Putin Reclaims Crimea for Russia and Bitterly Denounces the West
Posted on MARCH 18, 2014
Kanwal Abidi *** Political Commentator & Journalist
Editors Note: A new phase has begun between Russia and America: 25 years of assurances that the Cold War is over and that the United States and Russia are no longer enemies is ending with an open political confrontation over Ukraine. Washington's has imposed "sanctions against Russia" which threaten to radically change not only the atmosphere of relations but also the nature of their cooperation. For the last year or two, this cooperation has basically been forced anyway, where it was impossible to avoid it — Syria, Afghanistan and Iran. There has been no other agenda since the New START Treaty was ratified and Russia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).
MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin reclaimed Crimea as a part of Russia on Tuesday, reversing what he described as a historic injustice inflicted by the Soviet Union 60 years ago and brushing aside international condemnation that could leave Russia isolated for years to come.
In an emotional address steeped in years of resentment and bitterness at perceived slights from the West, Mr. Putin made it clear that Russia’s patience for post-Cold War accommodation, much diminished of late, had finally been exhausted. Speaking to the country’s political elite in the Grand Kremlin Palace, he said he did not seek to divide Ukraine any further, but he vowed to protect Russia’s interests there from what he described as Western actions that had left Russia feeling cornered.
“Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people,” Mr. Putin declared in his address, delivered in the chandeliered St. George’s Hall before hundreds of members of Parliament, governors and others. His remarks, which lasted 47 minutes, were interrupted repeatedly by thunderous applause, standing ovations and at the end chants of “Russia, Russia.” Some in the audience wiped tears from their eyes.
A theme coursing throughout his remarks was the restoration of Russia after a period of humiliation following the Soviet collapse, which he has famously called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”
He denounced what he called the global domination of one superpower and its allies that emerged. “They cheated us again and again, made decisions behind our back, presenting us with completed facts,” he said. “That’s the way it was with the expansion of NATO in the East, with the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They always told us the same thing: ‘Well, this doesn’t involve you.’ ”
The speed of Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea, redrawing an international border that has been recognized as part of an independent Ukraine for 23 years, has been breathtaking and so far apparently unstoppable.
While his actions, which the United States, Europe and Ukraine do not recognize, provoked renewed denunciations and threats of tougher sanctions and diplomatic isolation, it remained unclear how far the West was willing to go to punish Mr. Putin. The leaders of what had been the Group of 8 nations announced they would meet next week as the Group of 7, excluding Russia from a club Russia once desperately craved to join.
Certainly the sanctions imposed on Russia ahead of Tuesday’s steps did nothing to dissuade Mr. Putin, as he rushed to make a claim to Crimea that he argued conformed to international law and precedent. In his remarks he made clear that Russia was prepared to withstand worse punishment in the name of restoring a lost part of the country’s historic empire, effectively daring world leaders to sever political or economic ties and risk the consequences to their own economies.
Mr. Putin, the country’s paramount leader for more than 14 years, appeared to be gambling that the outrage would eventually pass, as it did after Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008, because a newly assertive Russia would be simply too important to ignore on the world stage. As with any gamble, though, the annexation of Crimea carries potentially grave risks.
Only hours after Mr. Putin declared that “not a single shot” had been fired in the military intervention in Crimea, a group of soldiers opened fire as they stormed a Ukrainian military mapping office near Simferopol, killing a Ukrainian soldier and wounding another, according to a Ukrainian officer inside the base and a statement by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.
The base appeared to be under the control of the attacking soldiers, who like most of the Russians in Crimea wore no insignia, and the ministry said that Ukrainian forces in Crimea were now authorized to use force to defend themselves.
The episode underscored the fact that the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, as well military bases and ships, remains dangerously unresolved.
In the capital, Kiev, Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, declared that the conflict had moved from “a political to a military phase” and laid the blame squarely on Russia.
Mr. Putin’s determined response to the ouster of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, last month has left American and European leaders scrambling to find an adequate response after initially clinging to the hope that Mr. Putin was prepared to find a political solution — or “off ramp” — to an escalating crisis that began with the collapse of Mr. Yanukovych’s government on the night of Feb. 21.
Within a week, Russian special operations troops had seized control of strategic locations across Crimea, while the regional authorities moved to declare independence and schedule a referendum on joining Russia that was held on Sunday.
Even as others criticized the vote as a fraud, Mr. Putin moved quickly on Monday to recognize its result, which he called “more than convincing” with nearly 97 percent of voters in favor of seceding from Ukraine. By Tuesday he signed a treaty of accession with the region’s new leaders to make Crimea and the city of Sevastopol the 84th and 85th regions of the Russian Federation.
The treaty requires legislative approval, but that is a mere formality given Mr. Putin’s unchallenged political authority and the wild popularity of his actions, which have raised his approval ratings and unleashed a nationalistic fervor that has drowned out the few voices of opposition or even caution about the potential costs to Russia.
Mr. Putin appeared Tuesday evening at a rally and concert on Red Square to celebrate an event charged with emotional and historical significance for many Russians. Among the music played was a sentimental Soviet song called “Sevastopol Waltz.”
“After a long, hard and exhaustive journey at sea, Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to their home harbor, to the native shores, to the home port, to Russia!” Mr. Putin told the crowd. When he finished speaking, he joined a military chorus in singing the national anthem.
He recited a list of grievances — from the Soviet Union’s transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian republic in 1954, to NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders, to its war in Kosovo in 1999, when he was a little-known aide to President Boris N. Yeltsin, to the conflict in Libya that toppled Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 on what he called the false pretense of a humanitarian intervention.
Since Russia’s stealthy takeover of Crimea began, Mr. Putin has said very little in public about his ultimate goals. His only extensive remarks came in a news conference with a pool of Kremlin journalists in which he appeared uncomfortable, uncertain and angry at times. In the grandeur of the Kremlin’s walls on Tuesday, Mr. Putin sounded utterly confident and defiant.