Saturday, March 01, 2014

Thanks a lot, Khruschev

The news from Crimea is unsettling, partly because it's not entirely clear to me whether it's bad to have Crimea reattached to Russia in some form.

From a utilitarian perspective, removing the most eastern-oriented portion of Ukraine from its electoral politics would pretty much guarantee a western-oriented political outcome. My less-certain idea is that Russians living closest to the rest of Europe may have more European attitudes, so moving this population into Russia might also somewhat liberalize Russian political attitudes.

From other ethical perspectives, this area was Russian and is populated primarily by Russian speakers, and was only transferred to the Ukraine recently (1954) by a Soviet dictator for reasons that have little to do with the historical or ethical way to govern the region. There are the Crimean Tatars, but AFAICT that's a relatively small minority. I think as a general rule the majority in a region does not have the ethical right to secede their region from the country, but that rule should have exceptions.

The key downside, which may be what motivates Putin as an upside, is that having a Russian-occupied region would make it very difficult for Ukraine to join NATO. This reason partly motivated the Georgia war. Still, I don't see what's to be done about it. The history of eastern Europe in the last generation has been a tremendous victory for liberalism. Consolidating these gains is more important and valuable than restarting a cold war.

Saber-rattling with Russia might have some limited value but not a whole lot, going beyond saber-rattling is definitely a bad idea, and Russia's status as semi-democratic/semi-dictatorial is still fluid, so there are opportunities for liberalization that shouldn't be discouraged. The end game here isn't Ukraine, it's the political liberalization and stabilization of Russia, and successful democracies on its borders take us in that direction.

The game changes if Russian invades other parts of Ukraine, let alone the entire country. That's a real war with assistance needed, although it also needs a limited scope.

One other point I saw somewhere - as in other parts of Slavic Europe, the division here may be more religious than linguistic, with Ukrainian Catholics oriented to the west and Orthodox to the east.


Anonymous said...

I hope we stay out of it. The key problem in the Ukraine is corruption on both sides. I would hope we have learned that supporting corrupt governments is not a good idea in the long run.

And if the west complains too loudly then Putin can always make up some stuff about WMDs. Maybe publish a dodgy dossier or two: perhaps Rumsfeld has a spare one left over.

Lionel A said...

Russia would lose some key Black Sea ports if it were to lose control of the Ukraine. The Black Sea is Russia's key to the Mediterranean and late 19th Century history saw a couple of British scares when Russia was threatening the Ottoman Empire and thus gaining control of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Britain bought up some crank (white elephants) capital ships being built for export as the RN was low on such types and feared losing control of the Eastern Med'.

Russia is very keen to control access to and within the Mediterranean and was during the cold war which became rather warm at times including one incident when the carrier I was serving on was in collision with a Russsian SAM Kotlin (365 Bravvy) when it was trying to spoil our flying op's. Aircraft were launching as it came across our bows. They also deployed many 'fishing vessels' with more antenna on them that needed for fishing. We moored close to some in Grand Harbour, Malta.

I dare say they still play chicken with our vessels.

William M. Connolley said...

> Crimean Tartars, but AFAICT that's a relatively small minority

Well they certainly are *now*:

> I think as a general rule the majority in a region does not have the ethical right to secede their region from the country

Why do you think that? I'd say that rule has caused many problems. |viable country sizes, at least within say the Eurozone, are now tiny.

Anonymous said...

Lionel, you were on the Ark Royal in 1970? That incident sounds crazy. I know navies shadow each other all the time, but playing chicken with an aircraft carrier is just nuts.


The Stoat will find Kazan afloat with Tatars, who leave litle doubt about their allegiance by erecting 15 story apartment buildings with prayer rug tiled facades facing Mecca.

Brian said...

William - I guess I should've said more clearly, "in a democracy, the majority of an internal region generally shouldn't have the right to secede without the permission of the overall state" because that impairs the citizenship rights of the people within that internal region who are citizens of the entire democratic state.

Generally I think Wilson was right after World War I in Europe and should've been more consistent about national self-determination in the European colonies. Wilson was a huge racist, even for his time. That might have played role in how he treated European states versus Africa and elsewhere.

Lionel A said...

Anonymous said...

"Lionel, you were on the Ark Royal in 1970?"

Yes, I was an engineer, technician on the F4 squadron. I was working below decks, on 3 deck, up for'ard that evening on some gas turbine units, trying to get one working from three that were U/S (unserviceable) and thus found myself knocked off my feet by the impact. Having no windows to look out of I wondered WTF was going on and at first thought the 'b******' has lobbed a missile at us and was expecting number two as I wandered off to attend to my other duty that day which was the Damage Control state (watertight integrity) of Juliet Section Starboard. My journey took me down to 11 deck, the bilges, and back up securing all clips on hatches as I progressed in each direction, down and then back up to 4 deck and wound up the damage control 'phone to inform Damage Control HQ that the section was 'Closed Up'. It was about then that I discovered what was really going on.

As I said, things were a good degree more 'sensitive' at the time than most realise with a number of incidents between various factions in the Eastern Med' - the USS Liberty massacre for one.

Lionel A said...


WRT Woodrow Wilson maybe it is worth pointing out that he was minded by a certain Colonel House who I think was pulling the strings for the financial and power base backers of US foreign and domestic policy at the time.

WRT Colonies and by extension the nationalities of the middle east region it was the US-British-French interest in oil that lead to the carving up of territory across Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Persia (Iran) and Jordan irrespective of the boundaries of the various ethnic groups which has cast histories long shadow which is still apparent today.

Boiling down a complex scenario into a few words here is always going to look a simplistic generalisation.

The Ottoman Empire also caused deep divisions between ethnic groups especially in the Balkans.

Understanding may be improved by reading 'The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-2011' by Misha Genny


'Peacemakers Six Months That Changed the World: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War' by Margaret Macmillan

This latter book has had a number of editions published with subtle differences in the title so I have cited the edition with the title that contains all of the elements.

EWI said...

"[...]as a general rule the majority in a region does not have the ethical right to secede their region from the country, but that rule should have exceptions"

"The history of eastern Europe in the last generation has been a tremendous victory for liberalism"

"Saber-rattling with Russia might have some limited value but not a whole lot"

"That's a real war with assistance needed, although it also needs a limited scope."

Ahh, Rabett Run. You attract me with the carrots from Eli, and turn me away with hypocritical gobshite 'muscular liberalism' foreign policy warhawkery fromm Other Contributors.

p.s. Wilson also wasn't too hot on 'self-determination' for European natioanlities trying to break free of imperial overlords either. The representatives of the Irish First Dáil were turned away at the door!

Cugel said...

Taking the Crimea into an independent Ukraine, with Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet right there, held out all the promise of the Danzig Corridor. The sort of thing you look at think yeah, right, that's gonna work. Something like this was going to happen one day,so best get it out of the way and people can move on.


Brian said...

EWI, here's a pro-tip: glance at the bottom of the post and you can see who wrote it. That way you can source the carrots before deciding whether to eat them.

And btw, John might even be to Eli's left, so his carrots might be fine to your taste as well.

cRR Kampen said...

Sitrep:now -

If the Ukrainians keep their cool, which they've done admirably up till now, the thing is under control as aided to by Russia.

The Crimea could be (and perhaps will be in a short time) called Russian.
Both most of the people inside Ukraine and the major powers around seem set to keep the rest of the country together and stable.

I think the crisis is over. Of course there is a lot of potency for new crises but that is the case in very many zones.
It is not a bad thing the ball actually lies with the Ukrainians themselves at this juncture.

Pinotgraves said...

Tartar is a sauce
Tatars (and Soylent Green) are people.

Brian said...

Ugh. My spelling is now fixed. Again.

cRR - if things stop here, it's not so bad, maybe even better than if the Russians hadn't come in. In that hypothetical, I could imagine a hot civil war in the Crimea going on right now.

OTOH, Putin might want more of Ukraine. Bottling up those two navy ships instead of kicking them out of Crimea isn't good. And things might go badly even if no one at the top is planning to make that happen.

EWI said...

@ Brian

Every rabbit who cares to dine at Eli's has learned to heed the Head Bunny's lessons on the perils of pontificating in areas of which you know nothing.

Nonsense is still nonsense. I would suggest that you re-read what you wrote and see the lesson there in the many and varied fallacies, but I'm not holding out much hope of enlightenment for the Rabbit Foreign Affairs Desk at this stage.