Putin’s Crimean Annexation

At the risk of blowing up this blog, here’s a reprint of an email I just sent to some friends giving my contrarian 2 cents on Putin’s Crimean annexation:

While Russia is in clear contravention of international law, in terms of realpolitik I can’t fault them, and might do the same in their spot. If you take a look at the Crimean peninsula, you will see how absolutely strategic it is to Russia, both militarily and commercially. In real terms, the Russians simply can’t allow NATO to control the approaches to Rostov.

When you throw in the facts that the peninsula is historically Russian controlled, was until recently part of the Soviet Union, is at this time majority Russian, and would probably vote in a fair referendum to rejoin Russia… then the legalities in my mind become hopelessly muddled.

What are the legalities of Northern Ireland, Alsace-Lorraine, the West Bank, Hong Kong, Gibraltar…

Texas, Native American lands, Hawaii?

I do get that the deceptive tactics Putin is employing are reminiscent of Hitler’s. But that’s where the analogy ends for me. Putin’s aim isn’t war and conquest and “lebensraum” (nor the eradication of a people). And Russia has a huge and legitimate security interest in retaining the control over the Crimea it has had since time immemorial.

I’m getting a sense that the wise old heads in Europe are coming down on the side I’m advocating, rather than with the war-mongering Republicans. I also think that if anyone understands the complexities of the situation it will be President Obama, and he will walk a careful tightrope, as he has been forced to do so very often in his administration. And he will take the political lumps for doing the right thing and appearing weak, as he has also done so very often.

I am extraordinarily grateful he is our president in this situation, and not John McCain.

Here are a couple of thought experiments, in conclusion:

1) What if Russia were a beleaguered democracy, and the NATO nations were an ascendant league of repressive dictators? Would that change American perception of the legalities of annexing the Crimea? Might it in this case be referred to as a “rescue”?

Would the actual legalities be any different?

2) What if Cuba or Venezuela authorized the building of Russian naval bases and military installations on their territory? (That would I think be closely analogous to a potential NATO presence on the Crimean peninsula.) Would the United States bow to international law and let it happen?

36 Responses to Putin’s Crimean Annexation

  1. Well put, Feltbot. At the very least you have framed the argument.

    There’s a difference between realpolitik that incites instability in world order for one’s own interest, which the US practiced liberally in the Middle East and elsewhere (covert support of Iraq in its war against Iran, etc., etc.) and for which we are all still paying a price, and one that brings stability. This might be a case of the latter.

  2. fuzzy dunlop

    -You seem to be assuming Putin’s ambitions are limited to Crimea. While he may well end up having to settle for it, the Russians have made all sorts of ominous noises about eastern Ukraine proper.
    -Part of the reason the Russians have been able to mount a relatively quiet and at least somewhat deniable invasion of the island is than they were maintaining active military bases there. Yet you portray it as some NATO dominated menace to Putin…
    -You concede of the bat that Russia is contravening international law yet seem to invoke extra legal reasoning to cast doubt on that…
    -I don’t think there’s any serious comparison to be made between Putin’s behavior and that of the Nazis, but I find the narrative that Putin is merely reacting to some nebulous NATO threat equally laughable. My view is that he’s an autocrat presiding over a declining kleptocracy and he’s looking to harness anti western nationalism to his benefit. Clearly he doesn’t want a real war with NATO but he’s not comfortable with a “warm peace” either.

  3. My opinion on the matter is based on the following additional facts that have been reported but mostly hidden from the public. I do come out on the same side as Felty has expressed above.

    There was a constitutionally nationally elected President of Ukraine. If
    he was to be deposed such should have been done through elections
    reflecting our own values and not through mob violence, especially
    a mob who reportedly were extreme right wingers.

    Secondly, the day before the takeover of the President’s office, France,
    Germany, Poland and Russia entered a written agreement that would
    allow the President to remain in office with reduced powers and called for national elections for a new President that would be held in December of this year. The Russians had clearly agreed to a orderly
    transition of power.

    The next day, I believe April 21st, the mob took over the President’s office thus effectively notifying the agreement reached and breaching the transfer of power.

    One must ask was the US not a signatory to the written agreement for the peaceful transition of power. ? Could it be the agreement was a ruse and the US did not want a peaceful transfer of power? There is some evidence of this as US American scholar Stephen F. Cohen on
    Democracy Now said he thought that the US was in on the coup as the
    he cited the transcript of a reported telephone conversation with US State Dept. officer Nuland and the US ambassador to the Ukraine in which Nuland before the agreement was signed told the USambassador
    who should and should not be part of the new Ukraine govt after the coup came to power a clear indication the US did want the agreement that called for the peaceful transition of power.

    In addition in a speech by President Obama before the coup was complete and while the mob was throwing molotov cocktails and shooting at the Ukranian police that resulted in deaths, and shots were fired at the protestors, President only called for the govt to cease fire, not the mob, an indication the US was backing the mob.

    So, under these circumstances in which the govt was taken over by forth the installation of a new government cannot be portrayed as being sovereign a government. The US should not have recognized it as such.

    So Russians then took the position that the old elected President was still in power and not trusting if the new govt would move against the Russian population in the south and Russian bases there, Putin claimed at a recent press conference this week that Russia recognized on the elected President as head of the govt and that he had invited the Russian military to protect Russian citizens in the Russian populated areas which one would think is not entirely unreasonable and avoid a more bloodier situation if the Ukranians military ceased those areas. Cohen argues that Putin had legitimate reasons to send to Russian troops to the southern region of the Ukraine. It also should be noted that Russia ceded the same territory that had been part of Russia to the Ukraine.

    One can draw their own conclusions regarding Russian actions, but it’s hard to do so when the US media deliberately accepts that the invasion was wrong and does not highlight the true history of what took place leading up to that the coup.

    State Dept, Secretary of State Kerry sites that the Russians had signed a prior agreement in the 90’s I believe not to invade Ukraine. That agreement was signed at a time that the Ukranian
    govt was selected by national election not by force. So is it really applicable to argue that the Ukraine is now a sovereign govt when when a nationally elected govt was violently overthrown and replaced by force by an unconstitutional government?

    It also may be that it was not President Obama who decided beforehand as a Dept official indicated who should be the new coup leaders, as a former govt official in an essay called Anatomy of the Deep State claims that the our own national security system has there own foreign policy agenda that his separate from that of the President. So was the State dept following the President’s instructions or someone else’s agenda?See Bill Moyers and Company. Scary thought and historically accurate. It seems to me our mainstream press at the very east is hiding facts and analysis from the public, and may also be portraying President Obama as weak by not forceable confronting the Russians, at the behest of others.

  4. as a citizen of the country neighbouring russia, i can only say – facepalm

  5. “War is the shooting stage of an economic conflict.” – attributed to Otto Von Bismarck

    “Follow the money.” – attributed to Deep Throat

    “There will be costs.” – Barack Obama

    What there will not be is a shooting war involving the US, NATO, the European Union or individual European countries against Russia. Too costly.

    Realpolitik means being able to say “I’m guilty, so what.” Russia wins Crimea and sells its assets. There will be buyers.

  6. Admire the thoughtful post Feltbot.
    ++ to Frank’s information too.

    Maybe Putin should say he is looking for “weapons of mass destruction” and then it would be okay, right ? :-)

    The United States through its NGO, the National Endowment for Democracy” has given the opposition $5 billion dollars over the past few years. Our tax dollars at work (http://www.voltairenet.org/article30022.html)

    Imagine if the Russians gave the Mexican PRI anywhere near that amount to foment violent demonstrations in Mexico? Not a big fan of all the President’s various drone wars and surveillance, but I agree with your point about Obama walking a thin line. Hell, McCain would have started a war over Georgia five years ago (that’s near Russia for the uninformed, not Florida) and definitely Syria last year. Any doubts?

    Your post is a sincere voice of reasonable analysis and reinforces the fact us common folk could govern ourselves better than the current elite in this country. If only the US had a TRUE democracy where ordinary folks could represent…The US should solve its own problems at home instead of countries half way around the world.
    The world would be a better place.

    Two great informational websites:

  7. I keep thinking back to the CIA interventions that deposed democratically elected governments in Iran and Nicaragua.

    And remembering Medal of Honor winner General Smedley Butler’s ‘War is a Racket’ from almost a century ago of how the US Army is sent into countries to acquire their resources for private business.

    And googled Ukraine oil fields and sure enough they have oil.

    And I wonder what are the odds the US has a proxy army of armed thugs in the Ukraine doing the same stuff right now.


  8. In this case the thug protesters were described as Nazi protesters throwing and setting policeman on fire. Appears snipers on top of buildings shooting both policeman and protesters ablaze. Nazi groups allegedly tied to jihadist groups trying to overthrown Syrian government.

    Installed as head of coup was former head of the Secret Services. He appointed as prime minister the guy ms. Nuland from State dept. wanted
    Installed. His political group includes fascist. The US recognizing the coup and overthrow of elected President seems like our foreign policy is wack. It’s this coup leaders that President Obama wants to oversee a new national election. Scary times.

  9. While we’re off topic (or maybe the Warriors are off topic and this post points to our real purpose), does anyone have thoughts about the movie Good Will Hunting? Matt Damon/Robin Williams, about an abused and overlooked genius, a Southie, who was taken in by a math prof at MIT.

    It’s an attractive movie in many respects with sharp dialog, but I have reservations—it feeds several myths about intelligence and education. I’m working on an essay.

    • moto? This is your territory.

      • been way too long since my viewing the film, and only watched it once. but we can’t expect any mainstream-u.s., commercial release film to offer critical insight about the social hierarchy, or how merit, education, egalitarian myths vs. realities, all play in the mechanisms of the elite classes for recruitment and control. the mainstream films are themselves part of the means of control. (as are the major league professional sports). independent filmmakers face more censorship (going by different names of course — ‘underwriters’, ‘sponsors’, ‘co-producers’, grants) here than in most other western democracies.

        • I also just picked up The Class (entre les murs), which you might enjoy if you don’t know it. Life in a quasi inner city school, Paris. The teachers and students are real. The movie is endlessly fascinating.

    • I don’t know what you mean by myths of education and intelligence, but here are two interesting starting points for reads into the idea that equality (intellectual) is an axiom and subsequent implications:

      Roughly, teaching without emancipation is harmful.In other words, to teach someone something you must assume the position of ignorance, not knowledge.

      • Thanks for passing this on, and your thoughts below. The best book I know about literacy and class and culture in America is Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary. I’ve taught it at least a dozen times. Quite readable, quite engaging, quite relevant now.

        Mike’s at UCLA now and is quite well known to those of us in the field. Like the character in Good Will Hunting, he came out of a rough neighborhood in LA—South Vermont?—made it out, and has not forgotten the experience but rather profited from it.

        He has a blog were he talks about current issues in education, along with links to his books:


  10. Dudes, especially Frank, just please stop, you have zero knowledge of history of region in question and all its conflicts, of what was it like to live under soviet union or is under russian pressure etc.
    One educational point for Frank – nazis (by necessity) as you call them in ukraine and other russian fucked countries were people who saw wartime germany as liberating force – that is: living in close to total famine conditions and constant deportations – in fear and hunger – makes you side with the devil himself. Nazism in Eastern Europe is a consequence of that terrible thing world war 2, and nowhere it is more brutal than russia itself.
    So just swallow your simplistic observations and follow advice of Wittgenstein – Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
    Legality and russian politics are two mutually exclusive things.

    • Make your argument, Martin. What should be done and why?

      • I sincerely don’t know, all I know that no country has any legal right to fuck another one. Alas, that’s not how things go, and two wrongs only make a war.
        And, to remember Beckett’s Endgame – ‘Is there a god? Not yet.’
        In any case, this will best be decided by russia and germany/france for obvious gas reasons. That ukraine is in the path is collateral damage. This is not rational or logical, it’s tragic.

        • Feltbot’s argument, I believe, is that we not rush in there, as some want to do, and make things worse. There has to be some merit here.

          • I don’t think rushing or not rushing based on the premise that somehow russia has legality to grab the land that are important to it is in any way sensible. It just false premises, as well as statement that majority of crimeans, which’s tatar population was cleanly swiped and replaced with russians in years of soviet expansion, would want to join russia, that kind of referendum has already been done and if I remember correctly less than 40 percent wanted to join russia. Of course at gun point, i would not be surprised the people’s will to change.
            Lithuania was also under russian influence for nearly 200 years since 1795 with a port to baltic sea, should russian legality to come back and take us under its caring famine inducing hand be viewed as somehow legitimate, especially since we are in EU and NATO? Poland as well?

            I agree about not rushing to start a war (especially since for US or Russia or China or whatever big country there is, rushing means fuck the little people and their land or self-determination,we want control of resources), but entirely for different reasons.
            I believe russia has a lot invested in europe (and ukraine) and vice versa and its up to them big fuckers to see whether they can live with or without each other. We don’t need third self-centered party to add more interests into a boiling pot. None of this, though, should be at the expense of ukrainian self-determination.

    • socialism in many flavours (national socialism was one of many to choose from post-WWI) was hugely appealing in greater Europa for the economic conditions you cite. in some countries the wehrmacht overran, schickelgruber’s variation was particularly appealing because it could exploit religious conflicts and anti-Semitism. it’s part of the Ukrainian heritage. Putin has been supported, or at least granted ‘benign consent’ by u.s. policy makers in part because he flashes the ‘stability’ and ‘anti-terrorist’ cards.

      • re: I don’t know how much of anti-semitism was alive, in my case, in lithuania before first soviet occupation – I come from a town where 60 percent of its inhabitants at the start of XXth century were jewish and had a football (soccer) club – Gargzdu Makabi. I believe relations were quite good, due it being a sea-border town and economically vibrant, jews have been welcomed there since XVIIth. century with all rights of that day.
        Now during n-th russian, soviet, occupation and ensuing deportations of lithuanians in 1941 june by soviet regime came germans and immediately started murdering jews, just days apart, – many a lithuanian participated in it as it was largely believed that jews were the same as soviet bolsheviks/communists. Revenge, madness, stupor. The divisions and scars it left were/are crazy. To be raped by two great powers in such a small time frame. I believe Lithuania being third in the world in suicides is largely due to this mental and physical torture that left the idea of trust in ashes.
        Pretty much the same destiny befell ukranians being forced to undergo massive deaths from famine under brotherly love of stabilizing soviet hand. And subsequently joining nazis in their murderous fiesta.
        I don’t know what putin stabilizes – the spectres soviet rule created? The hangover tremens after two powers had a dance macabre? Wouldn’t any war, any bigger conflict now create more of that? Because you certainly can’t shoot/kill the idea of enemy you seed and lack of trust, and start as though anew?

        My brain turns upside down

        • thank you for that glimpse of history — we know too well how deficient we are in the u.s. in understanding other lands and peoples. and for the information about the great French educators, too. the period 1920-1935 was tremendously fertile in many parts of the world for artists, free thinkers/writers, humanists, but unfortunately more so for political ideologues. the war and its great exterminations (which continued onward and persist to this day) was the beginning of the end of idealism and humanism.

        • I do enjoy reading you Martin. Educational and something else.

    • Liberty for All not just the Banks

      martin get your panties are in a bunch, calm down.

      Presumably if Frank knows nothing about Ukraine history, maybe you should stop talking too, for since you are “from Lithuania”, then you have no right to speak to Americans, for it must be assumed you know nothing about the history of how the United States became “well er uh”. America. We didn’t just get here, we conquered the 50 states, killing millions of Native Americans. And uh, enslaved and killed millions of African Americans. Therefore, with your logic, the US shouldn’t do anything to any other country…whoops!

      Of course that would be absurd, both Frank and you deserve the right to speak and justify your opines (check US Constitution 1st and 4th amendments).

      Your argument of hating the Russians no matter what, is cold war left over blues. The cold war ended in 1991. Anyway, it should have been ended and the world should have pushed forward for improving living standards for ordinary people instead of building more tanks, missiles etc.

      I for one and tired of the profits and austerity leaders and bankers, and that is the path of the Ukraine, with or without Crimea. Watch as

      Your tactic is all too common of people in the cold war.

      So watch as “Yats” Yatsenyuk – an Ukrainian bankster playing the role of Western puppet – insists Crimea must remain part of Ukraine.
      And watch as Austerity becomes the norm and the same people you cry about have lower living standards. And watch as the Ukraine is sold off at bargain basement prices. But it’s all is good, because its anti Russia and they deserve it.

      Keep on Frank, it is right to discuss these matters, and don’t let the Cold Warriors shout you down or distract from what is happening.

      • Nowhere did I educate any american of their history.
        Again, nowhere did I indicate I hate anything russian, but the country’s politics, which are a bit unclear, to say the least. Post-cold war is still war – economic skirmishes and sanctions are everyday of doing buisiness with russia – http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/russia-lithuania.qro.
        Also, one good tidbit, most post USSR countries have had to start from sudden political chaos with not much useful infrastructure left, but soviet groomed local heads and the empty place of power was grabbed by mafia and ex-CP party members. It takes generations to get rid of the mentality and modus operandi of soviet system – corruption, bribes, paying mafia/racketeers for ability to run buisiness etc. were just normal way of doing things.
        So, yeah, nothing good in being either the slave of big government or big corporations.

        • Liberty for All not just the Banks

          Lithuania is a road map for the Ukraine (also see Latvia, Greece, Ireland etc).

          A. Banking deregulation.
          1. Austerity programs for working folk, driven by the IMF.
          2. Reduction or elimination of pensions
          3. Corporate Subsidies and Tax reductions.
          4. Income Inequality.
          5. Joining NATO and providing military bases on the Russian border.
          6. Increased Emigration, reducing the current Ukraine population.

          Ukraine has $35 billion in debt. Since the EU and US have no money these days, the IMF will be called in to make loans based on the condition of the Ukraine selling its assets and basement prices, and enforcing austerity on its working people. Of course, the current non elected government officials of the Ukraine will be bought off handsomely.

          • Nothing you outlined is resolved under and in russia. Poverty, violence (significantly worse than Lithuania with all our austerity and cuts), state and mafia controlled resources, biggest worldwide heroin and alcoholism problem etc.
            I know EU is not perfect and I’m not saying Ukraine must join because it’s gonna go paradise. Except that the alternative is even worse.

  11. with the rationalization that this blog’s owner enjoys the Furst novels, that rgg brought up a film in discussion, and the topic of German conquest and occupation was already raised —
    recently watched the restored version of the 1968 Jean-Pierre Melville film, ‘Army of Shadows’, his tribute to the resistance, Melville himself (Jewish, Alsatian) a member. stunning performance by Signoret, as the most courageous and ingenious of the saboteur/provocateurs. her character was based on a professor with whom she’d studied philosophy just before the war, and her own long time, personal make up assistant was active in the resistance, so she put herself under immense emotional pressure. not explicitly brought out in the film, because it was made for French viewers who knew very well (not even released in the u.s. for more than twenty years), but nearly everyone in the resistance were socialists and communists. thanks to our own purges during the McCarthy/Dulles bros. period, we haven’t had to tolerate films being written and directed by socialists and communists like the French have had to.

    • I just reread Furst’s The Foreign Correspondent. So apropos to this Ukraine craziness.

      I think it might be the best thing he’s written. A masterpiece.

      I’ve seen one French resistance film, Moto, but I’m not sure it’s the one you mention. Have to look into it.

      • felt boss, if you watched ‘Army of Shadows’ there’s a short scene when the resistance uses a movie production office as a front, and the shot in that office would take you right to Furst’s ‘The World at Night’. it’s also possible that Furst might have been thinking of the resistance fighter -turned director Melville (who took his pen name from the great writer) who built his own studio and produced his own films independently with little funds, when he created the character Casson in ‘The World at Night’.

        • You know, rewatching a clip I’m almost certain it’s the movie I watched, but I don’t remember the scene you mention.

          Loved the World at Night and Red Gold too.

  12. The Crimea .and Eastern Ukraine should be made part of Russia.

    There should also be a Kurdistan.

    The Ahvaz area of Iran should also go back to Iraq.

    • Liberty for All not just the Banks

      The new ‘Unelected’ Ukranian government begins the era of ‘crony capitalism’…look out.


      Why would people in the US, allegedly promoters of democracy, not care about the gangsters & murderers their policies have brought into Kiev?

      The newly self-elected Ukrainian government is reorganizing all institutions of power, dissolving the special riot police, naming its cronies to key political posts. But perhaps the most indicative of the true character of the new regime is the naming last week of new Governors to head the major political divisions of regions of Ukraine. They include dual Israeli-Ukrainian nationals and notorious billionaire gangsters. This seems to be the “democracy” that US State Department Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, Victori Nuland had in mind when she rejected earlier EU compromise initiatives with the terse comment, “Fuck the EU.”

      Now, economic destruction

      The non-elected or provisional Ukrainian government headed by 39-year old Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has made key regional appointments as Governors in the industrial pro-Russian eastern Ukraine.

      The Prime Minister has named three billionaires, including Ukraine’s richest, to head the key political regional or advisory posts.

      Ihor Kolomoisky, a metals, banking and media baron worth between $3 and $6 billion, will be governor of his native region Dnipropetrovsk. He built his billions as a crony of convicted fraudster, ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko. He is an Ukrainian-Israeli business oligarch of Jewish descent with a dual Ukrainian-Israeli citizenship although dual citizenship is not recognized by Ukraine. Until now he has controlled his business empire from Switzerland. He is the leading partner of the Privat Group. [i]

      Serhiy Taruta, the country’s 16th-richest man, was put in charge of the strategic coal mining region of Donetsk. Serhiy Taruta is a Ukrainian businessman, chairman of Industrial Union of Donbas, and President of FC Metalurh Donetsk.

      According to Forbes magazine, he ranks among the 500 richest people in the world, with his estimated wealth being around 2 billion US dollars. [ii]

  13. geraldmcgrew

    Straight talk from the always astute Stephen Zunes: