For the past few weeks the world has been focused on the Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. World leaders have been reading the proverbial tea leaves trying to read into President Putin’s next move.
All were caught by surprise, at least the haphazard reactions and reckless comments such as comparing the Russian leader to Hitler indicated a failure of intelligence.
This also begs the question what good are these intelligence organizations – 14 of them in the United States – if they cannot give the political leadership of the West advance warning of pending crisis such as the Russian takeover of the Crimean.
Perhaps, there functions are eavesdropping on the conversations of ordinary citizens and using drones to kill people in the Middle East.
Billions of dollars are spent by the United States and other governments on intelligence gathering, which must mean something else to them because it has nothing to do with gathering espionage.
Maybe that is why organizations such as the NSA (National Security Agency) are busy spying on U.S. citizens, hoping to garner some useful information about hostile moves by foreign powers in a futile effort that someone may know something about something. This is surely pathetic.
Any academic specializing on Russia could have told the White House that sponsoring the fall of a Russian puppet in the Ukraine would bring about a crisis.
The people who ruled the unfortunate country, before the coup, were just as bad and just an undemocratic as the people who have replaced them and are being serenaded by the West.
The same expert would have advised that the Crimean Peninsula is critical to Russian security, economy, and future prosperity. The Crimean port of Sevastopol is the only 12-month ice-free port available to the Russians.
That means that Russia’s trade is tied to Sevastopol and the Crimean and so is Russia’s naval power. Losing the Crimean to a potentially hostile Ukraine – one that would be less likely to toe the Russian line if it became a member of the EU – is equivalent to Russia bringing Canada within Moscow’s sphere’s of influence.
Perhaps, what Putin detests even more is America’s temerity. The leader of a country that invaded Iraq in a gross act of aggression, without any UN support and for no particular reason.
A leader who defies international law and convention by sanctioning drone attacks against individuals – mostly civilians – in countries that are not at war with the U.S. criticizing the Russians for taking back what was once theirs.
Certainly, what Putin did has no basis in international law and was an egregious and hostile act against Russia’s neighbors, but it was less wrong than the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Evidently, President Obama was not properly informed how critical the Crimean is to Russia and how American actions in the Middle East have set a dangerous precedent.
In other words, if it is acceptable for the Americans to invade and use force against the citizens of other countries, then why should Russia not claim what was not too long ago Russian territory?
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean to the Ukraine, but then the Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new Russian Federation was in no position to demand the return of this strategic region and had to accept the reduction of what once the Russian Empire.
Circumstances changed, but the initiative for a readjustment of Russian and American spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea emanated from Washington.
Sometime in 2013, Exxon and other petroleum companies discovered oil in the Ukraine. The Russians export a great deal of oil and gas to the EU (about 40% of the EU’s needs) and a new supply of oil would force a drop in Russian prices.
At the end of February 2014, pro-EU groups began agitation for closer ties with the European organization and miraculously received considerable financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy – a Washington based, Congress funded institution.
The agitation increasing and pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych’s regime over reacts and begins to use violence against the demonstrators. Ultimately he is not successful and pro-EU (rather pro-US) forces implement a coup and establish a revolutionary government.
The Russian certainly knew or suspected that little of what took place in the Ukraine was instigated by chance or spontaneity and feared that they would lose the Crimean and Sevastopol (by treaty Russia is permitted to maintain troops and its fleet in the port) and decided to seize the region quickly.
The reaction by the U.S. political establishment and the media was bordering on the hysterical. The Republicans hinted at war, CNN developed amnesia about American aggression in Iraq and elsewhere and all joined a chorus of demonizing Putin.
The Russian President responded by threatening to invade the Ukraine and in so doing exposed America’s inability to act pretend to act militarily.
Russia was kicked out of the G8 and a number of Russian leaders cannot travel to the U.S. and also had their personal assets seized.
That was the extent of America’s stick and sadly there was no attempt at a carrot. The carrot would have been an American led intervention that would have offered Russia guaranteed access to Sevastopol or even turning the port into an international city in exchange for the Russian leaving the rest of the Crimean to the Ukraine.
That would have taken statesmanship and compromise thus avoiding another dangerous precedent of countries seizing territory at will. Sadly, though, as Putin has been defined as Hitler, so how should the international community negotiate with a Nazi?
Andre Gerolymatos is Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver