By N. Gourof,
Events, those nemeses of politicians, according to Harold Macmillan, tend to unravel too fast for cautious observation and a balanced development of popular opinion. They have certainly done so in the crisis of recent days in Ukraine. Characteristically, views and perceptions of a large portion of the reading – and blogging – public, both in the region in crisis and in places remote, are lacking in balance, objectivity and common sense. The Russians are, as usual, overtly xenophobic, while the Russophobic West is singing odes to the Western ideals of liberty and democracy, leaving out the refrain of economic enslavement of the newly-liberated and newly-democraticised. Between the two Goliaths, Ukraine looks increasingly like a David with a split personality, its people(s) divided, with one part mesmerised by a false European dream and the other – by an almost messianic vision of Russia as its patrimonial protector.
We will not dwell here on the spark that ignited the Ukrainian powder keg, the notorious EU agreement rejected by the admittedly corrupt and rightly ousted V. Yanukovich, an agreement which the current authorities in Kiev are ready to sign without reservation. It is sufficient to say only that reading its articles brings to mind more than it should an understanding of Ukraine as tomorrow’s third-world market for European goods. What everybody should dwell on, however, are the words which are used resoundingly in the media, becoming weapons sharp and lethal in the information war that is currently raging. The word of the day seems to be ‘legitimacy’.
The Western media have been referring to the recently (locally) elected head of the Crimean Cabinet, Sergey Aksyonov as illegitimate. Mr. Aksyonov was branded as such on the day of his appointment by a formal decree from Kiev, signed by the acting President of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchinov. Decree 187/2014 cites several sources from the Ukrainian legislation, from constitutional articles to laws specific to the organisation and administration of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The problem, however, which is drawing little attention, is that the self-appointed government in Kiev has exactly the same basis of legitimacy as the self-appointed government of Crimea, if not less so. If in Kiev the justification for the ceasing of power is that ‘we were chosen [as opposed to ‘elected’] by the Ukrainian people’, how is Aksyonov’s appointment any different? The answer – it isn’t. In reality, Crimea, with its 58% ethnic Russian population seems to be closer to demonstrating legitimacy than the interim administration in Kiev. After all, the ideological and political divide in Ukraine as a whole is much less clear-cut than the localised division of affiliations in Crimea and Sevastopol, as pro-Russian demonstrations in major Ukrainian cities demonstrated during the weekend.
The fact that the Kievan government has been ‘recognised’ by the UK, the US and some of the EU states is not enough to make Turchinov the legitimate president and commander-in-chief. Before a national referendum at least, if not formal and clean elections, the current authorities in Kiev are no more legitimate than locally appointed or self-appointed officials. After all, recognition by an independent state is something the Crimean government can also boast. In the absence of extra-legal legitimising factors, only actual power remains the legitimising final word. The Kiev leaders have none. Russia already has an active military presence in the region, which not only gives more credibility to foreign recognition of the Crimean Government (from Moscow), but also grants actual advantage, strategic, tactical and political. Russia is already in Crimea, that much is obvious. Whether the uniformed (and unmarked) groups for three days now establishing tactical control in strategic points in the region were Russian one cannot say for certain. If this was the case, the ease with which this control was established demonstrates that Russia was always calling the shots there, especially as reports about the Ukrainian Army units holding out and not surrendering still cannot be verified, and as the latest declarations of Vladimir Zamana, the acting Defence Minister of Ukraine are particularly ineffective in countering the effects of the broadcast of the Commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Rear-Admiral Denis Berezovsky swearing allegiance to the people of Crimea.
Russia’s right to interfere on the basis of protecting the ethnic Russian population may be debatable. However, at the moment, the right of the Kiev government to issue orders and proclamations or to speak as if on behalf of a united and unified Ukraine is similarly debatable. As for the rights of the EU or the US to get actively involved, there are none. According to Reuters, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier today condemned what he has called ‘Russia’s incredible act of aggression’ in Ukraine, saying that Russia is behaving ‘in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text’. The examples of Kosovo, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, however, indicate that Russia’s behaviour is decidedly 21st century. Moreover, ‘protection of one’s citizens and ethnic brothers on the other side of our border’ carries much more legitimising panache as a pretext than slogans about spreading democracy in foreign oil-wealthy countries far, far away.
Secretary Kerry indicated also, that Russia still has ‘a right set of choices’ to follow, threatening sanctions by the US and NATO. Dangerous chest-thumping from afar, and such it will remain. There is a moment in the film The Sum of all Fears, where the Russian President is discussing a crisis in the region and the possibility of Western intervention and says to the main character, a US analyst: ‘For you to get involved here, it’s like sleeping with another man’s wife… And what you are suggesting is that afterwards they all live together under the same roof. But what really happens is that the betrayed husband goes out and buys a gun.’