|Disarmed Ukrainian troops in Crimea just before a tense but inconclusive showdown|
yesterday with Russian troops disguised as “local defense forces”
|Pro-Kremlin media roll out the red carpet for foreign-policy expert Steven Seagal.|
|Putin at his press conference this week|
|John Kerry patiently explains to an ordinary Ukrainian citizen|
precisely which flimsy pretexts for war are acceptable in the 21st century.
As insanely fictive as Putin’s version of events is—and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, got off the phone with him this week and declared him to be “living in another world” and not “in touch with reality”—there is a perverse logic to the Kremlin’s case, and it is designed to underline and showcase the West’s hypocrisy. After all, the arguments that Putin is making—that Russian military maneuvers and policies are merely to defend a threatened ethnic minority—are exactly those arguments that were used in 1999 to justify the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s unilateral and non-U.N.-sanctioned violation of the Republic of Serbia’s sovereignty in a bombing campaign that targeted Serbia’s civilian infrastructure in violation of the Geneva Conventions. (Kerry supported that, too, by the way.) Yes, indeed, the Serbian persecution of Kosovo’s Albanians was real, while the Ukrainian persecution of Crimea’s Russians is not. But Putin is 100% right that the West is hypocritically denying to Russia the unilateral leeway to use illegal military force that it claims for itself. The carving out of the Republic of Kosovo from the soft southern flank of Serbia, a Russian ally, has been a thorn in Russia’s side for a very long time. You can call the Second Crimean War Putin’s payback. If anything, Putin has really been enjoying himself pointing these parallels out.
So much for the ideological battle, the war of words. This is not where the battle will be won; it will be won on the ground, on the vast plains of the Steppes which have once again, for the first time in seven decades, become a gruesome chessboard for the strategists in Moscow, London, Paris, and Washington. What will happen to Crimea now, and what is Putin planning next?
For the time being, Crimea has been lost. The Ukrainian military is not contesting this in any concrete way. What had been a March 30th referendum on independence promised by Crimea’s new Russian-installed government has now become, within the past 24 hours, the promise of a March 16th referendum (no sense wasting time, I suppose) on whether Crimea should become part of Russia. Putin has stated that he doesn’t want to annex Crimea or even separate it from Ukraine ... yet. But a referendum result would authorize him to change his mind and move in troops to defend “the people’s choice.”
|Anti-Russian demonstrators with Crimean Tatar national flags in Simferopol this week|
|The flag of Abkhazia, a Russian puppet state, on display with the Russian one|
That Putin will succeed in bringing Crimea into his orbit no one doubts. All anyone is talking about now are what costs he will be made to pay and how much further he is willing to go. As for the costs, one thing Western strategists need to realize is that Putin might not even care. Lots of talking heads and columnists are telling us that a stable, prosperous Ukraine economically engaged with both West and East is in everyone’s interest, including Russia’s, and including especially Russia’s oligarchs who pull so many strings, and thus Putin will eventually realize this and not spark a wider war. But is this point of view a mistake? If Merkel’s intuitions are correct, Putin is not rational. Did Hitler care that he was driving the German economy into the dirt to expand his empire as widely as possible? No, and his supporters didn’t care either. Both 1940s Germany and 2010s Russia can be characterized as shot through with a pathological form of aggrieved nationalism: the belief that all of their current problems are because a decadent West has emasculated them and and dismantled their empires and are vindictively holding them back from the former imperial Golden Age greatness that is their due. Like Hitler, Putin may be willing to put his own country through any hardships and humiliations to follow the Holy Grail of regained imperial glory. He wants there to be statues of himself in every square in Russia after he dies. He also knows that he has nuclear weapons and that no one wants to take him on directly. (It’s worth pointing out here that the U.S. and NATO, in foreign adventures like Kosovo, Afghanista, Libya, and Iraq, act with this kind of impunity as well.)
|Donbas (i.e., Donetsk region) irredentists rally in eastern Ukraine|
The leader of the regional-level mini-coup in Donetsk, which seem well coordinated, is one Pavel Gubarev, head of the People’s Militia of Donbas, who held a raucous press conference in Donetsk oblast’s main government building yesterday (March 5) in front of the black, red, and blue flag of what he called the Donetsk Republic. To a crowd chanting, “Rossiya! Rossiya!” he thundered, “I am for Donetsk being a part of Russia!” He promised that on March 8th “there will be a ‘People’s Committee’ meeting here. Only then can we make the decision regarding Russian troops. Kiev are involved in their own affairs and their deputies here are too frightened to do anything. It's time for us to take the decisions here. There is no chance that people here in Donetsk will want to continue being part of Ukraine. The people of Donetsk support us. We shall address the Russian authorities and ask them to bring a peacekeeping force here. It is the only way to keep order.”
|Gubarev plans to invite Russian troops to annex the “Donetsk Republic.”|
|The mysterious Pavel Gubarev ...|
|... who bears an uncomfortable resemblance to General Zod from the planet Krypton|
|The hastily concocted coat-of-arms of the Donetsk Republic|
Other such republics that might see revival in the next days or weeks included one centered on Odessa, a currently ethnic-Russian-dominated oblast abutting Moldova, Romania, and Transnistria which also has a significant Jewish population. The city of Odessa also has a Black Sea port Putin wouldn’t mind getting his hands on. A puppet-state in Odessa would also link Transnistria (see above) territorially with the Russian heartland and might, thus, permanently prevent Moldova from ever joining NATO or reunifying with Romania.
|Hastily produced Donetsk Republic passports|
|The current flag of Transcarpathia|
|The far-right Jobbik party makes up over a tenth of Hungary’s parliament,|
and they are taking a keen interest in developments just over the border in Ukraine.
|Csanád Szegedi traded his armband in|
for a yarmulke.
|A member of the Ukrainian feminist political collective Femen|
arrested today outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol
Related articles from this blog:
“10 Separatist Movements to Watch in 2014” (Dec. 2013)
“Transnistria’s Limbo to Continue Indefinitely” (Nov. 2011)