RPI's Laughland on the Crimea Referendum

by | Mar 19, 2014

RPI Advisor John Laughland weighs in on the Crimea vote to rejoin Russia, the breathtaking hypocrisy of the western governments and the disconnect between US and EU citizens and their governments. Of course the secession is illegal, Laughland says, but that also means that even the US Declaration of Independence was, strictly speaking, illegal. Dr. Laughland also offers his forecast as to the two possible outcomes of the standoff between Russia and the US/EU over Ukraine and Crimea.

The EU revealed itself as “oligarchic” and “anti-democratic” by calling the Crimean referendum illegal, John Laughland of the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation told RT. He added that more sanctions against Russia will only hurt Western economies.

RT: Western powers have denounced the referendum and this reunification treaty as illegal. Are they right? Do you agree or disagree with their position?

John Laughland: I strongly disagree with it. I think their hypocrisy is absolutely breathtaking. And I think many Europeans also see through the hypocrisy. If you look at the comment threads on the internet sites of newspapers on the issue, you will see that a large number of Europeans understand that there are double standards at issue here. The reason why I say so strongly that I disagree is that the EU yesterday, following the referendum held on Sunday, condemned the referendum as illegal. When it did that, it showed its profoundly anti-democratic nature because a referendum is, first of all, a very legitimate thing to have in a democratic system. And secondly, the Ukrainian constitution itself – Article 138 – allows the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to hold local referendums. So the EU really showed its face as an oligarchical and an anti-democratic organization when it condemned the referendum, rather than the secession. The secession, of course, technically speaking, is illegal. When every state secedes from another state there’s rupture in the legal structure of the state, from which the territory is succeeding. That’s the very definition of secession. So it’s a bit of stating the obvious to say that the secession is illegal. Obviously, it’s illegal in terms of Ukrainian law. But that means that nearly every single secession in the history of the world has been illegal. As well, the Declaration of Independence of 1776 by the American colonies against the British Empire was illegal in that sense.

RT: President Putin in his speech today mentioned the Kosovo precedent set by the West – do you think it’s a fair comparison?

JL: It’s totally fair. And it’s not just a matter of precedent because there’s a principle of law that a violation of law can’t be a precedent in law. It’s a very important principal in Roman law. And many people, myself included, consider the Kosovo Declaration of 2008 was itself a violation of international law because there had been a UN Security Council resolution proclaiming Kosovo to be an integral part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, since the Declaration of 2008, the international law situation has been clarified in a ruling of the International Court of Justice, which Mr. Putin quoted quite rightly. The International Court of Justice is a supreme arbiter in matters of international law and their advisory opinions thought by Serbia. Unfortunately for Serbia, the judges there found against Serbia and ruled that the declaration of independence had been legal – and also, more generally, that throughout history, declarations of independence are never in conflict with international law. And they went even further. They said that the 20th century declarations of independence have been regarded as compatible and indeed supported by international law in the name of the principal of self-determination. So it’s not just the fact of independence of Kosovo in 2008, it’s more importantly – from a legal point of view – the Court of Justice ruling of 2010, which as I said, Mr. Putin rightly quoted.

RT: Everyone in the West and Russia seemed to be expecting this decision on reunification – and yet the sanctions imposed were limited in scope. Now that it looks irreversible, will Western powers see any point in imposing further punishment on Russia? What would they stand to gain?

JL: Well, they stand a lot to lose. I think Russia is going to reply. We’ll have to see whether the reply triggers further reply and how far each side is ready to go. I mean it’s very difficult to predict the future. The situation in Ukraine itself is very fluid. And we don’t know how things are going to evolve in the East or in Odessa. We don’t know how long the regime in Kiev is going to last. So, it’s very difficult to say what will happen. I think there are basically two scenarios. There could indeed be a severe degradation of East-West relations based on tit-for-tat sanctions, on increasing hostility, and, indeed, based on violence, instability in Ukraine itself. That’s quite possible. There’s also another possibility. And that’s that the West more or less, without admitting it, accepts fait accompli. After all, as many people have said, the sanctions are purely symbolic. They are a joke, in fact. No one really takes them seriously. France, for example, has said it will continue to deliver its aircraft carriers to Russia, the second of which is due for delivery in 2015 and bears the name of Sebastopol, the Crimean port. So far, the sanctions are very minor. And therefore the second possible scenario is that not much more will happen to Russia than happened to Turkey after it effectively annexed – not formally, but effectively annexed – northern Cyprus in 1974. Let’s not forget, there are many other occasions where states have annexed or effectively annexed other territories for reasons similar to that that is now operating in Crimea.