Crimea crisis revives issue of secession's legitimacy

Consider the different American views of recent bids for independence.

Chechnya? No.

East Timor? Yes.

Abkhazia? No.

South Sudan? Yes.

Palestine? It’s complicated.

It is an acutely delicate subject in the West, where Britain wants to keep Scotland and Spain wants to keep Catalonia. The United States, after all, was born in revolution, breaking away from London without consent of the national government — something that the Obama administration insists Crimea must have. The young American union later fought a civil war to keep the South from breaking away. Even today, there is occasional fringe talk of secession in Texas.

“No state has been consistent in its application of this,” said Samuel Charap, a Russia specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. During a trip he took to Moscow last week, Mr. Charap said, Kosovo was the precedent cited repeatedly by Russians defending the Crimea intervention. “It’s like, ‘You guys do the same thing. You’re no better. You’re no different.’ ”