The Crimean Peninsula is effectively part of Russia now, but international legal experts say history shows how that could change.
UNITED NATIONS – Monday marked the five-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, an occasion Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated with a concert, even as many legal experts cite the anniversary as a low point of the modern international order.
Lauri Mälksoo is a professor of international law at the University of Tartu in Estonia.
“It disrupted a fundamental rule in international politics, which is that at least since 1945 we have in the United Nations Charter the idea that attacking another state and annexing its territory is illegal. And Russia did exactly that.”
One hundred members of the U.N. General Assembly declared the move illegal and pledged to never recognize Crimea as Russian, and while that didn’t return Crimea to Ukraine control, Mälksoo says it meaningfully dented Russia’s international standing.
“It alienated many countries that otherwise could have been bigger friends for Russia, because no one tends to like bullies in its neighborhood.”
Mikulas Fabry, an associate professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology, says the sanctions on Russia that followed are still causing headaches.
“No foreign ship can dock at Crimean ports. No foreign airline can fly into a Crimean airport. The Russian passports that are issued in Crimea are not recognized by the outside world.”
Decades from now, Fabry thinks Crimea could revert back to Ukrainian control, citing Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as an example.
Occupied for a half-century by the Soviet Union, most western countries never recognized the occupation and continued to receive exiled Baltic diplomats until independence in the early 1990’s.
He also draws inspiration from Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus, where unyielding sanctions have convinced the population they’ll never earn outside recognition and should instead reunify with the rest of the island.
“I think something like that may well happen in Crimea and Russia more broadly.”