Friday, March 07, 2014

Is detachment of Crimea from Kiev a victory for Russia?

The Crimean parliament unanimously (this is a popular style in Kiev, Simferopol, and Moscow as well: scary in all cases) approved a bill that removes Crimea from Ukraine and asks for a membership in the Russian federation. A referendum should "confirm" this decision in a week. Crimea is/was the most pro-Russian region of Ukraine, artificially donated by RSFSR to Ukrainian SSR in the 1950s. About 60% are Russian folks, 12% are Tatar Muslims, the rest is mostly Ukrainian.

Western pundits, including those who have a deeper understanding for the Russian attitudes, tend to say that "getting Crimea only" would be a Pyrrhic victory for Russia. See e.g. Jack Matlock, two Russian political science postdocs in Toronto, at Harvard.

Crimea actually produces economic losses and requires subsidies and drink water, among other things; Putin could look silly because he recently said that he had no plans to dissolve another country; his image as an aggressor would strengthen, and so on.

I understand and share these considerations – they sort of reflect some of the more Western style of thinking that most of us share – but I may still imagine that the actual Russian thinking is very different.

The Maidan-controlled army (that must be deeply divided, no argument about that) has effectively become an occupation army in Crimea. In the past week, there would be discussions on whether or not the Russian-speaking soldiers who were controlling Crimea and protecting it against attempts by Maidan to capture the peninsula were Russian citizens or some local militias. I don't know; both answers are possible. This question is becoming less important now when the Russian army was declared to be the domestic one in Crimea.

Needless to say, the declaration of independent from Kiev is unconstitutional according to the Ukrainian constitution but the Kiev revolution was unconstitutional as well, so the word "unconstitutional" is (unfortunately?) no longer too damning in these corners of Eastern Europe. What's more important is that the pro-Russian power units de facto control Crimea much like the pro-Maidan units control Kiev (and perhaps most of Ukraine).

Even though I do think that Putin in particular would like to "win" a safe and tight relationship to the whole Ukraine and it's his goal – not necessarily a short–term goal – so Crimea may look like peanuts, I am not quite sure whether the de facto if not de iure annexation of Crimea is such a bad move as most of the pundits seem to think.

One should distinguish Putin and the domestic Russian politicians. Putin is often being demonized but it is very clear that he is essentially doing what a good Russian leader is expected to do by a majority of the Russian nation. Moreover, I think that it would be very analogous in other countries. Certain foreign forces have decided to gradually shrink the power, size, and self-confidence of Russia. It could have been tolerated by Russia in the 1990s but it's surely no longer the case in the recent 15 years when Putin is in charge. Russia has re-realized that when it comes to military and closely related issues, it's still a superpower and it has really no good reason to act submissively.

In fact, the domestic political opinions are much more anti-American and "pro-occupation" than Putin's opinions. The New York Times mentions that the Russian parliament is likely to embrace the steps needed to annex Crimea. In fact, I may imagine that the relevant vote could be unanimous again. Such an attitude of the domestic politicians probably reflects one aspect of their work: they are not being directly exposed to international politics and their "partners" from other countries. They are playing purely domestic politics and because a strongly defiant attitude of Russia is probably very popular with a majority of the Russian electorate, they don't consider the international law and similar things as too important things.

For these reasons, the West may actually be wise if they treated Putin as "our guy" who is closer to the Western and international positions than the rest of his nation and the rest of Russian politicians. Yesterday Václav Klaus said that Putin is behaving sensibly and the U.S. and the EU are also to blame for the tragic situation in Ukraine. I do agree with that.

At the end, I find it plausible that a relatively small victory – such as Crimea – could be viewed as a precedent that shows that the apparent inevitable, uniform, monotonic decline of Russia's power since the late 1980s isn't as monotonic as it may look. The other places of Ukraine are unlikely to be brought under the Russian control as easily as Crimea but this may be just a short-term perspective. It seems perfectly plausible to me to imagine that people in Crimea will think that they're better off and they may become role models in other parts of Ukraine.

Crimea has about 2 million people, about 4.4 percent of Ukraine, so if it were added to Russia, Russia's population would go up by 1.5 percent or so. When it comes to some "empire building", assuming that this is what they are thinking about, it is not a negligible increase. The strategic importance of Crimea is probably vastly greater than 4.4 percent of Ukraine. The port of Sevastopol is important and its history is covered by blood. The peninsula is connected to Ukraine by 2 roads in the North; it is separated by the Strait of Kerch from Russia on the Eastern side (10 miles, ferries operate there).

I don't claim to exactly understand what the Russian people want and what is the order of their priorities. But I am sure that a stop sign for the apparently monotonic weakening of Russia by the foreign pressures is an important part of that, much like efforts to prevent chaos similar to the chaos we recently saw in Kiev. I am totally convinced that a vast majority of the Russian nation considers the mess in Kiev to be a scary example, especially if it were supposed to spread e.g. to Russia itself. And Putin is doing an OK job to fight against these threats. His approval rate grew to 68 percent or so in the wake of the Olympics and the Ukrainian crisis. Is Obama at least dreaming about similar numbers?

The Time Magazine quoted some Russian survey concluding that 73 percent of the Russians think that their country shouldn't become a party in the internal struggles between the Ukrainian. That's interesting but I think that if they were asked the question whether Russia should listen to unanimous requests by parliaments of regions such as Crimea, the result would be extremely different.

There are lots of values, habits, traditions, priorities, and emotions we don't quite understand because it's not the part of the world where we are living and where we were educated. Ron Paul told Russia Today that he was against the U.S. interventions at many places of the world but he also mentioned that Russia is closer so the Russians could perhaps know what they are doing – they could have some understanding of the situation. The principle he is stressing is that decisions should be made at the local level – and Moscow is at least "quasilocal" when it comes to decisions e.g. in Crimea. I agree with that.

Meanwhile, Yanukovitch may have had a heart attack. I am sort of compelled by the Estonian telephone call suggesting that the snipers were hired by the "new coalition" and were shooting people on both sides (cops and protesters). The minister's words – he has already confirmed the authenticity – boil down to a testimony by Dr Olha Bohomolets, an honored doctor of Ukraine, a professor at the Bohomolets National Medicine University named after her granddad, a singer, but especially the boss of the mobile unit of doctors that was treating all the injured (and dead) in the Kiev protests. She was sympathizing with the "Maidan" which is another reason to take her words a bit seriously. Except for the Daily Mail etc., the Western press is trying to hide these important findings that may very well be proving that the "new government of heroes" are mass killers who were shooting their own people as well as the other side to make a "point".

There have been lots of talk about sanctions, especially in the U.S. Europe is more realistic and Czechia is even more realistic than that. I think that even the "relatively small harassment" of Russia and its politicians over this crisis – in which Russia has actually been almost invisible and bloodless so far – is dangerous enough. It should be clear that most other proposed sanctions, like the cancellation of the G8 membership, are complete non-events from a Russian point of view, however.

As I predicted, China has already sent signals that it is ready to join Russia and sink the U.S. dollar if necessary. China owns over $3 trillion of U.S.-denominated assets; one-half are equities, one-half are bonds. China is even saying that it could decide the U.S. dollar to be "no longer good" and demand the repayment of the debt in gold. I am confident that this blow could really be catastrophic for the U.S. Nevertheless, one needs much less imagination to see the terrible blow to the European economy in the case of a trade war of a sort. Please, don't do it!


  1. Putin wants Crimea so he can access the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. I don't think he cares too much about Ukraine as such.
    I hope we, the EU, won't start a war against Russia (and China!)to protect the US interests. Ukraine is not our business and I find it disgusting to see that the EU has just signed a cheque of 11 billions to Ukraine (which might end up in Russia's pocket anyway).
    In 1854 (Napoleon III), France sent 400 000 men to fight against the Russians for the British' interests who wanted to protect their "Route des Indes". 90 000 French soldiers died, price of the victory. Going to war to protect somebody else's interests is not worth it.

  2. Seen that everybody involved is comfortable with the Ukraine being just what the name says, borderland, there is no sense in annexing it, as that would not solve but just shift the problem,
    Of course, that implies the EU has to accept that Ukraine is not a good membership candidate until after Russia becomes part of the EU, which seems a ways off.

  3. I think after reading this you will change your mind:

  4. I think after reading this you will change your mind:

  5. I find that the media are biased and never report the tit for tat in the discussions between west and russia. One has to guess.

    I have noticed that they have stopped talking of "changing sovereign borders" after Putin said "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" :" what about Yugoslavia and its dissolution" . They now talk of "law and democratically elected governments" changing the goal posts and hoping we do not notice.

    Also the point made about the training of the Meidan "army" in other countries was pointed up by Putin " why should not the commandos in Crimea not be also trained" was never pointed out in our main news bulletins. I wonder what else they talk about in those one hour talks, Putin and Obama, certainly a lot we do not hear about.

    When populations are of a mixed ethnicity there are always problems. Even after so many centuries Scotland asks for independence polls. Cyprus is in a similar mess, where the role of Russia is taken up by Turkey claiming vital interests and protection of its ethnic population on the island.

    I think federations and confederations solve such problems, as with Switzerland who have a very successful set up. We shall have to wait and see.

    Crimea is a newly ( 50years) acquired real estate for Ukrane. Better to let it go from where it came, imo. The rest should move towards a federation.

  6. read it. I think it is hysterical over reaction. Russia is not annexing Ukrane, just a bit of real estate it had given through overconfidence back fifty or so years ago to what she considered a "valued partner". This partner is for some years now looking elsewhere for partnership and it is inevitable that at the divorce real estate is apportioned according to former ownership. At the dissolution of the soviet union russia was too weak to assert her rights, now, being stronger and given the opportunity, it does.

    No to forget that Yanukovic was democratically elected after all. One cannot use the argument at 180 degrees opposite use according to which way the wind blows.

  7. I can sympathise with Russia's movements towards Crimea, and a large scale trade war will not happen, at least as far as official sanctions are concerned. All parties have too much to lose from that. While sanction rhetoric rolls off the tongues of politicians more easily than military rhetoric, I think proper trade sanctions are as unlikely as nuclear strikes.

    Instead, I would imagine the E.U. and U.S. will launch an offensive by engaging in a "bidding war" with Russia over Ukraine à la the Marshall plan. The E.U. has already matched Russia's offer for grants and loans, and the U.S. has offered an additional billion in aid.

    The E.U. will also undoubtedly diversify its energy policies.

    China will presumably stay neutral as long as sanctions aren't introduced (which they won't be), as the idea of regions declaring independence worries them.

  8. NumCracker, this article actually reinforces my opinion in every ways. The only thing this Snyder guy is doing is, from a French expression "drowning the fish" (cloud the issue). Saying that "the Crimea seizure was meant as a challenge to the EU" is such a blatant primitive propaganda that it made me laugh. Like a bitch in an office warning a young new recruit to be careful with that other colleague when in fact it is a bitch herself that she should worried about. I can understand the Americans are buying this but not here NumCracker. Not in Europe.

  9. Let's just keep the standards of coherence on EU discourse about Lybia and Syria: Yanukovic was democratically elected/deposed, right? So now the whole country has to wait for new national elections, before a referendum on Crimeas destiny could be made. Breaking the territory down now is by definition annexation!

  10. Sorry, but he was not deposed democraticaly, it was a coup by the mob at Meydan. We cannot start calling coups democratic because scared parliaments follow mob orders?

    I a not defending Yanukovic, I am just saying that hypocrisy is the name of politicians.

  11. I see ... it is somehow clear that EU still lacks a "unity of purpose" as David Cameron used to mention. Anyway, by happily donating $15-billion to Ukraine (such intervention) now has became "your business":,0,7064082.story#axzz2vIHv0TEY

  12. Have you considered Kaliningrad Oblast vs Crimea?

    I can see some parallels in terms of Russia wanting to be able to project naval power to its "surrounding" seas. It could not do that if the Ukraine was closely tied to the EU.

    It seems to me that Russia is quite happy with the EU as the EU weakens the national resolve of member states, pretending to be able to take care of any problem. With the USA nobbled at the White House by a President who loves himself so much, that he doesn't seem to have any left for his country; NATO is neutered. Russia knows that it cannot project force into the Ukraine without exposing its nakedness to retaliation.

    Putin knows that as long as he can preserve Obama's presidency and the EU's dilly-dallying about threatening to hold meetings to discuss the possibility of sanctions against Russia; that all he has to do is to sit and wait for the waves to calm, the western media to be distracted by the next big story and for the Ukrainians to recognize the upstarts for what they are and to sort out their own mess while he keeps their military under lock and key.

    There is a difference between showing force and using force.

    It's not how western peace-keeping "works" but if there is no outright civil war, then Putin may be able to hang a Nobel Peace Prize on the wall below the "title deeds" for Crimea.

  13. Populations of mixed ethnicity do not always lead to problems, Anna. Where there is tolerance and mutual acceptance things can be just fine. The universal acceptance of intermarriage is the best measure of tolerance between groups, of course.
    The best example of this is the border region of Texas that abuts Mexico. An entirely new, mixed culture is developing there but California is a much larger example.
    As a non-latino white Californian I belong to the first ethnic group that has lost its plurality status in any state of the US. We lost our majority position long ago. Things are working quite well but not quite as well as southwest Texas.

  14. Opinion polls in Russia are meaningless. Most Russians get their news from Russian TV only - and that is controlled by Putin. He is always a good and successful guy. No wonder his popularity soars.

    Good Dr. Bohomolets observed that both sides have good snipers. She is said to have concluded that they must be the same snipers. She suspected that the new coalition hired them. I like the timeline: The new coalition hires snipers; they kill a number of people; that causes an explosion of public anger; that allows the new coalition to be formed.

  15. "Scared parliaments follow mob orders"? Strange! So you mean that their loyal military forces were unable to confront some hundred people in streets but they will be powerfull enough to face Russian troops? It remembers me that the Ukranian parliament itself was elected democratically and so it has sovereignity enough to represent their people under a political crisis. This may include to depose a president and convoking new elections.

  16. You really do need to stop fighting the cold war, NumCracker.

  17. New possible sanction: Obama threatens to un-friend Putin on Facebook.
    As to China undermining of dollar, in situation when China holds $3 trillion of American debt, I am not sure if US defaulting would be bigger problem for US or for China.

  18. Russians are pretty consistent with their actions so there is no surprise here. That's one good quality about them.

    In some of your earlier posts I predicted that the pro-EU protesters may turn to terrorism if suppressed. Well, it seems they don't really need to be suppressed too much if the sniper story is true.

    I also predicted that they may go the Moldova route. Well, they already have troubles with payments to Gazprom (not the first time) and I very much doubt Gazprom will be as forthcoming with the next price negotiations. Russians are also in the process of circumventing Ukraine with new pipelines (South Stream should be ready next year and Yamal-II in 4 years). Their only luck is that the gas prices are pretty low right now.

    This is just just one part of the upcoming economic war between Russia and Ukraine that Ukraine is not going to win.

  19. Nope NumCracker, it is still the US who wants to push the EU into more chaos making it look like it were our business. May I remind you that Ukraine is not in the European Union, that it is the EU's irresponsible leaders who gave false hope to the Ukrainians that they could join the EU... hence the chaos.
    Wait until the European elections in May and you'll see what the European people really want.

  20. " (..) it is the EU's irresponsible leaders who gave false hope to the Ukrainians that they could join the EU... hence the chaos." - We do agree here, this is exactly why I said: now, it became your business.

  21. Considering just Russia's access to the sea at west, together with the importance of the Volga-Don transport system, and not considering other factors, Putin is doing his job, wether I like it or not.

  22. Your breathtakingly dumb poultry US official Nuland said "fuck the EU" which means that she wanted to install a US-compatible Ukrainian government at any cost. As I said the US pushes the chaos and it is for the EU to wipe it.
    I do hope we'll soon have a majority of true Europsceptics at the European parliament and that this big EU farce will end any time soon.
    "Chacun chez soi et les vaches seronts bien gardees" = good fences make good neighbours.

  23. Jews should have no more rights than any other people who have suffered, still suffer, on this planet and, believe me, they are many...

  24. China and Russia face implosive currency deflation given their paper money supplies versus their hugely growing gold reserves. Deep-sixing the US dollar is a superlative weapon. Secretary of Crap Kerry will be begging rubles and renminbis for his US return.

  25. Of course. Nobody should have any additional rights because of nationality or religion, and neither any criminal shouldn't be treated in different way because of he's nationality nor religion. I'm saying nothing more than a simple fact: there were/are many nations who suffered, and all those nations should be given satisfaction exactly in the same way as in the case of Jews. If someone is really interested not in lobbying for one single nation, but is simply interested in justice, he should not forget about Tatars and their sad fate under communist regime, or let's say Armenian victims of Osmani Empire.

  26. I do apologize for all the idiots in my country, Shannon.

  27. "China is even saying that it could decide the U.S. dollar to be "no longer good" and demand the repayment of the debt in gold."

    And pray tell how could they force the US to allow them, or any other entity, not to accept the dollar as legal tender? No, unless I misunderstand what you are trying to suggest, the only way for a country to get out of the dollar is to spend the ones it already has on things made in America. We will know that is starting to happen if, and only if, the US starts running a trade surplus instead of a deficit with the rest of the world --which, by the way, was what one would have expected when we first started trading with low-wage countries in East Asia back in the early 1990's. That the poor countries would start financing the rich ones was really a crazy surprise, which only happened as a result of "financial repression" in unliberal societies.

  28. anna v: "just a bit of real estate it had given through overconfidence back fifty or so years ago to what she considered a "valued partner"

    You might like Steve Sailer's ex-wife analogy

  29. Or as Steve Sailer said, "If that isn't Democracy! I don't know what is.