What people who know are saying about the Crimea.

Andy McSmith

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.

  • greggf

    “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″

    Well I was in Argentina in the early 1980s Andy, and I can tell you that the extent of oil and gas fields centred at Rivadavia in southern Argentina was expected to include the Falklands basin.
    Then there were the fishing licences mainly from far eastern nations looking for squid etc………
    Perhaps your friends should stick to Crimea!

  • Pacificweather

    A geologist of my acquaintance, who used to work for BP, told me there was no likelihood of a commercial field there (unless the international protection limit is extended). The exploration to date has not proved him wrong. I hope he is wrong because we will never get our money back on the fishing rights and sheep alone. To date, we could have given the population a million pounds for every sheep on the islands and still have been quids in. The bonus has been for the Saints and Tristans who got jobs looking after the squadies.

  • greggf

    Yes Pacific, I have noticed that exploration has been disappointing there since. But in the early 1980s YPF in Argentina believed differently.

    Was this another of MrsT’s sins in your book?

  • Pacificweather

    It did sound too convenient to be true, especially as it had not been mentioned previously. It was strange because she really did not need to over egg the pudding, having majority support at the time. Voices like mine saying ‘it is not what it costs to win them back it is the cost to keep them that matters’ were few and far between. She did lose 2% of the vote at the next election so I was not alone. However, she gained 52 seats so that must have been some compensation for her. The joys of a post code democracy were hers.

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