Two weeks ago I wrote “Putin’s Munich Moment” – opining that Putin’s land grab rationale involving Georgia in 2008 and now the Crimean province of Ukraine was eerily similar to Hitler’s and the Sudetenland in 1938. Hitler’s move was to test the push-back of the West, and finding none, he seized Czechoslovakia six months after the Munich Agreement and invaded Poland six months after that.
Putin has made his sentiments about the 1991 collapse of the USSR clear – “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” – so are the Georgia and Crimea annexations a Munich repeat and the prelude to the reconstruction of the USSR v.2.0? His jingoistic speech to the Russia Federal Council following the Crimean occupation certainly sounded like it.
The speech, whose text is online as well as its video recording, gives us Putin’s worldview. And the fact that both formats were made available, knowing that they would invariably appear on the Internet, indicates Putin was addressing the world, assured that every word would be parsed for meaning.
My word budget for blogs limits how much of the speech I can comment on. Since the speech isn’t particularly coherent – Putin rambles all over his topics – I’ve organized it into its three main themes (in my opinion) while ignoring his many sidebars.
Here we go.
After the revolution, the Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons – may God judge them – added large sections of the historical south of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine. This was done with no consideration for the ethnic make-up of the population, and today these areas form the south-east of Ukraine. Then, in 1954, a decision was made to transfer the Crimean region to Ukraine, along with Sevastopol, despite the fact that it was a federal city.
Unfortunately, what seemed impossible became a reality. The USSR fell apart. Things developed so swiftly that few people realized how truly dramatic those events and their consequences would be. It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that Russia realized that it was not simply robbed, it was plundered. … At the same time, we have to admit that by launching the sovereignty parade Russia itself aided in the collapse of the Soviet Union. And as this collapse was legalized, everyone forgot about Crimea and Sevastopol – the main base of the Black Sea Fleet.
Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders. … Now, many years later, I heard residents of Crimea say that back in 1991 they were handed over like a sack of potatoes. This is hard to disagree with.
The audience most important to Putin is the Russian at home and those living in the countries that were former Republics. The first major theme, therefore, is a nationalistic and not-so-subtle irredentist appeal. He uses the collapse of the USSR and loss of international prestige as the starting point for this theme. But Putin is a bit loose with the facts. Crimea voted to join Ukraine after the USSR collapse – a key detail he failed to include.
Although there has only been a show of force on the Ukrainian border – no Russian forces are in country and one small border detachment has been pulled back – Putin appeals to his audience to consider the historic friendship with Ukraine and its “mother” city.
Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply close neighbors but, as I have said many times already, we are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.
This is eyewash for anyone who knows European history. Three million Ukrainians died in the mass starvation scheme engineered by Stalin in 1933. But the reference to Kiev sounds like a modern-day bear hug even though Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have common roots in Kievan Rus’ going back before 1000 AD. Ouch! Don’t hug so hard!
To dispel the argument that Russia invaded Crimea, Putin tucks in this remark.
What exactly are we violating? … Russia’s armed forces never entered Crimea; they were there already in line with an international agreement. … True, we did enhance our forces there; however – this is something I would like everyone to hear and know – we did not exceed the personnel limit of our armed forces in Crimea, which is set at 25,000, because there was no need to do so.
Well, “enhance” is hardly the right word. The number allowed is in dispute. More importantly, Putin didn’t mention that troops were all over the Crimea setting up checkpoints. This was in violation of the sovereignty agreement Russia signed with Ukraine in 1991 promising to keep troops on designated bases unless agreed otherwise by mutual consent. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons to get this Russian agreement.
Naturally, the first in line [to reunify with Russia] here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.
No doubt helped by an armed group of Russian sympathizers who seized the parliament building. This allowed pro-Russia Members of Parliament to hold an “invitation only” session that replaced the elected Crimea Prime Minister with a stooge who appealed to Russia for permission to “come home.”
Putin’s second theme calls for understanding that Russia and her former republics are being subverted by western interference in their domestic affairs.
Some Western politicians are already threatening us with not just sanctions but also the prospect of increasingly serious problems on the domestic front. I would like to know what it is they have in mind exactly: action by a fifth column, this disparate bunch of ‘national traitors’, or are they hoping to put us in a worsening social and economic situation so as to provoke public discontent? We consider such statements irresponsible and clearly aggressive in tone, and we will respond to them accordingly.
Ah, the old “fifth column” ruse. Putin has used this tired bromide to justify crackdowns on dissent, peaceful demonstrations, and the media. Russian jails are full of fifth column infiltrators. They are the “public discontent” demonstrators because Russia’s “social and economic situation” is in a swan dive.
In the following excerpt the Maidan is the central square in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, and it is the place where demonstrators gather for peaceful but noisy protests. In 2004 peaceful protests forced a vote recount in a stolen election which pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych had allegedly won. The Ukraine high court agreed the election was rigged and allowed the loser, Viktor Yushchenko, to become the elected winner. In 2010 Yushchenko lost reelection to Yanukovych who later reneged on his promise to join the European Union. Riots followed and many were killed.
I would like to reiterate that I understand those who came out on Maidan with peaceful slogans against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty. The right to peaceful protest, democratic procedures and elections exist for the sole purpose of replacing the authorities that do not satisfy the people. However, those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda: they were preparing yet another government takeover; they wanted to seize power and would stop short of nothing. They resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day.
An interesting comment since the peaceful protests of “corruption, inefficient state management, and poverty” were against Yanukovych’s administration – Russia’s guy. Without a scorecard I know it’s hard to keep the players straight, Vlad, but Yanukovych’s security police were the ones with the guns, not the protesters. Recently, however, photographic evidence has appeared on the Internet which makes a pretty strong case that Moscow-supplied snipers on the nearby Maidan rooftops were responsible for killing protesters during the Ukrainian uprising. One was a Jew – hardly a person you’d expect to find in an anti-Semite coup.
Putin wraps up his second theme with this assessment:
It is also obvious that there is no legitimate executive authority in Ukraine now, nobody to talk to. Many government agencies have been taken over by the impostors, but they do not have any control in the country, while they themselves – and I would like to stress this – are often controlled by radicals. In some cases, you need a special permit from the militants on Maidan to meet with certain ministers of the current government. This is not a joke – this is reality. Those who opposed the coup were immediately threatened with repression.
In other words, since “there is nobody to talk to” in the Ukraine government whose agencies are under the control of imposters controlled by radicals, we may need to step in a restore order – if for no other reason, to protect the Russians living in Ukraine.
The third theme in the Putin speech is a complaint that the west is trying to establish worldwide hegemony. Pardon me while I laugh, Vlad. Are you serious? The west? Why, western leaders wet their pants when they have to use “confrontation” in a sentence.
Like a mirror, the situation in Ukraine reflects what is going on and what has been happening in the world over the past several decades. After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet, we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading.
The “dissolution of bipolarity” is a euphemism for the end of the Cold War that kept the US and USSR in a budget-busting arms race for four decades following WW II. It also kept a lot of us up at night worrying that some petty incident would unintentionally start World War III and turn the earth into glass. Most of us, Vlad, believe we have more stability in the unipolar world today except in the areas of the globe where tin-pot clients are propped up by Russia, China, and North Korea for mischief-making. September 11, 2001 comes to mind.
Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle “If you are not with us, you are against us.” To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.
This happened in Yugoslavia; we remember 1999 very well. … At the end of the 20th Century, one of Europe’s capitals, Belgrade, was under missile attack for several weeks, and then came the real intervention. Was there a UN Security Council resolution on this matter, allowing for these actions? Nothing of the sort. And then, they hit Afghanistan, Iraq, and frankly violated the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, when instead of imposing the so-called no-fly zone over it they started bombing it too.
Putin argues that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. America has gone it alone – the NATO war in Kosovo is Exhibit A. Russia is therefore, “legally” justified to follow the same example, annex Crimea, and redraw the Eurasian map. One small detail he left out: no country annexed Kosovo after the NATO military confrontation ended.
Putin draws his remarks to a close with his best imitation of Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect.”
Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria, to refute the rhetoric of the Cold War and to accept the obvious fact: Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs; like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.
And with that he concludes:
Russia will also have to make a difficult decision now, taking into account the various domestic and external considerations. What do people here in Russia think? Here, like in any democratic country, people have different points of view, but I want to make the point that the absolute majority of our people clearly do support what is happening.
Well, Vlad, I wouldn’t bet your Black Belt on their support. However, I would bet on their silence for fear of ending up in one of your fifth column jails!