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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
|Through thick and thin|
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.
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’s president, Serzh Sargsyan (right), with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad|
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-Petrosian, told 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|
Central Asia—sort ofTajikistan 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.
“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.|
|Rustan Minnikhanov (right) is president of Tatarstan|
but not much of a friend to Crimean Tatars
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
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.|
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 Gyöngyösi, called 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|
|The flag of Ukrainian Transcarpathia|
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|
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|
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.|
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.”
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|
|Russian holiday-goers at a Crimean beach cheer news of Putin’s annexation of the peninsula.|
[You can read more about separatist movements famous and obscure in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]