Could Russia Send Troops to the Crimea?

February 25, 2014 protest of internet censorship in Russia

Many Western publications are asking whether Russia will militarily intervene in Ukraine, particularly in the southeast region of Crimea. We have been following this question very closely. But this isn’t just a question being asked in the West — the Russian media is asking the exact same question. Some in Russia are as worried for the prospect of war as those outside of it. This article was published in the mainstream-but-liberal and well-respected media outlet, written by an established journalist, Oleg Kashin.

For today’s latest headlines see our Ukraine Liveblog: Day 8 — Yanukovych to Face Trial at The Hague — Ed.

I am writing this text on Monday night, realizing that it could get outdated by morning. It is a night of rumors – on the news wires and in the social networks and even simply on my telephone; at such moments, you always discover friends who have friends whose friends heard something. The wires are saying that Russian Ambassador Zurabov has been recalled. This is the first news involving Zurabov in all these days; it seems he is only useful in order to be recalled, so as to send somebody a message. The command of the Russian Airborne Troops has denied the story of sending Pskov paratroopers to Ukraine, and the combat news about how “there isn’t an order to dispatch yet, but the paratroopers are sitting on their suitcases” has disappeared from the website of Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Social networks are writing that Russian commandos are already loading on to ships at the port in Novorossiysk. And Yury Lutsenko is announcing in fright in the night about Russian APCs on the approach to Sevastopol [the southeastern Ukrainian city where the Russian naval base and the home of the Black Sea fleet is located — Ed.] . And friends of friends are sending to each other and to me also the “SMS from the wife of a paratrooper” who saw her husband off to the Far East, and it turned out he was going to the Black Sea. Will Russia suddenly today re-conquer at least the Crimea (annex, occupy, take under protection, force into peace, etc.)?

I can write a big text about how all of these rumors are worthless. The “interests of Russia” exist only in the speeches of hosts on state television, but we know full well that the people to whom Russia belongs now can only have a material interest: an apartment in Miami, a bank account in Zurich, and children in London. Cote D’Azur is closer to them than their native Crimea, and they don’t care at all about Russians on either side of the Russian border – it’s more important for them to be able to travel to Europe and America, and so that no one freezes their bank accounts.

The height of their foreign policy mastery consists of transferring $2 billion dollars to Yanukovych which have now disappeared (at least it wasn’t $15 billion as had been planned) as well as their three-card monte player nick-named Gepa [the mayor of Kharkov], who worked until this past Sunday as a Russian patriot. With this sort of track record, what sort of paratroopers, war, and Crimea are you talking about?

In my picture of the world, nothing of the sort can happen, but I remember my picture of the world in August 2008 – back then, in my picture, Russia couldn’t have sent troops into Georgia, but it up and sent them. On the morning of August 8, 2008, I flew to Moscow from Chelyabinsk, and watched the events in South Ossetia from an overflowing waiting room in a little southern Urals airport. There were a lot of people there, but I was the only one surprised by Russians tanks in the Roki Tunnel; the rest of the passengers perceived this as a given. Because I built my picture of the world by reading independent political analysts, independent media and social networks, and the rest of the passengers didn’t read any of that, but read Komsomolskaya Pravda and watched state TV channels. And that morning it turned out that their picture of the world was closer to reality than mine. On the whole, that morning produced a very strong impression on me.

Tonight, before tomorrow morning, we have a very important advantage – now we have all seen Putin. He was like Boris Godunov who was played in the film by the same name by the late Sergei Bondarchuk: “I have reached the highest power.” At his feet at the Olympic stadium, the costumed Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn danced, the Russian team celebrated its largest triumph in post-Soviet history. The little girl named Lyuba and her friends Yura and Valya, in a giant Faberge egg, flew off to a cloudless future, and it was Putin who provided it for them. Putin has nothing more to strive for – this is the high point of his celebration, and he has still not marked a new one for himself.

[Spokesman Dmitry] Peskov will bring him the latest American magazine with his portrait on the cover – he is man of the year, man of the century, man of the millennium – and he looks at these covers indifferently, he has grown used to them. He does not know how else to demonstrate that he is the coolest on earth. Even if that is not true, he himself believes that he is the coolest. Before the Olympics, he could have doubted it, but what doubts does he have now?

And meanwhile, do you recall that terrible video with the participation of the General Staff generals, who reported that the real decisions in August 2008 were made in fact by Putin, and not Medvedev? The video appeared in August 2012, for absolutely no political reason, and for absolutely no need. The purpose could only be one – someone needed to take away from the former President Medvedev his only formal achievement, because how could that be – Medvedev (understandably being what he is) has this achievement, but the great Putin doesn’t have it. From Putin’s perspective, such a situation simply must not be allowed.

And now, such a chance appears. A neighboring state has wound up without a president, without a government. The population of the Crimea, evidently, are not prepared to construct its European identity together with heroes from the Right Sector. There are rallies in Sevastopol, the Russian flag has replaced the Ukrainian one in front of the mayor’s office in Kerch. It would be trivial to find a pretext. Perhaps, unidentified Bandera followers will burn down a Russian ship in the Sevastopol harbor. Perhaps the Supreme Council of the Crimea will ask Russia to help maintain order in the region. Perhaps even President Yanukovych, whom Russia until now has not once called “former,” will turn up in Simferopol and as the legitimate head of state will appeal for help.

Of course there will be an international reaction, but we went through all that in 2008. An emergency session of the UN Security Council will be convened, and Vitaly Churkin will laugh right in his colleagues’ faces – Hey, you’re telling us what to do, but you lynch blacks. The American ship in the Black Sea will run into trouble. The leaders of the NATO countries, after phoning one another, will agree that no one wants to fight in the Crimea – somebody has elections, somebody is still in Afghanistan, somebody else has some other serious reasons. In five days, when the Russian flags will be waving throughout the whole peninsula, an important Western mediator will fly to Moscow, perhaps even Francois Hollande. He will express concern, and urge Russia not to attack Kiev. Putin will pretend that he is upset, but will promise – yes, no Kiev.

And there will be the Republic of the Crimea, an unrecognized state formation with an uncertain status. On Ukrainian maps, it will go on being colored as Ukraine, but on Navalny’s Live Journal, a post will appear about Yakunin’s dacha in Foros and Neverov’s apartment in Yalta. In Koktebel, Gazprom will build a hotel for its employees, and the group Lube will finish its jubilee tour in Sevastopol. How this will all look after a Russian victory you saw from the example of Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia – nothing of interest, here are our Soviet offshores. Either a white elephant, or a little imperial revanch , a present for Uncle Limonov.

Of course, this isn’t the only possible option and everything could be different:

  • Russia will remain Russia, that is, Sergei Lavrov will make a harsh statement, the Night Wolves will make a motorcycle raid, but Kiev will appoint its governor in Crimea.
  • Or the Crimean Tatars will put up a fierce resistance to the Russian paratroopers and thousands of volunteers from all the Muslim countries will stream to the Crimea, and in the middle of Russia, the parade of somber zinc-coffin funerals will begin, and the next election cycle in Russia will take place under the sign of a prolonged Crimean war.
  • Or the American ship won’t end up in the shallows, and some “UN peacekeepers” will occupy Sevastopol by the end of the week, and a frightened Moscow will declare responsible for the Crimean incident some Pskov colonel of the Russian Airborne Troops who didn’t understand things right and on his own launched some expedition, but he will be tried as a lesson to others, and then later secretly given awards or killed, or both.