What people who know are saying about the Crimea.
I spent yesterday evening at an event in London organised by the Anti-Corruption Foundation, listening to people who know more than I do about the Crimean crisis. Its founder, Alexei Navalny, could not be there: he is under house arrest in Russia, but a statement from him was read out, and has been published in full in the New York Times.
I won’t identify who said what, because these were people talking privately, but here is the gist of it:
Crimea is to Russia what the Falklands were to the UK 30 years ago. We had no rational interest in retaking those islands in 1982, which was inevitably going to cost us, but victory – as we know – set off a wave of patriotic fervour that made negotiation over the islands’ sovereignty out of the question. I was told by a Russian that even her compatriots who stand to lose financially from western sanctions are exulting in Putin’s victory. She knows one family who have a Ukrainian cleaning lady: the woman is already poor, but they can’t resist humiliating her by gloating over Crimea. The UK, of course, had never signed an international agreement recognising the Falklands/Malvinas as part of Argentina, but the point is that Putin cannot now relinquish Crimea because Russian public opinion would not allow it.
There is no scope for compromise, since the west is setting Russian withdrawal from the Crimea as a pre-condition.
The leak of Victoria Nuland’s phone call was an unmitigated disaster, not because she was heard to say “fuck the EU” but because her comment that “Yats (Arseniy Yatseniuk) is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience…” implied that the Americans thought it was their right to decide who should govern Ukraine. That played into Putin’s hands
The Kremlin has been planning to seize Crimea for years. The upheaval in Ukraine was merely a pretext.
What the Kremlin now wants, probably, is unstable equilibrium: a Ukraine that is not actually under Russian rule but cannot do anything drastic without Russian approval.
The guy from the City reckoned that sanctions could be highly effective if applied incrementally, but not if fired from a blunderbuss. He did not have much confidence that the government would get it right.
The people who run the ACF believe that corruption is the centre piece of this story. They believe that corruption was the original stimulus for the protests in Maidan Square, and that because Putin’s government is corrupt, he cannot leave office and will have to become increasingly autocratic.
No good news then, except that Navalny and co. – surprisingly perhaps – believe that corruption will eventually bring the government down because Russia society will not tolerate it for ever.
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