Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Putin and Crimea

Horrendously superficial reporting from the media; horrendously simplistic posturing from politicians; knee-jerk predictability from both the left and the right...coverage and analysis of the Crimean crisis has been piss poor, and it's not getting any better.

The media, squeamish after decades of strident accusations of institutional liberalism from the right, continues to give undeserved weight to disgraced hawks like William Kristol and Dick Cheney, who are peddling the same arrogant and short-sighted moves that nearly wrecked us in Iraq and Afghanistan (and whose "solution" to Iran would have dealt a coup de grace of belligerent recklessness). Voices on the left predictably proffer the Rodney King view of international relations- i.e. "can't we all just get along?" Not much meat on that bone, either.

Insight is awfully hard to come by. Our professional experts are, as always, shooting from the hip, and we're getting a cartoon view of the situation. The public demands a simple snapshot and our media and our leaders oblige us as best they can.

The best, sanest, most cogent and insightful voice on this crisis I've heard has been that of Nina Khrushcheva, great-granddaughter of that Khrushchev and a professor of international affairs at the New School (and who has almost as few Twitter followers as I do). All her predictions have panned out thus far, and she alone seems to make sense in accounting for what's been happening.

On Monday, she explained her view of Putin's intentions (short version: he fancies himself a latter-day Alexander the Great) on public radio's "The Takeaway". She believes Crimeans are looking to Russia as a great and glamorous power, but, given that this incident may turn Russia into something of a pariah state and harm its teetery, one-legged economy, Crimeans may soon grow disenchanted with their new association.

Here is her appearance last week on MSNBC:

And here is her diffuse but instructive thumbnail sketch of Putin and his historical context from yesterday's Washington Post. An excerpt:
"Would that Americans understood Putin for what he is — no mere bully, he is “an old KGB chinovnik,” a petty clerk.

Although Putin enjoys the popular image of the terrifying KGB agent, Khrushcheva says he was really a clerk whose nickname was “Moth.” More Miss Moneypenny than James Bond.

In his own mind, Putin is “messianic, a uniter of lands and corrector of historic wrongs,” Khrushcheva says sarcastically. Which is to say, he is often delusional. Yet his delusion is buffeted by the wounded pride of his countrymen, many of whom also want to see the motherland restored to greatness."
A couple more Crimea-related items:

Yesterday Putin gave a speech yesterday categorically denying any intent to take over territory beyond Crimea. His exact (translated) words were:
"Who is shouting that Crimea will be followed by other regions? We do not want the division of Ukraine. We do not need it.".
Everyone has been analyzing this statement to decide whether it's earnest reassurance or mere propaganda - the assumption being that, at face value, the statement delivers good news. No one seems to have paid attention to that short, blunt final sentence: we will not take it because we do not need it.

This came after days of Putin's painstaking explanation of the historical basis for Crimea's re-inclusion in Russia - i.e. his defense against allegations that this was nothing but a brutish assertion of Lebensraum. So he's saying that Russia didn't snatch Crimea because they simply decided they wanted it. Oh, and they won't snatch the rest of Ukraine because they simply don't want it.

You may also want to have a look at this brief interview with a cranky/craggy dude named Stephen Cohen, who thinks a lot of this hinges around NATO expansion. The video (below) starts (after a short ad) with a pretty good interview with a former US ambassador to Russia, but the Cohen portion begins at 4'30":

Update: Cohen is, I see, being reviled both on the left and the right for being a Putin apologist. He may in fact be one; I don't know his work. But I do think Americans are awfully quick to call someone an apologist when they're merely trying to ascertain the motivations of people whose actions we don't like. Something's fundamentally wrong when a culture demonizes understanding.

No comments:

Blog Archive