I visited the Ukraine briefly at the beginning of 2012 and at the beginning of 2013. So I am interested in the ongoing and currently escalating crisis there.
On 23rd February 2014 – just over a week ago – the new Ukrainian government abolished the “law on languages of minorities” including Russian – making Ukrainian the sole state language.
On 26th February, highly-armed pro-Russian paramilitaries appeared in the Crimea.
On 28th February, Russia in effect invaded the Crimea and took over key buildings and areas.
Yesterday, I was sent a long analysis of the ongoing situation by a Ukrainian academic. There were two interesting parts which do not seem to have been covered in UK news reports.
Apparently advisors who were once close to Russia’s President Putin (e.g. Andrey Illarionov) say that, after the 2004 Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, Putin became obsessed (my word) by the very real threat of a domino effect of further revolution in post-Soviet states, particularly in the Ukraine.
Seen from this viewpoint, the overthrow of Ukraine’s President Yanukovich could escalate into a very real threat to the inviolability of authoritarian rule in (what Putin sees as) the entire Soviet region. Throughout the recent ‘second Orange Revolution’ in Kiev, the Russian media not surprisingly focussed on discrediting everything connected to it – claiming the ‘revolutionaries’ were neo-Fascists etc.
But less well reported in the West was the fact that Russian intellectuals were increasingly vocal in their support and (according to what I was sent yesterday) in St Petersburg and Moscow these ‘intellectuals’ began asking: “If the Khakhly (a derogatory term for Ukrainians) can do it, why can’t we?”
Thus, arguably, the risk of a domino effect has become even more of a potential danger to Russia itself and even more threatening to Putin’s position.
The other (from my TV viewing) under-reported fact is the Moslem factor.
It is complicated enough that Western Ukraine tends to be Ukrainian-speaking, Eastern Ukraine tends to be Russian-speaking and yet a lot of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians see themselves as totally Ukrainian and do not want to be controlled by Russia. It is complicated enough that Crimea used to be part of Russia itself.
But then there are the Tatars.
According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, the Crimean population is roughly made up of 58% ethnic Russians, 24% ethnic Ukrainians and 12% ethnic Tatars.
The Tatars were deported from the Crimea by Stalin after the Second World War and only allowed to return after Ukraine’s independence in 1991.
One of the leaders of this ethnic group apparently spoke at a demonstration in Kiev on Sunday and, as translated, he said that, if a single drop of Moslem Tatar blood is spilt in Crimea, Red Square in Moscow will become true to its name. “By starting a war in Crimea, Mr. Putin,” he apparently said, “you are starting a war against all Moslems in your own country. It will be your end. Crimean Tatars are not fundamentalists, but the Islamic faith promotes significant solidarity among its believers.”
This is a very complicated situation.
It is one of the times I feel sorry for politicians trying to problem solve.