Astri Suhrke, a Senior Researcher at the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway, and a long time collaborator of mine, wrote in response to my blogs on Putin as follows:
“Am enjoying your blogs, even when strongly disagreeing. For instance, you write, ‘if America is unwilling to contemplate some form of military action when its vital interests are challenged in Europe…..,’ with reference to the Russian invasion of Crimea. As I see it, the Russian reaction is precisely that, a reaction to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea, which Russian has long had the right to use for its Black Sea naval fleet – only warm water port and access to the Mediterranean etc. Change in Kiev – welcomed and encouraged by EU and NATO – made it quite possible that Russia might lose that access. So Russia reacted. (Also recall that until 1954. Crimea was part of Russia (within the USSR)). So Russia reacted. How can a defense of the status quo ‘challenge vital American interests’? And if any wider American interests are affected, it will be primarily in the Middle East rather than Europe.
“Comparing this with the Anschluss, and affixing the label of appeasement on Obama (as you did in your earlier blog), seems not only unfair, but counterproductive to efforts to defuse the situation and prevent a really serious conflict. Just noted that Poland has asked for consultations in NATO under para 4 of the Washington Treaty. Seems opportunistically belligerent.
Here is how I replied though I corrected my typos.
I can’t be;\believe it! Do you really swallow Putin’s lie – a blatant lie – that the Russian action is just a reaction “to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea”? Where is there any evidence Russia’s military position in Crimea was under threat??? It would be akin to the U.S. attacking Cuba on the pretext that its base in Guantanamo was under threat. Where is there any evidence even that there was any threat to the majority ethnic Russian population in Crimea? Even the stupid language law withdrawing permission for Russian to be taught as an official language was NOT a real threat when the stress is on “official” and when, though it was passed, it was withdrawn before the President of Ukraine vetoed it. The defence of the status quo was something that did not need a defence let alone an aggressive invasion and occupation.
As far as America’s vital interests, surely it is in America’s vital interest to see that country’s cannot invade other countries and occupy and de facto take over territory, just as it is in the interest of other country’s when America attacked and occupied other countries. Both kinds of attacks have to be challenged. I did not say America had to respond by deploying military troops, but did suggest that America and the EU might consider responding with military guarantees before Putin attempts to invade Eastern Ukraine.
Finally, I never called Obama an appeaser. Can you point out where I did?. I am a strong supporter of Obama, though not always uncritical. But I do believe the reset here worked in spite of the fact that I supported that reset. Neither I nor Obama can always be right.
Nice to hear from you.
All the best.
Astri came back strongly:
“Yes, I accept that Russia had reason to believe that its position in Crimea would be threatened. They made a pre-emptive move to secure their position. They have so far occupied key buildings and sites.
Yes, I agree that it is certainly in the interest of the US and other countries not to sanction invasions. That the US twice in the past decade or so has invaded other countries, and formally occupied one, does make me pause, however, before leaping to the defense of the US on that particular ground.
And, yes, in your first blog on Putin and Crimea, you said that ‘Obama will have no choice except to be the Neville Chamberlain who surrendered the Sudetenland of C… to Hitler.’ That’s pretty close to calling him ‘an appeaser” – no?
Wish you were here so we could talk this out over a walk and a meal!
I wrote back as follows:
I wrote ‘Obama will have no choice except to be the Neville Chamberlain who surrendered the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but he will not sign an agreement acceding to the seizure of The Crimea.’ That is not a charge of appeasement. That is, as stated throughout the blog, an acceptance of realism. But that realism will not be signing onto the deal and waving a piece of paper saying ‘Peace in our time.’ Obama is expected and will fight back to ensure nothing more. Further, to my surprise, at least rhetorically, he seems to be pushing for full withdrawal. I am totally sceptical about that, but maybe? In any case, both the last half of the sentence and the rest of the blog is clear that I am not accusing Obama of being an appeaser. You say I affixed a label of appeaser. I did not use the term, did not affix the label, though I did suggest there was an element of realism in Chamberlain and Obama’s actions. But realism is not appeasement. Though Great Britain was in no position to fight Germany in 1938, and nor was Russia, Chamberlain’s appeasement was legally signing away the Sudetenland as Germany’s entitlement.”
Quite aside from never labelling Obama an appeaser, let me take Astri’s main argument seriously, namely that she accepts Putin’s argument that Russia’s interests in the Crimea were under threat and the response was “a reaction to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea.” To do that I will have to elaborate on the analysis underlying her claim.
1. Crimea was for several centuries part of Russia.
2. When the Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev ‘arbitrarily’ gave the Crimea to The Ukraine in 1954.
3. Throughout the twentieth century, Russia based its warm water fleet (the Black Sea Fleet) at Sevastopol .
4. When the USSR broke up in 1991, Russia found itself in the humiliating position of having to negotiate a lease for its main naval port; the lease ran for 25 years from 1992-2017.
5. In 2008, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of the Ukraine announced that under no circumstances would she renew the lease in 1917.
6. Yulia Tymoshenko had just been released from jail and there was a real danger she would win the elections which were now to be brought forward to this Spring.
7. Chaos as well as succession by an opponent of the lease would also threaten the stability necessary for the naval base’s security.
8. The cancellation of the lease would threaten Russia’s complete maritime defence capability or its ability to be an influential player in the Middle East.
9. Further, cancellation of the lease would be devastating for the tens of thousands of Russian civilian employees living in The Crimea who work directly or indirectly to maintain Russia’s maritime military capability.
10. Viktor Yanukovych’s extension of the lease in 2010 for a further 25 years reduced the threat.
11. However, on the Ukrainian political horizon a possible direct threat to Russia’s interests emerged because elected “radicals” could threaten to cancel the lease extension.
12. That fear was greatly exacerbated by the events in Kyiv.
13. That threat was realized in full when President Yanukovych was illegally deposed by Parliament and forced to flee the Ukraine.
14. Hence, Putin sought and received on Saturday, 1 March 2014 authorization and permission by the Duma to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Ukraine, not to annex any territory, but until the situation stabilized.
15. Obama’s “warning” then only reinforced Putin’s fears and determination to take pre-emptive action.
I hope I have stated the argument for the defence of Putin as clearly and as fully as the space allowed. Putin in his first public press conference since the Crimean crisis began, reinforced this argument when he lied and claimed Russian forces had NOT intervened in Ukraine and further stated that, Russia “reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect” What is wrong with this defence of Russia’s position?
1. Whatever the past, Russia has agreed in a plethora of international legal documents that the Crimea is NOT part of Russia but is part of the Ukraine.
2. If the Ukraine cancelled the lease and not just threatened to do so, Russia had multiple non-military punishments that could cripple Ukraine and fairly easily get the Ukraine to back off.
3. The United States was part of the agreement guaranteeing Russia’s use of Sevastopol.
4. There is no way that Ukraine could enforce such a cancellation.
5. Theoretical future threats to a country’s defence interests do not justify an illegal military invasion.
Behind all the hot air and rhetoric, there is a deeper problem, the failure of the United States and Russia to actually work together in resolving crises in Russia’s backyard. Putin argues that he helped get American chestnuts out of the fire in getting Syria to give up its chemical weapons. He claims he has helped the U.S. over Iran. What has he gotten in return for his cooperation when Russia’s own vital interests are at stake? American diplomatic conspiracies, which Russia had the tapes to prove, to remove the legally elected president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, in an effective coup. In fact, America had set up the crisis earlier by supporting sucking Ukraine into the EU economic and political orbit without taking into account Russia’s vital economic, political and military interests in Ukraine. Instead of allowing and encouraging Ukraine to play the EU and Russia off against one another, instead of pushing the EU Association Agreement, the focus should have been on working together to stablilize Ukraine in recognition of Russia’s genuine fears of instability there given Ukraine’s inherent proneness to chaos as a multi-ethnic state.
I hope I have been fair to what I interpret as Astri’s argument.
I will offer a full reply tomorrow in my analysis of Russian propaganda.