U.S. lawmakers may seem united in opposition to Crimea's Sunday vote to secede from Ukraine, but a small minority in Congress says residents of the Black Sea peninsula have a right to join Russia if they wish.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a supporter of both the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia and Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence – which the U.S. government recognizes – says American policy on Crimea reeks of hypocrisy.
“Starting with our own American Revolution, groups of people have declared themselves, rightfully, to be under a different government or a government of their choosing,” he tells U.S. News. “People forget that’s what our Declaration of Independence is all about.”
Rohrabacher says the U.S. should recognize the results of the referendum. About 97 percent of the population voted to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, from which the region was administratively transferred in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty Tuesday to annex Crimea, which with Russian parliament is expected to ratify.
Although he’s displeased with the ballot’s wording, the lack of international observers and the presence of Russian troops, Rohrabacher says there’s no doubt the vote accurately reflects regional sentiment – an assessment Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to articulate Thursday during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
Kerry, Obama and many congressional leaders have condemned the Crimea vote as illegal because it did not comply with Ukraine’s constitution. Russia’s military deployment, they allege, is a violation of international law.
“Our actions in Kosovo and our military tactics in Serbia to protect the right of Kosovars to self-determination when juxtaposed to what’s been happening concerning Crimea and Ukraine is demonstrably hypocritical. Our people may not notice," says Rohrabacher, "but certainly the people in Russia see that – they get slapped around for doing something that mirrors what was done by the allies [in Kosovo].”
Rohrabacher scoffs at sanctions announced Monday by Obama that freeze assets and impose visa bans against 11 Kremlin-allied Russians and Ukrainians.
“The sanctions are an abomination of hypocrisy,” Rohrabacher says. “This is ridiculous: What we were doing with the violence and military action we took to secure the Kosovars’ right to self-determination was far more destructive and had far more loss of life than what Putin’s done trying to ensure the people of Crimea are not cut off from what they would choose as their destiny with Russia.”
The 13-term Orange County lawmaker voted “present” March 11 when the House of Representatives opted 402-7 to condemn Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. Spokespeople for the members who voted “no” did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., voted “yes” on that motion, but tells U.S. News he favors self-determination for the people of Crimea.
"The outcome of Sunday's referendum was hardly a surprise. It is consistent with multi-party election results in the Crimea for a decade or more,” Grayson says in an emailed statement. “Self-determination, if it is accomplished through a free and fair election process, is well within the rights of the Crimean people.”
Grayson, however, doesn't embrace the referendum results.
"Though Crimea's referendum may have yielded a policy result that reflects what the Crimean people want, the circumstances in which it occurred are troubling in one important sense," he says. "It was Russia's Crimean troop build up and military activities that prompted the vote, which casts doubt on the legitimacy of the referendum and its results. Any vote to secede should have been pursued through processes that are recognized by international law, and (if possible) consistent with the Ukrainian Constitution. Self-determination is good; hostile military activity on foreign soil is bad."