The news from Ukraine is moving fast. But all indications point to a Russian occupation of Crimea, a Ukrainian state with a majority of Russian speakers. That is very much illegal under international law–one sovereign country can’t just decide to invade and occupy a neighbor.
In the days ahead, we may see Russia intentions more clearly. And if it turns out that Moscow is mounting a de-facto occupation of the territory of a sovereign state, what might the international consequences be for Russia? Not much, probably. There is precedent for the international community’s response to this sort of thing.
Since 2008, Russia has been occupying two territories in the country of Georgia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were seized by Moscow after a brief war between Georgia and Russia as the rest of the world was distracted by the Beijing Olympics. (Sound familiar?) Every country in the world but Russia recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as rightfully Georgian territory that is illegally occupied by Russia. For its part, Russia has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.
The occupation has been ongoing for a long time now, and there’s been little international diplomatic pressure on Russia to give it up. I would not be terribly surprised if six years from now, Crimea becomes the next South Ossetia and Abkhazia: a territory successfully stolen by Russia from a neighboring state.