Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 23, 2014

Vasicek: On Crimea and Russia

By Ed Vasicek
Guest columinst

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A friend was chatting to me about the similarities between Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea — justified on the basis of it being populated by ethnic Russians — and Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland just before the outbreak of World War II. His opinion was that history was repeating itself. Let us pray it does not!

According to Wikipedia, “Since ca. 700 BC, the peninsula [Crimea] has changed hands well over a dozen times, with all or part having been controlled by Cimmerians, Bulgars, Greeks, Scythians, Romans, Goths, Huns, Khazars, Kievan Rus’ (early Ukraine), the Byzantine Empire, Venice, Genoa, Kipchaks, the Golden Horde, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and modern independent Ukraine.”

A region like Crimea has suffered enough. Yet, according to the BBC, the end is not in sight: “Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state, paving the way for it to be absorbed into Russia.

“The decree said it had taken into account Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, in which officials said 97% of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine.

“The EU and US said the referendum was illegal and imposed sanctions on 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine. Crimea was taken over by pro-Russian gunmen in late February.”

Most of the world is suspicious when a vote is taken while a nation is occupied by foreign troops with an agenda. Fear — and the quest for peace at any price — can be compelling.

Crimea has been an autonomous, self-governing republic within the Ukraine since the Soviet Union dissolved. The United States has “territories” (the best known is Puerto Rico), but we cannot illustrate the position that Crimea had within Ukraine. An important point to remember, however, is that once the Soviet Union dissolved and the Crimeans formed their government, they freely chose to be self-governing AND a part of Ukraine. Please underscore that word “freely.”

Whether Putin is another Hitler-like figure seeking to reassemble the Soviet Union, we may [hopefully] never know. This is a different world than it was in the late 1930s, and the bountiful supply of nuclear weapons can be intimidating in both directions. It is fair to assume, however, that he will do as much of this as he can get away with.

I suspect that the rest of Ukraine will be on an express path to membership with the European Union. With this breach of good faith on Putin’s part, the U.S. is morally freed to break any agreements with Russia that might impede defending other nearby nations. The unraveling process has begun.

Things are mighty complicated, however. The smaller the world gets, the more dependent we become upon one another. We Americans have purchased gasoline refined from oil shipped from countries hostile to us. Our dependence limits our ability to aggressively confront those nations. Consider this: Russia is only second to Saudi Arabia when it comes to oil exports, and most of Europe’s natural gas comes from — you guessed it — Russia.

Russia is also involved in weapons production and sales. According to the AFP, “India remains the biggest buyer of arms in the world, importing nearly three times as many weapons as its nearest competitors China and Pakistan over the last five years, a Swedish think tank said.”

And where do most of these weapons come from? Seventy-five percent of them come from Russia! So, how firm are the leaders of India going to be with Russia? How firm are the Europeans going to be?

The U.S. is trying to give Russia a wake-up call through sanctions. According to the AP, “In the most comprehensive sanctions against Russia since the end of the Cold War, President Barack Obama on Monday froze the U.S. assets of seven Russian officials, including top advisers to President Vladimir Putin, for their support of Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine.”

Let us hope the world’s leaders can figure out how to stand up to Putin. History has witnessed the results of appeasement.

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@comcast.net.