Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why You Should Care About Crimea

Those who forget or never learned history are doomed to repeat it.

On September 30, 1938, Neville Chamberlain returned from Berlin and said:
My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. 
We know of course that the wish for "peace for our time" did not come to fruition. Often overlooked is the fact that this was the second time that a British Prime Minister had returned from Germany with such an assurance. The first was Benjamin Disraeli in 1878 returning from the Congress of Berlin. That conference concerned fighting between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Heavily influenced by German Chancellor Otto Von Bismark and seeking to maintain the interests of Britain and other European nations, the Conference of Berlin created a solution that limited Russia's influence to the west while increasing Austro-Hungarian influence in the Balkans. The failure of the Conference of Berlin to achieve a complete solution to the problems in the Balkans and differences between the nations of Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia eventually led to World War I and one could argue continued in part with World War II. Even the Cold War could be seen as being based upon this conflict. But it did not begin in 1878 with the Russo-Turkish War. It began with the Crimean War.

During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, Russia lost to an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, aided by an ostensibly neutral but functionally allied Austria. The focus of the conflict was on the rights of Christians in the Ottoman controlled Holy Land. The French promoted the Catholics. The Russians the Orthodox. Meanwhile Britain and Austria were primarily concerned with keeping the Ottoman Empire alive so as to limit the growth of Russia. Fighting began with Russia destroying the Ottoman fleet in 1853 and finally ended when Russian allied Sevastopol fell in 1856.

Today, Sevastopol is considered by many to be a Russian city within Ukrainian borders. It is a focal point in the ongoing civil strife in the Ukraine. Concerns grow that Russia may use force, perhaps even invade, in order to protect its allied citizenry in the Ukraine and particularly in Sevastopol. Additionally, the Russian navy maintains a major naval base there with a lease expiring in 2042. 15,000 Russian naval troops and support personnel are stationed there.

This conflict did not begin this month or last or last year or last decade. It didn't begin with the fall of the Soviet Union or the aftermath of World War II. It wasn't created by the events of World War I either. This conflict between Europe and Russia in the Crimea has been ongoing since 1853. It isn't a matter of Russian meddling in a neighboring country as much as it is truly about internal conflict within it.

Ukraine is a nation of divided identity. For the country to be maintained as a single nation, it will need to respect its dual nature. If it cannot do that successfully, history tells us that violence is all but guaranteed. Russia is poised to act in its best interests. It is more than questionable as to whether or not European nations along with the United States are prepared to respond as they have for the past 161 years. What is at stake is the same thing that has been at stake throughout that time, the balance of power between East and West and the security of Europe or lack thereof which is dependent upon it.