Reader response: Russia and Ukraine
14 Mar 2014|

Kym Bergmann gives an interesting potted history of Crimea up until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. However, it’s important not to neglect what happened since then. In the case of Ukraine, in exchange for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons, Russia, the US and the UK agreed to respect Ukrainian borders which included Crimea. The 1994 Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the NPT stipulates that:

1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.

And of course there’s the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation as well which states that:

Article 2. The High Contracting Parties…shall respect each other’s territorial integrity, and confirm the inviolability of the borders existing between them

There are more but lesser treaties that bind Russia, Ukraine and Crimea.

In a rules-based order, treaties are important. Russia has seemingly torn up these treaties it signed earlier. For centuries, diplomacy has relied on an unlegislated social rule between sovereign states: Pacta Sunt Servanda, Promises must be kept. As a sovereign nation, Russia can choose to break the rules, but it shouldn’t be then allowed off scot-free based on its own favourable reading of history.

Kym is right that there’s more to Crimea than meets the eye but to declare that the US President, Secretary of State and the UK PM ‘demonstrate a surprising ignorance of history’ goes a little too far. Instead, they’re supporting a rules-based order. And why shouldn’t they?

Peter Layton is an independent researcher completing a PhD on grand strategy at UNSW. He has been an associate professor at the US National Defense University.