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March 14th 2014 print

Michael Galak

The Bitter Harvest Putin Has Sown

For the moment there has been no shooting, or not much of it. But nothing can be the same after Moscow's invasion of the Crimea, especially faith in the West's hollow promises to stand up to Russian aggression

putinWhy should I worry about the Crimea and Ukraine? Why does my heart ache when I hear of this ongoing madness? I keep telling myself that this is not my war — this is the family feud of two Slavic nations. True, I was born amongst Ukrainians and lived with Russians until I was 28, married a Russian girl, served my National Service in the Soviet Army and shared all the hardships of the totalitarian State.  

The perspective of bloodshed between these people, the perspective of these boys who speak and swear and love in the same language, fills my soul with horror. I am certain I am not the only one feeling this way – the bizarre spectacle of two armies wearing more or less the same uniforms and trying hard for the moment not to shoot at each other points to an abhorrence of bloodshed between brothers that is, for the moment, enduring.

Yet I also look at news footage of the distorted, hate-filled faces of the  “ultra-patriots” who are egging on the soldiers — and then I want to scream, ‘What are you doing, you idiots? These young boys could get killed!’ It is so easy to snuff out the little, precious, flickering flame of a human life. So easy and so irreversible. To my great relief, there have been mass demonstrations by Russians against  the invasion of Ukraine, despite the deluge of fever-pitch anti-Ukrainian propaganda.

Dr Michael Galak and his family came to Australia as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978

I do have an emotional attachment to that part of the world – one cannot completely forget the place of one’s birth. My horror, however, comes not only from the sentimental or humanistic. It stems from much more serious reasons — reasons which should concern us all.

Russia can and will get away with the naked aggression against a smaller and weaker nation. Nobody will risk a war with the nuclear-armed behemoth, save in an existential-threat situation. This is the ultimate reality. We all know that Obama is no JFK and the Crimea invasion no Cuban Missile Crisis. The White House incumbent, with his insistence on being loved at the expense of America’s friends and allies, is ideologically in the Jimmy Carter mould. The West, with its impotence, ageing and softening, is facing the predatory aspirations of the envious and hungry barbarian multitudes now swarming at the gates. No wonder those nations, like the Ukraine, which wish to become members of the weakening West are regarded as traitors and punished for the desire to become “better”.

All of this reminds me of the unique ritual I observed while working with street alcoholics. These unfortunates congregated around parks to drink in ritualised harmony, sometimes brawling or singing strange songs and acting as their intoxicated fancy prompted them. From time to time one of the park drinkers would declare his or her intention to quit drinking. The local tradition dictated that and drinking-school member who wished “to get on the wagon” should have a “last hurrah” with the group before doisappearing into a new and sober life. In practice it never happened because, inevitably, “the last hurrah” would see the aspirant to sobriety drink until anaesthetized, insensibly unconscious. Then, his drunk colleagues, outraged at his intention “to be better than us”, would shave half of his scalp. Being drunk, the amateur barbers would cut the unconscious man’s skin and there would be a lot of blood everywhere. Needless to say, these wounds needed suturing and the return to sobriety would be postponed indefinitely as a consequence. Looking back, what strikes me most is the resentment and the efforts of those who left behind in their drunken stupors to prevent those who sought to save themselves from succeeding.

Nobody should be fooled by the propagandist explanations of Putin’s aggression towards the Ukrainian. Those explanations are  disingenuous hogwash intended and specifically designed to  paint an aggressor as a knight in the shining armour, a hero riding fearlessly to the rescue.

Putin’s declarations about the need to protect the Crimea’s Russian-speaking ethnic minority — protection this population does not need — epitomes the most barefaced of politically motivated lies. Nobody oppresses Russian speakers in Ukraine: half of the country speaks Russian. A grotesque parody of a plebiscite under the barrel of the loaded Russian gun, designed to present Putin’s  Anschluss as legitimate, evokes memories of another plebiscite in Austria in 1938. Baseless Russian propaganda accusing Ukrainian rebels of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, violence and collusion with the perfidious and subversive West is simply untrue.

Actually, none of the above matters. Those pesky Ukrainians are “guilty” and need to be disciplined because they are weaker than the Russian Federation. That’s the only reason. As far as the Russian elite is concerned, Ukrainians are simply not allowed to freely choose an association with the EEU (and its Western values) over Mother Russia.

A Budapest Memorandum.

The sad irony is that Ukrainians could have been untouchable if, in 1994 during the break-up of the USSR, they weren’t so naïve and trusting.

Ther seminal document, signed in 1994 by the USA, Russia and UK, guaranteed the security, inviolability  and territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for that newly re-born nations giving up its nuclear weapons stockpile, the world’s third-largest at the time. Wishing to be a member in good standing of the world’s family of nations, Ukraine voluntarily disarmed itself. Putin’s naked aggression has been its reward. Here again we hear the echoes. Just like Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Poland in 1939 believed promises of the League of Nations, Great Britain and France.

Have we not learned anything from history?

The Russian invasion of Crimea is in direct breach of international treaties to which Russia is a signatory and presents a direct threat to the existence of an entire system of international treaties, diplomacy, guarantees and trust. Since the Russian Federation is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, its abrogation of the undertakings it gave demonstrates the absolute worthlessness of any security guarantees given by the UN Security Council.

The Russian invasion is a powerful warning to countries in the process of, or even contemplating, signing any treaties that involve security guarantees by Western democracies. This message is simple: possession of an arsenal of mass destruction has much more “throw weight”  than any treaty guaranteed by the West. Developments in the Ukraine will also embolden rogue states in their determination to cause mischief on a massive scale, knowing that there will be no repercussions. Countries such as North Korea in its arbitrary insanity, Iran with its nuclear delirium, Syria with its chemical showers, Somalia with its pirates, Lebanon with  Hezbollah, Turkey with its occupation of Cyprus and many other smaller but no less dangerous players were given a concrete lesson in politics of the dog-eats-dog variety. All of these psychopaths’ club members are really good pupils when it comes to aggression, violence and an utter contempt for a civilised behaviour. And it is these barbarians that watching and taking notes while massing at the West’s  gates.

Worst-case scenario.

Having pulled off its Ukrainian invasion and openly bent on restoring some semblance of the USSR, Putin will contemplate the other nearby targets. It is a chilling roster:

  • Lithuania, which has an outstanding record of resistance to the Soviet oppression,
  • Estonia and Latvia, which have sizeable Russian-speaking minorities
  • Georgia, which already has lost two of its provinces to Russia
  • Moldova, the population of which ethnically is indistinguishable from Romania;
  • Poland, which has never accepted the Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine
  • Romania, which still feels sore about the loss of Moldova

The list goes on and on, and every entry signifies conflict with NATO.

Having occupied the Crimea, Russia risks triggering a guerrilla war with the Crimea’s  Muslim Tartars, who number about 200 000. Such a guerrilla war would inevitably attract jihadis from all over the world. Turkey, being a close ethnic relation to the Crimea Tartars, might follow Moscow’s logic and decide that their brothers need protecting from the Russian oppression. Turks used this same argument when they occupied Northern Cyprus.

Incensed by the violation of their nation, Ukrainians might well start a guerrilla war of their own, and they have had a good deal of experience at it. The insurgency against the Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine was finally suppressed only in the early Sixties.

Western countries might impose embargoes on the Russian Federation, freeze bank assets of the Russian kleptocrats and cut off educational, scientific and personal contacts. Because the Russian economy utterly depends on the sale of natural resources, if these measures were to succeed and devastate the Russian economy, we could reasonably expect social instability, riots and, perhaps, collapse. The country’s elite, threatened by such destabilisation, might see advantages in declaring an economic war, or even a shooting one, with any nation that happens to be a convenient a target.

Those possibilities remain, for the moment, hypothetical. If only Russia had left the Ukraine in peace the world would not have to contemplate the possibility that any and all of those dire developments are but one false move away.