Will Russia Invade Crimea?

Photo by Andrew Lubimov/AP

Ever since the Charge of the Light Brigade, Crimea has been synonymous with disaster for the West—and saber-rattling Russia now sees it as ground zero in the battle with Ukraine’s new masters.

“I’ll tell you something else, which military historians never realize: they call the Crimea a disaster, which it was, and a hideous botch-up by our staff and supply, which is also true, but what they don’t know is that even with all these things in the balance against you, the difference between hellish catastrophe and brilliant success is sometimes no greater than the width of a sabre blade, but when all is over no one thinks of that. Win gloriously —and the clever dicks forget all about the rickety ambulances that never came, and the rations that were rotten, and the boots that didn’t fit, and the generals who’d have been better employed hawking bedpans round the doors. Lose — and these are the only things they talk about.”

It may not have been George MacDonald Fraser’s fictional antihero Flashman—a Victorian cross between James Bond and Frank Underwood—who tried in vain to stop the Charge of the Light Brigade across the Balaclava plain, but ask any reasonably well-educated Englishman about “the Crimea” and chances are he can do you a shade better than a few lines from Tennyson in descrying stupidity, calamity, and geopolitical misfortune.

This is a place-name that lingers in the historical western memory as a giant “Keep Out” sign, which may account for why Europe and the United States are now so reluctant to meddle in what’s unfolding once again on this troublesome peninsula. If not quite Her Majesty’s cavalry and artillerymen galloping toward certain death against the “embattled ranks of Muscovy,” then another great power contest is assuredly being fought on the Black Sea, whatever our robotic diplomatic corps says to the contrary.  Here was John Kerry yesterday offering his own unique cultural touchstone: “This is not ‘Rocky IV.’ It is not a zero-sum game. We do not view it through the lens of East-West or Russia-the U.S. or anything else.” Except that at the end of Rocky IV the American defeated the steroidal Russian to the applause of even the Politburo; and, of course, Vladimir Putin sees Ukraine as a zero-sum game and through the lens of East-West and Russia-the-U.S. and everything else. To Putin, Ukraine is “not really” a state at all, as he told George W. Bush in 2008; it’s a backyard. That’s why Russia’s fee-for-satrapy subsidy to keep a drowning Ukrainian economy afloat was $15 billion, and why America’s is exactly 1/15th that amount.

“I perceive him as a compatriot,” said Otari Arshba, the chairman of Russian Duma committee on work with compatriots, in announcing Yanukovych’s safe haven in Russia.

Indeed, the Kremlin’s reaction to the Euromaidan protest, which became a full-scale Ukrainian revolution last week, might well culminate in the invasion and partitioning of a former Soviet satellite on the pretext of protecting Crimea’s majority ethnic Russian population from the “fascist” putschists whom Moscow believes ousted the legitimate Ukrainian government last week. Deposed president Viktor Yanukovych’s hasty night-flight from Kiev has already yielded a 20,000-page tranche of intriguing documents about his illicit assets, some of them tying him to the infamous Magnitsky case in Russia, and how a “former” Russian GRU (military intelligence) officer helped instruct Berkut riot police on how best to shoot people dead in Kiev. Yanukovych has now been confirmed to be residing in his true motherland.  “I perceive him as a compatriot,” said Otari Arshba, the chairman of Russian Duma committee on work with compatriots, in announcing Yanukovych’s safe haven in Russia. “Each Ukrainian citizen, that is a descendant of the USSR, like any other compatriot can count on Russia’s support and loyalty, including matters of personal safety.” In anyone else’s mouth, such words might sound provocatively disrespectful of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

But it’s not just Putinist rhetoric we need worry about. Just this morning, heavily armed pro-Russian fighters stormed the parliament and government headquarters of Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea. Where they got their weapons one can only guess, but notice that a takeover of state institutions here has not been condemned by the Russian Foreign Ministry as the work of violent thugs or “national radicals” or “neo-Nazis,” which of course made up the ranks of anti-Yanukovych protestors.  

Crimea is ground-zero for another Ukrainian nightmare. It's been ground zero for quite a few. After the Lights met the Cossacks, there were two Soviet famines, including Stalin’s Holodomor.  There was the genuine Nazi invasion; the forced expulsion (again by Stalin) in 1944 of the entire Turkic Tartar population to Central Asia, a campaign of ethnic cleansing that killed about half its victims from disease and malnutrition. (A large number of Tartars only returned to Crimea in the 1980s.)  Then, in 1954, Khrushchev decided to transfer Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, even though Russia’s Black Sea Fleet continued to be stationed there, creating the preconditions for Crimea’s absorption into an independent Ukraine in 1991.

Demography may not be destiny, but in this case it’s trying like hell to be. According to Andrei Malgin, a writer for Ehko Moskvy, as of 2001, 58.3 percent of Crimea’s population was Russian. But Russians outnumber other ethnicities, such as the Tartars, in only a few raions or municipalities: Feodosiya, Simferopol and Yalta among them. Elsewhere throughout Crimea—Krasnoperekopsk, Dzhankoy, Pervomaysk—Russians are in a minority. If armed clashes were to break out in a region-wide scale, the “victor” would by no means be predetermined. What the media has rather glibly been defining for months as a geographical or ethnolinguistic East-West split for Ukraine as a whole might actually be better applied to Crimea. But here it runs along a North-South divide, with pro-Russian concentrations more heavily distributed closer to the Black Sea.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/27/will-russia-invade-crimea.html

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