Written by Frank Thomas (Part 1 can be found here.)
Some Questions Raised
As Germany’s gifted Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently: “Putin lives in a different reality.”
Putin’s brain, Aleksandr Dugin (the author of Eurasianism) has reinvigorated Putin’s policy for expanding Russia’s sphere of influence to Russian-speaking communities in bordering nations. Dugin is an unsparing advocate of the Russian insurgents working near or within the Ukraine.
Mervyn Bendle writes ,“Under Dugin’s influence, fear of Atlanticism now pervades the Russian defense establishment and Putin. Recognizing the limitations of traditional military action, Dugin advocates a program of ideological warfare, subversion, disinformation, demoralization, destabilization, and insurgency, with special forces, sponsored militias, and other covert services in the vanguard.”
In National Review Online, Robert Zubrin concludes:
“Dugin is the mad philosopher who is redesigning the brains of much of the Russian government and public, filling their minds with a new hate-ridden totalitarian ideology whose consequences can only be catastrophic in the extreme, not only for Russia, but for the entire human race.”
Does this mean Putin is a “wild imperialist bully” surrounded by ex-KGB hardliners on a mission to unify at any cost the community of Russian-speaking people centered around Russia. Is Russia an “axis of evil” as some hysterical accounts hammer out? Will Putin accept ‘carte blanche’ neo-Eurasianism as the legitimate ideology for his regime?
To answer these questions, one must first put oneself in Putin’s position – as disagreeably uncomfortable as that may be – and also set aside for a moment the media’s relentless demonization of his character and intentions.
He views the West as being in moral decline and grossly hypocritical. For him, Western democracy is an illusion maintained to conceal and distort colonization and invasion policies.
Accordingly, he accuses the West and especially the US of employing a world policy of force, a neo-colonial approach of monstrous aggressions against country after country – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, undercover operations in Syria and Venezuela, embracive anti-Russian containment policies, e.g., planting missile defense systems near Russia; making Ukraine, Georgia and Moldavia ripe for NATO membership and thus further surrounding Russia with dangerous missiles; establishing a US NATO military outpost in Georgia; organizing and financing a Ukrainian regime change as a step to prevent Russia from achieving close integration and unity within the Eurasian Economic Union, etc.
Is it any wonder, as one commentator remarked, Russian authorities feel that, “The country is confronted with existential danger.”
Only one country has a fighting force that spans the globe; only one country has a global police-spying network; only one country is sending killing-drones all over the world; only one country is relentless when it does not get its way … and that country is not Russia.
This is how Putin’s ‘imperialistic’ mindset views the US’s ‘imperialistic’ mindset. In Putin’s eyes, this and much more is being done in violation of international laws to strengthen the West’s geopolitical position. The West has been and is now stepping up a policy of economic-political-societal containment of Russia. His response – “We must fight back.”
These well-orchestrated Russian ‘part fact-mostly lie’ assertions and Putin’s extralegal argument that the referendum and subsequent annexation of Crimea reflect a legal right of communities within a state to “self-determination” is striking a very positive chord among the Russian people. Unfortunately, as I will elaborate later, international law apparently fails to restrict imperial territorial ambitions of leaders like Putin.
Putin’s view is that Russia’s military support to the pro-Russian separatists does not violate international law as the separatists are only defending themselves from the Kiev “fascists.”
Yes, indeed, “Putin does live in a different reality” … but that reality has to be engaged in a constructive manner by Western leaders in my view.
As one analyst stated: “Russia is now claiming the right to use military force for the declared purpose of defending Russian-speaking people outside Russia and to act in line with Russia’s interests.”
The contradictions here get more profound … when the fighting against the former Russian provinces began in Ukraine, the Doema gave Putin the power to use military force. But Putin asked the Doema to take this power back. He preferred a diplomatic solution, while doing everything possible indirectly to destabilize Ukraine. Despite the fact Russia thinks differently about geopolitics from the EU and US, it does not seek a military conflict with the West.
In the face of western interference in the current Ukraine crisis, Putin has been invoking legal arguments based on the principle of “self-determination” to justify Russia’s right to defend and guarantee the rights of ethnic Russian-speaking people anywhere it chooses in the Eurasian circle of nations – needless to say an extremely anachronistic outlook in this modern world of international law.
In Putin’s words: “Millions of Russians and Russian-speaking people live in the Ukraine and will continue to do so. Russia will always defend their interests using political, diplomatic and legal means.”
Putin applies this declaration not just to the inhabitants and citizens of the Ukraine – considered a vital historic and civilization link for Russia – but also to the post-Soviet area as well. As stated earlier, Putin wants close ties with Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in the Eurasian Economic Union – the Russian policy for preserving the identity of nations in the Eurasian space in a new world.
As Putin has remarked, “We are one people … we have a common church, a common spiritual source, a common destiny.”
However, under such a formal customs union arrangement, bordering state neighbors like Kazakhstan are not about to sacrifice their sovereignty as free nations nor accept being bound by international agreements or pure Russian national interests they fundamentally disagree with.
Putin is more and more justifying his actions using extralegal arguments, i.e. “legal means” (or the appearance of legality) and/or questioning the legitimacy of things on legal grounds.
In this regard, he’s been having a field day flaunting and manipulating one of the central values of international law – “self-determination.”
He uses this concept to justify, for example, the Crimea secession based on the ‘special case’ legal precedent set by Kosovo’s secession from Serbia; to justify the use of military actions and/or support when he’s acting on behalf of the rights of the ethnic Russians of eastern (and perhaps southern) Ukraine.
Putin exploits the extreme vagueness of the term “self-determination.” He gives it an entirely other meaning than that originally incorporated in the UN Charter. In the UN Charter, this basic tenet had the meaning that the principle of “equal rights and self-determination” refers to the political right to be free from outside domination or interference in a country’s sovereignty. “Political” self-determination was established to outlaw imperial ambitions – so prevalent in neo-colonial times. In other words, each country’s territorial integrity was to be respected. The crime completely contrary to self-determination was aggression – the taking of another country’s territory and population by force.
The problem is that the principle of self-determination has come to be amorphously defined in terms of “identity,” i.e. ethics, or language or culture applicable to national or ethnic communities – notwithstanding whether those communities exist as sovereign states or not. Thus, helped by the 1966 International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, self-determination has come to mean two things: “political” self-determination and/or “identity-based” self-determination.
This obscurity in meanings gives Putin an apparent (but questionable) extralegal opening to justify using military actions when acting on behalf of ethnic Russian minorities – like in eastern Ukraine – who have freely decided to be absorbed by Russia. It’s like saying Texas can secede from the US and join Mexico (heaven forbid) without a national vote required or government say.
As Michael Blake, Prof. of Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of Washington states:
“Here is the problem: in many modern territorial conflicts, the two accounts of self-determination give us wildly different answers. For example, East Ukrainians feel marginalized in both political and ethnic equality. But members of these communities already have self-determination – they are equal citizens and have a reasonable chance of being heard in that country’s political bodies. Here, national identity is not directly relevant to self-determination – except for discrimination or injustice. But the principle of self-determination has come to mean two things – and this fact enables leaders like Putin to disguise their hypocrisy … ‘secession self-determination’ is a response to violations of the right to self-determination, rather than a right in itself.”
Thus, given the obscure meanings of self-determination, is it any surprise Putin exploits the identity meaning that all ethnic groups or national minorities can form their own states? Of course, this principle invoked as de facto international law hasn’t stopped Putin from unequivocally rejecting the self-determination rights of Chechnya.