Joe Innes

A collection of 3 posts

Crimea in Crisis—How the West Has Lost

Russia and Ukraine have always felt a very close unity. Indeed, Russia’s name places it as the descendent of Kievan Rus, which unsurprisingly had its capital in Ukraine. It’s worth mentioning that this is not a one-way thing. Many Ukrainians support Russia, and support forging closer ties with them. In Crimea, this number is around 80%. Crimea has always been something of a thorn in the side for both Russia and Ukraine.

Put simply, it’s an expensive peninsula to maintain. It has no fresh water, and As a result, Ukraine have allowed it to have its own devolved parliament, in much the same way the UK allows Scotland autonomy. Crimea even want their own US embassy. While since the end of February, all other languages have been abolished and Ukrainian is the only official language of the Republic of Crimea, 77% of its inhabitants speak Russian as their native language. 60% of them are ethnic Russians.

This is at least partly due to Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the area, but the fact remains that the majority of Crimeans feel a closer affinity to Russia than they do Ukraine. Their parliament operates in Russian, their media is almost exclusively Russian, and many Crimeans are Russian passport holders. In 2009 the deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament said that he hoped that Russia would do the same to Crimea as they had done in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008.

The short-lived Georgian war saw Russia mobilising into Georgian sovereign territory. The Russian argument is that they moved to protect Russian citizens living there. The Georgian argument, which was better publicised in the West, although has significantly less evidence to support it, is that Russia attacked first wanting to take control of the territory.

The Crimean parliament refuse to recognise the government currently sitting in Ukraine, and have appointed Sergey Aksyonov as Prime Minister, who has taken control of Crimean security forces. It is all but certain a referendum in Crimea would see citizens voting to join the Russian Federation.

Putin has carefully stage-managed the entire incident, from troop deployment to last night’s announcement that Russian troops were there with the blessing of Viktor Yanukovich, currently in exile in Russia. He has forced the rest of the world to make a choice, and either way it ends well for Russia. The least likely choice is that the West backs down, and recognises Yanukovich as the rightful leader of Ukraine. If we do that, the occupation of Crimea is perfectly legal, as it is at his behest. We would be making it very clear to the Ukrainian protesters that we did not support them, the result of which would probably be anarchic violence in the streets once more.

The middle ground is that we refuse to recognise Yanukovich as the rightful leader. We accept the interim government and claim that Yanukovich no longer has the legal authority to allow Russian troops to enter Ukraine. It will then be simple for Putin to claim that if armed protesters can storm a government building and gain legal recognition, surely it’s only fair to allow the peaceful residents of Crimea a referendum on whether they want to be governed by this leadership. We can dispute this, but I struggle to see how we could win.

The most likely choice is that we refuse to accept the current government, pending democratic elections in a few months time. Russia will almost certainly refuse to back down, and so Russian troops in Crimea are almost guaranteed until the elections. Russia will continue to insist that Yanukovich is the rightful leader, and will almost certainly help him to win the elections (legally or otherwise), contingent on Crimea being allowed a referendum.

What happens after? Initially, probably the secession of Crimea from Ukraine, followed swiftly by its assimilation into the Russian Federation. The real question is for whom does this matter? Realistically, not many people. In fact, it would benefit almost everybody. Russia get their Black Sea Fleet harbour and take back some of the territory given away by Krushchyov (allegedly while drunk), Ukraine would no longer have to support Crimea financially, and would find their new electorate more EU-friendly, and Crimeans would get their wish. Those the worst affected would probably be the pro-Russian elements of Ukraine who do not live in Crimea. Their position would lose many supporters as a result of Crimean secession.

Whether you agree with what he has done or not, it has been played out very elegantly, and for what it’s worth, peacefully. As you see, Putin has outpoliticked us.

Well played, Vova.

Ukraine on Fire as Protests Turn Violent

It was to be a decisive move that put an end to the Euromaidan protests. After three months of protesters camping on Ukraine’s main city square, pro-Yanukovich forces moved in thousands of protesters. Although they were not the first casualties during the past quarter of the year, the 28 people (or more — exact, verifiable figures are hard to come by) who lost their lives on the night of the 18th February were to mark a change in the atmosphere on the Maidan.

Ukraine is now right on the brink of civil war. While it’s unclear which side fired the first rounds, it is now all but certain that both protesters and interior ministry forces are now armed. There are rumours that interior ministry troops are refusing to fire on protesters, but the restraint shown so far may well be a political decision. While Ukrainian sources are claiming that three EU ministers are meeting President Yanukovich, EU sources are saying that the ministers have been evacuated for their own security. The latter would seem to be more reliable at the moment.

Proof of police snipers

Live footage from in Ukraine (run by protesters) shows protesters in control of Maidan, but observers are keenly aware that the true reason for the live stream is insurance. Yanukovich is unlikely to allow his forces to resort to brutal violence while, quite literally, the world is watching. Nevertheless, reports from AP are claiming that 8 protesters died this morning while trying to storm a building near the square, while other reports put the number as high as 35.

Kyiv Post journalist Christopher Miller is also reporting that protesters have captured more than 50 police, and are currently keeping them imprisoned in a building controlled by the protesters.

What initially began as a protest against Yanukovich refusing an EU co-operation deal has descended into a more general anti-government movement. We have seen Ukraine’s nationalists capitalising on this, as well as opposition politicians encouraging the protests and government officials losing their jobs. The EU seem to be trying to defuse the situation, calling on Yanukovich to avoid violence, and threatening concrete sanctions. However, the lumbering moves of international democracy are almost certain to be too slow to keep pace with developments in Ukraine. Meanwhile a video made on Maidan has gone viral, in which a young protester explains her reasons for being on Maidan. The video predates much of the most recent violence.

The future is unclear, and for the first time in a long time hushed whispers of secession are spreading. Lviv, another Western, pro-European Ukrainian city has declared political autonomy, and is rejecting Yanukovich. While a split is unlikely, it does make some geographic sense: the vast majority of pro-Europeans live in the Western half of Ukraine. Whatever the future in Ukraine, it’s hard to imagine Yanukovich as part of it. For more updates on the situation, follow my twitter, @d1sxeyes, and keep an eye on the live stream.

Pussy Riot Denied Access to their Own Parole Hearing

As Maria Alyokhina lay in a hospital bed, newspapers reported that she was upbeat and positive. Her hunger strike began when she was told she would not be allowed to attend her own parole hearing, a fate that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was to share. Both were denied parole in their absence.

The whole saga began in February of 2012, when the girl group interrupted a mass at the main cathedral in Moscow, and played a song that is at best described as political and insensitive. They were arrested and held in custody until late July, when their trial began. On August 17th, the three women were found guilty, although one was later released on appeal, Ekaterina Samutsevich. The group has close links to an anarchist art movement called Voina (which means War), who have been responsible for drawing a penis on one of St. Petersburg’s bridges, stealing a chicken by inserting it whole into a group member’s vagina, and organising an orgy in a museum, which Tolokonnikova herself took part in while pregnant.

Tolokonnikova gives the rebel salute

Tolokonnikova’s closing speech at her trial was a very divisive and politically charged diatribe, as one might expect. If you’re interested, you can read it here. Her lack of resentment is impressive, she does, at the very least, seem to accept that what she did was illegal, and there are punishments for breaking laws. Whether the laws are fair or not is a moot point in that respect: you can’t pick and choose which ones you want to follow. At the end of the day, they were guilty of a crime, it’s not (legally speaking) OK to go to someone’s place of worship, take their Lord’s name in vain, and manipulate that to their own political ends — and neither should it be. On the other hand, it’s completely fair to say that the trial was a sham.

It was a show trial, but that doesn’t mean that the outcome was incorrect. Some say that the context is what gives what they did some credibility. Of course, playing a song like the punk prayer in a smoky bar has no real effect on anyone. On the other hand, just the fact that the context gives it meaning doesn’t make it acceptable. In fact, I feel like the context makes it unacceptable here.

Tolokonnikova in the dock

In a lot of ways, I feel that what they’ve done has negatively impacted on freedom of speech. In terms of progressing from the current situation where freedom of speech is curtailed to a more open, free society, people will have to push boundaries. The problem is that I don’t think that what they did should be accepted. The line between restricting free speech and restricting hate speech is very fine, but nonetheless, I think we should try at least to maintain it. That means the Russians have to punish these girls who are crying “free speech, free speech”, but associating freedom of speech with anti-religious profanity in places of worship in the public’s mind. “If that’s free speech, I don’t want any part of it”, Joe Bloggski says to himself, relaxing at his dacha.

Russia have traditionally been a more restrictive society than we have in the West, and so moving towards what we would consider free speech will take time, and who knows if they’ll ever get there, but we’re not so perfect ourselves. Look at our super injunctions, and the questions about free speech that the Leveson Inquiry has raised. Tolokonnikova’s statement itself makes a lot of good points, but then becomes self-defeating through its use of hyperbole and lack of overall coherence.

She says, “at this trial, we can see people who are trying to find the truth and people who are trying to enslave those who want to find the truth”, but what “truth” is she trying to find? The following paragraph seems to imply that she now considers what they did a mistake (she says “[h]umans are beings who always make mistakes. They are not perfect. […] This is what made us go into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour”). That may be, but how then, in good conscience, can she accuse others of hypocrisy if she’s now going back on her own convictions? She also goes on to say “we called for contact and dialogue rather than conflict and opposition”, which makes it sound like they’re completely innocent, but frankly what they did was at the very least provocative and contrary.

The arguments that she puts forward about it being a show trial are solid, and that someone is directing the prosecution is a legitimate allegation, and almost certainly well-founded, but then she spoils it by going on to compare Pussy Riot to Dostoyevsky, Socrates, and even Jesus, which ruins her credibility. My main problem with Pussy Riot is that they don’t have a point. They just wanted to be subversive and have put all their eggs in one basket in their defence. I think that two years is a ludicrously long sentence for the crime, but on the other hand, the verdict itself was the right one.

Adapted from correspondence with a friend