8 March 2014 — Eric Margolis
Soviet leader Josef Stalin used to shrug off critics by his favorite Central Asian saying: “The dogs bark; the caravan moves on.”
Russia’s hard-eyed president, Vladimir Putin, is following the same strategy over Ukraine and Crimea. Putin swiftly moved his knight into the empty chess square of Crimea, thereby regaining full control of one of Russia’s four strategic port regions: Sevastopol, Murmansk, St Petersburg and Vladivostok.
Sevastopol, now firmly in Moscow’s hands, is Russia’s sole gateway to the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and Mideast. The vast, co-shared Russian-Ukrainian Sevastopol naval base was a shaky, awkward arrangement doomed to eventual failure.
Semi-autonomous Crimea, over 60% ethnic Russian, will hold a referendum on 16 March to decide to remain in Ukraine or rejoin Russia. A referendum is clearly the answer to the whole Ukraine-Russia problem.
Ukraine has been a corruption-ridden failed state since it separated from Russia in 1991. This writer has long suggested that partition of Ukraine into Western and Russian-oriented halves is the sensible solution, with Crimea returning to Russia.
Putin asks if Western-backed Kosovo can go independent of Serbia, why can’t Crimea break its links with Kiev?
The temporary attachment of majority ethnic Russian Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 after 250 years of Russian rule was unnatural, a ticking time bomb. It has now exploded, triggered in part by the West’s successful effort to overthrow the elected but corrupt government in Kiev of Viktor Yanukovich.
Overturning regimes deemed uncooperative or hostile has long been a CIA specialty. Its first big success came in 1953 with the subversion of Iran’s democratic-nationalist leader, Mohammed Mossadegh by a combination of propaganda, rented crowds, and bribes. We saw this same technique used – enhanced by modern social media – in Ukraine’s first Orange Revolution, Georgia, again in Iran(unsuccessfully), and, with the help of US and British special forces, in Libya and Syria. Egypt came next, where a US-backed tinpot military dictator, the self-appointed “Field Marshall al-Sisi” claims he is answering the people’s call.” Not a peep from Washington. Or about the crushing of opposition by Bahrain’s US-backed monarchy.
Russia, which used to be adept at subversion, has lagged in recent years but it still knows the signs. The Kremlin is convinced that Ukraine’s latest revolution was engineered by Washington. The US Undersecretary of State for Europe admitted Washington has spent $5 billion over recent years in Ukraine to bring it into the West’s orbit – aka “building democracy.”
Two points to note. Did Washington think that tough Vlad Putin would just take its coup lying down?
Second, it’s amazing how determined Washington’s cold warriors remain to tear down Russia. The bankrupt US, $17 trillion in debt, running on money borrowed from China, with bridges collapsing and 44 million citizens on food stamps, suddenly finds the money to offer bankrupt Ukraine a new $1 billion loan – just to compete with Moscow. A loan unlikely to be repaid.
America has a bad habit of personalizing foreign affairs and demonizing uncooperative leaders. Remember when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser was denounced as “Hitler on the Nile?” “Khadaffi, Mad Dog of the Mideast?” Most Americans have little knowledge of geography, history or world affairs so the easiest way to market overseas adventures to them is by creating foreign bogeymen like Khadaffi and Saddam.
Vladimir Putin is the latest. He is being hysterically demonized by the US and British media. Vlad the Bad.
Disturbingly, US Republicans and the usual media propagandists are heaping blame on President Barack Obama for “losing Crimea,” as if any of them knows where it was before last week. John McCain and his sidekick Sen. Lindsey Graham have been demanding that Obama “get tough.”
Sure. Let’s mine Russia’s ports or blockade its oil and gas exports. Nothing like a nuclear war to show how weak the Democrats are. Thank God McCain did not win the presidency. The dolts at Fox TV can’t tell the difference between caution and cowardice.
President Putin’s ambition is to slowly reassemble some parts of the old USSR, Ukraine being the most important. Doing so is in Russia’s national interest, much as we may not like it. Nearly all Russians believe Putin is on the right track. By contrast, Washington wants to keep Russia weak and treat it as an obsequious, defeated nation, like postwar Germany or Japan.
The US won’t accept that Russia has any legitimate spheres of influence, while Washington’s span the globe. Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who used to be a sensible fellow before becoming corrupted by power, blasted Russia: “you just don’t invade a country under a phony pretext!”
I guess Kerry has never heard of the US invasions of the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Libya. Or can’t remember Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin “incident.”
Kerry should cut the hypocrisy and get to work on a diplomatic settlement. Two major nuclear-armed powers cannot – must not – be allowed to confront one another.
Ukraine could turn out to be the 1914 Bosnia-Herzegovina of our era if we don’t stop primitive breast-beating over a region no one could even find on a map until recently.
Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily coincide with one’s of the OR Editori