Opinion: Ukraine is a crisis which we cannot back off from

ukraineThe insertion of Russian troops into the Crimea has profound implications for the security of Europe. It is like Europe has been awoken from a deep, snug slumber.

At I said in the emergency debate on Ukraine at the Spring Conference in York last weekend, events in Crimea have shown Russia breaking every principle in the international law rule book. The fact that it has intervened covertly, supposedly to protect Ukrainians of Russian origin, has profound security implications for the European Union’s Eastern borders – and in particular in the Baltic States with their significant Russian-speaking minorities.

This is why there have been demonstrations of military preparedness on the side of NATO with the deployment in particular of air force assets to the Baltic States and Poland. But there is not much further than we should – or can – go in a military sense.

The two mantras on our side at the moment are the de-escalation of the crisis and no use of military force. All efforts are underway to cool down the situation. Consequently a stand-off had now developed in the Crimea. A face-saving solution is being searched to help the Russians get out of the crisis. We need to try and keep a lid on matters starting to escalate again. However, we have a window of opportunity of only one week before the results of the so-called referendum in Crimea stoke raises the tensions substantially further.

Economic sanctions are a necessary option if the situation worsens. But here it must be said that the pain will likely hurt both sides.  Europe is trade and energy dependent on Russia and subject to possible retaliation. But it should not be forgotten that Russia is far more vulnerable to the effects of trade sanctions than Europe would be. Targeted sanctions would particularly hurt Russian elites. Britain and other EU countries may be forced to take action that may cause hurt to our economies. That would be a tough decision but must not be shirked. Our citizens should be prepared for that possible eventuality by the British Government.

Everything is being done to assist Ukraine. Last Thursday, the EU announced a series of economic and financial support measures for Ukraine totalling EUR 11 billion from the EU budget and from EU-based international financial institutions. Unilateral EU trade measures will be taken to ease EU trade flows with Ukraine and its energy security improved.

Ukraine knows it has faced economic stagnation thanks to Russia and its elites keeping it in poverty for their own ends. It needs a Europe future – for its economy to shine and citizens to prosper, just as has been the case with Poland since the overthrow of its Russian yoke and its entry into the European Union.

And what is the state of Europe’s military in all this? You may recall at the Autumn Conference in last year’s defence debate that I warned that the modernisation of Russia’s armed forces was not a good sign. Would it not be a good time to stop cutting our armed forces and recognise that the Cold War’s peace dividend has long been spent?  The UK’s National Security Council needs to rethink its threat assessment much more regularly and do a lot better ensuring the security of our country. This is very much a wake-up call for us too.

* George Cunningham is the Chair of Liberal Democrats Overseas.

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54 Comments

  • The US has been very silly over this, trying to manipulate a revolution favourable to them in Kiev, as was shown by the leaked Nuland – Pyatt call. There is no way Russia could have allowed Crimea, the location of it’s only southern naval base, to fall into the hands of a government backed by the USA. West Ukraine MAY now be more liberal (though Channel 4 has reported on disturbing fascist elements close to the new administration, so I am by no means wholly convinced – seehttp://www.channel4.com/news/svoboda-ministers-ukraine-new-government-far-right ), but the cause of liberalism in Crimea, and perhaps eastern Ukraine, has certainly been put back by several decades.

    However, we are where we are. Forget Crimea, which is gone for good. Having tickled the Bear with a stick, it may now be necessary to strengthen the defence of the Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria. I hope America will bear the financial burden for that. Let’s hope severe bloodshed can be avoided.

  • Supporting the current Ukraine government is, I believe incompatible with the moral standards the EU is supposed to stand for. How can the EU support a government that seized power after overthrowing a democratically elected government? There have been no free and fair elections for the present Ukraine government and, frankly, the democratic Western powers should be ruling it unconstitutional. I do fear that the only reason the West does not do so is that it is siding with Europe rather than with Russia. Criticising the Russia/Crimea position is nothing but power politics are at work and nothing to do with true democracy. Therefore, I see no reason to get involved with a war over any of this.

  • The armed conquest and annexation of the territory of one state by another is a breach in the walls of civilisation, and is neither to be forgiven nor forgotten. The theft of the Crimea by Russia — under the cover of the most audacious and mendacious pack of lies since the fall of the Soviet Union — can never be recognised by the international community. Like the USSR’s annexations of the Baltic states, it will remain a bleeding stain on the map of Europe until the injustice is rectified.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Mar '14 - 1:54pm

    I disagree with the author. Economic sanctions are hypocritical after the west backed an anti-constitutional revolution, but criticised an anti-constitutional referendum. As this opinion piece says: Obama can’t have it both ways:

    http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/17/opinion/crimea-vote-putin-obama/

    Time to eat some humble pie, I think.

  • There was nothing “anti-constitutional” about the overthrow of Yanukovych (an appallingly corrupt and despotic man who is responsible for the murder of more than a hundred demonstrators, and who has since engaged in blatant treason against the Ukrainian state). He was removed, for cause, by the elected Ukrainian parliament.

    In any case, claims of “hypocrisy” are irrelevant — they ignore the actual internal situation in favour of a critique of the consistency of remarks made by various external players. But such things are irrelevant; they have no bearing on the real situation and can only be invoked as a distraction. When the Russian Foreign Ministry, prior to Yanukovych’s ouster, was saying that Ukraine should be left to sort out its own problems and that other countries shouldn’t interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs, and then immediately turns around and invades its territory to steal a large and important part of its territory, we are dealing with something much worse than “hypocrisy.”

  • Theresa-1: You need to get your news from some source not tainted by Russian propaganda. The government of Ukraine is supported by its elected Parliament, in accordance with Ukraine’s constitution. Free elections are to be held on 25 May 2014. This was, in fact, a key demand of the Maidan protesters — the early calling of elections. This is hardly “undemocratic.”

    Of course, free elections will *not* be held in the portion of Ukraine which has been illegally occupied by Russia, whose people will never have a chance to express their true opinions as long as Russia remains a state governed by diktat. If you truly believe that the farcical Stalinist referendum with its North Korean result was in the least bit plausible, then I feel sorry for you.

  • I am watching the Common”s debate on the Parliamentary Channel right now with growing alarm. To my mind it is the Commons at its very worst. Speakers from all sides are vying with each other to be more and more extreme, including spurious comparisons with Hitler and arguments that use of force against Russia “should not be ruled out”.

    It carries painful echoes of the pre Iraq invasion debates except that no-one (including Liberal Democrats) so far is making any attempt to steer a more sensible course. Very very worrying.

  • @David-1 “Theresa-1: You need to get your news from some source not tainted by Russian propaganda”.

    While I’m no big fan of Russia, I think Putin has been making a lot more sense than Obama on this issue. As far as I can see double standards reign supreme in the West. What I’m concerned about is that western news media are presenting this situation in a very one-sided way. I have absolutely no doubts that Ukraine is hopelessly divided. One side wants the West and one side wants Russia. We simply cannot justify supporting the human rights of those who want the West while pouring cold water on the rights of those who want Russia. Democracy applies to all of them, not just the ones that suit us.

  • Edward Leigh (of all people) is on his feet, at last putting a more balanced view as to the complexities of the Ukraine situation and the feelings and fears of those on the Russian side. Leigh evidently has Russian family connections but his words on the realities facing us and the hypocrisy of many in the West in such matters certainly strike a chord with me.

  • @ David-1
    No amount of rewriting of history can alter the fact that the violent overthrow of an elected government in Kiev, was bought and paid for by the West, and as a result the west has endured a bloody nose. And the Crimea referendum can hardly be called ‘North Korean’, when even the BBC have reported on the ground, that the Crimean population are delighted with the result? Did they celebrate in the streets of Sevastopol at Russian gunpoint?
    As for backing off from the crisis in Ukraine, we will see soon if the West is going to come up with the $35 billion necessary to save it from implosion. I doubt it, and I can’t wait to hear Brussels explain, to struggling cash strapped EU countries, where it is going to find the $15 billion promised to a bankrupt Ukraine, which is not even in the EU? Paying for a Ukrainian government overthrow on the NeoCon credit card is one thing, but that is as far as the financial help will extend. Ukraine is going to learn a very harsh lesson. I would hope that the West could also learn lessons, but somehow I doubt it will.

  • Tony Dawson 18th Mar '14 - 4:55pm

    While we may balk at the way in which it was held, the Crimean referendum result would quite likely have been the same however it was organised and whenever it was held. The percentage differences involved would probably have been greater than anything we are likely to see in the Scottish referendum this autumn. Crimea’s heavily-Russian population have yo-yoed in their wishes to be more Russified over the past 20 years or so.

    The real problem of Crimea leaving Ukraine is the tensions it builds up in parts of the eastern Ukraine. While there are no hard and fast dividing lines, Donetsk in particular is heavily-Russian. Of course, not all Russians like the idea of being under Putin’s domination but they do so disproportionately compared to Ukranians. If the rest (non-Crimea) of Ukraine is allowed to split the borders would be established by military power rather than percentage of ethnicity and the potential for a massive civil war dragging in external nations is quite serious. Paradoxically, Russian origin residents of eastern Ukraine may presently feel weaker as a result of Crimea leaving since the Ukraine which is left over after Crimean departure is more Ukrainian and less Russian than before. This may make them willing to take desperate measures to force the hands of Russia. Not at all good.

  • @Tony Dawson

    Unquestionably the extension of Russian acquisitiveness beyond Crimea would be a disastrous development. In his latest speech Putin has said his nation didn’t want to move into other regions of Ukraine, saying “we don’t want division of Ukraine.” If he reneges on this he will confirm the view of him as a power-crazed madman which many in the West are fostering at the moment. We can only hope they are wrong.

  • @John Dunn: Your “facts” are completely false in every respect. And the ability of dictators to create celebrating crowds as needed is well attested — especially in North Korea.

  • Empty sabre rattling geopolitical bobbins, No one is going to do a damn thing bar make frosty gestures. Not surprising considering the collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t really end the cold war or even really change the West’s relationship with Russia. So much for the End Of History and the other neoliberal truisms.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Mar '14 - 7:21pm

    @David-1
    What would *you* like to see in Crimea? Whatever you reservations about the referendum just gone, would you like to see the Crimeans express self-determination? Would you like them to have more autonomy? Less autonomy?

    One of the first things the new Ukraine government did was repeal the laws which had allowed other languages to share official language status with Ukrainian in areas with large ethnic populations. What did you think about that? I’d describe it as provocative.

    You say there was nothing unconstitutional about the transfer of power that took place in Kiev. Yet the number of votes cast in Parliament to depose Yanukovych were less than the number required by the constitution, and certain other parts of the process were not followed. Funny how these kinds of constitutional details can be dismissed as mere technicalities when it suits.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Mar '14 - 7:23pm

    “There was nothing “anti-constitutional” about the overthrow of Yanukovych”
    Oh yes there was
    Oh no there wasn’t.
    My side of the theatre can shout louder than your side
    Oh no it can’t
    etc.

  • Crimea is one of those places that has been fought over incessantly for centuries. As a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire under the control of the Tatars it was the centre of a Black Sea slave trade to rival that of the Atlantic trade from Africa to the America’s.

    Following annexation by Catherine the Great in the late 18th century, ethnic Russians and Ukrainians began to settle on the peninsula and large numbers of Tatars fled their homeland to Anatolia in the aftermath of the Crimean War in 1856.

    Crimea was constituted as an autonomous republic in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, was badly affected by widespread famine from 1921-22 and was again decimated by Stalin’s collectivisation program that led to the Holodomor of 1931-32. The Soviet policy of regionalisation led to the influx of large numbers of Slavic settlers in the 1930’s.

    With the defeat of Nazi forces by the Red Army, Stalin embarked, in 1944, on a process of ethnic cleansing, deporting the entire non-Slavic population to Central Asia and changing the status of Crimea from an autonomous republic to a Russian province. Khrushchev changed this status again in 1954 such that the Crimea became part of Ukraine on the basis of “the commonality of the economy, the proximity, and close economic and cultural relations between the Crimean region and the Ukrainian SSR.

    With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1992, Ukrainian independence was supported by a referendum in all regions of the Ukrainian SSR, including Crimea. 54% of the Crimean voters supported independence with a 60% turnout.
    In the “Budapest Memorandum” of 1994, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States promised that none of them would ever threaten or use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. They also pledged that none of them would ever use economic coercion to subordinate Ukraine to their own interest.

    The vote last Sunday records 93% of Crimean voters now supporting a return to federation with Russia with an 80% turnout. Given the historical context and in the absence of a popularly resisted occupation of Ukrainian sovereign territory, it is difficult to see how any principle beyond that of Crimean self-determination as enshrined in the UN charter should take precedence here.

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Mar '14 - 7:27pm

    Stuart Mitchell –

    The Acting President vetoed that language law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legislation_on_languages_in_Ukraine.

    And as for self-determination, I’ll take a lecture on that from Vladimir Putin once Russian recognition of Kosovo is done.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 18th Mar '14 - 7:27pm

    While everyone is busy condemning the situation in Crimea, they appear to have forgotten Kosovo which was a similar situation, a majority of the population wanting to break away from the controlling country. We supported the independence of Kosovo and set a precedent for the situation in Crimea. Russia is just following the lead that we set.

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Mar '14 - 7:32pm

    ‘ It needs a Europe future – for its economy to shine and citizens to prosper, just as has been the case with Poland since the overthrow of its Russian yoke and its entry into the European Union.’

    Good grief! One assumes that the author has never heard of, ‘Polska B.’ There is much to be said about the EU, but if there are people in Ukraine sceptical of the EU and what it can offer then it is not hard to see why. All EU membership for Ukraine would do is make it the latest part of the EU periphery. Ukraine’s problems in essence are the product of a political system that does not work conditioned by a foreign outlook that has to look East and West. It probably doesn’t reconcile. If all the EU can offer is a trade deal then it is not offering a solution.

    It is not totally invalid to ask whether Ukraine is viable as a state but that opens up a whole series of cans of worms.

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Mar '14 - 7:34pm

    Graham Martin-Royle –

    There are big differences between Kosovo and Crimea.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Mar '14 - 7:45pm

    @Little Jackie Paper
    “And as for self-determination, I’ll take a lecture on that from Vladimir Putin once Russian recognition of Kosovo is done.”

    I couldn’t care less what Putin thinks about it. It’s time we stopped thinking of the people of Crimea like some sort of football.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Mar '14 - 7:50pm

    @Little Jackie Paper
    “The Acting President vetoed that language law.”

    That’s nice to know. The Ukraine Parliament may have a tendency for provocative nationalism but at least we can rely on the new unelected President to scupper such ideas. Sounds like we’re backing the right horse again.

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Mar '14 - 8:00pm

    Stuart Mitchell –

    ‘I couldn’t care less what Putin thinks about it. It’s time we stopped thinking of the people of Crimea like some sort of football.’

    Who is, ‘we,’ there? And, by the way there are an awful lot of people in the Balkans who care greatly about Kosovo.

    ‘The Ukraine Parliament may have a tendency for provocative nationalism but at least we can rely on the new unelected President to scupper such ideas. Sounds like we’re backing the right horse again.’

    I just happen to think that independent countries should be free to determine their own language laws by their own constitutions. One wonders what will happen if the Russian speakers in the UK take umbrage at something.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Mar '14 - 8:13pm

    @Little Jackie Paper
    Sorry, perhaps I should have said “you”. What relevance is Putin to the question I asked?

    “I just happen to think that independent countries should be free to determine their own language laws by their own constitutions. One wonders what will happen if the Russian speakers in the UK take umbrage at something.”

    There are few Russians here so it’s not much of an analogy. A better one would be to imagine a situation where English nationalists take power in Westminster and immediately decree that English is the sole official language in Wales.

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Mar '14 - 8:20pm

    Stuart Mitchell – Sorry, who would invade on behalf of the Welsh?

    According to this there are 854,955 Russian speakers in the US. The population of Crimea is about 2 million. So what if the Russian speakers of the US got restive?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_language_in_the_United_States

  • jedibeeftrix 18th Mar '14 - 8:48pm

    “Would it not be a good time to stop cutting our armed forces and recognise that the Cold War’s peace dividend has long been spent?”

    Yes.

    Will the lib-dems commit to meet and exceed the 2.0% of GDP NATO requirement for defence spending?

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Mar '14 - 11:34pm

    As sad as it sounds: Lib Dems cannot be loose cannons over this. I now partially agree with the author over his tough line, with the caveat that we should not be unthinking loyalists to anyone.

  • Stuart Mitchell 19th Mar '14 - 10:21am

    @Little Jackie Paper: “Sorry, who would invade on behalf of the Welsh?”

    What’s the relevance? I was asking whether such a law is right or wrong. Bad behaviour from the Russians does not excuse bad behaviour from the Ukrainians.

    “According to this there are 854,955 Russian speakers in the US. The population of Crimea is about 2 million. So what if the Russian speakers of the US got restive?”

    The Crimean issue goes much deeper than Crimeans identifying themselves merely as Russian “speakers”.

    Population-wise, Crimea makes up almost exactly the same proportion of Ukraine (4.3%) as Wales does of the UK (4.8), and has a long history of autonomy. If the Welsh assembly decided to hold an independence referendum, the UK would not dream of stopping it, yet we are supporting the Ukraine government’s refusal to give Crimea the same right. Apparently the presence of “Russian troops” on the streets makes such a thing impossible – which is undoubtedly true, but that doesn’t explain why the Ukrainians have been prohibiting this referendum for over 20 years, and have made it plain that they would not countenance it in any circumstances.

    Geoff Crocker
    “There can be no objection to the potential or ultimate outcome of Crimea becoming part of Russia. The objection is to the process. [The Scottish referendum] is an example of proper democratic process. Russian action in Crimea is not.”

    I agree with that, but we must recognise that Ukrainian action in Crimea has not respected democratic process either. The Crimeans first planned a referendum back in 1992, within months of the creation of independent Ukraine. Kiev wouldn’t let them hold it, and has maintained that position since. It’s a shame nobody in the West gave this issue much consideration before there was revolution in Kiev and pro-Russian militia on the streets of Crimea.

  • I wish some of the people commenting here had listened to the well-informed and thoughtful debate on Ukraine at York. For example, we heard that the divisions in Ukraine are not simply a matter of Russian-speakers wanting to be part of Russia and that many Crimeans identified neither as Ukrainians nor Russians but as Crimeans and wanted virtual independence. If some of the commenters here did listen to that debate, I despair.

    Of course Western interests liked the idea of a pro-Western Ukrainian government. I’d be surprised if they didn’t give the demonstrators some encouragement: Putin was certainly backing Yanokovych at every stage of his up-and-down career. The security forces of the then Soviet Union gave discreet support to anti-Ceausescu forces before and during the Romanian uprising. That doesn’t invalidate that it was a revolution inspired by passionate and brave anger at misrule. The demonstrators in Kiev and elsewhere who risked their lives, and in some cases lost them, were not Western puppets.

    East and West were both engaged in trying to give advantage to forces in Ukraine they liked. That may be cynical, but it’s not on a level with armed invasion of another country’s territory. Yes, Putin’s reaction, in respect of Crimea, was absolutely predictable, but it’s still a serious breach of international order and for him to find he can do that with no meaningful come-back will store up trouble.

    Those who compare the present situation with Iraq are ignoring massive differences. The USA and fellow-travellers wanted to overthrow a foreign government not by encouraging opposition but by an invasion. To do so, they manufactured evidence of a threat to themselves and then acted in breach of international law. They were massively keen on war. The West’s attitude to Ukraine is that it has, like Russia, tried to influence power-struggles there, but it is massively reluctant to go to war, for obvious reasons. By contrast, is there a good comparison between George W Bush’s behaviour over Iraq and Putin’s over Crimea and maybe Eastern Ukraine? Yes, there is, except that Saddam Hussein’s government was a brutal dictatorship with a record of invading neighbours (Iran as well as Kuwait). But didn’t most of us, didn’t the Liberal Democrats as a party, oppose the invasion of Iraq? So why should people who opposed the invasion of Iraq (which includes Obama, by the way) not oppose the invasion of Ukraine?

    Putin has Crimea. One day that may change, but not in the next few years. The urgent issue now is deterring him from further grabs, which would mean war in Ukraine. By contrast, he has made political demands on the Ukrainian government some of which are worth discussing. The West and the Ukrainian government have a difficult balancing act to conduct, to show strength but also to listen and talk.

  • I do not think I have seen such a colossal display of gullibility regarding the propaganda of a foreign government since the 1930s, when fellow-travelers were blandly reassuring us that Comrade Stalin was a peace-loving bloke simply interested in introducing modern methods of sanitation in Siberia.

  • @Simon Banks
    “That doesn’t invalidate that it was a revolution inspired by passionate and brave anger at misrule.”
    So if I passionately despise the government we get here in 2015, I take it from your approval, that I can start filling bottles with petrol as an alternative to waiting 5 years?

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Mar '14 - 2:16pm

    Surely, it’s time to invoke the spirit of Churchill, and insist that this is, rather, a crisis off from which we cannot back?

  • It’s a long time since I can remember such a lot of hot air and posturing from ‘statesmen’ who should know better.

    Sure, Russia’s intervention was ill-judged and based too much on an appeal to the more xenophobic strand of it’s domestic audience. But on the other hand the West’s record is hardly great. As the Russians would see it, an aggressive and hostile power with a track record of covert regime change and even outright invasions on trumped up excuses, is intent on advancing its tanks and missiles (ie Nato) right up to their border. We know how the Americans reacted when the old USSR did something a little similar in Cuba during the Kennedy presidency. The last time a rival power did that to Russia is still in living memory and cost them millions of dead.

    Then there is the little matter of democratic choice. John Simpson for the BBC was clear that, however imperfect the circumstances or questions on the ballot, there was no real doubt that the outcome represented the will of a clear majority of Crimeans. Also, as it turns out, the vote was remarkably close to an earlier one in 1991. Apart from the lack of due process agreed in advance by all parties how is this different from the Scottish referendum?

    http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f38ec2.html

    The sanctions are, of course, meaningless. It is already Russian law that civil servants cannot own property abroad (an anti-corruption measure). Other assets may exist but will be well hidden from prying eyes (Russian and other) by laundering the holdings through secrecy jurisdictions. The US admitted the other night that it has not yet identified any assets belonging to the sanctioned individuals. As for trade sanctions no meaningful ones will happen. Europe is highly dependent on Russia for oil and gas while in the UK the City makes far too much from managing oligarchs’ funds via the many secrecy jurisdictions for which the City acts as mother ship.

    In other words this is all sanctimonious posturing, the pot calling the kettle black. Dr Strangelove would be so pleased!

  • GF,

    I think your points are well made. However, just as I would support the right of the autonomous region of Crimea to self-determination, so too would I support the right of Ukraine to enter into a military alliance with Nato – as the only effective means of deterring the aggression of a domineering nuclear military power on its borders.

    Within a few weeks of the Nazi Invasion of Poland in September 1939, Molotov delivered the following declaration of war to the Polish Ambassador in Moscow:

    “The Polish-German War has revealed the internal bankruptcy of the Polish State. During the course of ten days’ hostilities Poland has lost all her industrial areas and cultural centres. Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, no longer exists. The Polish Government has disintegrated, and no longer shows any sign of life. This means that the Polish State and its Government have, in point of fact, ceased to exist. In the same way, the Agreements concluded between the U.S.S.R. and Poland have ceased to operate. Left to her own devices and bereft of leadership, Poland has become a suitable field for all manner of hazards and surprises, which may constitute a threat to the U.S.S.R. For these reasons the Soviet Government, who has hitherto been neutral, cannot any longer preserve a neutral attitude towards these facts.
    The Soviet Government also cannot view with indifference the fact that the kindred Ukrainian and White Russian people, who live on Polish territory and who are at the mercy of fate, should be left defenceless.
    In these circumstances, the Soviet Government have directed the High Command of the Red Army to order troops to cross the frontier and to take under their protection the life and property of the population of Western Ukraine and Western White Russia.
    At the same time the Soviet Government propose to take all measures to extricate the Polish people from the unfortunate war into which they were dragged by their unwise leaders, and enable them to live a peaceful life.
    People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov”

    At the Yalta conference in 1945 the Soviet-Union was permitted to annex almost all of the territory occupied under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, enclosing it into Ukraine and Belarus.

    Following the absorption of Crimea into the Russian federation yesterday, President Putin said:

    Russia and Ukraine were not just neighbours but one nation, and Moscow would always protect the millions of Russian speakers there. He sees the new authorities in Kiev as an illegitimate puppet government under the control of Neo-Nazis, radical nationalists and anti-Semites.

    That similarities between the Putin/Lavrov rhetoric and that of Stalin/Molotov are there for all too see.

  • Stuart Mitchell 19th Mar '14 - 4:13pm

    @David-1
    “I do not think I have seen such a colossal display of gullibility regarding the propaganda of a foreign government since the 1930s”

    That’s a better description of your own posts than anyone else’s. You still haven’t answered my question about whether you support the idea of self-determination for Crimea.

    @Joe Bourke
    There are indeed chilling similarities in language there. But given the apparent enthusiasm of the Crimean people, wouldn’t the Austrian Anschluss be a closer comparison? Assuming things don’t escalate of course…

  • ” “There was nothing “anti-constitutional” about the overthrow of Yanukovych”
    Oh yes there was
    Oh no there wasn’t.”

    There are facts on record; for instance, the number of votes in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, to remove Yanukovych from the Presidency was 328 to zero.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26304842

    There are 450 seats in the Verkhovna Rada. Do a little math and you’ll see that’s a 72.8% majority, far more than the two-thirds required to impeach. This vote occurred after Yanukovych had fled Kiev, leaving the state leaderless, and after he had reportedly agreed to, and then reneged, on a pledge to resign. As Yanukovych has failed to be present either to fulfil his constitutional duties or to face his trial, the Rada has had no choice but to elect an acting President (Mr Turchynov), who will sit until the new Presidential elections in May. Yanukovych’s disappearance and his resurfacing in Russia (not to mention his subsequent treasonous collaboration) in any case amounts to a _de facto_ resignation.

  • “”There was nothing “anti-constitutional” about the overthrow of Yanukovych”
    Oh yes there was
    Oh no there wasn’t.”

    There are facts on record; for instance, the number of votes in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, to remove Yanukovych from the Presidency was 328 to zero.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26304842

    There are 450 seats in the Verkhovna Rada. Do a little math and you’ll see that’s a 72.8% majority, far more than the two-thirds required to impeach. This vote occurred after Yanukovych had fled Kiev, leaving the state leaderless, and after he had reportedly agreed to, and then reneged, on a pledge to resign. As Yanukovych has failed to be present either to fulfil his constitutional duties or to face his trial, the Rada has had no choice but to elect an acting President (Mr Turchynov), who will sit until the new Presidential elections in May. Yanukovych’s disappearance and his resurfacing in Russia (not to mention his subsequent treasonous collaboration) in any case amounts to a _de facto_ resignation.

  • The notion that this referendum “represents the will of the Crimean people” is poppycock. The numbers published mean nothing — they are merely there for propaganda. They are completely fictitious. One can only guess how Crimeans would vote in the absence of an occupation, with a properly worded and formatted ballot paper representing all options (note that the option to retain the status quo was *not* on the ballot), and with an appropriate period of time to discuss the options and for all sides to be presented. But one can be absolutely sure that the published vote count is no more representative of the views of the Crimean people even in the absence of that — it is simply whatever numbers Mr Aksyonov thought would sound good.

    In any case, the events in Crimea cannot even be taken as a legitimate local revolution against the government of Crimea, as they could not have happened and would not have happened without the intervention of the Russian Army at Mr Putin’s orders. This is not secession. This is conquest.

  • Stuart Mitchell 19th Mar '14 - 10:57pm

    @David-1
    Since you seem to be a great admirer of Ukraine’s MPs and their actions in support of democracy, I’m sure you will enjoy this video of a bunch of them beating up a TV executive and physically forcing him to resign because they didn’t like some of the things he showed on the news :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26653295

    Great liberal principles in action.

  • Geoff Crocker suggests :
    “Putin has won the battle but lost the war. He has gained Crimea, but thereby lost Ukraine.”
    Seriously? There are some situations where doing nothing is the best policy, and for Putin the more ‘nothing’ he does in the immediate future the better. Kiev is very quickly melting into a fascist disarray, but it is naively looking to the EU and USA for help. It will not be long before it realises that its ‘friends’, are nowhere to be seen. What then? It’s Ukrainian troops will very quickly shift allegiance to a Russian command in order to maintain a peacekeeping role on its streets.
    And when it comes to sanctions, don’t forget that the US exit from Afghanistan, relies partly on shipping its assets out through Russian territory. Also any US assets in space that might need an astronaut with a spanner to fix it, needs a Russian ‘piggyback’ into space given that the US now has no manned space programme . So, a few Russian oligarchs taken off the US and UK ‘Christmas card list’, would pale into insignificance, with the potential damage that Russia could inflict. I seriously think commenter’s on here that are hyperventilating about this Ukrainian crisis, (which was induced by Western hubris in the first place!), need to take a deep breath and calm down.

  • Comparisons with Hitler are not spurious. Hitler was the last European leader to annex a neighbour, unless you count Putin’s actions in Georgia. Comparisons with Kosovo are risible. The UK has not annexed Kosovo. Arguments about language are also spurious. On this basis we can expect to see France occupy part of Canada, and the UK occupy almost anywhere in the world where there are English speakers. The Crimea has always been a popular holiday destination for Russians. Rather like Greece is for Britons. What is happening now, people abandoning homes and businesses and fleeing in terror, thats really not comparible with Scottish devolution or Independence. We Britain are partially responsible for this as we induced Ukraine to give up their nuclear weapons. People have every right to revolt against governments, democratically elected or otherwise, who lock up any potential rivals, act as puppets of foreign powers, and steal and steal until there is little left to steal.

  • Stuart, Joe, do you really trust “self determination” when pre-prepared marked ballot papers are photographed even before the election. An election where remaining as part of Ukraine under status quo was not even an option? An election where 1000s of masked foreign troops are on the loose. Would you toddle off to a polling station and cast a vote against Russia in those circumstances? Im shocked at how gullible and credulous other posters appear. Unbelievable.

  • We are being told by our government that there should be escalating sanctions against Russia after the Putin annexation of the Crimea.
    A few days ago, on the Foreign Office website, William Hague is reported as saying —
    “We are witnessing a clear attempt to pave the way for the annexation of part of the sovereign territory of an independent European state, through military force ….”
    But last week our Prime Minister was in Israel pledging UK support for the government there which for many years has been engaged In daily annexation of Palestine. The Israelis do this through military force and make no pretence of a referendum or popular support from Palestinians.

    On behalf of the UK government ( which includes Liberal Democrat Cabinet ministers) Cameron continues rewarding Israel for annexing Jerusalem, large parts of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, at gunpoint and all without any suggestion that these territories have an ethnic or linguistic Israeli majority.

    David Cameron was saying on 18 March: “It is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders on the basis of a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun. “. He said this within a week of giving full backing to the Israeis who have a 70 year history of using force to change and extend their borders.

    William Hague, speaking in the House of Commons, talked about “tens of thousands of forces massed on their border by a neighbour that refuses to rule out further intervention against them”. He called it a land-grab with no respect for international law. But he was not talking about Israel, he was talking about the Ukraine.

    Any chance of LDV having a thread which compares and contrasts UK Government attitudes and actions towards Palestine and the Crimes ?

  • Not sure if it was a Freudian slip or the predictive text on my IPad, but that last sentence should have said —

    …Any chance of LDV having a thread which compares and contrasts UK Government attitudes and actions towards Palestine and the Crimea ?

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Mar '14 - 8:01am

    @Alistair
    “Stuart, Joe, do you really trust “self determination” when pre-prepared marked ballot papers are photographed even before the election.”

    Of course not, but this is a complete red herring.

    The Crimeans first asked for a referendum in 1992. The Ukrainians wouldn’t let them have it. What was their excuse then? A lot of what we’re seeing now is the end result of over two decades of resentment.

  • Alistair,

    there is a lot wrong with the manner in which the referendum was undertaken, but as Stuart points out – the Crimean parliament has been agitating for full autonomy throughout the 22 years since Ukrainian independence and there is every reason to believe that the great majority of the Crimean population welcomes reunification with the Russian Federation.

    The problem here is not Crimean self-determination – that is a right enshrined in the UN Charter . The problem is Russian military interference in Ukraine at a time of political turmoil and annexation of territory without the consent of the Ukrainian parliament or the opportunity to put the case for maintaining the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state.

    For those insisting this is a Western inspired imperial plot, 13 members of the Security Council voted to pass the following resolution with China abstaining and Russia exercising their Veto:

    “This referendum can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea; and calls upon all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of Crimea on the basis of this referendum and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status,”

    The UN resolution did not pass and Russia has moved to consolidate its position in Crimea occupying the main civilian airport today i.e. a fait acccompli supported by the indigenous population that neither Ukraine or the international community can do anything about.

    I think the UK and EU have to look to our own national and regional interests now i.e. the military and economic security of Nato and the EU, particularly energy security.

    The EU council of minsters need to develop a medium term strategy for diversifying the energy sources of Central and East European states (and unlike in the wake of the Georgia crisis – follow it through this time), such that they cannot be held to ransom by Russia or other hostile powers in the future.

    Nato should look to accelerate the deployment of the missile defence shield from the Baltic to the Black Sea- not simply as a defence against potential Iranian missile strikes but specifically to counter the threat of Russian aggression against former Soviet occupied territories.

    We also need to take a hard look at progressing the expansion of the UN security council to encompass the realities of 21st century power blocs and the right of a single country to Veto resolutions beyond those directed at issues within its own sovereign territory.

  • Geoff,

    in a comment above, GF posted this link http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f38ec2.html on efforts of Crimean Russian speakers to gain control of their own destiny.

    As with the Catalonians, the Crimeans have been blocked from holding an independence referendum by the Central State – Spain in the case of the Catalans and Ukraine for the Crimeans.

    Much as we might abhor the behaviour of Russia in this situation – we cannot simply discount the expressed wishes and desire for self-determination of those most effected i.e. the people who live in Crimea.

    It is a sad fact that most states have gained their independence in the modern age not by referenda or petitions to governing regimes, but rather by revolution or civil war. Ukraine deposed a corrupt president who had forfeited his legitimacy with mass demonstrations that turned violent. The Russian speaking majority in Crimea are clearly unhappy with these events and their parliament has turned to Putin and the Russian state to take advantage of the political vacuum to breakaway.

    Crimea cannot be forced to re-join Ukraine against the will of the majority of people living there . Ukraine will need to come to terms with that and look to preserve and protect the rights of all citizens of their country, regardless of ethnicity.

  • Geoff,

    I don’t think these events are entirely one or the other. As with most of these situations it is a confluence of events and underlying tensions that have been there for sometime. There is always a conflict between the right to self-determination of a population and the right of an existing state to maintain its territorial integrity that will never be easy to resolve.

    There needs to be a substantial element of realpolitik in both the international and Ukrainian response to these events. It is a given that the referendum was not a fair and free representation of the entire electorate (it was boycotted by the Tatars and quite likely that many non-Russian speaking Crimeans did not bother to vote in what they would have seen as a foregone conclusion). There is however, no evidence from journalists or observers on the ground to suggest that a majority of the electorate do not back secession from Ukraine. There can be no reversal of this breakaway, without the overwhelming support of the Crimean population.

    Regardless of what we may think of his actions, Putin enjoys a popularity rating in Russia’s nascent democracy that is the envy of many western leaders and can usually count on the support of China and quite often India for his foreign policy stance – that is a big junk of the world population. to have behind you.

    De-escalating tensions requires a recognition of the economic inter-dependence of Russia and the European Union. Tit for Tat targeted or broader economic sanctions can’t solve this issue and Russia cannot be isolated from the world stage by the EU and/or the US. Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria are entirely dependent on Russian energy supplies.

    The focus of EU/US response should be on tangible aid to Ukraine in restoring political and economic stability to the country, a medium-term European-wide energy security policy and the active deployment of Nato assets including missile defence systems to the Baltic states, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

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