Out of the smoke and chaos that seems to be descending on Eastern Ukraine, the Russian government response to Ukraine announcing that it would use it military forces to carefully quell the rebellion and clamour for independence in six major cities in the lands to the east of Kyev. This elicited a comment from the Russian Federation Foreign Ministry spokesman that smacks of duplicity and irony, “Ukraine is […] waging war against its own people” (BBC, 14 April 2014).Exactly the same wording was uttered by the Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, who urged the Ukrainian government to cease a “war with its own people” (You Tube, 14 April 2014)
This begs a question: We all think of Russia as a vast transcontinental country that almost touches the US and has borders and an exclave (Kaliningrad Oblast) that infuse with the EU nations, but the land we call ‘Russia’ simply isn’t just Russian. Far from it, it is a host of tightly woven Oblasts, Krais and autonomous Okrugs. The Kaliningrad Oblast was the most heavily militarized area of what was called the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation, and the scale and density of military infrastructure was also the highest found anywhere in Europe. Contrast that with the part in Putin’s muted but obvious victory speech on what Russia considers to be the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation, when he said “can you imagine greeting NATO soldiers in the streets of Sevastopol? I mean, not on a visit, but stationed there?” (Kremlin.ru 14 March 2014)The prospect of Nato in ‘Russian’ waters was a bridge too far. They are now, for the first time in history, going to build a bridge between Russia and Crimea to cement its place within the Russian Federation.
Putin roundly denounced NATO and its members for breaching all and every agreement with Russia, adding that when Russia complains, it is condescendingly told, that “It’s none of your business”. (ibid) Putin is referrring here to NATO’s expansion eastward, in the Black Sea and its broken promises about not stationing NATO troops in former Soviet republics, its involvement in Georgia and the broken promises with regard to the deployment of missile batteries in Europe: Putin is claiming that NATO’s expansions pose a credible and direct threat to the security of the Russian Federation.
Sir Tony Brenton, a former ambassador to the Russian Federation, said that the “upsurge of popular resentment is aimed at the Western inspired government in Kiev […] a slide into NATO”. Sir Tony bemoaned that fact that the conflict was diminishing the efforts of a decade where the West sought to “make it [Russia] a more normal country” (Today, Radio 4, 14 April 2014 at 02:14:20)
The problem is that Russia’s near bloodless annextion of Crimea and now the fomenting of trouble in the eastern regions of Ukraine are similar to those of Agitprop in the UK five decades ago. Russian covert troops were clearly used in the Crimean theft and the same can be said for the civil unrest in the east of Ukraine, where similar ‘troops’ with camouflage gear and Russian-made weapons direct the mob to achieve their master’s aims. Russian expert and author of The Russia Hand, Strobe Talbott said that Russia’s actions are “payback for a quarter of a century of diplomatic bullying” but he also notes that “Despite being Yeltsin’s handpicked successor, Putin saw his role not as building on the Gorbachev-Yeltsin legacy but downplaying it and, in some important respects, repudiating and reversing it.” (Talbott, Yale Global, 2014) The Ukrainians have see-sawed for years between an EU-NATO future and ever closer ties with the Russians. What is sure is that the wishes of the majority of the people of Ukraine will never trump the wishes of the most dangerous man in Europe or Asia, Vladimir Putin.
What Talbott’s argument underscores is the increasingly autocratic way that Putin has run the Russian Federation, frequently broaching no dissent, as Alexander Litvinenko would testify were he to be still alive today. His alleged murderer, Andrei Lugovoy, is deputy of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament for the LDPR. He is a former KGB colleague of Vladimir Putin and, if one wants to prove that Russia is run by a mob of thugs, Lugovoy would be an excellent place to start.
These thugs control states and regions outside of their own domain by withdrawing energy supplies or rewriting a contract that sees their energy tariff substatially rise, as was evidenced in Georgia a decade ago: “Once a relatively affluent part of the USSR, with independence Georgia lost the cheap energy to which it had access in the Soviet period. As relations between Georgia and Russia deteriorated, Moscow did not flinch from tightening the economic screws, and the rupturing of trading ties caused the Georgian economy to nose-dive.” (BBC, 14 August 2013)
The comment in Putin’s speech at the time of the Crimean uprising, when he said that “If you press a spring too hard, it will recoil” (Kremlin.ru, 14 March 2014) serves as a confirmation that Russia feels that ‘their interests’ in Ukraine have been usurped, that they are being marginalised.
It was only ten days ago that Russia was describing the pro-Russian peoples now rioting as ‘Russians’, much the same as it did in Crimea before it forced out the Ukrainian military at gunpoint and annexed it. Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the “reappearance of men with specialised Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia, as previously worn by Russian troops during Russia’s illegal and illegitimate seizure of Crimea, is a grave development”. (NATO Press Release 13 Apr. 2014)
Grave is the right word: I suspect there may be plenty of those soon in Donetsk and the region thereabouts., not that we will likely hear of them. The reason that I make this prediction is because South-Eastern Ukraine is not similar in a demographic perspective to Crimea.
As you can see from the maps, east and south-east Ukraine has a minotrity Russian ethnic population, but it is far too simplistic, with the pro-Russian protesters having declared a ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ to then move to the conclusion that Russia will annexe eastern Ukraine in the style of their previous theft in Crimea.
The maps reveal a strikingly different situation. There is nowhere in eastern Ukraine that has a Russian ethnic majority, whereas Russian ethnics in crimea had an almost 60% percent majority. It was and still is far easier to justify an ‘uprising’ of the inhabitants than it is in the reaminder of eastern Ukraine. It is likely that Russia would like to steal Donetsk as Russia is run by a cabal who specialise in theft, but it is unlikely that they will do this in an obvious way. Putin’s method is always surreptitious, back door methods first, as in Georgia and Crimea, followed by a mechanism that gives Putin effective control. The paradigm of this is ‘Putin’s puppet’, the former president Dmitry Medvedev, who “served as chairman of Gazprom” (Moscow Times, 6 March 2008) a post he relinquished before his inauguration as head of state. Gazprom? There’s another connection:
“Putin “effectively” controls 37% of the shares of Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company and Russia’s third biggest oil producer, worth $20bn, he says. He also owns 4.5% of Gazprom, and “at least 75%” of Gunvor, a mysterious Swiss-based oil trader, founded by Gennady Timchenko, a friend of the president’s, Belkovsky alleges.” (The Guardian, 21 December 2007)
All of this was uncovered at the time that Medvedev was about to assume the Russian presidency in 2007. When pressed on how much he thought Putin was worth, Belkovsky said: “At least $40bn. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.” He added: “It may be more. It may be much more.” (ibid) The Moscow ‘Mafia’ is a good earner, but smoke-and-mirrors is the key strategy. President Boot-in should know all about that – he was formerly a KGB agent. Ask yourself one question: How can a man who has only every been a government offical then president of the state ever be worth more than £20bn?
Addendum 17 April 2014
“When asked if Russia was planning to send troops to the troubled region he [Putin] said parliament had given him the right to do so, but hoped he would not have to use that right.”
You will note that Putin seems to believe that he does not require the agreement of the UN for this matter. He uses the history of Kievan Rus, the state that existed in 800 – 900 AD as evidence that this is the ‘heart’ of the Russian culture, even though Moscow is not built on land within the territory of the ancient land of Kievan Rus. His is a crude ploy at a ‘humanitarian rescue’.
With his Duma (parliament) having given him the ‘right’ to invade Ukraine, with troops and military armoured vehicles ammasssed on the border and Russian special forces incognito operating and co-ordinating efforts in the eastern provinces of Ukraine, it is becoming ever-clearer that Putin and his murky band of thieves are about to steal even more that doesn’t belong to them. Only the West and NATO can prevent this with unified resistance.