A Ukrainian naval officer passed by Russian military personnel as he left the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol on Wednesday after Russian forces and local militiamen seized control of the facility. Credit Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Russia’s brutality with Ukraine is nothing new
Russia’s brutality with Ukraine is nothing new
“Boys from another school pulled out the severed head of a classmate while fishing in a pond. His whole family had died. Had they eaten him first? Or had he survived the deaths of his parents only to be killed by a cannibal? No one knew; but such questions were commonplace for the children of Ukraine in 1933. . . . Yet cannibalism was, sometimes, a victimless crime. Some mothers and fathers killed their children and ate them. … But other parents asked their children to make use of their own bodies if they passed away. More than one Ukrainian child had to tell a brother or sister: ‘Mother says that we should eat her if she dies.’ ”
— Timothy Snyder, “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” (2010)
…“People appeared at 2 o’clock in the morning to queue in front of shops that did not open until 7. On an average day 40,000 people would wait for bread. Those in line were so desperate to keep their places that they would cling to the belts of those immediately in front of them. . . . The waiting lasted all day, and sometimes for two. . . . Somewhere in line a woman would wail, and the moaning would echo up and down the line, so that the whole group of thousands sounded like a single animal with an elemental fear.”
This, which occurred about as close to Paris as Washington is to Denver, was an engineered famine, the intended result of Stalin’s decision that agriculture should be collectivized and the “kulaks” — prosperous farmers — should be “liquidated as a class.” In January 1933, Stalin, writes Snyder, sealed Ukraine’s borders so peasants could not escape and sealed the cities so peasants could not go there to beg. By spring, more than 10,000 Ukrainians were dying each day, more than the 6,000 Jews who perished daily in Auschwitz at the peak of extermination in the spring of 1944.
…“One spring morning, amidst the piles of dead peasants at the Kharkiv market, an infant suckled the breast of its mother, whose face was a lifeless gray. Passersby had seen this before . . . that precise scene, the tiny mouth, the last drops of milk, the cold nipple. The Ukrainians had a term for this. They said to themselves, quietly, as they passed: ‘These are the buds of the socialist spring.’ ”
In the long sweep of Russian history, the rise and fall of communism in the 20th century and the ensuing 20 years of turmoil are an anomaly for Putin. The preceding millennium of Russo-Orthodox expansion is the norm. His strategic vision is not bound by democratic election cycles; it is measured in centuries and glory. The Western belief that a decline in Russia’s stock market would be a reason for him to pull back, for instance, is the sort of short-term thinking that has crippled our ability to guess his next moves.
By dubbing Russians the world’s largest “divided people” and noting that many live in appalling conditions in post-Soviet states, Putin on Tuesday belied his platitudes that he has no further plans for expansion.
Putin has employed three tools to realize his expansionist vision: the annexation of vulnerable territory, the launch of the Eurasian Union and the revitalization of the Orthodox Church.
Paranoia leads Vladimir Putin to the point of no return
The Russian leader’s personal insecurity will ensure that Crimea falls under his control
Vladimir Putin, at the Winter Paralympics in Sochi, is convinced there is a ‘Destroy Russia’ project Photo: AP
By Angus Roxburgh
8:37PM GMT 13 Mar 2014
As Sunday’s referendum, in which the people of Crimea will decide whether to join Russia, approaches, the images on Russian television are astonishing. They are more propagandistic and venomous than anything I can remember even from Soviet times. Breathless presenters whip up hysteria with bloodcurdling stories of atrocities being committed by the “neo-Nazi junta” now governing Ukraine. Overheated “victims” beg Putin to help, kindly Russians offer to give refuge to the terrified people fleeing Ukraine, and menacing music accompanies montages of swastikas, fascist thugs armed with clubs, and black-and-white images of Hitler’s troops and burning villages.
It is all apparently aimed at preparing the public to accept that there may be war, and that Russia will be fighting in a just cause. Yet I have a horrible feeling that President Putin believes all this stuff. He receives his information mainly from his trusted secret services – men like himself, schooled in the dark arts of KGB disinformation. I worked as a media consultant to the Kremlin from 2006 to 2009, close enough to gain a sense of Putin’s growing paranoia.
I believe this has three causes, the most important of which, perhaps, is his own terror of being dislodged by popular revolution.
Putin believes the Ukrainian uprising was fomented entirely by the West. He puts two and two together and gets five. He saw Senator John McCain saluting the Maidan crowds, and heard Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State, discussing on the phone which opposition leaders she would like to see in the new government (and he made sure his spies made the tape of the conversation public). Putin has been convinced ever since the Orange Revolution in 2004, followed by the Moscow protests of late 2011, that there is, in one of his advisers’ words, a “Destroy Russia” project. And he is next on the list.
The second factor is Russia’s strategic security. And here I believe the West made a major mistake in believing it could build its own security at the expense of Russia’s. It has created a situation in which Moscow feels not just marginalized but threatened. Putin came to power longing to have Russia accepted again as a great power, but as an ally, whose word mattered. He thought he was getting somewhere when George W Bush gratefully accepted his help in the “war on terror”. But then America deployed a missile shield that Putin believes undermines Russia’s strategic deterrent, and Nato expanded into eastern Europe, despite earlier assurances that this would not happen. Putin felt humiliated. Tragically, he really thought he could be the West’s friend, failing to see that his own repressive policies made that impossible.
Crucially, in 2008, Nato promised Ukraine that it “will” be allowed to join. Even then Putin made clear that this would be the last straw. Perhaps Nato should have considered his psychology more deeply. You don’t ensure your safety from a growling bear by provoking it.
I believe Putin sees Ukraine’s decisive turn to the West now as inexorably leading to the Nato membership it was promised. This would further isolate Russia, bring a hostile alliance right up to its borders, and place its only warm-water naval base in enemy hands. Hence the scramble to get Crimea out of Ukraine as soon as possible – using every lie and pretext in Putin’s well-thumbed dezinformatsiya handbook to justify Russia’s annexation.
Which brings me to the third factor in Putin’s thinking – his unashamed presumption that Russia has the right and duty to protect Russians wherever they may be. He once described the collapse of the USSR as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century. He didn’t mean he regretted the end of communism, but he did regret the collapse of a huge multinational state, and the fact that 25 million Russians ended up outside their own country’s borders. His vow to “protect Russians” in Ukraine is the corollary of that. God forbid if he decides Russians in Latvia and Estonia also require “help”.
The annexation of Crimea is, it seems, inevitable. Putin’s men marched their propagandists so far up the hill, they can scarcely march them down again. What’s more, the referendum will be monitored by Russian observers, who know a thing or two about achieving the correct result. Plans are already in place to swap Crimea’s Ukrainian currency for the rouble, and the Russian Duma has scheduled a debate on the incorporation of Crimea for March 21.
So what can the West do? Not much. Insisting that Putin talk to Ukrainian leaders he regards as putschists is pointless. He won’t. Sanctions will not stop Putin either. It is also too late now to give him the assurances he has sought about Russia’s own security. He is convinced the West is out to get him, and has dug in for the long haul.
In Munich in 2007, Putin made a no-holds-barred speech which was essentially a cry of frustration at being ignored. We ignored it. And now he doesn’t give a damn what we think.
Angus Roxburgh was the BBC’s Moscow correspondent and is the author of ‘The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia’ (I B Tauris)
MidnightOn The one dictatorial leader (Tsar, General Secretary). Thats who they are and they will always be like that way. A “democracy” will never work there, no matter how hard we try to shove it down their throats. As an American its not what I would prefer but it’s not my country nor is it my business. Im not saying Putin is a good man whose fair and just. But a strong single leader is how Russia rolls and they will always roll like that. The point is Putin is not great but the solution is also not so great, and for Russia and Crimeans probably much worse.
aegis 27 minutes ago Clear away the smoke and bluster and the economic realities come clear.Ukraine is a basket case and who wins will win the basket.
Gas supply (Russia’s strategic weapon) is in trouble.And the the pipeline can be back-fed.
Expedite development of LNG terminals and start shipping gas at prices that undercut Russian supplies and listen to cousin Vlad start puking blood.
mana_caster 31 minutes ago In Moscow, 50,000 protest Russia’s intervention in Crimea
Foreign_yetinterested 28 minutes ago It must be Russian propaganda, we’ve been told all the time that Russia has no freedom and people are not allowed to demonstrate against Putin who is a despot and a new Hitler.
Angry of Ewell! 37 minutes agoI just love double standards, I am old enough to remember what a nasty man Pinochet was for deposing the Marxist despot Allende who was busy ruining Chile. Now when the democratically elected leader of the Ukraine is overthrown by a mob, that’s absolutely fine. And Cast Iron Dave is rattling his empty sabre scabbard
jack_t1 40 minutes ago “So what can the West do? Not much.”
Typical surrender monkey Brit. The biggest military union ever created is NATO. Russia is a 2nd rate army. If they go nuclear, they die too.
ElephantlnTheRoom 41 minutes ago”Typical surrender monkey Brit”
Don’t you feel our sacrifices in all the wars of the past few centuries and the resultant suicide of the West is enough to sate your thirst?
jack_t1 ElephantlnTheRoom 39 minutes agoYou mean your ancestor’s sacrifices, not your own. What is the alternative here?! Just bend over for Putin? Just appease him until he has invaded enough? Maybe sell out Baltic States and maybe even Poland too?!
David Weissman herman 38 minutes ago The United States Military. We can probably take on the entire world and hold our own. We have technology that no one even knows about. They’re working on invisibililty gear for soldiers and cloaking for tanks! We have planes that are impossible to detect on radar. There is simply no overcoming the technology edge that we have. If we go all out – its the end for any army of the world. The amount of footsoldiers doesn’t count when you can have a sky full of drones, orbital lasers and fully armored cloaked soldiers. You cant imagine how powerful the US army actually is.
Celestial4caster an hour ago There is a saying that will apply here: Watch out what you wish for…you may get it. This applies to Putin and his supporters.
ElephantlnTheRoom Celestial4caster an hour ago Frankly I’m on neither the American oligarchs or the Russian oligarchs side.
The West has nothing worth fighting for anymore unless you believe that multiculturalism, gay marriage etc and the extinction of the native European is something we find desirable.
IsaacBlack an hour ago in the end, one has to wonder whether this is all about Putin and a deteriorating mind. He is getting older. I’m not saying for sure but, look at things. What outside threat does Russia really have other than his own people wishing to be free citizens. He has blocked all news agencies to the best he can. The ones he can’t there are massive blogs of outrage within his own country as to this expansionist push. Yes, the west is stupid but they rely on his gas and have a massive history of opting to do nothing in the face of obvious threat. One has to wonder if Putin wasn’t there this whole issue would go away.
blaster IsaacBlack an hour ago The threat comes from the West. Putin has made repeated efforts toward cooperation, all of which have been rebuffed or just ignored. He now finds Russia being forced onto the defensive in the face of NATO expansionism.
The real threat is projected outward and like a willing sheep go along with it. More fool you but the outcome affects us all. Wake up and study modern history otherwise than through the illusion of Western ‘freedoms’.
ElephantlnTheRoom IsaacBlack an hour ago “One has to wonder if Putin wasn’t there this whole issue would go away.”
You mean if Putin wasn’t around to resist the neo-con hawks attempt to transfer the wealth and property from Ukraine, there would be no resistance at all.
David Weissman an hour ago We need to take the following steps IMEDIATELY.Full military mobilization. You know those troops we pulled out of Iraq and are pulling out of Afghanistan? Send them to Poland IMMEDIATELY. Send our top fighter planes and bombers to air bases across Poland. Tell Russia they have the following option :Immediately pull out ALL Russian soldiers and gear out of Crimea and abandon their port or we will unleash HELL. If Russia doesn’t listen, which they probably wouldn’t, unload all the bombs we had across their ports in Crimea leveling them to the ground. Then send our ground infantry into Ukraine from Poland and eliminate any and all Russian personnel.Look for any opportunity to assassinate Putin and use it if available.Russia is doing this because we are treating them as a kid. Time to take things seriously. We are the worlds most powerful army – time to act like this and not waist time. All these Russian threats with their post world war 2 old soviet junk gear is a joke and we need to act like it instead of taking their crap seriously. Its time that these mongrels learn to FEAR and RESPECT the United States of America!!!Oh yeah, the Russians also docked a ship in Cuba? Perfect opportunity! We need to sink that ship and finally clear Cuba out of the dictator communist scum that occupies it.
ElephantlnTheRoom David Weissman an hour ago Why do so many commentators who aren’t English pretend they are European, while taking great delight in instructing us to fight their wars, where the only victors could possibly be the banks?
David Weissman ElephantlnTheRoom an hour ago I am an American! This is a world issue. The Russian’s attacked one of our, American, allies, The Ukraine. So I have every right to comment.
Enzyte Bob Krystina Jade Gill an hour ago Agreed. The West was asking for trouble when it decided to plop NATO/EU on Russia’s front doorstep. Serbia wants nothing to do with NATO and has been granted observer status at Russia’s version of NATO. Watch Macedonia and Montenegro follow Serbia into Russia’s arms …. I hope they all stick it to the West, the new Evil Empire.
Obama doesn’t grasp Putin’s Eurasian ambitions
IT’S EASY to conclude that Vladimir Putin’s passionate defense of Russia’s takeover of Crimea “just didn’t jibe with reality,” as Secretary of State John F. Kerry put it. In a speech on Tuesday, the Russian ruler repeated mendacious charges that the Ukrainian government had been hijacked by “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites”; voiced his paranoid conspiracy theory about supposed Western sponsorship of popular revolutions, including the Arab Spring; and brazenly compared Russia’s abrupt annexation of Ukraine with the reunification of Germany.
Obama doesn’t grasp Putin’s Eurasian ambitions
For the purposes of the debate, such subtleties apparently did not matter. Obama offered a jab that spawned approving headlines: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years….When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
Putin wins in Russia only by escalating his war rhetoric
By Masha Gessen, Published: March 14
Masha Gessen is a Russian American journalist and the aut
hor of “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”
Vladimir Putin has won. In Russia, support for his war in Ukraine is overwhelming. And his approval rating has finally recovered after falling drastically in December 2011, when the Russian protest movement erupted.
Putin claimed reelection to his third term as president in March 2012, as mass demonstrations were taking place in cities and towns across Russia. Official tallies said he won with 63 percent of the vote, but independent exit polls suggested he captured about 50 percent — hardly a show of overwhelming support for a virtually unopposed candidate (none of the four opponents he handpicked for the ballot had campaigned).
After the election, Putin began cracking down on opponents while mobilizing his shrinking constituency against an imaginary enemy: strong, dangerous, Western and, apparently, homosexual. Laws were passed restricting public assembly and the activities of nongovernmental organizations; about three dozen people of various political and social stripes were jailed for protesting.
The crackdown proved effective: When the risks of demonstrating became extremely high and the benefits apparently nonexistent, the number of protests and protesters dwindled; the loose leadership structure of the 2011-12 protest movement dissolved in a haze of mutual recriminations.
As for the mobilization effort, the results were mixed: Putin’s approval rating, as measured by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent polling organization, bounced back soon after his reelection but sank again and then plateaued. The high approvals that he enjoyed in his first decade at the helm, around 70 percent, were a distant memory.
It took the Sochi Olympics to raise Putin’s numbers to their post-election level, and it took the Russian invasion of Ukraine to drive his rating past 70 percent again. Levada polls conducted in the second week of March show just how effective the state propaganda machine has been: A majority of Russians believe that Ukraine has no legitimate government, that Russian speakers in Ukraine are in danger and that blame for the crisis in Crimea lies squarely with Ukrainian nationalists. Only 6 percent of Russians are “definitely opposed” to a military invasion of Ukraine.
Historically, the idea that Russia is a country under siege, surrounded by enemies and constantly on the brink of catastrophe has been central to Russian politics in general and to Putin’s politics in particular. In its propaganda campaign against Ukraine, the Kremlin has employed images dating to World War II, including the swastika. As recently as last year, Russia was mobilized to fight gay men, lesbians and other “foreign agents.” The resulting composite is that of someone a Russian television viewer might call a fascist, a Westerner, a Ukrainian, an American or some combination of those things. To Russians, any and all of these terms are shorthand for “enemy” and “danger.”
Measures of public opinion in authoritarian countries are notoriously unreliable — not because the measure is necessarily inaccurate but because citizens in such a society are particularly sensitive and responsive to any shifts in power. Opinion can change on a dime. Putin intuitively senses this, which is why his anti-Ukrainian mobilization campaign has closely tracked with an all-out attack on what little independent media remain in Russia.
The last independent television channel, TV Dozhd, or TV Rain, is on the verge of closing after being dropped by most of its satellite and cable carriers. The owner of the largest online news and analysis outlet, Lenta.ru, summarily dismissed its longtime independent-minded editor in chief Wednesday; she was replaced with a Kremlin hand, and most of Lenta’s journalists quit in protest. Smaller online news outlets were rendered inaccessible by the Russian consumer authority, which now has power to shut down access to any Internet site. On Thursday, Russians discovered that three independent news-and-commentary sites were gone (though they could still be accessed outside of Russia). And because the consumer authority shut off access to the blog of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who was placed under house arrest two weeks ago, one of Russia’s most popular blogging platforms, LiveJournal.com, was rendered inaccessible. Russians devised ways to circumvent the Kremlin firewall and rushed to post instructions on social networks, certain that these, too, would soon be rendered inaccessible.
By silencing the last of his critics, Putin is staying a step ahead of the war game he has started. Still, the only way to continue shoring up his popularity is to escalate war rhetoric and the war effort. Putin will continue to succeed only by painting the Western/fascist/Ukrainian enemy as ever more dangerous and the Russian invasion of Ukraine as ever more important. This means he is not interested in a peaceful solution or, as some Western analysts have hopefully suggested, in an exit strategy that would allow him to “save face.” He needs the war in Ukraine to endure and spread. This is terrible news for Ukraine — and for Russia, which will grow only more isolated and impoverished.
3/15/2014 5:29 AM EST
Masha Gessen gets what so many in the West absoluteliy fail to understand about Russian and Soviet politics – the despot’s ever-present vulnerability and fear that some tiny aspect of life might get out of control and be used against him. The answer to that is to constantly create and sustain enemies, even where none exist. It used to be Jews, then counter-revolutionaries, Trotskyites, wreckers, fascists and now…weirder than anything, homosexuals. Ukrainians are just another flavor added to the stewpot. The point isn’t about history, but to keep society in a constant state of agitation, turmoil and front-line readiness. Popularity is highest at the moment the sirens blare.At the same time, all the phony signs of normality and prestige must be continued. A grandiose Olympics, followed by a fake Stalinist “referendum” where an outcome is decided long before “voters” arrive, and Russian-speaking soldiers without insignia patrol streets “preserving order” against nobody. The whole thing is meant to be a caricature – the stupider, the better. Putin has no interest in pursuing an exit ramp from any of this, it’s exactly what he wants.
A dirty little secret of US foreign policy on Crimea: there’s not much we can do
What the hell are the pundits and experts even arguing about? They’re arguing in circles around Obama’s very limited options
A dirty little secret of US foreign policy on Crimea: there’s not much we can do
Two weeks after Vladimir Putin seized Crimea, President Obama finally announced his response. He would hit the Russian president in the cronies.
A quartet of Obama administration officials, in a Monday morning conference call, announced the crony-busting potential of new U.S. sanctions:
“It creates the ability to target . . . what are commonly known as Russian government cronies.”
“Our current focus is to identify these cronies of the Russian government and target their personal assets and wealth.”
“We, of course, also have the so-called crony capacity under the second EO [executive order] as well.”
“The ability to sanction the cronies who provide support to the Russian government really gets at individuals who have dedicated significant resources in supporting President Putin.”
There were no fewer than seven mentions of cronies on the call. “WH Word of Day: ‘Cronies’ used so much in this sanctions conference call, it feels like they poll-tested reaction to it,” NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell tweeted during the call.
Poll-tested, perhaps. But did they reality-test it? Crony talk may sound strong to an American audience, but there’s little in the sanctions that would actually impair Putin’s cronies or punish Russia for its actions.
Russians seemed to be immune to Cronies Disease on Monday. In Moscow, stocks climbed nearly 4 percent, apparently on the belief that the U.S. sanctions, and similar ones announced by the European Union, weren’t as bad as feared. The ruble gained against the dollar and the euro.
The sanctions targeted the assets and activities of only seven Russian and four Ukrainian officials — and the list didn’t include Putin or the oligarchs who dominate Russia, such as Igor Sechin of the oil company Rosneft and Alexey Miller of Gazprom.
…The select few cronies who were targeted were targeted only gently. On the call, an official said they were going after the assets and wealth of “the individuals known as the cronies” and not the businesses they run.
The Obama administration “will not rule out taking additional steps in the future,” this unnamable official said. That’s a relief. Putin isn’t the type who will back down unless his cronies are really hurting.
MAX HASTINGS: Putin thinks the West is as weak as jelly. And the tragedy is he’s right
Unafraid: Kremlin supporters flood Red Square in celebration of the incorporation of Crimea into Russia
Brave talk: Foreign Secretary William Hague has condemned Putin, but Britain now commands little respect internationally
Accountant: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has overseen plans to slash the Armed Forces
Crumbling forces: Reductions in Armed Forces spending has left us less able to act