Monday, March 24, 2014

Ukraine/Crimea crisis

Masha Gessen in Crimea Is Putin’s Revenge Slate 03/21/25014 argues that Russia's Vladimir Putin sees his takeover of the Crimea as in significant part as a payback for the NATO war over Kosovo:

On March 24, 1999, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was on his way to Washington when he got word that NATO had begun bombing Kosovo. He ordered his plane turned around. A few hours later, he landed in a Moscow that was reeling from the insult of not being consulted. Russians had only a vague idea of what Kosovo was but a very strong concept of Serbia being a land of fellow Eastern Orthodox Slavs and of Yugoslavia being a rightful part of Moscow's sphere of influence. Not being consulted—or even, apparently, warned—sent the very clear message that the U.S. had decided it now presided over a unipolar world. There was no longer even the pretense of recognizing Russia's fading-superpower status: President Bill Clinton had chosen not to wait the few hours it would have taken for Primakov to land in Washington, allowing him to save face by at least pretending to have been in on the conversation.
The mainstream press does a generally poor job of reporting on foreign policy, even on European matters. That and the triumphalist mood of American politicians - and that really is something where "both sides do it" - mean that events like the Russian annexation of the Crimea pop up like events in a vacuum and gets discussed in schoolyard terms like manly-man Putin versus Obama the wimp, to use the Republicans' favorite framing.

Gessen points to the continuity in Putin's nationalist policies:

In August [1999], Yeltsin anointed as his successor, a virtual unknown named Vladimir Putin. Within a few weeks, Putin became spectacularly popular by launching a new war in Chechnya. Politicians formerly known as liberals praised the Russian army for its performance there; one said it was “regaining its dignity.” He did not mention Kosovo, but he was referring to the general sense of humiliation that had stayed with Russians since the spring.

In December 1999, Putin became acting president, and the following March, he was elected to the office. Over the course of the following 14 years, he nurtured in the Russian public a sense of nostalgia for the Soviet Union and especially for the fear it inspired in the rest of the world. In 2008, Russia invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia and effectively annexed part of its territory. And now it has done the same with Ukraine. This time Putin mentioned Kosovo. Indeed, in his speech to parliament on Tuesday, he made it very clear that by annexing Crimea he had avenged Russia for what had happened with Kosovo.

"It was our Western partners who created the precedent; they did it themselves, with their own hands, as it were, in a situation that was totally analogous to the Crimean situation, by recognizing Kosovo's secession from Serbia as legitimate," said Putin. And then, as he cited American statements on Kosovo, he got more and more worked up until he said, "They wrote it themselves. They spread this all over the world. They screwed everybody—and now they are outraged!" (The Kremlin's official translators, who are forever civilizing the Russian president's speech, translated this sentence as "They wrote this, disseminated it all over the world, had everyone agree, and now they are outraged!" The expression Putin used, however, was "vsekh nagnuli," street slang for having had nonconsensual anal sex with everybody, rather than for having everybody agree.)

Here's an Argentine report on the situation with the Crimea, V7inter: Tensión en Crimea trás la anexión a Rusia TV Pública argentina 22.03.2014:

We see in this report Argentine President Cristina Fernández using the occasion of a joint press conference with French President François Hollande to compare the attitude of the NATO powers toward the referendum in the Crimea to the supportive position taken by the United States on the referendum Britain held in the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.

She has a legitimate point.

Eastern Europe has been a sphere of influence and target of annexation for Russia in various forms for centuries. So has Latin America for the United States. One famous Russian push for control in eastern Europe was the Crimean War of 1853-6, just a few years after the United States seized Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico in the Mexican War of 1846-8. Latin American leaders have had to have be very aware for a long time before Cristina Fernández was born.

She doesn't mention it in the TV Pública argentina report above, but the situation in Venezuela has to be on her mind in connection with the Ukraine. Protests and violent clashes are still going on in Venezuela, with the death toll now up to 34. (Massendemonstrationen in Venezuela: Bereits 34 Tote Profil 24.3.2014) An overthrow of an elected government that has significant differences with the United States is inherently a matter of concern for Latin American democratic leaders.

It's worth noting in this connection what Masha Gessen recalls about the eventual ousting of demagogic Servian leader Slobodan Milosevic:

Could the United States and its allies have undertaken anything other than military intervention to resolve the Kosovo crisis? In fact, they did. After the bombing campaign, which strengthened support for Milosevic and weakened his opponents, the U.S. poured cash into rebuilding the Serbian opposition. The funding was contingent on the disparate opposition groups agreeing to work together and attending regular coordination meetings held in Budapest, Hungary, and run by people whom participants understood to represent the State Department. The plan for the anti-Milosevic revolution was worked out in these meetings down to the smallest detail, including where the leaders of each of the 18 participating political organizations would be if mass protests broke out in Belgrade. They did, in October 2000, and Milosevic didn't seem to know what hit him. [my emphasis]
Do Latin American leaders have reason to worry that the US government and corporations are up to some mischief in Venezuela. Of course they do. See also: Chile, 1973; Venezuela, 2002.

Oh, my regular reminder quote on Venezuela: "Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

By the way, check out the photo at that Profil link on Venezuela. US and European media seem to have two favorite images for domestic unrest: a guy with a clenched fist standing in front of something burning, and the "protest babe." This article says this photo from Venezuela has gone around the world, although this is the first time I've seen it. (Or maybe getting from Caracas to Vienna and being featured on one website counts as going around the world.) But I swear this looks for all the world like an men's underwear ad. Though I guess if the photo just showed a bunch of bored and irritated people sitting around planning a demonstration or a fundraiser, I wouldn't be pointing it out here, would I?

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