Click to enlarge the image. Drawing by Konstantin Maler
Actually the reunification (or annexation – the definition depends on your political bias) of Crimea is the result of some twenty-odd years of relations between Russia and the United States. I do not mention Europe, because it is a geographical rather than a political entity. There was a time when it dreamed of a unified Constitution of the United States of Europe, able to compete with the U.S. and China, but those dreams have remained dreams.
When the Soviet Union passed into oblivion, it became clear, though not formally recognized, that Russia had lost the Cold War and America had won it. And it was expected that the losing party would behave in exactly the manner befitting the loser, that it would soon adhere to the Western rules of the game, would be receptive to the Western mentality and would quietly grow, but would never achieve its former power.
Alas, these expectations did not come to pass. Russia was not receptive either to Western values, or to the Western mentality. Not because it remained a prisoner of its Soviet past, but for a much more serious reason – Russia’s origins lie in Eastern, Byzantine Christianity, unlike the West, which goes back to Rome, to Western Christianity. There is an abyss between these two mentalities and values. This is the first reason.
Secondly, Russia began to get up from its knees faster than was expected, a recovery that was significantly aided by unexpectedly high oil prices. Well, and thirdly, it quickly became clear that Russia was not going to behave like a defeated country.
The first sign of this was the conflict over NATO’s decision to bomb Yugoslavia, to which Russia loudly objected. And we have to keep in mind that neither the [UN] Security Council, nor the EU gave its consent to these bombings. The U.S. decided to act – and the U.S. acted, saying to Russia, “we’ll manage without you” (and I should note that the enforced separation of Kosovo from Serbia, recognized by the West, has opened a Pandora’s Box, no matter whoever and whatever is said about it).
If we take this event as a starting point and follow on, we will see a whole bunch of disagreements between the U.S. and Russia, in which the United States has always acted from the position of strength. Both sides grew irritated: The former because the latter did not behave “in a befitting manner”, the latter – because the former was not taking it seriously, clearly referring to it as to a second-rate country.
All this time, the U.S. tried, not unsuccessfully, to squeeze Russia out of the regions which it had traditionally considered its sphere of influence: the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Russia had no answer to this (read: force), although the extremely skilful exploitation of American mistakes allowed it to dramatically boost its ratings in the Arab world (Syria) and elsewhere (Iran).
However, what Russia could not tolerate under any circumstances were the efforts by the U.S. to supplant it in its brother Slav nation, Ukraine. And this was not just because of the fear that such a Ukraine would join NATO, whose armed forces would then be at the southwestern borders of Russia. It was (and is) a matter of the deep psychological belief that Ukraine is “ours” and that the Ukrainians are “our people” (try to imagine for a moment that a revolution occurs in Mexico, a new Chavez-style leader comes to power and invites Russia to place part of its armed forces along the Mexican-American border. Do you see the consequences?).
Meanwhile, the processes taking place in Ukraine were increasingly undermining the country. It started under [Leonid] Kravchuk’s rule and continued under [Leonid] Kuchma. The arrival of Yushchenko was no salvation for Ukraine - instead it plunged the country into chaos.
In the following presidential election, Yushchenko received only 5 percent of the vote. It is clear that the election of Yanukovych – in my view, a petty thief whose place was not the presidential chair, but a prison cell – was the result of a protest vote. Under his rule, Ukraine practically ceased to function as a state, and corruption had reached such a level that Russian corruption seemed to be child’s play by comparison. Popular discontent had been growing stronger and stronger, but...
All this was taken by the Russian leadership as a new confirmation of what had been happening constantly for the last twenty years: The West (read: the U.S.) has been pushing its solutions, absolutely refusing (not in actual words) to take into account Russia’s interests – in this case in a region that for centuries was part of the so-called “Russian world”.
Only an extremely limited person could doubt that a response would follow. And it did follow. I do not exclude the possibility that this is what they were counting on, that they were aiming for some new serious escalation that they could take advantage of and to some extent return to the psychological state of the Cold War. I do not say it is like this, but I do not exclude it – Putin was already starting to play a painfully prominent role, being recognized as the Most Influential Politician of the Year”, “Man of the Year”, etc.
And what of Crimea? Do I need to remind you that, strictly speaking, Crimea has never been part of Ukraine? The Presidium of the Supreme Council, which had to approve Khrushchev’s decision on the transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic] to the Ukrainian SSR, voted for the transfer with just 13 votes. The Presidium consisted of 27 people, so there was no quorum, as the other 14 were simply not present).
However, this is not a matter of legal pettifoggery. It is a matter of a decision – that any negotiations with the West are meaningless, and it is time to make it clear to them that they cannot treat the national interests of Russia in this way. And the fact that Crimea (not to mention Sevastopol) historically and ethnically belongs to Russia, that the inhabitants of Crimea are overwhelmingly oriented towards Russia, is perfectly clear. And so the decision was made.
After that we can talk about the “pros” and “cons”. However, I insist that such discussions should be based on knowledge and a sober understanding of what was, and what is.
The incredible activity by the West in everything that is happening does not have anything to do with the desire to protect human rights in Ukraine, nothing to do with the concern for preserving the integrity of Ukraine. This is all about geopolitical strategic interests. And Russia’s actions, in my opinion, are not dictated by the desire to “protect the Russians, the Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars”, but are rather dictated by the same reasons: geopolitical and national interests.
First published in Russian at Vladimir Pozner's blog.
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