Sunday, March 30, 2014

What about Crimea?

The plight of Ukraine and especially of Crimea has been much in the news this month. That concern was heightened when on March 16 the people of Crimea voted to become a part of Russia and when on March 21 Russian President Putin signed the bill of accession, making Crimea a part of Russia (again).
There are legitimate concerns about the Crimean vote to secede. Were the people really free to vote as they wished? Or did many vote, and vote as they did, because of the nearby Russian military presence?
And then there is the question of how the minorities in Crimea, the ethnic Ukrainians and the Tatars, will be treated under Russian rather than Ukrainian rule.
This is the main concern, though: is Russia’s accession of Crimea just the first of further attempts of Putin and Russia to acquire additional territory, incorporating more land and people under Russian rule?
Some U.S. politicians have used the secession/accession of Crimea to criticize the President for being “weak”—just as some of the same people accused him of being weak for not taking military action against Iran and/or Syria.
Earlier this month according to CBS News “John McCain blames Obama’s ‘feckless’ foreign policy for Ukraine crisis.” At that same time, Marc A. Thiessen, an opinion writer for the Washington Post penned an article titled “Obama’s Weakness Emboldens Putin.”
In the March 16 referendum, though, an overwhelming majority voted in favor of independence of Crimea from Ukraine and of joining Russia as a federal subject. After the referendum, Crimean lawmakers formally voted both to secede from Ukraine and ask for membership in the Russian Federation.
Since we in this country generally praise democracy, deciding matters by majority vote, why is there such widespread opposition to Crimea becoming a part of Russia again?
Actually, Russia claims that in 1654 the Council of Pereyaslav approved the unification of Ukraine with Russia. Then in 1783 under the rule of Empress Catherine the Great, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire.

It was on the 300th anniversary of the 1654 event that Nikita Khrushchev, head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 (and whose wife was Ukrainian), transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Of course, Ukraine was still within the Soviet Union. That changed in 1991, though. With the dissolving of the USSR, Ukraine became an independent state. Since 1992 Crimea has officially been the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine.
But when the referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence was held in Ukraine in December 1991, only 37% of the electorate in Crimea voted for independence from Russia, compared to 76% for all of Ukraine (including Crimea).
After all, a large majority of the people who lived in Crimea then were ethnic Russians who spoke the Russian language. And that is even more so now: according to an article in the March 21 Washington Post, nearly 80% of the Crimeans now are ethnic Russians.
So in spite of all the worry in the West, and all of the criticism of the President in the U.S., perhaps the “loss” of Crimea is not such a serious issue—and being a part of Russian again likely seems to be a good thing to the majority of the people who live there.
Certainly it is a matter of concern that the accession of Crimea may be just the first step in Russia’s (Putin’s) annexing other lands and people. That is not likely to happen, though. At least I certainly pray that it won’t.


  1. Good sense, Leroy. The hysteria being whipped up in this country over the issue, even by the president, is . . . uh . . . a bit bizarre.

  2. From the Golden Horde to Florence Nightingale, from "The Charge of the Light Brigade" to causing the sale of Alaska to the United States by a nearly bankrupt Russia, Crimea has long played an outsized role in the world. The Crimean War, with battles from the Baltic to the Pacific, was a poorly managed practice run for World War I a half century later. Countless armies from many countries have taken their turns on its stage; from Romans to Tartars they faded away as the powers of Russia, Ottoman Turks, French and English struggled in the most famous Crimean War for control of the strategic location.

    Today we remember the horror of Stalin's purge and deportation of the Tartars after World War II, but centuries earlier Crimea was famous for the millions of Slavs sold into slavery in the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires; so many that the very word "slave" was born in the process. This is not a happy land with peaceful memories.

    I commend President Obama for keeping the United States out of any new threat of war in Crimea. A nuclear armed world hardly needs new hostilities there. The firm message was given to Russia that arbitrarily seizing land of a peaceful neighbor is wrong. Now much hard work in diplomacy remains. Perhaps, if our modern leaders can find wisdom exceeding that of the mid-19th century leaders, a less terrible end can be found to this encounter. Both Ukraine and Russia need to be healed. That will be neither easy nor quick. We must lead in making true peace. That begins with patience and foresight.

    1. Craig, I much appreciate your instructive comments. You filled in a little more of the long and sad history of the region, and that is helpful for gaining a fuller understanding of that long-troubled part of the world.

  3. An excellent response from Craig Dempsey! I heartily agree!

  4. Thinking Friend John Tim Carr of California wrote (in part):

    "Just because a majority of the people want to be annexed by Russia doesn`t mean that it should happen that way. Since they are now a separate country why can`t they just have closer relations with Russia without giving up their sovereignty?"

  5. Local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard

    "Thanks for your comments below. The "loss" is hardly surprising as it has a majority Russian-speaking population and it was part of Russia until 1954. What is somewhat surprising is the thuggish way in which Russia reacquired Crimea. The Russians could have conducted a clean, internationally-monitored election and still won.

    "My greatest concern about Russia is the muzzling of the Russian media by Putin. That is ultimately the real threat and the real danger."

  6. Another local Thinking Friend, Dr. William Adams, sent these interesting comments:

    "Thanks for your balanced discussion and historical overview of Crimea. My ballroom dance teaching partner, Paula Marie Daub, suggests an interesting analogy:

    "Suppose Mexico joined the U. S. as a state, and as a reward, we agreed that New Mexico would become part of Mexico. Then 60 years later, Mexico leaves the U. S., taking New Mexico with it. Would we think that for New Mexico to secede from Mexico and rejoin the U. S. should require a vote of all of Mexico? Or would we think that a vote of over 90% of New Mexicans should suffice?

    "Sometimes a "shoe on the other foot" analogy can challenge one's perspective."

  7. Local Thinking Friend Thomas Howell, professor of history at William Jewell College, raises significant issues with his comments:

    "You raise some good points about an issue not as simple as it is being presented. However, I do wonder how you would compare this to the South's effort to secede from the US. and form a separate nation.

    "There are many circumstances involved but I think there would be general agreement that the war began not as an effort to abolish slavery but rather to prevent the secession of the Confederate states. There was no direct referendum held but I think it can be reasonably argued that a majority of the citizens of the seceding states favored the move.

    "Would you therefore argue that the South should have been allowed to secede in peace? (I realize that as a consistent pacifist you would likely argue that any war for any reason is wrong but, perhaps at least you could judge as to whether the South should have been allowed to do what it wished to do and not be opposed by any methodology.)

    1. Thomas, thanks for raising significant questions.

      As I was writing the article about Crimea, I thought about secession more broadly, including the secession of the Confederate States. And that is certainly a pertinent issue.

      The main difference is that Crimea represents less than 5% of the Ukrainian population, and GDP. Thus, their secession hardly threatens the livelihood of Ukraine. In addition, secession in Crimea meant accession by a country to which the people were already closely aligned in ethnicity and language.

      In the case of the CSA, that secession was of the size that perhaps jeopardized the political and economic stability and continuance of both the Union and the Confederates. It was a new country, less than "four score and seven years" when the secession began, and it could easily have meant the demise of both the North and the South. And, of course, the South didn't secede in order to join another country to which they had deep and long-term ties.

      Surely there could have been action taken other than engaging in an all out civil war, resulting in at least 620,000 deaths. (And I agree that the war began not to free the slaves, but to preserve the Union.) A concerted effort to nonviolent action could most likely have ended with the same positive results--maybe not as soon, but with far less loss of life and lingering animosity.

      Reflecting on all the carnage of the Civil War and all the problems that lingered (and still linger) as the result of that war, it is hard for me to say that it was successful and was the right thing for the Union to do. Further, if peaceful ways rather than military means had been fully used to deal with the problem, the whole affair might well have had a much happier ending.

    2. Dr. Howell write again with these substantial comments about the Civil War:

      This wanders away from the original issue, but I do think that the Civil War could have been avoided by non-violent means. Although the war started over the secession of the South, what drove the secession was indeed slavery. And there is no question in my mind that slavery in the form that it existed in the South at that time* was a moral evil.

      "The question then becomes whether a half a million lives were worth ending slavery quickly as opposed to ending it more gradually, which admittedly means that a great many individual slaves would have had to endure miserable bondage for a considerably longer period. I tend to think that half a million lives were too high a price, but of course neither I nor my ancestors were slaves (in fact some were probably small scale slave owners in Louisiana and Texas) which may affect my viewpoint.

      "One of many problems was the absolute refusal of abolitionists to countenance any compensation for losing slaves. This was done elsewhere—in the British Empire, for example—as a concession to pragmatism. Slaves were valuable property. For the abolitionists, slavery was simply a sin and slave owners should simply repent of the sin and give up their slaves. Paying someone to stop sinning was unthinkable. An offer of compensation would not have ended slavery overnight. There would have been arguments over the amount of compensation. But it would have begun to nibble at slavery around the edges. Slavery was no longer really profitable in Virginia, for example, where slave owners kept their heads above water by selling off slaves to the deep South ('cotton kingdom') where it still was. There would always been a few fanatics but even the hard core, as in South Carolina, would have been far less willing to secede had they had significantly fewer allies. Inevitable mechanical inventions would have undercut slavery as an economic system. Yes, it was also a means of racist social control but I am enough of a Marxist to argue that economics held the trump card.

      "It is much more complicated, of course, than this brief and risky excursion into counter-factualism can take into consideration (and I have to stop and get back to work). But I would argue that by the turn of the century at the very latest (and I really think earlier) slavery would have faded away. 500,000 lives for 30-40 years of additional utterly undeserved bondage for—as of 1860—almost 4 million slaves? Which is worse? Summons a panel of ethicists and tell me which is preferable.

      "*Was slavery always immoral? I’m not prepared to judge, for example, Greek or African slavery from a long time ago. Applying present day moral standards to the distant past is a tricky business."

    3. Wonderful conversation, and I wish we could all be in a room together and continue it as long as it takes! Talk till we drop?

      My 2¢ — patience is easier for those not suffering; but impatience often leads to unintended consequences. For instance, could one say the impatience of the nonviolent protestors in Kiev led to the overreaction of the Ukrainian leadership in using lethal force, which led to the overthrow of that leadership, which led to Russian annexing Crimea? In other words, can nonviolence be part of the chain of events which have "bad" outcomes? And to include the (nonviolent) rigidity of abolitionists, not just the violence of John Brown, as part of the web that led to our Civil War — that must give us modern day advocates of nonviolence pause . . .

    4. Phil, I appreciate your thoughtful comments and pertinent questions.

      Your statement about patience and impatience at the beginning of the second paragraph is quite important, I think.

      When faced with a bad (intolerable) situation, it seems that there are mainly three types of reaction possible: (1) passive resistance, (2) nonviolent resistance, and (3) violent resistance.

      I cannot see (3) as being a viable choice, for Christians at least. There is a lot to say for (1), and that is the classic Anabaptist position which has to be considered very carefully. But (2) is probably the best option in most cases, although it does not always produce the desired results. But it is certainly most likely to produce better results than (3) and also probably more likely to produce the results desired than (1).

  8. Could I ask what is your source for the Dec.1991 numbers?
    The official data is over 90% for independence, average in Ukraine, 54% for Crimea, and 57% for the city of Sevastopol. The official data is provided here:
    or here (p. 40 in green color)
    The link in Wikipedia is