The West has nobody else to blame but itself for what’s going on in Ukraine. And lest anybody thinks that Russia’s takeover of Crimea is the final step, let them think again.
Russia has been used to enjoying her superpower standing. That dates back to the Tsarist times, this is not just her relatively recent communist past. But it was her communist past that brought Mother Russia firmly down on her knees. Communism does that to national economies.
The accepted wisdom has it that Tsarist Russia was a dirt-poor country that was going nowhere fast.Thus, the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917.
An old joke comes to mind: the country’s most momentous event is called October Revolution, but they celebrate it in November. And that’s how everything works over there.
Poor? Yes, absolutely. Going nowhere fast? A perfect lie. After all, Russia was quite capable of feeding herself, something that can’t be mentioned in polite society about Russia under communism.
But even with her trousers filled with holes, Russia (the Soviet Union, that is) could always claim she was a superpower that made her adversaries shake in their boots.
A few steps down the memory lane
Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky led the so-called February Revolution of 1917. The plan was to overthrow Tsarism and install at least a semblance of democracy in Russia.
Debates rage even today whether the idea of democracy in Russia was premature, and the fact remains that all of this was happening while the First World War was still going on.
German Imperial Staff, facing their country’s looming defeat, would come up with a plan some call brilliant. How to get Russia, one of Germany’s enemies, out of the equation? Simply: hire Vladimir Iliych Ulianov-Lenin and the group of his fanatical followers, most of whom were living in the safety of neutral Switzerland, finance them, and bring them over to Russia. The aim was to overthrow Kerensky, all the while introducing Lenin’s brand of Marxism, and putting the country in such a disarray it would beg Germany for forgiveness and plead for peace.
This move did NOT prevent Germany’s loss, but it did bring Russia to her knees.
Lenin introduced drastic measures to secure his victory. He was the guy who introduced Russia to the concept of concentration camps, mass executions of hostages and prisoners and other similar steps to convince the populace that it would obey or else.
Lenin died in 1924.
His replacement, Josif Vissarionovich Stalin, an organizer if there ever was one, developed Lenin’s form of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” close to perfection. Except, not even the ruthless system could feed the nation. Especially considering that Lenin has created what would become the Soviet Union, making Mother Russia a centre of an empire at a time when she could not afford it.
Stalin would continue with Lenin’s imperialism.
After the Soviet Union became part of the victorious allies who defeated Germany’s Adolf Hitler and his Nazis, the Soviets would become honoured guests at the tables of the mighty. They would even win the right of veto at the newly established United Nations’ Security Council.
Soviet citizenry in general – and its Russian segment, in particular – were proud: theirs was a superpower rubbing shoulders with the rest of the world’s powers, and whenever the Soviets said something, it carried considerable weight.
Skipping a few eras ahead, eras that would only confirm that communism really wasn’t the best idea to ever emerge and be imposed on a nation (or a group of nations), we get directly to Mikhail Sergeievich Gorbachev. This typical “apparatchik” whom only the naïve western elites could consider a Second Coming knew one thing: his country was on the brink of a total collapse. What he did not realize was that once just a bit of the bitter truth spreads around, it would be the death of communism. He unleashed “glasnost,” and the rest, as the cliché has it, is history.
Boris Nikolaievich Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s successor, just bowed to the inevitable, dismantling the Soviet Union (and letting the so-called union republics decide which way they wanted to go).
That was the end of Russia as an empire.
And then along came Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, a former high-ranking secret police (KGB) official, a guy brought up in making sure his country would remain an empire forever.
Which brings us full circle back to today’s realities.
So, what’s going on, anyway?
When Stalin’s successor, Nikita Sergeievich Khruschev, donated Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, he couldn’t have imagined that the Soviet Union would once cease to exist. For him, the transfer was largely symbolic: it would be Moscow, for all he cared, issuing the marching orders, so what?
But when Ukraine became an independent country, that would change the map right then and there. How? Simply: Crimea, with its closeness to the Black Sea where the Soviets kept a major part of their navy, as well as with its closeness to sundry natural resources, became a part of a country that was, at least on paper, independent of Russia.
Meanwhile, the West, in its endless arrogance, would be rubbing the loss of superpower influence in Russia’s face again and again.
Remember the former Yugoslavia? Russia, a natural ally with the Serbs (they have some common history), would object to the West’s handling of that country. No matter how strenuous Russia’s protests, the West would simply shrug them off, telling the Russians to keep their mouths shut. It was an adult game, minors aren’t allowed in.
Whether the West’s handling of the former Yugoslavia made any sense, now, that’s another question for another day.
What is important here is the fact that Russia felt slighted, fearing her imperial ambitions were being trumpled upon yet again.
And the Russians are nothing if not proud. Especially if they’ve been taught since their early childhoods that theirs is a world superpower. Part of their education tells them, too, that the West is a decadent, decaying society with no future whatsoever.
And the West, by the way, goes out of its way to prove the Russians right. Just look at the European Union (EU) for the closest example at hand.
Putin used exactly that in 2008. The Republic of Georgia, Stalin’s birth place, too, thought of applying for EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership. Putin came up with a reason how to show the Georgians who the boss is. Hitler would have been proud: proclaiming he was only saving the endangered lives of Russians, Putin ordered his military to invade Ossetia, a part of Georgia. That was in 2008. All the West did was an indignant”tut-tut,” without even telling Putin his move wasn’t cricket and that this is not how to really play the game.
What did it tell Putin? Not much more than what he had already known for quite some time (he used to be a Soviet spy, after all): the West is a decadent, decaying society with no future whatsoever. Did the West offer Georgia guarantees? Yes, why, it did. Did the West act on them?
And the main message: ladies and gentlemen, Russia’s back on the pitch, and it’s paying the referees’ wages, to boot.
What is it all about?
Russia bases its international relationships on the so-called zero-sum game. She has been doing so throughout most of her history, Russian politicians say. Really, she does. Since she has become a superpower centuries ago, to say the least.
Yes, she does. Whenever she’s forced to. Otherwise, whatever there is for grabs, that’s what she takes. Wherever a Russian cossack’s horse stops, it becomes Mother Russia.
Fairness? What the heck’s that?
And what is this zero-sum game, pray tell?
Here’s what it is: the theory of games holds that a zero-sum game represents mathematically a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) is balanced precisely by the losses (or gains) of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, the result will be zero.
And the theory of games has got it right.
President Putin is keenly aware of Russia’s history: nothing beats having a buffer zone around your borders. That’s the entire issue of his handling of Ukraine in one sentence.
Superpowers don’t become superpowers by listening to popularity opinion polls within the international community and the public at large.
Look at EU’s behaviour: does that group behave like a superpower?
Look at the U.S. administration: does it represent its country like a superpower?
All that talk about democracy and human rights, so far as Putin is concerned, is pure drivel, to put it politely.
Putin has been saying all along he doesn’t like Ukraine’s turn toward the West.
After all, relationships with the West have been a sore point within Russia’s political life for centuries. Even if a group that favours westernization wins, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Usually, they lose on the first occasion that comes along. The forces that say Russia can go it all alone return to power. Their motto: who needs the West anyway, we’re so much better, besides, we own the Russian soul, too, and who else can claim that?
Ochi chornye, and another sto gramm vodki, eh?
Economically speaking, if Russia becomes master of all she surveys, she’s got enough resources to remain an autarky (self-sufficient, that is) – provided she knows how to run her own business.
To be able to do so, Russia is of the view she needs nobody poking their nose into matters that are none of their business.
And that includes handling its buffer zones.
West’s sheer and abject failure
Self-conditioned to absolute stupidity by all that politically correct nonsense, the West has never realized, neither acknowledged, that the new Ukrainian government isn’t much to write home about. Not knowing these issues, the West was in absolutely no position to do anything about them, either.
And Russia’s act of showing her military prowess had to come as a shock.
Russia’s leaders remember well the historical ties that bind their country to Ukraine proper. They also know that the West’s ties to Ukraine are much weaker. Yes, Ukraine can serve as Europe’s breadbasket, as she has done so many times. Yes, the oil and gas pipelines that move these resources to Europe go mostly through Ukraine.
Where Russia’s leadership is mindful of Ukraine’s importance to their country’s strategical priorities, both in political and economic sense, the West is bellyaching. Sacré bleu! How can you be doing this to us? We’ve been so nice to you, have we not?
No, you haven’t, is Russia’s reply. Ukraine as part of the West is something we have every reason to hate. And if you have problems with THAT, congratulations, you’ve got something we haven’t.
Considering the West may wish that Ukraine become its part but isn’t willing to put their wallets where their mouths are (perhaps excepting financing the militants at Kiev’s Maidan), Putin can safely shrug them off. He knows that there is no power in the West that would be able to get Ukraine out from Russia’s bearhug. Not only that. He knows, too, that even if there were such a power, it wouldn’t have the wherewithal to try.
To top it all: it was the two strongest EU countries, Germany and France, that vetoed Ukraine’s application for NATO membership.
What does it mean? Nothing more that it’s a signal for Putin: Russians value Ukraine much more than we do, and we can hardly care less.
The West has shown it’s all wet. Since Russia is only willing to negotiate when the other side shows her a fist of iron, that does not bode well for the West.
The last two Western politicians to successfully negotiate with the then-Soviet Union were U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Neither of them would blink or budge. And where’s the Soviet Union now?
Why should Canadians care?
Lost in all that hoopla is the continuing struggle over who actually owns the area around the North Pole (and the place itself).
The fact that Santa’s address is listed in Canada Post’s books as North Pole, Canada, H0H 0H0 is a laughable aside that does not matter.
What does matter is that both countries have similar interests and both of their mainlands are in close proximity to the imaginary point.
Geologists and other such scientists claim the ocean floor is filled with natural resources, some of which come under the heading of “strategic.” Oil, for example. Natural gas, for example.
You can rest assured that – once Russian president Vladimir Putin considers the question of Ukraine settled – he’s going to turn his attention to other areas he considers vital.
The Arctic happens to be one of them. And not only because of its untapped richness. One look at the map (or globe) reveals that there’s no buffer zone between Canada and Russia in that area. Come to think of it, there is no buffer zone between Alaska and Russia, either, excepting the relatively narrow Bering Strait.
Recalling that Putin has been of the view that gifting Crimea to Ukraine was illegal, what’s going to stop him if he decides to describe the sale of Alaska by Tsarist Russia to the U.S. highway robbery and declares it illegal, too?
Canada’s government is one of the very few administrations that have been consistently trying to stand up to Putin’s shenanigans. Hats off. Whether travel bans on top Russian officials do the trick and scare Putin beyond belief is another matter altogether.
Putin has also quite openly expressed his views of U.S. president Barack Hussein Obama: the current White House occupant is nothing but an untrustworthy, unreliable weakling whose basic education deserves much better, too.
The West has excluded military reply as an option. Logically, too. At least, so far as this logic ignores the plight of ordinary living people. Nobody’s asking them.
Putin would be perfectly correct if he expands his apt description of U.S. president Obama as an untrustworthy, unreliable weakling whose basic education deserves much better to most of the West’s political leaders. In fact, come to think of it, the word leader should not apply to them, and neither should their description as politicians. They are politicking, and that doesn’t impress a Putin (or any similar dictator) one iota.
What’s Putin’s next step? Any of the Baltic republics, perhaps? That would be interesting: they are all both EU and NATO members. Expanding his might west of Ukraine, too?
There’s but one thing we know for sure: facing a dictator, Western democracies have failed yet again.
It’s a bloody shame.