What are Putin’s goals with respect to Ukraine? On Thursday, the cognoscendi on Russia, that is, those who are not simply experts on Russia but those who profess to understand and know the reasons for the actions of Russian leaders, perked up their ears when Vladimir Putin in a four hour television Q&A with the Russian people referred to Novorossia or New Russia. This territory includes both Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Putin said that the area had been detached from Russia in the 1920s and joined to Ukraine but without any reason and certainly no consultation with the people of Novorossia.
Christian Caryl wrote a piece in Foreign Policy on Novorossia on Monday. Linda Kinstler did the same in The New Republic (“Which Former Soviet State Could be the Next Ukraine?” 21 April 2014) but went further in suggesting that the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), Belarus as well as Moldova (see my earlier blog on Transnistria or the self-proclaimed Transniester Republic that voted 96% in favour of Russian annexation), the five “stans” (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgzstan) as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and even Poland that was never part of the old Soviet Union, all currently fear that they fall within the expansion plans of the new vision of Russia. For adumbrations of the new Putin doctrine, see George Friedman’s 1 April 2014 “Russia and U.S. Negotiate Ukraine’s Future” (Stratfor Global Intelligence) and David Ignatius 26 March article in The Washington Post. For the role of local Russian populations outside of Russia serving as a fifth column, see Mark Almond “It’s Not Just Russians Spoiling for a Fight” (Telegraph, 9 April 2014) and Cathy Young “Who Are You Calling Fascist, Putin?” (Weekly Standard, 9 April 2014).
What has emerged is the Putin doctrine. Russia is not just covertly and overtly seeding and orchestrating a separatist movement in both eastern and southern Ukraine. The ambition goes far beyond that. State borders are not just accidents of history but mistakes in history. Mistakes can and should be corrected. Further, according to the Putin doctrine, Russia’s true long-term interests do not lie in or rely upon multilateralism, integration into the world economy and the international rule of law. Russia’s economic prospects must be placed in service to political goals and only thereby will those economic interests best be realized.
On what grounds is the new Putin Doctrine articulated? Some believe that Putin is out to annex regions which include a significant Russian ethnic presence on the grounds that ethnic Russians need protection. Those Russians have the right to secede and rejoin Russia from which the people and lands were wrongly severed. This is what Jeffrey Sachs claimed in yesterday’s New York Times suggesting that Putin was leading an irredentist movement – “the effort to reunify a ‘lost’ territory inhabited by ethnic kin with either a mother country or with other territories also inhabited by ethnic kin.” I suggest that Putin is NOT a Russian ethno-nationalist but rather a Russian cosmopolitan, a very different entity.
Putin is determined to restore Russia as the lingua franca of a large part of the earth’s surface in which many ethnicities live but among which the Russian government will not discriminate. He is not trying to distract the Russian people with nationalist rhetoric, but trying to inspire them with the rhetoric of enlargement, with the dream of regaining a Russian civilization. It is the parallel to the ideology of the Han Chinese and Erdogan’s anti-Ataturk Turks. His adventurism is not simply a diversion but part of a long term policy in spite of and not because of a flagging domestic economy and a restive population tired of both corruption and repression. The Putin doctrine does not just defend ethnic Russians or even Russian speakers but a Russian World including minorities who need protection from ethno-nationalists. Kyiv’s efforts to protect Russia as a minority language and ethnic Russians are insufficient because it is the domination of Russian culture and civilization that is the prior aim. That is why Russia must prevail throughout Ukraine and in the media and why NATO cannot be permitted to encroach into the turn of the greater Russian civilization. The issue is not Ukraine independence. That is fully acceptable to Putin. The issue is whether Ukraine remains within the orbit of the prevalence of Russian culture.
Some background first.
Novorossia is Russia’s west, the New Frontier in the Turner version of western expansion applied to Russia rather than the United States of America. The area north of the Black Sea known as the Wild or Devastated Fields was conquered in a series of wars from the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Turks by the Russian Empire at the end of the eighteenth century and settled by Russians during the nineteenth century to establish new towns and cities within the Novorossiysk Governate administered from Kremenchuk to enable not only Russians and Ukrainians but Poles and Armenians to establish farms and estates in the new frontier. When the Bolsheviks in 1922 annexed this area to Ukraine, for the new visionaries of the Russian Empire it was akin to giving Texas to Mexico. For Putin, the reasons were inexplicable and only God can decipher a rationale. But although the territory was severed, the Russian population remained in place and it is the duty of the Russian Federation to help the Russian-speaking population find a solution to their cultural displacement.
When the Party of Regions won the presidency in the 2006 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, it was in the territory of what had been called Novorossia that they garnered their greatest support. An historic error was about to be corrected, but the plan was undermined, not according to the Putin doctrine by corruption and misrule, but by American subversion through the CIA which backed a rebellion in Kyiv and by the cowardice of former president Viktor Yanukovych who fled his post for the safety of Russia in February. Acting President Alexander Turchinov and Prime Minister Alexander Yatsenuk as well as their cabinet ministers are not legitimate representatives but usurpers of power brought into their positions by the machinations of the CIA. Alexander Yakimenko, the former head of Ukrainian Secret Services (SBU) who escaped to Russia, claimed Andriy Parubiy, the current head of the SBU, forged a deal with the Americans. On American instructions, he hired the snipers who killed the 70 civilians as well as some of the riot police. This was done in spite of polls conducted ostensibly by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology that showed that 75.3% of residents in the Lviv region wanted to be reunited with the Russian Federation. In Lugansk, Donetsk and Kharkov in the East, the majorities were even much greater – 90.3%, 97.5% and 96.1% respectively. The February coup had set aside the rule of law in Ukraine in this interpretation.
The Putin Method
How does Putin intend to go about correcting this core central historic mistake as the second step following the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation? By stealth. First there will be clear and unequivocal expressions of pacific intentions by the Russians as there were in last week’s negotiations with John Kerry in Geneva. Russia will move according to the old Russian proverb with great patience, but once started will proceed expeditiously – Russians take time to saddle their horses, but once mounted they ride with great speed. Those moves enjoy massive support in the Russian Duma. After all, as Putin said, “The Federation Council granted the president the right to use military force in Ukraine.” Putin then added that, “I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that we are able to solve all today’s pressing issues via political and diplomatic means.” Russia will begin by talking softly. But in the other hand Russia will not just carry one big stick but a batch of covert and overt coercive moves that will include fear mongering, economic blackmail, funding and organizing separatist forces, covert operations and only the use of overt military action as the final stage.
The European Union is an economic powerhouse but a military and diplomatic pygmy. Besides, it is dependent on Russian gas and oil for its economic prosperity in spite of Jeffrey Sach’s argument that the EU could survive without imports of Russian natural gas that only constitutes 10% of the EU’s overall imports, neglecting to say that gas and other energy (coal and oil) imports constitute 25% of Germany’s energy needs with no alternatives in sight. Germany is the economic engine of the EU. Germany for historic reasons did not follow France’s lead in the development of nuclear power but now Chancellor Merkel has said that in light of the Ukraine crisis, “all of Germany’s energy policies must be reconsidered.”Germany, the main powerhouse of the EU, and, in particular, Angela Merkel may be miffed by Vladimir Putin’s betrayal of her trust, but she has withdrawn from the field to lick her wounds and has no interim realistic policy to counter Russian aggression except to utter threats of economic retaliation that amount to mere pin pricks. This purportedly powerful leader has been reduced to practicing Haitian voodoo instead of an effective foreign policy to counter the Russian initiatives. Loans by western investors to Russian banks and corporations may not be renewed or may even be recalled, but Russia can be expected to initially step into the breach to counter the credit squeeze.
What is the American response? The United States just does not have the forces on the ground to counter Russian military moves. Further, the U.S. is till suffering from the scars of both the Afghan and Iraq wars. But both Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee,
thought that America had been blind-sided by Russia’s rapid military move into Crimea. Feinstein said, “It should not be possible for Russia to walk in and take over the Crimea and it’s a done deal by the time we know about it.” Others, particularly backers of Putin’s new doctrine, seem somewhat baffled by America’s muted response and a reading of their websites indicate that they believe that the rhetorical gestures are just that, gestures to distract the western public to the fact that America has already agreed to the dismemberment of Ukraine and the annexation of Novorossia to Russia otherwise why has there been virtually no official western response to Putin’s assertion on Thursday. Ukraine stripped of its eastern and southern regions will, in any case, be more acceptable as part of the EU. Kerry and the key European leaders must have already secretly agreed to this outcome. Their pusillanimous response is a certain indicator that both centers of power regard the current government of Ukraine as constituted by “idiots” (the term of the opposition nationalists – see the blog of Anatoly Shary who prides himself on his careful analysis of Western politicians).
After all, Novorossia already has the hymn of the revived republic penned by Alexander Duhnovicha in the nineteenth century expressing the wish and desire for an autonomous Russian republic within Ukraine, Podkarpatsky rusiny, with the modern founding document approved by 109 delegates in the Russian drama theatre, Mukacheva, and the founding scheduled for 1 December 2014, supposedly the birth date of the priest and author of the republican hymn:
Leave a deep sleep.
The national voice calls
Do not forget
Our people are favoured.
You will be free
From the storm
And keep away enemies
Justice will visit
The Russian nation!
Yea, Russia lives – the people!
We Ask God Vyshnjago (most High)
Grant this century to luchshago!
[luchshago = Russian self-determination and autonomy: the Russian commission on governance in 1681 provided “the legal case for luchshago, sovereign governance in the organization and management of the polity.”
Behind it is a religious war between the Eastern Orthodox church and the Latinate Catholic Church of western Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate was accused by the Russian nationalists of handing “over 1 million hryvnia to finance armed groups” in Kyiv, an interpretation allegedly supported by Eastern Orthodox Archpriest George Gorodentsev. The efforts of Yatsenyuk to promise a new status for Russia in regions with a large Russian presence and increased decentralization of power does not hide the real power for these Russian separatists who see behind these moves en empty hand behind which lies a conspiracy of the CIA and the Ukrainian Latin Church. Further, such offers are but spoiled candy, for the separatist forces demand the acceptance of Russian as an official language for all of Ukraine and demand a referendum on Russian autonomy as well.
Immediate prospects for the Ukraine look poor indeed given Russian determination and the lack of a well thought-out response from the West. One should not longer be fooled by Putin’s peaceful feints. They are just that. The overall path and pattern has been set.
The question is: how should we respond?