Above: World leaders including Prime Minister Stephen Harper are telling Russia to get out of Ukraine. Paul Johnson reports reports from Simferopol. (Mar. 2)
I’ll be the first to tell you I’m no expert on Russia-Ukraine relations, or of the particular experience that Russian speaking Ukrainians have of living in this country.
But something sure feels strange about Vladimir Putin’s justification of his invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
It goes something like this: a new group of Western leaning leaders has taken control in Kyiv and former pro-Moscow Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country to hide out in Russia.
Putin said this situation means he needs to use Russia’s military to “protect” Ukraine’s substantial Russian speaking population in this now Western-tilting country.
But “protect” from whom?
WATCH: Prime Minister Stephen Harper slammed Russia’s actions Monday, saying they put the country “on a course of diplomatic and economic isolation”
Many years ago, one of my first foreign assignments as a journalist was covering the Bosnian war for Canadian radio.
You’ll remember the awful atrocities of that time: ethnic cleansing, mass graves, utter hatred pitting Serb against Muslim against Croat.
Foreign military intervention, including a force from Canada, was necessary to curtail the killing.
I met and interviewed a lot of people in that tragic place and it left with a new understanding of how ethnic nationalism can trigger the worst in human behaviour.
Fast forward to 2014 and I’m looking around me to see if, as Putin seems to suggest, this could be a repeat of that awful chapter in human history.
Looking around in Kyiv, and now down in the Crimean city of Simferopol, I’m not quite convinced.
Sure, it seems that Ukrainians of Russian descent seem more comfortable speaking Russian and identify more with Moscow, than say Brussels. But, it just doesn’t feel like there is the kind of civilizational hatred that could trigger another Bosnia.
One startling eye-opener was the time I spent in Kyiv’s Independence square, the very seat of the revolution.
There I met many Ukrainians of Russian descent, who told me how mad they were at Putin for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty by deploying his military here.
They spoke to me in Russian, didn’t seem the slightest bit afraid of being a victim of the “far right neo-fascists” that Russian television has been talking about, and none of them said they’d ever been threatened for being a Russian speaker in Ukraine.
So while you can appreciate there are a lot of people of Russian descent here who might prefer to be part of Russia, was this the kind looming humanitarian disaster that required a military invasion?
Remember when the former USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979? That too, I recall, was justified by Moscow as the need to “protect” the regime there.
Look how that ended.
WATCH: Occupation in Crimea is ‘illegal” says Ukraine PM
If the natural course of events is for Crimea’s Russian speakers to eventually rejoin their cultural kin in Mother Russia, as the brilliant and prescient political scientist Samuel Huntington predicted (he also predicted America’s struggle with al-Qaeda years before it happened) does it necessarily mean this has to take place by force of arms, as Putin just stated with his actions?
Look at Scotland. They’re deep in the process of preparing for a referendum later this year on some kind of separation from the U.K.
It’s tense, ugly at times, and a lot of people are nervous about the outcome.
But there’s no question that this issue is going to be settled by anything other than the ballot box.
Putin seems to prefer the barrel of a rifle. I saw those guns myself, right up close today out at the Ukrainian military base he’s got surrounded.
Let’s see how that all works out.