Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vermont Snub on Karabakh May Signal Crimea Crisis Has Derailed Armenian-American Pressure-Politics Gravy Train


For decades, the Armenian-American political lobby in the United States has pushed aggressively to chalk up symbolic victories by pressuring state and other legislative bodies into granting utterly-nonbinding “recognition” to the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (N.K.R.), the Armenian puppet state which the newly independent Republic of Armenia, with the help of Russia, carved out of Azerbaijan’s western flank in a bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing in the late 1980s and ’90s.  The N.K.R. has essentially no recognition in the real world of international diplomacy, except from three puppet states of the Russian Federation: Abkhazia and South Ossetia (within Georgia) and Transnistria (within Moldova).  Not even Armenia or its close ally, Russia, recognizes the N.K.R.  But the Armenian National Committee of America (A.N.C.A.) and other groups have successfully cajoled the state legislatures of Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, as well as the Los Angeles city council, to “recognize” the N.K.R.  (Abroad, Australia’s state of New South Wales recognizes it too.)

Armenian-American demonstrators in Los Angeles display Nagorno-Karabakh flags.
Some reckon that the Armenian lobby is the third most powerful immigrant-minority lobbying group in U.S. politics, exceeded in influence only by the Jewish and Cuban-American lobbies.  They have also been pushing for recognition of the Armenian genocide at the hands of Anatolian Turks a century ago as a genocide, something the U.S. has over the decades resolutely refused to do, mostly to avoid offending Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally.  There are perhaps as many as a million and a half Armenian-Americans in the U.S., mostly in southern California and New England.  There are, for example, only three cities in Armenia itself that have more Armenian residents than there are in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles.  For legislators confronted with an N.K.R.-recognition bill, the choice is between capitulating, passing the bill, and moving on, on the one hand, or, on the other, needlessly alienating and infuriating a powerful ethnic lobby.  There is, by contrast, almost no Azeri-American community of any size to exert pressure of the same kind.

Mammad Talibov tells the Vermont Senate the Azeri side of the story.
But the Armenian lobby’s winning streak, in New England at least, ended last week when Vermont’s state senate declined to wade into South Caucasus politics and recognize the N.K.R.  Vermont senators debating on the resolution were paid a visit by Yusif Babanly of the U.S. Azeris Network and a legal attaché from the Azerbaijani embassy in Washington, D.C., Mamma Talibov.  Babanly and Talibov gave the (in America, rarely heard) Azeri perspective on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and emphasized the strategic relationship between the U.S. and oil-rich Azerbaijan.  Azeris are closely related to the Anatolian Turks of Turkey proper, both culturally and linguistically, and Azerbaijan is a front-line state in the U.S.’s cold war with Iran.  (The Azeri lobby, which is closely linked to Turkey, is no stranger to manipulation and propaganda either.  See an article from this blog which touches on Azeri and Turkish efforts to build up the very minor 1992 “Khojaly Massacre” into a full-fledged “genocide” by Armenians.)  Mostly, the senate threw up its hands and decided the situation on the ground was too complex for the body to take a position on it.  As Norm McAllister, a Republican senator said, “We’re never going to know in this little committee who’s actually telling us the whole story.”


Earlier, in 2004, Vermont’s governor, James H. Douglas, officially recognized the Turkish genocide of Armenians during the First World War.  There are not a lot of Armenians in Vermont, but they include the novelist Chris Bohjalian, possibly the most prominent Armenian-American writer, who has written novels about the genocide and lives in Lincoln, Vermont.  It was Bohjalian who brought the N.K.R. recognition issue to Montpelier.

Chris Bohjalian poses before a statue in Yerevan, Armenia,
of William Saroyan, another Armenian-American writer.
Not only that, but Armenian-Americans are on the defensive elsewhere.  They only just barely managed to scotch Azeri-initiated bills this spring in Mississippi and Tennessee on recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity—i.e., declaring the N.K.R. illegitimate.  Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming also rejected pro-Azerbaijani bills in February.  Similar Azeri lobbyists to those that swayed Vermont were involved in those states’ efforts as well.

Armenians with their national flag
Why did Azeris manage to keep Vermont in their column—or at least out of Armenia’s—after trying and failing to do so in those other five states?  The answer may have something to do with Crimea.  Armenia was one of only eleven countries which (as discussed recently in this blog) sided with Russia and against Ukraine in a recent United Nations General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.  Others in that small club included some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, like North Korea, Syria, and Sudan.  It is possible, in fact, as an Armenian politician recently suggested (discussed recently in this blog), that Kremlin arm-twisting brought Armenia into Russia’s new “Eurasian Union” trade bloc with Belarus and Kazakhstan, using the threat of seeing to it that Armenia would lose its grip on the N.K.R. (which many Armenian nationalists hope, and most of the rest of the world fears, could be among the next territories President Vladimir Putin is eyeing for annexation).  We may never know whether the Armenian government was bullied by Putin into backing him at the U.N. or whether it found immoral and hypocritical reasons of its own for doing so.  But Armenia’s international standing has taken a hit.  Pre-Crimea, it was a mere detail of Caucasus geopolitics that Armenia was more aligned with Russia while Georgia and Azerbaijan were more aligned with NATO and the West.  But after Crimea, it matters quite a bit.  Supporting Armenia’s foreign-policy agenda is now, in a not so indirect way, support for Putin’s new cold-war project of aggressively expanding the territories in which Russians—and allied nationalities, like Armenians—are in charge.  “Recognizing” N.K.R. is, for state legislatures today, not just taking an irrelevant position on an obscure struggle.  It’s actually siding against U.S. interests.


The Armenian lobby in the U.S. should have just stuck with the genocide question.  Their moral stance on that issue is unassailable.  Instead, they opted for mimicking the fundraising model of Jewish-American groups raising money for Israel in the early days of Israeli settlement.  In fact, the N.K.R. was largely built with money from Armenian-American donors.  But Armenia has now squandered the moral authority it enjoyed as a nation victimized by genocide.  Armenian-Americans had better climb down from their support for the N.K.R. now.  Because if Nagorno-Karabakh does become the next Crimea-type battleground in Putin’s Russo-fascist expansionist schemes, it could get very uncomfortable for them in the U.S.

You won’t see this picture on the Armenian National Committee of America
website: Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad with Armenia’s president, Serzh Sargsyan
Oh, and one other thing.  The chair of the Vermont senate’s Government Operations Committee, Sen. Jeanette White, told a reporter while discussing the setting aside of the N.K.R. question, “I believe that countries should be able to determine their own destiny.  However it isn’t Vermont seceding from the U.S., which we have threatened to do.  It’s complicated.”  She is reminding us that Vermont has its own independence movement, a left-wing, environmentally-oriented movement called the Second Vermont Republic (S.V.R.).  (Vermont was an independent nation before joining the U.S. in 1791.)  So if Vermont ever does become an independent state, it can just forget about getting any diplomatic recognition from Armenia.  In the South Caucasus, people have long memories.  They never forget a slight.

Flag of the Second Vermont Republic
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in mid 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Maduro, off His Meds, Warns of Opposition Plot to Hand 6 Venezuelan States to U.S., Colombia for Annexation


When Nicolas Maduro became president of Venezuela last year, he had big shoes to fill.  His predecessor, Hugo Chávez, was wildly popular among the poor and was well known for his charisma, his compelling oratory, and his fear-mongering conspiracy theories about the United States.  Well, Maduro isn’t quite as charismatic as Chávez was, and his speeches aren’t as colorful, and he’s certainly not as popular—in fact, Venezuela is in chaos as uprisings against his policies rage across the country—but when it comes to conspiracy theories, he has shown that he is worthy to be Chávez’s successor.

Peaceful protesters in Caracas being teargassed last month.
On April 3rd, Maduro, in a press conference at his presidential palace, wielded what he claimed was a high-level report from his intelligence services outlining the political opposition’s dastardly plans to foment separatism in six of Venezuela’s 23 states.  He called it part of a plan to turn Venezuelan regions over to “neo-fascists” in the mold of Chile’s former right-wing military dictator Augusto Pinochet.  And he even claimed that the ultimate goal was for some or all of these states to be annexed by neighboring Colombia and by the United States.  And Maduro knows a thing or two about annexation plots: as discussed recently in this blog, his government was one of only eleven nations to side with Russia against a United Nations resolution to condemn the annexation of Crimea.  (In this, Maduro keeps company with the likes of Belarus, Syria, Zimbabwe, and North Korea.)

A map of Venezuela’s constituent states, with the six supposedly secessionist ones highlighted.
(The “Zona en Reclamación” at right is the western half of the independent state of Guyana,
which Venezuelan nationalists claim as their own.)
“In Carabobo,” Maduro said, referring to a small state just west of the capital, Caracas, “the first autonomist meeting has already been concretized, and then the rest of the states in crisis will follow.”  He quoted a supposed secessionist leader as having said, “The only possible exit for states such as Táchira, Mérida, Carabobo, Lara, Nueva Esparta, and Zulia is secession.  I doubt that the citizens of Táchira or Mérida will say today: ‘It’s enough!  We surrender and go back to living the way we used to live!’  Given the serious circumstances in states such as Táchira and Mérida, there can be no return to the initial situation.”  There has been no independent confirmation of any aspect of this scenario, which Maduro explicitly compared to similar situations in Yugoslavia, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria—and Venezuela’s general orientation in foreign policy would imply that in these particular parallels he is sympathizing with radical Serbs, Moammar al-Qaddafi, Viktor Yanukovych, and Bashar al-Assad, respectively, rather than with the actual pro-democracy forces in those conflicts.

Protesters portray Maduro as a puppet of Cuba’s Fidel Castro
Maduro also claimed that he would soon reveal the identity of the “neo-fascist” “oligarch” leading the secession efforts, but that hasn’t happened yet.  The terms, of course, are cribbed directly from Putin’s propaganda playbook.

Venezuela has red states and blue states too.
The red ones went for Maduro in last year’s election, the blue ones for Henrique Capriles.
Whether the allegations have a kernel of truth or not, there is a logic to the list of states.  In last year’s presidential election, in which Chávez squeaked to victory past the Justice First party’s Henrique Capriles with only 50.6% of the vote, the states of Lara, Mérida, Nueva Esparta, Táchira, and Zulia were among the eight which went to Capriles.  (The others were Anzoátegui, Bolivar, and Capriles’s home state Miranda, of which he is governor, just east of Caracas.)  And some of those areas have, naturally, also been the scenes of some of the most dramatic uprisings against Maduro’s rule since February, in a still-ongoing wave of protests that have killed 41 people and resulted in thousands of arrests and injuries.  Most of this is the result of public anger over short-sighted populist chavista economic policies such as wanton price-fixing, which has driven Venezuela’s economy into the ditch with food shortages and out-of-control inflation.

Nicolás Maduro dressed as the superhero Captain Venezuela on election night
Zulia, in particular, has (as discussed in an earlier article from this blog, on Maduro’s support for Puerto Rico’s secession from the U.S.), has been the focus of separatism in Venezuela before.  This oil-rich state, which contains 40% of Venezuela’s considerable oil wealth, was targeted in the 1920s by the Texas oil tycoon William F. Buckley, Sr. (yes, father of William F. Buckley, Jr.), who tried to foment a separatist rebellion there so he could, possibly with covert U.S. help, install a government more congenial to exploitation by U.S. firms.  There is very little indication that full-blown separatism has had much traction in Zulia since then, but during the 2000s, when there was a war of words between Chávez and President George W. Bush, Chávez made much of alleged Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) separatist provocations in Zulia.  There may have been something to that, but it is equally possible that the Bush administration simply enjoyed pushing Chávez’s buttons, as when the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela (supposedly accidentally) referred to Zulia in 2005 as an independent republic.  Chávez also claimed that a 2001 joint U.S.–NATO naval exercise which used a fictitious invasion and “liberation” of Zulia as its premise was a dress rehearsal for just such an intervention, but it may have been a Pentagon in-joke more than anything else.

Henrique Capriles campaigning with Zulia’s governor, Pablo Pérez, and the Zulian flag
Maduro’s worries about annexation of territory by Colombia reflect diplomatic tensions between the two countries, which in late last decade included Colombian accusations that Chávez was covertly supporting and arming Colombia’s powerful left-wing rebel army the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC).  Colombia is also involved in a dispute with Venezuela’s ally Nicaragua over San Andres, Providencia, y Santa Catalina, a territory which is administered by Colombia (validated in 2012 by the International Court of Justice, as reported at the time in this blog) and, like Venezuela’s Nueva Esparta state, is a Caribbean archipelago with cultural differences from the mainland.  (Nicaragua sides with Russia on the Crimea question as well.)

Anti-government protesters on the Caribbean island of Isla Margarita
flew the flag of Nueva Esparta state in a recent protest.
One wonders: does Maduro really think that Barack Obama—just as he is trying, through an evenly divided Congress, to pull off potentially disastrous military withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq, and just as he is trying to position the U.S. as a world leader with the right to lecture Vladimir Putin about the evils of territorial expansion—that just at that moment, or indeed any moment, Obama is going to decide launch an American annexation of part of Venezuela?  It is beginning to appear that Maduro may be as unhinged and out of touch as many in the political opposition claim.  Or is this fairy tale designed merely for the consumption of the Venezuelan masses, in an attempt to distract them from their economic and political grievances with a scary foreign enemy?  If so, then Maduro has even more in common with Putin than was thought.


[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in mid 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Chagossians Squander Britons’ Goodwill by Linking Resettlement Cause to Argentina’s Falklands Claim


All things being equal, the people of the Chagos Islands in the central Indian Ocean are due a lot of sympathy, and the British are for the most part a sympathetic, hospitable lot.  The Îlois or Chagossian people, who are of mostly African descent, were removed from their remote homeland in the late 1960s and early ’70s to make way for a massive United States, United Kingdom, and NATO air base that is a keystone of Western air capability for Middle Eastern and African conflicts, most of it on the large Chagossian island of Diego Garcia.  For decades, about half the 3,000-strong Chagossian nation has lived in exile in the village of Crawley, in Sussex, England, and this diaspora has become more and more politicized, demanding a chance to resettle in the cluster of atolls that they regard as home.  Only just last year (as reported at the time in this blog) did the U.K. government seem to give in, promising to  “study” the “feasibility” of resettling the Chagossians in what is now, formally, the British Indian Ocean Territory (B.I.O.T.).


It is hard not to side with the Chagossians.  Whatever the usefulness of the military base, their rights were violated, and they are a landless people.  From a human-rights perspective, it is an open-and-shut case, and most British tend to agree.

Olivier Bancoult, Chagossian activist
But that is about to end.  The president of the Chagos Refugees Group (C.R.G.), Olivier Bancoult, told Argentinian media last week that his people’s cause had a natural ally in that of Argentinians who want the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic to come under Argentina’s sovereignty.  “We can join forces with Argentina,” Bancoult said to the Argentine news service Télam.  “The day will come when all those responsible are going to have to answer for the crimes against humanity which they committed.”


Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982 and ended up soundly defeated in the subsequent war with the U.K.  The Falklands, which have no indigenous people, has never had a permanent Argentinian population, though it was claimed by a Connecticut naval mercenary in 1820 on behalf of Argentina’s predecessor state, the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata.  Argentina’s persistence in pressing its claim—now only in legal and political fora—is wildly popular throughout Latin America (even Pope Francis backs the claim!), despite the fact that there is no real argument behind it except proximity (even weaker than Russia’s argument for annexing Crimea).  A referendum in the Falklands on the islands’ status a year ago came out with 1,513 votes to keep the current status—a self-governing territory of the U.K.—and only 3 votes against.


It seems fairly likely that the Argentine administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were the ones who had the idea of linking the Chagossian and neo-Perónist Falklands-annexation causes.  This wouldn’t be the first time Argentina has tried to scare up allies among groups who see Britain as a colonizing aggressor.  Last year, Buenos Aires tried to get separatists in Scotland on its side.  Part of this plan was a hope that the presence of a large ethnic-Welsh population in Argentina’s Chubut province, in Patagonia, could strum the harp strings of Scottish feelings of pan-Celtic unity.  But this was a misjudgement: Scots and Welsh people died defending the Falklands from Argentine aggression too.  Even the anti-Westminster nationalists north of Hadrian’s Wall were insulted by the Argentine suggestion.

Flag of the Falkland Islands
The Chagossians will find that they have misjudged as well.  What Argentina tried to do the Falklanders in the 1980s is exactly what the British did to the Chagossians in the ’60s and ’70s.  The British realize that.  They may think twice before giving the Chagossians’ very legitimate grievances a hearing again.


Bancoult, the C.R.G. president, does not live in Crawley, but in Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation where most of the rest of the Chagossian diaspora lives and which, awkwardly, also claims the B.I.O.T. as its own.  I hope Bancoult likes it in Mauritius: after making the serious blunder of pandering to a nation still seen as a fierce enemy of the British people, he may not be going home any time soon.

Making themselves at home for the time being: the Chagossian national football team
(as mentioned before in this blog) plays in Britain against stateless teams like Sealand and Alderney.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in mid 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rogues’ Gallery: Everyone Seems to Be against Crimea’s Annexation, but Who’s FOR It?; or, What Do Kim Jong-un and Ron Paul Have in Common?


On March 27th, the United Nations General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution declaring Crimea’s March 16th referendum and the ensuing annexation by Russia invalid.  The results were 100 to 11, with 58 abstentions.  Major countries like Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Burma, China, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania, and Vietnam abstained.


Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., tried to put a good face on the results.  “The fact that almost half of the members of the United Nations refused to support this resolution,” he said, “I think, is very encouraging.”  Churkin also called it “a moral victory” (i.e., in ordinary usage, a failure) “for Russian diplomacy.”

Vitaly Churkin
But which were the eleven countries that voted against the resolution, those who back the Russian annexation?  (And who else around the world, too?  We’ll get to that below.)  United States and other Western diplomats at the U.N. dubbed them, with shaky math, “the Dirty Dozen.”  Let’s take a little tour of the Dirty (Almost) Dozen—those governments that think Crimeans deserve self-determination (at the point of a gun) even, in some cases, more than their own citizens do.  Here are, not counting Russia itself, the ten defenders of freedom and democracy, bastions of the right to choose one’s own government:

North Korea

Possibly one of the most closed societies in the world, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it is formally known, is a brutal dictatorship which has become the personal dynasty of a string of bloodthirsty, mentally unhinged tyrants from the Kim family, the latest of whom is the mannequin-like man-child Kim Jong-un.  The Kims have probably, among others, killed millions of their own countrymen through intentional starvation or in their Nazi-like prison camps—the fate of anyone who dares question governmental authority.  North Korea would, hands down, win any contest for “worst government in the world.”

Syria

Rivaling Kim Jong-un for 21st-century brutality is Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria, who bucked the Arab Spring revolutions’ democratization trend by digging in his heels and killing tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—in a cruel civil war, which has by now degenerated into a multi-ethnic and sectarian free-for-all.  The Syrian government does not think twice before using banned chemical weapons and merciless bombing campaigns against its own civilian population—anything to stay in power.  Oh, and did I mention?  Their closest (only?) ally is the Russian Federation.

Sudan

The Republic of Sudan’s Islamist military dictator, Omar al-Bashir, is one of the few current heads of state who has a price on his head for genocide, mostly because of the atrocities committed by his government against rebels and civilians in the Darfur region.  Sudan has sponsored and harbored Islamist terrorists, including al-Qaeda, since the 1990s, and it has a particular bone to pick with the United States, which dismembered Sudan by pushing, during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, for the secession of its southern half, as South Sudan, which robbed it of much of its oil wealth.  Of course, that secession, in 2011, was, unlike Crimea’s, a legitimate, internationally monitored referendum.

Zimbabwe

Possibly the bloodiest dictatorship in Africa, the Republic of Zimbabwe has been, since independence in 1980, under the thumb of Robert Mugabe, who has done everything in his power to jail and torture opposition leaders while steadily driving his country’s economy into a deep ditch.  It is possibly the world’s worst economic basket case.  Above is a photo of the fate met by many who dare to speak out against his rule.  Zimbabwe sides with Russia mainly to score a political point against meddling Westerners and their bourgeois concepts of “human rights.”

Belarus

The government of Belarus has been, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in lock-step with Russia on most foreign-policy questions—except in those cases where it is even more retrograde.  Its president, Alexander Lukashenko, is often called Europe’s last dictator.  Since 1996, Belarus and Russia have been all but merged in a so-called “Union State.”  Whether it even counts as an independent country is a matter of debate.  But even Lukashenko equivocated quite a bit when Crimea was first invaded and it looked as though he might break with Putin on this question.  Perhaps he was worried his country might get swallowed up two by Putin 2.0 and his new-found ultranationalism.  But with a flick of the wrist Putin could choke off Belarus’s energy supply and bring the country to its knees.  Well, economically it’s already on its knees.  Putin could kick it entirely to the ground.  When it came time for the vote in the U.N., Belarus sided with its larger neighbor.  There’s a good doggie.

Venezuela

Even after the death last year of Venezuela’s bombastic, authoritarian president, Hugo Chávez, oil-rich Venezuela has steered a geopolitical course that is resolutely anti-U.S.  Chávez’s “mini-me” successor, Nicolás Maduro, however, does not quite have the charisma to get away as easily with what Chávez got away with: jailing political opponents (or shooting them—there has been a lot of that in recent weeks with a popular uprising), shutting down newspapers when convenient, grabbing ever more expansive powers by tinkering with the constitution, and enacting wildly popular economic measures like ham-fisted price controls which lead directly to shortages and economic chaos.  Maduro, like Chávez, stays in power partly by thundering paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S., a country which cares a lot less about Venezuela than Maduro would like to think.  This is why Venezuela—like Nicaragua (see below)—was one of the only major countries to recognize the Russian puppet states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia established in Georgia’s territory.  The U.N. vote on Crimea was yet another opportunity for Maduro to thumb his nose at the West (or, um, North).

Cuba
Through thick and thin
Cuba’s revolutionary socialist government—though it replaced a nasty, right-wing, American-backed regime and although it has been treated abominably by the U.S. in the foreign arena, to say the least—is one of Russia’s oldest allies in the Western hemisphere.  This is true even today, long after Russia has abandoned the Communist ideology that this decaying island nation naïvely clings to.  If the U.S. had treated Cuba openly and fairly all along, Cuba would probably be no more Communist today than the Czech Republic is.  As it happened, though, the pig-headed Castro brothers have dug in their heels and resolutely refused to offer their citizens freedom of the press, of political organization, or of religion.  Raúl Castro—like his brother and predecessor, Fidel before him—has done a lot for the well being of the Cuban people.  Too bad he doesn’t trust them enough to hold an election.  Cuba’s siding with Russia on the Ukraine question was another protest vote which has more to do with snubbing the U.S. than with anything going on in Crimea.

Nicaragua


Like Venezuela (see above), Nicaragua is one of the world’s few countries to recognize Russia’s South Caucasus puppet states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  The ruling Sandinista (Communist, ex-Communist, whatever you want to call them) government is a lot more democratic and easy-going than it was in the 1980s, when the U.S. and Russia both used Nicaragua as a battleground for a bloody proxy war in the greater Cold War conflict.  Their leader, however, is the same, a much mellowed Daniel Ortega.  Like Cuba, this is a country that the U.S. has treated very badly.  Apparently, it’s still angry enough about that to risk its own international reputation by siding with the invasion of Crimea.

Bolivia

Sadly, Bolivia doesn’t really belong on this list.  Its president, Evo Morales, a full-blooded Aymara Indian, is a populist socialist who is no friend to U.S.-style capitalism, but he has none of the authoritarian instincts of Maduro, the Castros, or vintage Ortega.  By comparison, Bolivia is free and well-governed.  But Venezuela is eager to build a coalition of anti-U.S. and anti-western-European left-leaning states.  Of this small club, Argentina was smart enough to sit out the Crimea debate by abstaining at the U.N.; it is less interested in making new enemies than in making new allies (any allies) outside Latin America on the Falkland Islands question.  But Bolivia’s Morales jumped right into joining the least popular club in the world and has now made himself look like an apologist for war-mongering and despotism, which he isn’t.  This is bad for Bolivia—and may prove bad for Morales, too.

Armenia
Armenia’s president, Serzh Sargsyan (right), with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad
The Armenian people spent the decades of the Cold War carefully building up for themselves an international reputation as a courageous voice against genocide and imperialism.  Having suffered the former at the hands of Anatolian Turks a century ago and then the latter as a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the West had great hopes for Armenia, as did the powerful Armenian-American political lobby in the U.S.  Then again, Turkey is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and at the end of the day anti-Turkism seems to be a more defining feature of Armenian nationalism than anything else.  So Azerbaijan (which is Turkic-speaking) and Georgia drifted into the Western orbit in the post–Cold War order, while Armenia has become a pathetic little client state of Putin’s Russia.  Russia covertly and overtly helped Armenia carve the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh puppet state out of Azerbaijani territory, an atrocity on par with anything Russia has ever done.  And now Armenia has been slated to join Putin’s new “Eurasian Union”—the one he tried to bully Ukraine to join last year, which is how the whole Crimea mess started.  There is a lot of courage and decency among the Armenian people; in the current Armenian government, there is none of either.


But recently some light was shed on some of the arm-twisting that keeps Armenia allied with Russia.  Jirair Libaridian, a former advisor to the former Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosiantold a news conference on March 26th that Putin had warned Armenia that if it formed a closer relationship with the European Union (E.U.) and did not join the Eurasian Union, then Russia would see to it that Armenia would lose its grip on the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (N.K.R.).  Ter-Petrosian was forced to resign in 1998 because of appearing too conciliatory on the Nagorno-Karabakh question, so Libaridian may not be in on the loop on current policy moves and has his own biases, but he stated firmly, “In my opinion, there is no other explanation to Armenia’s surprise U-turn.”  We may never know, but it seems likely that if Putin delivered a similar ultimatum to Armenia, it would support Crimea’s annexation as well.  In fact, the N.K.R. government also recognizes the Crimean annexation.  It may be that they are hoping that their “independence” might be made official soon.

Flag of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
So much for the Dirty (Almost) Dozen.  What about the rest of the world?  Some of those abstentions in the U.N. vote were, in fact, sort of veiled votes of approval.

...

Central Asia—sort of
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan abstained from voting on the U.N. resolution.  Kazakhstan, in particular, has much reason to worry about Putin’s born-again Soviet-revanchist imperialism.  After all, Kazakhstan is almost a quarter ethnic-Russian, and most of the Russians are ranged along the northern border with Russia.  After Communism fell, there were Cossack-led pushes for reversion to Russian rule along Kazakhstan’s border, including in the strategic, oil-rich Transcaspia region right across the Caspian Sea from the Caucasus.  After Crimea was invaded, Kazakhstan’s authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, put his armed forces on high alert.  Only a quick consultation in person with Putin calmed him down.  But he’s still not on board with this whole annexation trend.

Nursultan Nazarbayev
Russia’s Muslim republics
“Welcome to the united family of Russia’s peoples!” shouted Zelimkhan Ozdoyev, an Ingushetian member of parliament, at a rally in Magas, the Ingush capital, shortly after Crimea’s annexation.  Wait a minute—aren’t Chechens, Ingush, Dagestanis, Circassians, and other Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus victims of Russian imperialism?  Why have they so resolutely sided with the Kremlin?  Well, the people have their own ideas, but these Muslim republics are run by Putin appointees and were beaten into submission just before the nearby Winter Olympics in February.  On paper, at least, the North Caucasus is one of the most Russian parts of Russia.  Vasily Svetlichny, ataman (leader) of the Sunzhen host of Cossacks, was quoted in Vestnik Kavkaz, a Russian-language outlet for Caucasus news, as saying, “Ingushetia was one of first regions of Russia which responded to the events in Crimea and sent humanitarian aid to residents of the peninsula.  150 tons of cargo were collected.  I saw eyes, faces of Crimean residents and I can surely say that none of them doubted about being citizens of Russia. We also expressed solidarity to the Ukrainians, as what certain extremist politicians do is not connected with the nation.”  Of course, Cossacks are not Ingush; they are mostly ethnic Russians.  And the supposedly autonomous Ingush republic’s governmental structure is closely managed from the Kremlin.  So what do North Caucasus people actually think?  In Russia’s political climate, it is difficult to know.

Ingushetia has Crimea’s back—or at least its Cossacks do.
In central Russia, the president of the land-locked, predominantly-Muslim Republic of Tatarstan, Rustan Minnikhanov, who is himself a Tatar, was one of the first of the Russian Federation’s ethnic leaders to praise the Crimean annexation.  He flew to Simferopol to meet with the leaders of the pro-Russian, coup-installed junta shortly after its “declaration of independence,” and then lectured his own kindred, the Crimean Tatar minority there, against making too much trouble for their new Kremlin overlords.  Makes me wonder how one says “Uncle Tom” in Tatar.  More recently, in a more reasonable vein, Minnikhanov urged Putin to apply to Crimean Tatars Russia’s Rehabilitation Law of 1991, which gives rights and recognition to ethnic groups that suffered deportation during Josef Stalin’s dictatorship.  But this may be too little, too late.  Crimean Tatars feel betrayed, and Caucasus Emirate terrorists who have recently expanded into Tatarstan have a bad habit of assassinating leaders that they regard as collaborationist.

Rustan Minnikhanov (right) is president of Tatarstan
but not much of a friend to Crimean Tatars
Transniestria
The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (a.k.a. Transnistria), a sliver of a puppet state carved out of Moldova along its border with Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union, is internationally unrecognized, but Russia has been paying its bills for almost a quarter-century and stationing troops there as well.  Transnistria has recently decided that it’s tired of such limbo and would like to join the Russian Federation as well, like Crimea.  It has already made a formal request.  But landlocked Transnistria would be a difficult-to-defend Russian exclave unless Moscow first did something like—oh, let’s just say, as an example—annexing southern Ukraine, including Odessa.  Patience, patience, Transnistria—Putin will get around to you once he’s taken care of this other business.


Near Transnistria is an officially recognized autonomous region within Moldova’s borders, the Autonomous Community of Gagauzia, which perhaps would not mind being annexed as well.  On April 3rd, Gagauzia’s governor, Mihail Formuzal, formally requested that the Russian government open a consulate in Comrat, the Gagauz capital.  As the state-run Russian news agency R.I.A. Novosti reported, “Formuzal underlined that Gagauz people can easily integrate into Russian society, because they know the Russian language and Russian culture.”  Hint, hint!

Transnistria’s foreign minister, Nina Shtanski, has formally requested
annexation to Russia
Already, Transnistria is showing it is a loyal ally.  The enclave’s State Security Committee (K.G.B.) (yes, it still calls it that) reported that it had successfully shot down a Ukrainian military drone that had strayed, intentionally or not, into Transniestria’s self-proclaimed airspace.

Crimean Karaites
Much has been said of late about the plight of the Crimean Tatar people (see above), who vigorously opposed the annexation of their homeland by Russia.  But another religious minority in the peninsula, the Karaites, appear to have supported the land grab.  Karaites, also called Karaym or Karaylar, are a Turkic-speaking people who have lived in Crimea for centuries and regard it as their homeland.  They follow a stripped-down version of Judaism—they recognize the Torah but not the Talmud—but are believed not to be descendants of Israelites.  Thousands of Crimean Karaites live in Israel, the U.S., and elsewhere, but those remaining in Crimea number only about 800, according to some figures, with as many or more living in mainland Ukraine.  Vladimir Ormeli, who heads the All-Ukrainian Organization of Crimean Karaites, said this week, “In Crimea, the majority of Karaites support annexation to Russia, and voted for it.  Culture and people connect us with Russia, more than Ukraine.  But this is a complicated conversation.”  Ormeli’s description of the Euro-Maidan movement sounds like Kremlin talking points: “We were afraid of these wild events.  We were afraid that these would happen in Crimea.”

But is it good for the Jews?  Crimea’s Karaites welcome their new Kremlin overlords.
Transcarpathian and Magyar nationalists
Ethnic Russians are not the only minorities in Ukraine wary of the new anti-Kremlin regime in Kiev.  Jobbik, the right-wing extremist Magyar nationalist party in neighboring Hungary which this week won more than a fifth of the votes in national elections, has watched with growing irritation what it sees as the rise of a Ukrainian ultranationalist government (though it is nothing of the sort) and what it sees as an imminent erosion of the rights of linguistic minorities in Transcarpathia, the Ukrainian oblast bordering Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.  Jobbik’s leadership condemned Hungarian government support for E.U.–Ukraine ties as “an overt act of treason.”  István Szávay, a Jobbik member of Hungary’s parliament, said that the 150,000 or so Magyars (Hungarians) (12% of the oblast’s population) and perhaps as few as 10,000 Slavic-speaking Ruthenians in Transcarpathia desired and deserved some form of autonomy.  Jobbik’s leader in parliament, Márton Gyöngyösicalled the Crimean referendum “exemplary” and a triumph for democracy and self-determination.  The political alignment with Moscow here is consistent with recent reports suggesting that the Kremlin is providing covert aid, funding, and talking points to Jobbik as part of a multi-pronged effort to discredit the current Ukrainian government.


It is still not clear to what extent Hungarians and other Transcarpathian minorities like Ruthenians might share Jobbik’s views.  The head of the Hungarian Cultural Federation in Transcarpathia (Kárpátaljai Magyar Kulturális Szövetség, or KMKSZ), László Brenzovics, met on March 26th with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán.  They agreed that the safety of Magyars in Transcarpathia should be a priority for Budapest, but they also share the goal of eventual Ukrainian integration with western Europe.

Jobbik armbands on parade
Then, on March 28th, about 200 to 300 people demonstrated in front of the Hungarian foreign-ministry offices in Budapest, carrying signs like, “Autonomy for Transcarpathia!” and “Hungary Wants Transcarpathia Back!”  The event was organized by Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, a Jobbik parliamentarian who stated, “It would serve historic justice if Transcarpathia were separated from Ukraine.”  Between the world wars, Transcarpathia—called Zakarpattia Oblast in Ukrainian and formerly known as either Transcarpathian Ruthenia—was the eastern tail end of the multiethnic Czechoslovakia.

The flag of Ukrainian Transcarpathia
Serbs
The Republic of Serbia’s delegation to the U.N. abstained from the resolution condemning the annexation.  This is a difficult one for Serbia, since Russia has been very kindly using its U.N. Security Council veto to block secessionist Kosovo’s admission to the General Assembly.  It seems that, in this supposedly parallel or converse situation, supporting the Crimean annexation is only good manners.  On the other hand, Serbia would like to join the E.U., and siding with Russia here would almost certainly slow that process down, if not derail it.  This, of course, is the identity crisis that looms large over Serbian electoral politics.  The far right in Serbia is unequivocal, though: extremist “Chetnik” mercenaries are in Crimea now, “defending” it for Russia (as described earlier in this blog).

Serbian “Chetnik” mercenaries in Crimea last month
And Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, the self-governing Serb half of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been emboldened by the Crimean referendum to propose splitting up Bosnia into three entities.  As he put it on April 1st (and they don’t have April Fool’s Day in Banja Luka), “Our next step is the opening of a dialogue—on the restructuring of Bosnia as a confederation consisting of three states.  If this proves impossible, Republika Srpska retains the right to hold a referendum on its status.”


Steven Siegal
But what does the martial-arts-film star, one-time aspirant Arizona governor, and former child-trafficking suspect Steven Seagal think about the crisis in Ukraine?  If you’re like me, that was your first thought.  As discussed at the time in this blog, Seagal (age: 62; estimated I.Q.: 7) broke his silence early on, by giving an interview for one of Russia’s creepy, Orwellian English-language television stations, rattling off Kremlin talking points on the Ukraine crisis, including all the big words, with the help of cue-cards.  Seagal has called Putin “one of the great living world leaders” and has contemplated taking Russian citizenship.  I wonder if he’s waiting for anyone on this side of the pond to talk him out of it.

Vlad and Steve, a match made in heaven
Ron Paul
The American libertarian rock star and frequent presidential candidate Ron Paul has, oddly, become one of Russia’s most vocal supporters—but then everything about Paul is kind of odd.  Putin, Paul said on Fox News, “is no angel but actually he has some law on his side.  They have contracts and agreements and treaties for a naval base there and the permission to go about that area.”  He added, “There is a right to secession.”  Other Libertarian leaders were quick to shout down Paul’s views as un-libertarian.  Alexander McCobin, a former Cato Institute associate and current executive director of Students for Liberty, carefully enumerated the annexation’s illegalities and called it an invasion.


Daniel Adams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Security, shot back at McCobin on Paul’s behalf: “We know what an invasion looks like—it’s called shock and awe and it happened eleven years ago this month, in the U.S. illegal invasion of Iraq.  It happened fifteen years ago this month over the skies of Serbia, another illegal U.S. attack.  If it had happened earlier this month in Crimea would we not have video?  Everyone has cell phones these days.  Surely if the referendum had been taken at gunpoint we would have seen evidence of those on the receiving end.  Or does [McCobin] wish us to believe that the Russian military rounded up more than 80% of the population and forced 93% of those to vote in favor of joining Russia without having to shoot a single Crimean?  That sounds like a pretty wild conspiracy theory.”  Um, Dan?  You’ve got a little bit of foam on your lip ... nope, still there ... nope, still there ... okay, now you got it.

... and meanwhile Paul’s pimpin’ for Putin.
Lyndon LaRouche
Even farther along the mental-illness spectrum is another perennial presidential candidate, Lyndon LaRouche, now 91 years old, who has in the past been famous for claiming that the United Kingdom’s royal family is a drug-smuggling empire and the direst threat to the security of the United States.  Russian media this month have dragged him out of his nursing home and put a microphone in front of him, and he complied by ranting about the Nazis and U.S. mercenaries that are running Ukraine and how the Crimea issue is being used by the West as a way to bully “Eurasia.”  This echoes statements earlier in his career, in which he said that he was the target of assassination plots by “Communists, Zionists, narcotics gangsters, the Rockefellers and international terrorists,” adding, in a 1973 statement, “My enemies are the circles of McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Soviet President Yuri Andropov, W. Averell Harriman, certain powerful bankers, and the Socialist and Nazi Internationals, as well as international drug traffickers, Colonel Qaddafi, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Malthusian lobby.”  Ah, yes, the dreaded Malthusian lobby.  Man, when those fuckers paint a target on you you’re toast.  LaRouche’s new line is that Barack Obama is going to use Crimea as a pretext for starting a “thermonuclear war.”

Lyndon LaRouche
Dana Rohrabacher
On Washington’s Capitol Hill, the strongest voice in defense of the annexation of Crimea may well be Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents Orange County, California, in the U.S. House of Representatives.  As Rohrabacher put it to U.S. News and World Report, “Starting with our own American Revolution, groups of people have declared themselves, rightfully, to be under a different government or a government of their choosing.  People forget that’s what our Declaration of Independence is all about.”  (Russia’s only other defender on Capitol Hill is Alan Grayson, a Democrat who represents part of Orlando, Florida, and seems to have decided he doesn’t need the Cuban-American vote.)  He also said, “From what I understand, what happened in Crimea, not one person was killed,” before adding, “Okay, maybe one.”  But why is the man whose constituency includes Ronald Reagan’s first campaign headquarters, John Wayne International Airport, and the Richard Nixon birthplace so eager to side with big bad Russia?  Well, the answer is a bit odd.  Rohrabacher is something of a nut when it comes to changing borders.  He’s never met a separatist movement he doesn’t like.  He wants Pakistan’s Balochistan region to become independent, he wants South Azerbaijan to secede from Iran and join Azerbaijan (in this, he has allied himself with Crimea’s Azeri minority in the past), and he has loudly voiced support for separatism in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, and anywhere and everywhere.  He even thinks a Republican “South California” should secede from his home state and that other parts of California should be allowed to join Mexico if they choose.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
“A lot of my colleagues,” Rohrabacher complained recently, “can’t get over that the Cold War is over.”  Of course everyone knows that Cold War is over.  But the new one, unfortunately, has only just begun.  And, also unfortunately, everyone’s going to be asked to take sides.

Russian holiday-goers at a Crimean beach cheer news of Putin’s annexation of the peninsula.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in mid 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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