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Mutual hypocrisy over Ukraine

Both the U.S. and Russia are guilty of brazen hypocrisy in their positions over the crisis in Ukraine

Sharif Nashashibi

Published: Updated:

Amid all the accusations made by the United States and Russia against each other over Ukraine, both are guilty of brazen hypocrisy in their positions over the crisis.

Moscow says it has sent troops to Ukraine's Crimea region in order to protect an endangered people who have welcomed such intervention. This was the same reason given for its war with Georgia in 2008.

However, there is no evidence that the majority ethnic Russians of Crimea have been attacked or even threatened. As such, Moscow's intervention has been carried out under a false pretext. In this regard, it is reminiscent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, under a list of false pretexts, which Russia opposed.

Furthermore, Moscow condemned the NATO-led intervention in Libya, which was also launched to protect civilians who were appealing for such help. Russia is also against any form of foreign intervention to protect Syrian civilians from President Bashar al-Assad's forces (while directly supporting the same regime), despite such pleas from Syrians.

Sovereignty

Russia highlighted the violation of sovereignty in its opposition to the invasion of Iraq, and to Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 to protect the people of Kosovo. However, it sees nothing wrong with entering Ukraine, and as the main component of the Soviet Union, saw fit to invade Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan during the Cold War. Washington actively supported Afghan rebels at the time, only to become the next invaders after the Soviets.

The credibility of the arguments of both Washington and Moscow over Ukraine is destroyed by the fact that neither uses them as a matter of principle, but rather for political expediency and self-interest

Sharif Nashashibi

Moscow justifies its actions in Ukraine by specifying that it is protecting fellow Russians. Following its own logic, Arab states were entitled to participate in protecting fellow Arabs in Libya against dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and would be justified in doing so for their ethnic kin in Syria. The same would have been true for Albania vis-a-vis the majority ethnic Albanians of Kosovo when it was part of Yugoslavia.

On the other hand, U.S. condemnation of Russia's violation of Ukraine's sovereignty is also hypocritical, given that Washington has been, and continues to be, a serial violator of other countries' sovereignty. It has carried out invasions, bombings and regime change dozens of times globally since the end of World War II in 1945.

The United States regularly violates the sovereignty of countries such as Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan via its drone strikes. The drone campaign "involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent, and is therefore a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty," Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said last year.

Then there is the elephant in the room: the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "You just don't, in the 21st century, behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretexts," said Secretary of State John Kerry, in reference to Russian troops in Ukraine.

This is a breathtaking display of hypocrisy, given that he voted to invade Iraq this century, and stood by his vote even after it became clear that weapons of mass destruction were nowhere to be found.

Democracy

The United States and Russia both claim to be upholding democratic principles in Ukraine. However, both have been - and continue to be - backers of appalling dictatorships, and have overthrown, sanctioned or suppressed democratic governments and movements worldwide over the decades.

Moscow says it does not recognise the removal of its ally Victor Yanukovich, who until February was Ukraine's president, because he was democratically elected. Yet in that same month, it announced its support for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the next Egyptian president, despite his overthrow last summer of the democratically elected Mohammad Mursi.

Moscow says a referendum later this month on whether Crimea should become part of Russia is a democratic right. However, there is no indication that independent international observers will be allowed to monitor the vote and ensure it is free and fair. Furthermore, Russia would vehemently oppose referendums on secession of its own provinces, such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. Indeed, it decimated Chechnya to deny it independence.

On the other hand, the United States - the so-called leader of the free world - opposes the Crimean referendum. Why are Crimeans less deserving than the people of South Sudan, who chose in a 2011 referendum to secede from Sudan, or Scotland, which will undertake its own referendum on independence?

The credibility of the arguments of both Washington and Moscow over Ukraine is destroyed by the fact that neither uses them as a matter of principle, but rather for political expediency and self-interest. In other words, when it suits them they use one argument, then in other situations use the counter-argument to justify their actions.

Both powers only believe in sovereignty, democracy and human rights when these concepts are convenient and advantageous. This renders their statements hollow, and their actions and motives inherently suspect.

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Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.