From Kosovo to Crimea: double standards?

The declaration of Russian President Vladimir Putin comparing Crimea’s and Kosovo’s secession provoked loud reactions in the Balkans, but on the West as well. By accusing the West for hypocrisy, Putin revived the topic of Kosovo and the question of its legitimacy. The US and the EU strongly deny this comparison. 

Two territories proclaiming independency, two different reactions of the international community, but also two different circumstances and countries leaning behind their back. What are the similarities and differences between Kosovo and Crimea that make them so controversial?

Historical context

Kosovo is referred to by many Serbs as the “heart of Serbia”.  However, with the establishment of Yugoslavia, the communist president Tito designed Kosovo as an autonomous territory in 1974. This lead to the further development: more Albanians immigrated and progressively formed a majority in Kosovo.  The majority of Kosovo Albanians created the basis for further protests and requests for more autonomy and finally independency.

Twenty years earlier, Crimea also faced changes. In 1954, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a « symbolic gesture, » marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming a part of the Russian Empire. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of the newly independent Ukraine.

Events leading to the separations

Instability in Kosovo because of conflicts between Albanian para-military guerilla and the Serbian military army in 1999, made the international forces intervene. After unsuccessful negotiations in Rambouillet, NATO decided to initiate a bombing campaign targeting Serbia and start a military intervention in Kosovo. It ended with the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which guaranteed the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and the presence of international forces in Kosovo.

The anti-governmental crises that started in November 2013 made the circumstances favorable for Crimea to declare its separation from Ukraine. The president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign with the EU an association agreement which provoked mass demonstrations. Yanukovych left the country and a new government was put in place, supported by the West, instead of the one democratically chose. Moreover, the Russian military intervention in Crimea only made the situation more intense.

Referendums in Kosovo and Crimea: reactions today and before

The Assembly of Kosovo led by Kosovo Albanians declared independency in 2008. This was not accepted by the Serbian government (supported by Russia) while the International Court of Justice determined that the declaration did not violate international law. It was a unilateral decision accepted by some countries of the EU and by some not. In that moment journalists from all over the world presented the picture of a population “crying out of joy for finally obtaining independency”. However, minorities in Kosovo, among them Serbs living surrounded by international protection forces-KFOR, were very scared and worried, feeling excluded and without any possibilities to express their views.

The media does not present today this picture of happiness in Crimea. The referendum held on March 17 was declared illegitimate by the EU and the US. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, accused this as double standards of the western countries. “It’s beyond double standards,” Putin said. “It’s a kind of baffling, primitive and blatant cynicism. One can’t just twist things to fit his interests, to call something white on one day and black on the next one”.  He added that this disregard to rule of law was evident in Yugoslavia in 1999, when NATO bombed the country without a UN Security Council mandate. EU and the US replied that Crimea cannot be compared with Kosovo.

Why can’t we compare Kosovo and Crimea?

Meanwhile, the German chancellor Angela Merkel declared: « In my opinion it is shameful to compare Crimea to Kosovo. And even if there had been other breaches of international law – Kosovo not being one of them – Russia’s actions in Ukraine are still a breach of international law ». The West stresses that the Kosovo declaration did not involve military pressure or a government overthrow, and more importantly, Kosovo separatists have sought independence rather than union with another state. Furthermore, no aggression has been established over the Russian citizens in Crimea. Even though Crimea’s population is almost the same size as Kosovo’s, we have to take into consideration the size of Serbia compared to Ukraine.

On the other hand, other countries are accusing the US and EU for double standards. Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez compared the referendum in Crimea to last year’s referendum by Falkland Islanders to remain a British territory. The referendum was unopposed by the US. « We either respect the same principles for all, or we live in a world without law, where the most powerful get their way, » Fernandez told journalists.

Geo-political and military strategies under the surface

Whether it is the question of Western or Eastern responsibility, both sides have clearly strategic interests in their moves. Gerhard Schroder, former German chancellor during the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, recently admitted that the EU was then consciously deteriorating international law. The US established a military base in Kosovo- camp Bondsteel, the main base of the US Army under KFOR command. On the other hand, Crimea is also a most profitable base for Russia because of its good position from which the Black Sea Fleet can set sail for the Mediterranean. By annexing Ukrainian land on the Black Sea coast, Putin also annexes the rights to any hydrocarbons found in its maritime zones.

Big players seem to be able to avoid the rules by hiding beneath their propaganda of protection of citizens, while no real stability is given to the people. The further decline in the reputation of international diplomacy can be avoided only by economic interests of a non-military industry.

Milica Cokic