Moscow's Crimea success could lead to it redrawing Ukraine's eastern border
Risk for west is the Pig's ambition to reclaim Russian-speaking majority areas to create a rival counterbalance to the EU
Monday 17 March 2014 11.25 GMT
Pig Putin is a KGB professional who shows every sign of being a bad man, quite possibly a prodigious thief as well. Offensive though it is to the memory of millions of Russians murdered by Hitler (far more even than his hero Stalin killed), Pig Putin's orchestration of Crimea's defection from Ukraine offers a disturbing comparison with German annexation of the Czech Sudetenland with Neville Chamberlain's connivance in 1938.
But Pig Putin and the joyful Russian-speaking citizens of Crimea do have a case to which outraged western denunciations make little concession despite their diplomatic impotence and military passivity. "We are not talking about military options... this is not a Crimean war," the foreign secretary, William Hague, said on Monday morning. He invoked economic sanctions which will hurt Russia (and us), but he spoke in the spirit of Chamberlain.
Well, that's good. Most wars are more easily started than ended as we should remember in this 1914 anniversary year. The Anglo-French Crimean war of 1853-56 was an ill-conceived shambles, not forgotten locally. So were some of our more recent interventions, notably Iraq and Afghanistan, which many players in the international game of selective moral indignation regard as being as illegal as this month's manoeuvres on the Crimean peninsula.
In a bad-tempered, despairing article in the Guardian last week, Marina Lewycka set out some of the historic context of this troubled region with its hard-to-defend borders, vast and fluid. As a Sheffield-based novelist and lecturer of Ukrainian origins – on both sides of the ethnic divide – Lewycka has earned her right to denounce our petulant ignorance as well as the Pig's cynicism.
As she reminds us all, fearsome and traumatic things have happened in Ukraine well within living memory, which is why some western Ukrainians, Catholics who were once part of west-facing empires and many ethnic Russians in the eastern provinces so mistrust and abuse each other when a political crisis turns bad. Try the Yale history professor Timothy Snyder – or here on Cif for a different voice on the bloody past.
It helps to explain why Moscow's glib claims of a "fascist" takeover in Kiev resonate with so many Russians. It's a familiar theme, the Soviet equivalent of "reds under the beds" in the west, especially in the American heartlands far from oceans and the wider world beyond. Kiev has made enough mistakes and has enough grubby bedfellows – not many, but clearly enough – to make the charge credible. So what happened in the popular overthrow of Moscow hack and klepto-president (both sides agree on that detail) Viktor Yanukovych was a pro-western coup, right comrades?
It's all much more nuanced than that. A Crimean referendum staged under what amounts to Russian military occupation – navy and soldiers – and boycotted by the minority Ukrainians and (12%) Tatars ( expelled and butchered by Stalin) is pretty bogus. But it doesn't change the fact that Crimea is an anomaly, Russian since 1783 and transferred to Ukraine by Nikita Krushchev in 1954 – possibly when the Soviet leader was drunk, says Marina Lewycka.
Steve McQueen, the Oscar winner, might note in passing that up to two million Russians and Ukrainians were sold into slavery in the nearby Ottoman Empire when the Crimea was still under Mongul Tatar control. That's another local bit of folk memory which may help explain deep mutual fears.
Certainly Krushchev's quixotic gesture was an odd one, made in circumstances when the USSR still thought of itself as the wave of the future, when those ethnic divisions not dissolved in blood by Stalin would melt away in the brave new world. As nationalist leaders today – Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond among them – show, nationalism is as potent a brew as ever. Even mature democracies like ours find the issue tricky. Whose side would a Murodch-owned Sunski be on today if it was published in Crimea? Precisely.
Moscow's clumsier versions of the Sun have been in overdrive. No wonder that most ethnic Russians in Crimea have voted this weekend for Mother Russia over the relative freedoms they enjoyed in Ukraine. Germans living on the Saar coalfield between France and the Third Reich did exactly the same in their 1935 referendum: they voted for Hitler.
And that's the real risk the world faces now. President Pig Putin is the sort of leader in the sort of regime which likes to get the advice it wants to hear. The Kremlin must be thrilled with its recent string of diplomatic successes, making the West look even more feeble and divided over Syria than it actually is, staging the Sochi Olympics without those widely predicted (by us) terrorist attacks – and now calling Nato's bluff in Crimea.
The risk is surely that this success will embolden Moscow to redraw Ukraine's eastern boundaries to reclaim Russian-speaking majority areas, Sudeten-style. Not too much we can do about that either. Then what? Pig Putin has ambitions to create a rival counter-balance to the EU, recreating a form of the old Czarist/Soviet multinational empire that crashed after the Berlin Wall, the tragedy of his life.
When Nato and the EU rapidly expanded to fill the vaccum created by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact bloc in the 90s – into Hungary, Poland (etc) and the Baltics, later into Bulgaria and Romania too – I could see the short-term rationale, but feared the long-term consequences. Russia ( "always too weak and too strong" in the old saying) would feel encircled and strike back when it could.
In response, America would not honour its hastily-given pledges, even without a timid president, born in Hawaii, to whom Estonia must be "a far away country of which we know little", as Chamberlain said when selling out Czechoslovakia. The EU can no longer punch holes in a paper bag. Pig Putin must sense opportunity. It is hardly surprising that the Poles (the most successful EU adopters) and the Baltic mini-states are jittery about Crimea. If the west does impose its threatened sanctions it may give the Pig – who fears his internal democratic movement, as the Guardian's editorial points out – an excuse to squeeze vulnerable neighbours.
As in 1914, the risk of miscalculation is huge. US and EU electorates are fed up with costly foreign wars which do not deliver the peace and stability they were supposed to bring. But they will react with alarm if Russia turns off its gas taps without the kind of alternative sources of supply that Berlin is already talking about. Qatar, anyone ?
Moving any pieces on our interconnected global chess board has consequences. Leaders who are seen to be weak (Barack Obama) and those who rejoice in being seen as strong (Vlad the bare-chested) while actually vulnerable economically, are both capable of compensatory error.
Global markets, which dislike uncertainty, are already punishing Russia via falling share prices, suspended investment and a declining rouble. Oligarchs are nervously shifting ill-gotten billions out of banks where their assets may be frozen. It will all unsettle even further a world order that is fragile. Should we stage a referendum to return Kensington to Mother Britain while the local still retain a non-Russian majority there and before un-badged soldiers with snow on their boots start coming off EasyJet flights from Moscow?
Don't laugh. That's what Krushchev probably did when a far-sighted adviser warned him not to give away Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 and found himself locked up for his pains. And that's another thing. Has anyone checked the small print of Washington's bargain of the 19th century – it paid two cents an acre for the Alaska Purchase from Russia in 1867?
At the time, the Czar was strapped for cash (his Crimean war with Britain had been expensive) and sold it. In a fluid, opportunist world, some sharp-suited Kremlin lawyer may be about to suggest oily/icy Alaska is Russia's equivalent of the Parthenon Marbles and ask for it back. Nothing is for ever. Ask them in Crimea.
***************Crimean referendum: The Pig and the threat of a new cold war
Through a series of interventions in civil liberties, Mr Putin is turning a soft autocracy into a highly repressive state
Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Sunday 16 March 2014 23.17 GMT
The referendum that took place in Crimea is both irrelevant and deeply significant. Irrelevant because it has no standing in the law of the country to which it applies, and because it took place while the autonomous region was under military occupation. International bodies are unlikely to recognise its outcome: the UN security council voted by 13-1 to condemn it on Saturday, with only Russia voting against. The referendum is significant, however, because it represents a giant step on the road to Russian annexation, and because it reveals a little more of the nature of that country's president, Pig Putin.
Like many a strongman before him, Mr Putin is motivated as much by fear as boldness. He has embarked on the path of dismembering Ukraine in part because he fears for Russia if its neighbour is seen to escape into a bright European future. Ever since the mass protests that surrounded his controversial return to the presidency in 2012, Mr Putin has worked hard to prevent himself being ejected on a wave of pro-democratic sentiment of the kind that ran around the world following Tunisia's revolution in December 2010. Having seen his protege Viktor Yanukovych toppled in Kiev, he has been rolling back the gains of glasnost with renewed vigour.
Just when the Russian people have needed independent media most, the government has been crushing it. Last Wednesday, Galina Timchenko, the editor of the popular independent Russian news website Lenta.ru, was fired and replaced with a Kremlin sympathiser, after running an interview with a member of the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector. Many of the website's reporters resigned in protest, saying as they did so: "The trouble is not that we've lost our jobs. The trouble is that you've got nothing to read." The only independent TV station, Dozhd, which had dared to cover anti-government demonstrations in Kiev, was dumped from all major cable networks in February; news websites have been blocked; the general director of the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station was sacked and replaced with a conservative.
There is opposition to the Crimean intervention – thousands marched in Moscow on Saturday – but, faced with a full-scale assault on the truth, it is unsurprising that many Russians believe in Mr Putin's worldview, in which western-backed "fascists" have created "anarchy" in Ukraine that only Russia can resolve. Unsurprising, too, that the Pig's approval rating has climbed to a three-year high in the past month on the back of his handling of Ukraine and the Sochi Olympics. Almost half of Russians polled in a recent survey thought there was a real threat from bandits and nationalists to Russians in Ukraine, while more than half thought Russian troops could be deployed there legally.
Through a series of crackdowns and interventions in civil liberties, Mr Pig Putin is turning a soft autocracy into a highly repressive state that appears to be run by a small group of the Pig's confidants within the Kremlin and whose character is increasingly nationalistic and paranoid about the west. Vladimir Yakunin, the head of Russian Railways and a friend of the Pig's, expressed this in a recent interview. "We are witnessing a huge geopolitical game in which the aim is the destruction of Russia as a geopolitical opponent of the US or of this global financial oligarchy," Mr Yakunin said. Part of his solution is a plan for a Soviet-style mega-project in the east of the country, as far as possible from the meddling west.
EU foreign ministers meet on Monday to consider action against a list of high-level Russian officials in light of the Crimean referendum. The US will likely follow suit, and further European sanctions are in the offing: the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has warned darkly of "massive" economic and political damage to Russia unless Mr Putin changes course. If the sovereignty of Ukraine is to be defended, there are few other options. East and west appear locked on the path to a new and dangerous divide.
***************PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...
March 16, 2014, 6:10 pmRussia Could Still Turn U.S. ‘Into Radioactive Dust,’ News Anchor in Moscow Reminds Viewers
By ROBERT MACKEY
Video of a commentary on relations between the United States and Russia broadcast on state television in Moscow on Sunday night.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teZZMrnWUNw
As the United States condemned a referendum on the future of the Crimean peninsula staged by pro-Russian separatists on Sunday, one of Russia’s most influential television hosts appeared on the evening news in Moscow, before a huge mushroom cloud graphic, to remind viewers that Russia is still “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive dust.”
On Russian state TV: lovely closing ceremony of Sochi Paralympics v. warning that Russia can turn the US into radioactive dust. Good night.
— Steven Lee Myers (@slmmoscow) 16 Mar 14
Although the saber-rattling comments came from Dmitry K. Kiselyov, a news anchor well known for his “mad as hell” delivery of diatribes on the supposed threats to Russia posed by foreign plotters and native homosexuals, the report still stunned viewers of the state broadcaster’s main channel.
Прямо сейчас: Россия – единственная страна, которая может превратить США в радиоактивный пепел http://t.co/zNTh7imMKz
— Коробков-Землянский (@korobkov) 16 Mar 14
One reason is that, as the Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin observed, Mr. Kiselyov was the man recently chosen by President Pig V. Putin to lead an official news agency charged with explaining Kremlin policy to the world, a media organization to be called Rossiya Sevodnya, or Russia Today.
Kiselev is not your average moron. He is Russia’s most senior government media executive, essentially minister of propaganda.
— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) 16 Mar 14
Mr. Ragozin noted that the anchor also claimed that President Obama was deeply worried by Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Kiselev then talks abt Russia’s ‘dead hand’ system that will destroy America automatically after all Russians are dead.
— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) 16 Mar 14
Kiselev claims a publication about “Perimeter” – the Russian nuclear extermination system – prompted Obama’s frantic calls to Kremlin in Jan
— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) 16 Mar 14
A Moscow correspondent for The Associated Press, Laura Mills, reported that the broadcaster had then moved on to attack a “fifth column” of supposedly traitorous Russian dissidents who signed an open letter against the Kremlin’s “de facto annexation of Crimea.”
Russian state TV anchor lists intellectuals who oppose Crimean annexation, says: “If this isn’t the fifth column, what IS the fifth column?”
— Laura Mills (@lauraphylmills) 16 Mar 14
Mr. Kiselyov’s appointment, and the shuttering of a more independent state news agency, was described by Russia’s respected business daily Vedomosti as a sign that Mr. Pig Putin had abandoned any hope of persuading educated Russians to embrace his policies, my colleague Serge Schmemann explained. “The Kremlin acknowledged that it has lost the educated community,” the editors of Vedomosti wrote in December, “and has neither the means nor the will to hold a dialogue about values, and therefore instead of culture began to impose ideology, and instead of information, propaganda.”
Virulently anti-gay comments from the Russian television host and executive Dmitry Kiselyov, subtitled by Russian activists.
The instant online reaction to Mr. Kiselyov’s Sunday night riff from Russian bloggers seemed to indicate that they are indeed not the target demographic for his editorial commentaries.
A screenshot of the segment, with a caption suggesting that the host might have a substance abuse problem, was posted on the Twitter feed of Aleksei A. Navalny, an opposition leader currently under house arrest whose blog was blocked by Russian Internet authorities last week.
Он наркоман конечно http://t.co/xvuh7IPOtb
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) 16 Mar 14
Mr. Navalny’s feed, which is ostensibly under the control of his wife until the end of his ban on using the Internet, also drew attention to another opposition activist’s suggestion of how the segment should have ended, with the host being dragged away by men in white coats.
По логике вещей, эта клоунада должна закончиться так http://t.co/z9abXeb0dW
— Владислав Наганов (@naganoff_ru) 16 Mar 14
Other bloggers heaped scorn on Mr. Kiselyov’s false claim that Mr. Obama’s hair had turned gray from worry over Russia’s nuclear might.
Киселев говорит, что Обама резко поседел из-за того, что боится Россию.
Это, конечно, какой-то КВН,а не журналистика. http://t.co/ZMzXq9rENs
— Алекс Заборовский (@sazam) 16 Mar 14
As my colleague Ellen Barry reported on Saturday, some influential members of the Russian president’s inner circle “view isolation from the West as a good thing for Russia,” and seem to welcome the revival of Cold War tensions. On Sunday, she noted, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Dmitri Trenin, told RT, a Kremlin-funded news network that broadcasts in English, that the new standoff between Moscow and the West “closes the books on what I would call inter Cold War period” that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
An English-language interview with Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, on the Kremlin-funded channel RT.
Russian bloggers also turned their attention to reworking an Associated Press photograph of a confrontation on Saturday between the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly I. Churkin.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, was confronted by his American counterpart, Samantha Power, on Saturday before a Security Council meeting on the status of Crimea.John Minchillo/Associated Press Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, was confronted by his American counterpart, Samantha Power, on Saturday before a Security Council meeting on the status of Crimea.
“@Fake_MIDRF: И пусть весь мир подождёт! http://t.co/5aDfr3ciDh
” лучшая картинка для 93%
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) 16 Mar 14