For me, a citizen of Russia, Crimea has always been mine, although I don’t like heat, resorts and beaches. It was mine in the Soviet Union, when parents brought me there as a boy. It was mine in 1993, when me and my friends went there and lived in a tent on the coast for a couple of days after exchanging rubles for hryvnas at the railway station. Crimea was mine in 1999, although I’d already calculated that by the price and service quality Turkey and Egypt were much more mine. It’s only this year when Crimea became completely not mine. The huge air ticket prices (about four times higher than to London), week-long queues on the ferry and a bloody war where highways used to run. Let’s add the status problems: I used to be a welcome guest for everyone in Crimea. And now for some of them (even for a small percentage) I’m suddenly a Russian invader. Someone could spit in my soup while I’m not looking. So who does Crimea belong to now? Definitely not to me. It could belong to the oligarchs. It could belong to the God of War. It could belong to the aliens. But for me, an ordinary citizen of Russia, it’s a hundred times less mine than it used to be.
As a citizen, I can’t even understand the term “mine”. I have a friend, a citizen of Moscow, who dreamed of living in Crimea with her children and finally bought a small house there. She was entered into some land register according to the rules. And Crimea became hers. Much more than for all the other citizens of Ukraine it formally belonged to on the maps. Do you realize the absurdity? Property within property. A map within a map. I take a sheet of paper, fill in a large squared and say: “this all is mine”. You draw a small square within this large one and answer: “and this is mine”. And we easily live with that paradox. Then a bunch of strangers comes and shouts “Crimea is ours!” Whose exactly, could you point a finger?
I have many Russian friends who officially made a small piece of another country theirs. One of my friends, an ardent patriot, has an apartment in London. Another, an ardent liberal – an apartment in Spain. A third – in Bulgaria. A fourth, who does not have much of an income, scrambled 200 000 rubles [$5000] for a small house in the Slovenian mountains. None of them was disturbed by the fact that neither Britain nor Slovenia are ours. Chechnya, on the other hand, is ours. All the maps and international agreements say so. Does anyone want to buy property in Chechnya or at least go on holiday with their children there?
The tales of “taking back what’s ours” does not motivate me, it just frightens me. By that logic, Russia should also take back Finland, Poland and the Baltics, as well as Alyaska. What if everyone start doing the same? Crimea will be demanded back by, say, Turkey. Because, no matter how much Russia insists that “Crimea has always been ours”, it has no relation to the Crimean Khanate that owned Crimea in the first place. Then Japan will demand the Kuril islands – they were taken from them so recently and so blatantly that it’s the only reason why we haven’t signed a peace treaty with Japan yet and officially are still in a state of war. China will demand Siberia and the Far East back. Germany will demand Konigsberg which for some reason has recently belonged to Russia against all laws of logic, geography and space. And if that pays off, Germany could demand all the lands up to Smolensk by the 1942 borders. Mongolia could recall that it used to own a “small” part of Russia from the Black Sea to Siberia and demand to protect the interests of all the Tatars in Russia.
Surely, at this stage various people emerge and insist that the people of Crimea have chosen their own path. But you surely don’t choose a path this way. You do it like Scotland did: prepare an open and honest referendum for many years. If tomorrow Russia plunges into instability, chaos and power struggle and the Far East is flooded by Chineese soldiers with no insignia who seize all the government buildings and rush a referendum – I won’t support its results either. Even if I’m told that over 50% of the Far East would prefer being a Chinese dependency to being a region of Russia. I won’t even try to find out whether 52% or 92% voted for it, whether it was a fair vote or a construct of Chinese puppeteers. You don’t do referendums this way, end of story.
To sum up, I, as a citizen of Russia, can’t understand why Crimea is ours today. And why exactly Crimea became mine and wasn’t mine before.
Some could argue that I think as a citizen while I should think as a country. Ok, let’s try and say the truth it’s not customary to say. Consider everything I say below my own fantasy. Ok, I’m a country.
Crimea used to be a peninsula, now it’s an island. It’s bordered by a sea with non-potable water and by a foreign state I, as a country, spoiled the relations with to the point of war. Crimea has no industry. The agriculture is three peach trees and a withered vineyard, half-destroyed during the Prohibition in the 1980’s. The fresh water and electricity come from a country that we consider fascist. All the roads and railroads are also there, in the hands of the so-called fascists.
As a country, I’m in the position of a thug who for some reason wrestled a rare cellphone from his former friend (“it’s not my fault! the phone sort of jumped in my pocket!”), and in the morning realized that he has neither a charger nor a box with the papers. And you can’t get that rare charger anywhere or it’s too expensive. And without the papers, the phone is now considered stolen.
As a country, I’m trying to McGuyver a charger for the phone. I.e. to carve a corridor to Crimea through a state of the so-called “fascists” by starting a civil war there. And I’m failing to do it. Because the shortest route to Crimea runs past the seashore and consists of four regions: Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhye and Kherson. Has anyone not seen the map of Ukraine? It’s easy to see what’s going on.
In a couple of the closest regions – Luhansk and Donetsk – the flames sprang up easily. But they didn’t go off beyond that. Sloviansk was left quickly and eagerly – it’s not on the way. For the same reason in either Kharkiv, Sumy or other Russian-speaking regions close to Russia the issue didn’t even rise. Not in the way. Mariupol is in the way, though. It’s essential, but there’s a problem taken it. I can bring in some more vehicles and professional volunteers on vacation and take, say, Mariupol. But then I’ll have to go through Berdyansk, Melitopol and Kherson… And the people there are different, no one seems eager to rise up for me. My border is far, and you can’t sneak in a fleet. The corridor can’t be carved, the phone can’t be charged.
What would I get as a country even if I did manage to pull that off? Another subsidized region that I can’t make a nanotechnology hub, a blooming garden on the dry stones, not even a profitable resort – even in Sochi I’ve failed to make a profit.
And what did I, as country, actually receive? An island with a ferry crossing. A civil war near my own border. And a new cold war with all the leading states of the Earth. Everyone’ scorn. Sanctions. Image falling to a new low. International tension. Economic downfall and the national currency losing almost a fourth of its value. Nice gains for a country that has been so long preaching stability.
Now let’s say the whole truth. I, as a country, do this all to Ukraine (and to Georgia before that) for one single reason – due to my old Cold War military doctrine back from the 60th. It dictates that the closer NATO puts their nukes to my borders, the shorter will be the time of flight of a nuke during a nuclear war, the higher the risk of failure for my anti-ballistic systems, developed and assembled half a century ago. The USA are ok – they are on the other side of the globe, and I wasn’t allowed to place my rockets right at their border on Cuba – a war nearly started because of that. That’s why all my current hysterics and international policy is the same: push the NATO bases back from our borders at all costs. In Europe France and Britain have nuclear weapons, while US missiles are secretly based in NATO countries: Belgium, the Netherlads, Turkey, Germany, Italy (in the Far East – secretly Japan and South Korea). Long international rituals, fine political intrigue, economic and energy blackmail help me to keep the Baltics, Poland and Finland from arming themselves. A certain line has been drawn – NATO nukes are based in countries quite far from my borders which gives enough time to react to the launch. My territory is protected by a human shield of friendly Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Old, rusty, but still friendly launch detectors are situated there. And now, out of the blue, Ukraine starts a fuss right at our border. Ukraine! The one that was the most nuclear-weaponized territory in the Soviet era – from here we aimed at all the European capitalists. Five nuclear plants (including the ill-fated Chernobyl) and one of the largest nuclear stockpiles in the world (almost 4000 rockets). Ukraine did lose her rockets, but old habits die hard. And now this disarmed (but in the past nuclear to the teeth) Ukraine went off the leash, ousted my puppet and shouts: “I’ll go to Europe and Nato!” How will I, as a country, live with such a map now?
What should I, as a country, do? If I hear one of my neighbors is going to NATO, I’ll do all it takes to draw a buffer zone on the map and burn it out in a local war only to make that not happen. I, the country, haven’t lived down Georgia yet. Now Ukraine is a lot more serious matter!
However, I, as a country, don’t care that no one in NATO is going to flung nukes but are just scared stiff of me, as well as Muslim extemists and other political freaks. And I, as a country, don’t want to think that 50 years saw a lot of technology changes so anti-ballistic defense depends on a sum of modern technologies where the distance to the launch point is not the only and even not the most important criterion of success. However, I, as a country, can’t and won’t improve my anti-missile systems. I want the good old 70’s back.
This will end with China joining NATO. While China is silent in its oriental wisdom, it has already calculated who is his main market and tech supplier and who is a dangerous and unpredictable neighbor who fights former comrades left and right twice in a decade.
This is what I think as a citizen and as a country.