Monday, March 17, 2014

Daily Times Editorial March 18, 2014

Crimea votes The people of Crimea have spoken. In a referendum held on Sunday to decide whether the peninsula should join Russia or go back to the 1992 constitution that effectively made Crimea an autonomous region within Ukraine, 93 percent of Crimea’s 1.5 million voters plumped for joining Russia. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has vowed to respect the vote. The west, however, with the US and European Union in the lead, has indicated sanctions against Russia would follow. After the horse has bolted, US Secretary of State John Kerry tried to shut the stable door by demanding that Russia pull back its forces to their bases in Crimea in return for constitutional reforms in Ukraine to protect minority rights. The European Union was meeting yesterday (Monday) to decide on sanctions against Russia that could include the possible seizure of the foreign assets of top Kremlin officials and travel bans for senior ministers. What was conspicuous by its absence was any mention of the issue of Russian gas supplies, on which the European Union is critically dependent. If Russia’s riposte to the threatened sanctions, described by Russia’s Deputy Economy Minister Alexei Likhachev as ‘symmetrical’, is forthcoming, the first issue that could arise is precisely these gas supplies. Of course this is a double-edged sword, since Russia too will lose its gas revenues if it cuts off supplies. The west has forced Russia’s hand by backing and supporting the government that is in power in Kiev because of street protests that turned violent and led to the flight from Ukraine of former president Viktor Yanukovich. This government has within its ranks neo-fascists and sundry other ‘luverly’ characters. It has been widely rejected by the people of Crimea who are overwhelmingly Russian speaking, as well as the predominantly Russian speaking east of the country. In the east’s major city Donetsk, pro-Russian protestors have come out against the authorities, demanding the release of their self-appointed governor. Whether this portends the further break up of Ukraine is too early to say. But the provocative actions of western-backed protestors who overthrew Yanukovich in a street coup evoked the inherent ethnic and linguistic divide in Ukraine, with Russian origin citizens rejecting the government in Kiev amidst fears for their safety and future. Meanwhile Russian and Ukrainian forces in Crimea that have been in a state of eyeball-to-eyeball standoff since the crisis broke have reached a temporary ‘truce’ to lift the blockade around Ukrainian bases. The agreement however, is reportedly being implemented patchily, which highlights the continuing tense situation in the peninsula despite the overwhelming result of the referendum. The US-led west is culpable for provoking crises and conflict in an ill-advised campaign of regime change in countries that traditionally proved a thorn in the sides of western interests (Iraq, Libya and Syria come readily to mind). In the ex-Soviet countries on Russia’s periphery (the ‘near abroad’ as it has been dubbed), the west has been fanning unrest through the so-called ‘colour’ revolutions in the past and trying to wean these countries away by subversion and coercion from Russia’s orbit. NATO was even contemplating deploying missiles on Russia’s borders, ostensibly aimed at Iran (which hardly threatens the west), but logically raising a threat perception in Moscow. All this subversive activity is the west’s mistaken notion that after the Cold War ended with the implosion of the Soviet Union, the path was clear for reordering the world according to western preferences. Though they may have succeeded in the regime change military interventions in Iraq and Libya, the campaign has since seen setbacks in Syria and now Ukraine. The hypocrisy of the west in rejecting the right of the people of Crimea to self-determination is exposed by their forcible breaking away of Kosovo from Serbia, precisely through a referendum! Clearly, in the western capitals, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. This dangerous interventionist adventurism in the post-Cold War world is inflammatory, unwise and potentially laden with the prospects of wider conflict and a new cold war. The good news is that large parts of the non-western world are waking up to the malign designs of the west and digging their heels in against further adventures. That may still be the best hope of persuading the west to cease and desist from its provocations.

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