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
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.
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.
The context for these political manoeuvres had been set in the early 1990s by Nato-Soviet Union negotiations over Germany. German reunification in the wake of the demolition of the Berlin Wall required the withdrawal of the 400,000 Soviet troops stationed in East Germany under the terms of the treaty that had ended the second World War.
On February 9th, 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, US secretary of state James Baker and German chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed that the Red Army would withdraw from Germany, in
return for which Nato troops would not move eastward – “even by an inch”, pledged Baker.
Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union began to implode and Nato forces swept across eastern Germany.
By 1995, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were members of Nato.
In 2004, seven former Soviet Republics joined. And then came Romania, Croatia and Albania in 2008.
It has virtually been ignored in the Western media that the EU offer of economic assistance to Ukraine last December included a condition that Kiev align its forces with Nato – a halfway-house staging post on the road to full Nato membership. It was this provision that deeply alarmed the Putin regime, which in turn sparked angry demonstrations in Kiev against the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovich and its US-assisted replacement by a mixum-gatherum of groups, including anti-Semitic neo-fascists.
What emerges from this narrative is that neither Washington nor Moscow has had genuine concern for the interests of any section of the Ukrainian people but have been engaged in an exercise of self-interested Great Power politics.
Putin is right that the main motivation of the US and Nato has been to encircle and enfeeble his country. It might be a close run thing, but in this instance Russia has more right on its side than the West – which is the same thing as saying, more simply, that Putin and Russia are right.