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.

The Abstraction of Warfare

War is hell. People around the globe are widely in agreement on this simple statement, which is pretty impressive, seeing as we can barely agree on the day of the week most of the time. And yet, for some reason, we’ve only managed about three years without war since WWII.

We’ve seen the Greek civil war, The Jewish insurgency in Palestine, the South East Asia conflicts, the Malayan emergency, the Korean war, the Anglo-Egyptian war, the Mau Mau insurgency, the Cyprus emergency, the Suez/Sinai war, the Muscat and Oman intervention, the Jordan intervention, the Indonesia conflicts, the Ugandan army mutiny, the Aden conflict, the Northern Ireland conflict, the Falklands war, both Gulf wars, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the Former Yugoslavia peacekeeping operations and the Libyan war, and those are just the wars that Britain has been involved in.

And it looks like things are about to get pretty intense in North Korea soon, but that’s another kettle of fish entirely. These wars have always been about the deaths of individuals. The number of young men your country is able or willing to put forward to defend an ideal, attack an ideal, protect your territory, or invade someone else’s has ultimately always been the deciding factor in who gets to claim to be the winner. The science of warfare has grown around two simple premises. You can improve your chances by making it less likely that the bad guys can kill your guys, or you can make it more likely that your guys can kill the bad guys.

Today, I came across a video of a laser cannon mounted on a US ship destroying a US drone. It wasn’t as spectacular as I was hoping — I wanted an explosion, the drone to evaporate into thin air. That said, it was still pretty impressive. The drone burst into flame, and lost control, crashing into the sea. The video’s below, and regardless of what you think about this article, it’s worth watching.

But you see, it got me thinking. There’s been a move to using UAVs in a number of theatres recently to minimise casualties among soldiers, to allow dangerous areas to be reconnoitred before troops move in, or, in some cases, to actually launch strikes against the enemy without our troops ever moving within rifle range. It is, no doubt, an incredible feat of engineering. The drones themselves are sophisticated, and the amount of work that has gone into trying to ensure our troops’ safety is phenomenal. Think about how far we’ve come since the first battles were fought.

One man against another for a hunk of meat developed into a group of men against another group of men for land and resources. At some point, it is believed that the Sumerians were the first to train and equip what we would call an army. This was significant, because it was no longer citizen against citizen, it was trained and armed professionals fighting against each other to demonstrate their superiority. In a sense, this created the first “civilians” in the sense that we use the word today. There were now people who didn’t fight, because others did the fighting for them. Society has benefited immensely from this. People could get on with making the world around them a better place, and could specialise in skills like science, mathematics, agriculture. And it has led us to the point we find ourselves at today.

Warfare has always been relatively symmetrical. Introducing this level of machine-versus-machine technology into warfare makes for some interesting philosophical questions (if a drone falls in the woods, and no-one notices it’s gone, does it matter if it was shot down or if it was ‘operator error’?), but most significantly, it forces the opponent to make a choice. They have three options:

  1. Continue to send young men to their deaths, despite knowing that they will never get close enough to a real live enemy to have an effect on the outcome of the war.
  2. Adapt, and develop machine weapons of their own, which abstracts the conflict into a question of “who has more resources”, that could in fact be answered without any material losses for either side.
  3. Adopt an asymmetrical strategy. Begin a campaign of terror. Start to target the public. The number of civilian casualties would drastically increase, but the number of soldiers who die in combat would plummet.

In the past, war has been an effective (if rather uncivilised) way of resolving disputes because the stakes are so high. We roll the dice against each other, and the losses are painful. By introducing technology like this, we are effectively changing the stakes, and what’s worse, it’s only those who can afford the big losses who have access to the technology and resources to allow them to avoid them. This doesn’t mean that wars will cease to occur.

It means that the nature of war will change. The Goliathan countries that can afford the technology will soon be faced with Davids who can’t compete in terms of might, and so will attack where the armour is weak. There are a lot of parallels I can draw with the story of David and Goliath, but the most important is to remember that David wins … and he was the good guy (well … despite going on to have more than ten wives and another ten concubines, sleeping with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his top men, then trying to get him killed so he could add her to his hareem). Terrorism will become the only way for a vastly outnumbered and outgunned opponent to resolve issues outside diplomatic channels. We will blame it on the opponents being cruel and inhuman, as we have done for thousands of years, but the truth is that we will have brought it on ourselves, by taking away the possibility for armed combat to inflict serious losses.

“It’s the army’s job to die for their country”, is often countered with the rejoinder that “it’s the army’s job to fight for their country”. But this simply doesn’t make sense. As long as people are prepared to kill for what they believe in, we need people who are prepared to die for what they believe in too. Because if we swap our battlefields and armies for drones and cruise missiles, then the people that die will be ordinary civilians.