Big, evil Russia is poised to seize the Ukraine and put it back into place as just another province of the re-constituted Russian Empire that Vladimir Putin is starting to build.
Well, that’s what elements of the U.S. news media want you to think. That’s the scenario that President Obama is portraying as he spends hours — and hours — on the phone with Russia’s stern-faced leader. When the first Russian troops entered the Crimea, a key peninsula at the southern tip of the Ukraine on the Black Sea, Obama expressed “concerns” in a public statement and warned Putin that there would be “consequences” if Russia goes “too far.”
Consequences. That’s Obama-speak for, “You’ll be off my Christmas card list, Vladimir!” Or, “Hey, you better watch that shit!” Bet Putin dropped a big wad in his drawers when he heard that. Him being such a sensitive, easily-frightened soul, and all …
Then there are “sanctions,” the mere mention of which Obama expects to give the Russian president a fit of the vapors. “Oh, horrors! The charismatic, mulatto American leader is going to persuade every European country to cut off all commerce with us! We’ll starve, comrades! We’re through! I knew I couldn’t stand up against His Magnificence! I should have stayed in the KGB!”
Yeah. Everybody who thinks that anything even remotely resembling that went through Putin’s mind, stand on your head.
A lot of the people reporting on the Russia-Ukraine crisis know little or nothing about the history of Europe — specifically, Eastern Europe. You see, Russia ruled at least part of the Ukraine from about the year 1654, six years after a revolt by the Cossacks there (think of someone like our cowboys of the old West, or of the Gauchos on the Pampas in Argentina) had thrown out the Polish-Lithuanian rulers. When the coalition came back for another try at bringing the Ukraine back under its control, the leader of the Ukrainian Cossacks appealed to the Russian czar to take the eastern part of the country under his wing. He did. In various shades of control, from tight to slack, the Russian Empire held sway over at least part of the Ukraine right on through the Soviet years, until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. So it’s not like there is no precedent for Russian rule there.
As a matter of fact, the small entity that, over more than 1,000 years, grew to be the enormous Russia we now recognize, started forming in the area around Kiev, now the capital of the Ukraine. For several hundred years, Moscow was merely a trading post — not the national capital. When Russians think of “Mother Russia,” they tend to think of Kiev.
Now, it’s not hard to see why the Ukrainians — the ethnic majority, as opposed to the minority of ethnic Russians who dominate the eastern fourth or so of the country — are not happy about Russia taking back control of any part of their country. In the early 1930s, when Communist dictator Joseph Stalin was forcing all Russia into collective farms, the Ukrainian rural population resisted strongly, wanting to keep their own personal vine and fig trees. The result? The Red Army and the secret police descended en masse on the Ukrainian farmers at harvest time, seizing every bit of said harvest, loading it on trains and trucks, and shipping it right out of the Ukraine. In many cases, when various villages tried to resist the blatant thefts and forced famine, the army and police shot down many hundreds of the residents.
At the end of the Ukrainian forced famine, western analysts have estimated that seven to 10 million Ukrainians had starved to death, or been murdered by Soviet forces. It didn’t get the publicity the Holocaust did — but it was every bit as horrific. It’s unlikely to ever be forgotten by the Ukrainian people — or forgiven.
If life was “fair,” as our liberal politicians seem to think they can make it if they just pass enough laws and enough prohibitions, the Russians would be forbidden from ever setting foot in the Ukraine again, in any way, shape or form. If life was “fair,” African Americans would each get a large bundle of cash, taken forcibly from European Americans, as a punishment for “slavery.” If life was “fair,” Native Americans would be given all their land back, and the Hairy Ainu in Japan would be restored to ownership of the Islands of the Rising Sun, as they were the original inhabitants.
But as Jimmy Carter once reminded us, “Life is not fair.” None of those things are going to happen, because of that.
Here’s my read on what’s going to come to pass in the Ukraine: The referendum in the Crimea to determine whether it will become once again a part of Russia, will be held March 16. The Crimean population, which is majority ethnic Russian, will approve it overwhelmingly. The new Ukrainian president will insist that the referendum is meaningless and illegal, as the whole Ukrainian population should have been allowed to vote. Obama will join in with similar condemnations, and “warnings” to Russia about “stepping over the red line,” blah, blah. Putin will thumb his nose at all of that, and Russia will annex the Crimea. At the same time, or possibly within a year or so, Moscow will also take a chunk of eastern Ukraine, leaving its total bite resembling a giant crescent. If it didn’t, the Crimea would have no physical connection to Russia proper. Besides, the eastern Ukraine is not only mostly ethnic Russian, but it has a large share of the nation’s industrial base.
Obama and the European Union will make brave noises about “sanctions” against Russia — which will go nowhere, as the European countries tend to be very dependent on Russia for their energy sources. And if they SHOULD manage to make sanctions against Russia work, then China would be more than happy to buy the energy from Russia.
Putin’s in the driver’s seat; Obama is just starting to learn to ride a bicycle. Putin is a chess master; Obama is playing marbles. Putin was a KGB operative, skilled at reading people and judging how to manage them, how to manipulate them, and the like. Obama was a law professor, and a “community organizer.”
When Obama — or any other U.S. president — is inaugurated, there are huge crowds in the streets of Washington, an inaugural parade, an outdoor, packed reviewing stand and podium for his address, many waves to the crowd, grins, handshakes, hugs, etc.
There is a video on YouTube which shows the inauguration of Vladimir Putin as the new Russian president in 2012. Thousands of Russians packed a huge hall — possibly an Orthodox cathedral, I couldn’t tell for sure. Across town, a lone man, Vladimir Putin, came out of his suite of offices (or possibly his official residence), completely unescorted, climbed into a chauffeured limousine, and was driven to the inauguration through strangley empty streets. Alighting from his limousine at the hall, he shook hands with a Russian army general, exchanged a few words with guards at the door, and entered. The camera followed him as he climbed a seemingly endless series of stairs, then strode down two or three long halls, still a lone, solitary figure. When he finally entered the inauguration hall, he walked down the center aisle, with applauding Russians on either side, hailing his progress. He nodded, smiled slightly, and offered occasional “Thank you’s” to either side as he strode on toward the podium at the front of the hall. There was no waving, no broad smiles, no handshakes. His face retained its usual stern, hard expression.
Now, I’m not sure exactly what the significance of the differences is, but I suspect that in Russia’s case, it was meant to give the message, “It’s lonely at the top.” Also the message, “We have a Duma (parliament) and I have a Cabinet, but the final decisions are mine!”
So Barack Obama can warn, and express “concern,” and send an American destroyer to the Black Sea, if he wants to. He’s not fooling, or scaring, Putin. Or anyone else, for that matter.
Mr. President, President Putin “seen ya comin’.” He “stole your clothes while you was swimmin’.” He’s not impressed by your bombastic rhetoric, or your veiled threats. He’s weighed you in the balance, and found you definitely wanting. Look at Putin’s face. It is a hard, stern face. It’s not the face of a man who is wanting people to like him, like an American politician. It’s the face of a man who knows what he wants (and, I think, does believe deep down that it’s also what’s best for Russia), who knows how to go after it, and who won’t flinch at doing some damage along the way.
You like to fancy yourself as a good basketball player, President Obama. Well, translating that to political terms, you’re in the small college conference. Vladimir Putin is in the NBA. You’re out of your league, Mr. President. You can’t be a world leader by swaggering around and talking loud and tough.
And I suspect that if Vladimir Putin ever laughs, it’s at you.