“TRY putting yourself in their shoes,” suggested an historian, Konstantin, who was our guide in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, “and perhaps you will see a different picture from that presented by the western media as to why people in the Crimea voted to go with Russia.”Konstantin raised a series of issues that had not had serious consideration on CNN, BBC and the media that they feed. The strategic importance of the Crimea has had both the western and Russian propaganda machines in full swing.
The history of the Crimea, the impact of the policies of the Soviet Union, the cultural differences between the Crimea and the rest of the Ukraine and the changing nature of the Ukraine regime in Kiev all impact on this complex situation.
The strategic importance of the region from the Crimea to Afghanistan and Central Asia has been clear through the enthusiasm of the US and her western allies to interfere in countries so far removed from their usual sphere of influence.
For centuries there has been movement between the area of the Crimea and what is now the Russian Federation. One of the outcomes is that the vast majority of people living in the Crimea speak Russian, have Russian origins and associate much more closely with Russia than they do with the west. Other parts of the Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union but have maintained their strong self-concept as Ukrainian.
Putting yourself in the shoes of a Crimean-Ukrainian with Russian heritage will help you understand the over 95 per cent referendum result (as reported by BBC) to join the Russian Federation. Such a person has felt the threats of some Ukrainian politicians who are looking for a Ukraine with one language, one people and who use the Russians within their country as scapegoats.
The party in government, Batkivshchyna (or the All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland”) under Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is anti-Russian as is demonstrated by one platform that looks back to the early 1930s – 7.5 million people starved and the Batkivshchyna believes the Soviet Union deliberately perpetrated this as a holocaust of the Ukrainian people. To this extent people living in Crimea do have reason to be concerned about the anti-Russian attitudes of the party in power.
No sooner had the Crimean referendum been carried than the US was talking about the move as a “breach of international law”. A sentiment reiterated by our own Foreign Minister. And yet it is not hard to recall when the US and her allies were happy to support a non-elected government on the basis they were pro-west. This appears the height of hypocrisy: the west only supporting democracy that is in its favour.
The people of Crimea, which sits from the rest of Ukraine as a separate peninsula in the Black Sea, have good reasons as to why they wish to be part of Russia rather than the Ukraine. The tensions that are created by the resistance from the west should ring the same loud warning bells as the “weapons of mass destruction” lie that pre-empted our involvement in the Iraq war.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health. He recently crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express.