Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Tension in the East

At present the world is focused on the tension between the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian people, and, as ever, there is a long history here, and a lot of deceit, passion and ambition. If one looks back in history, the Ukraine has had some very varied fortunes. It straddles one of the 'High Roads of History' and has seen waves of invaders from time immemorial. It has been 'occupied' by Ghengis Khan's hordes, it was once divided between the Ottoman Empire, Poland and Lithuania. Even the Hungarians have held parts of it at times, and from about 1400 onwards, the Russians have gradually absorbed more and more of it.

The people who identify themselves as Ukrainian have been deported, relocated, supplanted and suppressed, but they remain an ethnic and linguistic group. And they have, over the years held onto that no matter where they are, and, if possible, have drifted back to their land. The Crimea is a complicated problem on all sides, since it was not, except geographically, part of the original Ukraine, and its people were the Tartars, a largely Muslim group. Enter 19th Century politics, and the desire of Britain and France to prevent Russian influence spreading into the Middle East, and now we have the Crimean War in support of the dying Ottoman Empire. The outcome is probably best descriobed a stalemate, since Russia retained possession of the Crimea, the Ottomans lost territory and Britain and France got no more than a halt in Russian expansion. Add to this our support (by Naval bombardment) for the White Russian forces in the Black Sea and Ukraine-Crimea and you begin to see the background to the present difficulty.

Like the Georgians, the Tartars and the Ukrainians weren't too keen on the Bolsheviks who were mainly Russian, and fought for the White Russians, probably hoping to win their freedom from the Russian hegemony. Lenin and then Stalin exacted a ferocious revenge for that. Particularly under Stalin, large numbers of Ukrainians were deported from the eastern areas and replaced by ethnic Russians. The Tartars resisted, got 'cleansed', and then deported, and replaced by ethnic Russians again. Post 1945 western leaders - according to Josephus the Correspondent on this blog - may have been naive when they forcibly returned to Russia the captured Georgians and Ukrainians who had joined the German Nazi SS to fight against Stalin. The 40,000 Georgians were executed almost as soon as they landed, and the Ukrainians (some reports refer to two 'Divisions') simply vanished. No doubt some of the skeletons that turn up from time to time are all that remains of them.

The Ukrainians hoped, when the USSR broke up, to be able to restore their independence - lost since around 1600 - and become a part of the western European family of nations with which they identify themselves. They reckoned without the fact that the ethnic Russians, transplanted into their midst, would have none of it. Russia depends on the Ukraine for its supply of wheat. The Ukraine is not called the 'Bread Basket of Russia' for nothing. The problem for the Ukrainians is that, under the treaties binding them to Russia, it is the Kremlin that sets the price they get for it, and determines who they can sell to. Having all but exhausted the oil and gas reserves in the Ukraine, the Russians are now the suppliers of both commodities to that country - and again, the Kremlin dictates the terms, prices and conditions. Every winter in the last few years, the Kremlin has 'turned off' the supply to the western parts on one pretext or another, usually to prevent the sort of overthrow of their puppet regime we have just seen. And then there is the Russian military presence.

The Crimea is a complication. Until Kruschev placed it under the administrative control of Kiev in 1954 it was never a part of the Ukraine. Now, of course, it is essentially an armed camp, bristling with ethnic Russians and Russian troops. Not surprising, of course, since it is the base for the Black Sea Fleet, and the place where all the Russian Duma members have their holiday homes.

Josephus, in an email to me recently, summed it up like this -
I've been reading the BBC news pages on this topic and find some of the usual half-truths and blinding ignorance on display. 
However, they show maps of the ethnic demographic and the votes in the EU/Russia referendum.  The split is almost exactly linked to the ethnic identity in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  Basically, those with EU neighbours wish to be closer to the EU and those with Russian neighbours whish to be closer to Mother Russia.  I find this totally understandable.
Putins actions, however are being misrepresented, yes he wishes Ukraine to remain a buffer state between him and NATO, it prevents him having a hostile boundary to "police".  The USSR had its buffer states, but they are now mostly EU, most notably Poland and the former GDR.
Putin has (knowing full well he would not be opposed directly) flooded Crimea with troops.  Bearing in mind that 58% of the population identifies as  ethnically Russian and that the Naval lease on the Sevastopol base runs until 2042 this will have been quite easy, it is also rumoured that officials are handing out Russian passports like sweeties.
BUT!  Crimea is not Ukraine, yes Kruschev handed it to the Ukraine Oblast in 1954 but it is a very separate region.  Ukraine could give Putin Crimea and hardly notice the difference.
The real question is "Can Ukraine consider itself one united country when 70%+ of the Eastern populace voted to stay East and 70%+ of the western to go West?"
Should Ukraine split itself along ethnic and language lines?
Bohemia certainly seems happy as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, such splits have been made within recent memory, the Balkans also provide examples, although not perfect ones.
Josephus has found the following images which explain something of the population split rather well.


The western powers find themselves caught on the horns of a dilemma here. Should Mr Putin get away with 're-incorporating' Ukraine into the Russian Federation as he evidently would like to do, who among the former Soviet satellite states will be next to be targeted? I suspect that this is a question many are asking privately, and many of the former Russian vassal peoples must be worried. We have seen his enforced partition of Georgia, and there has been a similar 'grab' of part of Moldova. Always the excuse is the same  - to 'protect' the interests of ethnic Russians. 

Funny how no one seems to make the link between these and a certain 'leader' in the 1930s and 40s who made similar claims. Nor does there seem to be any acknowledgement of the right of the majority populations to choose who their governors should be. The fact is that the Russians have consistently flouted the Geneva Convention articles which forbid ethnic transplantations and the seizure of territory from sovereign states by military force. If they are permitted to continue in this manner, what is to stop everyone else from doing the same? There has to be a line drawn in the sand somewhere - but I can't see the present collection of western politicians doing it.

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