Ukraine on Latin America’s Mind

RIO DE JANEIRO – Russia’s annexation of Crimea is a fait accompli, a done deal. The ensuing diplomatic ballet indicates that the West understands that it can do little to reverse the outcome. Western sanctions so far have not affected Russia’s real interests, and Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear to be intimidated.

So the real issue now is whether Russia will push further and claim territory in eastern Ukraine, where a sizable number of Russian-speaking citizens, evidently spurred on by Kremlin operatives, wants to cut ties with the government in Kyiv. Can the West or the United Nations Security Council do anything if push comes to shove?

Modern-day international relations are predicated on two interdependent principles: non-intervention and self-determination. Non-intervention makes sense only when the rights of kindred national minorities in neighboring countries are adequately protected. At the same time, a change in political borders to unite adjacent national communities may merely create new minority problems, as the revised boundary may bring in non-nationals. That is why the principle of self-determination is equally pertinent in such situations.

Latin America has experienced both the absence and the application of these principles since the region’s Iberian colonization. Following independence, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, most of the continent’s borders were the subject of bitter political conflict. More than six decades after the end of its monarchy, the majority of Brazil’s 10 international frontiers were still not agreed.