Russian president Vladimir Putin is deeply worried about what’s going on in Ukraine, and he plans to do something about it.
Like remind humankind of Vladimir Lenin, Josif Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Nikita Khruschev and Leonid Brezhnev. All of them at once, rolled into a new guy: Vladimir Putin.
Here’s the story: Lenin created the Soviet Union, getting all kinds of independent nations sign up by hook and crook. In his cynicism he went so far as to say in the constitution that this was a voluntary union and individual republics would be free to leave whenever they felt like it.
Stalin went a few steps further. When Ukraine had the gall to merely hint it was (nationally speaking) a more or less independent part of the union, he created a famine (Holodomor in the Ukrainian language) that would teach the pesky Ukrainians a proper lesson. It did.
Stalin had a Russian poet, Sergei Mikhalkov, collaborating with an Armenian poet, Gabriel El-Registan, write words to Alexander Alexandrov’s music, to create the anthem of the Soviet Union.
The words said it all. Here they are, in verbatim translation: “The unbreakable union of free republics were united for ever by the great Russia, long live the united, mighty Soviet Union created by the will of nations.”
If anyone had any issues with that, Stalin would deal with them with his typical swiftness. Remember the Tatars whom he had accused of potentially collaborating with Nazi Germany and deported them from the regions they had been living in for centuries? Does the word Crimea ring a bell?
Then, along came Khruschev. On one beautiful day in 1954 he told his comrades he would gift Crimea, by then predominantly Russian (as opposed to previously predominantly Tatar), to Ukraine to celebrate the 300th anniversary of that country’s decision to join Russia in one state. That centuries-old decision didn’t mean that Ukraine would become part of Russia, literally, only that the two countries would present themselves to the world as one.
Did Khruschev ask anybody in Crimea for their thoughts and, heavens forbid, feelings about the plan? Are you kidding? Did he consult it with his Central Committee comrades? No. Thus spake the leader, and that was that.
Of course, Khruschev knew the Marxist definition of freedom: it is a necessity recognized by those it impacts. Tough to understand? You’re free to obey our orders, that’s what it means.
And just to show what he meant, when the Hungarians thought they’ve had enough of Soviet-imposed communism, Khruschev sent in tanks and showed them who the boss was: this is your freedom, you cheeky Hungarians.
Brezhnev followed Khruschev at the Soviet helm.
When some fools in the republic of Georgia figured the constitution allowed them to leave the union, they started meeting to debate how to go about it. The news somehow got to Moscow. Brezhnev sent a trusted KGB general, one Eduard Shevardnadze, to Georgia, to talk some sense into those heretics. Shevardnadze, yes, the allegedly progressive guy who would later become Mikhail Gorbachev’s foreign minister, became party leader in Georgia on that occasion. A few hundred (if not thousand) deaths later within a few days, there was peace in the valley (and mountains) in Georgia again.
And when the fools in Czechoslovakia came up with the brilliant idea of socialism with human face, whatever THAT was supposed to mean, Brezhnev did exactly what his predecessor had done: he sent in tanks. The idea, he said, was to normalize the situation.
Normalization: an ugly word to many
So, when Putin now speaks of normalizing the situation in Ukraine in general and Crimea in particular, it does sound quite ominously to those who remember even faintly the two decades of normalization in Czechoslovakia.
Putin speaks of making sure that Russians living in Crimea are safe from the hordes of the Ukrainian bandits. This eerily resembles Hitler’s concerns about the Germans who used to live in the Sudetenland region of former Czechoslovakia.
Of course, when Russians speak of Crimea as a traditionally Russian land, they’re lying through their teeth: the Tatars would be able to offer a bit of a dissenting opinion to that, if anybody asked them (and if they were still around).
What all this is supposed to say is relatively simple: the situation in Ukraine is not as black and white as our media (and politicians) try to portray it.
Yes, the development is perfectly undemocratic, when compared to Western-style democracies. And when has there been such democracy in Ukraine (and Russia proper), pray tell?
The entire upheaval was touched off by a sudden about-face committed by the Ukrainian government concerning the question of Ukraine’s potential participation in the European Union.
The reasons for this change of mind remain murky, suspicious, even. While it would be relatively easy to think of either the EU’s or Russia’s hidden hand, the fact remains that the pro-EU demonstrators were solidly equipped and financed. There’s no real proof whence the equipment and money have come, but this is not as important.
What is important is the stance that those who object to Russia’s military provocations say Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be maintained.
An illusion if there ever was one.
Western Ukraine became part of Ukraine proper only after the Second World War. So far as people in those parts are concerned, THEY are the only real Ukrainians. Those who’ve lived in eastern parts of the country have been so profoundly inflitrated by the Russians, one can freely speak of colonization or fifth columns, even, western Ukrainians believe.
Whether they are right or not does not matter, really. It’s the perception that counts.
Who cares about the West?
The U.S. reply to all this was as wishy-washy as to make it laughable.
Putin has been quite openly of the rather dismissive view that U.S. president Barack Obama is a perfect example of a weakling who likes going off half-cocked, without knowing anything about the real issues. Obama, thus the view from the Kremlin, is more concerned about public relations and his standings in the polls than about what’s going on. And he’s too unsophisticated to really understand, to boot. Lightweight, both mentally and emotionally.
Besides, the Kremlin has a ready answer if Obama just dares mention that armed invasions of other countries are unacceptable: look at yourself in the mirror. How many times have YOU interfered in internal matters of countries that are not part of the U.S.?
Specious argument, if there ever was one, but effective for the masses.
The Russians might also throw in the undisputable fact that Barack Obama’s government has a peculiar knack of siding with the wrong side 10 times out of 10. Care to remember the so-called Arab Spring, anyone? That was the development that strengthened the Islam fundamentalists’ hand in no small measure, with Obama’s administration egging them on all along.
Canada’s government goes about things a bit differently: while it does mention Ukraine’s territorial integrity, it’s more concerned about the lack of democracy and potential for international conflict if Putin does invade fully. Not that the presence of several thousand Russian soldiers in Crimea does not constitute full invasion, but that would be peanuts when compared to the real thing.
In any case, Putin showed the rest of the world the full meaning of the French expression: fait accompli. Here I am, and what are you going to do about it? Oh, you are upset?
One huge danger in Ukraine: this is the place that gave the world the word “pogrom.” What we’re talking about are indiscriminate attacks on anybody who ever so slightly resembles a person of Jewish origin. While it is difficult to generalize, anti-semitism happens to be an integral part of Ukraine’s history and social fabric.
Now, it’s the bloody Jews from the EU who are upsetting the applecart, so far as many Ukrainian protesters are concerned. The fact that the EU bends over backwards to keep the non-existent nation of Palestinians happy, going so far as supporting an unrealistic boycott of Israel and its products, does not interest these protesters one bit. In fact, who knows whether they are even aware of it. To them it’s the bloody “Zhidy” that should feel the wrath of the people in the first place.
What’s going to happen?
Nobody knows the answer to that. The only hope is that cooler heads will prevail. Not in Washington, D.C., or Ottawa, for that matter, or Brussels (the European Union capital), even. In Moscow and in Kyiv.
While it doesn’t seem like it from the outside looking in, the situation in Ukraine can develop into a perfectly terrible conflict, using live ammunition as a preferred and accepted method of persuasion.
It creates a precedent that territorial integrity, as recognized by international community, isn’t worth a figue. Can you imagine if others use this precedent to try to push their ancient claims, real or perceived?
One of the things Putin must have realized: the world was silent when some native tribes from the Caucasian mountains claimed the area where Putin would waste billions of dollars on Olympic Games was theirs. That silence must have been music to Putin’s ears.
Vladimir Putin seems to view the rest of the world with a smirk: ah, the dogs are baying, but the caravan keeps moving on. He’s aware that should, for example, Western European governments continue to bother him, he’s one turn of a switch on oil and natural gas pipe lines away from throwing them into darkness and letting them freeze. Used to their comforts, how long will Western Europeans let their governments pretend they stand up for principle? They may be pipped beyond belief, but what’s the price? Are they willing to pay?
Putin must be aware, too, of the fact that in August 1968 Anatoli Dobrynin, then-Soviet ambassador to the U.S., went to see then-president Lyndon Baines Johnson to tell him, oh, by the way, Mr. President, we’re about to invade Czechoslovakia within the next 48 hours, but not to worry, we’re not going to cross into your (and NATO’s) sphere of influence. What did LBJ do on that momentous occasion? He thanked the Soviet envoy for the heads-up and didn’t even direct his diplomats to warn their Czechoslovak counterparts about what was cooking.
Has Putin gone too far? Will he think withdrawing from Crimea and sitting down at the negotiating table would mean a loss of face?
Would the Ukrainians be willing to negotiate?
Some, including the Canadian government, said that if Putin doesn’t back off, they might consider sanctions. Like: what sanctions? The same they imposed on selected Ukrainian leaders, telling them they wouldn’t be permitted to enter Canada? Big deal.
If there’s a vote in the United Nations Security Council, and it goes against Russia, guess which country is one of the five that have the power of veto?
This is a tragic situation. Innocent people suffer (while the former president of Ukraine proclaims to all and sundry he’s president still, but does so from the safe haven in one of Russian government’s dachas near Moscow).
Putin has done exactly what Hitler has done: you’ve got problems with what I’m doing? Congratulations, you’ve got something I haven’t got. And don’t tut-tut me, or I’ll tut-tut you back. After all, Putin has shown he’s a past master of demagoguery. He’s done so on live TV, too, in a clip that’s gone viral on YouTube shortly afterwards. In a news conference, Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk mentioned some past points of friction between his country and the former Soviet Union, including the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. That pact, among many other things, allowed the Soviet Union to grab the eastern part of Poland, while the Germans attacked and destroyed the other part.
Putin went ballistic. He accused Poland of collaboration with Hitler and, also, of grabbing a chunk of Czechoslovakia right after the so-called Munich Agreement stripped that poor country of its frontier regions, to placate the Sudeten Germans (and, by extension, Hitler).
Some of what Putin had to say could have been true, but he neatly sidestepped the main issue: it was the Soviet Union that had actually triggered the Second World War, by attacking Finland and then by participating in the dismantling of Poland.
In any case, even Putin’s manner didn’t differ that much from that of Hitler.
We all know how it ended then. At the cost of tens of millions of human lives, too.
Have we not learned anything?