Monday, September 1, 2014

"This could get ugly," or why Russia scares me.

Satellite imagery showing Russian tanks in Ukrainian sovereign territory.  Source.

I'll start by saying that this post might in fact be needlessly alarmist.  I'll also say that I might be hopelessly overreacting.  However, this blog was created as an outlet for my thoughts, and I plan to leave this post up in perpetuity in order to document my reactions and feelings from late August 2014.  Now, on with the hysterics.

On the 21st of August 2014, NATO released satellite imagery of Russian tanks in Ukrainian sovereign territory.  This was after an outright annexation of the Crimean peninsula almost immediately after the conclusion of the winter Olympic games in Sochi.  At the time, I likened it to the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.

Pictured: Hysterics.

In fact, I was so concerned about the situation in Crimea that, while high on pain killers the next day, I kept demanding updates on the situation in Crimea from a very patient nursing staff.  In both cases, the invading country cited a need to assimilate an ethnic minority and to protect them.  An excellent rebuttal to this was provided by a research associate who exclaimed "Seriously?  Why doesn't Ukraine march in to claim the ethnic Ukrainians in Saskatchewan?  That's a terrible argument!"

The western world has responded with economic sanctions.  In the face of this most recent incursion, threats of increased, more serious sanctions have been leveled.  I am not certain that sanctions will be enough, as Russia functioned just fine as the Soviet Union for several decades without help from the outside world.

I'm also reminded of a rant I had about five years ago at the Black Tomato in Ottawa.  Excellent beer selection on tap, should you find yourself in the Byward Market.  I had just been prodded on the subject of Russia, and I immediately launched into several reasons why I didn't trust the governing regime.  They came quickly and easily to mind.

Viktor Yushenko, third President of Ukraine. Source.

Yushenko was a politician aiming for the presidency of Ukraine on a platform of aligning Ukraine more closely with the West as opposed to its historically close ties with Russia.  The pro-Russian opponent won the election, but soon thereafter widespread allegations of election fraud abounded.  Ukraine actually underwent what is known as the Orange Revolution in the wake of the fraudulent election which ultimately saw Yushenko take the presidency.  However, Yushenko did not escape the election unscathed.  See his cheeks in that picture?  Those pock marks are the result of dioxin poisoning.  Mysterious circumstances surround this, but the perpetrators were pro-Russian if not actually Russian.  Also, on the topic of election fraud, here's a paper on detecting election fraud, and how the 2011 Russian election fits a model for systematic stuffing of ballot boxes.

Alexander Litvenenko.  Source.
Alexander Litvenenko was once an agent of the Soviet Union's spy agency the KGB.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he became involved in the nation's security forces (or something, honestly I'm not really clear on it).  Then what happened?  Suddenly he became critical of the leadership, and was allegedly dismissed on direct orders from Putin.  Not long after, he defied an order not to leave the country and sought asylum in the United Kingdom.  While there, he became a journalist and started hurling accusations of corruption at the new Russian government, potentially attempting to blackmail some of the higher up officials.  Whatever the facts, it was bad enough that somebody wanted him dead.  That party got what they wanted.  Litvenenko ultimately died of Cold War-style polonium poisoning, leaving him the shell of a man you see above.

So admittedly one could never make a case against Russia on these two cases.  Anyone could have been the one to poison either of them, and not necessary due to Putin's actions.  However, one can begin to notice a trend.  You're critical of Russia, and things start going poorly for you.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia is currently the fifth deadliest place to be a journalist.  What's above Russia on that list?  Iraq, Philippines, Syria, Algeria.  So a couple active war zones.

The other cases that came to mind that night in Ottawa?  There's the issue that Russian fighters keep entering Canadian airspace and require an escort.  To wit: Russian aircraft thrice entered Finnish airspace last week.  Also?  That time that Russia cut off the gas supply to Europe due to a pricing dispute.  It's worth noting that the Ukrainian president which signed the deal that ultimately made the gas flow once more was indicted for abuse of power as a result of signing that deal.

I'd also like to point out that NATO appears to be chomping at the bit.  NATO was the authority who released satellite images of a Russian incursion into Ukraine.  NATO was also created as a mutual defense scheme to deter attack from the Soviet Union (or any other aggressor, but it's doubtful any other world power would choose to pick a fight with NATO).  Ukraine has also made an emergency decision to attempt to join the treaty organisation, and has asked for its assistance in driving Russian forces from its territory.  This is in stark contrast to their anti-NATO position which they have more or less solidly held since 2002.  But for now, the international community appears happy to stay with sanctions.

Frankly, I'm not sure Putin will cave to external political pressure.  He has proven himself to be an exceedingly strong leader and thus has a history of getting what he wants; I'm not sure anything short of military force will remove Russian military vehicles from Ukraine.  On the other hand, maybe economic sanctions will work.  Or will economic sanctions make Russia increasingly desperate?  We shall see.  Hopefully we'll laugh about this in five years, and my friends will be reading this article aloud as a method of amused derision.


P.S.  I really hope that was an appropriately placed semicolon.

Update: Russian fighters circle Canadian frigate en route to NATO exercise in Black Sea, reminiscent of Cold War-style behaviours.

Update (2014-09-11): Russian forces withdrawing!  WOOOOO!

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