Staunton, November 11 – Failure to challenge Vladimir Putin about the Crimean Anschluss, “the cornerstone of today’s ‘Putin consensus,’” works to the benefit of the Kremlin leader whose uses the absence of objections to his actions to “create the illusion of moral justification” for what he has done, according to Aleksandr Skobov.
And consequently, the Moscow commentator says, it is vitally important for the Russian opposition to raise its voice against the annexation of Crimea in order to “destroy the very foundation of ‘the Putin consensus’ and thus help to block new aggression by the Kremlin including its use of nuclear threats.
According to Skobov, the issue of Crimea is one of those where it makes sense to follow Lenin’s advice: “before uniting, it is necessary to divide up decisively.” That is the case because “a consistently anti-Putin opposition can be only that which is at bottom also anti-imperial and anti-Russist.”
The argument of those who say that “the annexation of Crimea was of course illegal and ugly, but Realpolitik does not allow us to reverse it” must be rejected, even if it may sometimes be possible to cooperate with these same people at a tactical level, Skobov says.
The program minimum for the Russian opposition must be the position Grigory Yavlinsky has offered: “we consider that Crimea belongs to Ukraine, that its annexation is illegal and must be reversed.” There can be varied positions on how that will happen but not that it must.
The reason for that, Skobov says, is that “this is the very least” that Russian can do “for the restoration of normal good-neighborly relations with Ukraine” and for re-entering the international system of states as agreed to and organized after World War II.
“The cornerstone of that system,” he writes, “is the impermissibility of annexation, that is, of the forcible detachment of the territory of one state in favor of another.” Russia’s actions in Crimea were and are a violation of that system, and “if this consequence of the Crimean adventure is not liquidated, global destabilization threatens the word, something that will sooner or later lead to a major war.”
It may be that the current leadership of Russia is not prepared to take this step and that the return of Crimea will require regime change in Russia itself. From his perspective, Skobov says, the return of Crimea according to plans offered so far “will be possible only under a comparatively soft form of regime change.”
“However,” he continues, “it is extremely probable that regime change in Russia will not be soft.” Instead, it is more likely to happen as the result of “a catastrophic failure of the latest military adventure of the Kremlin which will lead to a rapid disintegration of the force structures” of the country.
In that event, “Ukraine will simply take back Crimea as Russia took it from itself. Without any international conferences because Russia in that case will have entered a time of troubles and will not be able to resist that.”
And Skobov points to something that many Russians do not want to think about: “The right to self-determination can be lost.” That is what happened to the Sudeten Germans in 1945. “Their fate was decided without their participation” and in a very ugly fashion including deportation, something that was also “a crime against humanity committed in this case by members of the anti-Hitler coalition.”
Today, he continues, is “not 1945. The world has changed, and no one will allow such deportations at least in Europe.” But in the course of liquidating the results of Putin’s criminal actions in Crime, it is almost inevitable that protecting the rights of the ethnic Russian residents of Crimea will not be the top priority” of those doing so.
The return of Crimea to Ukraine “will be a heavy psychological trauma” for a significant portion of Crimean residents, Skobov says, but he adds that that is something Putin and his supporters should have thought about earlier, long before they launched their “lightning-quick seizure of the peninsula.”
Had they done so, the Moscow commentator says, they would have realized that “history does not deal politely with entire peoples when it has to explain to them that THIS IS NOT DONE. Those who do that anyway sooner or later will suffer the consequences.” As Stolypin said, “in politics there is no vengeance, but there are consequences.”