A Crimean-shaped thorn in Russia’s side

I can’t claim to know anything about what’s going on in the Black Sea with those Ukrainian and Russian boats:

Sunday’s naval clash was off the coast of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. Russian coastguard ships opened fire before special forces stormed the Ukrainian vessels. Between three and six Ukrainians were injured.

Ukraine said it was a Russian “act of aggression”. Moscow said the ships had illegally entered its waters.

What I do know is that Russia is probably not playing a very smart game here. When I was in Perth I spoke to a Russian who was adamant that Russia had no choice to annex Crimea in order to prevent NATO warships from being within striking distance of their Black Sea coast. Now you could hold an entire seminar on the delusions Russians subject themselves to when justifying their seizure of Crimea, but I wasn’t going to start arguing geopolitics during a social visit. As I’m fond of saying these days, politics shouldn’t interfere with friendship.

Instead, I said that regardless of the rights or wrongs of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, this will be a thorn in their side for generations to come. There are certain historical events which occur between two peoples at a particular time which one party is able to use as a stick to bash the other in perpetuity. Both the relative size of the parties and the timing are crucial, which allows a certain narrative to form which, regardless of actual facts, never goes away. Russia’s mistake was stealing land from a weaker neighbour at a time when Russia was itself weak and also generally disliked. When Stalin’s USSR annexed land from their neighbours, they were strong enough to brush off criticism and people’s attention was focused elsewhere in any case. Similarly, China’s land and sea grabs don’t seem to have become a stick which their enemies use to beat them, at least not effectively.

But the narrative has formed that Russia illegally annexed Crimea and is illegally occupying it. Even if their administration of the territory is eventually recognised by the international community, this will be an issue Ukrainians and those opposed to Russia’s ambitions will use to thwart them indefinitely. Ukraine is a complete dysfunctional basket case and will in all likelihood stay that way, whereas in 10, 20, 30 years time Russia might have reformed enough to want to play a more positive political, diplomatic, and commercial role around the world. Frankly, nobody knows what Russia’s future holds but it’s at least possible that whoever succeeds Putin might want to involve Russia more in global business, for example. They’re likely to find that, despite any character reforms they’ve undergone, a well-funded and influential lobby group will pop up at every point and turn and say “Ah, but Crimea”.

A good comparison is with Turkey and the Armenian genocide. No matter what Turkey tries to do, there is a small but effective body of Armenian lobbyists who say “Ah, but the genocide”. Like Russia with Crimea, Turkey decided to massacre the Armenians when they were too weak to set the narrative, losing the war months later and being occupied by foreign armies. It probably never occurred to the Turks that, a hundred years later when anyone with even memories of the event is now dead, the issue would be thrown in front of them like a tank trap every time they want to do anything in the US or Europe. I suspect most Turks wish they’d just left the Armenians alone.

The other similarity between the two cases is that neither issue can be resolved. No apology from Turkey can bring back dead Armenians, and I suspect even now the Russian presence in Crimea is so entrenched it can never be returned to Ukraine without enormous upheaval and more human rights abuses. But this is the beauty of it from a fanatic’s point of view: an insoluble moral objection is perfect, because it’s a club that can be used to beat your opponent again and again. Sure, this isn’t exactly productive from the point of view of the person wielding the club, but fanatics aren’t normally motivated by progress. I’m reminded of a comment I read recently from someone who’d spent a few minutes listening to an Irishman rant about the British:

“So what are you going to do, keep protesting until the last 600 years didn’t happen?”

Like the Armenians and Irish, Ukrainians have little to lose by throwing a spanner in the works of their larger neighbour’s ambitions in protest at their perceived historical beastliness (look at the behaviour of the Irish over Brexit, for example). Ukraine won’t suffer for it, and they’ll find plenty of support from whoever Russia has managed to make an enemy of that week. I reckon that, like the Turks with the Armenians, Russians will one day believe Crimea is a lot more trouble than it’s worth and they should have left it well alone. Where this will leave Putin’s reputation among Russians as a geopolitical strategic genius I don’t know.

Share

54 thoughts on “A Crimean-shaped thorn in Russia’s side

  1. Problem: Its election time and the unpopular Poroshenko is shown 8% in the polls

    Reaction: Send in the Ukrainian tin boats and do some other stupid action in border areas to raise a Russian response

    Solution: Squeal like pigs and declare martial law and defer election timing.

  2. “I like the bit about calls for NATO/US ships with average 12m draft to enter a 7m deep sea.”

    Oh that’s brilliant, good article too, what a complete pantomime.

  3. “what a complete pantomime.”

    And a good reason why we shouldn’t be interfering. This is a case of my enemy’s enemy not being our friend. NATO and the EU should not be propping up corrupt regimes just because it pisses off Putin.

  4. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
    Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
    Sun Zi bing fa.

  5. “And a good reason why we shouldn’t be interfering.”

    All we got on this down under on the telly was “very bad Russky gun boats blow innocent Ukrainian bath tubs out of icy water to their certain death”, and some close ups of generic Security Council dudes with headphones on shaking their head in anger, coz Putin. So I just looked up the UNSC meeting and it was Russia that called the emergency session due to the Ukrainian sovereign violation!

    The complete opposite of what was on the news here before Home & Away started. See below and yes its not the Beeb either saying what happened and quoting folk that were there.

    That depth of water is a classic though, cheers for that. I liked that picture of the Russian boat under the bridge blocking access as well.

    ……………………………………………………………………………………..

    UNSC not helping resolve problem around Kerch Strait incident — Russia’s UN deputy envoy

    More:
    http://tass.com/politics/1032769

  6. It’s lucky we have all these accredited journalists to sort out what’s happening. Oh. Wait…

    However,
    ” I suspect most Turks wish they’d just left the Armenians alone.”

    I think that’s rather the point. We really do want to ensure that there are incentives against genocide, don’t we?

  7. Crimea has been Russian for longer than the USA has even existed as a nation. The charge of the light brigade wasn’t against Ukrainians FFS. Kruschev’s hare-brained schemes notwithstanding. Even Kissinger called Obama’s blatant coup in Kiev a ‘fatal error’,

  8. Crimea has been Russian for longer than the USA has even existed as a nation.

    That statement seems to overlook how sovereign territory is attributed in the modern world.

  9. I think that’s rather the point. We really do want to ensure that there are incentives against genocide, don’t we?

    Quite so. We also don’t want countries annexing bits of their neighbours willy-nilly, for much the same reason.

  10. I really don’t think one should rewrite history in light of contemporary values. The Russian annexation of Crimea was a reversion to status quo ante when Crimea was conquered from the Tatar khans and colonized by the expanding Russian Empire. The USSR incorporated it into Ukraine relatively late in Soviet times and certainly would not have handed over such a strategic asset if the dissolution of the USSR had been anticipated.

    The Armenians hung onto their land stretching south of the Caucasus to Iraq for millennia. The Turks who arrived less than a thousand years ago have variously tried to rewrite history: researchers in Turkey into Urartu centered on Lake Van cannot identify this civilisation as Armenian precursors but but must suggest that it was built by preTurk Turks or mysterious extinct people. The ruined cities of Eski(Old) Van and the medieval Armenian capital of Ani, destroyed in WW1, have surviving mosques but razed churches yet Turkish authorities claim this was the work of the Russians. Until recently the surviving churches in remote communities now occupied by Kurds were used for Turkish military target practice, now after UN intervention, they are stables. Speak to a Turk and they will deny the genocide ever took place. Speak to a Kurd, (whose irregulars mostly executed the atrocities and who gained directly Armenian land and wealth) and they will say they had it coming to them. Some “spared” Armenian women and children whose protection became slavery.
    Expecting Turks to acknowledge a “mistake” is naive when they have sought to ablate every trace of Armenian history, to demonise them as traitors to the sultanate and Islam.

  11. The USSR incorporated it into Ukraine relatively late in Soviet times and certainly would not have handed over such a strategic asset if the dissolution of the USSR had been anticipated.

    What on earth is strategically important about Crimea?

  12. Sorry if some of this is a repeat but the edit facility left me in limbo!

    I really don’t think one should not rewrite history in light of contemporary values. The Russian annexation of Crimea was a reversion to status quo ante when Crimea was conquered from the Tatar khans and colonized by the expanding Russian Empire. The USSR incorporated it into Ukraine relatively late in Soviet times and certainly would not have handed over such a strategic asset if the dissolution of the USSR had been anticipated. The possession of a warm water port and the defeat of their historic oppressor (remember the humiliating centuries as tributary of the Golden Horde) is an important landmark in the emergence of a modern nation and its desire to stand equal to the nations of Europe. Putin is very aware of this even if the West has forgotten.

    The Armenians hung onto their land stretching south of the Caucasus to Iraq for millennia. The Turks who arrived less than a thousand years ago have variously tried to rewrite history: researchers in Turkey into Urartu centered on Lake Van cannot identify this civilisation as Armenian precursors but but must suggest that it was built by preTurk Turks or mysterious extinct people. The ruined cities of Eski(Old) Van and the medieval Armenian capital of Ani, destroyed in WW1, have surviving mosques but razed churches yet Turkish authorities claim this was the work of the Russians. Until recently the surviving churches in remote communities now occupied by Kurds were used for Turkish military target practice, now after UN intervention, they are stables. Speak to a Turk and they will deny the genocide ever took place. Speak to a Kurd, (whose irregulars mostly executed the atrocities and who gained directly Armenian land and wealth) and they will say they had it coming to them. Some “spared” Armenian women and children whose protection became slavery. Expecting Turks to acknowledge a “mistake” is naive when they have sought to ablate every trace of Armenian history, to demonise them as traitors to the sultanate and Islam.

  13. Sevastopol :”The location and navigability of the city’s harbours have made Sevastopol a strategically important port and naval base throughout history. The city has been a home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is why it was considered as a separate city in Crimea of significant military importance and was therefore once a closed city.” Wikipedia
    The entrance to the Sea of Azov: the Don and Kuban Rivers flow into it. Rivers have been the most important transport and trade routes since the ancient Greeks colonised the peninsula to trade for fur, Amber, timber, some 2 500 years ago. The Rus were Vikings who used the rivers to trade from the Baltic to the Byzantium.

  14. The location and navigability of the city’s harbours have made Sevastopol a strategically important port and naval base throughout history.

    Strategically important how? Yes, I know the history, I’m talking about in modern times. What is strategically important about Sevastopol for the Russians, exactly?

    The city has been a home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is why it was considered as a separate city in Crimea of significant military importance and was therefore once a closed city.

    So the city which houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet is important, yes I get that. It doesn’t explain why Sevastopol is the best and only place for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, other than it was already there and they couldn’t be arsed moving it.

    The entrance to the Sea of Azov: the Don and Kuban Rivers flow into it. Rivers have been the most important transport and trade routes since the ancient Greeks colonised the peninsula to trade for fur, Amber, timber, some 2 500 years ago. The Rus were Vikings who used the rivers to trade from the Baltic to the Byzantium.

    The Sea of Azov had strategic importance in 2016? Seriously?

  15. Poroshenko, who’s approval rating is around 8%, is playing the foreign war card in an attempt to drum up support. Hence the provocation of the Russians at Kersch. He is meeting some resistance in the Rada, because his original martial law proposal would have delayed the upcoming elections.

    The best thing that could happen to the people of Ukraine, as opposed to their rulers, would be annexation by Russia and the subsequent removal of the oligarchs and their Nazi militias. There are more than enough ethnic Russian Ukrainians to form an anti-oligarch government.

    The US/NATO is irrelevant in this crisis, because the Black Sea is a Russian lake, and our navies would go there to die.

  16. Tim, what other ports are you suggesting the Russians transfer their Black Sea fleet to? Sochi is in Georgia, Odessa in the Ukraine. There are no other deep water ports. Sevastopol’s whole raisin d’etre is to be a naval base. Without a warm water port, Russian shipping is subject to Arctic and Baltic freezes.

    You need to ask a Russian about river transport but I am fairly certain it remains the easiest and cheapest for bulk items. I don’t know how many roads are all weather and ofthose maintenance through repeated cycles of freeze and flood must be difficult. Rail opened Russia to east west transport but rivers were the prime way of moving north south and Iam sure have a continued role.

  17. Er, Sochi is in Russia. As is, unofficially, over 100 km of the Georgian coastline to the south.

  18. Tim, what other ports are you suggesting the Russians transfer their Black Sea fleet to?

    What’s wrong with Novorossiysk?

    There’s an odd notion, perhaps one perpetuated by Russians, that the only major port in the Black Sea Russia could ever have access to is Sevastopol.

  19. The best thing that could happen to the people of Ukraine, as opposed to their rulers, would be annexation by Russia

    I wonder what the people of Ukraine would think of this plan. Actually, no I don’t: I know already.

  20. Isn’t the problem that the Ukraine is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde country like Belgium? There’s a Russian speaking / orthodox / east looking bit (which includes the Crimea) and a western looking / Christian / Ukrainian speaking bit in the west. Every divide in the Ukraine (political, religious, social, demographic, aspirational, etc) follows this divide. There is no Ukrainian demos – there are two. Like Belgium, it would be better for all concerned to accept reality and split it into two distinct countries. No doubt the eastern one would flee back into Russia’s arms overnight. But the western one would be free of all the shit. Trying to maintain any country with a totally split demos is an exercise in bullshit (see Iraq, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, etc).

  21. Isn’t the problem that the Ukraine is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde country like Belgium? There’s a Russian speaking / orthodox / east looking bit (which includes the Crimea) and a western looking / Christian / Ukrainian speaking bit in the west.

    Sort of, yes.

    Every divide in the Ukraine (political, religious, social, demographic, aspirational, etc) follows this divide.

    Ah no, that’s the problem: the dividing line is not clear, and differs depending on the criteria. It is tempting to think you have a pro-Russian, Russian-speaking east and a pro-Ukrainian, Ukrainian-speaking west but it’s more complicated. For instance, I know a Ukrainian lady who lives in the east, speaks fluent Ukrainian, but her first language – that which she speaks with her Ukrainian parents – is Russian. Trying to draw a line separating the people is near-impossible.

    The main separation, which drove the revolt a few years back, seems to be between those who want to become a normal country and those who are happy with the current gangster-driven status quo. The former know that to get what they want, they need to put drastically reduce Russian influence.

  22. “Ukraine is a complete dysfunctional basket case and will in all likelihood stay that way, whereas in 10, 20, 30 years time Russia might have reformed enough…”

    Russia is a completely dysfunctional basket case, and will in all likelihood continue its imperial collapse until the remnants can form anything resembling nation-states, whereas in 10, 20, 30 years time Ukraine might have reformed enough to look at this as just another sad episode of devastation by savage Eurasian hordes at a time of national weakness. Kinda comes with the territory. There are not that many lobbyists complaining about Batu Khan’s burning down of Kyiv, are there?

  23. “The charge of the light brigade wasn’t against Ukrainians”

    Exactly, and as was discussed on a recent thread around here a lot of what eventually happened with empirical intrigue following the Crimean War laid down the foundations for WWI, decades before it started in the Balkans.

    Specifically, the outcome of the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) with an objective to reclaim Black Sea territory lost in the Crimean War and to come to the aid of Christian Slavs being persecuted by the Turks in the Balkans, although not a stated objective of the war the Russians were very sympathetic to the plight of the persecuted Christian Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Russia dominated the war and were about to take Constantinople until British pressure was applied on Russia to accept a Turkish truce, followed by British naval ships sent to the area to force the Russians into attending a peace conference in Berlin. During this truce, Disraeli quite remarkably managed to turn this situation around to, among many other things, granting massive and undue concessions to a defeated Ottoman Empire at the expense of Serbian Christians and specifically to this thread Armenian Christians.

    Prior to the peace conference in Berlin commencing, Disraeli somehow managed to strike up deals with the Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians and drive a permanent wedge between the long-standing Russian and Austro-Hungarian empirical alliance, which resulted in the breakup of the long standing and unformidable Three Emperors League of the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, further empowering a defeated Ottoman Empire which has went down as the greatest masterstroke in diplomatic history. The result of the peace conference was the Treaty of Berlin (1878) which by the stroke of the pen stitched up the victorious Russians, the Christian Serbian Balkans, the Armenians and the Germans all of which was achieved without a single shot being fired and laying the foundations for the forthcoming first World War.

    The bitterly disappointed Armenian delegation that attended the Berlin peace conference were the first to acknowledge that the terms of the Berlin Treaty which included the withdrawal of any notion of Russian protection for the persecuted Armenians was the moment that they were left to fend for themselves against their Turkish persecutors and that this was the defining moment when they were officially thrown under the bus for the greater good of the British Empire.

    “Our great objective was to break up and permanently prevent the alliance of the three empires and I maintain that there never was a general diplomatic result more completely affected “ – Benjamin Disraeli

  24. I’m afraid Russia will have to pay dearly in the long run, both for Crimea and for the Donbass war. The Crimean annexation is reversible in theory, but how do you reverse the dead? Also, a Russian-Ukrainian war was unthinkable before 2014 – partly because it would be, in some ways, a civil war considering how many Ukrainians speak Russian natively and how many Russians have Ukrainian names. The genie is out of the bottle now, and there’s no guarantee it won’t move eastward from Ukraine.

    @Patrick: Catholics only make up 10% in Ukraine, mostly Greek Catholics in the rural west. Over two-thirds are Eastern Orthodox, like most Russians and Belarusians. Most of the Ukrainian volunteers in Donbass in 2014 were either Russian speakers from Dnipro in the south-east or Ukrainian speakers from Lviv in the far west. The educated urban class tends to be Westernized, whether Russian- or Ukrainian-speaking. In terms of values, they probably resemble the urban middle classes in Germany or France. Radical nationalists from the western regions are rabidly anti-Russian but not particularly pro-Western when it comes to the basics such as civil liberties and the rule of law. They have great martyrs from the past, though.

  25. I think that this recent analysis of Russia’s strategic ambitions for the Black Sea and Crimea and it’s revival of centuries old empirical ambitions for expansion of the Russian Empire southwards is well worth the read for anyone that is interested in this subject. The picture of the Kerch Strait Bridge under construction alone is worth the look.

    ……………………………………………………………………………………..

    RUSSIA’S STRATEGY IN THE BLACK SEA BASIN
    NIKOLAS GVOSDEV

    “Were the two contemporaries, Putin’s recent efforts would have garnered much support from Potemkin. The president’s predilection to use the Black Sea resort town of Sochi as a de facto capital (it is Putin’s preferred location for bilateral summits with world leaders and events such as the Syrian People’s Congress) elevates Russia’s south to the importance that Potemkin envisaged. Potemkin would, of course, also have applauded what Russia considers to be the second annexation of Crimea in 2014. This has enabled Moscow to deny rival powers access to the Black Sea basin in the event of a military conflict. Indeed, key elements of Russia’s soft power offensive today — shoring up pro-Russian parties in countries like Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia, maintaining the strategic partnership with Armenia, and trying to pull Georgia closer to the Russian orbit — preserve Potemkin’s 250-year-old legacy.”

    https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/russias-strategy-in-the-black-sea-basin/

  26. @Tim Newman, although it’s true that the Black Sea assets are less relevant in today’s interconnected world, Ukraine is very deep inside the Russian heartland, and Crimea would be the perfect staging ground for an invasion by sea into the country. Particularly if Ukraine was pulled into NATO’s sphere of influence.

    In a hypothetical war, Ukraine fighting against Russia in an American alliance would extend the front line by thousands of kilometers. Not exactly the place you want to be, with a declining population and anemic economy! Basically, if it didn’t belong to Russia, it’d be used against her, one way or another. That’s their mentality, paranoid as it is, but it’s been used to great effect against them twice in the last century, so perhaps they’re not totally wrong.

  27. @bob sykes

    “The best thing that could happen to the people of Ukraine, as opposed to their rulers, would be annexation by Russia and the subsequent removal of the oligarchs and their Nazi militias. ”

    Is it because the Russian oligarchs and their Nazi militias are so much nicer and gentler? Should I suppose you have worked / are working for both of those groups, what with having such an informed opinion? A comparative analysis is still lacking, though.

  28. @Bardon

    “Solution: Squeal like pigs and declare martial law and defer election timing.”

    Except the elections have not been deferred. I see those lazy poms never bothered to explain to you crims how this democracy thing works.

  29. @Ivan

    Fair enough, what about Georgian anti-Russian candidate eating his tie then?

    Lets see what happens with the unpopular Poroshenko between now and the election date.

    Dont you worry too much, the lazy poms definitely did transfer this democracy myth down under, its just that some of us smarter crims know that its a sham.

    On the subject of which, we have a good bloke down here at the moment from Odessa that is operating a specialist piece of equipment for us. I have his drivers license on file, just in case I cop some traffic infringements and points in the mail, I pay the fine and he gets the points.

  30. “What on earth is strategically important about Crimea?”

    C’mon, Tim. Surely?

    For most of Russian history, very bad things happen when they get invaded from the west. They’re basically a land power, very limited access to the oceans. There’s very little in the way of geographic features to hinder an invader, and for those that do exist, the place is big enough to allow them to be avoided. The various Russian Empires are basically a set of marcher states, intended to defend the Russian core. The more warfare becomes focused upon mobility, the worse it gets for the Russians, as they potentially have to defend a very wide front, spreading resources thinly – see Napoleon, “they only thing we’ll stop is smuggling” – or face a sequence of battles of encirclement.

    Which is interesting, as if they can manage it, somehow, the biggest encirclement would entail getting troops into the north of Poland via the Baltic Sea, and/or Romania/Bulgaria or the Ukraine via the Black Sea.

    So it turns out that the “somehow” was the Ekranoplan. The Caspian Sea Monster was 92 metres long, with a maximum take off weight of over 500 tons. They had other designs (actually in service from the late seventies), but that particular beast was tested for 15 years, and could cruise at over 250mph with a range of 900 miles.

    Now, what with the Middle East being important for obvious reasons, the Russians retain the military option of striking south via Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan into Iraq and/or Iran. The Black Sea Fleet will protect that western flank from any forces that are able to get through the Bosphorus.

    Sevastopol is important (aside from any nostalgic historical attachments) because its closer than Novorossiysk to that channel and the eastern coasts of Bulgaria, Romania and what have you. Presumably, all the necessary infrastructure there was built up in Soviet times, and it’s entirely possible that the Russians just can’t afford to build up Novorossiysk in any reasonable time.

    The other interesting thing here is the Caspian Sea and the Russian flotilla there. Apparently, it’s now quite modern, and units fired cruise missiles against ISIL positions in Syria during 2015. Baku is right on the coast, and Tehran is ~70 miles inland.

    It’s all very curious.

  31. Sevastopol is important (aside from any nostalgic historical attachments) because its closer than Novorossiysk to that channel and the eastern coasts of Bulgaria, Romania and what have you.

    Why’s that a strategic advantage of such magnitude it requires invading another country to maintain?

    and it’s entirely possible that the Russians just can’t afford to build up Novorossiysk in any reasonable time.

    Now we’re getting somewhere. Basically, in the 28 years since independence Russia didn’t have time to convert Novorossiysk into a naval base or couldn’t be arsed spending the money. If this is the basis of Russia’s grand strategic moves, I’ll leave it to others to defend them.

  32. Since after the fall of the USSR, aka Russian Empire v2.0, and the complete disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, they can no longer rely upon the marcher states to their west to the same degree. Consequently, the Black Sea Fleet and the base at Sevastopol significantly increased in importance to them, for the reasons outlined previously.

    Now consider the previous coup malarkey in Ukraine, when at least one faction wanted to align with the EU – they were talking about accession. Regardless of the competence of the Commissioner involved, one Baroness Greene, it’s a major fuck up. The first wave of ex-Warsaw Pact countries to join are now aligned militarily with NATO and economically with the EU, which pretty much boils down to Germany. Ukraine turning away is just a step too far for the Russians.

    The other problem is the state of the FSU economies at the point of dissolution and afterwards. Basically, they were buggered. The Germans discovered fairly quickly just how bad it was in East Germany when re-unification began in earnest. It’s interesting to note that Germany had a significant number of Turkish guest workers in the country in the mid-Nineties, which didn’t pan out so well when a lot of their hostels started to mysteriously burn down (amusingly, a fair amount of the buildings were Nazi-era ones that had lain empty for 40-odd years).

    The Russians were slightly better off then many FSU countries, as they did have significant reserves of hard currency commodities, oil and gas (also timber) – even if the production efficiency was utterly dire, which was where the Russian government got the vast majority of it’s revenue from. In the latter part of the Nineties, oil prices were bumbling around $12-16 dollars a barrel (IIRC, the actual intra-day low was just over $8), and the estimate was that the Russian government needed at least $20-22 just to balance the books, before it could even begin to fix things. That price level was reached in the early 2000s, ~ten years after the collapse, just about when their default client (markets) states began to bugger off into the EU.

    Yeah, the Russian’s have got the right bloody hump, they’re badly exposed strategically both economically (resource curse anyone?) and, in their minds, militarily. They’ve ended up in the exact situation the Tsars and the Soviets tried to avoid for 150+ years, no bloody buffer states. And (again) they’ve got no money.

  33. Not (entirely) unrelated news;

    “The EU believes that the measures will help achieve the goals of the Paris agreement will be expensive but will boost economies by 2% of GDP by 2050 and reduce energy imports by over 70%, saving up to three trillion euros a year.

    From https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46360212

    Who are trying to build pipelines where again?

  34. @Ducky McDuckface

    “no bloody buffer states”

    What do you mean no buffer states? There is a huge buffer state called Russia between the West and the mafia HQ in the Kremlin. Less of a buffer space between the West and Mayfair where the thugs normally live, but they don’t seem to be all that afraid, do they?

  35. @Ivan : Ha ha. Not only do we have Russia, but Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before they get to the Channel.

    Slightly more seriously; The chaos in the FSU ends up with various party, LEA and security services members trying to grab what they can via varying degrees of legality and violence. That’s from Politburo/central committee members in Moscow all the way down into the various Soviets, and then daring each other to try and take it off them. Whatever Putin himself may or may not have done, by the time he comes to various positions of power, that’s the basic situation underneath. The nerks in London (or elsewhere) aren’t afraid of the British, US, German or French governments, they’re afraid of the Russian government, of either outright violence, or of the removal of their ability to cream off cash from the Russian economy, and importantly, get it out of the country.

    It’s a bit like Roman senators vying for provinces; draw the right one, and you can taxes back to Rome, and come back rich yourself, then step right back into the Senate with far more influence. As far as Russia goes, the richest province is the oil and gas sector, and that gift is Putin’s to give. Raise enough cash for the Russian state, you can cream off the rest, as long as you don’t obviously take the piss.

    The problem for the West is that figures within Russia are all jockeying for to get into position for that gift; taking all sorts of actions, possibly including curiously botched chemical weapons attacks elsewhere. Since the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet Union was bad enough, we probably don’t want to provoke a succession crisis within Russia right now or until there’s more stable system of government operating, which limits possible actions, and unfortunately means Russian actors retain more freedom.

    With regard to Iran and the Obama nuclear deal, and Trump’s subsequent posture; the thought occurs whether Iran’s apparent attempt to gain nukes was partially a response to Russia?

  36. The point was to keep Ukraine out of the hands of the EU and NATO. So far it seems like it’s working.

  37. @Ducky McDuckface

    “we probably don’t want to provoke a succession crisis within Russia right now or until there’s more stable system of government operating”

    Oh, by all means, do try and have a more stable system of government operating. One that Russian criminals could be a bit afraid of would be a good start.

  38. That statement seems to overlook how sovereign territory is attributed in the modern world.

    I don’t think Britain, America, France, or any other NATO country has a leg to stand on when it comes down to matters of sovereign territory or international law. We openly call for a ‘post-Westphalian’ world, cock a snoot at the UN Charter, the Nuremberg principles, the Geneva and even the Vienna Conventions. Russia can quite rightly point to the precedent of Kosovo with regards to Crimea becoming part of Russia again. As I understand it, the Donbass also asked to join the RF and were rebuffed. Most Ukrainian refugees have headed east.

  39. I don’t think Britain, America, France, or any other NATO country has a leg to stand on when it comes down to matters of sovereign territory or international law.

    Maybe, but when was the last time any of those added to their territory at the expense of someone else’s?

    Russia can quite rightly point to the precedent of Kosovo with regards to Crimea becoming part of Russia again.

    Well they try. Only I’m at a loss to understand how Kosovo ceding from Serbia with western help to become an independent state sets the precedent for Russia annexing a region from it’s neighbour. And if it does set a precedent, does this mean Russia will be step away from its long-held position that the territory of the Russian Federation is sacrosanct and no independence movements, e.g. Chechnya’s will be entertained?

    As I understand it, the Donbass also asked to join the RF and were rebuffed.

    What form did this request take? Did they form a political party campaigning for the region to join Russia, attract votes, and make the argument in parliament? Was a referendum held? Or did a handful of loudmouths just ask Putin to annex them?

  40. “I reckon that, like the Turks with the Armenians, Russians will one day believe Crimea is a lot more trouble than it’s worth and they should have left it well alone.”

    You might as well argue that London should sell the Falklands to Buenos Aires and that the Falkland War was a British mistake.

    Preserving national unity is more important than some foreigners bitching about someone’s country.

    Crimea being Russian is one of the things the large majority in Russia supports.

    Selling out the Russophile Crimeans to the anti-Russian government in Kiev as well as letting them expel the BSF from Crimea would be a real threat to the legitimacy of the Kremlin, an existential threat to the order in the Russian Federation.

    Armenians were a threat to the Ottoman Empire/Turkey’s territorial integrity in eastern Anatolia, just like their more successful fellow Christians in the Balkans who did in fact conquer the home of Kemal Mustafa, the founding father of modern Turkey.

  41. Preserving national unity is more important than some foreigners bitching about someone’s country.

    Which is a strong argument for *not* annexing Crimea from Ukraine.

    Crimea being Russian is one of the things the large majority in Russia supports.

    No doubt, but this is not how sovereign territory is determined.

  42. On Crimea’s sovereignty I don’t see the problem, not saying that there isn’t one, but on face value it seems okay to me, which is all it needs to be with me having zero stake in it.

    From the start of the Russian empire and for about three hundred years the region of Ukraine is part of the Russian empire and its people have ethnic and tribal ties from the earliest of times.

    During the soviet period it remained a part of Russia.

    1954 to celebre 300 years of Ukraine being part of the Empire and Soviet Russia the government of the Crimean Peninsula was transferred by an administrative process from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

    1991 Soviet dissolution into 15 republics and the Russian speaking folk of Crimea now have no tie to Russia and are part of the new nation of Ukraine without any say in this issue.

    10 years of colour revolutions.

    2010 Yanukovich elected 4th President of Ukraine.

    2013 Yanukovich makes an unexpected shift towards Russia and away from Europe.

    Late 13 Protest start and gain momentum and enjoy western backing.

    Fee 14 Protest continue to escalate and turn violent and Yanukovich fleas for his life to Russia.

    Feb 14 New regime installed, I guess they must have changed the constitution to do this.

    Feb 14 People of Crimea are increasingly concerned about the events and bloodshed in Kiev and take to the streets to protest that they wish to break away from Ukraine and return to Russian sovereignty.

    March 14 a referendum is held with international observers present and no irregularities reported, turn out is very high and 97% of the people chose to return to Russian sovereignty.

    Works for me.

  43. I note that at no point in your timeline is there mention of a Crimean independence or “join with Russia” party, or any attempt on the part of Crimeans to achieve their supposed long-held dreams of becoming Russian via the political process. Which does make it rather unusual for an independence movement.

  44. The primary question for me is, did the people of the Crimean peninsula wish to move way from Ukraine in a period of time where many shady, bloody and unconstitutional things were rapidly going down in Kiev that were not in their interest? Yes.

    So its okay with me under theses circumstances, the people should always come first particularly when you have a dodgy executive installed overnight that they had not consented to or voted for and that did not have any sympathy with the Crimean’s plight.

    Other considerations were.

    The democratically elected President of Ukraine, was ousted unconstitutionally. There was a period of time when Ukraine was outside of its constitution, therefore their legal sovereignty over Crimea was at large, the Crimean’s fearful for their future took the opportunity during this dark time to stand up and be counted and for the first time and clearly and unequivocally signaled that they wished to be part of Russia. This is not the time to be forming parties and devising election platforms.

    They had no say in the previous changes to their sovereignty ie from Russia to Ukraine (tough luck) which had been done without their consent, this was an opportune point in time where they took action in an open and transparent manner and succeeded. Nice one people.

    The Crimean’s had long standing cultural, geographical, ethnic and national ties with mother Russia. The installed regime was most likely diametrically opposed to this.

    Ukraine is now a complete basket case with nothing on the horizon, Crimea isn’t.

    The Crimean people are quite content that they are part of Russia and are thanking their lucky stars that they are well short of Ukraine.

    The people of Crimea are far better off where they are now.

    Well done the people of Crimea.

    I am quite sure that any half decent constitutional lawyer could clearly demonstrate that what the people of Crimea done was lawful and most importantly in their best interest.

  45. The primary question for me is, did the people of the Crimean peninsula wish to move way from Ukraine in a period of time where many shady, bloody and unconstitutional things were rapidly going down in Kiev that were not in their interest?

    Is this the view from Brisbane, is it?

    I am quite sure that any half decent constitutional lawyer could clearly demonstrate that what the people of Crimea done was lawful and most importantly in their best interest.

    Well, yes, given they didn’t actually do anything. Whether you could find a half-decent constitutional lawyer who could demonstrate what the Russian government did was legal is another matter entirely.

Comments are closed.