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Three reasons why Crimea is not Kosovo

Back in the day, political commentators compared U.S. and Western support for Kosovo’s independence to a Pandora’s box. The recognition of Kosovan right to independence, it was warned, could jeopardize the stability of the international order by setting a dangerous precedent for other separatist movements as well as encouraging big states to reshape the international order through the use of force. 

Fast forward half a decade, Russia pours its troops into the Crimean region, justifying the intervention on the grounds of protecting a predominantly ethnic Russian population and guaranteeing their right to self-determination. The argument by some Kremlin officials, including Vladimir Putin, is that there are similarities between Kosovo and Crimea, and that the precedent of the former is substantial to justify Russian policy towards the latter.

This argument is a false analogy, and there are three key differences between Kosovo and Crimea that render Kremlin’s argument as moot:

Firstly, the Ukrainian constitution states that any territorial alternation to its national borders should be decided through a nation-wide referendum. Neither does the constitution of the autonomous republic of Crimea empower its Parliament or Government to initiate a referendum for independence, let alone joining the Russian Federation.

Kosovo, in contrast, was empowered by the 1974 constitution of Yugoslavia with the right to secession. This right was exercised in a 1992 referendum, with a clear majority opting secession and independence. Serbia did not recognize the vote and the Yugoslav Army, led by Slobodan Milosevic, initiated a campaign of terror and crackdown against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians.

This leads us to our second point: in Kosovo, NATO-led intervention came at the zenith of persecution and expulsion of ethnic Albanians. There were clear and undisputed violations of human rights and potential for a full-scale genocide by the Yugoslav army. Indeed, Milosevic was later arrested and charged with war crimes including crimes against humanity and genocide in connection with his actions throughout the Balkans.

In Crimea, there were no such persecutions, nor have new central authorities in Kyiv hinted or acted in a way to threaten the livelihood and peace of the ethnically Russian majority in the region. Unlike the decade-long violent standoff between ethnic Albanians and Serbians in Kosovo, the multi-ethnic Crimean population has lived peacefully with the rest of Ukraine since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There have been no violent campaigns aimed at ethnic Russians.

Thirdly, it took Kosovo eight years following NATO military intervention to declare its independence from Serbia. The process of complying with international criteria required for recognition was followed through while Kosovo was under the administration of the United Nations. As such, the negotiations for a peaceful resolution in Kosovo included an internationally supervised process, where all parties to the dispute were present.

In Crimea, the referendum process was hectically rushed and held against the background of Russian military presence in a timeframe of less than three weeks. Also, the Russians had monopolized and exercised full control over the process, and unlike Western forces in Kosovo, immediately moved on annexing the newly-recognized territory as its own.

With the abovementioned points, it is clear that there is very little credibility for Crimea-Kosovo parallels. Instead, the Kosovo precedent should be seen as a sugarcoat for Kremlin’s aggressive policy of land-grab and annexation. With Crimea already being absored into the Russian Federation, the ball is now in the international community’s court to reverse the land-grab, or at least deter Russia from encroaching on other undisputed Ukrainian territories.

  • Name

    If you are not living in Crimea you have no right to judge.

    • Hi.

      Thank you for your comment.

      I am sorry that you have perceived a judgemental tone in between the lines of this text. This was neither my intention nor would I consider it fitting to a non-biased analytical piece.

      That being said, I also believe that if high-ranking officials can make bold statements about non-existing parallels to justify wars, then it should not escape scrutiny. The purpose of this article was just that: to demonstrate through three specific examples that there is very little credibility to Russian legal discourse over their intervention in Crimea.

      I hope I have resolved any of the concerns you may have had in regards to the integrity of this piece.

      George Topouria

  • Peter

    I generally agree that Kosovo and Crimea situations are not the same – Crimea being far worse – but I would still want to make two points:

    1. Legally, it is disputable whether constitution of Yugoslavia gave right for self-determination to republics only or autonomous regions like Kosovo too.

    2. In principle, I argue that right for self-determination should be granted only to nations that do not already posses national state and which population lives mostly in the region that seeks self-determination. I do not see any reason for independent South Ossetia, when Ossetians in vast majority live elsewhere, reason for independent Crimea and Transdnistria, when Russians already has its national country, and the same argument equally applies to Kosovo/Albania or Nagorno Karabakh/Armenia. On the other hand, Catalonians, Scots, Welsh or Basque should have the right for self-determination, even if constitutions of UK/Spain do not specify so.

    Therefore Transdnistria, South Ossetia and Kosovo all gave a bad precedence for even much worse precedence of Crimea. Now all cards are open and if the West does not takes this seriously it will open Pandora’s box all around world, starting perhaps with Croats and Serbs of Bosnia Herzegovina through Hungarians of Slovakia and Romania … the list goes forever. So far it seems that 1939 is repeating again and I just hope that imminent third world war won’t be nuclear one.

  • Sinisa

    Author is defending the indefensible, so no surprise he invents arguments that contradict the reality.
    1. “Kosovo … was empowered by the 1974 constitution of Yugoslavia with the right to secession”. Yugoslav constitution of 1974 was replaced by constitution of 1992. One can argue if either of these constitutions were result of a democratic process, but simply choosing to justify ones actions by invoking an obsolete constitution is ludicrous.
    2. “in Kosovo, NATO-led intervention came at the zenith of persecution and expulsion of ethnic Albanians”. In the Western media underworld perhaps, but in reality zenith came weeks after NATO launched attacks. Author is confusing causes and consequences. Before the war, conflict was of low intensity, with Albanian guerilla attacking Serbian institutions and minority in the province. Exodus of Albanian population started after NATO started the war.
    3. “The process of complying with international criteria required for recognition was followed through while Kosovo was under the administration of the United Nations”. There was unrest, then there was a war, Yugoslavia eventually capitulated, and this capitulation was administered by means of UN resolution 1224. According to this resolution, Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia.

    Crimea was appended to Ukraine in 1954, but Soviet authorities (thus certainly not by any legitimate democratic institutions). This fact didn’t make it to the list of top three differences between Crimea and Kosovo, so one has to wonder whether author missed it due to lack of knowledge, or omitted it intentionally.

    Disappointing article by all means.

    • Mustafa

      On the second point, Sinisa, you are not right. More than 230 000 ethnic Albanians had been displaced even before the bombing campaign started. And it’s not a western media viewpoint, it’s the UN Security Council speaking. Read Resolution 1199