The world has become riveted to our TV screens for the past couple of weeks. The first reason why the world has become riveted is the missing flight 370 of Malaysia Airlines. This is an intriguing story in and of itself that is worthy of a blog post, but it won’t be this one. The second reason is the deepening socio-political (and dare we say, ethnic?) crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s (alleged by the West) military intervention.
You’ll notice I use the word ‘alleged’ a lot. I’ve been following the crisis in American news, Bulgarian news (of course, I’m Bulgarian), Russian news, and Ukranian news, with some German news in for good measure. The amount of mis-direction involved in all of these news sources is heady. The common theme among all sources seems to be – we’re on the side of history, if you look at it from our point of view, we’re right. The trouble is, whose looking glass do we peer through? Here is the view from the Russian looking glass, the viewpoint that is often missing from our American/Western media.
Let’s briefly sum up what has happened so far. Most of this is pulled straight from Wikipedia’s article on the subject, so feel free to jump there for a more in depth analysis of what’s been going on. On the 22nd of February, Ukranian protesters (alleged by Moscow to have been funded and trained by Western nations) overthrew the elected Pro-Russian government of Ukraine. You’ll notice the actual overthrowing, the coup, as it were, was very well timed. President Yanukovych had just left the capital city of Kyiv (Kiev) to attend a summit in southeastern Ukraine. The protesters took control of the capital, and according to the Ukranian constitution illegaly deposed President Yanukovych, that is, they removed the president without following the procedure set forth in their constitution for impeachment of the president. The following day, Russian was removed as a secondary language of Ukraine, despite 18% of the language being ethnically Russian and 30% of the population speaking Russian as a first language. Almost one in every 3. Let’s think about this for a moment. It might almost seem like the primary intent of the new government, formed by supposed anti-corruption protestors, was to distance the country as far from Russia as possible. The bill removing Russian as an official language was eventually vetoed, but only after intense protest by the Russian speaking regions in the country.
Now, after the last paragraph, one might think that I’m taking the Russian side. I’d like to caution against this belief, but I can’t change what you think about me. My aim with this article is to correct a lot of the narrative being thrown at us by Western media – to show the other side of the story, as it were. Western media has become so pervasive, that even in Bulgaria, once considered the Soviet Union’s closest ally, the majority of the people decry the Russian ‘invasion and occupation’ of the Crimea. “How dare they do this to a fellow Slavic and Orthodox Christian nation,” is one of the more common phrases seen on online Bulgarian forums.
So now that I’ve sufficiently set the stage, we can start speaking about the region of Crimea. After President Yanukovych was ousted, Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions rejected the illegal removal of the President, and voiced their support for him. The Berkut, the police that had since the independence of Ukraine followed the orders of the executive branch to the letter, without prejudice, was dissolved for continuing to resist the (illegal) removal of the President.
Crimea is 58% Russian. Following the overt anti-Russian actions undertaken by the new, illegal by Ukrainian standards, government, pro-Russian militia groups began to pop up in Crimea. The reason for these was to protect the ethnic Russians in the region. The West alleges that they are actually Russian military units who are acting under ordres, but without the official markings and designations of the Russian military.
On March 16th, Crimeans participated in a referendum. The questions were:
- Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as part of the Russian Federation?
- Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?
Notice how the first question plays on the fact that Crimea was artificially given to Ukraine during the Soviet Union era, a fact that is not lost on the minds of Russians and President Putin. The result, after 83% of Crimeans voted, was an overwhelming 95% in favor of ‘rejoining’ Russia. On the 17th of March, the Crimean Parliament voted to declare independence from Ukraine, and to join the Russian Federation. Russia has so far recognized Crimea as a sovereign nation, but has not annexed it as of yet. The (illegal, remember?) government in Ukraine has denounced this vote, as have the Western nations. They are keen to keep Crimea within the Ukraine – for reasons that are often muddled, but have often to do with territorial integrity, a concept that has often been violated by western nations. So it might seem that the western nations might have some other reason to want to keep Crimea within the Ukraine.
As for the Russian Federation, what motive does it have to support the people of Crimea or to annex the region? The first and most practical reason is the naval base in Sevastopol, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and the source and capability of Russia to project naval power into the Mediterranean and beyond (through the Suez into the Indian Ocean, and a second path to projecting power into the Atlantic Ocean). The second reason is a worry for the wellbeing of ethnic Russians. This is the ‘purest’ reason for intervention, and the one used most widely by the Russian government in order to justify its actions. The third, and most hidden, agenda, is the ability to project power into Europe proper and to keep a buffer area between Europe and Russia proper. To Russians, Ukraine (or borderland, as it directly translates from Russian) has historically been that buffer.
Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union have decided to impose sanctions on Russian and Crimean officials. If you are following the narrative that I have been painting for you, you will see how the actions by the Western states can almost entirely be construed as aggressive imperialism by the Russians.
NATO and the EU have encroached on former Communist countries before, but Russia is drawing the line at Ukraine – and Belarus. No more is it allowing a foreign entity to expand it’s sphere of influence and power right up until its borders. It would be illogical for them to do so. Of course, it is illogical that the United States would force the issue now either. However, the geopolitical game of chess does not wait for opportune moments or for situations to resolve themselves. Powers play the game at all times and hope for a strategically beneficial outcome.
Now the question is, will Russia annex Crimea? What further sanctions or military actions will the EU and the US undertake to prevent or react to such an action? Will Russia continue annexing parts of Ukraine that are ethnically Russian and predisposed to rejoin Russia? The events are far from over. There is a lot more room for escalation. I for one, hope that it does not.
Disclaimer: I am of the opinion that President Yanukovych was a corrupt, greedy, arrogant bastard. I am of the opinion that what Russia is doing is de-stabilizing. I am also of the opinion that what the United States has been doing for the past 25 years has been provocative and aggressive toward Russia.
I recently read an article that we are moving toward an Age of Empires again. That we are moving away from the recent history of ha
ving one or two superpowers, and are going to be faced with the reality of a multi-polar world. I strongly disagree with this article. There are currently only two powers that are able to project military might and control trade world-wide. They are the United States, of course, and Russia. One of the main reasons for this is that they are the only two nations so far that can project power across both major oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific (one of the main reasons that the United States economy grew so quickly following the Second World War was that Great Britain gave it it’s bases surrounding the Atlantic as a condition for help during World War II – enabling the United States to control Atlantic trade).
The EU is still only a collection of smaller states, and has no capability to project its power over the Pacific. China has no capability to project its power over the Atlantic. Brazil and Mexico are still in the shadow of the United States. Within the next 40-50 years, we are going to see a revival of the Russian empire and another Cold War (hopefully only Cold). In the long-run, the United States has too much of an advantage built up for the Russians to overcome. But, that does not mean that the Russians have any less of a right to try to influence world events than the Americans do. Of course, both meddling in the affairs of other nations is a transgression for me, but this is the nature of superpowers, and the curse of smaller nations.