There have been quite a few comments in the blogosphere and in the press along the lines of The West is being hypocritical about Crimea because they supported the separation of Kosovo from Serbia.
Let's just rewind for a moment, shall we.
In Kosovo, Slobodan Milosevic launched a war against his Albanian fellow citizens. He unleashed not merely paramilitary forces but his entire army. Massacres were taking place and virtually the entire population was set to flee across the border to escape the Serbian forces. The result was a Western (and Russian) intervention which stopped the violence and allowed the population to return. The war ended on June 11th 1999. Milosevic was only overthrown in early 2001. It was wholly unreasonable to expect the Kosovars to remain in a state where Milosevic remained in power, thus the province was initially ruled by NATO and then in 2008 the civilian and democratic authorities declared independence.
In Ukraine, the initially democratically elected Viktor Yanukovych embarked on a spree of corruption and theft which only has European parallels with the Putin regime. The corruption was matched by an increasing degree of brutality- the closure of the free press, murder and intimidation of political enemies and finally culminated in the use of snipers against peaceful protestors in the Maidan. As a result the regime which had come to power constitutionally lost all legitimacy and was overthrown- as has happened many times in history. Note too that Hitler initially came to power constitutionally, if not democratically, as did Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin used the troops he had in Crimea to seize control from the Ukrainian authorities and has staged a very hurried "referendum" which has taken place under the guns of Russian armed forces. It was neither a free nor fair election, and was marked by a complete contempt for any democratic norms. The option of the status quo was not even on the agenda. It is very similar to the plebiscite that took place after Germany seized Austria in 1938- with a very similar result, 99.7% in Austria and 96.7% in Crimea. Given that the Crimean Tatars boycotted the vote en masse and yet are said to have had a 40% turn-out, it is easy to see that the result is clearly fraudulent.
So despite the Putin propaganda that the revolutionary government in Kyiv is illegitimate and that Crimea is entitled to self determination, this is a straight forward power-play annexation. It is nothing like the democratic will of Kosovo, now repeatedly expressed through many democratic votes in the new Republic of Kosova. Freedom House acknowledges the progress that Kosova has made and rates the level of freedom way above that of Russia. Russia is now classified as one of the least free countries on the planet.
Putin has made his choices- and after the images of the Putin Youth on the streets of Moscow over the weekend (and the larger protests against Putin)- we see a sort of Happy Shopper version of Fascism. No free press. No free market. The glorification of the state and, of course, the use of violence.
As the West contemplates its next move- and it is being urged by China to cool things off- then we should think of two goals: one is the short term protection of Ukraine. The second is the longer term removal of Vladimir Putin, who is a tyrant to his own people and a global threat to peace. In the short term we accept the de facto annexation of Crimea. However we need to understand that this will not be the last time that Russia challenges the peace, and we need to be much more prepared. Meanwhile if Putin continues to try to regain control over Ukraine by destabilizing the east in order to provoke a war that leads to the return of Yanukovych or some other Russian puppet, then we need to set some very concrete security goals for the future: the end of the Russian occupation of Transnistria, the end of the frozen conflicts in Georgia and the de-militarization of Koenigsberg- which has been overtly used in the past few weeks to threaten NATO directly. These goals need to be achieved whether Putin survives the economic wreck he is creating, or not.