Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, March 2014
Crimean Fall Out, 2014
By Henry D' Souza
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, March 24, 2014
Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula has been a fiasco for the Western forces that were backing Ukraine. The takeover need not have happened. President Putin declared that the West broke the 1994 Agreement that guaranteed the independence of Ukraine which included Crimea.1 The Agreement was made on condition Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons.
The Russian view was that the West financed the street protests at the Maidan that overthrew President Viktor Yanukovich. The protesters were mainly Easterners who supported a merger with the European Union. Russia did not mind economic links but objected firmly to NATO advancing towards its borders.
Under-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland boasted that the US government had spent over $5 billion dollars preparing, inter alia, the ground for the putsch in Kiev.2 According to William Blum (Anti-Empire Report#126, 03/07/2014), the self-styled National Endowment for Democracy (NED) bankrolled 65 projects involving political indoctrination and the formation of political action groups. NED worked with private Foundations and the Kiev fiasco was ostensibly planned 25 years ago.3
A major US intervention in the Caucasus came in November 2003, with the Rose Revolution. This revolution, like other colored ones, replaced Georgian President Eduard Shevarnadze with Mikheil Saakashvili who had two goals: introduce democracy on EU lines and to get the whole region to join the EU.
But the takeover of Crimea came not from the Russian Government but from a Moldovan-Russian émigré living in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov. Like his father, Valery, who was a Red Army Officer in Moldova, Aksyonov first formed the Russian Community of Ukraine. Aksyonov refused to serve in the Ukrainian army as he was a staunch Russian who left Moldova when he was 17, before the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Aksyonov promoted separation from Ukraine, which was illegal, but he was free to express his views. In 1990, he formed the Russia United Party and obtained 4% of the vote. During the protests, his militia took over the Crimean parliament and prepared the ground for a Russian takeover of Crimea. Crimea was declared a separate de facto state and part of Russia while Aksyonov became its Prime Minister.4 To complete the annexation, the Russians took over the Ukrainian naval base in Crimea by force.5
Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was helpless and said that the referendum used to annex Crimea was illegal and he would use dialogue and diplomacy to recover Crimea. He added that Russia was a danger to the international community.
American economist Rana Foroohar reported that Putin lost by his actions in Crimea: the ruble had fallen by 10% against the dollar this year and Russia’s oil revenues would diminish by $100 billion during the year.6
But Russia measures success differently. Putin’s aim is to resurrect the Soviet Empire. The Crimea was its access to warm waters and the Mediterranean. Russia still had its bases with warships there. Putin argued that the Russian citizens of Ukraine were abused by the new government which was illegitimate and “driven by nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites.”7
The US imposed sanctions on Russia as a first step: it froze assets of key Russians and imposed travel bans. The men affected were Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s mentor, and Sergei Giazyev, Russia’s point-man for Ukraine. Others were targeted: Deputy-prime minister Dmitri Rogozin and two state Duma Deputies, Leonid Stutsky and Yelena Mizulina. Yet others in the arms industry were also named.8
But key men in Russia were quick to point out the Russia was not Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Dmitry Kiselyov, a newly appointed media official for Russia said, “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning US to radioactive ash.”9
Foreign Minister Lavrov put it more diplomatically. He said that US sanctions would boomerang. The implication was that if the West increased its pressure in Ukraine, Russia could take over the east of the country. If US troops were sent to other Baltic states, Russia would react appropriately. Such escalation could turn out to be a game of chess with real Weapons of Mass Destruction.
President Putin is behaving no differently from President J.F. Kennedy did, when the Cuban nuclear crisis broke out. Just as the US operates the Monroe Doctrine in its modified form, Russia views its Near Abroad as its sphere of influence. This post-cold war rivalry should be seen as a framework for developments in Central Asia - the Caucasian knot - and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
It has been pointed out that the Crimean crisis was intended to place the two-state solution on the back burner, until the US had a new President.
Astronomers talk about cosmic inflation, when after the Big bang the universe began to expand continuously. Politicians should think of territorial inflation, when after the collapse of the Soviet Union, 33 countries came into being. Territorial inflation also took place after Yugoslavia imploded and is still continuing elsewhere, like Scotland and Nigeria. Two post-Soviet fledgling states concern us since they are closely related to events in Ukraine: Moldova and Georgia. Both are concerned with Russia’s expatriate population and events unfolding in the Crimea.
Owing to considerable ethnic cleansing that took place in the Caucasus after World War I, ethnic population densities are not a reliable indication of ownership of land, but one-tenth of Moldova in the east, Transnistria, is populated mainly (53%) by Russians.
Russians in Transnistria felt discriminated when in August 1989, just before the Soviet Union collapsed, Moldovan was made the official language and the script would be Latin-Romanian. Another gripe was that the mood was that Moldova should be part of Romania.
Between March 2, and July 21, 1992, a year after Moldova declared its independence, the Centre tried control Transnistria by force. The Centre lost this war since Russia’s 14th Army sided with Transnistria.10
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine would not permit Moldovan-Russians, especially males, to leave or enter Moldova. The suspicion was that this ethnic group, that numbered 200,000, would try to take over the western part of Ukraine. After all, the current Prime Minister of Crimea came from Moldova.
These ‘imprisoned’ Russians wanted Russia to intervene on their behalf and negotiate a removal of restrictions; they wanted to remain in Moldova. They argued that Ukraine was a signatory to the peace agreement in Moldova and a military observer for maintaining peace. Failing that, the Moldovan-Russians wanted Transnistria to become part of Russia. Dmitry Rogozin who was in charge of this portfolio said that since there was no armed threat to his compatriots in Moldova there would be no annexation, but he would act accordingly.11
Georgian chauvinism has taken a beating for wanting to join the European Union.
When Georgia’s son, Josef Stalin, controlled the Soviet Union, Georgia experienced the fastest industrialization in 25 years (1928-1953) than it did in 3,000 years. But the price was heavy. Under Stalin, 20 million non-combatants and 20 million war-inflicted Soviets died.12 Only Chinese dictator Mao Tse Tung exceeded this number. But Georgian chauvinism appeared during this era and flowered after it became independent for the second time in 1991.13
Georgia’s attempt to make the Georgian language national, brought objections in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russians too objected since during Soviet rule, Russian was the official language. Those who do not speak the national language are usually treated as second-class citizens. (For the dynamics of ethnic, national and international cultures see Evolving World cultures.)14
Georgian chauvinism was expressed in another way in 1992-3 and 2008. To bring its province, Abkhazia, under its control Georgia went to war. A quarter of a million Georgians had to flee Abkhazia. Despite a shaky cease-fire on July 27, 1993, Abkhazia attacked Sukhumi in September with the help of mercenaries from Russia, Turkey, Syria and Jordan. After 12 days of heavy fighting, Sukhumi fell on September 27, 1993.15 Abkhazia was a Muslim enclave and ethnic cleansing against Georgians began; Muslims who had fled their homes during the Soviet era were asked to return home. It was hoped that Muslims in Abkhazia will increase from 35% to at least 50%. The main organizer of this migration is a fanatical Russo-Ossetian convert Ali-Haji Yevsteyev, appointed by the people, not Moscow.16 The saying that a convert is more ardent than one born into a religion applies to Yevsteyev.
Georgia seems to have blundered, yet again, by starting the 2008 war with South Ossetia on August 8, when Tskhinvali was bombed and several civilians killed.17 The US allegedly sent military aid under the pretext of supplying humanitarian aid. Russia came to South Ossetia aid with 8,000 troops, 700 combat vehicles and 30 aircraft and pushed deep into Georgia. A thousand died and 100,000 fled their homes.18
However, we get a different story from former President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakasvili. He points out rightly that Russia’s ethnic cleansing accounts for Russians being in the majority in Crimea: the Tatars were in the majority before Stalin’s purges, and not all returned from exile. Seven million Ukrainians in East Ukraine died during the famine, Golodomar, in the nineteen thirties and Russians were brought in to take their place.
Saakasvili also adds that before the 2008 Georgia-Russo war, “unidentified troops” posing as local insurgents created instability by attacking law enforcement forces. A similar plan was executed in Ukraine. The eventual target in Georgia was the capital, Tblisi, which was thwarted by loyal Georgian troops. Saakasvili warns that in the case of Ukraine, Putin’s target will be Kiev: “with the Crimean “referendum” a new clock has started to tick.”19
Georgia seems to have changed course when Giorgi Margvelashvili became President and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili was Prime Minister. The two were leaders of their Dream Coalition. Reporter Latynina noted that PM Ivanishvili (October 2012-October 2013) was Georgia’s Chavez.20 However, Ivanishvili voluntarily left office after a year and appointing a trusted ally, Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili, as his successor. Ivanishvili hoped to work in the background and use his contacts to assist Georgia in its negotiations with Russia and the West.
With Garibashvili in charge, Georgia made overtures with Russia and gained trading access to Russian markets.21 Through the Munich Security Conference, Garibashvili met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and discussed occupied territories, violation of human rights, security and barbed wires between South Ossetia and Georgia.22 As a result of this UN intervention, Georgia signed on November 29, 2013, the EU Association Agreement and a free trade zone at the Eastern Partnership conference in Vilnius.23 Georgia would adopt a more responsible attitude in its relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia is being guided towards the Finnish model. If Ivanishvili had a hand in these negotiations, Ukraine would do well to employ him as a consultant.
From these developments in the Caucasian knot, we can derive Russia’s foreign policy towards its Near Abroad.
Russia has a red line: it will not allow its Near Abroad to be a launching pad for NATO forces. Russia has organized its NATO equivalent which is the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Its members are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. For the time being, fortunately, President Obama said that war was not on the table, and he is not likely to advance NATO troops to Russia’s borders.
Secondly, if Russian enclaves or “protectorates” are attacked as in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, Russia will send its forces to establish the peace or, depending on circumstances, annex its former republic. If the decision is to annex, it will send trouble-makers to whip up crowds to show that Russia’s protection or annexation is needed, and requested through a referendum. This was the strategy in 2008 in Georgia, and in Crimea in 2014.
Russia will allow treaties and alliances with the EU provided its former republics consult Russia. This Finlandization formula is best for former republics on Russia’s borders.
Abkhazia’s current President Alexander Ankvab has realized this and has invited a Russian delegation to discuss issues of cooperation in domestic and foreign policy. Ankvab works closely with the 7th Russian military base commander in Abkhazia Yakov Rezantsev and the chief of the Frontier Directorate of FSB Sergei Komarevtsev.24 Ankvab has also been offered a $15 million loan from the UN and another $15 million from UNDP.25
Working against Russia’s interests will lead to economic sanctions in the first instance. Russia has built the second largest pipeline through Georgia from the Caspian Sea to Turkey’s port of Ceyhan, avoiding Russia and Iran. Russia can deprive rebellious republics of this oil. The network of oil pipelines, the warm-water ports of the Black Sea, Russian investments, and mixed marriages in Ukraine account for Russia seeking close relationships with Ukraine.
As a response to Ukraine’s desire to join the EU and NATO, and to US sanctions on Russia of different kinds, Russia has not only taken over Crimea, but also two Ukrainian naval bases and three ships. If US sanctions escalate further, Russia is likely to occupy first the eastern part of Ukraine, and then the whole of it to protect its pipelines. Russia has also threatened to take actions in Iran and Syria that go against US interests.
The Ukrainian crisis has thrown open the issue of states in limbo. Russia recognizes Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia as functioning states but since the United Nations has not recognized them, they await recognition. Moldova considers Transnitria as a province, and Georgia thinks that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are also within their domain.
The goals of each of these self-declared “states” is to establish an ethnic majority so that democracy can flourish. Abhkhazia, for instance, wants to re-establish a Muslim majority, as it existed before Stalin’s purges. South Ossetia wants eventually an Ossetian majority which it can achieve by joining with industrial North Ossetia. Ossetian language has a Persian lineage.
Consequently, the best solution is for Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine with their breakaway “states” to have a conference on cooperation. Combined, they can then approach Russia to find a “modus vivendi” for the region. After a formula for survival has been reached they can then have commercial links with the EU. Their future lies in Finlandization of the region.
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & ccun.org.
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