There is an avalanche of information demonizing both Putin and Russia and painting them as aggressors. Aside from various statements by those who apparently still live, and live happily, in the Cold War, such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Fox News analysts, and neoconservatives, there are those who offer objective and balanced analysis of events in Ukraine. Among these include former U.S. National Security Council officials Tom Graham and Jack Matlock, Columbia University professor Robert Legvold as well as National Interest publisher Dimitri Simes. But there aren’t many. Unfortunately, officials sometimes also partake in that sorry attempt, compounding the efforts of experts and journalists. McCain showed himself to be a buffoon even earlier—when he believed that Pravda is still the main paper of the Russian government. This is a telling indicator of the low level of knowledge and understanding of what is happening in Russia.
Unfortunately, clueless and pernicious claims concerning Russia were also made by Secretary of State John Kerry. He demonstrated that he too lives in another dimension by discussing Russian actions (when Russian military personnel were likely moving around Crimea) as a ninteenth-century policy in the twenty-first century. He easily forgot that the U.S. has been engaging in exactly such policy all the time, both in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. People are obviously turning schizophrenic: they judge some actions by one set of criteria, while they totally forget their own such as American actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Obama’s advisers also misled him, talking about an “invasion” where there was none at all. By treaty, Russia has the right to place 25,000 of its own soldiers on Ukrainian territory in Crimea. By my own count (I spoke with people from Sevastopol), Crimea now has a little over 10,000 military personnel from Russia. This means Russia can send 15,000 more perfectly legally. And it’s perfectly understandable that various military personnel were moving around the peninsula.
The actions of the Russian personnel even when blocking Ukrainian garrisons were also in accordance with the negotiated norms between Russia and the new Crimean authorities and with the legitimate President Viktor Yanukovich. Crimea is still the home of people who disagree with the Kiev cutthroats in power, whose first act was to ban the law on regional languages, thus putting the Russian language and Russians outside of law, in addition to threatening to destroy their autonomy and the Russian fleet. Russians in the East and Southeast of Ukraine are basically deprived of the right to protect their own interests.
As concerns Eastern Ukraine, here the situation is more serious. The East will want, at a minimum, federalization. What level of autonomy these regions will gain can only be determined after a legitimate government is formed in Kiev.
This will be a true exit from the crisis without civil war and without violence, but should there all of a sudden be mad attempts from the West or from Kiev to impose their own views and order on the pro-Russian territories with force, they will receive a very strong rebuff. In such a scenario Russia will not remain in the sidelines, because it will be exactly the scenario for which Putin asked the Federation Council to authorize military force in Ukraine—to check a threat to the lives and security of the Russian citizens and Russian-speaking population in Ukraine.
Who Won, Who Lost
We can say that the Ukrainian West and the West as a whole lost in Ukraine. After the Orange Revolution in 2005, I was the only Russian analyst who, to the bafflement of many in Russia, Ukraine and in the West, said unequivocally that while Presidents win elections with the support of the East and the South, this prevents the mobilization of those regions to their own ends. Leonid Kuchma and Leonid Kravchuk understood how dangerous it is to make quick moves while you’re dealing with such an unstable state in which there are two distinct cultures, two languages, and two separate countries in terms of history. I warned even then that it was better to have Viktor Yushchenko than Viktor Yanukovich in power, because Yushchenko was after all a predictable if radical politician. He would come with radicals from the West who, once in power, would lead to the breakup of the country. While Kiev looked like it held legitimacy, the precarious balance was preserved. We need to note that indeed the true dream of the Westerners in Ukraine should have been to keep Yanukovich in power because he was a guarantor of stability and the preservation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The arrival in power of radicals and nationalists, especially via illegitimate means, is, of course, the collapse of the Ukrainian state.
This is what allowed Crimea to do what Crimeans themselves, as well as the protectors of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, could not have dreamed of earlier. The collapse of legitimacy in Kiev allowed Crimea to elect its own mayor of Sevastopol and its own Prime Minister in Simferopol, who are de facto pro-Russian. These regions received an opportunity to be truly independent, which is what the coming referendum will be about. This allows for the Crimean authorities to not recognize Kiev’s legitimacy, which is indeed done in accordance with the law and the Constitution. The coup perpetrators chased out the legitimately elected President Yanukovich and violated agreements guaranteed by the recognition of the Polish, German, and French ministers of foreign affairs.
In addition, the events in Crimea helped inspire Russians and Russian speakers in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lugansk, Dnepropetrovsk, and Odessa, and of course, allowed these cities to press for a federation. The level of federalization between these cities on the one hand and Kiev on the other will be the subject of intense negotiations because the Russian and Russian speaking population dominating in these Eastern and Southern cities wants to have a decisive say in their own governance, and in what language they use, what books they read, and what media they watch.
As a result of all this, Western Ukraine and the West, which, unfortunately, supported, stimulated, and helped the entire process, suffered a crushing defeat. They did not even understand that the downfall of Yanukovich will be the downfall of Ukraine’s territorial unity and with their own hands they set their house on fire, and set a time bomb on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The Road Out of the Crisis
No one will stop Crimea from holding a referendum, after which it will be its own independent unit, which has already stated that it will negotiate its own relations with Kiev. The new treaty will likely legitimize Crimea’s own military forces, its own foreign ministry, and its own governing institutions for which it will hold elections. They may still preserve some symbolic relations with Kiev. And Eastern Ukraine will embark upon a new road as well. It may be emotionally satisfying for western politicians to denounce these events, but Russia will continue to pursue its legitimate national interests.
Andranik Migranyan is the director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York, which works closely with the Russian presidential administration. He is also a professor at the Institute of International Relations in Moscow, a former member of the Public Chamber and a former member of the Russian Presidential Council.