Saturday, February 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: No Longer a Question -- ‘Russia has Opened a Crimean Front’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – In September 2013, a Ukrainian journalist asked whether Russia would open “a Crimean front” as part of Moscow’s effort to defeat the Maidan and its European aspirations. Yesterday, the same journalist published an article with a headline that dropped the question mark and suggested that Russia already has.

            In her new article, Valentina Samar says she has changed the title from a question to an assertion because “experts [now] see all the preconditions for Russia’s adoption of a ‘Georgian scenario’ in Crimea” and because there is clear evidence that “it is already being carried out” (

            She points out that despite the failure of Kyiv to attend to this, Moscow launched its drive to block Ukraine from choosing Europe and to ensure that Ukraine would be part of its Eurasian space well before the Vilnius summit. “But history did not end” with that, and “the triumphal march of Vladimir Putin across the world continues.”

            Moreover, Samar says, “unlike Ukrainian politicians, [Putin] is not planning for half-measures.”

            The methods the Kremlin “has used and will use in the future” are trade wars, the development of ‘a fifth column’ within the countries it wants to subordinate, and “as they say in Tbilisi, “the borderization of seized places des armes,” Samar says.  With regard to Ukraine, Moscow has already done the first, is doing the second, and is setting the stage for the third.

            A week ago in the same paper, she notes, Andreas Umland described what Russian “humanitarian intervention” in Ukraine and called on the European Union to prevent Moscow from launching a Georgian scenario in Ukraine in general (

            The dangers he pointed to are already very much in evidence in Crimea, a place where Russian intervention is easier and cheaper than anywhere else because of the presence of the Russian naval base from which provocations can be launched and of the complicated history of the region, a history that Moscow will use to present itself as the only force available to end the inter-ethnic conflict it is provoking and to defend the world from “Islamic terrorists.”

            Until recently, Samar says, “such a scenario in Crimea was impossible for several reasons.” First, no one had given the order for it to take place. Second, many in Crimea are aware of the dangers of provocations and guard against them. And third, “politicians knew the limit which they must not cross.”

            A particularly important role in this regard has been played by the Crimean Tatars who have acted “in essence as the main Ukrainians in Crimea,” the Ukrainian journalist says.

            Although she acknowledges that she does not know “whether among the secret agreements between Putin and Yanukovich is a provisioin for the voluntary surrender of Crimea,” Samar says that “in fact today that is what appears to be the case” because “things are taking palce which for long years were impossible.”

            Not just the statements of Russian politicians likeYuri Luzhkov, Konstantin Zatulin, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky but the actions of Russian nationalists in Crimea itself all point in that direction, the journalist suggests, detailing many of the latter over the last several weeks and months.

            She then adds that “in general, if [Ukrainian President] Viktor Yanukovich thinks that [all these actions] are being undertaken in his defense and in defense of his wise policy, then he is quite mistaken,” as are those in the leadership of the Crimean Autonomy who continue to support Yanukovich.

            In reality, Samar argues, “everything which is taking place today in Ukraine is not or the salvation of Yanukovich but for his final subordination and the weakening of Ukraine.”

            One reason for particular concern are the reports that Vladimir Surkov, the Kremlin’s man for South Osetia and Abkhazia is now involved with Ukraine, recently visited Crimea and spoke with leaders of the Crimean Autonomy, nominally only about a brich across the Kerch straits but in fact about the introduction of more Russian personnel onto the peninsula, something for which a bridge project could provide the perfect cover.

            “Is this a fantasy?” Samar asks rhetorically. “In no way,” she says. It is “a classic move” which Surkov who as a young man served in the spetsnaz of the GRU and who later worked as a KGB officer in Scandinavia and Africa.  He would certainly understand that “the legend of ‘a bridge of friendship’” would give Moscow the change to move people, money, and equipment into Crimea with few questions asked until it was too late.

            Moreover, as the recent comments about instability there by Sergey Glazyev, another Putin aide, make clear, Moscow can talk about the need for security to allow it to continue to make investments and thus set the stage for it to provide such security in Crimea if the Ukrainians cannot.

            Many in Russia and some in Ukraine talk about “giving Crimea to the Tatars.”  But most Tatars understand that given their share of the population, this is a provocation designed to give control of the peninsula not to them but to Russia. Mustafa Dzhemilyev has said that in terms, as have his successors.

            Despite that, there are concerns, Samar says, that the Russians may be trying to play with some of the Crimean Tatars. So far, the leadership has held firm, refusing to meet with Surkov about Russian “assistance” unless that assistance is for Ukraine rather than a device to work against its interests and theirs.

                “One doesn’t want even to think” that Ukraine might have to experience its own updated version of the Russian invasion Georgians suffered in August 2008 in order to be “finally cured” from any desire to move in Moscow’s direction, Samar says.  The Crimean Tatars are helping, but precisely because they are, their assistance to Ukraine will now carry a price. 

Ukrainians who have not always helped the Crimean Tatars in the past, the journalist says, need to ask themselves about that as well even they face from Moscow what is no longer a question about the fate of their country.

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