Nico Metten in his blog A Libertarian look at what is going on in Crimea wonders why Libertarians should bother about the conflict in the Ukraine at all. I can think of two excellent reasons.
As rational, thinking individuals we are bound take note of significant events in the outside world. Particularly interesting are those events where a large section of official opinion seems to hold views which bear no relation to what is actually going on anywhere. By ‘official opinion’ here, I mean not just the utterances of politicians, always to be taken with a warehouse full of salt. I also include the media outlets and the academies which in the West have always trumpeted their independence from government.
A government in the Ukraine is overthrown by force of arms and its president has to flee for his life. In the present world, such a happening is hardly a unique occurrence. What is remarkable is that the Western media should present this as a ‘victory for democratic forces’. The recent overthrow by the military in Egypt of the elected President Morsi was presented as what it was – a coup d’etat which favoured Western interests, but a coup d’etat nevertheless. Why can’t the guys who took power in Kiev receive the same treatment, especially when they have amongst their number, some with distinctly unsavoury and violent political leanings? Why couldn’t the Western media outlets ask the ‘democratic forces’ in the Ukraine to wait one more year for the actual democratic election which was then due?
One reason could be that the Western media are congenitally incapable of seeing any revolution which overthrows an imperfect government as other than a marvellous happening and a brave new dawn. When, a couple of years ago, the media were enjoying wet ecstasies about the ‘Arab Spring’ (henceforth to go down in the history books as the ‘Arab Winter’) it was not difficult to see trouble looming. A passing acquaintance with the history of previous revolutions should have cooled journalistic ardour. Most people can see that war is damaging to a society. It kills people, destroys capital and disrupts the productive forces on which civilised existence depends. But what does a revolution do? It kills people, destroys capital and disrupts the productive forces on which civilised existence depends! And it often leads on to a civil war. England, France and Russia have all had revolutions which became civil wars and the Ukraine will count itself lucky if it avoids a similar fate. The violent seizure of power is the same, whether it is conducted by the military in Cairo or Western-backed idealists in the centre of Kiev.
One of the first acts of the new government in Kiev was to propose the abolition of Russian as an official language in the Ukraine. Given that there are many Russian speakers in the east of that country, this was not the most auspicious start from the revolutionaries. Alexander Solzhenitsyn accepted that, after the Soviet experience, many Western Ukrainians had been permanently alienated from Russia. However, he thought that if the Western Ukrainians wanted a state sharply differentiated from Russia, they too must recognise the rights of the Ukrainian Russian speakers east of the Dnieper.
Is it any wonder that Russians in the Crimea, puzzled by a democratic putsch in Kiev, frightened by the prospect of anti-Russian measures, decided to put Solzhenitsyn’s musings into action? Why would they not choose union with Russia in preference to a government of dubious leanings which actively disliked them? For the media to present the result of the referendum in Crimea as an undesirable annexation, when the mass of Crimeans clearly regarded it as a liberation, is one more perplexing episode in this sorry saga. For the UK government, which has elevated national self-determination to a religious principle in the Falklands and Scotland, to take this line must strike many as strange.
But to insult people’s intelligence is not the most important achievement of the Western politicians and their media flunkies when dealing with the Ukraine crisis. Before 1989, NATO fulfilled an honourable role when it prevented the spread of a backward and barbarous political system into Western Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO powers have become one of the most destabilising factors in the present international system.
It could have all been done differently. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet system, a case could have been made for the disbandment of NATO along with the Warsaw Pact. More likely, NATO could have remained a Western European alliance with the old Eastern Bloc countries assuming a political status similar to Finland and Austria; neutral, but leaning in their political and economic systems to the West. A third option has been chosen. NATO has expanded to include all the former countries of the Warsaw Pact and short-range missiles have been installed along the Russian border. This was precisely the kind of act which prompted Kennedy to risk nuclear war with the Soviet Union in 1962.
Now, it was one thing for NATO powers over the last 15 years to bomb Third World countries such as Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It was another thing to desire to bomb Syria but have that cup so cruelly dashed from their lips. But it is a something else to play ducks and drakes with Russia. After the failed invasion of South Ossetia in 2008, orchestrated by the Georgian President and Western satrap Mikheil Saakashvili, it should have been clear that Russia would not permit acts of gross impertinence on its borders. Ukraine is yet another reminder that when the NATO powers push, the Russians were prepared to push back. Like Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya the Russians were prepared to take it. Unlike those powers, the Russians would also be able to hand it out.
And this explains the almost hysterical mouthings of the Western politicians to the entirely predictable Russian reaction. But merely repeating one hundred times that Mr Putin is a nasty man will not get them what they want. Neither will endless finger wagging. Still less will the list of footling sanctions trumpeted by the West prevent one Russian oligarch from purchasing the flat of his dreams in Belgravia.
NATO politicians know that to get what they want, they would have to bomb Russia and that this is fraught with danger. At that point public opinion in the West would have to wake up and ask why their representatives were messing around in Russia’s backyard. It was one thing to send the light brigade to their doom 160 years ago:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
But why would the rest of us want to ride into the ‘valley of Death’ for the Crimea in 2014?
So NATO have wisely decided to bluster and fold on the Ukraine. How they must be laughing in the Kremlin and how I laughed with them.