Staunton, June 21 – Mustafa Cemilev, the long-time leader of the Crimean Tatars, said late last night that he has no intention of moving his family out of Crimea despite the fact that the Russians have blocked his return because he is certain that “the occupiers will not remain in Crimea for long” (ru.tsn.ua/politika/dzhemilev-ne-sobiraetsya-vyvozit-semyu-iz-kryma-potomu-chto-okkupanty-budut-tam-ne-dolgo-372767.html).
Cemilev, who has been fighting for Crimean Tatar rights his entire life and who has recently been awarded numerous prizes for his efforts, not only expresses a confidence which many in the rest of the world do not share but by saying this is calling for no one to forget Crimea even as he or she focuses on Russian aggression elsewhere in Ukraine.
One can only hope that Cemilev is right, but whether he is or not, his statement highlights the need for the articulation and implementation of a non-recognition policy by the United States and other Western countries lest in the absence of such a policy, the international community comes to implicitly accept what Vladimir Putin has done.
When the United States said in 1940 that it would never recognize the forcible inclusion of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union by Stalin during the period of his alliance with Hitler, few thought that policy would last beyond a peace conference at the end of World War II or even have serious consequences.
And even during the Cold War, which followed the absence of a peace conference in 1945 and Soviet occupation of half of Europe, many viewed non-recognition policy as quixotic and as something that would have no real impact.
But this carefully crafted legal doctrine, one that did not commit the West to liberation but simply registered the West’s objection to the criminal actions of the Soviet government, not only encouraged people in the three Baltic states to believe as Cemilev does about Crimea that the occupation would ultimately end but also helped promote exactly that outcome.
In the case of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that outcome took 51 years. One can only hope that an end to Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea will come much sooner. The basis for that hope is both the steadfastness of Crimean Tatars like Cemilev and of Ukraine, a citizen of which he remains, and the ways in which Putin’s policies in Ukraine are undermining the Russian Federation as well.
By challenging the post-war era in which no European country has annexed the territory of another since World War II and the 1991 settlement following the collapse of the USSR in which Moscow, the other countries in the region, and the West insisted that the Soviet administrative lines must become international borders, Putin has reopened that question.
And while Putin and his supporters in Russia and elsewhere do not yet recognize it, there are no borders in the post-Soviet space which are more illegitimate and subject to being called into question than those of the Russian Federation which, as the Kremlin leader’s actions show, remains a quasi-empire rather than a civic nation state.