Thursday, March 6, 2014

Update on Ukraine: Crimea

Ukraine, Analysis of the Situation in Crimea:

Accompanying the rolling of eyes and disbelief that was felt when I heard John Kerry utter what must have destroyed at least a little bit of his soul (or what’s left of it), namely the castigation of Russia for ‘invading a country under phony pretext’ which so obviously harkens back to the barbarism of the 19th century (was this not also the time when the fruits of the still fresh ideologies of the Enlightenment began to be realized, not to mention the abolition of slavery throughout Europe and America?), was the disbelieving and disapproving shake of the head that emphasized Mr. Kerry’s incredulity at hearing that Russia had proclaimed that the militant gunman in control of Crimea were not Russian soldiers but merely MacGyver-style neighborhood watch-dog vigilantes coming together to protect the common interests of the people from an external enemy; not a bad little line of propaganda to spin after your forces are already in full control of the region, now is it?
“Did he really deny there were Russian troops in Crimea?” Mr. Kerry said with amazement while being asked a question at a news conference he gave at the U.S. embassy in Kiev on Tuesday, March 4th.  “Yes he did,” was the reporters reply, referring back to statements made by Putin during his own March 4th press conference, where the Russian president said that “Well look, there are a lot of uniforms that look alike, you can go to a store and buy a uniform, [but] were these Russian soldiers?  No.  These were local self-defense forces,” explaining away the extreme sophistication, training and military discipline of these forces by comparing them to the vigilante forces of the opposition in Kiev, “why do you think that self-defense forces in Crimea should be less trained?”
This stance of the Russian government lies in stark contrast to Putin’s position just a few days prior on Saturday March 1st when he was openly seeking parliamentary approval to use military forces to protect Russia’s interests in Ukraine, an approval he quickly received, yet armed gunmen bearing no insignia had already seized control of the Crimean parliament building days prior on the morning of Thursday the 27th, and the next day heavily armed troops without insignia took up positions around Crimea’s main airports and other installations.  On Friday the 28th the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had informed the Ukrainian government that units from the Black Sea Fleet had entered Crimea.

“The Russian foreign ministry said Friday that it had informed the Ukrainian government that armoured units from the Black Sea Fleet base near Sevastopol had entered Crimea in order to protect fleet positions.
“The Ukrainian side was also passed a note regarding the movement of armoured vehicles of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, which is happening in full accordance with the foundation Russian-Ukrainian agreement on the Black Sea Fleet,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Friday afternoon.”

On Saturday the armed troops were in full control of the peninsula under the auspices of newly appointed Crimean Prime Minister Aksyonov.   Aksyonov said that Russian troops were operating in Crimea and that he had made a personal appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for assistance to preserve “peace and calm,” in the region.

Sergei Aksyonov, who was appointed prime minister after a parliamentary vote Thursday, said that an agreement was in place with Russia’s Black Sea Fleet for Russian soldiers to perform guard duties at strategic locations.
“We have established cooperation with the Black Sea Fleet to protect vitally important sites,” Aksyonov said during a Cabinet meeting.

Reports indicate that by Sunday March 2nd there were about 6,000 Russian troops in Crimea, a number that now has swelled to 16,000 according to Bloomberg and Business Insider, and according to Putin during his March 4th press conference are now totaling 22,000, a number which is meant to include all of the Ukrainian authorities that have defected to Crimea as well. 
Defection has been widespread, whereas a high number of Ukrainian servicemen have quitted the Ukrainian army and sworn their allegiance to the people of Crimea, including Ukrainian Navy commander Denis Berezovsky. 
                Yet, according to a statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a March 5th press conference,

"If they are the self-defence forces created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we have no authority over them," Lavrov told a news conference in Madrid after a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.

            "They do not receive our orders," he said.

                Notice the careful wording Lavrov uses, ‘if they are self-defense forces they do not receive our orders’, a factually correct statement as there most definitely are bands of Crimean self-defense forces that have amassed to protect the region, yet these are only a comparably small auxiliary to the mass of Russian forces occupying the peninsula.  The stance of the Russian government makes perfect sense in this instance however, now that their forces are in complete control of the region and have secured Crimea’s most strategic locations, buildings and areas the good ol’ Ruskies can say that the soldiers are actually bands of self-defense forces composed of average-joe Crimean citizens who want to protect their homeland, something the Russian authorities most definitely were not saying and could not say while the forces were still in the process of gaining control and while there still was a chance that their actions would be met by resistance; now that military control of Crimea has been accomplished peacefully and without the Russian origins of the gunmen being uncovered (despite statements made by the gunman and the Russian military license plates seen on their vehicles, not to mention the Russian Foreign Ministry’s own statement and Crimean Prime Minister Aksyonov’s statement, or reports that a Crimean self-defense commander was recognized to be a Russian army officer) the Russian authorities have changed their tone and deny any military involvement, to the utter disbelief of John Kerry.  Ironically, when Mr. Kerry first received this information at the March 4th press conference the soft smirk of his physiognomy betrayed his recognition that Mr. Putin was using a tactic Secretary Kerry was all too used to utilizing himself, as if his expression were to be saying “touché, Mr. Putin, touché.  Two can play at that game.”  Secretary Kerry actively denies the presence of armed gunmen and their critical role in instigating and escalating the violence of the clashes between the opposition and the police in the Maidan Square which directly lead to the ouster of Victor Yanukovych, even going so far as to describe the protesters as “peaceful protesters.”  This utter disregard for violent, armed factions of the opposition and the opportunistic ignorance of their violent uprisings (including the manufacture of atrocities which were used as a justification for further escalation,
which Russia is urging Ukrainian authorities to investigate) is similar in its dishonesty to Mr. Putin’s denial of Russian troops being in Crimea, yet the two lies are very different in terms of the realities of the actual situations behind the falsehoods.   

It is important to note that there was widespread jubilation and open-arm acceptance of the Russian forces by the majority Crimean population of Russian speakers, as Crimea and its people have long standing cultural and historic ties to “Mother Russia.”  Since the transfer of power that occurred in Kiev on February 22nd that ousted the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych and formed the new interim government thousands of Pro-Russian protesters in Crimea have openly protested against what they view as an illegitimate Ukrainian government and have called upon Russia to protect them from experiencing a similar coup d’état in their homeland.

What began Thursday with the early-morning takeover of the regional parliament building by mysterious troops continued Saturday afternoon as dozens of those soldiers - almost certainly Russian - moved into the streets around the parliamentary complex and seized control of regional airports, amid street protests by pro-Russian Crimeans calling for Moscow’s protection from the new government in Kiev.” (Link here)

[On March 1st] In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, around 6,000 people marched, chanting “Russia!” and “No to Fascism!” and carrying a huge Russian flag.
Thousands were also demonstrating with Russian and Soviet flags in Odessa, the third-largest city in the country.

                What was also apparent was that the Tatar population in Crimea did not put up any visible resistance to the events of Saturday March 1st; the approval of the Russian parliament to send forces to Ukraine, the amassing of Russian forces in the region and the widespread Pro-Russian protests who celebrated the development all went unchallenged by the Tatars.  In Crimea the Tatar population makes up around 12% of the total, whereas the ethnic Russian population reaches almost 60%.  The Tatars have been on the opposite side of the Pro-Russian protesters, this was seen most saliently on Wednesday February 26th when protests formed outside of the Simferopol parliament building in Crimea where the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea were due to decide on the regions official position toward the new authorities in Kiev, the Pro-Russian protesters demanding cessation from the Ukrainian authorities while the Tatar protesters strongly criticized the holding of the parliamentary session as they voiced their support for the new Ukrainian government.  The parliament was unable to make a decision on the matter Wednesday amidst the chaos of the protests, and that night before dawn armed gunmen bearing no insignia took control of the parliament building.  The next day at its urgent session on February 27th the parliament voted 64-61 in favor of holding a referendum on the status of autonomy of the Autonomous Republic set for May 25th, then on March 6th the parliament of Crimea decided to secede from the country and become a part of Russia; on March 16th there will be a popular vote to either approve the decision or to instead remain attached to Ukraine.

A popular vote to approve the decision or restore the 1992 Crimean Constitution, whereby the peninsula would remain an autonomous republic within Ukraine, is scheduled for March 16, the statement said.

The ballot, to be printed in the Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar languages, will include only those two questions. Neither question would allow voters to indicate a preference for independence.

Putin said Tuesday that Russia was not considering annexing Crimea, but that the residents of a region can determine their own future.

                Despite the updated March 16th date for Crimea to vote between being aligned with either Ukraine or Russia, what also transpired during these February 26th parliamentary sessions was that the Crimean Prime Minister Anatoly Mogilyov had been replaced by Sergei Aksyonov, the head of the Russian Unity party.  The Supreme Council of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea dismissed the regional government and elected a pro-Russian party leader as its new chair.  Crimean Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Konstantynov had nominated Aksyonov for this post in accordance with Article 136 of the Ukrainian constitution.  His appointment was supported by a majority of 53 members of Crimea’s parliament, with 64 taking part in the vote out of a total of 100.  This appointment has been challenged however by the new authorities in Kiev, as the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has filed an appeal to the District Administrative Court of Kyiv to cancel the decisions.  What also seems controversial about Aksyonov’s appointment is the fact that Russian gunmen had already taken control of the parliamentary building before the decision was passed that gave him the prime ministry, which implies perhaps that there was some coercion involved, although this has not been at all substantiated, and although not all of the legislators were present for the vote the individual votes are known and have been made public and have confirmed a majority ruling in favor of Aksyonov’s appointment.
So the situation now is one where the new Ukrainian authorities are denouncing the new Crimean authorities as illegitimate, while Russia and Crimea conversely denounce the legitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities, a veritable shit-throwing match which further underlines the rifts between the Western powers and Russia, both of whom seek their own interests in Ukraine.

                On March 3rd, Russian representative Vitali Churkin insisted at the United Nations Security Council session that the number of Russian troops presently in Crimea is much lower than the threshold set up by the 1997 Black Sea Fleet agreement.  The 1997 agreement, which was last amended in 2010 states that Russia can have up to 25,000 troops and personnel in Crimea, and although Russian propaganda likes to incessantly remind its audience of this, the facts are that the original agreement comes with many conditions which are not currently being met by the non-insignia branded Russian forces.

Under the agreement, Russia can have up to 25,000 troops and personnel in Crimea, but there are plenty of conditions attached. In particular, only 1,987 members of the Russian military contingent can be marines and ground troops, according to Yevhen Perebyinis, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman.

On March 3, during the United Nations Security Council session, Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia also tweeted that Russian troops need to request permission from the Ukrainian authorities 10 days in advance to be able to leave their bases.

 “True, Russia can have up to 25,000 troops in Crimea, according to Black Sea Fleet agreements, but only on military bases and not around and armed with AKs,” the minister tweeted.

These facts and others have caused many to argue over the legitimacy of Russian troops being present in Crimea, most notably the West which unabashedly seeks to demonize the action, calling it a ‘breach of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty’ and an ‘invasion’ and occupation of Crimea.  Not to even mention the extreme hypocrisy of such statements coming from a state that is infamous for engaging in these exact same activities, also not to mention that they are heavily involved in breaching Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty by instigating a coup that toppled the democratically elected government, this is a hypocrisy that is so apparent that it hardly warrants any further explanation.  Now it is true that Russian forces are in control of the peninsula, yet it is also true that Yanukovych (who Russia sees as the legitimate presidential authority of Ukraine) requested Russian military assistance to help restore peace and order, while the Crimean Prime Minister Aksyonov did the same (even though forces had already taken control of the parliament building the morning before his appointment), not to mention the Crimean self-defense forces that began to form after Yanukovych’s ouster which sought to do the exact same thing that the Russian military forces accomplished: to protect a coup attempt from happening in Crimea similar to the one that ousted the government in Kiev.  The ethnic Russian population in Crimea also had valid reasons to be concerned for a coup attempt, as one of the first orders of business put forth by the new Kiev government was to repeal the Russian language, although Turchynov later said he would not implement the decision, another cause of concern for Crimean’s is the possibility of having a government who would appoint Neo-Nazi’s as heads of security and defense.   These facts, coupled with the fact that the majority Pro-Russian Crimean population was calling for the help from Russia and welcomed the Russian forces with open arms and praise when they arrived, are hardly characteristics of a foreign invasion and occupation of the region.
                Russia ‘invaded’ Crimea with its troops, which now in accompaniment with Ukrainian defectors amounts to over 20,000 men, but what did the invasion accomplish?  Specifically it secured Crimea and protected it from the opposition coalition in Kiev; Putin did not send in troops to topple the government and annex the democratically appointed officials like Obama and Kerry’s Neo-Nazi paramilitaries did in Kiev.  In comparison to the bloody escalation of violence by Right Sector and Svoboda which annexed Ukraine’s sovereignty to the influence of the U.S., the E.U., the IMF, NATO and the right-wing Ukrainian ultra-nationalists which now head the countries armed security forces, the bloodless, not-a-shot-fired takeover of control in Crimea by Russia which was asked for and applauded by a majority of its citizens can hardly be referred to as an ‘invasion’ in any literal definition of the word, yet of course this will not stop corporate media from demonizing an action that the people of Crimea themselves don’t seem to think is important enough to demonize.  But at least we have the media in the West to look out for the Crimean’s when they are too ignorant themselves to recognize when they have been invaded by a hostile force, and surely the Western media would have been singing praises to the ‘liberation’ of Crimea if the coup would have been allowed to reach the Autonomous Republic, all while the ethnic Russian population would be disenfranchised and threatened with hostile intimidation by Neo-Nazi’s.  Yet this would have been spreading “freedom and democracy” to Crimea, something the native population might not realize when a Neo-Nazi is bashing their heads on the curb American History X style, but so goes the rational of the American Empire. 

                I love Abby Martin but I’m not sure that I agree with her stance on Russia’s use of military action, to me it seems that this action prevented a coup and kept the Neo-Nazi contingencies out of the majority Russian Crimea.  What occurred was a scenario where no blood was spilt whereas the other scenario most definitely would have been violent if the Feb 22nd Kiev-coup was any indication, and I see nothing wrong with Crimea holding a popular vote to choose between Ukraine or Russia, except for the fact that the option of independence is not being considered, perhaps it is not viable. 

The only question now is whether the vote will truly be a representative and democratic one, and whether the ultimate decision will either benefit or harm the people living in Crimea.       

[More to come soon…]

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