As I write, the Kremlin has won a seemingly bloodless victory by seizing Crimea without real resistance. As Europe panics and U.S. leadership seems to have no idea what to do about Vladimir Putin’s single-handed shredding of Europe’s post-Cold War rulebook, the next step is unclear. To be sure, if Putin moves forces into ethnically Russian areas of eastern Ukraine – as the Duma has “approved” and he told President Obama he reserves the right to – Europe will have a real war on its hands; it is already in its biggest crisis since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But a wider war cannot be ruled out. At a minimum, the post-1991 assurances that Europe would be forever at peace, that “soft power” could conquer all, or nearly so, that the continent’s biggest problems would be arguments over EU agricultural subsidies, have been shattered for good.
It is time to face some unpleasant facts. History – and force – is back with a vengeance, thanks to Kremlin belligerence, as I predicted last fall. Unless Europe wants to confront endless intimidation and worse at the hands of a resurgent Russia, it must dispense with pleasing nonsense and address the pressing need to defend itself and its values. I am posting below, in toto, the most forthright explanation of the situation I have yet found, an op-ed by Mart Helme, the former Estonian ambassador to Russia (thanks to Estonian relatives who saw this and alerted me). Entitled, “Moscow only understands force and willingness to sacrifice human lives,” this is a bracing, no-holds-barred must-read for anyone who cherishes European values, as I do, and wants to see them survive, as old threats reappear with a vengeance.
Was Hitler done with the Anschluss? No. Neither will Russia be satisfied just with Ukraine. And after Ukraine, Russia can only have one target – the Baltic states.
Russia has occupied Crimea. Western countries, including Estonia, are confused and able to utter only outdated and increasingly embarrassing platitudes. Russia will not wait for EU foreign ministers to eventually convene for a meeting, but is making hay while the sun shines – it is moving new military units and equipment to Crimea, expanding the conflict to eastern and southern Ukraine, and using Victor Yanukovych, who has sought refuge in Russia, to question the legitimacy of the people who seized power in Kyiv, and to create a cover for its criminal activities.
At the same time, the West is prattling in the United Nations where Russia holds veto rights at the Security Council, and making noise in the OSCE where all decisions need a consensus, which Russia (or any of its vassals) will naturally not allow to happen, while letting the leaders of big countries issue comically toothless statements instead. And with each passing day, Moscow is adding to the hard facts which the so-called international community must face.
In a nutshell, Russia is fighting ruthlessly and brutally, and proving to all that the post-Cold War world has been replaced by the post-post-Cold War world in which Moscow no longer considers the current international order, law, and organizations competent to solve problems.
What is applicable then? From Moscow’s point of view, only force and the willingness to sacrifice human lives when force is applied.
Is the West willing to do that? That is extremely unlikely. It is one thing to mount military operations against Afghan poppy growers and quite another to accept the challenge of a nuclear power with the world’s largest territory and the richest deposits of natural resources, which feels cornered in a deepening confrontation with the West and is not going to surrender its habitats without a fight.
Moscow knows – and so does the West but it is not willing to admit it even to itself – that Western civilization in its decadence has reached the final stage of its degradation where only money and comfort count. Careerists and anglers, who are able to navigate the ship only in good weather, have risen to the top during decades of inert existence. They will lose their heads in a storm, and can only utter banalities and behave accordingly.
Oswald Spengler in his “The Decline of the West” predicted more than correctly that money will bring down Western democracy (that is exactly what has already happened), and then the power of money will be conquered by force. Europe, fighting for the rainbow flag and gender quotas, is a complete impotent in that respect; the United States, on the other hand, when considering intervening, is thinking about moves of a broader global game and must inevitably take into account that average Americans do not have a clue where someplace called Crimea is located. Moreover, the United States is tired of the problems of the rest of the world and wants to take a rest. And we do not know whether it intends to wake up and do something if a small country like Estonia screams for help at some point.
This is the essence of an existential question for a wider audience: Is the West (especially the United States) willing to start what would likely be a truly uncompromising fight in order to win Crimea, as well as the eastern and southern Ukraine back from Moscow? That is not likely. It is much more likely that the West will behave exactly the way it did in 1938 when Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler demanded that they have Czechoslovakia, the independence and territorial integrity of which had been guaranteed by the Soviet Union and France in the League of Nations.
At the time, the issue was left for Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to mediate, which resulted in Czechoslovakia being left to Hitler to tear apart. Was Hitler satisfied with that? No. Neither will Russia be satisfied with this. After Ukraine, Russia will only have one target – the Baltic states.
It is naive to maintain that the West can influence Russia by imposing sanctions and freezing funds of the ruling kleptocratic clique. Putin & Co. have transferred their assets to a safe place by now, and Russia can withstand a long economic blockade stoically because the average Russian, unlike Europeans and Americans, is able to survive on vodka and potatoes alone. But it is Germany which will be unable to stay in business without Russian raw materials.
In 2008, Russia tested the West by launching a military attack against Georgia. The West failed the test. According to the peace treaty, negotiated with the French president as a mediator, Russia should have withdrawn troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but we all know very well that Moscow has so far not done that. It is highly unlikely that Russia will leave Crimea now that it has been conquered; even moreso, considering that historically it has never been an organic part of Ukraine.
In fact, Ukraine has only one – bloody – option to regain control over Crimea (and other potentially separatist regions). That means mobilizing the armed forces and going against the aggressor with arms. Just like Yanukovych was brought down at a price of victims’ blood, Russia will retreat when it meets decisive armed resistance. Because Russia is not nearly as strong as it makes itself out to be.
The authorities currently in power in Kyiv with all their economic problems are probably too much Western puppets to do what they are obliged to do under the Ukrainian Constitution. Sacrificing a Crimea or a Donetsk means nothing for Western countries which are sprawling in their own comfort zone.
After all, Western leaders, brought up in the spirit of the 1960’s hippie ideology, are familiar with only one motto – “Make love, not war”. Russia is familiar with the lyrics of a different song: “A yesly zavtra voyna … ” – if there is war tomorrow.