No one will tell you the reality about Ukraine and Crimea.
03/08/2014 3 Comments
For weeks the world has been talking about the Ukraine. Everybody has an opinion, almost never based on the reality.
First there were protests against a democratic elected but corrupt President. Soon it got ugly and protesters were killed. Pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the Country and Ukraine got a new Government that however, only represented the Western Pro-European part of the Ukraine. Russia was afraid to lose influence in the Country that used to be part of the Soviet Union and all of a sudden Russian troops were all over the place in Crimea, an autonomous Republic in the Ukraine. It was called an invasion although not everybody agrees on that because Russian troops are legally allowed to be there
Everybody uses events in Ukraine for her or his own good.
The media loves it and is preparing everybody for a war because that is good for ratings. It’s not realistic though. The Ukrainian army has no chance whatsoever against the Russians and also appears to be divided. Several Generals already said that they would never fight against Russia. The International community will never get involved in an armed conflict with Russia. No matter how much the media loves to talk about it, this will never be a war.
Republicans use the situation to criticize President Obama. They don’t seem to know on what though. Some complain that he is too tough and others say he’s not tough enough. Their criticism appears to be part of a political game and is therefore not to be taken too seriously.
Self-proclaimed transparency fighters like Wikileaks, had some help from Russia lately and therefore now only focus on what’s wrong with the Ukrainian opposition. A minority of the Ukrainian opposition is right wing fascist but suggesting that they’re all Nazis has nothing to do with reality. Arguments that an oligarch like former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is no better than who used to be in charge, may be valid, but suggesting that they’re all like that is just not right. The far left may have some points but they generalize too much and their silence when unarmed protesters were killed speaks volumes. They also play a political game.
Most liberals, including myself, have been criticizing circumstances in Russia for a long time. There is not enough freedom for the media and there are no equal rights. We criticize Russia for good reasons. But those issues may also have influenced the way we look at this situation and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
In the end we all use this to make our own point and no one really seems to care what the actual situation is.
As irrelevant as a blog post may be, I will try to give some perspective. And while doing that I will ignore my own ideas about Russia and equality issues on which I’ve heavily criticized their Government. This will only be about Ukraine and more specific, about Crimea.
I have lived in Russia. Eight years ago I started my first project abroad for which my company sent me to Moscow. I’ve lived there for three years and while there I‘ve been to Crimea several times. Crimea is not only important for the Russian army, it’s also a fantastic holiday paradise, where many Russians spend their vacation.
Even though recent events came as a surprise to me, they shouldn’t have. I have been warned. I vividly remember people in Crimea predicting this would happen one day. Something about Crimea just didn’t seem to be right. It was Ukraine yet it felt like it was Russia.
Crimea has been Russian for centuries, the majority of the people are Russians and Crimea officially belonged to Russia for a very long time. The only reason why Crimea became a part of Ukraine is that Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was Ukrainian, on a night in 1954 when he was reportedly drunk, decided that Crimea would from then on belong to the Ukraine.
A strange decision that didn’t make any sense, but it also didn’t really matter. It was still unthinkable that the Soviet Union would ever fall apart so the only thing that changed was the name of the part of the Soviet Union that Crimea belonged to. But you can call an apple a banana, it’s still an apple. The majority of the Crimean people have always felt they belonged to Russia and Russia has always seen it as theirs.
This became a real problem when the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 90’s and Ukraine became a sovereign State. Russia argued that just because one man once decided that Crimea was Ukrainian, it shouldn’t mean that they would have to say farewell now. It had always been Russian and the majority of the people wanted it to be Russia. A vague deal was made. Crimea would be a part of Ukraine although Russia could pretty much use it for whatever it wanted. It has been like that ever since. Russian troops can legally be in Crimea so technically we can’t even call this an invasion. The number of Russian troops however, suggests otherwise.
To solve a problem it’s important to understand it first. That is something that the world should realize and especially the EU failed to do so. After months of protests in Kiev a compromise was made three weeks ago. They would have elections and till then there would be an interim Government that represented all parts of Ukraine. This was meant to unite Pro-European Ukrainians in the West, The Russians in the East and a huge part where both groups are mixed and live together with other minorities. If this compromise would have happened, the world would have never heard of Crimea.
But EU politicians, totally ignorant of the historical reality, urged the protesters to not take the deal. This resulted in a new Government that only represented the Pro-European Ukrainians. The other half was not represented by anyone.
In my opinion this may be the dumbest thing the EU has ever done. I disapprove of how Russia responded but the EU almost asked for it. If we think democracy is the way to go, we can’t just ignore half of the people, just because they are not Pro-European Ukrainians but Russians who are Pro-Russia. If we don’t acknowledge them as part of Ukraine, they may as well secede.
It’s also almost unfair to expect that Russia will just say farewell to what they still consider to be a part of their own Country. We can’t expect Russia to just give up the only naval base they can use during winter. By ignoring the historical reality, the importance it has to Russia and half of those who live in Ukraine, the EU created this mess. The only thing that could have kept Ukraine together was a Government that represented all the people. Instead they helped establish a Government that only represents those who prefer the EU over Russia.
Every amateur could have known that Russia wouldn’t accept to lose all is interests in what it sees as its own Country. The irresponsible actions of the EU backfired. Russian troops had always been on the naval base in Crimea, but now walk on the streets of the Crimean cities. The Pro-Russian parliament of Crimea all of a sudden decided it wants to be part of Russia. The citizens will do the same in a referendum.
Russia welcomes this and the West calls it unconstitutional. Both are at least a bit hypocritical.
When Slovenia decided in the 90’s that it didn’t want to be a part of Yugoslavia any longer because it had never felt it belonged there, it was also unconstitutional. Back then Russia was against it and the West cheered it and called it democracy. The situation in Crimea is really not that different, except the choice of the people is now not Pro-West but Pro-Russia.
In the end this is all about power and the West, especially the EU, overplayed its hand. Everyone could have known that Russia would have never just accepted their loss. Crimea could have been part of Ukraine with some Russian influence. But the EU wanted it all and now they have nothing. The same EU politicians that promised the Pro-Western part of the Ukraine to have their backs three weeks ago, are now nowhere to be found. Serious sanctions against Russia will hurt the EU and especially Ukraine, just as much as they will hurt Russia. It’s a lost battle. Crimea will be Russian.
What have we learned?
First of all we can’t just ignore historical reality just because we don’t like it. If something has been yours for centuries and is a crucial part of your military, you’re not just going to give that up. We could have known that.
Another important thing is that you can’t promise people to have their backs and then walk away when it gets difficult. Something the EU has done more than once.
But most important is that we need to be consequent about democracy. It’s either always ok if the vast majority of the people decide about their independency or it’s never ok. We can’t agree with the majority if they choose for us and then disagree if they choose for Russia. Democracy gives people the choice. It doesn’t say which choice they should make.
I will continue to criticize Russia on several issues. But if it’s about this issue, the West should get at least as much blame as Russia. Without Western arrogance, fake promises and ignorance of historical reality, Crimea would have continued to be part of the Ukraine. And now it will, probably forever, be part of Russia.