The Crime of the Century

Over at The New Republic, I look through a years’ worth of fallout from Russia’s Crimean occupation:

In his memo to Catherine urging the initial Russian annexation, Potemkin referred to Crimea as a “thorn.” More than two centuries later, this seems as apt a descriptor as any. Thanks to Moscow, Crimea’s now a thorn that’s easier for the West to ignore; the peninsula is a geopolitical question only Kiev wants to address. And that may be the enduring reality. British, French, and Turkish troops won’t be returning to dislodge Moscow from the peninsula. Putin, more a successor to Catherine than to Khrushchev, won’t be signing Crimea over to another capitallet alone to a state he maintains does not exist, as with Ukraine. Considering Russia’s limping economy and battered international standing, Crimea may be Putin's rare lasting prize.

It should cost him. Putin and his Anschluss shattered the Westphalian order, committing the cardinal sin of modern international law. Crimea is not likely to return to its rightful owners for years, for decades. That dismal fact does not permit us to forget. We overlook the peninsula to ourand to the Tatars’ and Europe’speril. Crimea once opened a grand glory to Catherine, but glory of the sort Potemkin promised is a fleeting thing. More lasting is the infamy Putin has earned by reenacting an 18th-century smash-and-grab. It will brand him till the end of his reign and long beyond.