In the first month of his presidency, Donald Trump did many things that were nice surprises to me – because I was far from certain that the campaign pledges could have been taken seriously. He basically does what he promised when it comes to immigration from the Middle East and Mexico, the wall, trade deals, climate hysteria, and other things (which will hopefully include tax cuts in the next two weeks). However, his relationships with Russia are disappointing so far.
Days ago, his guy Flynn was basically professionally assassinated by the intelligence services for some probable contacts with some representatives of Russia (the Russian embassy?). I do think that guys like Flynn should interact with various Russians very frequently. It didn't help him that he had to lie about some of the contacts.
However, the insanity conservation law seems to be approximately obeyed when it comes to unrealistic U.S. demands from Russia. In particular, I was shocked when Rex Tillerson – often identified as a man with highly constructive relationships with Russia in the past – basically demanded Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine. Even many folks in the Obama team managed to learn not to say similarly stupid things in the recent year or so. It's even more disappointing when you hear such things from Trump himself because this demand is totally dumb.
Debaters at a fresh CrossTalk agreed that Donald Trump was apparently beaten by some lobby so that he won't be able to fix any of these breathtaking mistakes in the U.S. foreign policy. CATO's Ted Carpenter claims that Trump's retreat from realism accelerates. The Russians and the Russian press are obviously insulted by these silly wishes.
There are approximately three basic problems with expectations that "Russia should return Crimea to Ukraine":
- It is unethical
- It is based on the ignorance of history and geography
- It is detached from reality when it comes to the understanding of Russians' psychology
It's the third point that is most fatal. If you have utterly unrealistic expectations what the other side could do, you are unlikely to interact with the other side meaningfully.
Now, the history and geography. Crimea has belonged to the Russian Empire since the 1780s through 1954. That's almost two rather recent centuries. In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev (who was half-Ukrainian, half-Russian) wanted to win some Ukrainian hearts so he arbitrarily transferred Crimea (a peninsula) to the adjacent Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. In the communist era, this administrative change was largely inconsequential because most of the important things were decided by the "feds" in Moscow in one way or another.
Ukraine kept Crimea after it became independent 25 years ago or so. It could remain this way for a long time if Ukraine had avoided volatility. But the Maidan coups and similar things led to various movements. Most people in Crimea – the ethnic Russians – felt threatened by the new, apparently Russophobic leaders of Ukraine who took over after the coup, and they just organized a referendum, agreed to split from Ukraine and be annexed by Russia, and it was quickly approved on both sides (or "two sides", if I have to make it clear that the third side, Kiev, didn't quite agree).
It makes no sense to insist that Crimea should belong to Ukraine for anyone who knows something about the history because the only period when it belonged to Ukraine was the 2nd half of communism and it belonged to Ukraine because of a prank by a communist dictator that didn't really reflect any wishes of the people. Why should some administrative change randomly enacted by a Soviet dictator be treated as such a serious event that everyone should take seriously in the future?
It makes no sense to insist that Crimea should belong to Ukraine for anyone who knows something about geography and ethnic groups because he knows that most of the people there are and were ethnic Russians and their reasoning is therefore naturally close enough to the typical reasoning of citizens of the Russian federation, especially when someone in Kiev starts to polarize the citizens of Ukraine along these ethnic lines. Who doubts that an overwhelming majority of the people in Crimea support the unity with the Russian Federation – i.e. that the official referendum result was at least qualitatively accurate – is just plain stupid.
It makes no sense to demand the return of Crimea to Ukraine from a moral viewpoint because if the Russophobes in Ukraine had a moral right to steal something – namely the power in Ukraine – from the legitimately elected pro-Russian president, pro-Russian people surely also have the moral right to take something from this post-coup government, such as their right to autonomously choose their own fate. And if you've claimed that Albanian ("Kosovar") gangsters and organ traffickers have the "right" to vote and steal the cradle of Serbia from Serbia, do you really think that the people of Crimea don't have the right to decide that they shall belong to the same country as in most of the recent 250 years?
But most importantly, it is utterly stupid to imagine that intelligent and constructive foreign relationships with Russia may be based on foundations such as the demand that Russia returns Crimea because Russia obviously won't do that. They've integrated everything. They have overcome some logistical nightmares. They are already building a double, huge, 3-mile-long $3 billion bridge (see a 360° video, time lapse video, BBC) between Russia and Crimea (which should open by the end of the next year: quite an ambitious speed). The bridge itself has swallowed 1/2 of Russia's spending for new roads in all of 2016. So will Russia reverse all these things? It just won't happen. The demand is pretty much equally "intelligent" as a hypothetical Russian demand that the U.S. returns Alaska to Russia while Russia will pay $7.2 million – which was clearly an unfairly low price that Russia only approved under pressure.
Will you, Americans, return Alaska to Russia? Will Czechia return the Sudetenland to Germany (proper) where it belonged between 1938 and 1945, the second half of Nazism that is analogous to the second half of communism when Crimea was Ukrainian? Will Kosovo agree to be reabsorbed by Serbia? Will the U.S. agree to regain the status of a colony controlled from London? Will Israel agree that its birth was a mistake, return its whole territory to the Arabs, and send its citizens to Auschwitz? Will the whites in America return to Europe and return the land to the Apaches?
Or differently: If Russia kindly returns Crimea to Ukraine, will you – the Americans – kindly return Yanukovitch to the presidential palace in Kiev? Will you help Putin to restore the Soviet Union? Will you reverse any important enough event that is already considered history now because the everyday life of everyone living at these territories takes these changes for granted and there's really no "high volatility" needed to make similar changes again? And even if the volatility increased again, it won't help because the current setup is much more naturally – locally supported – than the previous one.
The expectation that Russia will return Crimea to Ukraine is approximately equally idiotic. It's sad that the same kind of foreign policy idiots (and Hollywood filmmakers who love the dumb stereotype of a Russian villain in their movies; and people paid by the military complex etc. etc.) who were powerful during the Obama administration are still powerful and the Donald, you're a total loser if you're unable to tame these idiots and if you're becoming their puppet instead.
Russia could only return Crimea to Ukraine after you would flatten Russia – talking about it is surely not enough. To fulfill the ambitious wish without a similar existential reason would be politically suicidal for the Russian leaders – and an invitation for millions of Russians to start a war on their own. But do you really want to flatten Russia because of the fate of a peninsula whose history, geography, and political and psychological reality you clearly and obviously misunderstand?