Three years later: Russia’s suicide by Crimea

The Russian Army captures a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. CC BY-SA 3.0 Anton Goloborodko. 

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Article by: Nikolay Klimenyuk
This article was first published in Russian on Open Democracy and was translated by The Russian Reader.

As long as Russia maintains its grip on the Ukrainian peninsula, significant changes for the better at home are impossible.

In the three years that have passed since the annexation of Crimea, a consensus has taken shape in Russia. Everything having to do with the Ukrainian peninsula is Russia’s internal affair, and far from the most important one.

The “accession” of Crimea has even quite succesfully happened in the heads of the regime’s opponents. In November 2016, while arguing on Facebook with Crimean Tatar journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky expressed a stance then supported by many publicly prominent liberals, including activists and intellectuals. Russian society, he argued, wants to deal with other problems. The opposition’s biggest task is regime change, but returning Crimea to Ukrainian jurisdiction by democratic means would be impossible because public opinion would be opposed. Crimea is not mentioned at all in Alexei Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign platform.

The “accession” of Crimea has even quite succesfully happened in the heads of the regime’s opponents.

 Russian media outlets generally considered “liberal” (these media usually eschew the word “opposition”) havealso swallowed the annexation and most of the rhetoric surrounding it without a peep. TV Rain, RBC (even before its top editors were replaced), and the online Meduza, which operates out of Latvia and is not subject to Russian laws, have all long routinely called and depicted Crimea as part of Russia.

The standard explanation—it is required by Russian law, and insubordination is fraught with penalties—sounds like an excuse.

The law does not require that questions about Crimea be included in a quiz on knowledge of Russian cities (which was amended after public criticism) or that reporters term the annexation a “reunification” (Meduza edited the latter term to “absorption.”)

At the same time, Russian reporters usually have no problem demonstratively violating Ukrainian laws (which require them to enter the occupied territory through the checkpoint at Perekop) and flying to Crimea from Russia (as Deutsche Welle reporter Yuri Resheto did), because it’s cheaper, faster, and simpler, and because Ukraine’s rules are cumbersome, inconvenient, and nonbinding.

After that, you can write critical reports on human rights violations in Crimea till the cows come home, but it won’t change what matters.

The voluntary observance of inconvenient Ukrainian rules is tantamount to acknowledging Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, and hardly anyone in Russia wants to do that.

In fact, the seizure of Crimea has been the cause of many pressing problems in Russia that have been on the Russian opposition’s agenda. It has laid bare peculiarities of Russian society that existed longer before the attack on Ukraine.

For example, not only did the extent of imperialist moods become clear but also Crimea’s place in how Russians see themselves as a society and a nation. The imperial myth, still alive and well in Russia, was concocted during Catherine the Great’s reign. From the moment they were implemented, Peter the Great’s reforms had provoked a mixed response. They smacked of “sycophancy,” and modeling the country on Holland seemed somehow petty.

The seizure of Crimea has been the cause of many pressing problems in Russia that have been on the Russian opposition’s agenda. It has laid bare peculiarities of Russian society that existed longer before the attack on Ukraine.

 Catherine, on the contrary, conceived a great European power, rooted in antiquity, Byzantine’s direct heir, the Third Rome, a Europe larger than Europe itself. Her ambitious Southern Project, which involved defeating Turkey, uniting all the Orthodox countries in a single empire, and installing her grandson the Grand Duke Constantine on the throne in Constantinople, was brought low by political reality. The only one of her great fantasies she made come true was seizing the Crimean Khanate, in 1783.

The conquest was extremely atypical of Russia. A troublesome neighbor was not subjugated. Rather, the annexed lands were completely reimagined and rewritten.

The rewriting was attended by the first mass expulsion of the Crimean Tatars.

They did not fit at all into the pictures of the radiant past that Grigory Potemkin was painting in reality on the annexed lands. Crimea was resettled with Plato and Aristotle’s Orthodox descendants: Pontic Greeks, Great Russians, and Little Russians (i.e., Ukrainians). Naturally, all these particulars have been forgotten long since. What has not been forgotten is Crimea’s central place in the self-consciousness of a “great European nation,” as manifest, for example, in the absurd, endlessly repeated expression, “Crimea has always been Russian.”

The saying perfectly illustrates the peculiarities of historical memory in Russia. Crimea’s current “Russianness” is the outcome of over two hundred years of the uninterrupted genocide and displacement of the “non-Russian population,” which culminated during the Second World War. After the two Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1944 (ethnic Germans, Greeks, Bulgarians, Italians, Armenians, Karaites, and Crimean Tatatrs were deported), losses during battles, and the Nazi extermination of Jews and Crimeans, only a third of Crimea’s pre-war inhabitants were left. It was resettled with people from Russia and Ukraine, especially by military officers and veterans of the Party and the secret services.

Crimea’s current “Russianness” is the outcome of over two hundred years of the uninterrupted genocide and displacement of the “non-Russian population,” which culminated during the Second World War.

Naturally, few people in Russia today regard Crimea as a conquered and ravaged country, in which a full-fledged state existed until relatively recently, an indigenous culture was long maintained, and Russians were never the ethnic majority even during the lifetimes of the present elder generation.

Regarding Crimea as a territory, not a society, and treating Crimeans as an annoying inconvenience, was a habit in Catherine’s times and has survived into the present. The formal excuse for the Russian incursion was the “defense of Crimea’s Russophone population,” and yet the “Crimea is ours” attitude of Russians to the peninsula’s residents has been quite skeptical from the get-go. They imagine the main business of Crimeans is leaching off tourists, and the only thing that attracts them about Russia is high wages.

Moreover, this opinion is common across the entire political spectrum. Sergei Parkhomenko, a liberal journalist and public figure, expressed it in a very telling way.

“If first you take five days to explain to the population of Crimea that if they return to Ukraine’s jurisdiction, their wages and pensions will be increased, and they’ll also be permitted to build even more chicken coops for holidaymakers in the coastal zone, and only then you ask them to vote in a referendum, 95% will vote for going back. […]  These people have proved they could not care less what country they belong to. And if there is anyone for whom I now feel not an ounce of sympathy as I read about how they are being fooled, robbed, milked, and put under the rule of gangsters pretending to be officials and bosses, it is the population of Crimea.”

The massive support of Russians for the annexation has much more serious and immediate consequences than a display of deeply rooted chauvinism. Having signed off on “Crimea is ours,” Russians have deemed their own power above the law and sanctioned its use in violating all laws and treaties for the sake of higher interests or “justice.” The Russian authorities had behaved this same way previously, but now they have obtained the relevant mandate from society. Quite naturally, the crackdown following the seizure of Crimea has been chockablock with spectacular acts of lawlessness.

The massive support of Russians for the annexation has much more serious and immediate consequences than a display of deeply rooted chauvinism.

One such act was the demolition of commercial kiosks and pavilions in Moscow, which happened despite legalized property rights and court rulings. There was nothing accidental about the fact the Moscow authorities justified their actions by citing the law adopted for settling real estate disputes in Crimea. And the twenty-year-sentence handed down to Oleg Sentsov set a new ceiling for verdicts in political trials. Before Crimea, activists would get a dvushechka (two years) for especially vigorous protests. After Crimea, the Russian authorities have been sentencing people for reposts on VK and holding solo pickets.

Actually, any regime that tasks itself with establishing the rule of law in Russia will first have to annul this “mandate to lawlessness.” The Russian opposition’s attitude to Crimea shows the rule of law is not among its priorities at all. Bewitched by the figure of Putin, the opposition does not regard regime change as a product of the rule of law. The fact that it cannot offer a realistic scenario for regime change is not a problem in itself. Russia’s currrent regime does not presuppose a peaceful change of power. Systemic change might happen as it did in the Soviet Union, at the behest of the bigwigs and under the impact of external circumstances: the state of the economy, public sentiment, foreign policy factors.

The opposition’s most serious problem is that it doesn’t have a meaningful outline of what would come next.

If we believe the alternative to Putin is neither Navalny, Khodorkovsky nor anyone else, but a democratic state based on the rule of law, there are two obstacles in our way: Crimea and Chechnya. The opposition has no vision of how to establish control over Chechnya and incorporate it into Russia’s legal system, but it is possible in theory, at least. There is no such possibility with Crimea. It is impossible to hope for international recognition of the peninsula as part of Russia, and if we keep regarding it as part of Russia, it will thus remain a legal anomaly. Moreover, no rule of law is even formally possible without observance of international law.

When discussing Crimea, the Russian opposition evinces a notion of democracy that differs little from Putin’s, although it is consonant with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the European populists: that democracy is rule based on majority support and not burdened by the observance of laws, procedures, and international obligations. Khodorkovsky, for example, considers “democratic procedure” not the restoration of law, but the adoption of a decision on Crimea based on the opinion of the majority, which, allegedly, is against giving Crimea back to Ukraine. Navalny has suggested holding a new, “normal” referendum.

When discussing Crimea, the Russian opposition evinces a notion of democracy that differs little from Putin’s

Yet what the majority really thinks, whether there is such a thing as public opinion on any issue and how to measure it, obviously means nothing at all either to Khodorkovsky, Navalny or many other members of the opposition. By the same token, since Putin is supported by the majority of the Russian population, there is nothing for the opposition to do at all. All these contradictions can be eliminated only by unconditionally recognizing both the illegality of Crimea’s annexation and the total impossibility of keeping it in the Russian Federation on any grounds.

With Crimea in tow, Russia has no positive alternative to the current regime. And as long as the Russian opposition is concerned only about regime change and avoids discussing Crimea, the only thing it can offer is a Putinist Russia sans Putin. Whoever ends up in his place, however, the changes won’t be too noticeable.

Nikolay Klimenyuk writes about politics and culture in Germany and Russia. He was an editor at Forbes Russia, Bolshoi Gorod, and other periodicals. He has lived in Berlin since 2014 and writes for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other German mass media.



Source: Originally published in Russian on Open Democracy

Source: Translated to English by The Russian Reader, republished with permission

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  1. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

    RuSSia is Putin. Putin is RuSSia. Rinse and repeat.

  2. Avatar MichaelA says:

    Does any of this matter? The reality is that Crimea is Ukrainian.

    The Kremlin and its upporters can keep telling themselves that they own Crimea but its all rubbish. They hold it as long as they fill it with troops, at enormous expense. Which in turn is crushing Russia. That works fine – let Russia continue to be crushed.

    1. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

      Monhol MOLE UP-VOTING another Monhol MOLE !!

      WHAT A SURPRISE!!! 😉

      1. Avatar MichaelA says:

        you didnt like me writing about russia being crushed
        you also didnt like me writing that crimea is ukrainian
        that is because you are a putin troll

        1. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

          “MichaelA” — is ALSO A RUSKI (or ***SERBIAN*** (same sh*t!) is also a RUSKI POS MOLE…
          who like “ALEX GEORGE” — ALSO HIDES IT’S POSTING PROFILE —- may even be the same entity….

          CLEARLY LYING ABOVE — LIKE A RUSKI faqqot & COWARD…. **MOLE** & Ruski koksuker! 🙂

          1. Avatar MichaelA says:

            i wrote about russia being crushed and i wrote that crimea is ukrainian
            you attacked that because you are really a putin troll

          2. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

            “…. and i wrote that crimea is ukrainian”

            Putin said the same thing above once 🙂
            So what, you DUM LYING ***MOLE*** ? 🙂

            Probably you didn’t even know that ….. ignorant Ruski lying POS!

          3. Avatar MichaelA says:

            No he didn’t. You attack people who support Ukraine. You try tonnage Ukrainians argue with each other. You are a Putin troll.

          4. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

            WHAT “Ukrainians” do I “try to get Ukrainians arguing with each other.”

            YOU?? :)))
            “Vasyl P.” ??? (actually, it’s RUSKI ‘WEASEL PEE” )

            “Alex George” —- etc.. supposed PIGS —- who “LOST THEIR ONLY BABY IN DONBAS!!!!!!!” :)))

            MORONS!!!! :))

          5. Avatar MichaelA says:

            And many others as well
            You attack some Ukraine supporters and praise others
            So you can get them fighting each other
            You did the same thing on Kyiv Post until Brian banned you

          6. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

            Who else believes that besides the ***MOLES*** & THE TRUMP SUPPORTERS !!!! :)))

            MORONS!!! :)))
            RUSKI!! :))

          7. Avatar MichaelA says:

            I wrote about Russia being crushed. You didn’t like that.

            I wrote that Crimea is Ukrainian. You didn’t like that.

            You are a Putin troll.

          8. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

            “I wrote about Russia being crushed. You didn’t like that.
            I wrote that Crimea is Ukrainian. You didn’t like that.
            You are a Putin troll.”


            Still hiding your posting profile eh? :))))

            COWARD RUSKI & LIAR!!! SCUMBAG!!!

          9. Avatar MichaelA says:

            You yourself have proved it in your posts
            You attack supporters of Ukraine for no reason
            You try to get Ukrainians to fight each other
            You are a Russian mole

          10. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

            You are not a Uke you stupid fuk & Ruski faqqot! :)))

          11. Avatar MichaelA says:

            I never said I was.

            Unlike you, I don’t pretend to be a Ukrainian.

            As your posts above show, you attack supporters of Ukraine for no reason. You try to get Ukrainians to fight each other. You are a Russian mole.

          12. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

            “You try to get Ukrainians to fight each other.”

            YOU. YOU RUSKI POS — are **NOT** Ukrainian. :)))

            Your kind ALWAYS contradicts itself …. ;)))


          13. Avatar Alex George says:

            He is right – you do.

            You are a Putin troll trying to sow dissension among supporters of Ukraine. That is why you have been booted from so many pro- Ukrainian websites.

          14. Avatar MichaelA says:

            What I wrote was right n the money: you attack supporters of ukraine for no reason. You try to get Ukrainians fighting each other. You are a Russian mole

          15. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

            “You try to get Ukrainians fighting each other.”

            (now “cleverly” get your “Alex George” account to cover-up here again
            for you! :)))))))

            Monhol faqqot!!!!! :)))

          16. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

            Catholic Baboon…. Faqqot Andrew! Loves SERBIAN coock the best!

          17. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

            Hey SERBIAN-cock sucker… MichaelA aka Alex George doesn’t like you, dirty “Greek Catholic” aka Galician Swine. Live him alone!

      2. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

        Andrew, you SERBIAN-cock sucker… MichaelA aka Alex George doesn’t like you, dirty “Greek Catholic” aka Galician Swine. Live him alone!

    2. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

      Still living in fantasy land, oldie?

  3. Avatar treepot says:

    Slobodan Milosevic made the mistake of initiating ethnic cleansing and Putin made the mistake of “protecting” Russian speaking people in Crimea and Donbas. Putin’s plans turned to “national pride” by annexing Crimea, but the consequences are the beginning of Russia’s disintegration. The population will suffer because of lawlessness and because of Russian boyars selfishness, but no western nation intends to spend any effort on bringing lawlessness under control of the Russian land, even though most of it is tundra, permafrost and swamps.

    1. Avatar Antonio de Águilas says:

      you are making the description of ukraine right now; eumaidan made the mistake of initiating ethnic cleansing of russian languaje and culture, so ukraine began its own demise.

      1. Avatar MichaelA says:

        there has never been any ethnic cleansing of russian language or culture in ukraine
        learn your facts before posting rubbish

      2. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

        This is exactly what happened, Antonio.

        1. Avatar MichaelA says:

          Rubbish. There has never been any cleansing of Russian language or culture in Ukraine. Learn your facts before posting,

      3. Avatar treepot says:

        Ukraine’s Maidan was not ETHNIC CLEANSING but fighting corrupt government and Yanukovych taking bribe from Russia instead of accepting funds from EU.

    2. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

      Both examples are “fake news”. Slobodan Milosevic did not make the mistake of initiating ethnic cleansing. This never happened. And Putin did not make a mistake of “protecting” Russian speaking people in Crimea and Donbas – Crimea was autonomous region that voted to re-join Russia. Donbas rejected NEOCON installed UkrNaZZi and Ashkenazim regime. Can you blame them? look how many innocent civilians in Donbas Petro “Waltzman” Poroshenko murdered in 3 years.

      1. Avatar Alex George says:

        Yes, yes, never happened – except it all did happen and you know it.

        There was no vote in Crimea – just an FSB propaganda exercise. The people of Crimea are groaning, waiting for release from the Russian jackboot.

        Over ten thousand Ukrainians have been killed in Donbass through Russia aggression – but the defenders hold firm against the uncultured eastern barbarians.

        1. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

          Seek help – you need it. Badly!

      2. Avatar treepot says:

        You are a fake and so is your name.

        1. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

          Says the fake with no brain… yack!

          1. Avatar treepot says:

            What I had said can be verified in mass media archives. You are just full of FAIKNESS.

          2. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

            LOL… President Assad had no motive or reason to use chemical weapons – which BTW Syria does not have ( but terrorist supported by Hilary’s sponsors at S.A. do). This is obvious to an idiot but not to those who are still drinking large quantities of MSM Kool Aid.

          3. Avatar treepot says:

            Where is your evidence (your usual criticism)? Why is he using mass execution of prisoners? Mass graves have been shown, but that is no evidence as far as you are concerned.

          4. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

            Why is the moon green? Yep, perhaps the same type of FAKE WMD and MASS GRAVES “news” we saw in Iraq and during the invasion and bombardment of Kosovo, which were all later proven to be totally false fat lies by the “deep state” presstitutes designed to delude gullible American public.

          5. Avatar treepot says:

            You get paid by the number of syllables, words or lines in your babble? You must be paid or you are nuts, there is no other reason for this exchange.

          6. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

            You are describing yourself?
            It certainly sounds like it.

          7. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

            Why are Pro-Catholic Ukraps so stupid? How can someone present evidence of something that never happen. It is you that have to present the evidence that Syrian Government did it, which you have not done till now or would you be able to do this ever in the future.

      3. Avatar treepot says:

        Why were men and boys executed. What was that for?

  4. Avatar Antonio de Águilas says:

    Crimea is in fact russian, crimeans think themselves as russians, russians think crimeans as russians; maybe ukraine should think about being lovable first, but bombing donbass is making donbass independent.

    1. Avatar gmab says:

      You obviously missed the main point in this article. Go spread your RT propaganda somewhere else- like in RuSSia.

    2. Avatar MichaelA says:

      crimeans dont think of themselvse as russian and they are not russian
      russia took over the crimea at gunpoint and continues to hold it at gunpoint
      russia will never own crimea or donbass
      russia is bominbg donbass

    3. Avatar Vol Ya says:

      maybe you should get educated before you write things or maybe just stop spreading lies. are you a russian troll or just plain stupid. Crimea is Tatar.

  5. Avatar Njordheim says:

    Western Ukraine NaZZi are murderers and very evil scum killing Polish then and now Ukrainian People:

    1. Avatar MichaelA says:

      typical russian nazzi post

  6. Avatar Njordheim says:

    The Volhynian massacres were anti-Polish genocidal ethnic cleansing conducted by Western Ukrainian nationalists – which are the same people that now murdering Donbas women and children. See:

    The massacres took place within Poland’s borders as of the outbreak of WWII, and not only in Volhynia, but also in other areas with a mixed Polish-Ukrainian population, especially the Lvov, Tarnopol, and Stanisławów voivodeships (that is, in Eastern Galicia), as well as in some voivodeships bordering on Volhynia (the western part of the Lublin Voivodeship and the northern part of the Polesie Voivodeship – see map).

    The time frame of these massacres was 1943−1945. The perpetrators were the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists−Bandera faction (OUN-B) and its military wing, called the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

    1. Avatar MichaelA says:

      what rubbish
      and has nothing to do with the article

  7. Avatar DING DONG - UKRAINE IS GONE!! says:

    No more then 6 UkrNaZZi trolls posting here believes anything this propaganda site is posting.

    1. Avatar Andrew Chmile says:

      Ah!!!! The POS ***SERBIAN*** mental case & COWARD with the BIG ***SERBIAN** MOUTH is back —- in his “clever new disguise” I see! :))

  8. Avatar Vol Ya says:

    There is nothing Russia can do to reverse its demographic decline. It is arithmetic at this time – rising poverty and disease rates and declining life expectancy. Russia is dying. So what does putin do. He attacks and tries to destroy and destabilize other countries to try and make Russia look better in comparison. It won’t work. Nobody wants to move to or live in Russia.

  9. Avatar Dmitry Pees on Talmud! says:

    Ukraps are dumbaSSas!

    1. Avatar Alex George says:

      Thank you for giving an excellent demonstration of why Ukrainians no longer want anything to do with Russia.

      1. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

        Khazaras, like you, don’t speak for Ukraine!

        1. Avatar MichaelA says:

          Back again Njordheim? How did you enjoy having all your previous posts deleted?

          1. Avatar Mr. Jackson says:

            ORANGE TRUMP: “We Are Not Going to Syria”… LOL!!
            Lyndsay McCain must be disappointed …LOL!!

          2. Avatar MichaelA says:

            Yes it is great to see isn’t it!

            So, how did you enjoy having all your previous posts deleted?