Staunton, March 13 – Like the KGB officer he once was and in many respects still remains, Vladimir Putin is using the Crimean crisis he created not only for the purposes he claims but also to advance under the cover of that crisis other goals that may be equally important to him but that won’t be affected by ongoing Western efforts to “solve” the crisis.
In this, neither he nor Western governments are doing anything new. In 1999, for example, Putin re-launched Russia’s war in Chechnya, a move many in the West criticized, but at the same time, he began imposing ever more authoritarian policies in other spheres, policies that because of the war in the North Caucasus few in the West focused on.
Then in 2008, when Putin invaded Georgia, again an action many in the West condemned, the Russian president further “tightened the screws” at home – his language, no one else’s – but was able to escape the kind of criticism that he might have received had he done so in the absence of his self-manufactured Georgian crisis.
The same thing is happening once again: Putin is shifting Russia backwards to an even uglier and more authoritarian past, and the West is focused almost exclusively on Crimea and how it should react to that latest Putin crime rather than examining the broader agenda of the KGB officer in the Kremlin.
There are some exceptions, but they deserve to be better known. Some involve asking the question: “Now that Putin has moved in Crimea, where will he move next?” Others focus on the return of such “survivals of the Soviet past” as lists of artists and writers declaring their support for Putin and discussions of “bourgeois nationalism” among Ukrainians (regnum.ru/news/polit/1777202.html
But most of these articles, as important as they are in documenting what is happening while the world is watching Crimea, fail to connect the dots and thus provide a picture of where Putin is headed and why those who are trying to address the “Crimean crisis” in isolation may be falling into yet another trap the Kremlin leader has prepared.
A useful exception to this pattern is provided by Liliya Shevtsova, a senior scholar at the Moscow Carnegie Center, in an interview she gave to VOA yesterday that has been reposted on Ekho Moskvy (golosameriki.ru/content/ukraine-parlament-crimea-russia/1866429.html and echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1277656-echo/
Moscow’s approach in and to Crimea, Shevtsova says, violates international law, including agreements Moscow has signed and introduces into the 21st century the practice of Anchlusses from the 20th. Today, the Kremlin is acting according to the same logic Hitler used in demanding the cession of the Sudetenland because there were ethnic Germans there.
Not only does this violate the rules that had been established over the last two decades about security in Europe and Eurasia, but it throws Russia and the world back to “the communist and Soviet period of development” when Moscow arrogated to itself the right to act as it wanted without regard to international law or the rights and interests of its own citizens.
By taking such actions, Putin is “destroying all the foundations of the new order by threatening not only the basic principles of its relations with the world but by transforming itself into a revanchist and possibly outlaw state. Even Russia’s allies in the Eurasian and customs union – Belarus and Kazakhstan -- clearly do not support Putin’s initiative.”
Those in the West who are already talking about the need to “look beyond Crimea” are only deceiving themselves and in a way that Putin can only be pleased about, because they have fallen into the trap of failing to see that Crimea is about more than Crimea. It is about the kind of world everyone – including the Russians --will be in if Putin gets away with aggression there.