President Obama’s statement last week that the proposed referendum in the Crimea on reuniting with Russia would “violate international law” is simply wrong. As the International Court of Justice made clear in its 2010 opinion on the declaration of independence by the authorities in Kosovo — at the time recognized by all as a part of Serbia — international law neither authorizes nor prohibits such political statements, and the same analysis surely applies to the referendum.
This fact does not justify the Russian invasion of Crimea, but it does highlight the many parallels between the role of outsiders in Crimea and Kosovo.
That’s the trouble with law, at least in principle: It applies to everyone equally.
The writer is a professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.