Crimean Tatars Fear Russia Following ‘Kosovo Precedent’

We should address the Crimean crisis in a way that protects international norms without compromising the interests of each side.

crimean-tatar-russiaOn March 16, 97 percent of the Crimean population voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, which really worried the 300,000 Muslim Crimean Tatars that only constitute 12 percent of the Crimean population, in contrast to 58 percent of ethnic Russians.

They were once the majority in Crimea until 1944 when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin deported them for alleged collaboration with Nazis. History explains Tatar’s profound concern, especially when Russian President Vladimir Putin encourages Crimean leadership to follow the “Kosovo precedent.”

However, the “Kosovo precedent” cannot be used to justify Russia’s behavior because Kosovo’s independence is “sui generis,” not to mention the case itself has been criticized for double standards on international law.

First, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was based on the egregious human rights abuses against Albanians that comprise 95 percent of the population in Kosovo. In Crimea, there is no evidence of human rights violations against ethnic Russians.

Second, the action in Kosovo was multilateral, whereas Russia’s invasion in Crimea is unilateral. Martha Finnemore, a constructivist scholar of international relations and a professor at George Washington University, points out in her book that intervention should be organized with explicit UN consent in order to be legitimate. Institutions play crucial roles in intervention and multilateralism is always preferable (Finnemore 2003, 53).

Admittedly, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo lacked authorized support from the UN. But the Security Council was unanimous that the Federal of Republic Yugoslavia was “committing gross and systematic violations of human rights against the Albanian minority in Kosovo; that these constituted a threat to ‘international peace and security.'”(Wheeler, 2007, 145).

In this sense, the Kosovo intervention is at least legitimate, whereas Russia’s invasion is neither legal nor legitimate. It utterly violated international norms and should be condemned.

Third, the Serbs, the ethnic minority in Kosovo, were guaranteed minority rights and promised autonomy of their communities by Kosovo’s leaders. There is no such guarantee for Crimean Tatars. Without such assurance, any action from Russia would pose a major threat to Tatars, or any other ethnic minority group in Crimea, such as the ethnic Ukrainians that constitute 24 percent of the population.

Fourth, the intervening actors led by the United States and the United Kingdom ran out of diplomatic solutions before they decided to bomb Kosovo. And it took Kosovo almost a decade to be recognized by dozens of countries as an independent nation. It is not at all the case in Crimea.

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Russia did not even try any diplomatic methods before invading albeit the fact that there was still room for negotiations. Besides, the Crimean referendum came out in only two weeks after Russia’s invasion. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It is impossible for the world to accept its secession in such a rush.

Despite all the violations of international norms, Russia’s invasion and Crimea’s secession referendum are welcomed by the majority of ethnic Russians. For them, Russia has always been considered their homeland. They worry about discrimination against them, too. They also sensed a threat when the post-revolution parliament in Kiev tried to repeal a law that allowed regions like Crimea to adopt Russian as an official second language. One factor of the unrest in Crimea is the mutual fear of discrimination and human rights violation from the other side.

The international community should address the Crimean crisis in a way that effectively protects international norms without compromising the interests of each side too much. First, Russia should be sanctioned in more aggressive stages. Its illegal and illegitimate invasion and likely annexation of Crimea should be condemned in a larger sense. What if the instability in Ukraine drew Russia to occupy more regions?

Mr. Putin has obtained parliamentary approval for troop deployments not just in Crimea, but Ukraine as a whole. At the same time, Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty has already set a negative precedent. What if India or Pakistan send troops into Kashmir? What if China follows the “Crimea precedent” and forcefully invades Taiwan?

Second, all parties should sit down and negotiate under the supervision of the UN, following international law. They should come up with a package of solutions to address each one of these problems, including the minority rights of Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians. Apparently, a long period of negotiation will ensue. But a bit more patience always pays off. This is what Russia should have actually learned from the “Kosovo precedent.”

Jie Zhan is a Master’s student in International Relations at New York University, with an interest in humanitarian intervention and US-China relations. She is now the web editor for the Journal of Political Inquiry, an annual academic journal published by Master’s students of New York University Politics Department. Jie is also interested in public relations and multimedia storytelling.