The war nerd on Crimea
I tend to trust Pando on the Ukraine/Crimea mess more than anyone because Mark Ames was in Russia, running a newspaper, when the Soviet Union fell apart. So Ames knows the players and has the appropriate level of cynicism. The War Nerd, too:
If you want to understand the weird insults American insiders like McCain are throwing at Russia right now, you have to understand them in the context of an inevitable, easy, cost-free victory for Russia in Crimea. That’s a painful shock for an old Cold Warrior like McCain, and he can only respond with the kind of insults a playground-fight loser splutters at the retreating victor through his swollen, bleeding lips.
But the truth has rights, and the truth is that Putin has won in Crimea. Better to admit that than to shout insults at the victor, especially when your insults don’t even make sense. McCain says Russia makes its money off oil and gas; true, but so what? Is there a better product to be selling on the world market? What should Russia be making money from, mortgage foreclosures? ...
Merkel’s reaction is easy to understand. After all, Germany’s attempts to gobble up Ukraine in the two world wars didn’t end well, and since 1945 the whole idea of land-grabs and annexation makes today’s ultra-cautious, polite Germans feel a little faint.
The American pundits’ reactions are harder to justify, starting with the claim that Crimea is not worth taking, a welfare slum–“…one of the least wealthy regions of Ukraine” as WaPo’s Will Englund claimed. Like a lot of the wild claims Western pundits are making, that’s not actually true. Crimea ranks in the middle of Ukraine’s 27 oblasts by salary, with its big city, Sevastapol, coming in even higher, second only to Kyiv. But that stat misses the awe Russians feel for Crimea. Tolstoy had his damn epiphany there; The Tsars built their summer palace, Livadia, in Crimea; Nabokov spent 18 months there, hanging out at the Countess Sophia Panin’s estate in Gaspra.
So it’s just ignorant to claim that Crimea is a “consolation prize” for Russia. It may well be the only part of Ukraine they actually want, in fact.
Nobody’s mentioning it, but the fact is that there was already a referendum in Crimea on staying with Ukraine or rejoining Russia.
On January 20, 1991, Crimeans voted to restore their ties with Russia by almost the same percentage (93.2%) we saw in today’s election—where, according to the BBC, 93% of Crimean voters once again voted Russian.
That’s a remarkably consistent vote, considering what a lot of chaos and poverty have encompassed the region since 1991. Back then, of course, no one in the West took the results seriously, because everyone knew the USSR was evil and anyone defecting from it was good. But it might be worth remembering that election now–because with Russian economic and military power backing them, the Crimeans’ vote might actually count.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Crimea voted to return to Russia. Even the demographics made that an easy one to predict. According to Ukraine’s own 2001 Census, 58.3% of Crimeans consider themselves Russian, with only 24.3% identifying as Ukranian.
On Sunday, the Crimeans voted to join Russia in huge numbers—80% turnout, 95% for joining Russia according to reports. That result tracked with the BBC exit polls, which took into account the fact that most of the peninsula’s ethnic Tartars—about 14% of the population—boycotted the vote.
So, yeah: I don’t blame any Ukrainian for hating Russia, or the West, or the whole damn world; they’ve got a right, if anyone does. But you can’t blame the Crimeans, either, for wanting to opt out of a terrible history.
The only people who deserve real blame are the ones Walter Sobchak would call “fuckin’ amateurs”—the D.C. wonks suddenly pronouncing moral judgment on one or another faction in this Ukraine quarrel.
So if you had the opportunity to declare yourself a Russian, with the security of living on a highly-defensible diamond-shaped peninsula with only two narrow access points, you might well decide to sign up with Putin’s Russia rather than whoever has declared him- or herself Hetman in Kiev.
I like the Ames axis. The remind me a little of Hunter Thompson. And they get ticked off at the right things.