Thursday, March 20, 2014

Brilliant Article on Crimea by a long-time bi-lingual and bi-cultural U.S./Russia Journalist V. Posner

Mr. Posner's bio: click here.  For the original version of the article (in Russian), click here.
Crimea's Reunification with Russia and Other Matters
In reality, the reunification (or annexation -- the term depends on one's political persuasion) of Crimea with Russia is, in a way, the result of the now over-20-year relationship between Russia and U.S.  I am excluding Europe here because Europe represents only a geographical rather than a political unit. There was a time when Europe dreamed of a uniform Constitution, a "United States of Europe," capable of competing with the U.S. and China.  But those dreams have remained mere dreams.
When the USSR became history, it was tacitly understood, although not necessarily formally acknowledged, that Russia had lost (while America won) the Cold War.  So America came to expect that (a) the losing side would behave as such, that (b) it would begin to profess the western way and be receptive to the western mentality, and (c) that, even if it were to grow slowly bit by bit, it would never rise to its historical power.  Those expectations were not meant to be fulfilled.  Russia did not become receptive to either the western values or the western mentality.  This was not because Russia remained (and still remains) a captive of its Soviet past, but for a much deeper reason: the origins of Russia lie in the Eastern (Byzantine) Christianity, in contrast to the West, with its origins in Ancient Rome and Western Christianity.  Between the two mentalities and sets of values there lies a great abyss, likely unsurpassable. That's what I'd like to say first.
Second, Russia began to rise from its knees much faster than expected. This was at least in part due to the unexpectedly high oil prices.  Third, pretty soon it became apparent that Russia was not going to act as a country that was the loser.  The first clear sign of this appeared during the conflict that led to the decision to bomb Yugoslavia, a decision Russia strongly and vehemently opposed.  It bears remembering that neither the UN nor the EU gave their "ok" to these bombings.  The U.S. decided to do it, and the U.S. did it, telling Russia something like "it's ok, we can manage our affairs without you" (and I'll note parenthetically that the forced separation of Kosovo from Serbia, recognized by the West, did open the Pandora's Box, no matter what anyone wants to say now).  If we trace the chain of events starting with Kosovo, we will find an entire "bouquet" of disagreements between U.S. and Russia, whereby the U.S. would always act from the position of power (the most vivid example is NATO's advance to Russian borders in violation of the promise made by U.S. Sec. of State Baker to Gorbachev back in 1989).  Aggravation continued to grow on both sides: on the one side because the other did not "behave properly," and on the other side because it was shown no respect and was treated openly as a second-class citizen (read Putin's 2007 speech in Munich).
During this whole period of time, the United States tried (and not without success) to push Russia out of what Russia considered its traditional sphere of influence, including the Caucasus, Central Asia, Near East, and Eastern Europe.  Russia had no answer (read: force) to this, although its skillful use of America's mistakes enabled it to raise its rank in parts of the Arab World, such as Syria and Iran.  But what Russia could not tolerate under any circumstances was U.S. attempts to take Russia's place in the "brotherly Slavic nation" of Ukraine.  And the issue was not about just the fear that Ukraine would become a NATO member, with NATO forces appearing at the South-Western Russian border.  The issue was, and continues to be, the deep psychological perception that Ukraine is "ours" and Ukrainians are "our people."  Indeed, try to picture for a moment that Mexico just had a revolution, and a leader like Chavez took power and invited Russia to station part of its military along the U.S.-Mexican border.  Can you?  Do you see the picture?
In the meantime, the events taking place in Ukraine were destabilizing the country further and further.  It began under Kuchma and then continued under Kuchma.  The switch to Yushenko not only did not save Ukraine, it brought the country into total chaos.  During the next presidential election, Yushenko got only 5% of the vote, and that says it all.  It is clear that the election of Yanukovich, whom I consider to be a petty thief whose place is a prison cell and not presidential chair, was the result of a "protest" vote.  Under Yanukovich, the statehood of Ukraine got further reduced, virtually to zero.  Corruption in Ukraine reached such levels that corruption in Russia looked like child's play in comparison.  The negative attitude of the Ukrainian people continued to grow, and so...
All of this was perceived by Russia as another illustration of what has really been taking place in the world for the past 20 years: that the West (read: the U.S.) pushes its agenda while totally disregarding, by its actions (not words), any interests of Russia.  In this particular case, it did so in a territory that for centuries was part of the so-called "Russian World."  Only extremely short-sighted (without putting it more harshly) person could even doubt that there would be a response.  And a response did follow.  I cannot rule out that it was this particular outcome that was pursued, -- a serious new escalation that can be used to return, at least to some extent, to the psychological state of the Cold War.  I am not saying that this is the case, but I can't rule it out either: Putin's new role as "the most influential politician of the year", etc., has become all too visible.
And Crimea?  Need I even remind the reader that Crimea was never part of Ukraine?  The USSR Supreme Council that was to ratify Khrushev's decision to transfer Crimea from the Soviet Russian Republic to the Soviet Ukrainian Republic voted in favor of the decision with only 13 votes.  That entire Council, however, consisted of 27 members, so that there was no quorum (the other 14 were simply absent).  But the matter is not even about nitpicky lawyering.  Neither is it about the Kosovo precedent (although it is definitely a precedent, see above).  The point is that any negotiations with the West would be useless, that the West would backstab Russia no matter what, and that it is time to let the world know that one cannot treat Russia's national interests the way they have been treated.  That Crimea (not to mention Sevastopol) historically and ethnically was part of Russia and that Crimeans in their overwhelming majority leaned towards Russia was absolutely clear anyway.  And so the decision was made.
Next, we can engage in lots of discourse about "for" and "against." But I insist that any such discussion has to be based on knowledge and clear understanding on what actually was and what actually is.
On a personal note, I will add the following: the unbelievable involvement of the West in what is happening has nothing to do with its aspirations to protect human rights in Ukraine, nor with any noble desire to help the "poor Ukrainians," nor with any alleged goal to protect Ukraine's territorial integrity.  It has everything to do with strategic geopolitical interests.  And Russia's actions, in my view, are not at all guided by any necessity to "protect Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tatars," but are guided by the same thing: geopolitical and national interests.
As for my personal feelings, I will say this: I don't like either of the two sides.  In the words of Shakespeare's Mercutio, "A plague o' both your houses!"

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