"Crimea is, and always will be, part of Russia." These were Vladimir Putin’s words as he welcomed Crimea. Earlier this week, the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Russia in a controversial referendum held on March 16th.
While 85% of Crimeans participated in the referendum, an overwhelming 95% of them voted in favor of a break away or secession from Ukraine to join Russia. Putin swiftly annexed Crimea to Russia’s territory barely 48 hours after the polls had closed.
What Is A Referendum?
Very simply, a referendum is a proposal by a government that is put to a direct vote to its people. Citizens have the option of either accepting or rejecting the proposal. It is also known as plebiscite. Referendum is one of the tools used by Governments to gain a quick direct decision to adopt a new constitution, a constitutional amendment or adopt a new law.
Why Is NATO Protesting?
Western nations including the European Union and United States however do not recognize Crimea's referendum as legitimate. Under the Ukraine constitution, only Ukraine's parliament - the Rada, can call for a referendum, since Crimea is a region within Ukraine.
Many believe that the purpose of the referendum in Crimea was not to establish the wishes of the Crimean population, but to create a pretext for Russia to annex the territory. To express their displeasure at the coup, US and the European Union have imposed sanctions against Russia.
However, it is unlikely that the results of the Crimean referendum may have gone against Russia since the Crimeans have always felt neglected by Ukrainians over the years.
What Are Sanctions?
Sanctions are actions taken by countries against other nations to stop them from violating international rules. These actions could be diplomatic - that could involve reduction of diplomatic ties such as embassies; economic - such as ban on trade, sale of arms etc; military - that could involve military intervention; or sport sanctions which would prevent one country's people or teams from competing in international events.
The US signed an executive order last week, to restrict some Russian companies in the financial services, energy, metals, mining, defense and engineering industries from trading with the US. Besides trade sanctions, over 40 Ukrainian, Crimean and Russian politicians and bankers have been banned from travel into the EU and US and have had their foreign assets frozen.
Russia is however striking back. It retaliated with the ban of several US and EU officials into their country. Meanwhile Europe depends on Russian natural gas supply for more than 50% of its energy needs. If Russia were to turn off the gas supply, it could be serious for the EU until they find alternative sources.
While the US and EU realize that their sanctions are unlikely to force Russia to give up Crimea to Ukraine, they hope to deter Russia from encroaching further into Ukraine. Will these sanctions work? Only time will tell.
Critical Thinking: Are sanctions the preferred way for countries to forces other nations to comply with international rules? How do you think US and EU should respond to Russia's annexation of Crimea? Who will sanctions hurt the most - Russia or the EU and US?