Oil, Ports, History: What’s Really Behind the Crimea Crisis?

THE VIEW FROM HERE-Everyone knows how left-leaning I am, but don’t let that color what I am about to say. 

I am addressing the current, very tenuous Ukraine-Russian issue.  Either people forget history or they never knew it in the first place. 

Hillary Clinton (not my favorite for President in 2016—I prefer Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren) recently stated that what Putin is doing in Ukraine is reminiscent of what Hitler did to eastern European countries prior to and during World War II. 

Clearly, that is not the case.  Hitler’s goal was to take over the world and rid that same world of any group that did not fit into the Arian mold.  That included not only the millions of Jews he eventually tortured and slaughtered but also the homosexual population, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, the political dissenters—the list goes on. 

After World War II, the map of Europe was redrawn (just as it has been so many times in the past).  “New” countries were formed, indifferent to ethnic considerations.  Deals between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union gave it what became many satellite countries (such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and The Ukraine) which the SU eagerly swallowed up.  

Well before that, in the 1800’s, European colonial powers in Africa redrew that continent’s map and imposed their own choices for national names.  Ethnic groups were separated and often placed within new national borders alongside ethnic “enemies.”  We have been witness to what transpired (and is still happening) in such places as the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia—to name only a few.  The West did nothing to intercede even when it was clearly known that millions were being enslaved, tortured, and/or savagely murdered. 

These kinds of divisions even remind me of Canada, two countries in one—English/British Canada and French/Quebec Canada.  How dissatisfied and miserable the latter is.  The eastern province has no chance of lawfully gaining its independence through a plebiscite or otherwise, and galvanizing the people to civil war will obviously never be a consideration. 

Putting aside the Canadian conundrum for now, it seems that nobody asked these various European and African populations if those changes were acceptable to them.  And now, all of a sudden, the West has a problem with redefining boundaries one more time.  Is it because we are not supposed to like or support anything Russia or Putin does?  To me this echoes the Far Right’s rejection of anything our own President proposes--whether or not these ultra-conservatives would have supported those same ideas under a Republican administration. 

I guess the West (during the 19th and 20th centuries) had no “interests” in the regions of the world that became so indifferently divided, yet somehow found it reasonable to mandate our “need” to go into Iraq (oil anyone?).  The Persian Gulf War began because of Saddam Hussein’s intrusion into oil-rich Kuwait—a nation “created” only in recent years.  Hussein claimed that historically it was a province of Iraq but also sought its oil which Iraq claimed was being stolen from it (think of There Will Be Blood).  

Of course, I didn’t support what Iraq vainly attempted to accomplish, but why is it the West  continues to back some invasions while opposing others?   Self-interest always seems to be the over-arching justification (even if such motives are officially denied). 

What about Ukraine, then?  From an historical point of view, did you know that its current capital, Kiev, was Old Russia’s former capital?  Did you know that Russia’s name is derived from the Kievan Rus tribe indigenous to what is now Ukraine?  Did you know that Kiev remained the “Russian” capital for about 1000 years?  

To sum it up, contemporary Russia, over time, was once named Rus, and then Prussia, Russia, the Soviet Union, and Russia again.  Presently, there is Russia but also many newly independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union until it dissolved in the early 1990s.  As one consequence of all these changes, there is Ukraine with the ethnic-Russian Crimea to the east and south. 

In addition, there appears to be geographical logic to what is behind the current demands.  If you look at a map, the Dnieper (Dnepr) River clearly demarks the ethnic separation which has emboldened this uprising.  A clear majority of the population east of the river is, in fact, ethnic-Russian or Russian-leaning and would prefer separation from Ukraine. 

Putin—hate him, like him, admire him, or not—does have some legitimate concerns and claims.  Those ethnic-Russians living in east and south Ukraine genuinely identify with Mother Russia and would like either to be reunited with it or become a truly independent nation (not simply a semi-autonomous region within Ukraine with whose culture it generally does not identify). 

In large part, the issue that has generated the current uprising is Crimea.  This critical region has suffered a long history of wars and massacres.  Russia, geographically, is a landlocked nation which has fought war after war to obtain and/or maintain shipping lanes for military and commercial purposes, and the Crimea has often found itself in a tug-of-war over providing the waterways that Russia has sorely needed, essentially for its very survival.  

There is quite a list of reasons for why Russia/the Soviet Union/Russia for centuries has felt insecure, threatened, and anxious over what transpires in eastern Ukraine and adjacent regions.  Among them, Russia has fought for control of the Black Sea for access.  It had sought an increased role in the Balkans (the “powder keg of Europe”) when Tzar Nicholas I’s move to control the Dardanelles led in part to a World War I which none of the principal European actors really wanted or expected (read the book, The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman).  

Furthermore, Russia has a tradition in the area of fighting to protect ethnic and religious freedoms for those who share their cultural identity (as atheistic as many think Russia is, historically it is a very religious culture).  

The Crimean port city of Sevastopol was the scene of notorious carnage during the Crimean War (1853)--replayed in the 1870s--and is back in the news with the latest iteration of the region’s evolving history.  This is due in large part to its coastline location where, in recent years, Russia has strategically located part of its fleet (consider America’s bases at Guantanamo or the Philippines, Japan, or Germany).  

As recently as the ‘60s, Russian Premier Khrushchev essentially gave to The Ukraine what is now the ethnic-Russian region which includes Crimea.  It is often stated that this was “a gesture of goodwill because of Khrushchev’s Ukrainian roots.  His motive, however, remains somewhat mysterious, so we may never know the actual reasoning behind this move.   

Am I supporting the Russian incursion into Crimean territory?  Not at all!  Reliance on military solutions to very serious problems must never be an initial option.  On the other hand, negotiating, in this case, with an understanding of and sensitivity to ethnic-Russian concerns would serve all of us very well and go a long way. 

Los Angeles has a sizable ethnic-Russian population.  Has anyone asked its opinion on this situation and how this matter could best be handled?  Maybe we, as fellow Angelinos and Americans, should take the time to do so.  For that matter, because our local and statewide delegations hold such sway in Washington, if they hear our reasoned approach on this subject, maybe rational and judicious solutions can be achieved. 

Personally, I would like to see an end to the uprising but the factors which have propelled this latest civil upheaval will only be repeated if the resolution that emerges does not satisfy the emotional and psychological history that prompted these actions in the first place.


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)




Vol 12 Issue 21

Pub: Mar 11, 2014