dekoder | Deciphering Russia
Centre for East European and International Studies
Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen
The Crimean Archipelago
A Multimedia Dossier

The Contemporary Debate – A Look Back

A dark day in the history of Russia or the day a “national idea” was born? New post-Soviet order in Eastern Europe or a new Cold War? Controversial opinion pieces from the international press on the Crimean referendum and the annexation of Crimea.

Voices from Russian politicians:

Russian state-affiliated media hailed the absorption of Crimea as the dawn of a new era. The critical and dismayed voices of opposition politicians who were against it could barely be heard.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia) on Vladimir Solovyov’s Talkshow, Irina Prokhorova (formerly of Grazhdanskaya plattforma) on the independent TV channel Dozhd, Boris Nemtsov (†2015) in an interview for the Ukrainian TV programme Svoboda Slova on ICTV.

Bild: A dark day in Russia’s history!

Ukrainian politician and former pro boxer Vitali Klitschko writes an appeal to the Western world, calling for harsh sanctions against Russia, in the tabloid-style Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling daily:

The 16th of March will go down as a dark day in Russia’s history! […]
The Western world cannot and must not allow the attack on Ukrainian territory to go unanswered: Today we expect the EU to impose sanctions on Russia that are the harshest since the end of the Cold War. Crimea is and will remain Ukrainian!
It was shameless lies that Russia used to start an invasion of Ukraine. […] The people of the Western world must stand together now and make clear to Vladimir Putin: This far and no further!

published on 20 Mar. 2014, original

Rossiyskaya gazeta: A national idea has been born

With a view very different from Klitschko’s, Rossiyskaya gazeta, the daily published by the Government of Russia, describes the 16th of March as an historic “era-defining date”, proclaiming the birth of a national idea that will unite the Russians:

[…] it seems our history now has another era-defining date – the 16th March […] 94% think that Russia should defend the interests of all Crimeans. 83% believe that this is necessary even if it complicates relations with other countries. 86% think that Crimea is Russia, whilst 91% support making Crimea a subject of the Russian Federation.
Such a vastly unequivocal response from Russians […] can mean only one thing – at last a unifying “national idea“ has been born; up to now all attempts to invent it had been in vain. The idea was not the brainchild of government functionaries, academics or PR-people; it was born in the hearts and minds of the most ordinary – and very different – Russians who were united by one thing. It was born in that uniquely spiritual space which goes by the name of the Russian world.

published on 19 Mar. 2014, original

The New Yorker: Eastern Ukraine will be next

Jon Lee Anderson of the US weekly The New Yorker wonders what will happen next in this “Russian world”:

What happens next for independent thinkers in Crimea seems fairly obvious. Beyond Crimea, in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donestk and Kharkiv, where there is also a large ethnic Russian population, public calls are being made for Crimea-style “referendums“ to accede to Russia. Today, as if on cue, Aksionov’s deputy openly suggested that eastern Ukraine would follow Crimea’s example.
If snap referendums are called, will the Russian troops that are now massed on eastern Ukraine’s borders move into those areas in the name of protecting ethnic Russians from Kiev’s “provocateurs” as in Crimea? Putin has reserved the right to intervene on their behalf. If Ukraine’s borders change yet again, what happens next?

published on 16 Mar. 2014, original

Avdet: No end to the long ordeals of Crimean Tatars

After the threats received by Lenur Islamov, founder of ATR, the Crimean Tatar television broadcaster, the Crimean Tatar newspaper Avdet recalls the fate of Crimean Tatars under Stalin and voices fears of a new round of ethnic cleansing:

“The principle is the same as it was during Stalin’s reign: show me the man; I’ll show you the crime. And on this same basis, I imagine, they will start pinning crimes on other famous Crimean Tatars: Islamic terrorism, sabotage, inciting ethnic hatred, all things that have never occurred in Crimea. Things which are now hurriedly being cooked up on these deceitful television programmes.
Soon Russia will “discover“ that Crimea is a den of terrorists and my people will go through a new cycle of torture. […]
Rather than being protected, I worry that my people will be ejected, starting with its best public figures, intellectuals and then all those who dare express their opinion.

Published on 24 Mar. 2014, original

Ogonyok: A dream fulfilled

In a guest piece in the Russian weekly Ogonyok, Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, describes the Ukraine crisis as crystallising the “essence of all problems” of the global order, in which Russia now plays a central role:

If […] we take a look at the entire globe, then the reception of the Ukrainian drama is paradoxical. Taken on its own – with all respect to the people of Ukraine and those countries who are taking an active role in its politics – it is not at all central to world events. And yet it has become the essence of all problems of the global order. From contradictions in the fundamental principles of the UN charter (self-determination vs territorial integrity) and double standards, right up to the absence of equilibrium in the world, the reign of media images over reality and legal chaos. Russia has found itself in the centre of this entire 21st century muddle. The central role is not always the winning one and often becomes the recipient of all sorts of pain. But Moscow has striven to return to this position since the start of the 1990s and now its dream has come true.

published on 24 Mar. 2014, original

The New York Times: The renewed Cold War

Peter Bailey of The New York Times, the national US daily, looks back on the last 25 years of Russian-US relations and warns against a new Cold War:

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Washington and Moscow had struggled to replace their Cold War rivalry with a new form of partnership, one that was tested by crisis after crisis but that endured in its own peculiar way. After each rupture, whether over Kosovo or Iraq or Georgia, came another reset that put the two powers back onto an uneasy equilibrium.
The decision by President Vladimir V. Putin to snatch Crimea away from Ukraine, celebrated in a defiant treaty-signing ceremony in the Kremlin on Tuesday, threatens to usher in a new, more dangerous era. If it is not the renewed Cold War that some fear, it seems likely to involve a sustained period of confrontation and alienation that will be hard to overcome. The next reset, if there ever is one, for the moment appears far off and far-fetched.

published on 18 Mar. 2014, original Russia’s step forwards

Examining those same events of the past two decades, Dmitri Trenin, expert on the USA and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, diagnoses the end of the post-Soviet order:

The Crimean saga is a turning point in Russia’s foreign policy. Until now Moscow had only spoken about “red lines“, particularly with regards to the extent of NATO’s expansion to the West, or responded to military action already initiated against it, as was the case in South Ossetia in 2008. President Putin took brave steps in Crimea to prevent the peninsula from falling into the hands of the revolutionary authorities in Kiev, which Moscow does not recognise. He then gave the go-ahead for a referendum about Crimea’s status and opened the way for it to unite with Russia. The post-Soviet order in Eastern Europe is returning to the past. Russia has stopped edging backwards, it has a made a step forward.

published on 17 Mar. 2014, original

Global Affairs: Russia is risking a great deal

The Russian journal Russia in Global Affairs explains why Russia took this step and what questions the EU now faces:

Why is the event in Crimea today unprecedented? Put simply, the cornerstone of all post-war world politics is the principle of the inviolability of borders […] this premise was conceived as an antidote to the excessive might of any of the great (and not so great) nation states and to guarantee the balance of power. […]
Why has Moscow gone down this route? Because it has realised that if nothing changes in the international system of relations, then the only thing waiting for it is stagnation and slow deterioration. Further political engagement would be meaningless.
It is now up to the West, and first and foremost Europe, to decide if it wants to take Russia with it or cast it aside forever. In which case, Moscow would be ready to fight until the end, the meaning of which is known all too well in our history.
Russia has decided to change the world. Russia is risking a great deal.

published on 22 Mar. 2014, original

Die Zeit: The essence of Europe retold

Matthias Krupa and Michael Thumann, correspondents for Die Zeit, the national German weekly, talk about the freedom they believe defines the European model, which is proving its strength during the Crimean crisis:

Vladimir Putin’s military action is a reminder to Europeans of what the EU provides for them: freedom, legal certainty, open societies and a prosperity shared by a comparatively large number of people. The Kremlin has sent its paratroopers into action against this quiet power. Taking shape in the midst of the Crimean crisis is a new narrative about what Europe is – the very thing the EU has sought in vain these past years.
As paradoxical as it sounds, the European model is proving itself stronger in the Crimean crisis than it has at any other time in the past decade. Democracy and pluralism are not things one can take for granted, they are achievements that can be destroyed. The continent is now getting a drastic lesson in this.

published on 20 Mar. 2014, original

Slon: An unlawful annexation

The independent news site Slon (now – Republic) emphasises that Crimea’s absorption into Russia constitutes an unlawful annexation and see it as a means to get the population fully behind a turn away from Europe:

The annexation of Crimea is the most effective remedy against Westernisation and the liberalisation of Russia. It is the best way to retain an eternal state of conflict with one’s enemies, of sexual sovereignty [sic] and state spirituality. Now, every time a pro-Western, pro-European, tolerant and open-minded force tries to get into power, or even to join the opposition, the people will be reminded, “These folks will give away Crimea”. And the people, fully true to the state and state supremacy, will choose territory: a political and military victory expressed in land, towns, and miles of coastline. Yes, they steal what’s ours and split the wealth amongst themselves; yes, it would be nice if there was more good and order around; yes, they have worn us out with their speeches and prayers, but anyone else would give away Crimea.

published on 14 Mar. 2014, original

Izvestia: Enough with all this liberal nonsense about freedom

Russian author Alexander Prokhanov, who feels no trepidation about turning away from Europe, calls for “spiritual mobilisation” in the Kremlin-affiliated Izvestia, predicting that Russians will unify around the state:

Russia is entering a post-Crimean period in its history. […] [I]n the current climate in which an inordinate amount of pressure is being heaped on Russia, we have to be ready for spiritual mobilization. The time for relaxed enjoyment, frivolous jokes, liberal rhetoric about freedom and liberal scepticism about the Russian state is now over. The state has once again shown itself to be acting out the will of the nation and the country’s destiny. Consolidation of the people around the state and their faith in it will create a redemptive force amidst the threats and attacks from this world and will become the content of public life in its many facets.

published on 16 Mar. 2014, original

Ukrayinska Pravda: Goodbye, Crimea!

The Ukrainian independent online magazine Ukrayinska Pravda explains the annexation of Crimea as the result of the dominant mood of “Soviet nostalgia” in Crimea, and identifies a way to bring Crimea back to Ukraine:

Let’s admit it: Ukraine has not done much good for Crimea in the past 23 years, or for any of its other regions either. Why is this so? That’s another story: perhaps the country’s leaders were not able to or did not want to. In all likelihood, the leaders would put the blame on the people.
However, it is an indisputable fact that quite a large portion of our population, mostly people living in the east and south of Ukraine, are still unhappy with this country and would rather try their luck in another one. They want to go home, to Russia.
…These are the regions with the highest share of people who still consider themselves “Soviet citizens”, who regularly vote for the Communist Party of Ukraine and believe that the collapse of the USSR was the biggest tragedy of the 20th century.
So one can understand why they want to go home to Russia.
The monster that has crumbled under its own weight is still admired and missed by many.
What can be done about this? – Nothing. That is, nothing about the Crimeans. The only way to bring Crimea back is to build a Ukraine in which life would be better, more peaceful, prosperous and free.
This work should start today, without delay.

published on 21 Mar. 2014, original

The Guardian: Putin will not return Crimea to Ukraine

Simon Jenkins, a columnist for the liberal British daily The Guardian, sees no chance of Crimea’s returning to Ukraine:

We know where this is likely to end. We will accept Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea. Sanctions will be quietly dismantled, Moscow will reassure Kiev with a deal on neutrality. Nato will agree no further eastward expansion. The G7 will again become G8; and Crimea will join Tibet, Kosovo, East Timor, Chechnya, Georgia and other territorial interventions which history students will struggle to remember. […]
We can tell Russia to behave better towards small countries. But Putin will not return Crimea to Ukraine. Trying to make him do so is ridiculous. The real job is somehow to get out of this mess. I imagine Putin agrees.

published on 25. Mar. 2014, original