Friday, 4 April 2014

Justifying Crimea: the "Putin Doctrine"

Vladimir Putin made an important speech in mid-March that hasn’t received much coverage, I’d guess for two reasons: first and most obviously, it happened just as Russian troops were seizing Crimea.

But what a minute, wouldn’t that be a logical reason to pay even more attention to what he had to say, given that the topic was, um, the unveiling of the “Putin Doctrine,” a.k.a., how we Russians plan to behave from now on? Well, yes, it would be newsworthy—unless the arguments he put forth were perhaps too embarrassingly difficult for the major western capitals to formulate an answer to.

Analyst Vladimir Ryzhkov lays out in this Moscow Times article Putin’s seven main points, and they’re worth considering in full. But there is one assertion that is a timely reminder that what goes around comes around. Ryzhkov outlines it thus:

[I]nternational law has been reduced to a menu of options from which every powerful state is free to choose whatever suits its interests. To put down the uprising in Chechnya, for example, Moscow cited the international principle of upholding territorial integrity. But in annexing Crimea, it cited the fundamental right to self-determination.

This is a classical double standard, something Russia has always loved criticizing the U.S. for. But under Putin, Russia is now a powerful country and thus has the right to flaunt its own double standards, just like the U.S.

And thus “the whirlygig of time brings its revenge”: after watching Washington wipe its collective behind with the rights of sovereign states, Russia has decided that it, too, can use that brand of t.p. How about that? Staging a war of conquest in Iraq without any sort of UN mandate has opened the door for other powerful state actors to write their own rules as well.

This will surely be one of the most regrettable and damaging outcomes of American unilateral actions of the last 50 years and our leaders’ loud disdain for the body of international law and UN-based restraints built up to avoid the devastation of war. Decades of invasions, bombing campaigns, drone warfare and all the rest have set the precedents; others are now determined to use them.

The summary of Putin’s March speech also notes that Putin intends to apply the new doctrine to all the countries of the former Soviet Union with the exception of the three Baltic states that are NATO members. He also quite explicitly welcomes any other powerful states to jettison observance of the Westphalian principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty whenever weak or failed states fall vulnerable to them. Thus China can act as it will in its self-defined sphere of influence, according to the Putin Doctrine, and no doubt other states eventually will bid for a similar special status.

How will American officials deny that this is exactly what the U.S. has done repeatedly in the pursuit of its own interests—treaties and UN principles be damned? The world system to prevent a repeat of the most destructive war in human history by outlawing, as defined and condemned at Nuremberg, aggressive war waged against countries too weak to defend themselves has now officially been tossed into the dustbin of history. As Ryzhkov concludes:

This new playing field for international affairs will make the world dangerously volatile and will increase the risks for more military conflicts. But the problem is that each country believes it will come out the winner in this global wrestling match, while there are few rules, regulations or umpires to help limit the losses and number of innocent victims.

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