It is with a sense of disbelief that we find ourselves here today — disbelief at the situation that developed before our eyes with the Russian Federation’s determination to annex Crimea.
Nothing is lacking from those things that we hoped were relegated to the vaults of history: the military maneuvres at the borders, the henchman who yesterday was no one and today has suddenly been designated President of the Crimea, the occupation denied against all evidence, the torrents of propaganda, and now the charade of a referendum that is not only illegal, rushed and without electoral campaigns but is reduced to a choice between two ways of saying yes. Crimeans will not even be able to express their will.
The violation of international law is so obvious at this point that one almost feels pity at seeing Russian diplomacy — so formalistic, so finicky in its respect for proprieties and its invocation of texts — struggling to find a legal basis for the coup. One day, they brandish an alleged letter from the Head of State who is on the run, and only an unsigned version of that letter is released, disappearing as quickly as it appeared. The next day, they recall the issue of Kosovo. Finally, after what was probably a feverish search through the archives, they even exhume a decolonization case from 1976: the question of Mayotte. They are trying so hard to use all available means in Moscow that they do not want to see that in the latter example, Russia having taken the opposite position from the one it is taking today, that shaky comparison — even if one accepts it — proves that Russia was wrong in 1976 or is wrong now, in 2014. It must choose.
I think, however, that my Russian colleague and I will find common ground in a key sentence from the speech of the Soviet Permanent Representative in 1976 on the question of Mayotte, who said:
“Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the integrity territory of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” (S/PV.1888, p. 8).
In reality, nothing will come of those pathetic efforts — certainly not the basis for any legal reasoning. The vetoing of a text that is nothing more than a reminder of the basic principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations is clear proof of that. The headlines can be simple: Russia has vetoed the Charter of the United Nations.
In desperation, therefore, Moscow invokes the pretext of protecting Russians who are supposedly threatened in Crimea. I am sure that neighbouring countries that host Russian minorities appreciate this right to interfere that Russia has suddenly claimed for itself . But again, they are out of luck. There has been no violence, as confirmed by journalists and noted by the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and no trace, as confirmed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that were predicted. Where have they gone? Do not worry; they never existed.
The supposed right does not exist, and there is no violence taking place. We therefore look to history. Crimea was Russian from 1783 to 1954. What does that mean? Will we take out our history books to review our borders or challenge or defend them? What date will we go back to? After all, Crimea was Russian for 170 years but a vassal of Turkey for three centuries. We know only too well that anything can be justified by history, particularly the unjustifiable.
Out of all of this — their confused flurry of activity, the speeches that are denied as soon as they are given and the arguments that are forgotten as soon as they are made — only force remains. Basically, it is simple: the Russian veto today is telling us that might is right.
Well, no. Force cannot override the law. That would be too serious and too dangerous for every Member State. Our duty is to raise the fragile barrier of law against the brutal nature of international relations, this very moment, thousands of innocent lives in Syria and elsewhere. To accept the annexation of Crimea would be to give up everything that we are trying to build in this Organization. It would make a mockery of the Charter of the United Nations. It would once again make the sword the supreme arbiter of disputes.
The vast majority of Member States will prove, by their refusal to recognize the annexation of the Crimea, that they know that the territorial integrity of one of them is the guarantor of the territorial integrity of all. There are minorities all over the world. What would become of us if they became the pretext for any kind of adventure to be undertaken by an ambitious and enterprising neighbour? What will be the next Crimea? The annexation goes beyond Ukraine. It affects us all.
The veto should be a defeat for Russia alone. It should not take us with it. We must remain steadfast in our commitment to the principles it embodies, which are at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations, are our best defence against the return of a past in which Russian aggression against Ukraine emerges.
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