Comment on the situation in Crimea
5th of March 2014
Today, 5th of March 2014, since three months that the protests have started in the Ukrainian communities in support of signing an Agreement of Association with the European Union by the President Yanukovych, it is now time to think a little bit beyond the short-lived cycle of real-time news, which generates a mechanism of increasingly emotional responses in the public opinion.
We have seen a long and significant sequence of dramatic events, following the one the other since late November, which included a new kind of Olympic Truce as well as a massacre. It necessarily takes, therefore, an historical feature. Even in the position of outsiders who don’t enjoy any direct governmental source, we have a right to reflect on the happening of the deeds in order to reach some kind of meaningful questions. Emotions tend to suppress the ability to have a more global view on a phenomenon. If the populations in Ukraine, who are directly exposed to the facts, may not be blamed for being caught in emotions, analysts and intellectuals who stand yet far from the zone of action have a duty of developing a broader scope.
Since Friday the 28th of February, Crimea which was until so far under the control of some Ukrainian military forces is the theatre of a security operation led in behalf of the Security of the Russian speaking populations living in the peninsula. As it is presented by the official authorities of the Federation of Russia, this operation is a response to a situation of Terror after a “coup” achieved in Kyiv, coup which could lead very quickly to the sending of Ukrainian extremist activists to the South of the country just after that the new gouvernment had seized the power.
The tone used by the President Putin during his declaration on Tuesday the 4th of March in the Kremlin validated the idea that this operation of security in Crimea is a “response” to a situation of crisis. In other words, the Russian leader, who had plenty of time to spend in Sotchi during his Games, would have been taken by surprise by the escape of Victor Yanukovych. He would not have been informed by his services that the legitimate President of Ukraine until his destitution or his defeat in an early Presidential election was about to leave the power to his opponents.
It gives the portrait of a Russian power taking important political decisions under the pressure of events, under the pressure of the streets in kyiv, without the comfort of having planned them since a long while in kept secret documents, as it is the custom for this level of purpose. In other words, the high ranking political and military levels in Moscow did not use the three months since late November in order to anticipate any scenario, to define any stake, to set any goal in the evolution of the unfolding political situation in Ukraine ?
4th protest in Paris, 8th of December 2013
(source : Cyrille Clément)
This political posture has the advantage, in terms of political promotion, to put the blame on those who triggered the mass protests in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world, during late November 2013, three months ago. This thesis is called “the irresponsible politics of the West”. It’s certainly gaining in popularity across Russia and elsewhere in the world, since the President Putin’s aura goes well beyond the borders of the Federation he presides over.
But, as the Russians present themselves as the only ones who are responsible in this crisis, the argument of an emergency response, in other words a “panicked” response, to a non-anticipated crisis is less convincing. If they are responsible, they are not trailing after the evolution of the situation. They are in command of it. Since they are responsible, they anticipated and assessed the costs and benefits of each act.
The other argument, which greatly invalidates the idea of a “response” to a crisis, instead of a well before planned operation, is the fact that Crimea is not an unknown place for Russian military forces. The peninsula can hardly be a more historical place : location of the war between Russia and a French-British expedition in 1854, location of 2 heavy battles during World War Two between Soviet troops and Fascists invaders, garrison of Soviet troops during 45 years after the war, this place is a classic among the recorded battlefields on which the literature is abundant.
Given the fact that the President Putin team’s objective and political ambition were to erect a Eurasiatic Union, the possibility of a negative response by the Ukrainian population (given the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the long History of Ukrainian resistance to the power of Moscow) had been taken into account long before the start of the uprising in Ukraine. Therefore, it is more likely that the Ukrainians are those who are late of a strike in this chess game rather than the Russians. The Russians are those who try to forge a wide Union, which will re-enact in a different way the former Soviet Union. They are those who, here, are acting, the Ukrainians being only those who are re-acting, responding to a sequence of positive actions coming from outside in which the 15 Bn $ bail was just a part. The protests from the Ukrainians are not an action, a plan, but a re-action to a plan. And I tend to see much more improvisation in the Ukrainian camp than in the Russian one. In other words, the Ukrainians are enduring the action (even if they think that they go politically forwards with their actions) while the Russians are perpetrating the action.
The argument of the President Putin “reacting” to a danger is a skilful rhetorical inversion of the facts. The President Putin is a builder. As a builder, he faces foreseeable difficulties, as a political uprising, and these difficulties are known before the start of the commissioned action. As this Eurasian Union is aimed to act on both Russian flanks, the Asian dimension (China and India) and the European dimension (the European Union), the Russians must go forward towards Europe first, since this side looks like being the weakest. And the Russians can’t just stay in awaiting that each country of its Western Near Abroad leave, the one after the other, their sphere of influence.
As an ambitious political leader, the President Putin knows the importance of the Myth of Europe in the Russian political culture. If he can’t go straightforward to Berlin and Paris, like it was more possible in the past, it is important to test the response of the West to his steps forwards on the borderline. This is why, associating Poland and Lithuania, in his accusations, to the training of Euromaidan activists, is a crystal clear legitimating message in his political and symbolic construction.
To assess that the Russians must not loose the Crimea is yet another argument fostered by the political construction presenting Russia as “re-acting” and not “acting” with a determined ambition. The current situation is not that Russia could, at any moment, loose its grip over its use of Crimea. The Ukrainian army is too weak to counterbalance the Russian power here. The current question is rather : what, in the Russian action, is the next target in Europe ?
When the Ukrainian populations called for an end to the corruption in their country, the political power in Moscow very skilfully displaced the political debate to the ground of National loyalty, in other words to the policy of State Security. By playing on the national fears and dangers, the political masters avoided to answer on the more significant question of reliability and accountability to the civil and civic populations. And the National question in Ukraine and even in Russia is much more grey than black and white : an important fraction of the population living in Ukraine are mixed people and all the spectrum of possibilities is available, including Russian speaking people loyal to Ukraine and Ukrainian originating people loyal to Putin’s Russia. But, by fixing the political question on the loyalty to two opposed camps, the political leaders resettled politics in terms of absolute and exclusive loyalty to one flag, which is already setting the question in terms of Terror.