The Crimean Gambit

Throughout history, Crimea has seen its share of political turbulence and bloodshed, with many wars being fought for the occupation of its lands. The Crimean annexation in 2014 isn’t by any means the first in its history. In 1783, Catherine the Great who was fierce in her territorial ambitions after her victory in the Russian-Turkish war, went as far as to violate the Peace Treaty of Kaynarca during her appropriation of the lands. In today’s more modern and mostly civilized world, such seismic political shifts are occurring less by the sword and more by the ballot box. This isn’t to say that ills are no longer committed in territorial disputes however, as Russia and the US/EU bloc seem keen to hurl accusations of criminal misdeeds at each other, reading off a rap sheet apparently longer than the Encyclopedia Britannica. The annexation (or alleged annexation) of Crimea is no exception.

The crisis in Crimea started when the democratically elected president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was unable to reach a mutual agreement with opposition leaders. This political stalemate soon resulted in unlawful and violent acts being perpetrated by rival political factions that eventually culminated in a coup d’état. Yanukovych found himself being stripped of his presidential power from the increasing risk of violence and subsequently fled the capital. The interim government led by Oleksandr V. Turchynov then stepped in and scheduled new presidential elections in which businessman Petro Poroshenko was elected president.

In the wake of the coup, the Crimean parliament approved a referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, or to remain with Ukraine but maintain greater autonomy. The referendum took place on March 16th 2014 and the results showed that an overwhelming majority voted to become a part of Russia. The City Council of Sevastopol also held a separate referendum, which turned out the same result as the Crimean Parliament.

The Ukrainian government in Kiev has since ruled that the Crimean referendum is illegal. Leaders in both the European Union and America also consider the referendum to be illegal as it contravenes the Ukrainian Constitution. The then President Obama issued the first in a number of punitive actions against a number of Russian citizens, which included visa bans on military officials and individuals he deemed responsible for undermining Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea. The EU were at first reluctant to follow because of their continent’s heavy reliance on Russian oil and gas, but eventually issued sanctions similar to those of the United States. Despite the large (mostly Russian) population supporting Russia, there are still disagreements domestically, with the Tartan minority in Crimea who also viewing the referendum as illegal.

Who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong in this complex scenario, largely depends on whom you ask. The US/EU side of the crisis argues that Russia is to be held entirely accountable. In their eyes the referendum was illegal as it violates Article 5 of the Ukrainian Constitution, in which any constitutional change requires the say of all Ukrainians, not just those of Crimea. On paper this is very much the case, as the decision to hold a referendum was not made by the central government in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, but by the autonomous local government in the Crimean Parliament. All actions taken by Russia from the results of such an unconstitutional referendum are thusly seen to be both illegitimate and in violation of Ukrainian law.

The EU/US also believe the Ukrainian coup to be justified as Ukrainian president Yanukovych needed to be removed, due to his alleged activities of corruption and embezzlement. It is argued that the former president secretly holds numerous financial holdings and assets both domestically in Ukraine as well as internationally.

The incumbent government that now occupies Ukraine in the wake of the coup also argues that the Crimean vote was not only illegal, but in fact rigged. After the result (in which the notion to join Russia won with over a staggering 90% in favour), a number of widely circulated media reports stemming from Ukrainian news networks talk of how the Russian government accidentally posted the real results on their website. The results indicate that only around 30% of the Crimean people actually voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Some have pointed out discrepancies however, as a poll done in early 2014 (pre coup) showed that 41% of Crimean people supported union with Russia. Moreover, there are reports of how military personnel dubbed ‘The Green Men’ were seen (particularly around the area of Sevastopol) during the vote. They are allegedly to have been sent by the Kremlin to act as a visual display of power and an intimidating force as the vote was carried out. At first the Kremlin denied this, but Vladimir Putin has since admitted that forces were sent to Crimea.

Europe also takes issue with the results of the referendum due to the claim that it is causing great concern for the minority Tartar population that resides in Crimea. The Tartars have, throughout history under Joseph Stalin, been subject to persecution and discrimination. They fear that to return to living under the wing of the Russian Federation will see that persecution re-newed. This concern solidifies why many Tartans also see the referendum as illegal.

Russia on the other hand argues that the Crimean referendum, and its incumbent result, was legitimate and fair. Firstly, the referendum that was carried out by the Crimean Parliament was conducted with full compliance of international law and the United Nations Charter. They also point out what is said to be one of the most misleading arguments put forward, which is that the referendum is unconstitutional. As mentioned earlier, this is true enough as it requires all of Ukraine to have a vote on it, but Russia argues that the Ukrainian Constitution has been null and void since February 22, 2014. This has been the case ever since the Kiev rioters overthrew the democratically elected President, in what was an armed acquisition of power. Since the coup, Crimea and Russia have instead been guided by the rules laid out by international laws and have exercised the rights laid out in the United Nations Charter regarding the rights to self determination (Article 73, pg. 14). The United Nations International Court of Justice in 2010 also handed down an advisory notice that unilateral declaration of Independence is in accordance with international law. Russia also stipulates that they carried out activities with the Crimean Parliament using reference to UN court rulings on previous territorial matters, most notable in 2011 when the southern territories of Sudan seceded from the rest of the country, to form the independent state of South Sudan.

The Ukrainian coup is another area where Russia and the US fail to see eye to eye. Russia regards the coup as criminal, starting with unlawful political actions that rose in intensity to destabilise Ukraine. Whilst the incumbent government claims that the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych may have been a triumph against corruption, the oligarch Petro Poroshenko is hardly shaping up to be an adequate replacement, with corruption and scandal allegedly as prevalent as ever. Russia also argues that the structures of government have taken a step back post-coup, seeing power that was once given to an elected president now being broken up and divided between Batkivschina and the Svoboda. The Svoboda political party is a group of significant concern both domestically and internationally due to its Neo-Nazi ideology.

The Russian government also contests the notion that the referendum was unjust, due to the presence of armed Russian troops in various districts of Crimea. Whilst at first they denied the presence of armed “Green Men’ operating in Crimea, they have since stated that their presence there was to protect voters from any pre-meditated attacks being carried out by violent political militant groups who would aim to intimidate people from voting. Supporters from both Russia and Crimea have also claimed that if there was an insistence to go by this standard, then it must be made clear that all Afghan and Iraqi elections since the early 2000s are to be rendered illegitimate for the presence of US and NATO military forces at ballots.

Russia vehemently contests the claim that the referendum was rigged in favor of supporting a union with Crimea. One of the key pieces of evidence that is usually drawn upon to contest the over 90% result is the previously mentioned poll, which showed that only 41% initially voted in favour of unifying with Russia. There are three main points that contest the validity of the poll conducted by the Kiev institute of Sociology. The first is that one of the key financiers of the poll was the European Union, which is immediately argued to be a conflict of interest. The second is that the poll only takes into account a very small fraction of the population of Crimea asking “2032 respondents older than 18 years in 130 settlements in 45 districts of the country.” With only an average of 1603 responding, and with the poll covering a range of districts across the entirety of Ukraine, only a small fraction (est. 10’000 max) of Crimea out of it’s 2,033,700 populace were asked. Moreover, a look at the ethnic breakdown of Crimea reveals that 65.3% are Russian, who identify as Russian, and see themselves as part of Russia. The poll was also taken prior to major political events (such as the coup) that took place in Ukraine that ultimately caused huge shifts of opinion regarding a unification with the Russian Federation. This supposedly goes some way to explaining the magnitude of the result in the referendum, with any notion of leaked ‘true’ results or vote rigging seen as nothing more than spurious acts of slander on part of the militant Ukrainian government.

When it comes to the fate of the Tartars within Crimea, the issue is one that’s still ongoing. Shortly after the referendum, Vladimir Putin signed a decree to rehabilitate Crimean Tatars who had suffered under the Soviet dictatorship. This order seemed to be aimed at appeasing the minorities in Crimea who are concerned of the reunification with Russia. It aims to ensure that basic education can be taught in the Tartar language and encourages a ‘Cultural Renaissance’ between the multiple ethnicities of Crimea. However, whether such measures will in fact protect the Tartars from their fear of persecution still remains to be seen as Crimea integrates into the Russian Federation.

The issue of who’s in the right regarding Crimea is a contentious one. On the one hand, it was wrong of the Russian government to deny placing troops in Sevastopol and other areas of Crimea, only to have later admitted to doing so. It is also a concern that the welfare of the Tartars could be at risk if old Soviet mentality is to resurface in Crimea. However, what is Crimea’s alternative? To fall under the wing of political factions that has acquired power through violence and force? With Svoboda, a movement with open alliances to fascism, it isn’t beyond the realms of reason to believe that the Crimean people would choose to join the ranks of the former rather than the latter.

Advertisements

“No, We Can’t!” The Bitter Pill of Obama’s Legacy.

In 2009, a man stood on stage in the centre of Prague, and discussed what he believed to be fundamental in the security of nations and world peace. People saw this man as a bastion of peace, equality, and hope as he pledged to pave the way toward a world free of nuclear arms. That man was Barack Obama. Seven years have passed since he made the very speech that won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and in that time, the Obama administration has built more nuclear weapons, more nuclear warheads, and more nuclear delivery systems. When Obama concludes his presidency, he’ll have been the highest nuclear weapons spender the US has ever seen, with his nuclear plan set to cost over $1 trillion dollars.

Thomas Sowell perhaps summed it up best when he described Obama as A man who has actually accomplished nothing other than advancing his career through rhetoric.” Amidst the broken promises and ineffective policy, the Obama administration has evidently left America (and the world) in worse shape than they found it.

The Economic Failures

The Obama administration achieved very little, if anything, in Sowell’s eyes. However if there’s one milestone that the administration has achieved during its tenure, it’s insurmountable debt. When Obama closes the door to the Oval office for the final time, he’ll be leaving America with the highest National Debt in US history. If people were to approach this damning revelation generously, they may argue that the debt wasn’t the fault of Obama, but rather the result of the 2008 financial crash. This to a point is true, but what they may be forgetting is that one of the first things Obama did upon taking office was to pass a Stimulus Bill that not only granted him vast cash injections to the sum of $790 billion which he could spend on invigorating the economy, but also meant that he didn’t need to pass the budget through congress for the vast majority of his presidency.

Despite these newfound freedoms granting carte blanche to the American coin purse, Obama still continued to raise the debt ceiling to their highest ever levels so that he could borrow more money. This cycle of borrowing and spending has reached unsustainable levels and has had a huge impact on the stability of the economy, resulting in the total surplus deficit to reach levels not seen since F. D. Roosevelt was president in the 1940s.

Not only has the spending framework of the stimulus plan proven to be unsustainable, but there’s also the issue of what the stimulus is being spent on. The idea was to use the money for infrastructure, job-creation, and to invest in green energies and research. Despite what seemed to be a full proof spending allocation plan criticisms are continuously voiced. Whilst the US has enjoyed a growth in employment, the issue is that a disproportionate number of the jobs that are being created are of a very low-income. Further more some critics dispute Obama’s claims of successful job creations, arguing that he’s massaged the figures by adding already existing zero hours contract jobs into the economic data. Another significant issue with the unemployment rate is that it only takes into account the people who are actively looking for employment. Those citizens that choose to remain on the welfare provided by the state are disregarded from the data. When these individuals are taken into account in the labour force participation rate, it reveals that the Obama administration has actually seen a decline in employment over his presidential term.

The significant spending on welfare and health programmes exacerbated these poor results, as the stimulus has been used as a means of propping up these much criticised and largely unsuccessful initiatives, such as the Obamacare/Medicare bill. These failing programmes have been one of the key contributors of the US deficit, with costs running into the hundreds of billions.

The Domestic Failures

Under Obama many promises have been made and, in a vast majority of those cases, they’ve failed to deliver. Aside from the nuclear weapons and employment issues, there was also the promise of a fairer America where the divide between the rich and the poor was to be cut so that every family could live and prosper.

One of the largest and most significant failures in his administration’s quest for equality is the Affordable Healthcare Act. The Obamacare programme that was subsequently created had the aim of improving access, affordability, and quality care for all Americans. Whilst he may have had good intentions, reality didn’t co-operate and so the programme became a staggeringly expensive disaster. Quite what the actual cost of this failed initiative was to the American taxpayer is still something of a dispute. However, the Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell admitted that the cost of the website alone (which still doesn’t work properly) has set them back over $800 million (P.13). The Obamacare failures continued as its policies were enacted. At first, it tied the hands of insurance companies into providing overly expensive policies, whilst being so rigid as to prevent people from buying as much coverage as they wanted or could afford. Instead the programme acted as an assault on people’s freedoms as the government dictated to them what coverage they could get. The result was less affordable healthcare due to rising premiums. This conundrum led to an extraordinary scenario where some chose to take the finance saving incentive of simply paying the sanction for being uninsured. Ultimately Obamacare did the opposite of what it set out to do, making healthcare less assessable for the American poor.

Budding entrepreneurs and small to medium business owners have felt the crushing blow of an Obama presidency too, with numerous tax hikes making it more costly and difficult to create jobs and improve productivity. In larger businesses it can also incentivise the use of overseas tax-exempt securities, and outsourcing of labour.

In 2009 Obama pledged that the American people will never again be made to foot the bill for their mistakes, and so he created the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law. The idea was to create a regulating body that prevented banks from owning or investing in private equity or hedge funds for their own financial gain. It also put caps on how much money they could borrow, and regulated their lending standards. The key failing of the Dodd-Frank Law however was that it was far too long and far too complicated. Sitting at a staggering 840 pages in length, it was unintelligible, difficult to interpret and featured stifling regulation. This has stagnated the works of banks, and its lack of legal robustness has increased interest rates and bank fees. Once again (like Obamacare), it is the poorer and middle-classes that have felt the burn with this increase.

Aside from domestic policy hurting the people Obama promised to help the most, the harrowing effects of an Obama presidency can be seen outside the world of stats, revenue sheets, and the legislature. When the world saw the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, it was deemed inconceivable that Black Lives Matter would be rioting in the streets seven years later. He was a paragon of the working man, saviour of the poor. However, as time went on and poverty increased, the fabric of America started to fray. The nation became more dependent on the state to survive and an increasing number of people (particularly from the black community) found themselves on food stamp programmes.

The Foreign Policy Failures

For a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Obama has managed to amass a body count into the hundreds of thousands spanning the Iraq war, the war he engaged in Libya, and most recently the ongoing conflict in Syria. All three instances have been plagued with utter disasters and even more broken promises. In Iraq, the threat of Al-Qaeda is still prevalent, despite a long, costly war that has claimed the lives of both American servicemen and Iraqi civilians. Whilst the Iraq war was a problem Obama inherited from Bush, his policies on Libya and Syria are his own legacy to be handed down to his successor in the New Year.

Obama’s argument for the attacks on Libya comes from the fact that the incumbent leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was a criminal dictator. He claimed that the leader was an enemy to democracy that was striking terror into the hearts of his citizens and driving the country into the ground. The main issue with this is that prior to the US invasion, Libya had one of the highest standards of living in the African continent, going so far as to be referred to internationally as the ‘paradise of Africa.’ Despite much opposition from congress, Obama (with support from rebel forces) saw to it that Qaddafi was summarily killed in one of the most unconstitutional moves during his presidency. It’s a decision that to this day has put a huge political rift between him and congress.

Much to the dismay of the Libyan people however, their difficulties had only just begun. As Obama’s forces departed, they left a heavily armed rebel extremist group with the ability to make an armed acquisition of power and facilitate the setting that led to the rise of ISIS.

Obama came forward with a dubious ‘rinse and repeat’ approach to this style of policy, and once again launched an attack on Syria with textbook execution. Once again he argued that the incumbent leader (Assad) was a threat to democracy and murdered his own people. He had to go. Obama once again armed extremist rebel militia, whilst launching air strikes in the city of Aleppo. Around the world people were stunned that the Obama administration had learned nothing from their previous intervention, and so Russia decided to step in to try and stabilise Syria and the middle east. This conflict of interest worsened ties between the already fragile alliance of Russia and the US, and has exposed diplomatic hostility that could have elevated to a devastating war between two superpowers.

It seems a challenge to pinpoint the real successes of an Obama presidency outside of his media appeal. His malleable use of words have carried him this far, but in 2017 America can breath a sign of relief and say that Obama is no longer the president of the United States.

(Image by Will White from Ridgefield, USA (Obama at American University) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

On “Russian Aggression”.

The US, with its fellow western countries, now universally believes that a new cold war is on the horizon, and that this terrifying ordeal is the creation of Vladimir Putin. It is his actions that have ignited this hostility, and it is his actions that continue to facilitate it. Not a day goes by when we hear stories of Russian aircraft taking aggressive maneuvers towards western airspace. Vladimir Putin is the Commander-in-Chief of Russia. It is done under his orders, that thousands of Russian troops move into defensive perimeters around the border and that, under his authority, nuclear weapons are to be stationed in strategic points throughout the Federation. This is what we’re told. But is the mainstream media right that we should fear without question the people’s president of Russia?

A frequent bitter taste of Russian aggression usually comes in the form of aircraft interception near western airspace. A brief moment of panic usually ensues, as news anchors around the world decry such action, and claim that without doubt president Putin is itching for conflict. However, even the briefest of looks at the Obama Presidency vs the Putin presidency unearths some significant misnomers about the ‘war mongering’ Putin. The data seems to argue that he’s not attacking anyone, and that unlike Obama, he’s not invading anyone. In fact, a glimpse into the events around Syria seem to suggest that Putin is aiming for quite the opposite.

Time and again, US and western media waves a finger and tuts at the Kremlin, often over their callous use of airspace, like they’re the chief agitators of the air. However, Russia in the 90s actually halted all geo-strategic aviation in the near abroad (as did the USSR). Military aviation in the US continued regardless. Despite this, Russia continued with the non-patrol year after year, until an ‘act of aggression’ was carried out by the US, as they started circling planes loaded with nuclear weapons around Russia. In 2012 Russia decided to restart their aviation patrol and, to this day, they’ve received criticism ever since.

But the facts don’t just stagnate in the air; they also cast a very different light on the ground. The numerous overseas bases held by both parties go some way in showing who has the thought of global conquest on the mind. In total, Russia has around ten military bases overseas. These exist in areas of known terrorist dangers to Russia, such as the base in Kyrgyztan, which was only placed upon request by the then Kyrgz President Akayev. In comparison, the United States have somewhere between 700 to over 1000 military bases overseas ranging from small airfields, to drone bases and troop strongholds. A concern is that some of these bases hold nuclear weapons (such as the US base stationed in Romania). With the major criticism levied at Russia for moving nuclear weapons around the confines of their own country, logic dictates that there would be media and political outcry from the west if Putin attempted to plant nuclear weapons abroad. This hypocrisy is further amplified with the US (along with NATO forces) moving their military industrial units closer to Russian borders.

An insight into the fiscal practices of Russia and the US continue to cast further doubt about Putin’s political aggression. In 2015, Putin’s Russia spent $66.4 billion on weapons and other defences. The Obama administration on the other hand spent a staggering $560.4 billion, with further increases ($24 billion proposed) planned for 2016 (Chapter 1 Pg 1-2). This figure excludes the proposed trillion dollar update to the US’s nuclear weapons programme set to carry over the next few years.

These hostilities against Russia aren’t just perpetrated by the US, the UK has also had its hand in ruffling the feathers of the Kremlin. When Natwest bank decided to close the account of Russia’s leading global news station, the British government denied any involvement. The news station (RT) argued that it’s the UK playing its part in EU policy that aims to shut down any voice with ties to Russia. Putin, back in 2015, when he was asked about tensions with the west said,

Does anyone even listen to us? Or have some kind of dialogue with us? The repeated answer we get (from the United States) is ‘mind your own business’ and ‘each country can choose its own security measures.’ Very well. So will we. Why is the same forbidden to us?”

With western governments seemingly honoring an unwritten rule to vilify and undermine Vladimir Putin with every opportunity they can get, this inexhaustible supply of fear seems to have saturated the minds of European and American citizens. In Britain, my experience is that most people tend to have varying views on all types of political figures, but when it comes to Putin its a blanket disdain. They can never really say why they dislike Putin or Russia, all they know is that they just do, and have been told that’s the right way to be. But it’s hard to ignore that the more you peel back the rhetoric the less Putin seems like an aggressor, and the more like a statesman.

(Featured Image: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) or CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)