I don’t know if it is a symptom of getting old or a symptom of being a student of history but in the last few weeks I’ve found myself being kept awake by current affairs. The situation in the Ukraine, frankly, terrifies me; I can’t see a positive outcome either politically or economically. Russian actions in the Crimea are almost unbelievable in twenty first century Europe including military intervention and even an ICBM test launch on the 4th of March to properly rattle that sabre. I don’t believe that the annexation of of Crimea (albeit by psuedo-democratic means) is the end of the matter either. Current Russian politics has a fiercely nationalistic tone and, as evident in the legal changes regarding homosexuality before the Sochi Winter Olympics, are worryingly right wing . The desire to establish “Greater Russia” is also part of the current political agenda in Russia. It is common across Russian nationalists at both ends of the political spectrum. Vladimir Putin commands significant popular support at home or, at least, maintains enough support to silence any significant opposition. Indeed his opposition is cast in the role of agents of external powers, acting directly against the good of Russia.
Perhaps the most worrying thing for me is that this is all desperately familiar ground. Historically there seems to be a precedent for March being the month of annexations; on the 12th March 1938 Germany annexed Austria following a belligerent campaign of intimidation by the German Nazi party and their demagogic leader, Adolf Hitler. After German troops entered Austria to enforce the union, a plebiscite was held to ratify the decision. The ballot returned over 99% agreement with the annexation.
In the Crimea we’ve seen an area with a 58% ethnic Russian population return a 97%+ in favour for joining the Russian Federation after Russian “nationalists and patriots” secured key strategic locations. In fact whilst I’m talking about the ballots in questions have a look at the ballot papers; I’ve linked the images below.
Anschluss plebiscite ballot paper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stimmzettel-Anschluss.jpg
Crimean ballot paper: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26514797
Admittedly political obfuscation has come some way since 1938 but you would have to be pretty naive to believe the ballot result could have been anything else. In fact if there had been a result in favour of the second option in the Crimean referendum it could be read as a plea for Russia to re-establish Viktor Yanukovych as the Ukranian premier.
Most frightening of all is that this is clearly not the end for Russian intervention in the Ukraine. The lack of a land border with the Crimea is a strategically untenable position for Russia. For instance, in the present situation, Ukraine could shut down the Crimea entirely by cutting off electricity and gas; it has no local supply and there are no direct pipelines from Russia to Crimea. Eastern Ukraine has a significant ethnic Russian population however which, on current evidence, is more than enough of a excuse for Russia to intervene again.