Tim Blagg

Blagg: Bad acts on world stage

Even after all the years I’ve been watching — and reporting on — our politicians, sometimes they seem to obtuse (a nice word for stupid) that it makes me want to tear my hair out ... what little I have left.

In this case, I’m talking about the fuss being made in the U.S. and the EU about Russia and Ukraine.

Yes, we and the Europeans have legitimate interests in that neck of the woods, but so do the Russians — and theirs antedate ours by centuries.

Catherine the Great was the first czar to get some sort of legal title to the region, although the Rus, the ancestors of today’s Russians, roamed the area for centuries as they sparred with the Eastern Roman Empire — the surviving portion of the great Roman creation that some call Byzantium that was ruled from Constantinople.

Crimea itself was once part of the empire of the Tatars, a nomadic group of horse archers with many similarities and links to the Mongols.

After Catherine, the czars, and Soviet Union and now Russia spent a lot of time, thought and rubles to keep their hands on the part of Ukraine that borders the Black Sea.

That’s because of the fact that of all the major world powers, Russia is the only one whose geography blocks it from having year-round access to the oceans.

At one time, the USSR grabbed the three tiny Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, primarily to get its hands on their ports, which allow cargo to travel from the Baltic out into the Atlantic. But they have now shed their forced relationship with Moscow, and in the process clearly demonstrated what the Russians fear might happen in Ukraine.

After they became independent in 1994, all three promptly marginalized Russians living within their borders, despite the fact that many had lived and worked their for generations. Today, Russians are second-class citizens, issued “foreigner” IDs and subjected to limits on work and travel.

The Kremlin is determined to ensure that doesn’t happen in Crimea.

But I’m not saying that Vladimir Putin’s raw power grab in the eastern Ukraine, done in defiance of international law, is justified. Putin is an ex-KGB thug whose accumulation of more and more power closely resembles Stalin, and whose posturing on the international stage is always done with an eye on his cult of personality back home.

The international community is, and should be, outraged at his actions.

But the onus is really on the European Union, whose tight-fisted economic treatment of Ukraine is largely to blame for the present situation. The EU ministers in Brussels missed chance after chance to intervene in Ukraine’s bankruptcy and draw the fledgling democracy into the European fold, but were too interested in their own problems to make it work.

Now, you’ll notice, they’re largely silent — while the U.S. takes the lead in offering aid — even sending our secretary of state to Kiev in protest.

But simply blasting Putin, calling him names and threatening “sanctions” won’t deter the Russians from making absolutely sure that their naval base and their Russian “brothers and sisters” are protected. National pride simply won’t allow it.

So wise diplomacy — some assurance of protection and a recognition of Moscow’s legitimate interest in their enclave on the Black Sea — is essential.

Speeches comparing Putin to Hitler — as Hillary Clinton did a few days ago — can’t help, and are incredibly insensitive. The Russians lost 20 million citizens in the war against the Nazis and that sort of language can do nothing but harden their position.

It may not be possible for any sort of intervention, no matter how well crafted, to alter the course of events in Ukraine.

But an intelligent attempt needs to be made. Ukrainians have suffered greatly over the past few decades, but could be a valuable addition to the EU and the West.

It would be a shame to see any chance wasted by bumbling politicians concerned only with their own selfish concerns.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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