March 28, 2014

The Solution to Crimea Lies Through Finland


The Solution to Crimea Lies Through Finland

You have to hand it to History. She has a very well developed sense of irony.* Exactly 160 years ago today the Crimean War began.

Yes, yes, the war began between Russia and the Ottoman Empire several months earlier, in October 1853. But it was on March 27 and 28, 1854, that France and Britain declared war on Russia, turning a war between neighbors into a global conflagration. (It ought to be called a World War, since fighting was far from limited to Crimea, extending to the Baltic, Caucasus, Pacific, and even the White Sea, where the British bombarded Solovki.)

The Crimean conflict was a very complicated war. Ostensibly it was about settling the borders between the Russian and Ottoman empires, but it was also about control over the holy sites in Jerusalem, about coming to grips with the “sick man” of Europe (the declining Ottoman Empire), about “checking Russian expansion,” and about control of the Black Sea. Read the short or the long version and you will quickly learn how critical a turning point the Crimean War was in world history (leading to important military and medical advances, the end of serfdom in Russia, the Russian sale of Alaska to the US, the fall of a few governments, etc.). And you will also see some startling parallels to the present day, plus how the outlines of the current crisis have their roots in 1854.

But I digress.

While it is useful for the current crisis over Crimea and Ukraine to understand history, solving the crisis is more likely through analogy. But first we must understand the motivations of the actors involved.

There has been no shortage of ink spilled to explain Kremlin motivations and actions in Ukraine, but to my mind just one passes the Occam’s Razor test. It was succinctly expressed by Michael Totten (who gets extra points for citing George Kennan):

“What [Putin] most fears is that Ukraine might join NATO, removing yet another buffer state between himself and the West and kiboshing his plans for the Eurasian Union.... The Crimean referendum—whether it was free and fair or rigged is no matter—creates a disputed territory conflict that will never be resolved in Ukraine’s favor. It will freeze and fester indefinitely. There isn’t a chance that NATO would accept a member that has a disputed territory conflict with Russia. No chance at all. Ukraine is as isolated as it could possibly be from the West without getting re-absorbed into Russia entirely.

 

“Putin did the same thing to Georgia in 2008 when he lopped off the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and he did it for the same reason.

 

“A similar dynamic fell into his lap in Moldova, the poor and battered country east of Romania. The far eastern Slavic region of (Latin) Moldova declared independence after the Soviet period and calls itself Transnistria....

 

“That’s not one, not two, but three times Russia has pulled this stunt since the end of the Cold War. Putin is doing it to Ukraine because it worked in Moldova and Georgia.”

As to the Endgame, Totten is equally direct: “There is no exit plan. Russia is not going to pull out of these countries, nor will anyone force Russia out. It’s not worth a world war—not even close.”

Ok, so if we assume that summarizes Putin’s actions and motivations, what about the West? Well, while some (say, for instance, the Kremlin) may assert based on intercepted phone calls, that the US was behind events in Ukraine, the facts show the opposite to be true: the tail was wagging the dog. Ukraine was a homegrown grassroots movement that the US and Europe sought to take advantage of for their own ends: supporting democracy and dismantling and demilitarizing the remnants of the Soviet empire in Europe. 

So, given all that, how do we fix this? How do we step back from the brink and return to a situation in which international borders are accepted, and people are given the right to determine their own futures, where everyone gets enough of what they want so we can all live in peace?

I believe the road lies through Finland.

After a long history of wars and border disputes with Russia, of being used repeatedly as a pawn in larger struggles, Finland realized that it could only survive as a sovereign democracy in the shadow of a superpower through a strategy of rigorous neutrality and non-alignment. It signed an agreement in 1948 with the Soviet Union where it pledged such neutrality and foreswore NATO and the Marshall Plan. In the process it was never impressed into the Warsaw Pact.

Some in the west derided this strategy, and “Finlandization” became a synonym for appeasement in some circles. But the reality is that it worked. Finland skillfully traversed the Cold War via a treacherous tightrope, emerging as a resilient democracy and one of the most prosperous countries in the world, with an enviable education system and a superb track record in human rights. In 2010, Newsweek magazine, using a variety of matrixes, called Finland “the best country in the world.”

Who would not wish for the same for Ukraine?

So here’s the proposal:

  1. The West accepts Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Yes, Russia’s actions there were wrong according to all international norms. But the fact is that, if Ukrainian constitutional processes for secession had been followed, Crimea would probably have gotten to the same place, just more slowly and peacefully.
  2. Russia removes all troops massing along Ukraine’s borders and pledges to respect, in perpetuity, Ukraine’s sovereignty (renouncing further annexations), signing a bilateral treaty with Ukraine that is a modern equivalent to the Soviet-Finnish treaty of 1948. For its part, Ukraine agrees to explicitly reaffirm its commitment to protecting the rights of all linguistic, ethnic and other minorities.
  3. Ukraine renounces any intention to join NATO and NATO in turn agrees not to make any overtures to Ukraine.
  4. The US, EU and Russia establish a Tripartite Council, to be chaired by the Finnish Foreign Minister, that will be tasked with helping Ukraine out of its current economic morass, overseeing free and fair elections, and ensuring a fully demilitarized, independent, democratic and non-aligned Ukraine in perpetuity. Through this Council, Ukraine will be given unique economic status, eventually granted membership to both the EU and Putin’s Eurasian Union.

As any solution, it requires concessions from all sides, but it accepts the things we cannot change, gets all involved most of what they want, and gets us to the place we all know this has to go: to a free, non-aligned Ukraine.

And there is no reason a similar plan could not be implemented for Georgia and Moldova.


* Why is History feminine? Simple. Because, like a majestic sailing ship, she is far more attractive and intelligent than all the men who think that they have her figured out, that they can manipulate her for their own ends.

Oh, and to pile on yet another irony, it was almost exactly 231 years ago today, on April 8, 1783, that Catherine II ("the Great") issued a decree annexing Crimea to the Russian empire.

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

802-223-4955