July 7, 2014
Putin’s Crime, Europe’s cowardice
A Urainian football supporters wearing a T-shirt showing the Russian President shouts slogans as he takes part with supporters of FC Dynamo Kiev, FC Karpaty Lviv and FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the “March of Unity” in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on July 22, 2014.
TANGIER, Morocco — IN eastern Ukraine, Vladimir V. Putin has been playing with fire. He has mobilized the worst elements to be found in the region.
He has taken thugs, thieves, rapists, ex-cons and vandals and turned them into a paramilitary force.
He has permitted ad hoc commanders of separatist groups to kill or chase off intellectuals, journalists and other moral authorities in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.
He has watched as a vodka-soaked rabble army destroys or takes over public buildings, hospitals, schools and municipal offices of the country it is pretending to liberate.
He has allowed a veritable gang war to take hold — without caring that he is losing control of the forces that he has unleashed, with rival bands pitted against one another and carving out fiefs amid the growing anarchy.
Most troubling of all: To this underworld without structure or discipline, to these undisciplined louts who know only the law of the jungle, to this new brand of fighting force that has only the dimmest idea of war and no idea, God knows, of the laws of war — to this motley collection Mr. Putin, the Russian president, gave a terrifying arsenal with which the amateur soldiers were unfamiliar and with which they have been playing, like kids with fireworks.
We know that Russia supplied vast quantities of heavy weaponry to the separatists and trained them to use the SA-11 surface-to-air missile system — the kind believed to have been used to bring down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
One can envision the victorious gang celebrating with its trophy, playing with it as if it were a toy — one that can reach altitudes of over 70,000 feet.
One can similarly imagine Russian military officers — not so secretly assigned by the Kremlin to watch over the missiles and their use by amateur artillery crews targeting Ukrainian military aircraft — being overtaken by events and seized with panic.
One can even imagine their consternation when Igor Strelkov, the self-proclaimed defense minister of the Republic of Donetsk, claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian military plane — which turned out to be Flight 17.
We know what happened.
Whatever the outcome of the eventual investigation — an investigation made well nigh impossible by these dogs of war who follow no creed and no law, who, as they horrified the world by leaving the bodies of their victims abandoned in fields or heaped in poorly refrigerated train cars, as they reveled in their 15 minutes of fame by deploring before the news cameras of the world that the 298 lost souls had had the bad taste to “land” on people’s houses or in reservoirs used for drinking water, were also purloining the plane’s black boxes, organizing the export to Russia of possibly compromising debris, and casually stripping the bodies of objects of value — whatever the outcome of the investigation into all of this, an undeniable result was carnage, a war crime, an attack on Ukraine, the Netherlands and Malaysia all at once.
For all of these reasons, it was hard not to side with Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko — who, it is worth noting, has shown in the terrible days since the crash the qualities of composure, dignity and authority that he exhibited during his campaign for office — when he asked the international community to classify as terrorist organizations the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk.
It is also hard not to agree with Mr. Poroshenko when, several hours after the tragedy, speaking unemotionally and with no trace of hate, he reminded France’s president, François Hollande, that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had been blacklisted by the world for his suspected involvement in a similar attack on a commercial airliner, Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.
Faced with this new Lockerbie, will we in the West do no more than beg Mr. Putin to provide “free and complete” access to the crash site and offer “full cooperation” in the recovery of remains?
Have we not a moral obligation to draw logical conclusions about a crime for which, because of his incendiary and irresponsible policies, deeply unworthy of the president of a great power, Mr. Putin is, in the end, wholly responsible?
Under the circumstances — with Mr. Putin having not yet agreed to back off in Ukraine, much less in Crimea — how can France morally justify its plan to deliver to Russia two Mistral-class warships, now being fitted out in the western port of St.-Nazaire? Do we want them to become the crown jewels of a Russian fleet off Sebastopol and, perhaps, Odessa?
To see the European Union acting so pusillanimously is very discouraging. France wants to hold on to its arms contracts for the jobs they are supposed to save in its naval shipyards. Germany, a hub of operations for the Russian energy giant Gazprom, is petrified of losing its own strategic position. Britain, for its part, despite recent statements by Prime Minister David Cameron, may still not be ready to forgo the colossal flows of Russian oligarchs’ ill-gotten cash upon which the City, London’s financial district, has come to rely.
In European parlance, this is called the spirit of Munich — appeasement. And it is a disgrace.
July 18, 2014
Putin’s Deadly Doctrine
‘Protecting’ Russians in Ukraine Has Fatal Consequences
OXFORD, England — SOMETIMES, just sometimes, you should pay attention to annoying things said by tiresome people at worthy conferences.
In 1994, I was half asleep at a round table in St. Petersburg, Russia, when a short, thickset man with a rather ratlike face — apparently a sidekick of the city’s mayor — suddenly piped up. Russia, he said, had voluntarily given up “huge territories” to the former republics of the Soviet Union, including areas “which historically have always belonged to Russia.” He was thinking “not only about Crimea and northern Kazakhstan, but also for example about the Kaliningrad area.” Russia could not simply abandon to their fate those “25 million Russians” who now lived abroad. The world had to respect the interests of the Russian state “and of the Russian people as a great nation.”
The name of this irritating little man was — you guessed it — Vladimir V. Putin, and I know exactly what he said back in 1994 because the organizers, the Körber Foundation of Hamburg, Germany, published a full transcript. For the phrase that I have translated as “the Russian people,” the German transcript uses the word “volk.” Mr. Putin seemed to have, and still has, an expansive, völkisch definition of “Russians” — or what he now refers to as the “russkiy mir” (literally “Russian world”). The transcript also records that I teased out the consequences of the then-obscure deputy mayor’s vision by saying, “If we defined British nationality to include all English-speaking people, we would have a state slightly larger than China.”
Little did we imagine that, 20 years later, the St. Petersburg deputy mayor, now uncrowned czar of all the Russians, would have seized Crimea by force, covertly stirred up violent mayhem in eastern Ukraine and be explicitly advancing his 19th-century völkisch vision as the policy of a 21st-century state. Today’s Kremlin has its own perverted version of the Western-developed and United Nations-sanctified humanitarian doctrine of the “responsibility to protect.” Russia, Mr. Putin insists, has a responsibility to protect all Russians abroad, and he gets to decide who is a Russian.
We should, of course, avoid what the philosopher Henri Bergson called the illusions of retrospective determinism. History seldom moves in straight lines. After Mr. Putin’s rise to supreme power in the Russian state, starting when he became prime minister in 1999, he experimented with other models of relations with the West and the rest of the world. For some years, he tried modernization in cooperation with the West. He embraced membership in the Group of 8 — one of several inducements that the United States and Europe offered to help Russia down its inevitably difficult post-imperial path. President George W. Bush got Mr. Putin wrong when he “looked the man in the eye” in 2001, but it would be bad history to conclude that the Putin of 2001 was already secretly planning to take back Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine.
Although historians should explore those paths not taken, it is nonetheless fascinating to see how the essentials of Mr. Putin’s resentment-fueled protector state doctrine were already there in 1994 — even if they were not then buttressed by ideological quotations from Russian thinkers like Ivan Ilyin.
Once upon a time, there was the Brezhnev Doctrine, which justified as “fraternal help” such actions as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Mikhail S. Gorbachev replaced it with the Sinatra Doctrine —You do it your way, as Gennadi I. Gerasimov, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, put it — toward Eastern Europe. Now we have the Putin Doctrine.
It is impossible to overstate the degree to which this is a threat not just to Russia’s Eastern European and Eurasian neighbors but to the whole post-1945 international order. Across the world, countries see men and women living in other countries whom they regard as in some sense “their people.” What if, as has happened in the past, Chinese minorities in Southeast Asian countries were to be the targets of discrimination and popular anger, and China (where, on a visit this spring, I heard admiration expressed for Mr. Putin’s actions) decided to take up the mother country’s burden, exercising its völkisch responsibility to protect?
TO make clear why such actions are totally unacceptable, and a grave threat to world peace, we also have to agree on the legitimate rights and responsibilities of a mother country. My British passport still carries the resonant old formula that Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State “requests and requires” foreign powers to let me pass “without let or hindrance,” and if I got into a spot of local difficulty in, say, Transnistria, I would hope (though not necessarily trust) that he would very earnestly require it. More relevant, Poland has expressed concern for the position of Polish speakers in Lithuania. Hungary has handed out both passports and voting rights in national elections to citizens of neighboring countries whom it deems to be members of the Hungarian people. To pin down what is illegitimate, we have to explain more clearly what is legitimate.
As of Friday, American and Ukrainian officials were saying it was likely that a Russian-made antiaircraft missile had brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, in yet another harvest of sorrow on Ukrainian fields already blood-soaked by history. It was not clear who fired it. But it is hypocrisy on an Orwellian scale for Mr. Putin to maintain, as he did on Friday, that “the government over whose territory this happened bears the responsibility for this terrible tragedy.” There is undoubtedly bitter discontent among many self-identified Russians in eastern Ukraine, but the violence of their protests has been stirred by a massively mendacious narrative on Russian television, and their paramilitaries have been supported, to put it no more strongly, by Mr. Putin’s Russia — including the presence of members or former members of Russian special forces.
It seems plausible already to suggest that a regular army (whether Ukrainian or Russian) would usually have identified the radar image of a civilian airliner flying at 33,000 feet, while a group made up solely of local militants (even ones with military experience) would not ordinarily have had the technology and skill to launch such an attack without outside help. It is precisely the ambiguous mixtures created by Mr. Putin’s völkisch version of the “responsibility to protect” that produce such disastrous possibilities. He subverts and calls into question the authority of the government of a sovereign territory, and then blames it for the result.
So if an obscure deputy mayor starts sounding off in alarming terms at some conference you are attending, my advice is, Wake up. Of course, most such ranters do not rise to the top. But when they do, their ideologies of resentment may be written out in blood.