To Defenders of Russian Actions in East Ukraine: This is Indefensible.
Russian actions in Ukraine are indefensible at this point, regardless of the complex history behind this crisis. Polls suggest that a strong majority of the population in the East Ukrainian regions that Russian “activists” are targeting do not want Russian rule. Given the Crimean history, Ukrainian and NATO reports that Russian military, probably special forces, are involved in the protests in the east that have turned violent are not just plausible, but correct. From a realpolitik view a Russian seizure of east Ukraine is bad for everyone and highly destabilizing in the the region and world. From a legal standpoint, the Russian government has no ground to defend a takeover of the east. There is zero independent evidence that the Ukrainian government is “oppressing” Russians in the east, other than a (stupid) change in the official language law. This is in contrast to the situation in the Baltic states that have created a kind of “soft apartheid” (Matt Payne) relative to the Russian population. The Russian offensive in east Ukraine is accompanied by an internal crackdown by an authoritarian government. Putin’s claim to a right to “protect” Russians anywhere abroad is extraordinarily dangerous and indicates very major Russian ambitions in the “near abroad”. Moreover the claim smacks of the “extraterritoriality” that late imperial powers in the 19th century imposed on societies like China, in which citizens of said powers accused on crimes on the territory of the subordinate government had to be tried by the laws of the citizens’ home country. The Russian insistence on playing a role in the writing of the new Ukrainian constitution is a clear violation of sovereignty. Whether or not the United States had right to invade Iraq or intervene in LIbya, US actions had a stronger basis in international law than Russian claims to vis a vis Ukraine (I am not saying that US actions were ultimately grounded in international law or that US interventions are necessarily in support of democracy. This is clearly not so. But the fact that the US has acted stupidly or cynically or illegally in the international arena do not and cannot justify Russian actions here. I oppose destabilizing and illegal US actions in the international arena, just as I oppose Russian.
The better part of the responsibility for whatever happens next in east Ukraine, assuming that it is bad, and I think it will be, lies squarely on the Russian government.