On the February 28 MSNBC show “Morning Joe”, former American National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was his vintage self. Among Brzezinski’s beauts was his reference to an international treaty recognizing Ukraine’s Soviet drawn boundaries and his claim that Russian identity is not being threatened in Ukraine. There was no second guessing of his comments.
Later that morning, Al Jazeera America host Del Walters spoke of Russia not being objective on Ukraine, as he had on Andrij Dobriansky, who took offense to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych speaking Russian during his press conference in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Never mind that Yanukovych spoke with Ukrainian flags behind him and took (what can be reasonably perceived as) a pot shot against Russian President Vladimir Putin. (At the aforementioned press conference, Yanukovych expressed displeasure that Putin has not met him since the former’s ouster.) On the matter of language use brought up by Dobriansky, note how little, if any, fuss is made when Irish and Scots (regardless of political sentiment) do not speak their native Gaelic. Given the comparatively limited use of “Anglicization”, the term “Russification” is used in a culturally biased way. Ukrainian language use in Ukraine is more noticeable than Gaelic in Scotland and Ireland.
Brzezinski’s emphasis on respecting an international agreement was ironically brought up by the Kiev based Oleksandr Turchynov, who has been designated as “acting Ukrainian president”. Like Brzezinski, Turchynov was referring to the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine.
Put mildly, Turchynov has his current position as a result of an agreement which was not fulfilled. Specifically, the one signed by Yanukovych and his political opposition, along with French, German and Polish involvement. Upon the signing of that accord, it appears that extreme elements of the anti-Yanukovych opposition chased him out of Kiev, in addition to intimidating others. In turn, the people considered as being more moderate among the opposition to Yanukovych decided to ditch the agreement they signed. The disrespected accord would have had Yanukovych remaining as Ukrainian president in a coalition with his opposition until a presidential vote in December.
In the lead up to Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev, some of the anti-Yanukovych opposition undeniably stormed government buildings in a way that hindered the workplace. Among others elsewhere, the consensus in the mostly pro-Russian Crimean region see disturbing trends that have become the norm in Kiev. Seeking the prosecution of Yanukovych and the Ukrainian law enforcement under him is advocated, unlike doing the same against the violence (some of it fatal) perpetuated from the opposing side.
Contrary to what Brzezinski says, there are clear examples of anti-Russian bias among the group currently influencing Kiev’s Rada. Since their takeover from Yanukovych, a law safeguarding minority language use (including Russian) in Ukraine has been scrapped, along with the demolition of a monument honoring Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov, whose forces repelled Napoleon’s 1812 attack on Russia. Tearing down Lenin statues is not necessarily anti-Russian, unlike what was done to the Kutuzov monument. During Napoleon’s attack on Russia, the ancestors of present day Ukrainians (Habsburg ruled western Ukraine included) were mostly supportive of Russia. The nationalist Svoboda movement is reported to have supported the removal of the Kutuzov monument.
On a February 28 Al Jazeera America “Consider This” segment, Baylor University Assistant Professor Sergiy Kudelia noted that the anti-Yanukovych group in the Rada have favored ending the Russian-Ukrainian agreement, which extends Russia’s lease for a naval base presence in Crimea after 2017.
The recent developments in Crimea bring to mind two adages: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” and “What is good for the goose is good for the gander“. The pro-Russian political grouping in Crimea has not formally sought to leave Ukraine, with Russia committed to respecting Ukraine’s independence, inclusive of its Soviet drawn boundaries. At issue are the hypocritically applied standards (as noted in this commentary), which are understandably opposed by the majority in Crimea.
Even before the dramatic turn of events in Crimea, Western mass media at large has highlighted the possibility of a Russian military intervention there while downplaying the scenario of some Ukrainian nationalists and Crimean Tatar activists, further provoking tension in that region. Multiple reports link a Ukrainian nationalist presence that fought on the side of Chechen separatists. Going back to the time of the Cold War, the pro-Stepan Bandera Captive Nations Committee favored a multiethnic anti-Russian alliance. In 1959, the Captive Nations Committee successfully lobbied the United States to formally adopt a “Captive Nations Week“, which included such Nazi creations as “Cossackia” and “Idel-Ural”, with Russia excluded.
Blaming Russia with inaccuracies is not the best route for seeking stability in Ukraine and elsewhere. As numerous post-Soviet polls in Ukraine indicate, the nationalist anti-Russian perspective is in the minority. However, minority activism, combined with the relative passivity of others, can lead to a disproportionate representation. Crimea and others await to see how things in Kiev will develop.
The pro-Russian military activity in Crimea has a contingency planned manner, in the event of an unruly situation, as has occurred in Kiev. So far, this increased military presence in Crimea has not resulted in the kind of fatally violent mayhem, which was evident in Kiev. Some other parts of Ukraine suggest sympathy with Crimea’s stance.
Humanitarian intervention advocates like Arizona Senator John McCain and American United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power have not been consistent in their advocacy. In 1999, McCain and Power supported the American government led bombing of Yugoslavia (then consisting of Serbia and Montenegro)—a military action that did not have United Nations support beforehand. Thereafter, McCain and Power supported the independence of Serbia’s Kosovo region, in a move opposed by Serbia and many other countries.
The stated Western concern over the situation in Crimea has included a reference to what happened in the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in 2008. This particular talking point typically downplays that it was the Georgian government which attacked the disputed territory of South Ossetia, killing Russian peacekeepers and South Ossetians with Russian citizenship. Prior to that Georgian government strike, the Kremlin did not recognize the declared independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Of all the countries that took military action to assert their claim over contested territory, Georgia is the only one to have followed up with heightened armed action in this millennium. Crimea has not declared independence from Ukraine and Russia has not disputed the territorial makeup of Ukraine’s Communist drawn boundaries.
The main issues at hand are the chaotic political and economic situation, the internal Ukrainian differences on how to best proceed and the role of the West and Russia. Not to be completely overlooked are the differences over language use and some historical issues. These latter matters can get magnified during especially challenging times. With that in mind, it was counterproductive for the anti-Yanukovych group in the Rada to scrap the law safeguarding minority languages and not cautioning against acts like the destruction of the Kutuzov monument. For the purpose of deescalating tension and seeking a reasonable course, some of the commentary from influential Western sources has been unhelpful.
In 1983, the United States government militarily intervened in Grenada, at the time of a tumultuous change of leadership on that island nation. The Reagan administration expressed concern over the safety of American nationals there, who were not citizens of that country. In Crimea, many of its inhabitants have Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. Regarding the 1983 armed military invasion of Grenada and present realities, one is reminded of Adranik Migranyan’s February 21 National Interest article “Putin is Russia’s Reagan“.