Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Crimea, Ukraine, Russia, then what?

During the Sochi Winter Olympics we were told by numerous officials that this was the symbol of the New Russia, post-USSR, modern dynamic etc... What we were really seeing was a bunch of modern buildings and infrastructure. Mentalities had not changed one Iota. Remember the Beijing Summer Olympics a few years ago. Well I was posted the that Communist Paradise from 2004-2007 and I saw how you can transform a city like Beijing by State Decree to impress the world with shiny new buildings and infrastructure this does not mean that attitude and government policy or general culture has changed. You can install new drapes and paint walls, you still have a derelict house.

Just a few days after the end of the Olympics it now seems we are back in the old Russia. President V. Putin decided that given event in the Ukraine he had to protect Russia's National Interests. Now Putin is playing to a National audience, his home base want a strong eternal Russia, the Mother Russia of Peter the Great or Ivan the terrible, it wants its Icons of its old past.

Putin has strong and influential supporters, the Orthodox Church in Moscow who wishes to control the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine, H.I.H Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, pretender to the Romanov throne and would be Tsarina and her son HIH Crown Prince George, Tsarevitch and Prince of Prussia, they are allied with the Church and can claim many monarchist who dream of a return to Imperial times, the Russian business elite who has grown rich with Putin, the Russian armed forces who feel they are regaining their old strength and part of the Russia people who are xenophobic and respond well to anti-Western propaganda.

Today the Communist Party of China and the President of the People's Republic of China came down on the side of Putin and Russia. This is why China was so quiet since the operation Crimea started. The Ukrainian Puppet and Moscow's man, President in exile Victor Ianoukovitch who is just over the border is also supporting all of Russia's moves. All his moves and words are stage manage by handlers in Moscow. Ianoukovitch is largely irrelevant now but useful nonetheless.

Why would Russia decide to occupy the Crimea? Well history should be our guide, first the city of Sebastopol where the Russian Navy is anchored was the creation of Tsarina Catherine II the Great in 1783. Before her Tsar Peter the Great at fought with much vigour the Ottoman Turks to get free access to the Black Sea. Historically the Crimea is part of the mythical greatness of Imperial Russia.
Of course the native people of the Crimea where the Tatars who lived under the Ottoman Turk rule until 1782 when Turkey lost the war against Imperial Russia and gave up the Crimea to Russia. Many Muslim Tatar fled to other parts of the Ottoman Empire, the Crimea was then populated with Russians, Ruthènes (Ukrainians) Moldaves and Germans.

Many Russian and Soviet leaders came from the Ukraine, Christianity entered Russian through Kiev 1000 years ago, the Kievian-Rus links go back centuries and have nothing to do with what Vladimir Putin wishes, he is simply using history as a guide.

There is also the question of the Ukraine of today compared to the Ukraine of 1946, the whole Western part was Poland, cities like Lviv were Polish not Ukrainian.  All this to say that the picture is a very confused one and not a simple black and white issue.

In 1954 under the rule of Nikita Krouchtchev, Crimea was given to the Socialist Republic of Ukraine.
A personal gift of the Secretary of the Communist Party to his adopted homeland Ukraine.

What is now emerging of this situation is that Russia had a very well prepared strategy to take over Crimea. A given sets of circumstances would trigger the deployment of Russian troops. While the world was looking at various events in and around Russia, Putin had given orders to prepare for this eventuality, supporting the then President and marginalized the Opposition groups. That NATO, the EU and the USA failed to see what was happening is not credible, they most probably knew but thought that it would probably not happen. It is now known and the US Congress is investigating, that the CIA had reported numerous times of the very real possibility of Russia taking over Crimea. But in an inter-governmental agency dispute the State Department ignored the reports and did not pass them along.

So we are presented with a fait accompli, the Russians have taken over Crimea, NATO has done very little despite the meetings and posturing. A resolution was passed by member countries. NATO could have asked Turkey a member State to close the Bosphorus to prevent Russian Navy ships to travel up to the Black Sea but it did not. The EU and Britain are not in favour of any economic sanctions, remembering that gas and other trade investments come from Russia. Germany and France prefer dialogue, the UK has done nothing to freeze assets so as not to anger President Putin. Everyone seems to be looking out for their economic interests.

The USA cannot do much either despite threats which are largely empty. Canada has huffed and puffed because our PM Harper is big on grand gesture always with an eye for the easy vote, in this case the Canadian-Ukrainian community in Saskatchewan. Our Foreign Minister Rusty Baird has made silly remarks about the Sudetenland and 1939 making a show of his ignorance and puffery.
Trade between Russia and Canada has increased from $1.5 billion a year to $4.5 billion in the last 3 years, a detail that seems to elude our PM and the Government. It would appear that Canada is not much interested in trade and more so in grand empty statements. It is well known that Putin has a profound dislike for Harper.

As for war, the media has gone on and on about it, really war with Russia? Is anyone serious? There is no chance of war between the USA and Russia, first because the public in the USA is not interested in Crimea or Ukraine after the adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. But more importantly war between the 2 powers would mean a nuclear war or the end of the world. NATO has been careful not to mention war and the wording of its declaration has been more of denunciation than anything else.
The EU even Poland which borders Russia is not talking war, sanctions maybe.

No politician cares much for this situation because Ukraine is a bankrupt country with multiple socio- economic problems, Russia remains the main important trade partner. What EU politicians are carefully doing is a ballet, giving one message to the masses in their respective countries to respond to their concerns over Human rights etc... but on the other hand carefully manage the fall-out with Russia to protect economic interests.

President Putin knows that the West is not going to do much beyond talking, he has carefully assessed past situations. He knows that he is still required to provide support to the EU and USA for the situation in Syria and Iran. So it is important not to alienate him otherwise those situations could drag on and become more complex than they are now. Just on the question of Iran, PM Netanyahu of Israël was making noises today while the world is busy with the crisis in Crimea.

The public also knows little about the new Government in Ukraine, though the various EU governments and politicians know probably more. There are some extreme elements in the group and some discredited Ukrainian politicians like Ioulia Timoshenko who was released from jail a few days ago, she certainly is not a unifying voice in Ukraine.

Will we discover later that the Ukrainian opposition are not partners with whom we wish to engage politically? Is Putin right in describing them as ultra-Nationalist and Fascists? His pronouncement are based on local history and how history is viewed and understood there. We cannot fall in the trap of deciding that Putin and Russia is wrong and all they say is merely propaganda to be dismissed. We too are often played for fools by our own politicians and media outlets.

Latest story today was that the EU was ready to concede the annexation of Crimea to Russia simply to buy peace and get guarantees that Putin will not try to annex the Eastern part of Ukraine. Stay tuned to see where this situation will go nowhere. Other developments reported by the magazine FP
mentions a private conversation between Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Minister and Urmas Praet Estonia's Foreign Minister, they spoke on the phone and it was revealed that the sniper in Kiev who was responsible for most deaths is believed to be on the pay of the Opposition now in power.
Baroness Ashton was surprised to learn this from Urmas Praet who informed her that the Opposition now forming the new Government does not want the matter of the sniper to be investigated. Baroness Ashton simply said, neither do we. Could Putin be right, Kiev has been taken over by ultra-Nationalists and other extreme right groups but in the continuous East-West dispute we refuse to believe a word he is saying.

I want to offer my own solution to this crisis, since a lot of the power of the Russian Government stands at the moment on Oil and Gas and the enormous revenue it gives Russia, why not weaken Putin by attacking Oil and Gas revenues. Canada has lots of oil and gas and nowhere to send it. Why not offer energy contracts to the EU as a safe and reliable supplier.  It could be shipped directly from Canada's East Coast to Europe, no need for the Keystone XL Pipeline which is dead in the water at this time.

Canada by becoming the supplier of energy to Europe could help make Putin feel insecure. The Russian threat to cut-off shipments of oil and gas to Europe would vanish. A potential energy weapon which would force Putin to be far more agreeable once he has less money coming into his coffers.
It would enhance Canadian trade and increase our world profile.


  1. I like your idea about supplying oil and energy to Europe. We need to do something with it since the Americans are now on the verge of energy self-sufficiency due to fracking all that oil out of North and South Dakota. I'd rather that our new best customer be Europe than China who I don't trust. Even less than the Russians.

  2. Excellent perspective! That is why we should do whatever we can to complete the pipeline from AB to NB and start exporting the wealth we have to Europe.

  3. Don't be swayed by the rhetoric Putin is using in a disgusting distortion of the language of peace vs anti-Semites and fascists. It is alarming that there should be extreme right wing members in the new provisional government, but they are in a small minority. Jewish youth participated in the Maidan venture and were given assurances for special protection of their holy buildings. Russians have not felt threatened in the Ukraine - read Andrey Kurkov, the superb Ukrainian born and proud author of Russian parentage - nor was there tension between ethnic groups in the Crimea before the Russian forces invaded (whether Crimea wants independence or not is another matter, but not one to be solve by flagrant aggresssion and the so-called 'referendum'). A Tatar girl interviewed on the world service says she had not been threatened by anyone, but now she's been told what she can and can't do by aggressive invaders.

    That there are huge problems on both sides is not in doubt. But we have to keep it clear in our minds that the outrageous violation and threat to peace comes from Putin and Putin alone.

    1. am not swayed by the fine speeches of Monsieur Putin. No I am more surprised by what every one else is saying, which looks like a lot of posturing.

  4. This is a splendid summary; thank you for posting it.
    I am currently taking a course in Russian history, so I was able to follow along to some degree
    PS< in my course Alexander II was just blown up 1881. This doesn't bode well.