Two days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin, gave a speech to the Russian Duma, the Potemkin parliament that endorses what Putin has already done, on the occasion of receiving a request from the people of Crimea to become part of Russia. I took some time to go through the speech and pull together some disparate threads that may give us a hint what we can expect in the future.
From the perspective of brutalizing history, grievance mongering, and asserting special privilege this speech, with only minor use of the Microsoft Word Search-Replace function, could have been given by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or Michelle Obama. The reference primarily used is the translation provided by Russian propaganda outlet RT.com and the liveblogging of the event by Financial Times.
The Commies Are To Blame
In Putin’s view of history, Russia was unfairly robbed of extensive territory in Ukraine, include Crimea, by the leaders of the USSR.
In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia. This firm conviction is based on truth and justice and was passed from generation to generation, over time, under any circumstances, despite all the dramatic changes our country went through during the entire 20th century.
“After the revolution, the Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons – may God judge them – added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine. This was done with no consideration for the ethnic make-up of the population, and today these areas form the southeast of Ukraine. Then, in 1954, a decision was made to transfer Crimean Region to Ukraine, along with Sevastopol, despite the fact that it was a city of union subordination. This was the personal initiative of the Communist Party head Nikita Khrushchev. What stood behind this decision of his – a desire to win the support of the Ukrainian political establishment or to atone for the mass repressions of the 1930’s in Ukraine – is for historians to figure out.
What matters now is that this decision was made in clear violation of the constitutional norms that were in place even then. The decision was made behind the scenes. Naturally, in a totalitarian state nobody bothered to ask the citizens of Crimea and Sevastopol. They were faced with the fact. People, of course, wondered why all of a sudden Crimea became part of Ukraine. But on the whole – and we must state this clearly, we all know it – this decision was treated as a formality of sorts because the territory was transferred within the boundaries of a single state. Back then, it was impossible to imagine that Ukraine and Russia may split up and become two separate states. However, this has happened.”
All Bad Things Date From the End of the USSR
“Unfortunately, what seemed impossible became a reality. The USSR fell apart. Things developed so swiftly that few people realised how truly dramatic those events and their consequences would be. Many people both in Russia and in Ukraine, as well as in other republics hoped that the Commonwealth of Independent States that was created at the time would become the new common form of statehood. They were told that there would be a single currency, a single economic space, joint armed forces; however, all this remained empty promises, while the big country was gone. It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that Russia realised that it was not simply robbed, it was plundered.”
This is not news. Back in 2005, we have this via FoxNews and Putin: Soviet Collapse A “Tragedy”
“First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” Putin said. “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.
“The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself,” he said, referring to separatist movements such as those in Chechnya.
Note that he doesn’t’ even make an exception for World War II when nearly 9 million Soviet soldiers and as many as 22 million Soviet civilians were killed.
Pan-Slavism May Be Dead, the All-Russian Nation Is Alive and Well
“Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.”
During the reign of the czars, pan-Slavism was the Russian tool for political and territorial expansion. The idea was that the Slavs were one people and deserving of belonging to a single political entity. Russia, by virtue of being the biggest Slavic nation, would naturally be in charge. After the Serbs took things a bit too far in Sarajevo in 1914 this philosophy has largely disappeared.
If we look at Vladimir Putin as a successor to the ambition of the czars rather than the General Secretary of a new version of the USSR we should look to the idea of the All-Russian Nation for explanation. The concept of a political unity between all Russians (Great, Little, and White) and East Slavs (Ukraine and Belarus) is what is driving much of Putin’s rhetoric.
The persistent use of Putin and his henchmen of the ideas of ‘brotherly’ and ‘fraternal’ is directly linked to this philosophy. Based on actions to date in Moldova and Georgia one must assume that the philosophy has been expanded, or merged with Pan-Slavism, to include the Russian diaspora inside the former USSR.
The People Who Overthrew the Ukrainian Government Were Nazis
“They resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day.
“The new so-called authorities began by introducing a draft law to revise the language policy, which was a direct infringement on the rights of ethnic minorities. However, they were immediately ‘disciplined’ by the foreign sponsors of these so-called politicians. One has to admit that the mentors of these current authorities are smart and know well what such attempts to build a purely Ukrainian state may lead to. The draft law was set aside, but clearly reserved for the future. Hardly any mention is made of this attempt now, probably on the presumption that people have a short memory. Nevertheless, we can all clearly see the intentions of these ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler’s accomplice during World War II.
“I repeat, just as it has been for centuries, it will be a home to all the peoples living there. What it will never be and do is follow in Bandera’s footsteps!”
Twice he specifically labels Ukrainian nationalists as people who would follow in the footsteps of Stepan Bandera who led an independent Ukraine during World War II. This has to violate Godwin’s Law for political speeches.
Though Putin labels Bandera as “Hitler’s accomplice” this is simply one of the many historical distortions by Putin. Bandera was arrested by the Germans in July 1941 and sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in January 1942. None of this is to say he was a nice guy but his sin is Ukrainian nationalism not Nazism.
Tu Quoque, Bitches
First, we had to help create conditions so that the residents of Crimea for the first time in history were able to peacefully express their free will regarding their own future. However, what do we hear from our colleagues in Western Europe and North America? They say we are violating norms of international law. Firstly, it’s a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law – better late than never.
Like a mirror, the situation in Ukraine reflects what is going on and what has been happening in the world over the past several decades. After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet, we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading. Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle “If you are not with us, you are against us.” To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organisations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.
Essentially, Putin’s complaint is that 1) Russia has no external alliances worth the name and 2) when it abuses the power it does have, particularly in the UN Security Council, the West has become adept in finding work-arounds. There is really no reason that two Third World kleptocracies should have a seat on the UNSC, and for that we can blame George H. W. Bush. According to Putin, we can blame George W. Bush for everything else.
Thank You, Bill Clinton, For Giving Us the Precedent
Moreover, the Crimean authorities referred to the well-known Kosovo precedent – a precedent our western colleagues created with their own hands in a very similar situation, when they agreed that the unilateral separation of Kosovo from Serbia, exactly what Crimea is doing now, was legitimate and did not require any permission from the country’s central authorities. Pursuant to Article 2, Chapter 1 of the United Nations Charter, the UN International Court agreed with this approach and made the following comment in its ruling of July 22, 2010, and I quote: “No general prohibition may be inferred from the practice of the Security Council with regard to declarations of independence,” and “General international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.” Crystal clear, as they say.
I do not like to resort to quotes, but in this case, I cannot help it. Here is a quote from another official document: the Written Statement of the United States America of April 17, 2009, submitted to the same UN International Court in connection with the hearings on Kosovo. Again, I quote: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.” End of quote. They wrote this, disseminated it all over the world, had everyone agree and now they are outraged. Over what? The actions of Crimean people completely fit in with these instructions, as it were. For some reason, things that Kosovo Albanians (and we have full respect for them) were permitted to do, Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea are not allowed. Again, one wonders why.
There are some very obvious differences between Kosovo and Crimea. Yugoslavia was In the middle of a very messy breakup. The Serbs being, well, Serbs, defaulted to stereotypical Balkan behavior involving summary executions, rape, ethnic cleansing, etc. with an unsightly enthusiasm. Not to mention the fact that Kosovo independence was a direct result of Russian intransigence in the UN Security Council.
Oddly enough, Putin actually has a point here. I read the mindnumbing aggregation of legal-babble from the International Court of Justice and, much to my surprise, it says exactly what Putin claims it says. Apparently the key to a successful declaration of independence under international law is having the juice to make the decision stick. The ICJ says such a declaration may be illegal under domestic law but not under international. Essentially, might can make right.
Eurasian Integration: Learn it. Love it. Live it.
“We understand what is happening; we understand that these actions were aimed against Ukraine and Russia and against Eurasian integration. And all this while Russia strived to engage in dialogue with our colleagues in the West. We are constantly proposing cooperation on all key issues; we want to strengthen our level of trust and for our relations to be equal, open and fair. But we saw no reciprocal steps.”
In an earlier time, Eurasian Integration might have been called something catchier, like The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Essentially, Vladimir Putin is attempting to recreate the Russian Empire via a simulacrum of the European Union. The reluctance of the Ukraine to join the “customs union” has held the idea in check. Smart money says that Ukraine opposition goes away.
NATO Expansion and Missile Defense, Like It Not, We Do
“On the contrary, they have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They kept telling us the same thing: “Well, this does not concern you.” That’s easy to say.
“It happened with the deployment of a missile defence system. In spite of all our apprehensions, the project is working and moving forward. It happened with the endless foot-dragging in the talks on visa issues, promises of fair competition and free access to global markets.”
Before looking at this in greater detail I offer you this announcement from the US Export-Import Bank on February 1 of this year:
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) and Sberbank of Russia, the largest financial institution in Russia and the CIS, today signed a $1 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate increasing U.S. exports of goods and services to Russia and other countries in which Sberbank operates and Ex-Im Bank programs are available.
Far from starving Russia of access to global markets we have in fact been doing exactly as Lenin predicted: selling them the rope to hang us with.
Once we’ve moved beyond the facts, of both the legal variety and those created by 40,000 Russian troops, we move into more familiar territory: grievance mongering and paranoia. Putin objects to NATO expansion and the expansion of Ballistic Missile Defense for exactly one reason. They serve as a brake on Russian ambitions. Smaller nations, if members of NATO and covered by a shield against ballistic missiles, cannot be browbeaten into joining a customs union or a Greater Russia. The history of NATO suggests that NATO is exactly what it claims to be, a defensive alliance. The current military status of NATO indicates it is more of a drinking and dinner club than a defensive alliance. Putin knows this but as long as it is in place it raises unacceptable risks for his expansionism.
We’re Being Kept Down By the Man
“Today, we are being threatened with sanctions, but we already experience many limitations, ones that are quite significant for us, our economy and our nation. For example, still during the times of the Cold War, the US and subsequently other nations restricted a large list of technologies and equipment from being sold to the USSR, creating the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls list. Today, they have formally been eliminated, but only formally; and in reality, many limitations are still in effect.
“In short, we have every reason to assume that the infamous policy of containment, led in the 18th, 19thand 20th centuries, continues today. They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it and because we call things like they are and do not engage in hypocrisy. But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our western partners have crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly and unprofessionally.”
This is delusional self-justification. What is illustrative though is Putin’s equating the Post-World War II containment policy directed against Soviet expansionism with other efforts by any number of Western nations to stop Russian expansionism before 1917. It gives an insight into how Putin views history and his motives.
She Had It Coming
“After all, they were fully aware that there are millions of Russians living in Ukraine and in Crimea. They must have really lacked political instinct and common sense not to foresee all the consequences of their actions. Russia found itself in a position it could not retreat from. If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard. You must always remember this.”
Just like the woman in the miniskirt deserved to be raped, so, too, did Ukraine deserve what it got for acting like what it was, an independent nation.
I’m Mad As Hell And I’m Not Going To Take It Anymore
“Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria, to refute the rhetoric of the cold war and to accept the obvious fact: Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs; like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.”
Dissent Is Not The Highest Form Of Patriotism, Keeping Your Yap Shut And Getting In Line Is
“Obviously, we will encounter external opposition, but this is a decision that we need to make for ourselves. Are we ready to consistently defend our national interests, or will we forever give in, retreat to who knows where? Some Western politicians are already threatening us with not just sanctions but also the prospect of increasingly serious problems on the domestic front. I would like to know what it is they have in mind exactly: action by a fifth column, this disparate bunch of ‘national traitors’, or are they hoping to put us in a worsening social and economic situation so as to provoke public discontent? We consider such statements irresponsible and clearly aggressive in tone, and we will respond to them accordingly. At the same time, we will never seek confrontation with our partners, whether in the East or the West, but on the contrary, will do everything we can to build civilised and good-neighbourly relations as one is supposed to in the modern world.”
This should be taken as both a warning to dissidents in Russia and to foreign NGOs operating within Russia. Putin has already placed severe curbs on the ability of NGOs to operate in Russia. He has had sentenced to prison a couple of fairly untalented and annoying singers who criticized him. For several years, Putin has been industrious about imprisoning, exiling, and intimidating his domestic political opposition. If anything, the climate will be far more dangerous after the annexation of Crimea and if there are further Western sanctions.
What Does It Mean?
We are looking at a return of the Cold War to Europe. Putin has weighed Obama and found him wanting. A weak, disengaged, and vacillating man can sham his way through two terms as president but he can’t lead the Free World. Putin clearly sees the boundaries of the old USSR as his sphere of influence and announce quite clearly that he will react to Western efforts to orient those nations away from Russia. An opportunist, Putin knows that this particular gravy train could very well run out in 2017 (or not if Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden or Andrew Cuomo become the next president). We can expect more of the behavior he demonstrated in Ukraine.