By Dan Wade
So Prince Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s general, admiral, statesman, and lover, called the Crimea. (He was originally responsible for Russia’s annexation of it from the Ottomans in 1783.) To understand Russia’s recent appropriation, if not down right annexation, of the Crimea after the Olympic games in Solchi one needs to understand the history of the land and the people of the Ukraine. “The past is never past in Sevastopol. It waves from flagpoles and drapes the parade stand on patriotic holidays. It finds sanctuary in war monuments and in posted signs. Lenin Square, Heroes of Stalingrad Street, Cinema Moscow. It even simmers in a potful of borsch.” (Inside Crimea: A Jewel in Two Crowns: Crimea has been a flashpoint between Russia and Ukraine for decades. Here’s why. National Geographic Daily News, Feb. 28, 2014.)
The first ever FCIL-SIS book discussion group will meet in San Antonio on Tuesday morning to discuss the Foreign Affairs book, Crisis in Ukraine, compiled by Gideon Rose (2014). It is a collection of opinion pieces on the recent history of Ukraine and its relations with it larger neighbor to the East, the earliest dated March/April 2005 after the Orange Revolution.
To gain a glimpse of Ukraine’s long history, I read the entertaining history cum travelogue, now almost twenty years old, Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997). Another worthwhile read on early Ukraine is the section on Galicia in Norman Davies’ Vanishing Kingdoms: The History Of Half-Forgotten Europe (London: Allen Lane, 2011). More formal histories can be found in the biographical essay in Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (London: The Bodley Head, 2010) (This tear-engendering, sleep-disturbing book is not to be recommended. There is an inverse correlation between knowledge of Stalin’s atrocities in Ukraine in the 1930’s and mental health, and that is only a small part of the horrors found in the book. No wonder we do not teach our school children the heinous history of this past!) One book which seems to have had a premonition of the difficulties ahead is La Crimée entre Russie et Ukraine: Un conflit qui n’a pas eu lieu, by Emmanuelle Armandon (Brussels: Bruylant, 2013.) Another very recent study is Rusia Frente a Ucrania by Carlos Taibo (Madrid: Catarata, 2014), which has a current bibliography. A recent discussion (June 16, 2014) from the Case Western School of Law can be found at http://law.case.edu/OurSchool/FacultyStaff/MeetOurFaculty/FacultyDetail/TalkingForeignPolicy.aspx.
Oxford’s Public International Law Debate Map is really quite marvelous and provides many sources to the various perspectives to the problem. It could use some updating, as it is current only through May 8, 2014, but it is a treasure-trove for those researching the situation. For current updates, one can turn to the quite informative website of the University of College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies Library, made known to Int-Law members some months ago by Lyonette Louis-Jacques. In a recent email, Lyo indicated to me that Professor Eric Posner from her university, the University of Chicago, is blogging on the Crisis.
To better understand the Russian perspective(s) on the Crimean situation and that of Eastern Ukraine, one needs to turn to the work of William E. Butler. This can serve as a key to unlocking the world of international law in the Russian tradition. A bibliography of works, many translated by Professor Butler, can be found in his new Russian Law and Legal Institutions (London: Wildy, Simmonds & Hill, 2014). Especially noteworthy are Russian and the Law of Nations in Historical Perspective: Collected Essays (London: Wildy, Simmons & Hill, 2009), and V. Grabar’s The History of International Law in Russia 1647-1917 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990; translated by Butler.) There is some sympathy for Russia in the Western Press (see the CNN op-ed (March 7, 2014) by Simon Tisdall foreign affairs columnist in the Guardian; see also, Jack Matlock’s (former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union) opinion (March 1, 2014).
Russians believe that the referendum that was held in the Crimea regarding which country the citizens wanted to belong legitimates their behavior, but Professor Lea Brilmayer of the Yale Law School argues in an op-ed in the Gaurdian (March 14, 2014) that it was illegal.
Perhaps the Russian common man has sentiments similar to those recounted by Keith Gessen in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs (“What’s the Matter With Russia,” July/August 2014, p. 182):
“The man sitting next to me [on an Aeroflot flight] — Sergei, I’ll call him — was also drunk, and he decided to engage me in a discussion of geo-politics. He said he was a graduate of MEPhi, an elite technical university in Moscow, and that he had made millions in software design. Sergei, was theoretically, the sort of Russian who might be expected of being critical of President Vladamir Putin, but he was not. He was thrilled that Russia had seized Crimea, if only because in doing so, it had extended a big middle finger to the West.”
Please leave comments and questions about Crisis In Ukraine and Tuesday’s book discussion below.