A Neutral Analysis
The vote is in. Now the question is whether calmer heads will prevail or whether we are heading for new confrontations. Of course we must examine and analyze the events of the recent and more distant past. No serious discussion to diffuse the crisis can take place without an appreciation of the facts. Unfortunately, the media in the West is not helping. It almost appears as though the media today is behaving as though they are living in a James Bond movie scenario where they are fueling tensions in order to ‘sell’ the news.
The Crimea, like all of Europe, has a checkered past of human migrations and shifting empires. But since the Crimean war the territory has been controlled by either Russia or the USSR. In 1954 the territory was ceded to the Ukrainian Socialist Republic within the USSR. This was during Khrushchev’s tenure as leader of the USSR. Following the collapse of the USSR the territory remained within the Ukraine, but as an autonomous region. This small detail is continually overlooked by the Western media. Instead they consistently stress that President Obama has called the referendum over the future of Crimea unconstitutional. And the media concentrate on so called human interest stories of individuals or minorities who are opposed to joining Russia, but are afraid to voice their opinion or to vote their conscience.
There were significant numbers of Russian troops on the territory before the crisis. Russia maintains a huge naval base in Sevastopol under an existing agreement with Ukraine. The Ukrainian government receives benefits under that agreement including subsidized prices for its natural gas from Russia. Despite these benefits there are nationalist sentiments in Kiev in favor of canceling the accord. This conflict of interest between the Russian Federation and the Rising nationalist groups in Ukraine lie at the root of the present crisis.
One further fact is that the majority of the population on the Crimean peninsula happens to be Ethnic Russians. These ethnic divisions within Ukraine are well known. Now are the Russians without fault? Certainly there have been troop movements within Crimea, as well as standoffs between troops and camps of differing persuasion. Admittedly that is not an ideal situation for holding a referendum. Was the vote really 97% in favor of joining Russia. Probably not. But no one seriously doubts that a strong majority of the population in Crimea does favor this step.
Given all of the above facts does it make sense for President Obama to talk about a breach of international law and to insist that the referendum is unconstitutional? The truth is that allowing regions of countries to break away from existing nations has multiple precedents in recent history. Yugoslavia broke up into multiple pieces with the support of the US and Germany. Czechoslovakia split into two, fortunately peacefully with mutual consent between the Czechs and Slovaks. And South Sudan has now been recognized as an independent state by the West. Indeed such geopolitical changes are often actively supported under the policy known as responsibility to protect. So what determines which cases are to be acceptable and which a breach of international law?
Clearly the answer to this question lies solely within the realm of the strategic goals of the US government and the analysis of the think tanks that support those goals. In the case of Crimea there is an evident double standard being applied. And that double standard has its roots in the continuation of US policy following the collapse of the communist block in Eastern Europe. The US had for decades pursued a policy of containment and encirclement of the Soviet Union. Ultimately that policy succeeded in bringing down the communist system. There was an opportunity for peace across Europe and the world at that juncture in recent history. But the US decided to continue its then existing policy. And the European Union was complicit in this renewed policy push. As the new regimes in Eastern Europe struggled to reorient and rebuild their economies, they turned to the EU for financial support. Also, being on the rebound from the Warsaw Pact, they sought to join the EU. The EU was open; it shifted toward a rapidly expansionary policy quite quickly. But the condition for every candidate state for EU membership was that it should first join NATO. Why was this step required?
NATO had been formed within the policy dictates of containing the USSR. But the USSR had just broken apart and the Warsaw Pact had been disbanded. What possible purpose could NATO have at that point. Of course various rationalizations were suggested: to maintain the successful cooperation between European and North American countries, to support the US in its confrontation with the terrorists of September 11, or to create a shield against Iran. But actions always speak louder than words. As Eastern European countries joined NATO, one after the other, the military line of control was increasingly pushed to the East up to Russia’s border. Now, it is apparent that the next goal was to force the closure of the Russian bases in Crimea. This is not a reset of relations. It is aggression pure and simple.
The scenario we are now facing is that positions will harden and Europe and the world will move again toward a cold war along a frontier that will be far more difficult for Russia to defend. The alternative, the only alternative that would allow a peaceful direction, would be for the US and NATO to reverse their confrontational strategy and to open honest negotiations toward disarmament. Within the political scene in Washington Obama was probably the best hope for such a shift. But he has given up any pretense favoring such a policy shift. He has joined the cold warriors who are back in the ascendency. So, the only possible source for a shift in policy at this point is Europe. The EU finally needs to differentiate itself from US strategic goals. It needs to stand up and reject those goals and insist on new directions and honest negotiations with Russia. Parroting US propaganda is not a solution.