“Our Crimea” Cologne

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The smell of patriotism,” popularly priced at just 45 rubles per 85ml. bottle.

Via The Interpreter: “Crimean Anschluss Supporters Now Can Show Their Feelings with Special Eau de Cologne. A special eau de cologne has now gone on sale in Russian shops. Called “Our Crimea,” it is intended to remind the wearer and those around him or her of his support for Putin’s annexation of Crimea.”

It’s War Hysteria, Again

More than half the visits to CS&W come from outside the U.S., so as Americans head off to enjoy a long holiday weekend, readers from afar might be interested to know that domestic American news is filled just now with beating of war drums about ISIS.

The beheading of the free lance American journalist James Foley did it. It touched a sensibility in the country that has led to a situation reminiscent in every way of 2003 and the run-up to the second Iraq war.

Remember this?

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Here, then Secretary of State Colin Powell makes the case for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction before the United Nations Security Council. Turned out what he said was not true. But his speech was part of a larger, orchestrated effort to make Americans afraid to go to sleep at night, so that they would support military action against Iraq.

The same sort of government and media alarm bells are clanging right now about ISIS, the retrograde band of thugs that controls more empty desert than cities, but aided by willing media, tickles American fear.

Never mind that the sprawling bureaucracy that afflicts you at every airport and the $38.2 billion Homeland Security 2015 budget exist precisely to protect the country against the hundred or thousand misfits and lost souls with U.S. or European passports who have ended up latter day John Lindhs. Watching American TV you’d be sure the DHS is damp, listless and overmatched, because BAD MEN ARE COMING TO GET YOU! Y-O-U! THE HEARTLAND IS UNDER ASSAULT!

Eleven years ago such fear-mongering served to prepare Americans for the military plunge into the desert that yielded the current crop of Levantine woe. Watching American TV right now, you would be forgiven for thinking the same is happening today.

And even though it’s been said before, at the same time a land invasion by a nuclear power is being carried out in broad daylight in a state bordering NATO. To Americans, and America’s leadership, this is decidedly a second tier story.

President Obama held a press conference yesterday. Cauterized by his Syrian red line a year ago, he determined not to go too far this time. He declared that “This ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine will only bring more costs and consequences for Russia.”

Don’t you imagine that that’ll show ’em?

While the ‘costs and consequences’ mount in the administration’s calculus, here is what a pair of Swedish defense researchers suggest the Russians are crafting:

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I wear my Donbass battalion t-shirt and my thoughts are with the besieged people of eastern Ukraine.

Enough. For now, back to vacation. And happy Labor Day weekend, everybody, from Anguilla.

The Difference Between the ISIS and Ukraine Stories

Islamic_state_of_iraqTV viewers react with well-founded, visceral fear to the ISIS story, but at bottom ISIS is a band of thugs with an archaic worldview that a willful president and his or her allies, if they had a mind to, could clobber using Colin Powell’s overwhelming force commensurate with ISIS’s brutality. The challenge to Ukraine, on the other hand, is an assault on the world’s organizing principles, with the potential to collaterally undermine both NATO and the Obama administration.

The creeping annexation of first Crimea and now the Donbass is more subtle and harder to follow than the plight of people stuck on a mountain, yet it has more potential to undermine international systems. Dire warnings by the professional national-security-for-profit apparatus that JIHADIS ARE COMING TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD are far more sensational than real, but they make great TV. By comparison, an academic discussion about Ukraine and competing power blocks in the post Cold War world only prompts a rush for the remote.

Many of the institutions set up at the end of World War Two need a sharp, thorough overhaul. But they remain in place because they have provided more stability than chaos and no challenge has emerged that promises more liberté, egalité and fraternité.

In 1990, with Kuwait occupied by Iraq, George Bush proclaimed a New World Order but over time Americans grew reluctant to propose new institutions to deal with new realities. It turned out they rather liked their hyperpuissance. Since the Clinton years the new order has remained largely inchoate (though not for lack of predictions). Should Russia now redraw the map of Ukraine on its own, some of the mist will begin to clear and few west of Moscow will like what they see.

Ukraine right now is hugely important because Russia is challenging the fundamental ways the world has organized itself for seventy years and the whole world is watching. The potential impact of the ISIS insurgency is much smaller. It is a manifestation of the post-Ottoman Sykes-Picot agreement, an element of the reshaping of the Middle East region and not the entire world.

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So what about Ukraine? Today the pertinent news sites and #Ukraine, #Donbass, #convoy, #Crimea and so on on Twitter read like play-by-play.

We knew nothing good would come of this convoy thing, didn’t we? Just like in Crimea when the war was over while we still celebrated the #Euromaidan, it’s all happening today, Wednesday, in eastern Ukraine. 

Rostov is south of any crossing point proposed so far. If you’re intent on creating chaos, just peel away and melt into … who knows where. And while shamelessly hoisting the forged banner of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

280 military trucks carrying ‘aid’ under hastily assembled white canvas, juking, their recipient not knowing their route or their intent – least of all the ICRC dude standing outside their building in Geneva dispensing press statements.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned last night:

This morning, well:

It’s all just so unseemly. Russia lurks on the gangstas side of town. Always has. In the Cold War, cynical authoritarianism under equality’s cloak. Now it’s the same authoritarianism under the cloak of, well, nothing.

Ukraine: What to Do Now

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War Museum, Kyiv

Eleven weeks after Viktor Yanukovich fled Kyiv the stakes for Ukraine, and geopolitics, are clear. A set of shrewd western responses may or may not keep Ukraine whole. More broadly, the international norms of state sovereignty and territorial integrity are under assault, and will come undone at the world’s peril.

Russia seeks to dismember Ukraine using a unique, hybrid strategy that just might work. If the U.S. leads from behind, Russians in eastern Ukraine lead from the shadows, cloaking thuggish revanchism in the language of human rights and self-determination.

Ukraine’s inability to govern itself, every single dreary day since independence, is its original sin, and the pending election between the “gas princess” and the “chocolate king” doesn’t hold out much prospect for progress. When Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorsky says “I think Ukraine is paying the price of 20 years of strategic illusions of being able to be neutral and of not paying enough attention to their security sector,” you can almost see his lips mouthing “raving, criminal incompetence.”

In a virtual tie for second biggest problem, Russian perfidy leads European ambivalence  by percentage points. Who do you favor to pull into the lead in this race? The authoritarian, deniable mystery troops, or the herd of 28 finicky EU cats led from behind by you-know-who?

Russia’s advocates (including top-notch liberal columnists) argue that the expansion of NATO and the failure of the West to find a role for Russia in Europe, especially during the humiliating years of post-Soviet economic collapse, bred a resentment in Moscow that manifests in the Putin of today.

It doesn’t hold up. Russia is a charter member of the OSCE (even as its proxies in Slavyansk held OSCE observers for a week). It joined the Council of Europe in 1996. From 1998 until the present crisis Russia was a member of the G-8. The Russia–NATO council was created in 2002 at Russia’s request, and Russia joined the WTO in August 2012.

Participation in these clubs hasn’t promoted Russian integration into Europe because Russia’s priority is not integration with Europe. The real cause of Russia’s behavior, Jan Techau argues, “is its archaic understanding of what constitutes a sovereign nation….”

Techau writes, “Moscow could never accept a structure that gave Luxembourg or Portugal, Georgia or Poland the same legal rights as Russia.” European organizations just aren’t Russia’s style.

Let’s be clear: Russian disinformation notwithstanding, the Maidan was no Pravy Sektor-inspired Nazi uprising. With a generation and counting lost to corruption, at long last Ukrainians young and old rose up and said, enough. That is what happened.

When Russia calls the interim government in Kyiv illegitimate, recall that the country was left in its current predicament when the Kleptocrat-in-Chief Mr. Yanukovich fled under cover of night. To Russia.

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Peril May Not Come from Crimea or Ukraine

 

trident Moscow’s chiseling off a bit of Ukraine was a needless, nervous overreaction to the fall of the Yanukovych regime in Kyiv. The Russian Federation already had effective control of Crimea.

The Kremlin’s ham-handed land grab illuminates its defensive crouch, revealing Vladimir Putin as cornered animal. Russia really is acting from weakness. Its buffer states are long lost, NATO has pushed to its border and now that its crony in fraternal Ukraine has fled, the danger of democracy has drawn right up to Mr. Putin’s door.

Weakness doesn’t imply impotence. Animals fearing mortal peril are more likely to lash out, and one immediate and obvious potential target is the NATO alliance, whose expansion into the Baltics, however good it may have looked at the time, has left it recklessly exposed.

In 1994, as Russia lay shambolic after the Soviet collapse, NATO welcomed former Soviet republics and satellites into its Partnership for Peace. Five years later the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became full NATO members. Five years after that, ten years ago this week, NATO took in seven more countries, three of which, the Baltic states, border Russia (Poland also has a border with the Russian exclave Kaliningrad).

Proponents of expansion at the Brookings Institution wrote that “… fears that enlargement would provoke a new cold war were always greatly exaggerated.” Until now. They argued that “… enlargement will be most successful if it can be accomplished without driving a wedge between Russia and the West.” To the contrary, pushing a military alliance that was founded to oppose Russia right up to Russia’s border has done precisely that, giving an embattled Russian leader an opening to upset the entire Allied apple cart.

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When the Russians made their move in Crimea, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called upon them not to “violate the Budapest Memorandum,” a 1994 document in which signatories Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States pledged to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and refrain from the use of force against it.

Ukraine saw the memorandum as protection from invasion. Russia violated it explicitly and the U.S. and U.K. brushed it aside, calling it a “diplomatic document,” not a treaty. So much for diplomatic documents. So now Yatsenyuk is on to Plan B, signing deals with the EU, inveighing against Russia, pleading for Western support.

It may be, as Gideon Rachman has written, that a Ukraine war would spell disaster for Russia. But there are more clever ways for the Russian leader to wreak calamity than a military assault on the Donbass.

Consider NATO’s northeasternmost outpost, the Estonian border town of Narva, along the main highway from Tallinn to St. Petersburg, which is 82% ethnic Russian (2011). Suppose Mr. Putin were to move, let’s say, 200 un-uniformed men just over the border to protect the ethnic Russians there against intolerable harassment at the hands of the evil, brutish Estonians.

Neither the U.S. nor the Europeans ever meant to commit troops to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO. Do you think they would go to war in Estonia, which is? Sent to buck up the allies last week, Vice President Biden strongly implied that they would. In Lithuania and Poland he declared the U.S. “absolutely committed” to defending its allies.

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That Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway

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Once upon a time the Russian Czars ruled a vast empire. In those days, Palestine was ruled by the Ottomans. One day a feud broke out among Christian sects in the Holy Land. The Armenians and the Orthodox had keys to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem but the Catholics did not, and they wanted one.

A petty squabble among distant infidels would hardly vex the Sultan’s court in Constantinople. Perhaps it penetrated Topkapi Palace as a trifle, as mere amusement. Taking their nargiles and gazing down on the Golden Horn, the effendis and the beys must have shrugged in wonder.

Except the real feud in Palestine went deeper than keys. The Orthodox Patriarch had moved from Constantinople to Jerusalem, so the Pope sent the Catholic Patriarch down there too. The French already had a diplomat there who agitated for the Catholic cause, and before long all the parties were joined in a second raucous quarrel, this one about renovating the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, just up the road from Bethlehem. Finally the exasperated Ottomans sent troops to separate the crazy, feuding monks.

Believing he was smoothing things over, the Sultan granted a set of keys to the Catholics. But Nicholas I, Czar of the Russians, took offense. He saw the Sultan favoring France at about the same time Napolean III was proclaiming the Second Empire, and Czars were no fans of Napoleans. Besides, the Czar had other issues with the Ottomans. Just now tough, mountain-dwelling Orthodox Montenegrins were rising up against the Sultan, and the Czar fashioned himself protector of the Orthodox in the Balkans.

So on orders from the Czar an old and arrogant Prince named Menshikov sailed from Russia across the Black Sea and demanded that within five days the Sultan publicly declare Russia’s right to protect the Orthodox subjects of the Sultan in Palestine and Montenegro – deep within his own empire.

The result was the Crimean War. In which Russia asserted its right to protect people in a separate, sovereign land.

The Czar ultimately lost the war to a European and Ottoman coalition, and some half a million people lost their lives.

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The title of this post is the name of a new book subtitled Russia and the Communist Past by David Satter. Today’s little fairy tale comes thanks largely to Clive Ponting’s The Crimean War: The Truth Behind the Myth.

“Крым. Crimea. Мой Край”

Tourism video for Crimea. Click back and forth between it and this live camera of the port at Kerch, Ukraine, which is separated from Russia by a 25 minute ferry. If you’re lucky you’ll see a real, live invasion.

UPDATE: 8 March, 2014, the live camera at the port seems to be pointed at the sky. Can’t say why. Other cameras on its web site are still live.