Quotulatiousness

July 18, 2014

Russia’s foreign policy just went over the ledge

Filed under: Europe, Media, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:24

Tom Nichols discusses what the destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 means for Russia:

Here’s what the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 means: Russia, with Vladimir Putin at the wheel, just drove off the edge of a cliff.

Now, by this I don’t mean that the United States and the European Union are going to charge in with a new round of sanctions, provide lethal aid to Ukraine, patrol the skies of Ukraine, or anything of that nature. The West didn’t react in time, or with enough resolve, to the initial invasion and partition of Ukraine last spring, and there’s no reason to think our reaction will be any more effective or resolute this time. It would be reassuring to think America and Europe will now fully engage on the problem of Russian aggression, but it’s unlikely.

As far as Russia’s future is concerned, however, it doesn’t matter. The moment Flight 17 exploded was the moment that Putin’s foreign policy officially went over the ledge, and with it his dreams of restored Russian greatness.

Until now, Moscow claimed it was protecting the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. That was nonsense right from the start, but it was nonsense the Americans and Europeans decided they could live with, as galling as it was. (Who, after all, protects the rights of Russians in Russia? Certainly not Putin.) The West looked away as Putin seized Crimea, as we conveniently convinced ourselves that this was some odd ethnic quarrel in which we had no say. Now that a civilian airliner has been blown out of the sky by a Russian missile, however, there can be no further denial that Russia is actively pursuing a major proxy war against its neighbor in the center of Europe, and with a brutality that would make the now-departed marshals of the old Soviet high command smile with approval. This is no longer a war on Ukraine, but a war on the entire post-Cold War international order.

July 7, 2014

“The Obama administration has done a stunning job in making the United States look like an inept ditherer”

Filed under: Europe, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

Mark Collins linked to this interesting blog post by Charles Crawford, retired British diplomat:

… the key feature of the global scene now is the decline and fall of authority. The Obama administration has done a stunning job in making the United States look like an inept ditherer. Vladimir Putin, ISIS and all sorts of unpredictable phenomena are moving to assert themselves. For most of our lifetimes the default position has been to respect certain basic global rules: the benefits of grabbing something have looked a lot less than the risks associated with the consequences of doing so.

That abruptly has been turned on its head. The default position for Putin and ISIS instead is: “Look what we are doing! Breaking your rules, right under your noses! So … what precisely are you going to do about THAT?”

It is staggering to see the loss of ‘Western’ nerve in the face of Islamist the-worse-the-better insanity. These ISIS people not only commit war crimes. They race to post them on YouTube, gloating and sniggering at the world’s indecision. While they are doing that they threaten to collapse sundry key borders across the Middle East. What does it take for the UN Security Council to call emergency meetings and name specific ISIS leaders as leading global wanted war crimes suspects representing a clear immediate threat to international peace and security, ‘framing’ the issues in a way that pushes back against the confident ISIS/AQ message of Islamist extremist inevitability?

It has been depressing to see the Foreign Office doing so much to champion the issue of Sexual Violence in Conflict, while being meticulous in its language of avoiding getting dragged in to the carnage in Iraq. It’s not so much the actual policy – it is hard to know what to do for the best against these lunatics. But whereas sexual violence against women in conflict is a theme that now prompts a torrent if not a tsunami of FCO moral urgency, YouTube videos of men being murdered in cold blood is all just a bit too … complicated. Why should our UN diplomats take a firm leadership position on anything as morbid as that, when it’s so much more FUN to have a Gay Pride bus-ride in New York?

In other words, at least our feeble leaders do (for now) have to pay some attention to the international treaties they have signed. And in the case of NATO, the fact that NATO exists does give V Putin pause for thought when he mulls over options for stirring up the Russian-speaking communities in Estonia and Latvia as part of his schemes to redefine the post-Cold War deal in ways more favourable to an overtly nationalistic, greedy Russia.

June 24, 2014

QotD: Back in the boozy USSR

Filed under: History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The Soviet government recently issued one of its condemnations of public drunkenness and the usual warning about stern countermeasures. This is partly routine, like official attacks on rock music, jeans and other signs of decadence, but it’s also an indication that the legal booze supply is improving after a setback. Like every other industry in the USSR, the state liquor monopoly, Prodintorg, is appallingly inefficient, the constant victim of breakdowns and shortages. At such times the authorities’ attitude to illicit distilling, normally harsh in the extreme, mellows wonderfully. The bootleg stills spring up in their tens of thousands and the police look the other way until Prodintorg recovers.

Because, come what may, Soviet man has got to be given his drink. Some say the Russian Revolution of 1917 happened because the Czar had banned alcohol three years before as a wartime measure, or at least that was why it was so bloody. Certainly Russian attitude to drink is different from ours in the West, probably always has been. Centuries ago, travellers recorded that a typical Russian meal was one where everybody got speechlessly drunk, all classes, all ages, both sexes, seven days a week, that people were always falling down dead in public through over-use, that “drinke is their whole desire,” as an English diplomat wrote of his visit in 1568.

Drinking to get drunk is probably known in every country, and there are alcoholics in most places, but even the ordinary Russian drinks to be drunk with the minimum of delay — hence the down-in-one ritual, which of course also shortens the agony of getting down the local hooch. And once drunk he acts drunk. It’s expected of him; indeed the regard and sympathy shown drunks in public is something almost unknown in the West outside Ireland — a suggestive comparison. From time immemorial a Russian needing to buy a bottle has gone to the head of any queue in a grocery or market, not by law but by natural right.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

June 7, 2014

Europe should bear more of the costs of their own defence

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:40

The American government is being called upon to re-assure NATO allies with suddenly volatile borders (that is, those near Russia and Ukraine). That re-assurance is to take the form of greater US military involvement in the Eastern European sector of NATO. The Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow says that this is actually an opportunity for those NATO countries to start living up to their own obligations to maintain viable defensive forces:

The Baltic States are screaming for enhanced military protection. Yet Estonia devotes just two percent of its GDP to defense. Latvia spends .9 percent of its GDP on the military. Lithuania commits .8 percent of its GDP on defense.

Poland may be the country most insistent about the necessity of American troops on along its border with Russia. To its credit, Poland has been increasing military outlays, but it still falls short of NATO’s two percent objective. Warsaw spent 1.8 percent last year.

Only Great Britain and Greece joined Estonia in hitting the two percent benchmark. France and Turkey fall short. Germany comes in at 1.3 percent. Overall NATO hit 1.6 percent last year. America was 4.1 percent.

Per capita military spending is even more striking. My Cato Institute colleague Chris Preble figured that to be $1896 for Americans. And $399 for Europeans. A disparity of nearly five to one.

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama doesn’t appear to recognize the dependency problem. At West Point he merely indicated that “we are now working with NATO allies” to reassure the Eastern Europeans. “We”?

Poland expects to hit 1.95 percent of GDP this year. Latvia and Lithuania promised to up outlays to meet the two percent standard — in a few years. No one else is talking about big spending increases. Absent is any commitment to move European troops to NATO’s eastern borders.

Nothing will change as long as Washington uses the defense budget as a form of international welfare. The more the president “reassures” U.S. allies, the less likely they are to do anything serious on behalf of their own defense.

Canada is also a military freeloader on US resources. While our NATO commitments imply we’ll spend 2% of GDP on our defences, we spend 1.3% in 2012, and the Department of National Defence is struggling to reduce spending below previous years’ outlays to meet the federal government’s overall budget balancing plans.

Update, 8 June: Stephen Gordon posted a Twitter update that puts Canadian military spending into a bit of perspective

May 25, 2014

Russian rocket export ban means increasing opportunities for private enterprise in space

Filed under: Space, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:46

Strategy Page looks at the knock-on effects of the Russian government banning the export of rocket engines to the United States:

The U.S. government is being forced to use satellite launchers developed without government financing because the usual methods of obtaining these launchers is falling apart and currently is unable to supply enough rockets to get all American military satellites into orbit. The immediate cause of this problem is the recent (since earlier this year) Russian aggression against Ukraine. The U.S. responded to this aggression by placing sanctions on some Russian officials and firms. Russia responded to that by halting RD-180 shipments to the United States. That’s breach of contract and it will do enormous damage to Russian exports in the future because now many countries and firms realize that a contract with a Russian firm can be cancelled by the Russian government for any reason. This was always seen as a risk when doing business with Russia and many Western firms declined to do so or have pulled out of Russia in the last decade because of the growing unreliability of Russia as a business partner. The RD-180 affair got a lot of publicity, all of it bad with regard to future Russian exports of high-end industrial items. Europe, which gets about a third of its natural gas from Russia, is already looking for alternate sources and investors are fleeing Russia (and taking their money with them).

[...]

This is good news for the new private firms that are developing rockets for launching stuff into orbit. One such firm is SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) and is has been trying to break the current cartel controlling U.S. government satellite launch services. Since 2006 all this business has gone to a government-approved monopoly called the ULA (United Launch Alliance) which is composed of Lockheed Martin (Atlas 5 rocket) and Boeing (Delta 4). These two firms have dominated U.S. space launches for over half a century. Because of the RD-180 the Atlas 5 is more attractive (in terms of performance and price) than the Delta 4. Meanwhile SpaceX expects to have Atlas 5 competitor ready in a few years.

In 2012 SpaceX obtained its first contract to launch U.S. military cargo into space. SpaceX had earlier obtained a NASA contract which included 12 deliveries to the International Space Station (at $134 million each). What makes all this so noteworthy is that SpaceX developed its own launch rockets without any government help. SpaceX also developed the Dragon space vehicle, for delivering personnel and supplies to the International Space Station.

SpaceX has since proved that its rockets work and is pointing out that the SpaceX rockets can do the job cheaper that ULA. Currently ULA gets a billion dollar a year subsidy from the government that SpaceX would not require. SpaceX still has to get all the paperwork and approvals done so that they can handle classified missions. SpaceX does not see this as a problem, it’s simply going to take another year to satisfy all the bureaucrats and regulations.

May 24, 2014

European defence and Russia’s renewed military adventurist spirit

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:51

In Forbes, Roger Scruton provides a few reasons why Europe — especially Eastern Europe — is much tougher to defend now than it was in the post-Cold War years:

Three factors are principally responsible for this. The first is the growth of the European Union, and its policy of dissolving national borders. The EU has set out to delegitimize the nation state, to make it irrelevant to the ‘citizens’ of the Union whether they be French, British, Polish or Italian, and to abolish the national customs and beliefs that make long-term patriotic loyalty seriously believable. The EU’s attempt to replace national with European identity has, however failed, and is widely regarded with ridicule. Moreover the EU’s inability to think coherently about defense, and its policy of ‘soft power’ which makes defense in any case more or less inconceivable, means that the motive which leads ordinary people to defend their country in its time of need has been substantially weakened. Patriotism is seen as a heresy, second only to fascism on the list of political sins, and the idea that the people of Europe might be called upon to defend their borders looks increasingly absurd in the light of the official doctrine that there are no borders anyway.

The second reason for European weakness is connected. I refer to the guarantee, under the European Treaties, of the right to work and settle in any part of the Union. This has led to a massive migration from the former communist countries to the West. The people who migrate are the skilled, the entrepreneurial, the educated – in short, the elite on whom the resolution and identity of a country most directly depends. Very soon countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all of which are directly threatened by a militant Russia, will be without a committed and resident class of leaders. No doubt, should the tanks start to roll, the émigré populations of those countries will protest. But will they return home to fight a pointless war, leaving their newly-won security and prosperity behind? I doubt it.

The third factor tending to the indefensibility of Europe is the dwindling American commitment to the Western alliance. President G.W. Bush was prescient enough to revive the idea of anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe, and the military in both Poland and the Czech Republic were prepared to go along with it. Putin displayed his KGB training immediately, by declaring that these purely defensive installations would be an ‘act of aggression’. All the old Newspeak was trotted out in the effort to influence the incoming administration of President Obama against his predecessor’s policy. And the effort was successful. Obama weakly conceded the point, and the anti-missile defenses were not installed. Since then the Obama administration has continued to divert resources and attention elsewhere, creating the distinct impression in Europe that America is no longer wholeheartedly committed to its defense.

May 22, 2014

The Ukrainian army and corruption

Filed under: Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

At Defense One, Sarah Chayes says that the pitiful state of the Ukraine’s armed forces is a case study in how corruption can hollow out a nation’s defences:

Here’s a contrast that sums up the David and Goliath aspect of the Ukraine crisis. Picture the sleek, white-hulled vessel Vladivostok, one of two Mistral class warships France is selling to Russia, and compare the bedraggled tents some Ukrainian soldiers sleep in with donations of food jumbled outside and rain-soaked blankets drying over a brushwood fire.

The Russian behemoth outmatches its smaller and weaker neighbor, intrinsically. But the gap did not have to be so stark. Nor did the task of confronting irregular separatist militias have to be so hard. At fault is what drove the Maidan protesters to the streets in the first place: corruption. Ukraine is a case study in one of the ways corruption threatens international security: it guts armies. It makes them useless for defending their borders and as allies. United States officials in their rush to aid the Ukrainian military should resist the temptation to turn a blind eye to lingering venality. Ukraine’s future depends on some tough love.

“A modern country cannot exist without a modern army,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Petro Mehed said at a press conference last month announcing a major military overhaul. “In recent years, [the Ukrainian] army has been systematically destroyed and disarmed, and its best personnel dismissed.”

In a 2012 analysis Leonid Polyakov, another senior defense official, detailed the corrupt workings with remarkable candor. Chronic underfunding “enhanced the role of the human factor” in choosing among operational priorities. Ostensibly outdated equipment was sold “at unreasonably understated prices” in return for kickbacks. Officers even auctioned off defense ministry land. Gradually, Kyiv began requiring the military to cover more of its own costs, forcing senior officers into business, “which is…inconsistent with the armed forces’ mission,” and opened multiple avenues for corruption. Commanders took to “using military equipment, infrastructure, and…personnel [to] build private houses, [or] make repairs in their apartments.” Procurement fraud was rife, as were bribes to get into and through military academies, and for desirable assignments.

H/T to Tony Prudori for the link.

May 14, 2014

Russia, the United States, and the ISS – an opening for SpaceX

Filed under: Europe, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:48

Motherboard‘s Jason Koebler says that Russia’s threat to ban companies from shipping rocket engines to the US represents a great chance for SpaceX to cash in:

Russia just announced plans to shut down the International Space Station in 2020, and prohibited companies in the country from selling engines to Lockheed Martin and Boeing for military launch purposes. If this is more than just posturing, there’s at least one takeaway: SpaceX is about to get paid.

It was just a month ago that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that Russia would never ban the United States from the ISS, and that his “contingency plan” for getting astronauts to and from the ISS was to continue working with Russia as normal until an American company is ready to fly manned flights to the ISS in roughly three years.

[...]

And that brings us to SpaceX. The company stands to gain greatly from both bits of news Rogozin announced today.

The company recently won (and then subsequently lost) an injunction to force the United States Air Force to compete for military satellite launch contracts. If Boeing and Lockheed Martin are blocked from buying Russian engines for their Atlas V and Delta IV from the other side (it’s worth noting that both countries have threatened to ban the companies from buying Russian engines), the Air Force once again has incentive to look at SpaceX as a legitimate option to launch military satellites.

The Air Force’s contract with the Boeing-Lockheed cooperative United Launch Alliance is worth roughly $70 billion through 2030 — SpaceX could potentially swoop in and take some of that amid the uncertainty.

May 12, 2014

Thumbnail sketch of Russian history

Filed under: Europe, History, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:10

P.J. O’Rourke says we need to take the long view in regard to Vladimir Putin, and provides a rough history of Russia to back up his contention:

In the sixth century A.D. Russia was the middle of nowhere in the great Eurasian flat spot bounded by fuck-all on the north and east, barbarian hordes and the remains of the Byzantine Empire on the south, and the Dark Ages on the west.

Wandering around in here, up and down the watershed of the Dnieper River from Novgorod (which hadn’t been built yet) to Kiev (ditto) were disorganized tribes of Slavic pastoral herdsmen herding whatever was available, pastorally. They were harried by Goths, Huns, Khazars, and other people who had the name and nature of outlaw motorcycle gangs long before the motorcycle was invented.

The original Russian state, “Old Russia,” was established at Novgorod in A.D. 862 by marauding Vikings. They’d set off to discover Iceland, Greenland, and America, took a wrong turn, and wound up with their dragon boat stuck on a mud bar in the Dnieper. (Historians have their own theories, involving trade and colonization, but this sounds more likely.)

The first ruler of Old Russia was the Viking Prince Ryurik. Imagine being so disorganized that you need marauding Vikings to found your nation — them with their battle axes, crazed pillaging, riotous Meade Hall feasts, and horns on their helmets. (Actually, Vikings didn’t wear horns on their helmets — but they would have if they’d thought of it, just like they would have worn meade helmets if they’d thought of it.) Some government it must have been.

Viking Prince Ryurik: “Yah, let’s build Novgorod!”

Viking Chieftain Sven: “Yah, so we can burn it down and loot!”

May 6, 2014

What is Canada’s interest in Ukraine?

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

In the Globe and Mail, J.L. Granatstein spells out why the situation in Ukraine deserves the attention of the Canadian government:

Canada has no direct economic or political interest in Ukraine. Canadians of Ukrainian descent surely do, but Canada’s national interests cannot and should not be determined by components of our multicultural society. Our national interests are, first and foremost, the protection of our people, territory, and national unity, co-operation with our great neighbour and economic growth and well-being.

But there is another precept in any list of Canadian national interests – co-operation with our allies in the defence and advancement of freedom and democracy. Canadians have fought wars for that principle in the past, and more than 100,000 Canadians have died for it. The Russian threat to Ukraine surely is a challenge to this Canadian national interest.

Nothing here suggests that Ukraine is a perfect democracy threatened by an expansionist Russia. The Kiev government has been a badly run kleptocracy, corrupt, and incompetent, as the pathetic present state of its military suggests. The toppling of the regime of Viktor Yanukovych was a populist, largely democratic revolt, led by democratic forces but with a sprinkling of far right nationalist groups. The presence of these quasi-fascist and anti-Semitic elements provided the Vladimir Putin government in Moscow with the pretext it needed to rescue Crimea from the clutches of anti-Russia forces and to claim, as it backs pro-Moscow elements in eastern Ukraine, that it is supporting the legitimacy of the Yanukovych government.

[...]

The Canadian government has not received much praise for its tough-talking stance. Though tepidly supported by the Opposition parties, Ottawa’s position has widely been seen as pandering to the large Ukrainian-Canadian vote, and many on the left and right have attacked the ultra-nationalist tilt of the “democratic” groups in Ukraine or called for isolationism to be the only proper Canadian stance. Their strictures may even be correct, and certainly none can deny that the Harper government plays domestic ethnic politics with skill.

But there remains that Canadian national interest in supporting freedom. Ukraine is no democracy but it might become one; it deserves the opportunity to find its place as part of the European Union, as a neutral state trading both east and west, or even as a federation with its eastern provinces leaning to Russia. But whatever the choice, that ought to be made by Ukrainians, not by Moscow’s agitators. The Canadian political response, while not exactly measured in its decibel count, has been appropriate, and so too are the Canadian and allied military moves. Mr. Putin has behaved like the KGB thug he was and remains, and the caution sign needed to be displayed lest he look beyond Ukraine.

April 30, 2014

Norway’s human rights record criticized by … Saudi Arabia

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:09

The Saudi government and the Russian government both called for Norway to correct its appalling record in (certain) human rights areas:

Saudi Arabia has criticised Norway’s human rights record, accusing the country of failing to protect its Muslim citizens and not doing enough to counter criticism of the prophet Mohammed.

The gulf state called for all criticism of religion and of prophet Mohammed to be made illegal in Norway. It also expressed concern at “increasing cases of domestic violence, rape crimes and inequality in riches” and noted a continuation of hate crimes against Muslims in the country.

The Scandinavian nation came under scrutiny during the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review, in which 14 States are scheduled to have their human rights records examined.

Russia meanwhile called for Norway to clamp down on expressions of religious intolerance and and criticised the country’s child welfare system. They also recommended that Norway improve its correctional facilities for those applying for asylum status.

An amusing co-incidence: while I was adding tags to this post, I typed “sau” to get the auto-fill “SaudiArabia” tag. The other tag that fit that pattern? “Dinosaurs”. H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

April 27, 2014

Why the EU did not overtly support the Maidan protests

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:31

Ace sums it up nicely:

Why wasn’t the EU doing “more” to pressure Yanukovych, Putin’s choice for President?

Here’s the thing: Because the EU was thinking hard about the Ukraine and realistically about itself.

The EU didn’t want to force Yanukovych out of power, nor encourage the Maidan movement to force him out of power, because they knew that Russia would react as Russia has in fact reacted.

And the EU knew this about themselves: They were not prepared to do a damn thing about a Russian invasion.

So the EU made a cynical, self-serving decision to not encourage or support the Maidan movement, because they knew they would not be doing anything down the road to support the Maidan movement when the movement actually needed support.

This was an unpopular decision, and it makes them seem cowardly and weak… but it did have the benefit of comporting with reality.

The EU was clear-minded enough and had an honest enough appraisal of its interests and capabilities to make the honest, accurate assessment that they would do nothing in Putin but offer him diplomatic protests were he to invade Ukraine.

And the EU crafted its own policy response based on that accurate, honest appraisal of its own weakness and cowardice.

You can call them cowards, but you cannot call them self-deluded fools.

At least they understood themselves.

April 22, 2014

A “Western colony for gays and paedophiles” versus “a superpower empire that was not conquered by anybody”

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:02

David Blair compares the two revolutionary movements in Kiev and in Donetsk:

They are bitter enemies, but they run revolutions in much the same way. Here in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” – as pro-Russian demonstrators like to call this part of eastern Ukraine – the protests look much the same as did in Kiev during the February Revolution.

Once again, everything happens around occupied government buildings, where you find barricades piled high with tyres, passionate speakers and vitriolic propaganda, all surrounded by masked men with clubs and iron bars. The pro-Russian protesters of Donetsk took up their cause in bitter opposition to the Maidan revolutionaries of Kiev, but their methods are pretty much identical.

Earlier today, I spent some time behind the barricades of what was once the administrative headquarters of Donetsk region. This 11-storey building is now the seat of power for the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, which plans to hold a referendum on whether to join Russia by May 11. A triple rampart made from tyres laced with barbed wire now protects the building, manned by sentries in miners’ helmets and black balaclavas.

From a wooden stage in front of the building, a constant relay of speakers calls down fury and vituperation on the new government in Kiev and their supposed masters in America and Europe. There is an epic imagination to the crudeness of the propaganda.

My favourite poster shows a crying baby above a picture of Adolf Hitler and an assortment of drag queens. “Where will your baby live?” asks the caption. “In a Western colony for gays and paedophiles? Or in a superpower empire that was not conquered by anybody?” The latter sentence is accompanied by a picture of a jubilant infant raising both tiny fists in triumph.

April 16, 2014

Russia’s long and brutal relationship with Crimea

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

In History Today, Alexander Lee talks about the historical attitude of Russia toward the Crimean peninsula and some of the terrible things it has done to gain and retain control over the region:

… Russia’s claim to Crimea is based on its desire for territorial aggrandizement and – more importantly – on history. As Putin and Akysonov are keenly aware, Crimea’s ties to Russia stretch back well back into the early modern period. After a series of inconclusive incursions in the seventeenth century, Russia succeeded in breaking the Ottoman Empire’s hold over Crimea with the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774), before formally annexing the peninsula in 1784. It immediately became a key factor in Russia’s emergence as a world power. Offering a number of natural warm-water harbours, it gave access to Black Sea trade routes, and a tremendous advantage in the struggle for the Caucasus. Once gained, it was not a prize to be willingly surrendered, and the ‘Russianness’ of Crimea quickly became a cornerstone of the tsars’ political imagination. When a spurious dispute over custody of Christian sites in the Holy Land escalated into a battle for the crumbling remnants of the Ottoman Empire in 1853, Russia fought hard to retain its hold over a territory that allowed it to threaten both Constantinople and the Franco-British position in the Mediterranean. Almost a century later, Crimea was the site of some of the bitterest fighting of the Second World War. Recognising its military and economic importance, the Nazis launched a brutal attempt to capture the peninsula as a site for German resettlement and as a bridge into southern Russia. And when it was eventually retaken in 1944, the reconstruction of Sevastopol – which had been almost completely destroyed during a long and bloody siege – acquired tremendous symbolic value precisely because of the political and historical importance of the region. Even after being integrated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and – later – acknowledged as part of an independent Ukraine after the fall of the USSR, Crimea’s allure was so powerful that the new Ukrainian President, Leonid Kraychuk, claimed that Russia’s attempts to assert indirect control of the peninsula betrayed the lingering force of an ‘imperial disease’.

[...]

The non-Russian population of Crimea was to suffer further even worse under the Soviet Union, and between 1921 and 1945, two broad phases of persecution devastated their position in the peninsula. The first was dominated by the fearsome effects of Stalinist economic policy. In keeping with the centralised aims of the First Five-Year Plan (1928-32), Crimean agricultural production was collectivised, and reoriented away from traditional crops such as grain. On top of this, bungling administrators imposed impossibly high requisition quotas. The result was catastrophic. In 1932, a man-made famine swept through the peninsula. Although agronomists had warned their political masters of the danger from the very beginning, the Moscow leadership did nothing to relieve the situation. Indeed, quite the reverse. As starvation began to take hold, Stalin not only prosecuted those who attempted to collect left-over grain from the few remaining collectivised farms producing grain, but also hermetically sealed regions afflicted by shortages. He was using the famine to cleanse an ethnically diverse population. A true genocide, the Holodmor (‘extermination by hunger’) – as this artificial famine is known – killed as many as 7.5 million Ukrainians, including tens of thousands of Crimeans. And when it finally abated, Stalin took the opportunity to fill the peninsula with Russians, such that by 1937, they accounted for 47.7% of the population, compared to the Tatars’ 20.7%.

The second phase – covering the period between 1941 and 1945 – compounded the terrible effects of the Holodmor. On its own, the appalling casualties caused by the savage battle for Crimea would have decimated the peninsula. Some 170,000 Red Army troops were lost in the struggle, and the civilian population suffered in equal proportion. But after the Soviet Union regained control, the region was subjected to a fresh wave of horror. Accusing the Tatars of having collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation, Stalin had the entire population deported to Central Asia on 18 May 1944. The following month, the same fate was meted out to other minorities, including Greeks and Armenians. Almost half of those subject to deportation died en route to their destination, and even after they were rehabilitated under Leonid Brezhnev, the Tatars were prohibited from returning to Crimea. Their place was taken mostly by ethnic Russians, who by 1959 accounted for 71.4% of the population, and – to a lesser extent – Ukrainians.

April 15, 2014

Ukraine suffering Russian version of “Death by A Thousand Cuts”

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:02

In the Telegraph, former UK ambassador Charles Crawford says that Vladimir Putin is using Ukraine as a testing ground for rebuilding a new Russian empire:


Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Cosmonautics Memorial Museum on April 11, 2014 in Moscow, Russia. Russia celebrates the Cosmonaut Day, marking the pioneering flight into space of Yuri Gagarin on April,12,1961.

It is no exaggeration to say that the historic deal that ended the Cold War is now unravelling. That deal was simple. Russia itself (largely on its own initiative) ended the Soviet Union in favour of a bold democratic modernisation process to be achieved in partnership with Western capitals. Confrontation in Europe and around the world would be replaced by cooperation. Huge sums of Western money would be made available to Russia on generous terms, to help it move from communism to sane economic and security policies. All the other Soviet republics would become independent countries and begin their own transitions in a similar partnership spirit.

[...]

Outside Russia’s already vast borders Putin is throwing down a momentous challenge to the rest of the world: “What if Russia drops all this namby-pamby European soft-power rubbish and decides instead to reclaim one way or the other historic Russian lands?”

That question does not fit any category of thinking that today’s Western leaders and their advisers can muster. Western leaders have come to see agreed rules and interminable meetings as a source of strength. Putin sees agreed rules and boring meetings as a source of weakness. Hence the Western and wider international response is muted and uncertain. The focus is on stepping up “economic pressure” on Russia in general and key Russians in particular. There is logic to this. Europe needs Russian energy, but Russia needs European money. Russia really has moved on from the Cold War period and joined the international marketplace. It ought to be impressed by the threat of investment bans and other targeted financial measures.

That approach does not, however, address the key problem. Putin might see the Russian economy hurting and ask Russians another question: “What if we reclaim historic Russian lands but at the cost of eating turnips again for a while?” A noisy majority of Russians might think that that is a sacrifice well worth making. This gives Putin hard policy options unavailable to Western leaders, for whom any equivalent question would be electoral suicide.

Ukraine is now the luckless space where Putin is experimenting with different ways to roll back the Cold War settlement and then reassert Russian imperial power in other parts of the former Soviet Union. Crimea has been annexed, but the rest of Ukraine is far bigger and much more complicated. All sorts of methods are being deployed both in Ukraine and through a sophisticated global propaganda operation to destabilise Ukraine. The key immediate goal is to make Ukraine ungovernable except on Russia’s terms. This means preventing a new legitimate government emerging in the forthcoming elections.

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