Norma Brown brings us more of her perspective on the situation in Ukraine/Crimea She originally published this essay on March 14, 2014.
Will the US/EU/NATO Take Us to War Over Ukraine?
I watched a presentation on Russian TV by some high-ranking Orthodox Church figure in the ornate robes of that religion talking about war and peace, and expressing his fervent desire that “brothers of the same blood and the same soul” should never take up arms against one another. He prayed for peace, he said. On the other hand, he added, it is a sacred duty to ensure the integrity of the common ”Russian space” and of the common “spiritual space” that is shared by Russia and Crimea.
This says to me the Russian Church is mobilizing, as it always did before the 1917 Revolution and even afterwards, on behalf of the rulers and Holy Mother Russia when it faced foreign enemies. It also means the Russian government is in dead earnest about taking back Crimea, given to Ukraine in the confidence of eternal love in the 1950s. Interestingly, the Church prelate also raised the international principle of self-determination and asked why this does not apply to Crimea, the majority of whose people want to be part of the Russian Federation. I’d guess the Kosovo precedent is indeed in play when even priests are talking about it.
Another noteworthy item on the Russian news: a snippet of film showing humanitarian aid trucks en route to Crimea, and man-in-the-street interviews with Crimeans about the aid from their supporters in “Ossetia.” In fact there are currently two Ossetias in the Caucasus. One is in Russia (North Ossetia); and one is in Georgia (South Ossetia). In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war in Georgia, South Ossetians began (with Russian support) a separatist movement to break away from Georgia toward undetermined future status. This has led to a condition of de-facto independence for South Ossetia, which is nevertheless not recognized as independent by the Big Boys of the West. the inept Georgians tried to grab back South Ossetia with their disastrous military foray a few years ago. I have no idea who was advising the zealously pro-western president at the time to undertake this pointless exercise in national humiliation, but there were rumors it was certain Western military friends. The foray failed of course and now it is unlikely there will ever be a return of this land to Georgia. Here’s the point: the news reporter talked about “Ossetia” not North Ossetia or South Ossetia. So I think annexation of this territory under the principle of self-determination is in the works.
The fighting in and break-away of South Ossetia happened about the same time that separatists in the Georgian region of Abkhazia (with Russian military support and under UN noses, literally) waged a ferocious and brutal war against Georgia’s untrained make-shift army that ended with the ethnic cleansing of all Georgians from the territory and the de-facto secession of Abkhazia. The Chechens also fought with the Abkhaz in one of their early foreign adventures and they used the experience they gained in Abkhazia against the Russians themselves in their many acts of terror. The Abkhaz are a distinct nationality from the Georgians, but the territory was always part of Georgia and the two nationalities lived together, if not always happily. But because of their ethnic identity, the Abkhaz quite legally can declare their independence and request annexation by Russia — it is simple self-determination. They determine themselves to be part of the Russian Federation. This possibility increases with the certainty on the part of Abkhazia that there will be a Georgian military effort to retake the territory to make NATO accession possible. (No territorial disputes allowed.) So Abkhazia can also ask for annexation on the basis of self-defense. There are already demonstrations in Abkhazia in favor of Crimea’s right to secede. What is next?
And here’s a footnote to all the preceding history: when all these Russian actions were happening in the early 1990s, when Russia was still quite weak, the Clinton Administration and the State Department in particular did not wish even to raise these kinds of thorny issues with Russia much less take any punitive action of any kind in reaction (and nobody was advising such action, either). Georgia’s government asked for a US peacekeeping presence along the Inguri River dividing Georgia from the Abkhazian region after the latter had declared its independence and been cleansed of Georgians, and Washington was simply not interested. This question went around the UN for months, with some people (Ukrainians!) stepping forward to say they would participate in an international peacekeeping force. But no way. And when Russia caught wind of the effort to generate interest in such a body, it rushed in to say it was setting up a Russian peacekeeping force for the security of the region. And the US didn’t care. The US continued its deals with Yeltsin in Moscow, considering it more important to meddle in Russia as much as possible (and make some money while they were at it) than to defend even verbally the right to territorial integrity or the danger of unleashing Chechens on anybody at all. It was important only that Russia’s feathers (or Yeltsin’s, more accurately) not be ruffled.
Long and short — it is my opinion that not only is Crimea gone, but the Russians are ready to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia (the latter a highly valuable property as well as a buffer). They can do so under rules just established by the Russian Duma for expedited acceptance of a request for annexation from another region. As for eastern Ukraine, the Russian military is positioned to take it and that’s all we need to know. The entire scenario is strongly reminiscent of 1998/9 when NATO was planning feverishly action against Serbia, but lacked any justification to do so under international law. NATO unveiled its brand-new Strategic Doctrine setting forth an enormous list of reasons why NATO can use force against other countries and almost immediately began its 3-month bombing war against Serbia. In the international arena, it’s all about precedent. If you break it, you own it.
I still have not heard a peep from our government, all hysterical over Ukraine, about the possibility of a Velvet Divorce. We should propose that the two parties divide the goodies between them and go their own ways peaceably. Doesn’t that make more sense then rattling our saber and threatening dire economic consequences that will also deeply impact a world trying to get out of recession? Wouldn’t it be better than bringing us to the brink of worse confrontation for principles we don’t even support in practice? Are we hurtling toward an unthinkable confrontation because we stupidly vowed to defend Ukraine if it gave up its nuclear weapons (which it couldn’t afford to maintain)? If I were advising the bonehead in the White House, I’d whisper partition Ukraine in his ear. And then I’d explain to him what that meant. It would be a sensible way ahead.