Why does Russia really need the Crimea?
“Russia does not aspire to become the centre of some sort of new empire…. Russia understands better than most the perniciousness of that role, having performed it brutally and badly for long enough to suspect a better way. What did it gain from this? Did Russians become freer as a result? Wealthier? Happier?… History has taught us that a people that rules over others cannot be fortunate”
These were the words spoken by a presumably semi sober Boris Yelstin in Kiev, 1990, just a year before the official collapse of the former Soviet Union.
This speech at the time was designed to appeal to proponents of post-Soviet Westernisation whilst helping to affirm Russia’s future inclination towards their past enemies in the West by offering an olive branch and a reset in relations which would see this nascent affiliation, in due course, become “the mature strategic partnership”, of the geopolitical theorists.
The “mature strategic partnership” was initially deployed with the intention of encouraging Russia’s democratic transformation and economic recovery, with the wider impetus to someday see it integrate with Europe politically and economically to form a wider European superstate.
But Russia, since 2000 (when Yeltsin’s successor Vladimir Putin took power) has continually pulled back and away from any wider political or economic unification with the “West” and has recently made the Kremlin’s intentions clear by their recent instant and rigorous military intervention in the Crimea, with the wider impetus to bring back control of the Ukraine under its “yoke” as part of a broader Russian plan to create a Eurasian superpower controlled by Moscow.
As the prominent geopolitical strategist, Halford Mackinder, once pointed out:
Who rules East Europe controls the heartland
Who rules the heartland commands the World Island
who rules the World Island commands the World
Anyone who wields power in the Eurasian heartland would have access to nearly three-quarters of the world’s energy resources and a significant proportion of the world’s GDP, inclusive of direct control over one (ex-superpower), and near proximity to two other regional powers in China and India.
The Ukraine amidst this geopolitical conception is an important pivot in the new “Great Game” for any major power’s wider geopolitical desires to come to fruition due to its critical and sensitive locus in the region.
Who rules East Europe controls the heartland
Who rules the heartland commands the World Island
who rules the World Island commands the World
The US, also, with this in mind, recognises how vital the Ukraine is not only for its own sustained primacy in the region, but for any wider influence in Eurasia. America seems to presume that under the aegis of the European Union the Ukraine can be manipulated into a truly ambitious geopolitical game plan; by its eventual inclusion into NATO, where its land would become a bulwark against Russian aggression and much more, as a newly constituted nation, free to make political power alliances of its own the Ukraine could then thwart Russian ambitions of resurrecting the Soviet imperialist agenda of the recent past. A consummation which would pose an obvious threat to presently planned American and European influence from the Don to the Orient and Oceanna.
Similarly, the Russians realise the importance of the Ukraine not only for their own Eurasian empire building aspirations but since the Ukraine is a natural buffer-zone between NATO and the Motherland it provides the obvious barrier against imperial US ambitions as regards Russian interests, especially concerning former Soviet satellites. These remain tempting targets for Putin and the Ukraine problem is unlikely to be permitted to fester for too long. In addition, the Russians also consider the Ukraine as their rightful spiritual homeland and the birthplace of the ‘motherland’ with historical ties to the country dating as far back as 800-900AD and onwards with Prince Rurik and the inception of Orthodox Christianity in Keiv-Russ under the rulership of Prince Vladimir the Great.
Russia’s recent annexing of the Crimea represented an important milestone for the “motherland’s” wider repatriation and Eurasian aspirations in this regard, whilst in contrast it highlighted a step-back for European and US interests in this geopolitical domain.
Some of the recent media coverage of this crisis that tries to explain Russian motives has been content to consign the aberration of affairs in the Crimea as mainly being accentuated on the basis of humanitarian crises, infringements upon state Democracy or a miscalculated blatant act of Russian aggression.
A media coverage that wasn’t dispensed without the preponderant taint of propaganda and even self-opportunism in the form of the seemingly stage-managed resignation of anchor Liz Wahl, a reporter who became a “media darling” due to her “on the air” martyring in disgust at the so called “Russian invasion”.
Wahl’s hollow valediction contained just a modicum of hypocrisy when she commented on her family’s history at the hands of Russian aggression in Hungary. Begging the question why someone would want to work for the Putin ran Kremlin backed “Russia Today” in the first place if your family had suffered under the yoke of a Soviet empire that the current Russian leader mourns?
We also got to watch the usual lame banal responses trotted out from “world leaders” that we get to witness so often when a precarious situation of this nature occurs in a series of condemnations that came in various tones and manners even to the point of reducing Putin’s Crimea move as an act of madness, as was expressed by the ex-communist student stooge Angela Merkel, who claimed Putin “seemed to be in another world.”
Even the seasoned academic and usually unperturbed ex National Security advisor, Zbigniew Zbrinski, a man with considerable experience of Soviet affairs, questioned the Russian leaders sanity and put his own spooky slant on Putin’s “modus operandi” in the Ukraine that resembled a zany film plot out of an old 60′s Harry Saltzman Cold War movie with his quirky MI6 protagonist, Harry Palmer.
You would have to suspend belief and accept that somehow Putin has been spellbound by an adviser whose religious zeal has subverted the Russian leader’s mind and initiating his destiny to unify a magna Russia or Eurasia. The scenario supposes divine ambitions, hence Putin’s narcissistic or “Caesar complexion” of late.
Check out the below video for more.
Whereas it was business as usual “on the air” for the abulic Obama, who did what he normally does… read whatever political demagoguery that appeared on his “teleprompter” and handed out a couple of effete warnings about sanctions.
(See my article “THE US/EU FOLLY OF RUSSIAN FINANCIAL SANCTIONS” for more on this.)
Russia, in response, laughed at the threats. Putin no doubt hadn’t laughed as much as when he was told NATO’s missile shield initiative was solely plotted to counter Iranian missiles… <<< click the link to watch
These were just a few of the titbits amidst the abundance of tripe that seems to be dished out whenever any important global crisis has to be addressed to the public in the vain theatre of modern popularity politics, where the platform of answerable statecraft has been debased to hollow visceral and banal cliches in favour of sincere diplomatic accountability.
This is not to excuse the Kremlin’s behaviour in the Crimea but to cover some of the bias and extreme reactions from the media.
When you consider that the poll results in the recent Crimean referendum for independence were overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the Ukraine, and that the majority of the populace were wanting to rejoin with Russia, then it can hardly be considered a military take-over by the Kremlin against the will of the Crimean people.
It was reported that 97% of the overall 80% of the population who participated in the vote wished to leave the Crimea to repatriate with Russia.
To the vast majority of the Crimean populace it seemed to be more of a liberation than an invasion.
This wasn’t a crushing criminal military incursion reminiscent of Hungary of 1956 or Czechoslovakia of 1968. Not yet anyway…
However, that type of military response might come later if there is a lack of suitable future deterrents to Russian aspirations in the quagmire the “west” now find themselves in.
And whilst Obama is content to play the affective president, taking “selfies” with careerist politicians and cavorting with sport stars and actors playing the “cool” poster boy of “bread and circuses”, he is being perceived as an amateur in the real geopolitical halls of power where it matters most; while Putin ever the professional with his vast KGB experience is taking advantage of the cautious almost conciliatory actions meted out by Washington and Brussels whilst applying his own form of pressure elsewhere on a financially burdened and politically volatile Europe.
Analysts now think that due to the Kremlin’s success in the Crimea and the weak US response in retaliation, Putin will be encouraged to play the “Machiavellian” soft-war approach in other ex Soviet states, by fomenting ethnic discord amongst the populace via provocations in order to create a convenient and deceptive pre-text to legitimise entry into those states to help their fellow Russian contingent on a humanitarian basis, whilst annexing portions of their lands and bringing them back into the “sphere” of Russian rule.
It is worth bearing in mind that if Putin where to unjustly encroach on any NATO member’s territory in the form of a military incursion he could elicit that member nation to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security .
This could allow NATO forces to use military action to stop Russia in its tracks. A “tinderbox” situation that no one desires.
As this article goes to press we are already starting to hear further calls for secession in other areas such as Transdniestria, a region of Moldova containing a large population of Russian speakers who wish to pull further away from Moldova in favor of total integration with Russia.
Moldova has been working towards signing an EU association and free trade agreement, similar to the one rejected by Yanukovich which caused the mass protests we recently witnessed in the Ukraine and prompting his removal from office. This EU deal that would see Moldova’s economy integrate with the European Union is expected to be signed in June. Similarly, another ex Soviet state, Georgia, will be signing a similar deal around that time as well.
Brussels as we speak will no doubt be bolstering and strengthening their relationships with Moldova and Georgia further, fearing any further Russian mechanisms of destabilisation and encroachment upon these weaker states reminiscent of the fleetness of annexation Hitler carried out in the run up to world war 2.
The “Elephant in the room” that has been tamely covered and disregarded in favour of more sensationalist coverage featuring neo-nazi scaremongering, infringements of democracy, indications of megalomania, and other avenues of obscurantism(no matter how plausible their inclusion), is that Russia’s actions in the Crimea have been predicated on its desires for a Eurasian empire ruled by Moscow and that particular ambition relies to a great extent on an expanded Naval power projection and control of the Black Sea for purposes of economic and national security interests that the area brings.
That’s what appeared to be the reality of Russian motives in the Crimea, as opposed to reports voicing that the Kremlin’s actions were solely based on the principles of solving any ethnic infringements upon Russians living in the Ukraine, or the Western concerns heralding that Russia was starting to attempt an all-out “blitzkrieg” on Europe.
The Crimea isthmus which juts into the middle of the Black Sea, affords whoever controls it access to the Mediterranean via the southern Bosporus and Dardanelles straits that cut through Turkey and essentially partition Europe from Asia. It also allows for access to the Russian and Ukrainian mainland, the eastern Georgian coastline, and accessibility to the Balkan states of Bulgaria and Romania in the West.
This environment is of crucial importance and a decisive locus for the “Black Sea” fleet and especially for access to Turkey’s Bosporus and Dradanelles straits which is the only passage onto the Mediterranean and globally for Russian military vessels and any ships carrying energy resources(and other products) from the Black Sea states to the world markets.
It is estimated that 2.5 million billions per day of crude oil is shipped from Russia and other ex-Soviet states via this crucial channel.
Failure to have any significant presence here could see Russian influence wane from an economic standpoint, becoming beholden to say Turkey, who of late, under the leadership of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan , has shown an aptitude for its own aspirations in the form of “Ottomon” revival.
Militarily, from a defensive standpoint,the Black Sea offers a more congenial avenue for Russia’s enemies to attack their core due to the constraints posed by land-based options and the formidable sorrounding mountainous regions situated in the Balkans, Caucus and Russian mainland.
Loss of any meaningful “Black Sea”deterrent could allow any enemies of Russia to launch an attack into oil producing regions such as Tatarstan where their biggest oil producing plant “Neftekamskneftehim” is located. Further; Any foreign control of the “Black Sea” could provide a convenient means to blockade any Russian energy supply chain that transits the seas from those oil producing regions.
Vital supplies that their military would come to rely on if a war broke out.
From an offensive military standpoint, the Black Sea offers the Russian’s force projection into Eastern Europe, Turkey, Ukraine and the Caucuses.
This position was utilised to it fullest by the Russian Navy in order to blockade the Georgian coast-land during their war with Georgia in 2008.
The area also offers their navy a means to get to further important strategic places such as the Mediterranean or the Syrian coast which they have used to ship arms to President Bashir Assad.
This is extremely important to Naval ambitions as, without a decent presence in the “Black Sea”, they have extremely limited options to extend their purely political influence globally
Russian Naval capability has been in steep decline since the 70′s where at the apex of their power they enjoyed near parity with the “West.”
Admittedly their maritime technological advances during that time were aided by the John Walker spy ring.
It had transpired during that period of time that John Walker, a United States Navy Chief Warrant Officer, had been passing the Soviets sensitive US military naval information for almost 20 years.
The Kremlin had also been afforded, during the 70′s, an accommodating US foreign policy under Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon which enabled them to have almost more military vessels deployed at sea than the British and US combined.
This state of affairs was only reversed when Ronald Regan took power in the 80′s.
Interestingly, it was also a period of time when the Soviets built and deployed the biggest submarine in history – the massive Typhoon class sub. A vessel so big that it was double hulled and boasted an on-board swimming pool and spa.
However, in contrast to those golden years, Russia’s navy today is somewhat antiquated and pales in comparison.
But there have been efforts since mid 2000 by Putin to modernise with new frigates, submarines and warships; including one that was recently built by France and is due to be delivered as we go to press.
And just a few years back there were confirmed reports of a Russian nuclear powered attack Submarine lurking for a pro-longed period of time in the gulf of Mexico, in target range of the USA. It was only detected several weeks later when leaving the area.
The vessel was identified as a variation of an Akula-class attack submarine, nick-named “the black-hole” because of its formidable stealth capabilities. Defence chiefs admit openly that they still have severe difficulty detecting and tracking it.
The “black hole” was built to kill ballistic missile submarines. But imagine the threat to any Western power if the Russians can equip an Akula “black hole” type sub with ICBM fire power!
This Russian naval reinforcement has no doubt been driven by an anxious Kremlin which in recent decades has had to endure the increasingly irritating presence of US warships swanning around in the Black sea and other maritime global hotspots where Soviet power once held sway.
Moscow can only look on in frustration as her perceived enemies “rule the waves” throughout the world. She must watch from the side-lines while lesser powers such as India ply relatively unrestricted trade. Russian memory may not have faded that she once had her own imperial designs on India and on China which not too long ago fell under Russian ideological influence and now plans its own ambitious “blue water” enterprise in the global market place.
Additionally, the Russians have severely limited genuinely operational seaports. Especially warm-water ports. Losing the vast majority of these when the Soviet Union collapsed, and in present circumstances could possibly lose the port of Tartus in Syria completely if Assad is overthrown or due to any military intervention by “Western forces”.
That last possibility cannot be ruled out if the Bathist party leader fails to meet the Chemical Weapons disposal deadline.
The recent grabbing of the Crimea was inevitable given the stumbling incompetence of the EU and its mindless avaricious instinct and blundering foreign policy initiatives. It was perhaps even an act of desperation to ensure that Sevastopol stayed in the Kremlin’s orbit.
It has been a seat of Russian naval power since the imperial 18th century, and continued so up to the Soviet era, and remains the preferred location for the Russian “Black Sea Fleet” due to its size, its port’s infrastructure, and the strategic access it affords to the Balkans, the Mediterranean Sea, and to the Middle-East.
Russian calculus may have factored that any future fleet deployment in the aftermath of President Viktor Yanukovych’s ousting could have seen the Kharkiv Pact cancelled, or more likely countered by veto in the Verkhovna Rada by a (pro western)Ukrainian government, due to them having the final approval on what Russian ships or maritime vessels can be based in the port or enter it.
Russian Naval power succumbing to this particular Western gambit could be crippled.
Block access to the Crimea and any Russian effort to deploy its new modern mercantile or military fleets are obstructed as well.
Whoever thought it a good idea to attempt such an obstruction cannot have considered wisely the absolute need of a very dangerous world power to unblock it or what exactly the cost of such a facilitation would mean to geopolitical realities.
The severity of the situation could have prompted Putin’s lightening response to salvage what he could of the old Soviet Naval capabilities and his re-energising Russian aspirations in the “Black Sea”. Factoring that long term political agendas had to be put on the back burner, even despite the long-term political reverberations promised by his fait accompli in Crimea. Nobody in the West can blame Putin for this. His hand was forced; nor can crimes of Soviet repression there and throughout the Ukraine that bedevil the past be dredged up to deflect from present political realities. This is not to argue realpolitik in its offensive sense but to point out the practical functions of state governance.
The duty of media outlets and politicians should be to refrain from further rhetoric, or writing populist pap for news entertainment purposes, and to accept the facts and from those facts pursue peaceful diplomatic avenues.
However, given all of the above, Russia’s stirring may not be entirely be born of desperation. The “Red Bear” may have become emboldened to “stamp its mark” on the global stage as it knows financially and militarily the US is stretched beyond its means.
Putin is dealing with weak and ineffective world leaders in Obama and Cameron, whilst Europe is in a financially and politically precarious situation.
With such inertia in the arena of international affairs Putin must revel.
You can take this premise as far as you like and even take into account the consequences of the Edward Snowden debacle, as we still don’t quite know what Snowden (or his handlers?) have in their possession or what has been divulged to the FSB(the Russian secret service who are the successors of the KGB) or FAPSI(a Russian equivalent to the GCHQ or NSA).
Intelligence may have been passed on by Edward Snowden revealing that the US is actually weaker politically, militarily and financially than Russian military and defence analysts previously thought. It would be then stupid for Putin to miss the tide that would float Russia’s ancient imperial barque.
(See my related article – The Snowden files: a timely blitz on big brother or a blizzard of banality – for more details)
Some analysts have conjectured that Russia may be conducting a doctrine of reconnaissance or “razvedka boem” which translates as using military engagement to assess an adversary’s intentions and strength, whilst deploying a strategic maxim that through “low risk venture and low risk gain” you can complete most of your objectives.
And although it is true that the current incarnation of the Russian military is no challenge to the US in conventional military terms, Putin does have what is known as asymmetric warfare strategies at his disposal. These could hurt or frustrate any US/EU responses to Russian meddling in Ukraine’s affairs.
So as the EU and US slide with Russia towards a political “black hole” because of the Crimea invasion, the Syria crisis(which also encompasses Russian influence) has been conveniently relegated to the alternative news channels and middle-page newspaper columns whilst recent developments in the region have seen a US embassy shut-down making it appear that Washington may have anticipated that Assad might just “fail” to meet the “chemical weapons” disposal deadline imposed by the “West”, raising the very real spectre of Western military intervention in the region.
Meanwhile China, watching from the sidelines and no doubt emboldened by the tame US response to Russian activity, could be preparing for its own annexation plans in a showdown with Japan over the Sankaku/Diaoyu Islands, or maybe Taiwan?
The over-all macro global power synopsis in geopolitical affairs of late, indicates a protracted demise of US global hegemony. America is being fussed trying to minimise or even dismiss the lively resurrection of their old Cold War adversary in a bid for superpower status.
Looking on, is a patiently observant China equally exercised by ambitions for global ascendancy.
It is like watching a global chess game where the next move is made practically unavoidable by the other player.