Crimea: Putin’s Triumph
Nobody expected events to move forward with such a breath-taking speed.
The Russians took their time; they sat on the fence and watched while
the Brown storm-troopers conquered Kiev, and they watched while Mrs
Victoria Nuland of the State Department and her pal Yatsenyuk (“Yats”)
slapped each other’s backs and congratulated themselves on their quick
victory. They watched when President Yanukovych escaped to Russia to
save his skin. They watched when the Brown bands moved eastwards to
threaten the Russian-speaking South East. They patiently listened while
Mme Timoshenko, fresh out of gaol, swore to void treaties with Russia
and to expel the Russian Black Sea Fleet from its main harbour in
Sevastopol. They paid no heed when the new government appointed
oligarchs to rule Eastern provinces. Nor did they react when children in
Ukrainian schools were ordered to sing “Hang a Russian on a thick
branch” and the oligarch-governor’s deputy
promised to hang dissatisfied Russians of the East as soon as Crimea
is pacified. While these fateful events unravelled, Putin kept silence.
He is a cool cucumber, Mr Putin. Everybody, including this writer,
thought he was too nonchalant about Ukraine’s collapse. He waited
patiently. The Russians made a few slow and hesitant, almost stealthy
moves. The marines Russia had based in Crimea by virtue of an
international agreement (just as the US has marines in Bahrain) secured
Crimea’s airports and roadblocks, provided necessary support to the
volunteers of the Crimean militia (called Self-Defence Forces), but
remained under cover. The Crimean parliament asserted its autonomy and
promised a plebiscite in a month time. And all of a sudden things
started to move real fast!
The poll was moved up to Sunday, March 16. Even before it could take
place, the Crimean Parliament declared Crimea’s independence. The poll’s
results were spectacular: 96% of the votes were for joining
Russia; the level of participation was unusually high - over 84%. Not
only ethnic Russians, but ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars voted for
reunification with Russia as well. A symmetrical poll in Russia showed
over 90% popular support for reunification with Crimea, despite
liberals’ fear-mongering (“this will be too costly, the sanctions will
destroy Russian economy, the US will bomb Moscow”, they said).
Even then, the majority of experts and talking heads expected the
situation to remain suspended for a long while. Some thought Putin would
eventually recognise Crimean independence, while stalling on final
status, as he did with Ossetia and Abkhazia after the August 2008 war
with Tbilisi. Others, especially Russian liberals, were convinced Putin
would surrender Crimea in order to save Russian assets in the Ukraine.
But Putin justified the Russian proverb: the Russians take time to
saddle their horses, but they ride awfully fast. He recognised Crimea’s
independence on Monday, before the ink dried on the poll’s results. The
next day, on Tuesday, he gathered all of Russia’s senior statesmen and
parliamentarians in the biggest, most glorious state hall in the
Kremlin, the elegant St George, lavishly restored to its Imperial glory,
and declared Russia’s acceptance of Crimea’s reunification bid.
Immediately after his speech, the treaty between Crimea and Russia was
signed, and the peninsula reverted to Russia as it was before 1954, when
Communist Party leader Khrushchev passed it to the Ukrainian Soviet
This was an event of supreme elation for the gathered politicians and
for people at home watching it live on their tellies. The vast St George
Hall applauded Putin as never before, almost as loudly and intensely as
Congress had applauded Netanyahu. The Russians felt immense pride:
they still remember the stinging defeat of 1991, when their country was
taken apart. Regaining Crimea was a wonderful reverse for them. There
were public festivities in honour of this reunification all over Russia
and especially in joyous Crimea.
Historians have compared this event with the restoration of Russian
sovereignty over Crimea in 1870, almost twenty years after the Crimean
War had ended with Russia’s defeat, when severe limitations on Russian
rights in Crimea were imposed by victorious France and Britain. Now the
Black Sea Fleet will be able to develop and sail freely again, enabling
it to defend Syria in the next round. Though Ukrainians have let the
naval facilities run down and turned the most advanced submarine harbour
of Balaclava into a shambles, the potential is there.
Besides the pleasure of getting this lost bit of land back, there was
the additional joy of outwitting the adversary. The American neocons
arranged the coup in Ukraine and sent the unhappy country crashing down,
but the first tangible fruit of this break up went to Russia.
A new Jewish joke was coined at that time:
Israeli President Peres asks the Russian President:
Vladimir, are you of Jewish ancestry?
Putin: What makes you think so, Shimon?
Peres: You made the US pay five billion dollars to deliver Crimea to
Russia. Even for a Jew, that is audacious!
Five billion dollars is a reference to Victoria Nuland’s admission of
having spent that much for democratisation (read: destabilisation) of
the Ukraine. President Putin snatched victory from the jaws of defeat,
and US hegemony suffered a set-back.
The Russians enjoyed
the sight of their UN representative Vitaly Churkin coping with a
near-assault by Samantha Power. The Irish-born US rep came close to
bodily attacking the elderly grey-headed Russian diplomat telling him
that “Russia was defeated (presumably in 1991 - ISH) and should bear the
consequences… Russia is blackmailing the US with its nuclear weapons,”
while Churkin asked her to keep her hands off him and stop foaming at
the mouth. This was not the first hostile encounter between these twain:
a month ago, Samantha entertained a Pussy Riot duo, and Churkin quipped
that she should join their next concert tour.
The US Neocons’ role in the Kiev coup was clarified by two independent
exposures. Wonderful Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek
showed that the anti-Russian campaign of recent months (gay
protests, Wahl affair, etc.) was organised by the Zionist Neocon PNAC
(now renamed FPI) led by Mr Robert Kagan, husband of Victoria “Fuck EC”
Nuland. It seems that the Neocons are hell-bent to undermine Russia by
all means, while the Europeans are much more flexible. (True, the US
troops are still stationed in Europe, and the old continent is not as
free to act as it might like).
The second exposé was
an interview with Alexander Yakimenko, the head of Ukrainian Secret
Services (SBU) who had escaped to Russia like his president. Yakimenko
accused Andriy Parubiy, the present security czar, of making a deal with
the Americans. On American instructions, he delivered weapons and
brought snipers who killed some 70 persons within few hours. They killed
the riot police and the protesters as well.
The US Neocon-led conspiracy in Kiev was aimed against the European
attempt to reach a compromise with President Yanukovych, said the SBU
chief. They almost agreed on all points, but Ms Nuland wanted to derail
the agreement, and so she did – with the help of a few snipers.
These snipers were used again in Crimea: a sniper shot and killed a
Ukrainian soldier. When the Crimean
forces began their pursuit, the sniper shot at them, killed one and
wounded one. It is the same pattern: snipers are used to provoke
response and hopefully to jump-start a shootout.
While Crimea was a walkover, the Russians are far from being home and
dry. Now, the confrontation moved to the Eastern and South-Eastern
provinces of mainland Ukraine, called Novorossia (New Russia) before the
Communist Revolution of 1917. Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his later years
predicted that Ukraine’s undoing would come from being overburdened by
industrial provinces that never belonged to the Ukraine before Lenin, -
in other words, by Russian-speaking Novorossia. This prediction is
likely to be fulfilled.
Who is fighting whom over there? It is a great error to consider the
conflict a tribal one, between Russians and Ukrainians. Good old Pat
Buchanan made this error saying that “Vladimir
Putin is a blood-and-soil, altar-and-throne ethno-nationalist who sees
himself as Protector of Russia and looks on Russians abroad the way
Israelis look upon Jews abroad, as people whose security is his
legitimate concern.” Nothing could be further from the truth: though
perhaps the outlandish claim that Putin is keen on restoring the Russian
Empire is a close competitor.
Putin is not an empire-builder at all (to the great regret of Russia’s
communists and nationalists). Even his quick takeover of Crimea was an
action forced on him by the strong-willed people of Crimea and by the
brazen aggression of the Kiev regime. I have it on a good authority that
Putin hoped he would not have to make this decision. But once he
decided, he acted.
The “ethno-nationalist” assertion by Buchanan is even more misleading.
The ethno-nationalists of Russia are Putin’s enemies; they support the
Ukrainian ethno-nationalists and march together with Jewish liberals on
Moscow street demos. Ethno-nationalism is as foreign to Russians as it
is foreign to the English. You can expect to meet a Welsh or Scots
nationalist, but an English nationalist is an unnatural rarity. Even the
English Defence League was set up by a Zionist Jew. Likewise, you can
easily find a Ukrainian or a Belarusian or a Cossack nationalist, but
practically never a Russian one.
Putin is a proponent and advocate of non-nationalist Russian world. What
is the Russian world?
Russians populate their own vast universe embracing many ethnic units of
various background, from Mongols and Karels to Jews and Tatars. Until
1991, they populated an even greater land mass (called the Soviet Union,
and before that, the Russian Empire) where Russian was the lingua
franca and the language of daily usage for majority of citizens.
Russians could amass their huge empire because they did not discriminate
and did not hog the blanket. Russians are amazingly non-tribal, to an
extent unknown in smaller East European countries, but similar to other
great Eastern Imperial nations, the Han Chinese and the Turks before the
advent of Young Turks and Ataturk. The Russians did not assimilate but
partly acculturated their neighbours for whom Russian language and
culture became the gateway to the world. The Russians protected and
supported local cultures, as well, at their expense, for they enjoy this
Before 1991, the Russians promoted a universalist humanist world-view;
nationalism was practically banned, and first of all, Russian
ethno-nationalism. No one was persecuted or discriminated against
because of his ethnic origin (yes, Jews complained, but they always
complain). There was some positive discrimination in the Soviet
republics, for instance a Tajik would have priority to study medicine in
the Tajik republic, over a Russian or a Jew; and he would be able to
move faster up the ladder in the Party and politics. Still the gap was
After 1991, this universalist world-view was challenged by a parochial
and ethno-nationalist one in all ex-Soviet republics save Russia and
Belarus. Though Russia ceased to be Soviet, it retained its
universalism. In the republics, people of Russian culture were severely
discriminated against, often fired from their working places, in worst
cases they were expelled or killed. Millions of Russians, natives of the
republics, became refugees; together with them, millions of non-Russians
who preferred Russian universalist culture to “their own” nationalist
and parochial one fled to Russia. That is why modern Russia has millions
of Azeris, Armenians, Georgians, Tajiks, Latvians and of smaller ethnic
groups from the republics. Still, despite discrimination, millions of
Russians and people of Russian culture remained in the republics, where
their ancestors lived for generations, and the Russian language became a
common ground for all non-nationalist forces.
If one wants to compare with Israel, as Pat Buchanan did, it is the
republics, such as Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Estonia do follow
Israeli model of discriminating and persecuting their “ethnic
minorities”, while Russia follows the West European model of equality.
France vs Occitania
In order to understand the Russia-Ukraine problem, compare it with
France. Imagine that country divided into North and South France, the
North retaining the name of France, while the South of France calling
itself “Occitania”, and its people “Occitans”, their language “Occitan”.
The government of Occitania would force the people to speak Provençal,
learn Frederic Mistral’s poems by rote and teach children to hate the
French, who had devastated their beautiful land in the Albigensian
Crusade of 1220. France would just gnash its teeth. Now imagine that
after twenty years, the power in Occitania had been violently seized by
some romantic southern fascists who were keen to eradicate “800 years of
Frank domination” and intend to discriminate against people who prefer
to speak the language of Victor Hugo and Albert Camus. Eventually France
would be forced to intervene and defend francophones, at least in order
to stem the refugee influx. Probably the Southern francophones of
Marseilles and Toulon would support the North against “their own”
government, though they are not migrants from Normandy.
Putin defends all Russian-speakers, all ethnic minorities, such as
Gagauz or Abkhaz, not only ethnic Russians. He defends the Russian
World, all those russophones who want and need his protection. This
Russian World definitely includes many, perhaps majority of people in
the Ukraine, ethnic Russians, Jews, small ethnic groups and ethnic
Ukrainians, in Novorossia and in Kiev as well.
Indeed the Russian world was and is attractive. The Jews were happy to
forget their schtetl and Yiddish; their best poets Pasternak and Brodsky
wrote in Russian and considered themselves Russian. Still, some minor
poets used Yiddish for their self-expression. The Ukrainians, as well,
used Russian for literature, though they spoke their dialect at home for
long time. Nikolai Gogol, the great Russian writer of Ukrainian origin,
wrote Russian, and he was dead set against literary usage of the
Ukrainian dialect. There were a few minor Romantic figures who used the
dialect for creative art, like Taras Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka.
Solzhenitsyn wrote: “Even ethnic-Ukrainians do not use and do not know
Ukrainian. In order to promote its use, the Ukrainian government bans
Russian schools, forbids Russian TV, even librarians are not allowed to
speak Russian with their readers. This anti-Russian position of Ukraine
is exactly what the US wants in order to weaken Russia.“
Putin in his speech on Crimea stressed that he wants to secure the
Russian world – everywhere in the Ukraine. In Novorossia the need is
for there are daily confrontations between the people and the gangs sent
by the Kiev regime. While Putin does not yet want (as opposed to
Solzhenitsyn and against general Russian feeling)
to take over Novorossia, he may be forced into it, as he was in Crimea.
There is a way to avoid this major shift: the Ukraine must rejoin the
Russian world. While keeping its independence, Ukraine must grant full
equality to its Russian language speakers. They should be able to have
Russian-language schools, newspapers, TV, be entitled to use Russian
everywhere. Anti-Russian propaganda must cease. And fantasies of joining
This is not an extraordinary demand: Latinos in the US are allowed to
use Spanish. In Europe, equality of languages and cultures is a sine
qua non. Only in the ex-Soviet republics are these rights trampled -
not only in Ukraine, but in the Baltic republics as well. For twenty
years, Russia made do with weak objections, when Russian-speakers (the
majority of them are not ethnic Russians) in the Baltic states were
discriminated against. This is likely to change. Lithuania and Latvia
have already paid for their anti-Russian position by losing their
profitable transit trade with Russia. Ukraine is much more important for
Russia. Unless the present regime is able to change (not very likely),
this illegitimate regime will be changed by people of Ukraine, and
Russia will use R2P against the criminal elements in power if they
The majority of the people of Ukraine would probably agree with Putin,
irrespective of their ethnicity. Indeed, in the Crimean referendum,
Ukrainians and Tatars voted en masse together with Russians. This
is a positive sign: there will be no ethnic strife in the Ukraine’s
East, despite US efforts to the contrary. Decision time is coming up
fast: some experts presume that by end of May the Ukrainian crisis will
be behind us.
Israel Shamir is based in Moscow and can be reached at
English editing by Ken Freeland.