Putin’s Crimea is Not Hungary 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s expanded presence in the Crimean Peninsula is a far cry from the Soviet invasions during the Cold War that prohibited Hungary and Czechoslovakia from replacing pro-Soviet governments with more independent-minded entities such as the repression of the Prague Spring. Even those invasions with the Red Army were understandable given the aggressive Kennanesque containment policy that the west had orchestrated to destabilise the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. George Frost Kennan wanted to contain Soviet power with American and allied power and to establish a military encirclement of Russia or at least key geostrategic areas. While Kennan would later disavow any such prescription of geopolitics, his Long Telegram and X Article in Foreign Affairs clearly contravene the author’s attempt at deceitful revisionism. They were a call for aggressive containment of a nation that had just recently suffered a loss of some twenty-six million dead during the Great Patriotic War (World War II).

In Ukraine, a US-European Union supported revolution overthrew the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych. This is a far cry from the circumstances in Eastern Europe in Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia. The Crimea has a majority of Russian speaking, Russian-ethnic Ukrainians: this majority welcomed the Russian expansion of influence and is on the verge of a possible vote for independence and subsequent incorporation within the Russian Federation. Their right to assert the principle of self-determination is nuanced enough to challenge President Obama’s dismissal of self-determination in this instance as illegal and a violation of international law.

Russia has severed Crimea from Ukraine; it is unlikely that it will be incorporated into a post-revolutionary Ukraine. That is much different, however, from the Hungary and Prague Spring uprisings that was suppressed by the Red Army with a general occupation of significant areas of those nation-states. Vladimir Putin’s penetration is a measured response in terms of tactics used and territory acquired. It has not  spread into other areas of the Eastern portion of Ukraine and I suspect they will not unless violent actions against Russian ethnic occurs.

Putin’s assertion is dubious at best that Russian soldiers are not in Crimea but instead paramilitary forces without insignias are establishing order. Nevertheless, it is an indication of an effort to minimise the perception of an invasion and to indicate that Russia does not desire the annexation or domination of all of Ukraine. Putin is cutting his losses. The United States is the responsible party for these developments. The unrelenting expansion of N.A.T.O. has taken us to this point, in which Ukraine assumes an importance far beyond what would otherwise be necessary. It is the most significant nation on Russia’s western frontier that is not incorporated into N.A.T.O. Had N.A.T.O. enlargement not been pursued by Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, Putin would not have felt the urgency of avoiding the loss of his last major non-N.A.T.O. member in the near abroad.

It is true that many nations that border the Russian Federation are non-N.A.T.O. members. Finland does not belong to N.A.T.O. Belarus does not belong to N.A.T.O. Yet Ukraine is surrounded by many N.A.T.O. member states: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania were added to N.A.T.O. despite the demise of communism without bloodshed. The only neighboring nation of Ukraine, that does not share a common border with Russia and is not part of the anti-Russian alliance, is Moldova. Therefore, Vladimir Putin not unreasonably construed the loss of Ukraine as a strategic disaster as the Cold War never really ended for the US and N.A.T.O. It sought more containment and penetration of Russian spheres of influence. A Russian red line appears to have been drawn and has led to its determination to maintain its centuries old fleet in the Baltic and its historic ties to Crimea.

N.A.T.O. could end this crisis by declaring that Ukraine will not be invited into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Ukraine could establish a unity government with Russian and Ukrainian components. Russia could be given guarantees that, until there is new thinking in the world that challenges militaries and the use of force as a legitimate option, it would retain its Black Sea Fleet and its military presence on bases in Crimea. Russia would continue to pump natural gas and oil through the pipelines and maintain discounts for Ukraine. The west would stop its babbling about visas and other sanctions.

Ukraine is now a divided nation, and will remain so. Whether it will function as a single entity or lose portions of it to Russia or to independence minded Russian Ukrainians will be determined in part whether the capitalist west is willing to abandon its Cold War mentality. Putin’s willingness to accept some sovereignty for Crimea within the context of significant security guarantees is also a key component for a deal that can be struck.

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