Hitler and Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, while subtle, was extraordinarily evocative.

Unfortunately, an English translation has not yet been published on the German government’s website.

At the press conference, Putin also delivered extended remarks defending the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact, which in a secret protocol partitioned Poland and divided other East European countries into “spheres of influence” of the two countries. Putin did not mention the secret protocol.

Kerry in Sochi

For background and analysis, see “Obama’s endless incompetence in foreign policy: Kerry to travel to Russia to meet with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi,” The Trenchant Observer, May 11, 2015.

At a news conference in Sochi on May 12, 2014, following his meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the Minsk II agreement of February 12, 2015 were implemented, sanctions against Russia could be lifted. No mention was made of the Crimea. Kerry obseqiously thanked Putin for his time.

For the transcript of Kerry’s and Lavrov’s remarks before the press in Sochi, click here.

In short, the U.S. would be willing to lift sanctions with Russian military forces still occupying the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea.

As for Germany, well, not so sure.

Absent a change of course by Moscow, the key issue for the normalization of relations with Russia any time in the foreseeable future, is whether NATO, the EU and other allies are willing to look the other way on the issue of the Crimea.

While it might be easy for the U.S. which no konger takes international law seriously, as that term is understood in the rest of the world, to ignore the small matter of the Russian conquest of the Crimea by force, EU and other NATO members may take a far different view, once they really focus on the issue and its consequences.

In the Observer’s view, “business as usual” with Russia will not be possible so long as the Crimea is occupied by Russian troops.

The only way out of this situation would be some kind of a U.N. Authority overseeing the region for a period of years, followed by a genuinely free plebiscite on the future of the peninsula in which all of its residents and former residents at the time of the February, 2014 Russian invasion were able to vote.

We had better start breaking this news to Vladimir Putin.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an 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. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), 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, The Observer 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. The Observer 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.), 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, The Observer 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 the best articles that have appeared in the blog.