If we have to pick a side over Crimea, let it be Russia

Obama’s interest in the region is dictated by US strategy for curbing Russian power

‘When it comes to double-talk, however, there is no contest. Putin is never going to be a match for Obama at talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.’ Above, Vladimir Putin addresses the  audience during a rally and a concert called “We are together” to support the annexation of  Crimea, on March 18th. The words in the background read, “Crimea is in my heart”. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

‘When it comes to double-talk, however, there is no contest. Putin is never going to be a match for Obama at talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.’ Above, Vladimir Putin addresses the audience during a rally and a concert called “We are together” to support the annexation of Crimea, on March 18th. The words in the background read, “Crimea is in my heart”. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 12:01

Vladimir Putin may run a vicious regime but the people of Crimea have a right to be accepted as Russian if that’s what they want, which evidently they do.

Last Sunday’s poll can be said to have fallen short of the shifting norms of democratic propriety, but none of the Western leaders who have been blustering about “making Putin pay” has challenged the reliability of the outcome as a measure of majority feeling in the region.

The people have spoken, perhaps in tones that fall harshly on Western ears, but making their wishes clear enough. Who is Barack Obama to tell them that their opinion don’t count? If we have to take sides, we should take the democratic approach and side with the Crimean majority. That is to say that on this
specific matter, Ireland should side with the Russians.


Manipulating fears
True, Russia has behaved provocatively throughout, manipulating fears, stoking tensions, manoeuvring for strategic advantage. Same as the West, same as ever. When it comes to double-talk, however, there is no contest. Putin is never going to be a match for Obama at talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.

After six years in office, Obama believes he has a right to invade anywhere, bomb anything, kill anybody whose jib the CIA doesn’t like the cut of, irrespective of national or international law or, indeed, of the provisions of the US constitution. And now he lectures Putin on the necessity of “respecting international law”. He has a nerve. I suppose it comes with the job.

Obama’s interest in Crimea has to do with US strategy for curbing Russian power and influence. In the perspective
of Washington – the same can be said of Moscow – democracy and human rights are marginal matters, if they figure in calculations at all.

One of Julian Assange’s many gifts to democracy was a cable summarising a discussion in Paris in September 2009 involving Philip Gordon, assistant US secretary of state for EU and Eurasian affairs and a group of French diplomats, including Jean-David Levitte, French ambassador to the US from 2002 to 2007.

Under “Nato’s Enlargement and Strategic Concept”, Levitte declared president Nicolas Sarkozy’s position was that Ukraine’s destiny lay within Nato but that it would be unwise to push the case just then for fear of antagonising Russia – and because a majority of the Ukrainian people appeared to be against the idea.


Threat to sovereignty
A Nato summit in Bucharest in April the previous year had cleared the way for Romania, Croatia and Albania to join the alliance but postponed a vote on Georgia and Ukraine until December. In the interim, in August, Georgia and Russia went briefly to war over the status of South Ossetia. The December vote was shelved. Around the same time, a Gallup poll suggested that 40 per cent of all Ukrainians saw Nato as a threat to national sovereignty, against 17 per cent taking this view of Russia.

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