The Crimean Gambit: Putin’s Triumph

Russian President Vladimir Putin

By Israel Shamir

Nobody expected events to move on 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 on the poll’s results dried. The next day, on Tuesday, he gathered all of Russia’s senior statesmen and parliamentarians in the biggest, most glorious and elegant St George state hall in the Kremlin, 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 Republic.

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 the US 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 the 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 ran down the naval facilities and turned the most advanced submarine harbour of Balaclava into 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.

Full article at CounterPunch

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One Response to The Crimean Gambit: Putin’s Triumph

  1. Keld Bach says:

    I think the stance between Putin and Obama is now 3-0.

    1. First Putin saved Edward Snowden from being captured or assassinated by the CIA
    2. Then he prevented the US from attacking Syria on a false pretext (alleged use of chemical weapons)
    3. And now he brought Crimea back to Russia without a single shot being fired

    What a brilliant strategist and respectable statesman!

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