The Green Papers Commentary

With Crimea annexed to Russia,
the World pauses to collect its breath

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Popular participation in government is in natural accord with the essential Western ideas of Liberty, and of Rational Law reflecting the public conscience... But this is not to say that Liberty and Rational Law can only exist, or will even under all conditions thrive best under its shelter. To make such a claim would be to deny the value of all that has been achieved for civilisation in most of the great states of the world... [L]iberty of conscience, liberty of thought, liberty of speech, liberty of the press, liberty of action may exist in the highest practicable degree under a non-popular government... on the other hand, they may be, and sometimes have been, denied by representative governments...

Nevertheless it is the natural tendency of all peoples among whom the seminal ideas of Western civilisation have taken root to strive towards self-government, and according the history of Europe is full of experiments in that direction. But most of them, interesting as they are in themselves, have little or no bearing upon the problems of government in the great modern states. The little city-republics of ancient Greece and of medieval Italy, Germany and Flanders were on so small a scale that they afford practically no guidance for the government of the nation-state...

But there is one respect in which the experience of the small city-states, where each citizen directly and constantly shared in the work of government, concurs with the experience of the great modern state wherein any such participation is impossible. Both alike point to certain essential conditions without which government by discussion and agreement must be impossible or disastrous in its results. These conditions are two:

In the first place, the mass of active citizens who take a share in the direction of affairs must be in some degree educated, not merely in the formal sense, though that is important, but still more in having been trained in the practice of co-operation in common affairs. No community can become self-governing whose members are not capable of appreciating the complexity of political issues, or have not learnt by practical experience the need for compromise, for give-and-take, for the loyal acceptance of results arrived at after discussion, and for the willing subordination of self; and these things can only be acquired by training. Where these qualities are lacking, the institution of forms of self-government must either lead to anarchy, or to the enthronement of unscrupulous intriguers who play upon the ignorance of the voters and their lack of political intelligence... The creation of this political aptitude among a people is not to be easily or rapidly brought about. It takes time. The best system of school-instruction is by itself quite insufficient to produce it. Only the formed habit of co-operation and discussion in minor matters can bring it fully into being, and the number of societies whose conditions of life have made it easy for its citizens to acquire this habit has been small.

The second condition of the successful working of self-government is that there must exist a real unity of sentiment in the community which attempts it. When a community is divided by deep and irreconcilable antipathies, by the unconquerable distrust and dislike of one element in it for another, discussion becomes futile and agreement impossible... In the great modern state unity of sentiment is indeed a hard thing to create. It has, in fact, been created only by one force-- by what we call the national spirit... Where it is once firmly rooted, the national spirit can not merely survive, but can even turn to good ends, differences of party, creed and class. For these differences produce a deepened sincerity and a greater pith and force in discussion, so long as those who hold them are primarily thinking of the welfare of the nation as a whole, and so long as the mass of men can continue to believe that their opponents (however mistaken) are genuinely desirous of national advantage as they conceive it... But where the national spirit does not exist- where the state consists of acutely hostile groups, each permanently suspicious of the others... self-government in any real sense cannot exist; and if its institutions are established, their effect will either be nullified by the clash of conflicting and irreconcilable factions... or they will afford to the better organised the means of imposing its ruthless dominion upon its recalcitrant subjects... The unifying force of the national spirit is indeed the only factor which has yet been discovered that can make self-government as real a thing in the large state as it was in the little city-state.--

RAMSAY MUIR: from 'The Ordeal of Self-Government' in his National Self-Government: Its Growth and Principles (The Culmination of Modern History) [1918]

So- seemingly in the proverbial "blink of the eye", in relation to the scale of History- Crimea, once again, becomes part of Russia (a little over six decades after it had been given over Ukraine- on 19 February 1954- by fiat of the post-Stalin Soviet Union of which both Russia and Ukraine were, back then, still a part).

That the plebiscite (for that is what it was: a decision made by majority vote the common people, only with the consent of an elite [the 'plebs'- otherwise unheard from, here at least in theory- given their own say]) was rigged is beyond all possible question: for I've pored over more than enough election statistics to be able to tell a bona fide 97% of the vote in favor from one that was more than a little- shall we say- "engineered". The actions, leading up to the voting back on Sunday 16 March, of pro-Russian demonstrators from Crimea (as well as more than a few outside agitators); the intimidating seeming omnipresence of Crimean so-called 'Defense Forces' (augmented by Russian troops, many without identifying insignia); the leading wording of the two questions on which the Crimean 'plebs' were permitted to so vote (no option to keep what is now the status quo ante)-- keep in mind, too, that the Crimean government that authorized this plebiscite had itself come to power as a result of the seizure of the headquarters of the Crimean Autonomous Republic- then still within Ukraine- by the "masked men" with guns and without identifying insignia nearly a fortnight before...

quite a bit of overkill, mixed with more than a little ballot stuffing, if only to "make sure"!

Having said all the above, however, the clearest, most convincing, fact on the ground remains that- had there been a free and fair referendum, under the oversight of outside observers; had there been at least a fortnight or more of fully free debate and discussion (impossible once Russian State TV had co-opted all Ukrainian television channels seen within Crimea during the lead-up to the plebiscite itself); had the paper ballots included an option to keep the status quo (Crimea remaining an Autonomous Republic within Ukraine with no constitutional changes affecting either entity)- the majority (however bare a one it might have been) of Crimeans would have voted to at least secede from Ukraine, if not also join the Russian Federation (and an independent Crimea could not have long stayed outside of Russia in any event). Given the ethnolinguistic demographics of the peninsula- the Crimean Tatar community would have, likely, boycotted the process anyway- a favorable vote to do what has been done cannot be well denied.

But none of this changes the fact that- back on Sunday 16 February, exactly a month before the plebiscite- rather few were so visibly, and vehemently, agitating for Crimea's return to Russia (whatever the longings in such a direction by the majority of the Russian-speaking community in Ukraine) and, certainly, Vladimir Putin himself wasn't at all pushing for such a thing! No-- Crimea has only been absorbed by the Russian Federation because Putin himself threw the proverbial "hissy fit" over the fact that his own guy was knocked from power in Kiev and that, in and of itself, would push Ukraine as a whole into the European orbit and, thereby, away from himself...

The Russian-speaking majority of Crimeans may so firmly believe they themselves freely chose to rejoin Russia-- but truth is: Russia was only amenable to this "family reunion" for its own purposes. Drink up now in celebration: for the hangover is sure to come!

George F. Kennan- most famous (though famous well after the fact) for the so-called 'Long Telegram', which influenced the early Cold War era policy of 'Containment' and in which he argued that, being "impervious to the logic of reason", the Soviet leadership was, rather, "highly sensitive to the logic of force"- lived long enough (he died in 2005, at the age of 101) to call the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the very borders of the Russian Federation itself a "mistake". His very characterization has recently been used to back up opinions as to why the Putin regime is doing what(ever) it is now doing, opinions which tend to put the blame at least partly (if not mostly) upon the West for events in and around Crimea (along with the Russian government's [over?]reaction to the ouster of former Ukrainian President Yanukovich) over the past few weeks now...

but- unlike as was the case when the nations of Eastern Europe were within the USSR's 'Warsaw Pact'- no one has held the proverbial "gun (or, for that matter, tank in the street) to the heads" of the leadership cadres of Poland, the two states that were once Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria- or, for that matter, the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (themselves once forced into the Soviet Union proper) and forced them to join NATO. All these countries joined NATO because they were, to put it most bluntly, scared-- of Russia! And to use NATO expansion as something of an excuse for the Russian reaction would be the equivalent of the enablers of a schoolyard bully claiming that he or she only bullies because people have already said he or she was a bully in the first place!

Kennan did come out- early in the Cold War era itself- against so institutionalizing an anti-Soviet alliance as NATO has, throughout its own history, done (he strongly chided those who saw nations other than the United States of America as being states like our own, reasonably content with their international borders and status, at least to the extent that they would be willing to refrain from pressing for change without international agreement) and his own post-Cold War appraisal of the first burst of expansion of NATO in the year before his own death, to be fair to his legacy, has to be read in that same context. It also does not take into account the fact that all the nations I mentioned in the preceding paragraph had- or, in two cases (Bulgaria and Romania), were soon to- also become members of the European Union, an economic cum political entity (not a military alliance!) quite apart from NATO (for a certain number of EU members are not within NATO and, conversely, more than a few NATO members (besides Canada and the United States, of course!) are not member-states of the EU).

Again, no one- certainly not the United States! - has held the proverbial "gun to the head" of, say, Norway- an original NATO member from 1949- and, thereby, force it to join a European Union it itself rejected in a national referendum held not long after Maastricht!

Yes, I myself wrote- in my Commentary of last 4 July- that (and I had boldfaced it therein, so I will do so again here) the European Union does nothing MAJOR without the United States of America at least "looking the other way", where the USA does not actually indicate its approval. But, unlike the case with NATO (in which there, by very definition, has to be much closer coordination with the dominant ally within it- the United States of America itself), the EU- as an institution- has far more freedom than NATO to do that which the United States itself might not much like it to do and, in any event, can certainly- almost always, if not always- not do that which the United States might more prefer EU member-states to do: for I also wrote, therein, that, as to any and all pressure ordinary Europeans might, [through their own "democratic institutions- along with their necessary underpinnings: such as Freedom of Speech and of the Press"] , bring upon their own political leaderships [plural here because we're talking about the institutions of the EU itself as well as those of the EU Member-States individually]), the United States of America can do nothing!

As I've said elsewhere on this website: the '3rd American Empire' is a "constellation", not an Imperium (although, as I also opined back on 4 July 2013: Europeans... still have to well consider just how much they might (or might not) want to so "stick it in the eye" of the 'Emperor'- the quintessential "Leader of the Free World": that is, the President of the United States- and his Administration). However, those eastern European nations under the thumb of the former Soviet Union (at least, until Mikhail Gorbachev came along) had no such option to effectively "stick it in the eye" of their 'Emperors' during the four decades after the end of World War II! (Should you- the reader- at all doubt me, please see, for example, 'Hungary, 1956' or 'Czechoslovakia, 1968')

Simply put: by the end of the Cold War (and the concomitant collapse of, first, the Soviet 'Empire' and, then, the Soviet Union itself) now nearly a quarter century ago (can it really have been that long ago now?) those same eastern European nations already well knew just which side of their "bread" was actually "buttered"-- and it certainly wasn't the eastern side of their respective slices!... but, by around that same time, Ukrainians knew this, too; and what took place over a month ago now in Kiev was- much like the earlier 'Orange Revolution'- the direct result of this knowledge...

the problem, however, is that, to Vladimir Putin and those around him within the leadership cadre of the Russian Federation, such knowledge is that imparted only once the "serpent" has gotten someone to eat the "apple" and- to Putin (and, for that matter, to most Russians generally)- that "serpent" is another federation known as the United States of America, along with the influence- however honored, often as not, in the breach- it wields over its European allies.

Federations are federations for a reason (and here, finally, gentle readers: the very reason for my extensive quotation from Muir at the head of this piece). They almost always are formed as a result of a limit in- or even lack of- Muir's "real unity of sentiment in the community": as an attempt (however successful or no) to more firmly instill- via the installing of institutions promotive of- Muir's "the national spirit"...

this is the very essence of what the framers of the United States of America's own Constitution meant by their own "more perfect Union".

As recently noted on a page on this website containing a table of otherwise rather dry political data, the several States of the American Union remain within (and many of these States are themselves divided amongst two or more) historically- and, contemporarily, politically (as well as economically and socioculturally)- definable and differing, Sections and Regions re: which the USofA as a whole can be seen as including all or parts (as at least some of these "bleed over" into Canada, Mexico and even the Caribbean) of same; and the very roots of these are to be found even amongst the "Original 13" of the Colonial Era:

  • New England (NE 1 in the tables in the above-linked page): CT, MA, NH & RI
  • Mid-Atlantic (NE 2 thereon): DE, MD, NJ, NY & PA
  • Tidewater and Banks (the roots of the 'Upper' ["Border"] South [S 1]): NC & VA
  • The 'Lower' ("Deep") South yet to expand westward (S 2): GA & SC

These 'United Colonies' (which, always remember, "solemnly publish[ed] and declare[d]"- on 4 July 1776- they were and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES [plural as well as CAPITALIZED]) were not necessarily most seriously contemplating a federation (let alone a Confederation!). Indeed: despite their assertion that they were now- as a group- to be known as the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (also capitalized within that final paragraph text of the Declaration of Independence), their 'Union' (such as it was) was principally a military alliance- as represented by the Continental Army already, by that Summer of 1776, commanded by General George Washington- joined to fight the British Empire from which they each (each Colony-become-State, that is) were politically seceding; meanwhile, the day-to-day Rule of Law within the then-new United States of America was still being carried out by the institutions within these very 'free and Independent States' and not by the Continental Congress that had approved and proclaimed the Declaration...

however, that proverbial 'Mother of all Invention'- Necessity herself- raised her head early on: political Confederation (intended to be permanent, too; not merely temporary for the duration of the conflict: for the Articles thereof specifically described themselves as being "of Confederation and Perpetual Union" [later historians' shortening of their own title to 'Articles of Confederation' being as much perpetual witness to their failure to be same as this might be mere convenience]) became at least as necessary- however difficult to attain (as States without claims beyond the Appalachians were, thereby, able to put pressure on those that did to give these up to the [however relatively weak] general government)- as military consensus out in the field (where Washington's leadership of the Continental Army throughout the war can never be understated)...

but this political consensus (again, such as it was) could not long hold together under a system (if one can even call it that!) in which the general government of the Confederation could not force- or, for that matter, not even effectively cajole- its own member-States to at all get along!

It was the middle two of the four post-Colonial Regions within the then-still new United States that got scared first: retaliatory tariffs enforced at State borders were bad enough, but then came Shays's Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786 in which local grievances threatened to rend that Commonwealth of Massachusetts so lately constituted (in fact, but six years before) apart. Thus, the Mid-Atlantic States (the port cities of which- New York City [the very core of that 'old New Netherland' (NE 2 A) including New York State, New Jersey and Delaware], as well as Philadelphia and Baltimore [the key ports of the other two States in the Region]- had already discerned threats to commerce from onerous tariff and rebellious debtor alike) and the Tidewater/Banks of Virginia and North Carolina (seeing an affront to this Region's own conception of social deference as the very linchpin of good communal order in the actions of Shays's ragtag followers up North) became the catalyst for the Annapolis Convention of 1786 (itself piggy-backing on earlier conferences between Maryland and Virginia regarding navigation on the Potomac)...

thereafter, both New England (with the glaring exception of Rhode Island) and the Lower South (both these Regions fearing potential future interference from foreign [meaning European] Powers should the, evidently, not-so-Perpetual Union under the Articles not soon be made "more perfect" [New England well knew that, had Johnny Burgoyne's forces not been stopped from heading down the Hudson from Lake Champlain back in 1777, they would have suffered greatly during the course of the American Revolution (especially if its outcome were much different than it actually was); while the Lower South well feared a Britain that had- during that same conflict- gone so far as to offer Freedom to slaves willing to join the Loyalist cause] as much as they each- albeit for different reasons- feared the kind of anarchy such as Shays's Rebellion so strongly portended) would willingly join in that larger Convention in Philadelphia which, in the end, produced the original text of the Constitution of the United States.

All in all, any and all "deep and irreconcilable antipathies" and "unconquerable distrust and dislike of one element... for another" (to here, again, quote Ramsay Muir) gave way to baser self-preservation (as well as more than a little "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"): that this was not at all the most perfect way to foster Muir's "national spirit... turn[ing] to good ends, differences of party, creed and long as those who hold them are primarily thinking of the welfare of the nation as a whole" may well explain why those at that Philadelphia Convention of 1787 purposively declared that We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union... do ordain and establish this Constitution. Their new Federal Union could be no more perfect than whatever it might, in future, become and it would be up to each new generation of Americans (from whatever Region)- so long as their Constitution endured- to make it ever more perfect than it might have been before.

So, has it worked? Pretty much so- although the American Civil War of 1861-1865 showed just what might happen should "deep and irreconcilable antipathies" and "unconquerable distrust and dislike of one element... for another" so get out of hand!

As that aforementioned table illustrating the Congressional Political Party Breakdown by Section and Region within the United States itself suggests, there still exists a dynamic political, economic and sociocultural tension between such Sections and Regions within the early 21st Century United States of America, yet there is still- overarching all this- very much of that "national spirit" which brings a swelling to the chest- where not also a tear to the eye (depending on the circumstance, of course: an Independence Day picnic preceding the fireworks being so much different in tone from, say, a military funeral)- whenever an American (except for, perhaps, the most hard-hearted) beholds the Stars and Stripes; however, baser political problems- particularly at the Federal level (accompanied by the incessant decrying of "partisanship", the concomitant wringing of hands at "polarization")- most ensue at those times when one side, if not both, of the more pressing 'issues of the day' refuse "to believe that their opponents (however mistaken) are genuinely desirous of national advantage as they conceive it" (or when one side [if not both], as Herbert Agar once so well put it, "allow themselves to feel, and preach, that the opposition is not only mistaken but wicked")...

it is at such times that our rather restive metropole of a quite restless 'Empire' beyond the seas does- if only potentially- face the ever-present danger of "the state consist[ing] of acutely hostile groups, each permanently suspicious of the others", a situation in which "self-government in any real sense cannot exist" (again here quoting from Muir). Yet, for nearly a century and a half now, the federation/metropole at the heart of the '3rd American Empire' has not come apart at the seams-- perhaps 'tis true that God does look after children, drunkards and the United States of America!

But the fact that the United States of America has managed to (somehow?) maintain at least a form of political stability for that past century and a half should well illustrate just how difficult it is for large Nation-States to maintain- let alone achieve in the first place- just such political stability (even within federations- or, in some cases, confederations- in which their competing sections and regions agree to- to no little extent- constitutional compromise) in much of the world. And, in the context of the current 'Ukraine Crisis', the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Ukraine itself- rather than being a federation- is, by design (going back to its own incorporation into the then-new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as 1922 became 1923, followed by its expansion westward by Soviet conquest during World War II), a unitary state!

It is certainly obvious that what has recently happened in Crimea is largely due to its however autonomous constitutional position within Ukraine having been "nullified by the clash of conflicting and irreconcilable factions" both within Crimea, as well as outside Crimea within Ukraine itself, and such clashes- from the Maidan in late February to places like Sevastapol and Simferopol in early to mid-March- did, in the main, "afford to the better organised the means of imposing its ruthless dominion upon its recalcitrant subjects." For it was the "masked men" with guns- whether self-defined 'Self-Defense Forces' or Russian troops in disguise (where not, at one and the same time, both)- that were Muir's "the better organised"- better organized than any Ukrainian presence, military or civilian- on the peninsula; and, as noted earlier in this piece, it was they who took over the Crimean government, rushed through authorization for the referendum/plebiscite of 16 March, organized it and thereafter acted upon its results-- all to the applause of the majority of (and the consternation, where not also fears, of the minorities within) the Crimean population, regardless of the constitutional niceties (within the Constitution of Ukraine, that is) and the slap-dashedness of the whole procedure.

Thus, Crimea (from the Ukrainian point of view) is well gone-- the "national spirit" of its majority ever a Russian, as opposed to a Ukrainian, one-- and what is not, at least as of this typing, de jure (that is, in the eyes of International Law: for Crimea now being part of the Russian Federation has about as much recognition as once had rump nation-states like Bophuthatswana or Ciskei, black "homelands" granted independence [if only of a sort] by the old Apartheid regime of South Africa back as the 1970s became the 1980s), has- nonetheless- become de facto.

So, what's next?

Much depends, of course, on what Putin does next. Russian "military exercises" are- as I now type this- taking place along Ukraine's eastern border (and there has been at least some of the same "activity" by pro-Russian groups- as was seen in Crimea prior to the plebiscite/referendum of 16 March on that peninsula- within the restive eastern oblasts of Ukraine proper): but NATO seems even more concerned about Transnistria, a majority Russian enclave within Moldova (and on the southwestern edge of Ukraine-- in order for Russian troops to get to Transnistria from, say, Crimea, they would have to traverse the whole southern portion of Ukraine [which would then effectively cut off the pro-Kiev western Ukraine from the Black Sea entirely!]). Clearly, both the United States and the member-States of the European Union (both within and without NATO, as well as those NATO members not part of the EU) cannot allow this to happen!

But unless and until Americans, whether Obama-supporters or Obama-detractors (or even Obama-bashers) see military action to defend those parts of eastern Europe within what function as the 'marchlands' of the 'Empire' as being in the interests of the metropole itself, it is highly unlikely that Putin will at all face the kind of resistance from the West he- along with those around him within the Russian government- most clearly understands (for we are here back to Kennan's "logic of force" being, in the end, more effective than "logic of reason").

For my own part, I am not at all advocating a military response--- yet! But, to all those who are jumping all over President Obama for his "weakness" (point taken, as I myself noted- in passing- in my own Commentary of this past 6 March) and (here, altogether alleged) "naieveté" in relation to his own Administration's approach to Putin's Russia, I will here state that, without you yourselves- especially those running for election (or, especially, re-election) to public office- actively pursuing (where not campaigning in favor of) the military option, your own attacks upon the sanctions regime- strongly supported by both the Obama Administration and the EU, by the way- currently in place (pretty much kicking the Russian Federation out of the so-called 'G-8'; the targeting of certain individuals within the Russian government and financial sectors- that which even opposition groups within the Russian Federation have publicly said they also support [though these have also made it most clear they cannot at all support much stronger sanctions that may well harm the Russian economy- and, thereby, the Russian people themselves more directly]) are merely all that much whining!

Having said this, however: things are only going to get tougher for Obama. For, where more forceful sanctions might become necessary (let alone the potential "ratcheting up" to- where not actual application of- the military option), we in the United States will- at least at first- have to worry more about the position of our European allies, for these have a lot more to lose economically and financially in a more strident confrontation with the Russian Federation than does the United States... and Vladimir Putin knows it!

In truth, we are still here well within the realm of (as I put it back on 6 March) "Emperor" Barack... hav[ing] to "step up" in service of the 'Empire' and take the lead (as well as the "hit")... with or without Europe. Simply put: this is far from being resolved!


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