Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Russians are Putin's concern

As I do, Pat Buchanan below argues that Putin is simply a Russian patriot who aims at least to protect Russians everywhere -- with an ideal outcome of bringing them all back under Russian rule.  And he is doing that cautiously, simply by supporting unrest among "severed" Russians.

The thing that amazes me is the worldwide dismissal of the vote by Crimeans to rejoin Russia.  Can someone tell me just why a democratic vote is being  disregarded in the West?  There have been no accusations of voting irregularities.  The vote seems perfectly genuine.  The only thing that might be urged against it is that over 90% of the vote was for reunion.  A degree of agreement that high happens only in an election rigged by a dictator, some might say.

But that is not at all true.  Britain got even higher percentages of agreement when it asked Gibraltarians and Falkland Islanders if they wanted to remain in union with Britain.  Were those British-run elections the rigged work of a dictator?  The fact is that "blood is thicker than water", much though the Left would like to deny it.  People tend to become very attached to their ethnicity and want to preserve it.  Russians in Crimea like being Russian just as Gibraltarians and Falkland Islanders like being  British.  Why is democracy OK for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands but not for Crimea?

It is a sad day when a democratic vote of self-determination is mocked in the crony-capitalist nations of the West.

Vladimir Putin seems to have lost touch with reality, Angela Merkel reportedly told Barack Obama after speaking with the Russian president. He is "in another world."

"I agree with what Angela Merkel said ... that he is in another world," said Madeleine Albright, "It doesn't make any sense."

John Kerry made his contribution to the bonkers theory by implying that Putin was channeling Napoleon: "You don't just, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext."

Now that Putin has taken Crimea without firing a shot, and 95 percent of a Crimean electorate voted Sunday to reunite with Russia, do his decisions still appear irrational?

Was it not predictable that Russia, a great power that had just seen its neighbor yanked out of Russia's orbit by a U.S.-backed coup in Kiev, would move to protect a strategic position on the Black Sea she has held for two centuries?

Zbigniew Brzezinski suggests that Putin is out to recreate the czarist empire. Others say Putin wants to recreate the Soviet Union and Soviet Empire.

But why would Russia, today being bled in secessionist wars by Muslim terrorists in the North Caucasus provinces of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, want to invade and reannex giant Kazakhstan, or any other Muslim republic of the old USSR, which would ensure jihadist intervention and endless war?

If we Americans want out of Afghanistan, why would Putin want to go back into Uzbekistan? Why would he want to annex Western Ukraine where hatred of Russia dates back to the forced famine of the Stalin era?

To invade and occupy all of Ukraine would mean endless costs in blood and money for Moscow, the enmity of Europe, and the hostility of the United States. For what end would Russia, its population shrinking by half a million every year, want to put Russian soldiers back in Warsaw?

But if Putin is not a Russian imperialist out to re-establish Russian rule over non-Russian peoples, who and what is he?

In the estimation of this writer, Vladimir Putin is a blood-and-soil, altar-and-throne ethnonationalist who sees himself as Protector of Russia and looks on Russians abroad the way Israelis look upon Jews abroad, as people whose security is his legitimate concern.

Consider the world Putin saw, from his vantage point, when he took power after the Boris Yeltsin decade.

He saw a Mother Russia that had been looted by oligarchs abetted by Western crony capitalists, including Americans. He saw millions of ethnic Russians left behind, stranded, from the Baltic states to Kazakhstan.

He saw a United States that had deceived Russia with its pledge not to move NATO into Eastern Europe if the Red Army would move out, and then exploited Russia's withdrawal to bring NATO onto her front porch.

Had the neocons gotten their way, not only the Warsaw Pact nations of Central and Eastern Europe, but five of 15 republics of the USSR, including Ukraine and Georgia, would have been brought into a NATO alliance created to contain and, if need be, fight Russia.

What benefits have we derived from having Estonia and Latvia as NATO allies that justify losing Russia as the friend and partner Ronald Reagan had made by the end of the Cold War?

We lost Russia, but got Rumania as an ally? Who is irrational here?

Cannot we Americans, who, with our Monroe Doctrine, declared the entire Western Hemisphere off limits to the European empires -- "Stay on your side of the Atlantic!" -- understand how a Russian nationalist like Putin might react to U.S. F-16s and ABMs in the eastern Baltic?

In 1999, we bombed Serbia for 78 days, ignoring the protests of a Russia that had gone to war for Serbia in 1914. We exploited a Security Council resolution authorizing us to go to the aid of endangered Libyans in Benghazi to launch a war and bring down the Libyan regime.

We have given military aid to Syrian rebels and called for the ouster of a Syrian regime that has been Russia's ally for decades.

At the end of the Cold War, writes ex-ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock, 80 percent of Russia's people had a favorable opinion of the USA. A decade later, 80 percent of Russians were anti-American.

That was before Putin, whose approval is now at 72 percent because he is perceived as having stood up to the Americans and answered our Kiev coup with his Crimean counter coup.

America and Russia are on a collision course today over a matter -- whose flag will fly over what parts of Ukraine -- no Cold War president, from Truman to Reagan, would have considered any of our business.

If the people of Eastern Ukraine wish to formalize their historic, cultural and ethnic ties to Russia, and the people of Western Ukraine wish to sever all ties to Moscow and join the European Union, why not settle this politically, diplomatically and democratically, at a ballot box?



Putin recognizes Crimean independence

Ignoring the toughest sanctions against Moscow since the end of the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula as an "independent and sovereign country" on Monday, a bold challenge to Washington that escalates one of Europe's worst security crises in years.

The brief decree posted on the Kremlin's website came just hours after the United States and the European Union announced asset freezes and other sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the Crimean crisis. President Barack Obama warned that more would come if Russia didn't stop interfering in Ukraine, and Putin's move clearly forces his hand.

The West has struggled to find leverage to force Moscow to back off in the Ukraine turmoil, of which Crimea is only a part, and analysts saw Monday's sanctions as mostly ineffectual.

Moscow showed no signs of flinching in the dispute that has roiled Ukraine since Russian troops took effective control of the strategic Black Sea peninsula last month and supported the Sunday referendum that overwhelmingly called for annexation by Russia. Recognizing Crimea as independent would be an interim step in absorbing the region.

Crimea had been part of Russia since the 18th century, until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954 and both Russians and Crimea's majority ethnic Russian population see annexation as correcting a historic insult.

Ukraine's turmoil — which began in November with a wave of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych and accelerated after he fled to Russia in late February — has become Europe's most severe security crisis in years.

Russia, like Yanukovych himself, characterizes his ouster as a coup, and alleges the new authorities are fascist-minded and likely to crack down on Ukraine's ethnic Russian population. Pro-Russia demonstrations have broken out in several cities in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border, where the Kremlin has been massing troops.

Fearing that Russia is prepared to risk violence to make a land-grab, the West has consistently spoken out against Russia's actions but has run into a wall of resistance from Moscow.

Reacting to Monday's sanctions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declared that they were "a reflection of a pathological unwillingness to acknowledge reality and a desire to impose on everyone one-sided and unbalanced approaches that absolutely ignore reality."

"I think the decree of the president of the United States was written by some joker," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, one of the individuals hit by the sanctions, said on his Twitter account.

The White House imposed asset freezes on seven Russian officials, including Putin's close ally Valentina Matvienko, who is speaker of the upper house of parliament, and Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin's top ideological aides. The Treasury Department also targeted Yanukovych, Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov and two other top figures.

The EU's foreign ministers slapped travel bans and asset freezes against 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine.

"We need to show solidarity with Ukraine, and therefore Russia leaves us no choice," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters in Brussels.

Despite Obama's vow of tougher measures, stock markets in Russia and Europe rose sharply, reflecting relief that trade and business ties were spared.

"I guess the market view is that Russia forced their case in Crimea, pushed through the referendum, and the Western reaction was muted, so that this opens the way for future Russian intervention in Ukraine," said Tim Ash, an analyst who follows Ukraine at Standard Bank PLC.

On Monday evening Vice President Joe Biden was heading to Europe to meet with NATO allies. He was headed for Warsaw, where he was slated to meet Tuesday with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski. He was to meet separately with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. In Lithuania, Biden planned to meet with President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvia's President Andris Berzins.

In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, ethnic Russians applauded Sunday's referendum that overwhelmingly called for secession and for joining Russia. Masked men in body armor blocked access for most journalists to the parliament session that declared independence, but the city otherwise appeared to go about its business normally.

"We came back home to Mother Russia. We came back home, Russia is our home," said Nikolay Drozdenko, a resident of Sevastopol, the key Crimean port where Russia leases a naval base from Ukraine.

A delegation of Crimean officials was to fly to Moscow on Monday and Putin was to address both houses of parliament Tuesday on the Crimean situation, both indications that Russia could move quickly to annex.

In Kiev, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov vowed that Ukraine will not give up Crimea.

"We are ready for negotiations, but we will never resign ourselves to the annexation of our land," a somber Turchynov said in a televised address to the nation. "We will do everything in order to avoid war and the loss of human lives. We will be doing everything to solve the conflict through diplomatic means. But the military threat to our state is real."

The Crimean parliament declared that all Ukrainian state property on the peninsula will be nationalized and become the property of the Crimean Republic. It gave no further details. Lawmakers also asked the United Nations and other nations to recognize it and began work on setting up a central bank with $30 million in support from Russia.



If Obama thinks that sanctioning seven Russians is a sanction, he’s living in a different world

It didn’t take long after President Obama announced the implementation of sanctions against some of Russia’s high-ranking officials for Russia to not only respond in kind with sanctions against several U.S. senators but to openly laugh at the suggestion that the measures were any real skin off of their collective nose:

As Krauthammer puts it, “if he thinks that sanctioning seven Russians, out of a population of, what, 150 million, is a sanction, he’s living in a different world.” I don’t know about Dr. K’s suggestion that we could get the Europeans to join in on real, robust economic sanctions, given their degree of energy dependence on Russia, but today’s announcement definitely amounts to little more than weaksauce symbolic gesture:

    "He’s being ridiculed by Russia, especially, because the statement and the policy are ridiculous. He doesn’t have a lot of cards, but he has some cards, and if he thinks that sanctioning seven Russians, out of a population of, what, 150 million, is a sanction, he’s living in a different world. The one thing that we could do is to respond to the Ukrainian request, when the president was here last week, they asked the Pentagon for weapons, and we said no, because somehow, to arm the victim of aggression is a provocation. … This response of, you know, we are not going to calibrate, as if Putin is, they’re going to sanction 11 Russians now, so I’ll have to stop where I am, is really preposterous. Again, if you’re going to do something, do it. Otherwise, say nothing, but this really is a humiliating response by a president who can’t even get the Europeans to join him in effective sanctions, which we could do.



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