Although it is well-known that the first victim of military intervention is the truth, Russia seems to have broken all records in this category, writes Michael Bohm, opinion page editor of The Moscow Times. He lists the top five Kremlin myths about Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Here’s one:
4. The revolution in Kiev was unconstitutional.
By shifting the focus to the “unconstitutional” nature of the revolution and trying to paint it as a “fascist coup,” Putin is trying to conceal the fact that the Maidan protests were, in fact, a widespread, moderate and grassroots movement that rose up against ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s rampant corruption, lawlessness and autocracy.
It is odd that Putin is choosing a legal argument to oppose the ousting of Yanukovych. What, then, is the legal foundation for Russia’s military intervention in Crimea? After all, Putin, in opposing U.S. intervention in other countries, has said repeatedly that foreign intervention can be justified only with the approval of the United Nations Security Council. …The other problem is if Putin wants to rely on legal arguments, he will have trouble explaining why Russia should not abide by the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which guarantees Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Stunned and appalled, the West has been merely reacting to the Kremlin’s moves, however belatedly or inadequately, says Lilia Shevtsova, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
But now, heading into the March 16 referendum, the liberal democracies seem prepared to accept the Russian annexation of Crimea as a fait accompli since they do not dare force Russia to back down, she writes for The American Interest.
“They are now focused on stemming Russia’s expansion to Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions, apparently fearing that anything but acceptance of the new geopolitical reality will result in a much more dreadful outcome. Let us clarify what this reality is all about,” she writes:
First, it is about the destruction of the post-Cold War world order. This order was based on the premise that Russia and the West are not in the business of “containing” each other anymore, and that both support the principle of the territorial sovereignty of the independent states that emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union. Moscow began to destroy that order as early as its 2008 war with Georgia, followed by the virtual annexation of Georgia’s breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. ….
Second, it is about more than just setting a precedent allowing the Kremlin’s direct interference in the affairs of a sovereign state. Not only did its behavior validate the presence of Russia’s spheres of influence, thanks to the lack of meaningful Western reaction, but the Kremlin also reintroduced the “doctrine of interference” under the pretext of protecting the “Russian-speaking population.” Since Russian speakers live in most of the newly independent states, this “doctrine” threatens the stability of the entire post-Soviet space. ….
Third, it is about paving the way for the second stage of Moscow’s plans, which is to bring southeastern Ukraine under Russian control. This would make Ukraine a failed state and zone of instability, which will serve as an invitation to Moscow to “stabilize” it. ….
Far from being a practitioner of realpolitik, Putin is “styling himself as a more ideological figure in the mold of Tsar Nicolas I, an ultra-conservative autocrat who crushed two revolutions and went on to fight the Crimean war,” says Ivan Krastev, Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Bulgaria, and Permanent Fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria.
According to the political doctrine of the Kremlin laid out a decade ago by the architect of the current regime, the former Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov, sovereignty is a capacity and not simply a legal right. In order to be sovereign a state must be economically independent, militarily strong and culturally assertive. In Putin’s opinion Ukraine is lacking all three components, and as a result is likely to always be dominated by one or more external powers. The Russian leadership needs to ensure that the dominant political forces in the Ukraine are not hostile to Russia.
So, Putin’s current strategy is not one of land grabbing but one of state-re-building, Krastev contends:
The Kremlin’s vision for Ukraine’s future is that it becomes a “Greater Bosnia”—a state that is radically federalised with its constituent parts allowed to follow their natural cultural, economic and geopolitical preferences. It means that in theory, the territorial integrity of the country will be preserved but the Eastern Ukraine’s status will be similar to that of the Republica Sprska in Bosnia and it will have closer ties with Russia than the rest of the Ukraine. Regions of Western Ukraine, while remaining part of the Ukrainian state, will be more integrated with Poland and the European Union. Kiev will be an isolated federal capital. Under such a constitution, the Ukraine will preserve its geopolitical ambiguity, as being neither part of the EU, nor the Eurasian Union.
Putin’s opposition to Europe and the US can’t be reduced to realpolitik arguments such as the strategic importance of the Sevastopol naval base or the need to retain control over the gas pipeline that runs through Ukraine, says Krastev, a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum:
If prior to the crisis Putin was unhappy with the behaviour of the United States and Europe towards Russia, now his disappointment is with the decadent and, as he sees it, immoral state of modern Europe and the destabilising role he believes the United States is playing in world politics. An analysis of Putin’s recent statements shows that Russian president sees his mission not as Russia’s integration in to Europe but as a defence of traditional Russian values against the EU’s post-modernism. ”Europeans are dying out…same sex marriage cannot produce children” Putin said last September during the meeting of the Valdai Club which meets to analyse Russia’s political, cultural and economic future. The recent anti-gay and anti-lesbian legislation passed by the Russian parliament is a clear expression of the new conservatism of Putin’s elites who feel threatened by more liberal European societies.
“It is part of a broader attempt to align himself with the values of Russia’s imperial past and the nostalgic nationalism associated with the country’s 19th century rulers such as Nicolas I,” he contends. “It is Putin the conservative and not Putin the realist who decided to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty. His march on Crimea is not realpolitik it is kultur kampf.” RTWT
“The West’s current tactics to calm Putin down—“de-escalation” and “diplomatic conclusions” without definite resolve—will only feed the Kremlin’s sense of impunity,” says Shevstova:
However, if the West were to develop a strategy that had as its goal influencing the part of the Russian elite that will lose out most if Russia turns into a “cast-into-concrete” state, it could cause a split in the Russian establishment, hopefully leading to the emergence of forces inside Russia that would break it out of its trap. Not soon, but with time. Current Western tactics, however, are only serving to consolidate Russia’s elites around their leader.
“The Kremlin’s moves have triggered the law of unintended consequences. Its tactical victory in Ukraine will inevitably result in a strategic defeat,” she contends:
The law of unintended consequences is also at work in Ukraine. The Kremlin did what no political force in Ukraine had ever been able to do. The Russian invasion set off the consolidation of Ukraine’s disparate political forces—liberals, nationalists, the Left, oligarchs, communists, and even the Party of Regions. It is possible that the only lasting result of Putin’s actions will be to help strengthen Ukrainian national identity on the basis of a struggle for national liberation.