The American media is doing a really poor job of covering the Ukraine crisis, and this is largely because they ignored its importance for so long that they are scrambling to catch everyone up, what with gays not getting timely service from bakers and photographers and all.
Thus far, the media have portrayed this as a simple game of interests: Russia likes the Ukraine and wants the Ukraine to be friendly to Russia; conversely, Ukrainians want to be friends with Europe. Vladimir Putin, only two weeks ago a real hero to Olympic commentators, is not happy with this and has sent his military in to show he means business.
This summary is not quite accurate. The reality goes back centuries to the Russian Empire.
As you know, Russia can get really cold, and as a result, it can be tough in Winter for Russia to maintain a real navy. The harbors all freeze up. To maintain their naval prominence, Russian needs ports that dont freeze up six months out of the year. Trust the Czar on this one: without warm water ports, Russia would have no effective navy and therefore zero influence on world affairs.
Geographically, Russia has some warm ports: unfortunately, all of these are in the extreme East, putting ships into the Pacific Ocean. Russia needs access to Western seas, too, right? So over the centuries, they got some.
First, there is the little chunk of Russia that exists between Poland and Lithuania. You may not even have realized this, but a good-size piece of Russia is disconnected from the rest of the country, and awkwardly sits sandwiched between two other countries. Why? Because this chunk of Russia sits on the Baltic Sea. Heck, it was why the Soviets captured Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in the first place. When the Cold War ended, Russia made damn sure it didnt give back all of Lithuania.
Second, there is the matter of those World War II (and earlier) invasions of Finland. Why? Because Russia needs warm water access to the Gulf of Finland. Wonder why Russia never bothered to return Karelia to its rightful owners?
Third, and most relevant to today, is the Crimea. The Crimea, you recall, is a large peninsula sitting right in the Black Sea. This gives you really beautiful ports that feed down into the Aegean and eventually the Mediterranean Sea. This, and fertile farmland, is why Russia has long invaded the Ukraine. The ports in particular are of immense strategic importance. With the Crimean peninsula in control, Russia has influence all over Europe and multiple routes to the Atlantic Ocean.
At the end of the Cold War, the Ukraine left the Soviet Union and expected to become an independent country. The problem is that the Soviets maintained two large ports in the Crimea: Odessa and Sevastopol#146;. There are others, but these two are massive. As the Soviet Navy became the Russian Navy, the Russians maintained these two ports: thanks to these ports, the Crimea enjoys a lot of Russian business coming in from hotels, restaurants, longshoremen, dock workers, shipping and transportation, and more. Basically, the Russians are a cash cow for Crimeans.
Elsewhere, Ukrainians basically are sick and tired of Russia. The large cities, for example, are filled with younger folks who want Twitter and Lamborghinis and Starbucks. Russia, for them, basically means jerkwads and Chernobyl. When it looked like the Ukrainian president was starting to partner up with Russia, the urban Ukrainians went nuts, protested, and threw him out. They want Russia gone from the Ukraine. Suddenly, a few days ago, it looked like they got their wish.
Except, now the protests erupted in the Crimean peninsula. These folks do not want Russia out: they want those gorgeous rubles. So clashes and violence became a real possibility in that region.
The Russians know they tend to be the first ones ousted, and they sensed this was not about to end well. To maintain the continuity of control, the Russians intensified troop presence at their airport in Sevastopol#146; and potentially a nearby civilian airport, although it appears the latter may have been misreported. Additionally, the Russians are bringing in military equipment through their naval ports and positioning it in an intimidating fashion.
Thus, on one hand, this is not surprising. The Russians have a compelling reason to defend and establish their authority over their own military ports: once you understand the Russians will defend these ports about as hard as the US Marines would protect Guantanamo, it is not terribly surprising to see these actions.
On the other hand, Russia is under no illusions that it has no opposition here. Indeed, the Russian duma is reviewing a bill to allow Crimea to rejoin Russia. This might play well in Moscow, but the Czar finds it unlikely that Crimeans want to be Russiansthey just want the money. But Russia is very good at rigging elections and if they dont like the results, they can always take diplomacy in another direction. Just ask Georgia.
Unfortunately, Putin is almost certainly right about his dominance. The Ukrainians have asked the European Union for help, and the EU is wringing its hands over what to do. Suddenly, the EU is being forced to act like a real governing body and not a multinational taxing machine. Europe has no capacity or competence to deal with Russiantheir default position, which goes back a century, is to beg America for help.
America? Are you kidding? Europe, the Ukraine, and Russia agree on one thing: America is not going to help. President Obama has issued strong words, as he has done over Iran, Syria, North Korea, and China, just before hitting the links for a fast 18. Perhaps he could deliver a hasty speech on the importance of Republicans caving on immigration reform.
The reality is that President Obama has checked out, and his now an utterly impotent fool. He wants nothing to do with foreign policy and hasat a remarkably coincidental timeordered a massive reduction in force for the military.
What Obama fails to realize of course is that his disinterest, ignorance, and disregard has accelerated this event. The chaos he sees happening around the world is in direct response to his intellectual disarmament. President Obama is the kid on the playground that thinks if he acts indifferent to the bullies and victims alike, they will be inspired by his cool attitude and want to be more like him. He is predictably baffled when he sees this has the opposite effect.
This is not in any way to blame the crisis in the Ukraine on President Obama. The real culprit is Vladimir Putin, who is mistaken when he assumes his plans cannot fail. Unfortunately for the world, Putin is not mistaken when he thinks he has no opposition.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.