Thursday, March 27, 2014

How the West Brought About the Crisis in #Ukraine

Via Julia Ioffe on Twitter, this is fascinating.

At the New York Times, "In Crimea, Russia Moved to Throw Off the Cloak of Defeat":

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea — With a single diesel-electric submarine and a hodgepodge of other aging vessels, Russia’s rickety Black Sea Fleet would be no match for the United States’ Sixth Fleet, based in Italy, which boasts the latest in seaborne military technology and has been running drills nearby.

Still, the legendary Russian fleet, whose headquarters have been here since 1783, is within a day’s sailing of the Mediterranean and remains crucial to the Kremlin’s ability to exert strategic influence in the Middle East and beyond.

Safeguarding this maritime muscle may well have been one reason President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent armed forces to seize Crimea. But is it possible that the Sevastopol base is just the most concrete manifestation of Russia’s deep interests in Ukraine that the United States and its NATO allies either ignored or forgot as they tried to bind it more tightly with the West?

For years, Mr. Putin has complained about the West moving unilaterally to reorder the Continental balance of power — promoting Western capitalism and democracy — with little indication anyone was heeding his concerns. Its courting of Ukraine, apparently, was a step too far, prompting Mr. Putin to risk sanctions and the worst conflict since the Cold War to make clear that Washington and its friends do not call all of the shots anymore.

The annexation here, and the Russian troops still massed on the border of eastern Ukraine, seem a clear and sharp message from Mr. Putin that the future of Ukraine and the broader region, especially Moldova and Georgia, which are also being courted by Europe, will not be decided by the West alone.

“For 23 years after 1991, Russia has been treated consciously or subconsciously as defeated in the Cold War,” said Dmitry Kosyrev, a writer and political commentator with the RIA Novosti news agency in Moscow. “Russia has not accepted this mentality. We have something to say. We have not only interest, but experience. We are not a defeated country in the Cold War; we are something separate like India, like China.”

Mr. Kosyrev added, “Not talking to us, not accepting our point of view, that’s exactly what brought Europe and the United States to the crisis in Ukraine.”

The Obama administration and European leaders, of course, insist that it is Russia and Mr. Putin who acted aggressively and unilaterally, refusing to hear the view of Ukrainian citizens who took to the streets of Kiev in November after the president at the time, Viktor F. Yanukovych, broke his promise to sign political and trade accords with the European Union.

The contest for influence in Ukraine, long torn between Russia and the West, stretches back much further than last autumn. It is part of a wider tug-of-war that the West had dominated since the fall of the Soviet Union, drawing into Europe’s fold not just former Eastern bloc nations like Poland and Bulgaria, but the ex-Soviet republics — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — in the Baltics.

Mr. Putin and many Russians believe that the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev had received assurances that the NATO alliance would not extend beyond a reunited Germany. They consider it a betrayal that NATO now includes the Baltics, reaching Russia’s borders — a point that Mr. Putin stressed in his speech announcing the annexation of Crimea.

“They have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact,” Mr. Putin said. “This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They kept telling us the same thing: ‘Well, this does not concern you.’ That’s easy to say.”