Thoughts on Crimea
Mar 16, 2014

Thoughts on Crimea

As the world prepares to accept the near inevitability of Crimea becoming part of Russia, the dominant feeling around the world is one best described as impotency. With the referendum coming in at 95% pro Russian, even if it skips over any official process and was boycotted by opposition groups, Russia has enough political cover to make their annexation of Crimea inevitable.

There simply isn't anything that the US - the purported greatest military super power the world has ever seen - can do to stop it, and strongly worded displays of indignation by leaders like Stephen Harper don't change the calculus on the ground one iota. Republicans in the US are enjoying blasting Obama's alleged weaknesses and character flaws, but they have nothing different to propose. 

There will be two main actions directly in response, neither enough to move the needle. Firstly, there has been an will continue to be boisterous displays of military sabre rattling. It is sabre rattling that has been subdued - particularly during the much hailed "reset" - but is ultimately inconsequential. Secondly, the West will impose some level of sanctions that will hurt both the West and Russia, something we ought to wish could be avoided. It is unfortunate because a deteriorating of relations may hinder diplomacy on the Syrian or Iranian files, where the US needs Russian cooperation that won't be easily forth coming while the sanctions and sabre rattling are going on. Very little was done after the smaller annexation of South Ossetia because then, as now, there really wasn't much that could be done. Some will argue that tough sanctions (which I have argued against in the past) may be necessary as a deterrent to prevent further similar actions, but I am highly sceptical of their efficacy. 

A lesson for the US?
Particularly for the US, that feeling of impotency is an instructive one. When you are the superpower throwing your muscle around in other countries, invading and occupying and installing governments, it can be hard to empathize with the emotional reaction of the rest of the world. But it is precisely this feeling that the rest of the world so commonly experiences. The US is illegally invading Iraq under false pretences? Sorry, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

For the US, which largely views itself as having a unique moral authority, an American exceptionalism, a manifest destiny, the parallels with Russia run uncomfortably deep. In both the annexation of South Ossetia and Crimea, Russia created a lot of propaganda to its people about various humanitarian justifications for their actions. Holding referendums, even if not following the established legal processes, further helps to give the appearance of legitimacy. Like Russia, the US is masterful at creating the pretence of legitimacy even if other motivations (oil, military bases, etc) are plainly apparent.

The comparison does have its limits. The US and Russia are dramatically different societies, and the US (or the US led West, which are largely interchangeable for our purposes here) does, in my view, have a higher degree of moral authority. The way this manifests is through a stronger codification, enforcement and embracing of the ideals of democracy, freedom, rule of law, and addressing of humanitarian concerns. This restricts somewhat the more egregious actions possible. The US couldn't do to, say, a portion of the Canadian Yukon what Russia did to Crimea even if there was a geopolitical benefit (such as oil access).

On this blog I have frequently identified many aspects of US geopolitics that I strongly disagree with, and indeed run counter to these stated ideals. It is far from perfect, and these failures are magnified by the tremendous reach and influence the US has in the world, dwarfing that of Russia. Nonetheless, the commitments to these ideals, imperfect thought they undoubtedly are, do matter. The lessons we can draw from our emotional reaction to this crisis are meaningful, but we have to acknowledge the significant differences that exist.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might want to read these articles. They might change your view. They tell about the historical conflicts that have occurred in Ukraine and why Russia might feel threatened by the westward expansion of NATO.

They will also tell you about the types of people (neo Nazis, neo fascists, anti Semites) that the western nations are hypocritically supporting in the Kiev government. Some of these people actually fought against the Allies in WWII and acted as guards in the Nazi concentration camps. Now the U.S. and Canada are supporting this coalition.

They will also point out the roles that the C.I.A. in particular had in overthrowing democratically elected governments (e.g. in Iran in 1953/4, etc.) or of sending drones into other nations (e.g. Yemen, Pakistan) which make it really brazen for the U.S. to be accusing other nations of breaking international law.

They will also point out that the U.S. nearly brought about a nuclear war with the USSR over the Cuban missile crisis. Now NATO is potentially bringing its nuclear arsenal next door to Russia (at least Cuba was separated from Florida by a sea).

No, Putin is not an angel, but I think Russia was not solely responsible for this crisis.

BTW, could I also recommend, if you had not already read it, Eric Margolis' book: American Raj: Liberation or Domination? It really opened my eyes as to what the U.S. was really doing in the middle east. Hopefully, it might interest you too.

Here are the links:

(1) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/10/ukraine-and-west-hot-air-hypocrisy-crimea-russia

(2) http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/05/clash-crimea-western-expansion-ukraine-fascists

(3) http://ericmargolis.com/2014/03/vlad-the-bad-steals-a-march-on-the-west/

(4) http://www.amazon.com/American-Raj-Liberation-Domination-Resolving/dp/B003RCJRJI



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