By Adrian Davies.
News that Russia is annexing the Crimea has brought a predictable torrent of feigned indignation from the usual suspects in Washington D. C. and their sycophants in Westminster, outpourings of unfeigned joy from the majority of people who actually live in the Crimea, and national rejoicing in Russia itself in a display of patriotic fervour which might make many in no longer Great Britain and throughout Western Europe wish that they had a government whose leader can successfully defy the faux pious, meddling voices of “world opinion” to bask in the justified adulation of his people, who answer his cry of “glory to Russia” by chanting his name.
Somehow, I do not think that “Dave” Cameron would find that an easy act to follow, even if he were minded to try, which of course he isn’t. “Our” prime minister cares nothing for our country or people, only for office for its own sake, the good opinion of the liberal intelligentsia and the preservation of the wealth and privileges of a decadent elite that is unworthy of its ancestors and no longer deserves to rule.
Indeed, Vladimir Putin is right to hold up to ridicule the canting British and American politicians who condemn Russia’s actions, forgetting that they conspired to wage aggressive war against Serbia, a state that had done no harm to England or America, to strip it of its province of Kosovo and hand it over to the loathsome clique of drug dealers, people traffickers, pimps and dealers in stolen goods that call themselves the government of that seedy NATO protectorate, which will last precisely so long as there are NATO boots on the ground in that part of the Balkans.
What then are we to make of unfolding, dramatic events, and how would a British government that actually cared about our country and people react? You won’t be getting such a government any time soon, but an analysis of what such a government would do might at least encourage some rational thinking about foreign policy in a year in which we shall commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the greatest calamity ever to befall the people of Europe, which, rather ominously, began in the East.
Well might events in the Ukraine be described (in the words of a far truer patriot and a far greater prime minister than his overpraised successor) as “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.”
Since I know perhaps a little about the Ukraine, I shall tell what I know, though I certainly do not hold myself out as an instant expert on its complicated history and politics.
Historically the Ukraine was variously under Russian and Polish rule. A majority (though perhaps only a small majority) of Ukrainians to-day plainly have a separate linguistic, cultural and national identity from the Russians.
While some are Orthodox believers, others are Uniates (Christians who recognise the Pope as head of the Church, but whose religious observance follows eastern not western Christian practice, unlike, say, the Poles or other Catholic Slavs) which further differentiates them from Russia, where Orthodoxy is an essential element of national identity. The Ukraine therefore stands on the dividing line between eastern and western Europe. Indeed, its very name means “frontier territory”. It is neither wholly of the east, like Orthodox Russia, nor wholly of the west, like Catholic Poland, though many of its people would like to be seen as of the west.
The Russian perspective is however very different. Kiev, not Moscow, was (at any rate in Russian eyes) the first centre of the Russian state and of the Orthodox Church in Russia. To many Russians, there is no separate Ukrainian identity. Those Ukrainians who speak Russian (the large majority in the eastern half of the county, a small minority in the western half) are half inclined to agree. No analogy is perfect, but a working comparison would be with Ireland c. 1922, where the majority in the south clearly rejected a British identity, while the majority in the north clung to it.
For all the problems with which they struggle, modern Ukrainian nationalists are in a better position than their forebears were almost a hundred years ago, when the first “independent” Ukrainian state of modern times emerged under Austro-German tutelage from the wreckage of Imperial Russia, whose revolutionary successor state surrendered to the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk in 1917.
The Ukrainian nationalists of that time were in truth utterly beholden to their Austrian and German patrons, until they in turned surrendered to the victorious allies in October and November 1918.
After Armistice Day, Ukrainian nationalists faced threefold military threats from the White Russians (who, rather like Mr Putin, did not recognise Ukrainians as a truly separate nationality), from the various Red factions, who wished to integrate the Ukraine into the nascent Soviet Union, and from the new Polish Republic.
After the First World War Poland seized much of the nationalist orientated Western Ukraine by armed force and ruled it until the Poland of the Colonels was itself undone less than twenty years later as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, following which the Soviets occupied those regions of the Ukraine hitherto under Polish rule as part of the Polish interwar state. To-day, Ukrainian nationalists do not have to contend with a militaristic and aggressive Polish state, rather they find the Poles good neighbours, so at least they do not face hostile incursions on two fronts.
The eastern part of the Ukraine eventually came under Soviet rule, not before a bloody civil war between the anarchists and the Bolsheviks, in which the various organs of Red terror eventually murdered all their no less bloodthirsty and evil but somewhat less well organised rivals (well, what can you expect of anarchists?). In the understated words of one of Stalin’s state security operatives, the process of imposing Communist rule upon anarchist leaning oblasts (administrative districts) was “severe”.
Soviet rule proved very severe indeed, as Stalin sought to starve the Ukrainian people into submission to his tyranny in the terrible Holodomor or genocidal state sponsored famine, which is scarcely known outside the Ukraine itself. There is however a blood-chilling English language account by Robert Conquest in his book the Great Terror, in which he suggests that so many as seven million people may have died in the Holodomor.
For some reason that I cannot begin to understand, there are not museums of the Holodomor in every major city throughout Western Europe and North America, nor does it preoccupy historians to the exclusion of every other horror of the twentieth century, indeed it is scarcely mentioned, and if it is, it is treated as a mere “detail” of the history of the Soviet Union, nor are “revisionist” historians of the Holodomor, who suggest that the death toll of seven million has been grossly exaggerated, driven out of their jobs, publicly vilified, persecuted by the state or thrown into prison in “free” societies. As I say, I cannot begin to explain why that might be. Unsurprisingly, many Ukrainians are very bitter at the neglect of their own sufferings in comparison to the sufferings of others.
After the Nazis and the Communists entirely predictably fell out and Germany invaded the Soviet Union, some Ukrainian nationalists collaborated with the Germans, regarding them as the lesser of two evils, while others fought both the Soviets and the Germans, carrying on a guerilla resistance until c. 1950. Again, this historical fact is almost unknown to any but specialist historians of the Soviet Union.
Following the defeat of Germany, Stalin redrew the maps of Eastern Europe, essentially shifting Poland two hundred miles or so to the west, deporting (for example) the large Polish population of Lvov (now Lviv) en masse to what is now the Polish city of Wroclaw, but was up to 1945 the German city of Breslau, whose German population was driven out in horrific death marches (now also relegated to a mere footnote of history) to make way for the displaced Poles.
To complete the story, Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev (himself a Russified Ukrainian) gave the Crimea, which had not previously ever been under Ukrainian rule, to the Ukraine as a present in 1954, perhaps as an act of statecraft to reconcile his countrymen more readily to Soviet rule, though others say that he did it on a whim while drunk.
What is clear beyond a doubt is that all Crimea’s history for the previous two centuries had been with Russia. Its people speak Russian. The Russian navy’s great base is at Sebastopol, around which there was much bloody fighting (think Balaclava and the charge of the Light Brigade) the last time that the British government poked its nose into Crimean affairs, on that occasion, on the side of Ottoman Turkey. Less than a century later we were of course fighting no less bloodily against the Turks in the Dardanelles with the Russians for our allies. So much for principle in foreign policy.
While therefore we should (I venture to suggest) sympathise with Ukrainian nationalists who take pride in their own identity and desire a proud, free, westward looking Ukraine, and were prepared to face the bullets of a corrupt ruler’s brutal police force to assert that identity, such sympathy should not lead us into conflict with Russia for the “crime” of taking back what is in essence its own territory. Neither side in this conflict is wholly right, neither wholly wrong. Realpolitik must guide us.
The very notion of armed conflict with Russia is madness, and would lead to catastrophe. Even our own stupid, self-indulgent political class partly realises that. Its sanctimonious huffing and puffing has so far been largely rhetorical, but still damaging.
What is more, we actually run a huge balance of trade surplus with Russia, very unusually for our country, whose people are so addicted to living above our means that we are in chronic deficit with most of our trading partners.
English Russophobes could sing in a previous crisis long ago: “We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too”. Now we have none of those things. It follows that more than token economic sanctions would amount to cutting off our noses to spite Russian faces. Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, Hague and Cameron rant and rave, but there is no big stick.
We will do no favours to the Ukrainians or anyone else in Eastern Europe by engaging in rhetoric that we have neither the military means nor the political will to carry into effect, and would lead to a third world war nicely on time for the centenary of the first if anyone were mad enough to try.
The peoples of Eastern Europe need to consider that American troops, bases and missiles will only be in Europe for a short while, be that ten years or twenty or thirty, which, in the life of a nation is a short while. Russia is their neighbour for ever and they must get on terms with it. Tweaking the bear’s tail is not a good long term strategy, as the Poles found in 1939.
In particular, we should have nothing to do with the hare-brained scheme that some in our establishment are supporting of installing batteries of American owned and controlled missiles in Poland and the Baltic States. The Americans would do well to remember how they reacted when the Soviets tried that trick in Cuba.
While only the American people can rein in their own political class and military-industrial complex, we should at least not follow the latest lunatic neo-con mad(e) in Washington strategy of encircling a heavily armed, touchy, increasingly nationalist Russian state with weapons of mass destruction aimed at its big cities.
We have no interest in conflict with Russia. We have every interest in de-escalating this crisis, and in binding Russia into an European order based upon a shared cultural heritage and reciprocal economic ties in a common European home (which is most certainly not the same thing as the European Union). The wise ministers of the first Queen Elisabeth sought Russian’s friendship. The foolish ministers of the second Queen Elisabeth enrage a state that they cannot coerce.
Time for wiser counsels to prevail. Mind Britain’s business! Do not bait the bear.