The annexation of Crimea is the start of a worrying trend that should not be dismissed lightly. It is concerning because this is not the dark ages or even the height of the cold war when this was potentially a risk.
That Putin has glorified and justified the annexation under the guise of a referendum and the righting of a historical wrong is in itself grounds for concern. The current makeup of nearly every country in Europe is significantly at risk. What were the original boundaries, what were the changes that the First and the Second World War brought about, the new boundaries and the redrawn national maps everything in Europe especially is now at risk?
Crimea does not stand alone in the list of countries and nationalities and linguistic groups in Europe that were merged or annexed under the changing boundaries of Europe. Austria, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Catalonia, Corsica, Scotland and Northern Ireland are only some of the areas and populations that have had changes imposed by victors, annexing nations and settlers. What about Israel and the Palestinian dilemma?
The annexation of Crimea by a referendum has created a dilemma for the west as a whole, America is actively leading the charge but the European nations are no doubt greatly troubled by this. Russia has always been just that a Bear who no one wanted to bait and now the bear has decided to wake up and stretch itself which makes Europe jittery.
Basis of fear
What was the referendum all about? Was it about freedom to choose based on linguistic grounds; was it about righting historical changes that the population did not agree with, was it an underhand annexation of a geographically strategic portion of Europe?
Europe as a whole is divided largely by linguistic groups but each country has within it pockets of specific linguistic dominance which has set off alarm bells for many. Spain, France, Austria, Germany, Morocco, Poland, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Romania, United Kingdom all have to struggle with this dilemma. Not only were some of the annexations forceful but the groups continued to rear their heads and were strongly shut down not unlike the opposition in Crimea to Russian rule. After all practice what I preach not practice what I do is the best motto for most of Europe knowing well their own historical fragility. Couple this with the growing number of linguistic immigrants from other nations that have now spread across Europe who have formed large pockets in these countries and hold their roots very close. What if these groups decide to do away with the yoke of the nations in which they live stating that they too are linguistic minorities who are oppressed? A large number of these groups suffer discrimination throughout Europe for their language and background however superficially accommodating the host nations have presented themselves. This inevitable position if the fires of separation are stoked is what the European nations are afraid of.
The return of the Elgin marbles to Greece will be a minor side line in the history of countries that have annexed and retained rights over territories that were never their own if this issue rears its head now. Where there were no clear grounds in current times to raise this specter pretending under the more common opium of the masses as the right to democratic self- determination and multi-party politics this issue has remained reasonably managed. Now however if the Crimean option is exercised what is there to stop groups aligning themselves with Russia for national recognition and support which Russia will undoubtedly provide even if covertly given its own expansionist agenda and the opportunity to thumb the nose of Europe. The United Kingdom will no longer be united, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Ukraine all will actively loose territories which will fall into the Russian bears grasp. ‘The enemy of my enemy is, if not my friend my help’ will be the motto of these nations.
Annexation and Expansion:
Europe is struggling as well as the world under the problems brought about by recession. Which real world event has over the centuries led to prosperity and growth for every European country? Unfortunately the answer is War. The spectre of war gets funding approved, money spent on increasing defense , NATO and the US will not stint on rearming and stepping up their rhetoric. Putin displayed in the way he recognized Crimea in the Palace of the Tsars a cunning strategy that he has in mind the reigniting of passions for national pride. A Russia which ever since perestroika has suffered increasing decline and lack of nationalist pride in its power in a country fueled by male aggression and passion for control exerted from the Tsars through, Stalin and Lenin and though to Putin through the FSB are not going to rest on their laurels. They have decided to take a risk, a calculated one at that but a risk nevertheless. Expansion!
Putin’s assertions about withdrawing troops currently massing near Ukraine’s borders are also a potential ploy to de-escalate the current tensions. He has played his hand and gained the annexation of Ukraine into Russia as he originally wanted. He has quite directly raised gas prices for Ukraine through Gazprom and the international community has t pay this sum to Russia albeit via loans and grants to Ukraine. Putin continues to harbor his own version of Russian supremacy and power and wishes to restore this original position of the Great Russia that a people and a country which had been mauled by economic deprivation and hope have clung to. Putin has gradually built bridges and quite subtly increased involvement with the various orthodox religious groups that had previously been suppressed under Communism advocating and supporting their expansionist tendencies to gain worldwide authority.
Make no mistake there is no need for a rekindling of Communism in Putin’s agenda. His aim appears to be to remain in power literally like the Tzars were in Russia. Putin has previous experience of the KGB and having worked in it, was witness to its triumphs, its failures and its obsessive hate of everything western. Putin decided to change his track and take the bull by its horns, entering politics to capture power and lead he Russian people. He indeed may have dreams for Russia which politically an culturally make little sense to the rest of the world. How many presidents in the west need to display their manly physique to their people? There is an underlying element of the Russian psyche that the west has forgotten to take into account. Pride and Loss of Face – both of these drive and build Russia today. Russia takes great pride in its economic growth, a low tax regime, a country open to investing in its industries and power generation facilities, a country that actively worked on reforming its laws and increased spending on both the military and its law and order forces. Russia promotes the image of a country that has been gradually but surely trying to rebuild for the position of despair following the collapse of Communism and the Former Soviet Union. This is a country where people had nearly wanted to revert to Communism once the bread queues got out of hand but Putin has very adroitly and deftly kept the wolves at bay.
Building pride in a nation and its identity is essential for Putin’s continued success, he understands and recognizes that dictatorial policies will no longer work in the modern day and that they are surely the biggest and easiest to topple any coup. By establishing a democratic process, increased capitalism and wide ranging reform he has encouraged the promotion of the Russian identity. Underneath it all there may lurk the real goal a reaffirmation of the Russian identity, the union of Soviet states. Thais is what the West has to look out for.
NATO and Europe has always been a thorn in Russia’s side but they also have defensive concerns with NATO and the United States close ties with Europe which does not maintain the same aggressive stance as the US does. Russia however views NATO and Europe as a launching base for the US on this continent and therefore justifiably wish to expand its sovereign control over its immediate geographical neighbors . Russia’s defense spending on protecting its borders needs justification but also needs acknowledged pride at having achieved something major and this is what the annexation of Crimea has meant for Russia. The unchallenged manner in which Russia went through this exercise and the speed of assimilation and infiltration that Russia achieved was a show of force. The bear has flexed its paws and watched the world react, it has learnt from this reaction and will be better prepared in future.
Where does this leave things today? Europe and the U.S. will continue to posture and strong words will be spoken but most of Russia remembers and knows the cold war and its experience. There is nothing to prevent them from deciding to pull up the drawbridge and live isolated again. They know the West no longer wants that to happen and pragmatic as ever it now is a certainty that Crimea is lost to Ukraine. What the future will bring is not known and while speculation will fuel anger, frustration, and fear and envy that they could get away with it the reality is Russia is like the big western banks at the start of the recession – too big to fail.