THE BLOG

'Non-Interventionist' Russia Will Pay Dearly for the Crimea

07/03/2014 11:39 GMT | Updated 06/05/2014 10:59 BST

It came as no surprise when Russia and China vetoed any UN Security Council resolution that legitimised the use of force in Syria. Since the backhanded one-up-manship and frosty relations that characterised East-West relations in the second half of the 20th century, Russia has developed an approach to warfare that involves selling weapons rather than firing them and maintaining - quite literally in President Putin's case - a straight face and moral detachment from humanitarian crises abroad. The Cold War was not cocooned in time; it marked the emergence of a non-interventionist discourse that has enabled Russia to remain within the roomy confines of the international legal framework, while quietly prodding at its fragile boundaries.

So it was even less of a surprise that no one believed Sarah Palin when she predicted that Vladimir Putin would march his troops over to the Crimea in the wake of ousted President Yanukovych. It seemed inconceivable that a state that refused to enter Syria and condemned NATO for urging regime change in Libya on the grounds of the principle of non-intervention and state Sovereignty would backpedal so spectacularly for the sake of securing influence in a former Soviet state. Russia isn't just prodding at the UN's boundaries any more - their intervention was a full-on rejection of the international legal framework and the core principles upon which it is founded, not to mention a clear violation of a 1997 bilateral treaty between Russia and the Ukraine that split the Black Sea Fleet in two and regulated Russian military movements within their former Soviet state.

But most significantly, Russia has abandoned the legitimacy with which it was able to ignore the cries of displaced children in Syria. Speaking to the Russian Channel One and the Associated press in September 2013, Putin showed his allegiance to the UN Charter by declaring that any pretexts for the use of force against a sovereign State without the authorisation of the UN Security Council are unacceptable and could only be classified as aggression. We may have disagreed with him, but at least Putin used an argument that is firmly grounded in international law. So how can Putin reconcile his outwardly non-interventionist attitude with a Russian occupation in the Crimea?

He has claimed that Russian-speaking citizens in the Crimea are suffering from human rights abuses - a claim which has been rejected by even a Russian human rights advisory body and ridiculed by the international community on the simple basis that ethnic Russians comprise 59 percent of Crimea's two million-strong population. Putin could argue that the absence of violence committed by his troops in the Crimea hardly constitutes a 'use of force' - but armed militia flashing sniper rifles have taken control of the regional legislature, dispossessed Ukrainians of their weapons and installed the pro-Kremlin Sergey Aksenov as premier. Putin could also claim that his forces invaded with the consent of Yanukovych - but an ousted President is hardly in a position to legitimise a foreign occupation of his former State. So no doubt, the Russian President will be frantically reading through UK and US government statements justifying interventions in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, in a desperate bid to edge his way back into the international legal framework. Russia's trade relations depend on it.

So what now? Putin may win permanent control over the Crimea, but at the cost of abandoning his hard-earned cover of non-interventionism that has coloured Russia's image in the international community, revealing an attitude of pure self-interest that cannot be reconciled with UN values of international peace and cooperation. Economic and political isolation are the inevitable costs of the Crimea. Next time Russia waves the red flag against a proposed humanitarian intervention in the UN Security Council, the West might just go in anyway.