On July 14, a Russian court in the Oryol region sentenced 42-year-old Alexander Byvshev, a Russian provincial town schoolteacher of German and sometime poet, to 300 hours of community service and banned him from teaching for two years. The sentence came on a single charge of writing and publishing on the Internet a poem titled and addressed to Ukrainian patriots that criticized the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbas. This was reported by Radio Liberty, the BBC Russian Service and The Moscow Times, among others, albeit quite sparsely in total. Some have criticized the fact that the judge who handed down the sentence and many of the witnesses from the defendant’s own village who testified against him had not even read the poem. Some have cited the poem itself as lacking anything defamatory.
A year after Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation, a celebratory President Vladimir Putin admitted that Crimea was of interest to him prior to the so-called referendum that had been the ostensible basis for annexation. Mr. Putin boasted that the subject of Crimea’s return to Russia came up when he acted in February 2014 to save the life of Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was on the run, abandoned and about to be captured by the Ukrainians. It was then, according to Mr. Putin, that he gave the order to reunite Crimea with the motherland and personally acted as commander-in-chief. The concept of reunification itself is as specious as Russia’s connection with Crimea is historically tenuous and replete with crimes. Between annexation and the admission, an even more ominous specter appeared: an accumulation of Russian nuclear weaponry on the peninsula with Mr. Putin threatening its use.
The obvious prime suspect in the recent execution-style slaying of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has announced to the world that he personally is spearheading the investigation. Vladimir Putin has declared this a political killing, suggesting a CIA plot, Ukrainian complicity to cause division within Russia, an Islamic jihad as retribution for Mr. Nemtsov’s support for Charlie Hebdo and other nefarious concocted motives. Additionally, the investigation has introduced a personally motivated scenario involving a young Ukrainian model as Mr. Nemtsov’s concubine and a pregnancy about to be aborted. No doubt there are many who will, wittingly or not, buy into at least one of the theories. In any event, neither the killing nor the fabrications will carry serious consequences.
Hope springs eternal. In Ukrainian circles that cliché is no longer relevant when referring to Ukraine-Russia relations. Many in the West are still naive or, perhaps, idealistic enough to lend credence to promises made by Russian leaders or their henchmen. However, the list of the believers is diminishing. Despite cynicism, lessons learned from the past and even current violations of Minsk 2, there may be a silver lining or perhaps an opportunity that should not be wasted.
Citing international documents, conventions or treaties when dealing with Russia is an exercise in futility. A more meaningful task would be locating a single international convention or treaty that Russia and/or its predecessor the USSR have not violated in large part or ignored entirely. Conventions and treaties nonetheless remain international norms of a civilized international community that must be taken into consideration when dealing with Russia. Russia’s failure to comply, often arrogantly, should be perceived as an unwillingness on the part of Russia to be a part of that civilized international community with consequences. Thus, Russia must be considered a pariah and a global danger much more significant because of its size than other states like Syria, Iran, North Korea or terrorist formations such as ISIS, al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
The Crimean peninsula was in the news in mid-December. Its so-called prime minister, Aksyonov, had traveled with his new boss, Vladimir Putin, to India for some type of negotiations involving economic cooperation between India and Crimea. India remains one of very few countries willing to enter into bilateral relations with Mr. Putin and Russia. The Indian position is that the USSR, and now Russia, have always stood by India in its conflict with Pakistan, so India will support Russia indiscriminately. Crimea had hardly been mentioned in news stories since its forcible annexation by Russia, save for human rights violations allegations by the Russians against the indigenous Tatar population.
Questioning the significance of security through NATO membership has become a tactic of Russia appeasers. The purported logic for this argumentation is twofold: nothing has disturbed Vladimir Putin more than NATO expansion; and nothing would exacerbate the current Ukraine-Russia crisis more than NATO membership for Ukraine. In any event, the appeasers suggest, NATO membership is hardly an absolute security guarantee since each NATO member country acts at its own discretion. Thus, Ukraine should relinquish its NATO membership aspirations. So the argument goes. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty provides that an armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against all and each will assist the one attacked. Detractors of this article point out that the all for one and one for all language is followed by “such action as it deems necessary,” thereby rendering any assistance discretionary for each member.