Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Moscow Again Makes Expansive Claims to Large Parts of Arctic Ocean



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – Moscow’s occupation and annexation of Crimea has attracted enormous attention and much criticism, but its efforts to get the international community to declare a much larger area of the Arctic Ocean Russian coastal waters and thus an exclusion zone have not.

            That may be about to change. Moscow has just filed a revised request with the International Commission on Continental Shelf Boundaries, a UN body, and asked that the commission grant Russian the right to an economic exclusion zone in the Arctic far beyond the current 350 miles from its shores (tass.ru/politika/2162910).

                The Russian government made a similar request in 2001, but after three years of study and controversy with the other Arctic powers – Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States – the commission rejected that application. Now, on what it says is new research over the last decade, Moscow is applying again.

            The Russian argument is that various undersea mountains and plateaus are part of its continental shelf and therefore naturally part of its coastal waters. But the other Arctic powers and others, including China, have disputed that, arguing that these subsea features are separate and independent from any continental shelf.

            Two things make this case especially serious now. On the one hand, investigations carried out by each of the five Arctic countries suggest that about 30 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves and 15 percent of its oil are under the Arctic Sea. If Russia gains control over a large part of the Arctic, that will have significant economic and political consequences.

            And on the other, global warming means that the Northern Sea route from Asia to Europe via the Arctic Ocean is now open for a much longer time each year than was the case only a decade ago. How it will develop depends in important ways as to whether it remains an international waterway with free passage for all or Russian coastal waters Moscow will control.

            Moscow’s original request included not only areas in the Arctic Ocean but also the Sea of Okhotsk, but this one does not because Moscow has already won on that point. In March 2014, the UN agreed to recognize that sea between Kamchatka and the Russian mainland as Russian waters, something that Moscow has used to squeeze out Chinese, Korean and Japanese fishing.

            The Russian application says that Russia has held consultations with three of the four other Arctic powers but not with the US. It adds that Moscow will hold talks with the US as well “after the adoption by the Commission of the recommendations according to the filing of the Russian Federation.”

            In another move to put pressure on the UN and its member countries to agree to its request, Moscow says that it has included this issue on the preliminary agenda for the next UN General Assembly meeting this fall, a meeting Vladimir Putin will attend and address, according to the Kremlin.


Moscow’s Claims of ‘Historic Right’ to Crimea Don’t Stand Up, Popov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – The second of the eight myths Vladimir Putin has propounded to justify his illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea is that Russia has “a historic right” to this territory, a claim sometimes is made in terms of law, sometimes in terms of ethno-national characteristics, and sometimes in terms of “the sacred.”

            But Moscow historian Arkady Popov says none of these claims stands up to close examination. And in a heavily-footnoted 7400-word article in “Novyye izvestiya” today, he demolishes them (html/www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=28299). (Popov’s project and his destruction of the first Putin myth is discussed at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/07/none-of-eight-myths-in-putins-crimea-is.html).

            The Kremlin’s legal arguments with respect to the annexation of Crimea are especially specious and problematic.  They are based on the notion that Russia is the single legal successor of the USSR which in turn was the single successor of the Russian Empire, neither of which is true, Popov points out.

            But more important, he says, is that legal succession is not the basis for borders. “Borders of contemporary states legally are in force to the extent that these states are recognized in these borders as members of the United Nations” and “all its members.” Russia recognized Ukraine’s borders on that basis, in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, and in the friendship treat of 1999.

            Putin acts as if he is unaware of this and has declared that since a revolution occurred in Kyiv, its borders were up for grabs as far as Russia is concerned. He even said that “with this state and in relationship to this state, we have not signed any documents imposing such requirements.” That is a strange declaration for someone trained in law.

            The Kremlin leader must be aware that a revolution occurred in the USSR at the end of 1991, “but not one state in the world thought as a result of this to cast doubt on the borders of the RSFSR which became the borders of the Russian Federation.”  And he must know that the 1917 Russian revolution was “more illegal and bloody than the February 2014 revolution in Ukraine.”

            If as Putin says Ukraine “lost its rights to its territories” after the Maidan, then what does that mean for Russia and the territories it has incorporated or claims?

            The second part of what Putin presents as the legal argument for the annexation of Crimea is “the ethno-national version,” Popov says.  According to it, “Russia, being ‘a nation state of the Russians’ has the right to Crimea because Crimea ‘always was populated in the main by Russians.’”

            It simply happened, this Kremlin version of reality continues, that after the disintegration of the USSR, Crimea and Novorossiya “fell into that part of ‘the divided Russian nation’ which turned out to be beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, and that this historic injustice must be corrected.”

            But the Russian Federation is not, as Putin seems to imagine, a state formed by the ethnic Russians. “The Russian people, as an ethnos, as a combination of people speaking Russian and considering themselves Russian do not form any nation.” Whatever Putin has been told, “a nation in the contemporary understanding is a civic community of all the citizens of a state.”

            Before the Anschluss, “the national state for the majority of the residents of Crimea was Ukraine” because the majority of them had Ukrainian citizenship. Arguing otherwise suggests one has adopted the latest iteration of the barbaric doctrine of blood and soil, one that leads to “xenophobia, militarism, obscurantism, and a leader cult.”

            That the Russian nation state in Putin’s understanding absorbed Crimea “without significant bloodletting and without ethnic cleansing,” Popov continues, keeps this action from being justly called “Nazi-like.”  But those who celebrate it forget that “the idea of ‘the assembly of lands’ is a dangerous one.”

            Finally, the third aspect of the “historic” argument about Crimea is the sacral one. It was articulated by Putin in his December 2014 address to the Federal Assembly during which he asserted that Crimea has “particular importance not only because ‘in Crimea live our people’ … and not only because ‘the territory itself is strategically important’ … but because ‘namely here was the spiritual source of the formation of the multifaceted but monolithic Russian nation and the centralized Russian state.”

            Such assertions are possible only if one does not know history and only if one acts as if the meaning of “Russian” has not changed over time.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, “Russian” referred to everything and everyone in the empire. It was thus “a political attribute,” even though some began to give it a more narrow ethnic reading.

            In the 20th century, that changed, Popov says. “The Russian language began to be called only that language which had been called Great Russian and correspondingly the ethnonym ‘Russians’ became attached only to its bearers, the former Great Russians.” At the same time, and thanks to the Soviet period, the political meaning of the term largely disappeared.

            “Ignoring these distinctions infuriates representatives of the non-titular ethnoses, and one can understand why. Russian citizens of Kazakhstan don’t like it when they are called Kazakhs. They are Kazakhstantsy but not Kazakhs. And in exactly the same way, Tatar and Yakut citizens of Russia should not be described as Russians: they are ‘rossiyane’ but not Russians. They are Tatars and Yakuts.”

            Putin and the “Crimea is Ours” people ignored this evolution and “use the word” as if it had one unchanging meaning.  They also ignore the fact that Crimea did not have a Russian plurality until 1939 or a Russian majority until after the war, the result of Nazi ethnic cleansing and Soviet deportation.

            “As we see,” Popov continues, “facts and statistics do not confirm the ‘Russian from time immemorial’ model of Crimea.”  Ethnic Russians became predominant only very late – and with methods that one can hardly approve of.  And the peninsula’s status has had little to do with Russia most of its history.

            It was annexed by the tsarist empire only in 1783. After 1917, it was part of the RSFSR only 36 years, 24 years less than it has been part of Ukraine (38 years while Ukraine was the Ukrainian SSR and 22 years after it became an independent state.). The Krymnashi act as if only one period is worth noting.

            Their arguments in support of that notion are simply wrong, Popov concludes.

Moscow Mulling ‘Nuclear Provocation’ Against Ukraine, Kyiv Analyst Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – To overcome the stalemate on the ground and to get itself out of the diplomatic corner it has painted itself into by vetoing the UN Security Council resolution on the Malaysian airliner tribunal, Moscow appears to be planning an act of “nuclear provocation” against Ukraine so as to turn the tables on Kyiv and the West, according to a Ukrainian analyst.

            On Khvylya.net, Sergey Klimovsky argues that Moscow is now in a position where one must “consider seriously” the possibility that Russia will try to organize a small nuclear explosion possibly of a dirty bomb that it would be able to place the blame on Ukraine (hvylya.net/analytics/geopolitics/pochemu-ugrozu-yadernogo-udara-so-storonyi-rossii-po-ukraine-nuzhno-rassmatrivat-serezno.html).

            The Ukrainian military and its supporters have forced the Kremlin from launching a direct invasion this summer, Klimovsky says, and their firmness have led the Russian side to shift from hybrid war to a more normal kind and “to go from attack to active defense.” But that clearly is not sufficient from Moscow’s point of view.

            For any breakthrough to happen, he continues, Russia will need more fighters and more technology, especially since the shift from hybrid to regular war threatens to make it into a world conflict.  Technically, Russia is “more or less” prepared for this. But “psychologically, the Russian federation is not ready for such a war,” and so the Kremlin is trying to remedy that.

            Russian military flights over the Baltic and Europe are not only acts designed to intimidate the West, Klimovsky says, they are intended to make Russians accustomed to the idea that “their army can bomb something in Europe and that from this is required the expression of 100 percent approval of the party, government and bombers.”

            That this is what is going on was suggested by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Kremlin’s “covert mouthpiece,” in comments on July 31. He called for renaming the Russian Federation the Russian Army, promised to put “half the world on its knees,” and assured Russians that Turks would give them massages and Italians would cook them spaghetti.

            His words were warmly supported by his audience almost to Putinesque levels, Klimovsky says.

            The next day, “The Times” of London carried a story entitled “Ukraine rebels ‘building dirty bomb’ with Russian scientists” (thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4514313.ece). Its source was the Ukrainian intelligence service, and the DNR hastened to respond with a non-denial denial: a bunker with radioactive waste exists there, but no one is working with it.

            That wasn’t enough so then propagandists for the Russian-occupied areas suggested that the US was preparing a nuclear bomb there and planning to use it against the Russians in the Donbas.  Such absurdities are the norm in Russia’s info war, Klimovsky says, “but the threat of a nuclear terrorist act on the occupied portion of the Donbas and in Rostov oblast is real.”

            The reason for that is “Churkin’s veto at the UN” on a resolution calling for a tribunal about the Malaysian airliner. Having cast it, Russia in effect “admitted that its forces shot down the passenger jet. If the Russian Federation had not been involved, then it would have supported the creation of the tribunal.”

            Having landed in this position, Klimovsky says, “the Kremlin had to immediately create someone who could be called a greater terrorist than Russia.” A terrorist act in Africa wouldn’t have been enough to end the opprobrium visited on Moscow but an attack supposedly orchestrated by “’the bloody junta from Kyiv” again Russians would be “convincing.”

            “A nuclear strike on the Donbas” would cause people to forget about the tribunal and would be used by Moscow to “justify its annexation of Crimea.” The Russian side would claim that “Kyiv apparently had not given up its nuclear arms” and “therefore Russia had done the right thing by seizing Crimea since Ukraine itself had violated the Budapest agreement.”

            The most probable places where such an incident could be carried out and then blamed on the Ukrainians are Debaltsevo, Shirokino and Gorlovka.  The first, where a train brought “an important cargo” on July 30 that required guards, would work because it is near Ukrainian lines and the total population is much smaller because many have left.

             A thousand casualties from such an explosion would be enough for Moscow to begin talking about “a new Hiroshima.” And of course, “the Kremlin would be very happy if the wind would carry the radiation from an explosion further into Ukraine.” It might even arrange to have this happen on August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day.

            The other two sites would also serve, Shirokino because it would reduce Russian losses in an eventual attack on Mariupol and Gorlovka because a nuclear explosion there could set up a series of chemical explosions. The number of victims all that would cause make it perhaps “the most suitable candidate for Hiroshima-2,” as Russia Today would undoubtedly claim.

            Right now, Klimovsky says, “three things can prevent a [Russian-orchestrated] nuclear terrorist act in Donbas:” the creation of a UN tribunal on the downing of the Malaysian aircraft, the introduction of UN peacekeepers into the Donbas, and the winds which normally at this time of year would carry any radioactive cloud into Russia.

            For the time being, the Khvylya.net commentator concludes, “the winds are the most reliable means.”