September 29th 2010,
Democratist has just finished reading this pathetic offering by the reliably mediocre Peter Hitchens in the Mail Online.
Faced with such a shameless and dreadful example of propagandistic hackery, it is hard to know where to start;
Hitchens’ opens with a superficially reasonable comparison; the current relationship between Russia and Ukraine in relation to Crimea he claims, is similar to a situation in which “some future Brussels edict has finally broken up Britain and handed Devon and Cornwall over to rule by Wales.”
Putting aside Hitchens’ foaming-at-the-mouth attitude towards the EU, we will accept that this hypothetical comparison has at least some elements of validity to it, although it willfully ignores many of the subtler historical differences in the two cases.
Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine (both of which were ”Republics” of the USSR at the time) under Khrushev in 1954. Crimea had previously been a part of the Russian Empire since 1783, but it should be noted that it had been conquered many times throughout its history and was also (for example) part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th to 18th Centuries. This is not really comparable in the modern history of Devon and Cornwall since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the 6th-9th Centuries AD, especially in relation to Crimea’s more diverse ethnic composition: According to the 2001 census, Russians make up 58.32%, Ukrainians 24.32% and Crimean Tartars 12.1% of the population respectively, so the political situation is more complex than Hitchen’s implies (“Sevastopol belongs to Ukraine, but hardly anyone here is Ukrainian”) because the second two groups have a far more ambivalent attitude towards Russia than the first).
Democratist would also conceed that there is much resentment in Crimea (among 58.32% of the population at least) about the “Ukrainization” that has taken place in the region since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991; although we would note that much of it has been whipped up by Moscow, especially since 2004.
But the notion that the Orange Revolution was “misguided”or that the election of the (comparatively) Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovich this February marks the end of “the flirtation” between Ukraine and the west is frankly little more than an insult to the millions who played a part in the protests that appeared throughout the country (including in Crimea) calling for an end to corruption, murder and electoral fraud in late 2004, as well as to the 51% of voters who did not vote for Yanukovich in the second round of Presidential elections on 7th February this year, and the several hundred opposition members of the Rada.
The idea the that they are somehow acting on behalf of the EU is laughable, comparable to Russian sponsored propaganda at the time that the Orange camp were secretly in the pay of the CIA (and presumably from the same source).
Hitchens’ continues; “I think our treatment of Russia since the fall of communism has been almost unbelievably stupid and crude. We complain now about the autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin. But it was our greed and our bullying of the wounded bear that created Putin and his shady, corrupt state….We sponsored annoying mini-states next door to Russia”.
This is just nonsense: Apart from anything else it presupposes that the west was in a position to dominate Russia under Yeltsin and therefore to “create” Putin.
This notion that the West was responsible for economic and social disasters that befell Russia in the 1990′s is, just like the “Orangists are all working for the CIA” lie, a paranoid myth that has been propagated by the Putin regime in order to justify its continued repressive policies (“We have to crush the NGO’s/the opposition/the oligarchs/whoever we don’t like this week, because they’re western spies.”)
In fact much good western advice in the early 1990′s was ignored, and the main causes of Russia’s problems back then were essentially the same as they are today; economic stagnation stemming from the unreformed remnants of a command economy and an over-reliance on the export of hydrocarbons; massive corruption and organized crime (much of it ”organized” by the state itself) and the political influence of the former KGB.
As for Hitchens’ claim that “We sponsored annoying mini-states”: This statement is such a willful belittling of the historical suffering of the occupied Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and so many others, and of their struggle for independence, as well as such a clear example of regurgitated Russian nationalist arrogance, that Democratist has nothing but the very deepest contempt for it.
Hitchens then opines on the current weakness of the Russia Black Sea fleet, asking “And this is supposed to be a threat to the mighty and prosperous West?”
Oddly, he omits to mention that the Russian navy is about to embark on a decade long spending spree, seeking to develop (among other things); nuclear-powered submarines, aircraft carriers (with embarked fifth generation aircraft), guided-missile cruisers, an enhanced amphibious capability, enhanced Command, Control and Communications, and enhanced computing, intelligence, and surveillance capabilities. Russia also has a controversial agreement with France to buy four very modern and effective Mistral-analogue power-projection battleships, and is negotiating a number of other similar foreign deals.
This piece is a badly written, willfully misleading, dangerous apologia for the advancing specter of revanchist Russian imperialism (“it was always absurd to try to dislodge Russia and the Russians from the great plains of Ukraine and the shores of the Black Sea. In this part of the world, Russia just is…”). It is designed precisely to put the public off guard in the face of an emerging threat. As such, it appears to be part of a wider PR job aimed at fostering complacency and a subsequent enhanced international legitimacy for the Putin regime in the west over the next few years. But make no mistake, for all the talk of modernization and reform, Putin has made his longer-term intentions perfectly clear; the re-establishment of Russia as a great power.
As for Peter Hitchens, it is interesting to note that the main source quoted in the article is a “former” Russia Naval Intelligence man: this article has the Kremlin’s fingerprints all over it.
Democratist wonders who paid for Hitchen’s trip? Perhaps he employs the same travel agency as Mike Hancock?