The principle of self-determination should be the overriding consideration, and the Crimean Parliament’s decision to hold a referendum on union with Russia is something which always needed to be part of a solution. But plainly this month is much too fast, and a referendum campaign which gives people an informed and democratic choice cannot be held while the Crimea is under Russian occupation and those against the proposed union with Russia are suffering violence and intimidation.
The EU needs to move towards Putin. An approach that sticks rigidly to Ukrainian territorial integrity being inviolate is sterile. An international agreement is possible, if the EU makes plain to Russia that it accepts the principle of self-determination. Agreement should then be reached on immediate withdrawal of Russian forces into their allocated bases in Crimea, and back to Russia if there are indeed extraneous numbers, and an international monitoring presence for the OSCE.
The referendum should then be scheduled for the end of this year, with guarantees of freedom of speech and campaigning, equal media access and all the usual democratic safeguards, again to be monitored by the OSCE.
The apparent pullback from violence has been very useful, but the diplomatic and economic fallout is still potentially very damaging. Following the Anschluss, Hitler held a referendum in Austria within one month of the military takeover and received 99.7% support. At the moment Putin stands open to a legitimate accusation of pulling precisely the same stunt in precisely the same timescale.