Answering his Western critics, 61-year-old Russian President Vladimir Putin called his U.S. and European Union detractors “hypocrites” for condemning his March 1 move to annex Crimea. Putin blasted U.S. and EU leaders for their double standards, invading or attacking countries from Serbia to Iraq for a variety of reasons, none with more compelling reasons than his move in Crimea. Putin cited Russia’s long historic ties with Crimea, going back a few hundred years, until Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave the strategic peninsula to Ukraine in 1954 but only as a Soviet satellite. When anti-Russian demonstrators led by pro-EU former heavyweight champ Vitali Klitskho toppled the duly elected Russian-backed government of Viktor Yanukovich Feb. 22, Putin viewed the former Soviet gift null-and-void. Seizing Crimea made sense to Russian national security.
Threatened with sanctions by the U.S. and EU, Putin remained defiant, turning tables on his former Western partners. After Sunday’s overwhelming vote to establish an independent state in Crimea, Putin chided his Western counterparts, calling Crimea’s decision to secede from Ukraine a democratic right. Calling Sunday’s referendum for independence the “Republic of Crimea,” Putin showed no signs of backing down in the wake of U.S. and EU sanctions. “Our Western partners, especially the USA, believes that they can decide for the world, that they can decide other peoples fates,” referring to preemptive U.S. military adventures in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. “Look a Belgrade. At the end of the Twentieth Century. Then Afghanistan, Libya. Those nations were tired, but the U.S. cyclically used that,” said Putin, referring to U.S. foreign policy.
Putin challenges the West to explain the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new anti-Russian revolutionary government. U.S. and EU officials accepted lawless demonstrators toppling the Russian-backed government of Yanukovich, claiming they wanted no part of his new economic pact with Moscow, retiring Ukrainian debt and, at the same, winning Ukraine a better deal on petroleum and natural gas purchases. When Yanukovich announced Dec. 2, 2013 that he was scrapping an economic recovery plan with the EU in favor of a better deal with Russia, anti-Moscow demonstrators took to the streets, culminating in the Feb. 22 overthrow. While Putin was consumed running the Sochi Winter Olympics, pro-Western forces drove Yanukovich from Kiev into asylum in Russia. No pro-Western country sees anything wrong with a coup d’etat of a democratically elected government.
Referring the American idea of “freedom,” Putin questioned opposition to Crimea’s March 16 independence referendum. “But what about the free will of Crimeans? Isn’t that of the same value,” referring to a decision to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Members of the Kremlin believe the CIA and EU intelligence agencies orchestrated a covert coup against Yanukovich’s pro-Russian government. While logic backs Putin’s position on Ukraine, it doesn’t carry over to former Soviet satellites that prefer Western ties over Moscow. Calling NATO’s incursions in “our native lands” unacceptable, Putin can’t deny that a number of former Soviet satellites are far better off under capitalism than totalitarianism, despite a few exceptions. Putin can’t have it both ways: Seeking to reclaim former Soviet states while granting them independence in 1991.
Calling the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century, Putin would like to reclaim old Soviet glory. Having lost the Caucasus and Baltic states, Putin reigns over shrinking empire with limited clout other that through its newfound wealth as a major oil exporting country. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently called Putin’s rule, “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” emphasizing how a weakly industrialized society gained so much clout. Spurring a furious Wall Street rally, Putin’s remarks allayed concerns that he would march his army into Eastern Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Obama’s recent sanctions come too little, too late to cause Putin to change his mind. If Obama continues to slap Moscow with sanctions, he’ll drive Russia further into its totalitarian past, restarting the dangerous Cold War that pushed nuclear powers to the brink.
Obama’s foreign policy team and conservatives in Congress should go about their business quietly, rather than hurling more insults and threats against Putin. Increasing sanctions assures that Russia and China will continue to paralyze the U.N. Security Council on a whole range of pressing issues. Russia and China sat idly by while former President George W. Bush played his preemptive war cards in Afghanistan and Iraq. Putin’s well aware of U.S. preemptive doctrine that allows the U.S. to attack or takeover any country viewed as a national security threat. If you judge Putin’s actions against U.S. foreign policy since Sept. 11, you’d have to agree its completely in keeping with protecting Russia’s national interests. When anti-Russian demonstrators chased Yanukovich Feb. 22 out of Ukraine with U.S. and EU backing, Putin acted to protect Moscow’s national security.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma