“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Winston Churchill 1939
Well, why and to whom? And, why are we in the West in 2014 getting all hot and bothered over the Russian desire to regain the Crimea that Nikita Khruschev (while drunk it is said) gave to the Ukraine in 1954? It did not matter too much back then as both were bosom buddies in the mighty Soviet Union that had won WWII, albeit with tremendous forced sacrifices under Stalin, a true tyrant resisting other tyrants in Germany, Italy, and Japan. USSR trust was such in 1954 that few safeguards were signed to keep the vital naval ports in Russian hands. About 60% of Crimeans still consider themselves Russian.
The USSR, helped by the West, broke apart but Russia remains the world’s largest land mass. Its 145 million people were often matched by two or more European nations also seeking world prominence if not dominance. Part European and part Asian, Russia is also an Arctic nation and, as Canada the world’s second largest nation, can tell you, the inherent problems can keep you pretty much involved at home. Russia, however, has always sought warm water ports so over the years has probed southwards, scaring other nations into alliances and wars to contain the Bear. Content with Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec, Saint John, Halifax, and even Churchill, Canada has refrained from invading the USA for warm water ports. Just a few minor incursions in retaliation for major invasions. Canada has also turned a deaf ear to requests for annexation from some West Indian islands, such as the Turks and Caicos. Free health care and social security in exchange for a tiny warm-water port or two?
Before Europeans invaded and stole land from the American natives in two hemispheres, Russia incurred numerous incursions. In the 800s the Vikings, excelling in raiding, looting, raping, trading, and settling, founded Kiev and gave Russia its name, resulting in a Russian empire stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas. In the 1200s and 1300s the “Golden Horde” swept in as far as Vienna, keeping eastern Europe from uniting in opposition. The Crimea saw an influx of Asians and Genoese bringing six different religions. After the decline of the Mongols, Poland and Lithuania dominated the Ukraine. There has never been a shortage of rulers arming their peasants and forcing them to dominate others.
Known as “The Great Game” to contain Russia and protect India, Britain invaded Afghanistan, 1838-42, installing previously-deposed Shah Shuja, resulting in an 1841 uprising. In 1842 a troubled British-Indian force of 20,000 was promised safe, unarmed, passage out from Kabul only to be massacred with just one man escaping on horseback. The Afghans have continued to defeat other militarily-superior intruders. Both Russia and the West suffered.
In the 1850s the British, French, Ottoman Turks, and Sardinia invaded the Crimea to contain Russia. Out of this we got Florence Nightingale and “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. We lessened population problems for them by about 800,000.
In 1812 Napoleon invaded deeply, reaching and occupying Moscow. Some 130 years later, Hitler, forgetting the disastrous French retreat, reached the outskirts of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad in WWII, achieving no better results.
In between these two incursions we, including Canada this time, moved in to help the Whites fight the Reds from the Ukraine to Vladivostok. Of course you remember our Canadian ace, Raymond Collishaw with 62 WWI victories, who then commanded the RAF in Crimea. We did not emerge triumphant from that either.
All this should tell us that Russia has reason to at least suspect the West, Yet, over the centuries, Russia has produced great scientists, writers, poets, philosophers, and cosmonauts who have worked well with, and have been most useful to, their Western counterparts. Welcome them as partners and not risk losing such assets as the splendid help from Baikonur, the world’s greatest launch site in Kazakhstan. Cease moving NATO ever closer to the Russian sphere and replace punitive measures like sanctions with rewards that are much more soothing to human greed. With the Ukraine the West offers far fewer incentives than Putin.
Oh, yes, there are problems. The International Annual Rating on Transparency and Corruption reveals that we in the West, while far from guiltless, enjoy a much freer world than the old Soviet Federation. Canada ranks 9th (grade 81%), the USA 19th (73%), In the top 20 are 11 European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Uruguay, and Barbados. Far behind is Russia ranking 127th - but the Ukraine 144th among 178 countries. So we are not exactly rushing to the aid of the innocent. Yet, we should protect the peaceful desires of all. The majority of western Ukrainians want closer ties with Europe, the eastern with Russia, and the Crimeans reunification. Minorities have other desires, compounding solutions.
Putin is breaking international laws while the USA avoids them by declining to join international regulatory organizations.
Minimizing problems requires removing Hypocrisy from the guise of Humanity, replacing Confrontation with Co-operation, and recognizing that it is counter-productive to curtail non-aggressive interests of others while advancing our own. Competing interests promote progress but Fair Play is a must for a small, crowded Earth with insufficient resources for all.
We justify invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We scream invectives at Russia, China, and Iran when we have done them far more harm than they us. But we merely frown when Saudi Arabia sends troops to stamp out peaceful democratic demonstrations in Bahrain and we take no effective action against 66 years of Israel stealing ever more Palestinian lands or of Syria killing 140,000. All real problems screaming for attention, but then we have those species-threatening problems like Over-Population, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, Resource Depletion, Financial Deficits, The Few Ruling the Many, and so on. We humans created the mess. It is our responsibility to clean it up.Anyone for a challenge or two, or more? Challenges are one commodity enjoying a massive surplus.
Ye Olde Scribe, firstname.lastname@example.org March 2014