The longer Russia occupies Crimea, the more likely Russia will disintegrate

Russian "green men" patrolling the airport in Simferopol, the capitol of Crimea, February 2014. Russian military occupied the peninsula almost a month in advance of the illegal "referendum."

Russian "green men" patrolling the airport in Simferopol, the capitol of Crimea, February 2014. Russian military occupied the peninsula almost a month in advance of the illegal "referendum." 

2016/11/30 • Analysis & Opinion, Crimea, Politics

Yesterday, Heorhiy Tuka, Ukraine’s deputy minister for the affairs of the occupied territories, said on 112 Ukraina TV that he “considers the return of Crimea in the next three to five years impossible,” a declaration which some are certain to denounce as pessimistic.

However painful it may be, Tuka continued, it is important to face facts and the facts in this case are these: “Crimea will again be [de facto as well as de jure] be part of Ukraine when “centrifugal forces arise again out of the economic crisis” that country is already facing.

“Now,” Tuka said, “this may seem drivel and fantastic, but one should look again at the news tapes of the mid-1990s, at how things developed in Kaliningrad, in Tatarstan and in Bashkortostan … and then Chechnya exploded. We all have seen this with our own eyes” and we should not forget it.

And he continued by asserting that “if the world community does not reduce its pressure on Russia, we will observe all of this in the next five to ten years.”

Tuka’s argument deserves close attention because it calls attention to something that many in Moscow and elsewhere have forgotten about one precedent that many are now invoking about Ukraine’s Crimea – the West’s consistent non-recognition of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Between the time that policy was proclaimed in Washington in 1940 and the recovery of Baltic independence in 1991 passed 51 years, but at various points during that period, some in the Soviet hierarchy worried that the Baltic aspirations for the recovery of their legitimate independence would have an unhealthy influence on the non-Russian republics.

Some even thought, especially in Gorbachev’s time, that it would be better to allow the Baltic countries to go their own way before their ideas spread to Ukraine and elsewhere. That was certainly Academician Sakharov’s position, but it was shot down by Mikhail Gorbachev who wanted to hold everything and as a result lost everything.

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A more serious, if less well-known, example of fears in Moscow about a Baltic contagion occurred in the late 1940s when Lavrenty Beria, Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, quietly explored the idea of allowing the Baltic countries to go their own way as Soviet-controlled “peoples republics” like the East Europeans outside of the USSR.

Beria went so far as to have his agents contact Baltic officials to compose lists of who might be the senior officials in such nominally independent countries, and he certainly believed that allowing Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to go their own way in this limited sense would ease East-West tensions sufficiently to undercut American plans for NATO.

Not surprisingly, when Beria was purged, he was condemned for his supposed contacts with foreign intelligence services, almost certainly untrue, and his support of non-Russian nationalists, something that was very much the case in the Baltic states and elsewhere in the Soviet Union.

At least some in Putin’s Moscow today know this record and recognize the dangers involved in holding on to Crimea, although Vladimir Putin may be confident that he can do there what Stalin and his successors in the Baltic countries could not because of the differences in demographics and history.

But as conditions deteriorate in the Russian Federation because of Western sanctions over Crimea and the Donbas, some in the Russian elites may conclude that they have an additional reason to give back what Putin stole: Not only would that end sanctions and ease their lives but it would put off, for a time at least, the disintegration of their country.

To see why that is so, they need look no further than to the late 1980s when Gorbachev and the last Soviet government failed to recognize the way in which aspirations for freedom and justice in one part of an empire can spread and prove fatal for that empire as a whole, if not overnight then at least in the fullness of time.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Robert

    vlady, if you’re smart, you’ll get out while you can. Save face. Save lives. TRY to save the ‘country’ you claim to rule: Get out of Donbas and Crimea NOW … while the gettin’ is ‘good’…

    • Turtler

      Putin’s not interested in saving lives or even really saving his country. Why else would he turn a blind eye to the CATASTROPHIC AIDS outbreaks in his country when dealing with them could ONLY help his dreams of imperial power without really hurting him in any way?

      After years of looking at the man I earnestly believe he wants to be Russia’s Tsar, but that he is happy to let the country burn just to sit on his throne.

      • Robert

        Hmm… yeah, I really can’t contest your points, Turtler. I guess he’s just taking Russia down like that car that got swallowed by the ‘pothole’ and totally disappeared!? … Now really, what kind of potholes completely engulf cars – even if they happen to be a Lada?! It appears that russian potholes created by vlady can do this. Sad for the russian sheeple…

        • Dagwood Bumstead

          Don’t feel sorry for the Dwarfstanian people. They knew perfectly well what they were getting when they voted for the dwarf, not once but several times: a third-rate Chekist. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        To paraprhrase “Nero fiddles while Rome burns”: “Pedo Putolini fiddles while Dwarfstan burns.”

        • Turtler

          Indeed. The difference is that Nero didn’t fiddle while Rome burned, and threw his back out working on the relief effort. He just opportunistically made a massive land grab after.

          Putin on the other hand? No doubt he would…

    • Quartermaster

      Putin thinks he can beat history and hold things together. Alas, history has its own opinion and fighting against it is stupid in the extreme. Russia will give up Crimea, but the country may be a rump existing only west of the Urals before it’s over.

  • Turtler

    I wish.

    But the truth is that the population of Crimea contains a huge portion of Quslings alligned with Putin. So this is not like occupying Eastern Poland or Lithuania where the public thoroughly hated the regime’s guts and in the early years there seemed to be a guerilla force behind every blade of grass.

    And if all else failed Putin might resort to all out genocide or ethnic cleansing like Stalin and Catherine the Great before him to retain control. After all, it worked in transforming Koeningsberg to Kalingrad, why not here?

    Half the reason the Soviets were so antsy about Baltic independence was because those places were so close to one of the centers of power (St. Petersburg) and were the location of a huge amount of military and civil bases, and thus a large portion of Soviet Soldiers. Thousands upon THOUSANDS of Ukrainians, Belarusians, Tajiks, and the like would be based in them at any given time and so the Kremlin had reason to worry that if they were exposed to the revolutionary ideals of the Baltic dissidents they might return and stir up trouble here.

    For all the weaknesses the loss of the Soviet Empire has caused, he doesn’t have to worry as much about non-ethnic Russian troops getting ideas.

    This also isn’t like Manchuria or the Yellow River Delta was for the Japanese in the thirties where you had this massive area of land with millions that could continue a guerilla war almost indefinitely. Crimea’s pretty small and sparsely populated, relatively speaking. In Eastern Ukraine I certainly think that situation is more likely to happen (and given the victories of Ukraine’s patriots over the invaders and their local collaborators I think it is showing). But that isn’t Crimea.

    No, I think the most likely way Crimea would destabilize Russia is by serving as this kind of fatal prize. Something that will continue to attract the world’s ire and make it more likely they will careen into diplomatic and military conflicts both with Ukraine and the rest of the world

    But to be honest I don’t have great hopes for the Rest of the World. He’s done this successfully before.

  • zorbatheturk

    RuSSia is on a one-way road to destruction. All empires ultimately expire, and RuSSia’s turn is well overdue. The breakup of that nonsensical entity, the USSR, was part one of the process. Further disintegration will happen.

    Good.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    The collapse of the oil and gas prices are far more important than the paltry sanctions are. Even if the sanctions are ended today, Dwarfstan’s economy will remain stagnant at best.
    Pedo Putolini was lucky that the oil and gas prices rose after he succeeded Yeltsin. But instead of using the money to modernise the Dwarfstanian economy he wasted it on prestige projects (e.g. Sochi Olympics) and senseless wars (Georgia, Donbas, Syria) after he and his crooked chums stole their unfair share. Now, to quote Medvedev, “There’s just no money.” Well, not for trivia such as proper health care, education, infrastructure, that is.