What Obama and the BBC tell us, albeit unwittingly, is that Putin was reacting to events rather than instigating them in Ukraine
This article originally appeared at The Blog Mire
A few weeks ago, President Obama made the following comment in an interview with CNN:
“And since Mr. Putin made this decision around Crimea and Ukraine — not because of some grand strategy, but essentially because he was caught off-balance by the protests in the Maidan and [Ukraine’s then-President Viktor] Yanukovych then fleeing after we had brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine.”
There are two significant parts to this comment. The first is the bit about brokering a deal, and the question that some have asked is “which deal?” There was a deal, reached on February 21st last year, between Yanukovych and three opposition leaders — Yatsenyuk, Klitschko and Tyahnybok. There were also three countries that were party to the deal as guarantors (which they then failed to guarantee), namely France, Germany and Poland. The US was not a party to this deal, a fact which has led some to speculate that Mr Obama may have been inadvertently referring to another deal — one which the US had already brokered behind the scenes, evidenced by the infamous Nuland/Pyatt telephone conversation. Maybe, maybe not.
But there is another aspect to his comment which, so far as I know, hasn’t been picked up on quite so much, but which is just as significant. It seems to me that in his statement, Mr Obama allowed his pride to get the better of him somewhat, and he went out of his way to portray Mr Putin as someone who has bumbled and fumbled his way through this crisis, in deliberate contrast to the grand geopolitical chess player that some say he is. I feel confident in making this claim because this is not the only instance of Mr Obama behaving in this way. Here is what he said in an interview with NPR in December:
“You’ll recall that three or four months ago, everybody in Washington was convinced that President Putin was a genius and he had outmanoeuvred all of us and he had bullied and strategised his way into expanding Russian power. Today, I’d sense that at least outside of Russia, maybe some people are thinking what Putin did wasn’t so smart.”
But notice the problem here. For the last year we have been fed a steady stream of information from Western governments and the mainstream media that Vladimir Putin’s aim is to revive the Soviet Union, or the Russian Empire. Hence all the scaremongering about his intentions to invade the Baltic states and hence the ludicrous claim by Romuald Szeremietiew, the Head of the Academy of National Defence in Poland, who recently claimed that Russia says it wants to rebuild its empire “using lands from Vladivostok to Lisbon”.
So here is the glaring contradiction. On the one hand, we have the evil genius bent on reviving the Soviet Union, or conquering Europe, or maybe even Eurasia, and we are all meant to be very afraid. But on the other hand, from the lips of Mr Obama himself, the evil genius is no genius at all, has no grand strategy at all, and simply reacted to events which were outside his control. Hmm!
But now the BBC has, equally unwittingly, undercut its own propaganda in the same way. In an article entitled “Putin reveals secrets of Russia’s Crimea takeover plot“, they gave us the following nugget:
“Vladimir Putin admitted for the first time that the plan to annex Crimea was ordered weeks before the referendum on self-determination. Crimea was formally absorbed into Russia on 18 March, to international condemnation, after unidentified gunmen took over the peninsula. Mr Putin said on TV he had ordered work on “returning Crimea” to begin at an all-night meeting on 22 February. The meeting was called after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted.
“Speaking last year, Mr Putin had said only that he took his final decision about Crimea after secret, undated opinion polls showed 80% of Crimeans favoured joining Russia. The findings of these polls were borne out by the outcome of the referendum on 16 March, he told Russian state TV last April.”
Of course we are meant to be shocked. “You see? It’s just like we told you, isn’t it? He was plotting all this way before the Crimeans got to voting on the issue (at the barrel of the gun of course). Doesn’t this just show his evil empire-building intentions, just like we keep on telling you?”
Well actually no it doesn’t. In fact it reveals precisely the opposite. What it reveals is that Mr Putin and his advisers held what was clearly an extraordinary all-night meeting on February 22nd last year, which in turn suggests very highly that his hand had been forced by the events of that day. The BBC hints at what those actions were when they say that the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, but they don’t give us any context behind that. They don’t tell us that the Maidan leaders rejected a deal which would have seen opposition MPs share power, early elections, and the potential for the smooth and legitimate transfer of power at the ballot box. They don’t tell us that instead of choosing this path to peace, they instead issued an ultimatum to Yanukovych to get out immediately. They don’t tell us that France, Germany and Poland, having been guarantors to the agreement, quietly let it go and never once insisted on its implementation. They don’t tell us what the ramifications of this illegitimate transfer of power might have meant for the overwhelmingly Russian speaking population in Crimea, especially when a few days later the new government proposed a bill to ban Russian as a second official language. And they don’t tell us how understandably alarmed Moscow was at seeing the prospect of sharing its naval base at Sevastopol with NATO, or more probably, being told to make way.
What they have told us, albeit unwittingly, is that Mr Putin was reacting to events rather than instigating events. For those of us who have been carefully following the crisis even before February 22nd last year, this comes as no surprise. But to anyone who has been taken in by the Soviet Union Redivivus propaganda of the Western governments and media, this ought to make them pause and wonder if what they have been told is really true.