19 March 2014

Crimea matters, for all sorts of reasons

I don't know what has appalled me more - Putin's cynical opportunistic land-grab of Crimea, the almost complete abrogation of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Guarantees for Ukraine by the UK and US, or the extent of leftwing and rightwing moral relativism about the whole thing.

I started by writing an article about how Crimea is what happens when isolationists are in charge.  However, the reaction of much of the public is not just the isolationism that has been bred by the left (the "the West is evil as as bad as anyone else" brigade) and the right ("we're safe, they aren't coming for us, just our friends, who we can ignore"), but the moral relativism attached to what is going on.

In this age of competing media, it is easy to turn on Kremlin propaganda in English from Russia Today, and for critics of the status quo on left and right to cynically dismiss reports from the plurality of Western media sources as propaganda, but it's naive and delusional.  What is going on in Ukraine is old-fashioned power politics, because Vladimir Putin has sniffed weakness from the West and knows it will do little - as long as Barack Obama is in power, David Cameron remains beholden to the appeasement loving Liberal Democrats and the Germans remain paralysed by their own history.

So let's first knock out some of the lazy assertions, promoted by Putin's regime:

Crimea is part of Russia:  So the USSR transferred regional administration of Crimea to Ukraine in 1956. So what?  The USSR ceased to exist in 1991 and under the Budapest Memorandum, the successor state of Russia agreed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine as an independent state.   If you accept this argument, then Finland can claim Karelia should be handed back by Russia, or Japan can claim the Kurile Islands from Russia, or Trieste can become part of Austria, or Kaliningrad (or rather K√∂nigsberg) can become part of Germany, or at least Poland, or Moldova can become part of Romania, or Kosovo can become part of Albania, or half of Bosnia can become part of Croatia, and so on....  The list of historic claims to territory between nation states is very long indeed, and there are many competing claims to it. 

The simple point is that Russia explicitly recognised the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine as it stood in 1991. As UN Member States, all of the countries concerned committed themselves to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other.  

Ukraine's interim government is "fascist" or is some US/EU contrived anti-Russian "coup":   Ukraine's interim government is not fascist, but that's not to say there aren't fascist elements in Ukrainian politics.  Yet look at Russian politics.  The militarist far-right "Liberal Democratic" Party is in the Duma, and fascist movements thrive in Russia.  Whilst Putin's United Russia Party itself isn't beyond fanning nationalist embers, with Defender of the Fatherland Day, celebrating the founding of the murderous Red Army.  Indeed, Putin ignores the murderous history of Soviet genocide in Holodomor in Ukraine, which is a key source of the resistance led by fascist Ukrainian Stepan Bandera who allied with the Nazis to try to throw off Stalin's rule.  Of course, it is long wiped from Russian history that Stalin allied with Hitler up until the USSR got attacked, and the great victory against Nazi Germany was in spite of rather than because of Stalin's leadership.  

Beyond that, it is clear that the protests in Ukraine that overthrew the Yanukovych kleptocracy had a lot of popular support, which was supported by, but not dominated by the far-right movements.  There is little evidence of anti-Russian pogroms, and certainly none from the interim government.  Those who want to remain willfully blind to the appalling nepotistic kleptocracy of Yanukovych which saw a broad swathe of Ukrainians willing to back the overthrow of the regime, seem to want to grant "legitimacy" to a regime that was passing new laws against free speech and protest, with Putinesque objectives.  What's most amusing is that they think that Western governments can contrive such a thing, without any troops, with perhaps the main tool being the diverse range of Western media reporting on the protests.   In short, Putin's propagandists like to portray relatively free Western countries as having similar tools for revolution as Putin does - except Western countries are not sending troops, paramilitaries or the like into Ukraine.

Because the US attacked Iraq and Afghanistan, it is ok for Russia to take Crimea:  This view is simply that "might is right" and that the actions of previous Western governments (neither the US, nor the UK have the same governments as those who launched those military actions) mean military aggression is "ok", or there is no moral standing to complain about it.  In which case, those who think Russia is justified also can't complain about the the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by reverse!

Still, the moral nature of both of those wars in fundamentally different.  Afghanistan under the Taliban was funding, arming and training terrorists who carried out multiple attacks on Western countries.  Whilst there are ample reasons to criticise the tactics and strategy after the overthrow of the Taliban, it is morally correct to invade and overthrow Islamist tyrants who colluded in the commission of attacks on your own territory.  The Taliban theocracy was morally bankrupt domestically and internationally, and was and still is an enemy to freedom and individual rights of people in Afghanistan and beyond.

The overthrow of the Saddam Hussein genocidal crime state was also justified, because its actions domestically and internationally denied it moral standing.  Whilst some regard the appalling past actions of US Administrations in supporting the regime as giving Saddam a permanent excuse to be immune from military attack, the genocidal and aggressive actions of this regime render claims of its being protected by international law to be baseless.  It was aggressive against several neighbours, it used chemical weapons against civilians.  Therefore, it was neither illegal nor immoral to overthrow this vile regime by force.  The opportunity to do so presented itself, and it was legitimate to destroy a regime of undoubted aggression.  The subsequent gross incompetence in occupying and transforming Iraq is an indictment on the Bush Administration, without question.  

No post-independence Ukrainian government has been aggressive to its neighbours and there is no evidence of any Ukrainian pogroms against Russians.   Fears that fascist Ukrainians will attack Russians are about as valid as claiming Putin will implement Stalin's policies on Ukraine, although Tartars in Ukraine perhaps have greater reason to fear Russia (given how ignored they remain in official Russian history).  

After all, if you accept this argument, it gives every aggressor carte blanche to take whatever land they like, knowing that the West is paralysed by guilt over past actions that are deemed "illegitimate".  Of course Russia isn't the slightest bit deterred by guilt.

Crimeans want to be part of Russia, let them:  This harks to the referendum held in Crimea, not by the Ukrainian government or even the Crimean government under the Ukrainian constitution, but by the Crimean government purged by Russia and backed by Russian paramilitaries.  A referendum where the status quo option was not available, and where everyone voted with transparent ballot boxes, and where it was difficult to campaign for the "no" option without being harassed by the paramilitary squads around Crimea.   Given Russia hasn't held a free and fair election for some years, given Putin's domination of Russian media and restrictions on political activity and criticism, it's hardly surprising, but it's remarkable how many people think the Crimean referendum must be legitimate, because those whose interests it served said so.   It's granting moral equivalency to the operation of elections in a dictatorship and in a free society, which is nonsense.

You might argue, but wait, maybe the majority of Crimeans do want to secede?  Maybe so, maybe if there was a free and open atmosphere of campaigning, maybe if Ukrainians, Tartars and Russians all felt they could campaign against Putin without fear of violence, and discuss what they want openly.  Maybe, after Ukraine has had elections and established a new legitimate government to replace the interim administration, there can be discussions about Crimea including the key issue of protecting the individual rights and freedoms of ALL citizens of Ukraine.  Russia has held this faux referendum now because Ukraine is weak and divided, and it is a blatant act of aggression, not far removed from the Austrian Anschluss of 1938.  Many Austrians welcomed the Nazis then, but it didn't bode well for some of the others.  Putin is a long way removed from Hitler, but his fondness for the Soviet totalitarian past and his authoritarianism mean he is closer to that than he is of liberal democracy.

There is nothing, in principle, wrong with an orderly process of secession.  However, every example of secession in modern times has been about gaining independence, not being annexed by a neighbouring state.

Kosovo did not vote to be annexed by Albania.

This is none of our business:  If you think that one country sending in military to the territory of another is none of our business, then fine.  You might be right.  Maybe the US and the UK promising to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine can just be ignored.  Maybe Putin wont fire up Russians in the east of Ukraine with nationalist rhetoric and claims that Ukraine is being run by fascists.  Maybe, he wont fund and arm paramilitaries to take over institutions of government in eastern Ukraine.  Maybe he wont try to partition the country, whether in Donetsk or Odessa or elsewhere.  Maybe he wont also attack his neighbours (forget Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the US has already surrendered these parts of Georgia to Russia).  Maybe he wont seek to do the same in Belarus when the Stalinist thug Lukashenko finally dies/steps down/retires.  Maybe. 

Maybe China wont think that the West cares about territorial integrity in its sphere, and takes the step to finally take over the Senkaku Islands from Japan - I mean the Diaoyutai Islands as they will be.  Maybe China will do the same in the South China Sea, pushing out Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia from islands there.  Maybe China will expand its naval presence to surround Taiwan and start offering "friendly" terms for reunification, particularly if Taiwanese voters once again choose the Democratic Progressive Party which espouses Taiwanese independence.  Maybe Japan will consider that it can't be reliably defended by the United States and repeals its post-war Constitution and decides it better have a nuclear deterrent against China, and North Korea.  Maybe China decides it can also "solve" its territorial disputes with India by simply rolling in the military.  

Maybe you want a world with expansionist authoritarian states threatening their neighbours with war, and of course wrecking havoc on global trade, tourism and economies.

What to do?

NATO Member States must be protected and be seen to be protected.  The front-line defences of all NATO states should be supported and a clear red-line actually be presented.  NATO is and always has been inviolable, and all necessary force will be exercised to defend it.

Support countries that wish to be NATO Members that meet eligibility criteria. If Russia wants to expand its sphere of influence, let those wishing to be protected from it, be part of that alliance.  Don't let Russia's fictional "NATO is expansionist" rhetoric fool you into what is going on - countries that has left the Soviet's jackbooted empire want protection from Russian irredentism.  If their governments are relatively free, open and transparent, and willing to contribute adequately to collective defence, then let them.

Economic and diplomatic sanctions. Time to cease talks on freeing trade and visa restrictions between Russia and the West, time to prohibit sales of arms or sensitive technologies to Russia.  

Support a reformed Ukraine. Provide the necessary support to stop Ukraine becoming an outpost for vile nationalism, but rather open, liberal democracy with individual rights.  That includes accepting Ukraine within the European Free Trade Association by abolishing tariffs and import restrictions from the country, and embracing it going through what will be a painful series of reforms as it dismantles its Soviet era industrial base.

However, it is also critical to deflect Russian criticism by demanding that Ukraine treat the Russian language as equal to Ukrainian, and that violence and threats of violence from any political groups will not be tolerated.  

It is possible that Vladimir Putin is telling the truth when he says he doesn't want to split Ukraine, but his pretext for invading Crimea - that Russians in Crimea face a neo-Nazi pogrom - must be avoided elsewhere. His victory in Crimea should not be recognised, and the territory should be treated similarly to Trans-Dniestr and the other Russian occupied territories that are run by shady gangster administrations.

It is time that NATO, led by the US, made it abundantly clear that it exists to protect its Members from further aggression.

Otherwise, we do risk a world post-Pax Americana, where might is asserted by nationalist authoritarian bullies, based on power alone.  We see it now in Syria as well.

Meanwhile, the EU's ineptness in this is palpable.  It is time the UK and France met separately and talked to the US in NATO about sidelining the EU's role in strategic foreign policy.  Germany will object, but its standing on military/foreign policy issues regarding the east unfortunately remains tainted by history, and besides, Germany is not a military power.


Psycho Milt said...

That was a belter, good on you. Would be nice if a few of the West's politicians could lay it out like that.

Angry Tory said...

Germany is not a military power

No - but in the same way 10% of Kiwi Nett taxpayers pay all the tax for everyone else's welfare, basically German taxpayers pay all the tax for everyone else in the Euro's welfare. Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Italy, those countries only function thanks to German taxpayers.

Germany has the only really functioning Euro economy and imports at least half its energy from Russia.

France has nukes and the only working European aircraft carrier (the Brits have mothballed theirs) but is now building aircraft carriers for the Russian Navy - and will hand 'em over no matter what.

The US didn't start a land ware in Europe over Hungary or Czechoslovakia. It's certainly not going to do it over the Ukraine.

Libertyscott said...

Psycho Milt - ty
Angry Tory - Germany AND the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. The Dutch also have a properly functioning economy.

Germany's energy dependence is a mixed picture. It has a large renewables sector that is costing it a huge deadweight loss in productivity, but it has stupidly chosen to abandon nuclear. Its energy policy failings should not be a noose around the neck of NATO.

France is tired, because it is being proactive about African Islamists whilst others rub their hands. It wont want to lead on this.

However, you're right there wont be a land war over Ukraine - but if it goes further there should be serious economic sanctions. Bear in mind Russia has no other useful markets for its oil and gas. China has much of its own and plenty of options from south east Asia and the Central Asian republics.

Russia needs Europe to buy its oil and gas, because few others will.

OECD rank 22 kiwi said...

For my own intellectual curiosity, I'd like to ask you, Liberty Scott and Psycho Milt, why you hate Russians?

What's your "skin in the game"? Is it really as simple as being related to East European refugees and never being able to "forgive those Russians for what they've done"?

Libertyscott said...

OECD: They are vile, their vodka swigging, their over-hyped composers, authors and you know they don't really wash? It's just awful.

Seriously think that is worthy of answering? Think that despising a government = despising a people? Do you hate the Germans, or was it just the Nazis or maybe even the GDR?

I wish Russians well, I don't wish well the bullying kleptocratic cronyist gangster regime that has dominated the place for over a decade now.

I know many Russians in Crimea want to be run by this regime. Putin doesn't run his nationalistic authoritarian gangster state without millions supporting him, but that doesn't mean that what they do to others is right.

The conduct of the referendum, the treatment of those protesting against annexation, and those protecting Ukrainian state property in Crimea ought to give pause for reflection, unless you're a Russian nationalist who believes all of the classic nationalist fairytales of how the "golden age" was brought down by outsiders who are constantly wanting to destroy Russia. The same fairytales Serb nationalists told to justify emptying villages of men and boys to line them up and execute them (which Russia, even under Yeltsin, wasn't too keen on acting against).

And yes, the bullyboy tactics of Ukrainian thugs deserve scrutiny too, but Russian propaganda that claims the interim govt in Kiev is some Bandera worshipping fascist group is largely just that.

OECD rank 22 kiwi said...

Seriously think that is worthy of answering?


I want to know why you're Russophobic? Your silence is telling.

The question was posed so I can get an understanding why people like you think the way you do on this topic. It’s not an uncommon view held by Westerns. i.e. Stalin just as bad as Hitler or worse.

Your posts on this topic go Anschluss, Mafia, Anschluss, Mafia ad infinitum. Shorthand for that is:
Anschluss – Just like Hitler.
Mafia – Wiki leaks cables direct from US embassy in Moscow to Washington

I always thought people in the West conveying Russophobic views were either stupid or bigoted. By this I mean they were stupid enough to believe unquestioningly Western Propaganda dating from the Cold War to this day about Russia. Alternatively they were motivated by personal hate against Russia itself triggered by Stalin killing members of their family or family members residing in a Soviet Satellite states with all the repression association with that. i.e. actual skin in the game.

Nation States don’t have morals, they have interests, and those change. It was never acceptable to the US for Crimea to become part of Russia under any circumstances. The US wants Ukraine in the EU and Nato, Russia does not. Both the UK and NZ as US proxies are engaging in Economic warfare against Russia and her people. It will be ordinary Russians who suffer. Your “I wish Russians well” sounds as convincing as DPRK citizens saying they have a problem with the US Government not US people. “kleptocratic cronyist gangster regime” is funny, as Ukraine is a turf war between competing Oligarch factions. Well apart from the very real fascists in Svoboda and Pravyi Sektor that you’re so keen to dismiss.

It’s always interesting to see what causes someone to weigh Nationalistic urges ahead of their “Libertarian views”. That 600,000+ dead brown people is fine for the cause, that any number of dead Slavs is fine for the cause as well. Are all “children of a lesser God”?

Graham Linehan’s tweet sums it up:
“When people defend the Iraq war to me, they never say straight out that, to them, the removal of a dictator was worth 600,000+ Iraqi lives.”

Anonymous said...

That last tweet is illuminating in many ways of your attitude.
lets modify it somewhat shall we?

If 600,000 lives were lost in order to remove either Stalin or Mao, millions of citizens wouldn't of been persecuted & killed as a result of there later actions.

Do do have a problem with that statement?

B. Whitehead

Libertyscott said...

OECD: I'm not Russophobic, unless you subscribe to the nationalistic propaganda from Moscow that critics of the Putin regime are "out to get Russians". It's the grand old Russian myth of encirclement, that the rest of the world wants to eat away at the borders and take over. It's a delusional belief that anyone besides the psychopath Hitler, actually cares - especially since so many talented Russians themselves just leave the nepotistic state that unfortunately governs them.

The other statements you make are worth challenging:

- To me, to try to weigh up Stalin vs. Hitler is quibbling about numbers. What Hitler had over Stalin was a far more unified, deliberate eliminationist policy that was industrialised. Stalin was more ad-hoc about it. If you don't think Holodomor, or the expulsion of the Tartars, or the anti-Jewish pogroms or the warm alliance with Hitler don't put Stalin close on the moral depravity scale with Hitler, then either read more history or check your premises. Bear in mind Stalin can be said to be responsible for the legacy of north Korea, let alone the enslavement of half of Europe for more than a generation. Just like Hitler? No, they had some key differences, but the death toll, the terror and the militarism should be obvious. A death toll, mostly, of Russians.

- The "mafia" reference is an allusion to the rampant nepotism and corruption endemic in Russia. An economy where law enforcement, contract enforcement and state contracts are hardly transparent.

- On Crimea, you dismiss the Budapest Memorandum. There is no need to care about treaties. You also dismiss the more fundamental point that changes to international borders, imposed by outside force, have NOT been recognised internationally for decades. It's THAT, not the Machiavellian plot that Putin's simple paranoia thinks.

- Bear in mind that the main EU members don't want Ukraine as a members, all for different reasons. Germany due to the cost, France due to the competition in agriculture,UK due to immigration. The US is not influential on this.

Libertyscott said...

and the US did refuse an association agreement with Ukraine before, precisely to not antagonise Russia. Same with Georgia. Both governments of those countries at the time sought it, because they both feared Russian irredentism. They were right.

Who is engaging in "economic warfare" against the Russian people, other than the refusal of the kleptocracy to establish rule of law, independent judiciary, transparent accountability for politicians and officials who engage in corrupt activities and the end to the connection led legal and de-facto monopolies that sustain the regime. Of course the greatest economic warfare against Russian was inflicted by the Bolsheviks. Had it not been for them, Russia's per capita income could have been akin to Western Europe. Much like how the USSR stunted the half of Europe it occupied.

Yes, you're right about Ukraine being, in part a turf war. Ukraine is a disaster, but unlike Russia - which wants to replicate its own dictatorship in Ukraine - the West actually will let Ukraine govern itself. It will, like with Slovakia, let crazy cryto-fascists stunt the place for a term in government, then help it out when it wants to adopt such imperialistic principles as an independent judiciary and legal system.

However, if it goes rotten (like Hungary has been), it wont be without cost, but based on your logic, embracing nepotism, corruption and de-facto political monopolies is somehow positive.

Russia's "interest" in Crimea was aggrandisement. The Black Sea Fleet were safe and Russians in Crimea faced no existential threat. Putin saw a chance to exaggerate the fascist presence in Ukraine to justify irredentism and knew the West was too weak to respond. Curiously, even his mate in Belarus doesn't approve - a country that has deftly avoided "Russophobia" up to now, and look at what an example it displays.

Libertyscott said...

The Iraq reference deserves a response for several reasons. The use of the Lancet survey rather than Iraqi body count gets 600,000 vs 136,000, but let's not quibble over numbers. What is clear is that most of both figures are due to the Islamist insurgency that followed the invasion and occupation - not the invasion and occupation itself. So attributing those to the invasion is NOT morally equivalent.

However, whilst it was entirely morally just to invade and overthrow a dictatorship, it was gross negligence to not be willing (or even able) to use the occupation to make Iraqis safe for a transition to liberal democracy. It was palpably negligent to not control the borders or to engage sufficient presence on the ground to suppress Islamist insurgents. So in hindsight, it was a blunder, although we'll never know what alternate history would have happened (perhaps similar to Syria today).

You can take a principled stance that invading Iraq was wrong because the cost in blood and money was not worth it, and because war should only be a last resort to avoid far greater casualties. However, that wasn't the stance most opponents of the war took.

So no - Graham Linehan oddly enough, isn't a great source of geopolitical wisdom on this. It is this same logic that some have said the US is to blame for the Khmer Rouge's mass murders, because its bombing of Cambodia in the Vietnam War and backing of the Lon Nol regime recruited thousands to the Khmer Rouge. There is a connection, but no, the West is not responsible for the slaughter of civilians in Iraq - it is responsible for the vacuum of law and order that allowed the insurgency to go on murdering for so long.