Mr. Putin: Tear Down That Potemkin Village
By Paul Gregory (Hoover Institution and University of Houston)
Grigory Potemkin, a favorite of Catherine the Great, built fake villages to impress the Czarina on her 1787 inspection tour of the Dnieper region. Potemkin’s carpenters built stage-set villages on the banks of the Dnieper. After the royal barge passed, Potemkin dismantled and rebuilt the village downstream for Catherine to admire the next day and the day after and the day after.
Vladimir Putin has erected his own “Potemkin Crimea” to convince the Russian people, all of Ukraine, and the rest of the world that his Hitlerian Anschluss of the Crimean peninsula is consistent with international law, supported by more than 97 percent of the Crimean people, and was necessary to protect ethnic Russians from rabid Putschists, who illegally seized control of Ukraine. True, we may have violated an international treaty or two along the way,says Putin, but treaties are sheets of paper that I did not sign. What counts are history and what the people of Crimea want themselves.
Putin orchestrated his fable of “Potemkin Crimea” with the nuance of an elephant in a china shop. Television images repeated ad nauseum the glorious “reunification” of relieved Crimean Russians with Mother Russia as bands played, fireworks lit the evening skies, young people danced, and crowds waved Russian flags chanting “Rossiya, Rossiya.” Why not celebrate? Ninety seven percent of Crimeans voted to leave extremist Ukraine. Hurrah for the heroic “green men,” the “self-defense” forces (looking suspiciously like Russian special forces), who protected them from garrisoned Ukrainian troops and paid agents of Angela Merkel and Barack Obama. All hail the new, forthright, and courageous prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov. We Crimeans watched with pride as he signed the annexation agreement, sitting next to Czar Vladimir himself, in the Kremlin’s Great Hall. Pretty heady stuff.
|Hitler’s big show: Sudeten Germans celebrating Anschluss|
Lacking alternative images, broadcasters in Europe and the United States repeated Putin’s orgiastic Potemkin spectacle with little commentary and no serious rebuttal, other than to question a referendum held under the barrel of Kalashnikovs with no international observers allowed.
A Big Lie repeated often enough becomes truth. Putin’s Crimean Big Lie has seeped into our consciousness. Maybe he’s right after all, we begin to think. Let’s just let it go. If that is how it works out, Putin has won big time.
Putin’s flimsy Potemkin village rests on four rotting beams of lies, deceit, and deliberate misinformation. Behind the bright façade of “Potemkin Crimea” lies of swamp of lies, disguised special ops forces, shady characters, criminal gangs, thugs and murderers. In this drama, the people are either unwitting extras or sacrificial lambs.
Rotting Beam Number 1: The 97 percent (!) referendum
Putin’s election officials, backed by Green Men toting automatic rifles, claim a 97 percent vote of Crimean citizens in favor of annexation – three percent below Kim Jong-Eun’s reelection count and two percent below the perfunctory 99 percent votes of the Soviet era. Russian propaganda presents as a fact the miraculous nature of a near unanimous vote in a region that self-identifies as 60 percent Russian, and 35 percent Ukrainian and Tartar.
According to official election results, a total of 1.7 million votes were cast with a turnout of 80 percent, of which 474,000 votes were from Sevastopl, a city of 383,000 eligible voters. (Pravda.ru). Russian polling authorities reported that an unlikely 40 percent of Crimean Tartars voted and most in favor of annexation (rt.com/news).
If Sevastopol’s vote rigging margin applied to other cities, the “yes” vote goes down to 78 percent. If we assume that Ukrainian and Tartar voters either voted no or boycotted, the eligible voter count would fall to 45 percent, some ten percentage points above February’s scientific polls showing that only one third of Crimeans favored Russia and Ukraine as one country.
Crimean Tartars plan their own separate referendum for March 29. They say that less than a thousand of their eligible 180,000 voters cast ballots. (Let’s see what happens to their independent referendum. I doubt it will be allowed to take place.)
Why did Mr. Putin insist on a ludicrous North-Korean-Soviet-era election result instead of a 60 percent vote that could have been more credibly manipulated and explained? Throughout his Ukrainian campaign, Putin’s propaganda machine has used hyperbole and extreme exaggeration. The Euro Maidan demonstrators were all neo Nazis or extremists, absolutely no Russian troops were in the Crimea, and so on. In this context, a 60 percent vote in favor of annexation would be a lukewarm response of the Crimean people – an indirect admission of a failed referendum. Putin needed something close to one hundred percent to keep his narrative intact.
Rotting Beam No. 2: “Human-shield” Putin: Defender of the Crimean People
Like Hitler in the Sudetenland, Putin claims to have come to the defense of the people of Crimea out of humanitarian concern. He could not leave fellow Slavs to the fury of the Kiev neo Nazis, extremists, and Jew haters. When duty calls, Vladimir Vladimorovich (or VVP as he is called behind his back) steps up.
In his incredibly frank press conference, VVP called for a highly unorthodox way of protecting Crimean civilians in the following exchange:
Putin: “Listen to me carefully here! (interrupting reporter). I want to be very clear on that. If we make this decision we’ll do it to protect Ukrainian citizens. And we’ll see afterwards if any of their servicemen will dare to shoot on their own people who we’ll stay behind, not in front, but behind! I dare them to shoot women and children – I’d like to see who would give such an order in Ukraine.”
For those who failed “to listen carefully,” Putin called for (advised) his agents in Crimea to use civilians as human shields in taking control of Ukrainian military facilities. To label such a call as strange is an understatement because international law condemns the use of human shields as a war crime (Nazi used human shields many times, e.g. in Wola massacre and Vinkt Massacre). Here is VVP openly calling on his forces to commit a war crime.
Although seemingly far fetched, Putin’s Green Men and “self-defense” forces mixed in with crowds of civilian men and women in storming of Ukrainian naval bases. The confused Ukrainian defenders, as would be expected, did not take Putin up on his dare to shoot human shields. Putin rubbed humiliation in with defeat. Ukrainian military bases fell with nary a shot.
Rotting Beam No. 3: Putin’s “Patriotic” Crimean Allies, Self Defense Forces, and Criminal Gangs
Putin’s most outrageous “Potemkin Crimea” claim is that, despite the obvious influx of armored troops and equipment into Crimea – none bearing Russian insignias or license plates, the armed-to-the-teeth “Green Men” are local “self defense” forces, who bought their uniforms and equipment at the local five and dime store. Not only that: According to the Putin narrative, the new pro-Russian government of Crimea was democratically elected by the Crimean parliament, which represents the aspirations of the Crimean people.
Putin had nothing to do with any of this, of course. These were spontaneous actions of Crimeans threatened by mad men from the West.
Sergey Aksyenov, nicknamed “Landslide Sergey” for his Russian Unity Party’s 4 percent share of the 2010 election, became Crimea’s new prime minister in a classic KGB operation. According to the Time Magazine account, two dozen or so heavily armed “self defense forces” stormed the Crimean parliament and headquarters of the regional government “spontaneously” with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades before dawn on February 27. A few hours later, Aksyonov arrived, sealed the doors, and admitted 50 chosen lawmakers, who elected him as prime minister and scheduled a blitz referendum to join Russia.
Sergey “The Goblin” Aksyonov has a checkered past, to say the least. He worked as an enforcer for the criminal “Salem” gang (named after the cigarette brand) from the mid 1990s through 2004, where he is purported to have arranged contract killings, among other crimes. Like many other members of organized crime gangs, “The Goblin” gained immunity from prosecution through his election as a local deputy.
With his underworld connections, The Goblin has at his disposal an army of criminal bands that trace their code of conduct (“law of thieves” or vory v zakone, in Russian) back to the Gulag and are allied with the Russian mafia. They are particularly active in the port city of Sevastopl which has a murder rate more than twice that of Western Ukraine. Gangs control local real estate, retail businesses, and transportation and cooperate with Russian crime bosses, such as Eduard Asatryan (alias Osetrina) and Omar Bekaev (alias Ufimsky). They extort, murder, harass, untouched by the organized crime office, which was conveniently disbanded in the Crimea.
|Grieving Crimean Tartars bury Reshal Ametov|
Mr. Putin: If anyone in Crimea needs protection, it is from the plague of organized crime. Instead, your puppets use the criminal thugs (nicknamed tsapki after a crime boss convicted of mass murder) to kidnap, harass, torture, and murder Crimean Tartars, teachers in Ukrainian language schools, and innocent bystanders (See the graphic Crimean captivity: Crimean captivity: cut off ears, shots to legs, and beatings, unfortunately in Russian).
|Example of Tsapki handiwork, Yuri Shevchenko:Two gunshot wounds to the legs. Not shown: cut off ear.|
The new Russian Crimea’s equal-rights law for all minorities appears to be mere window dressing. Crimean Tartars are already fleeing to Western Ukraine and to Poland where they are applying for political sanctuary. Some one thousand Ukrainians have already fled the Crimea, as Kiev and cities to the West prepares shelters for them.
Putin justified his invasion of Crimea to protect Russians from mad-dog Ukrainians. Putin’s protection does not extend to Ukrainians and Tartars, who are being subjected to the cruelest of human rights abuses.
Notably, Putin agreed to international observers from the OSCE in Ukraine on the condition that they not be allowed to enter Crimea. They will not be there to bear witness to Russia’s human rights abuses against those it believes to be hostile to Russian rule.
Rotting Beam No. 4: Crimea Is “Russian” Only Because of Stalin’s Terror
The fourth rotten plank in Putin’s “Crimean Potemkin” is the old saw that Crimea is Russian and has always been Russian. Crimea’s reunification with Russia simply corrects the offhand gifting of Crimea to Ukraine by the harebrained Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, Putin contends.
Anyone who believes this tale does not know their Russian history. The Crimean Tartars are the indigenous population of the Crimean peninsula. This Mongol-Turkic tribe constituted the plurality of the Crimean population until the late 1920s as they increasingly shared their homeland with palace-building Russian royalty. Stalin’s collectivization campaign deported hundred of thousands of Crimean Tartars to Central Asia and Siberia. Those that stayed behind died in the famine of 1931-1932.
As was his practice, Stalin imported Russians to replace those who had perished or had been deported. In May of 1944, Stalin ordered the deportation of all Crimean tartars to inhospitable Uzbekistan and Siberia, where they perished in droves. Population counts of the 1950s and 1960s register zero Crimean Tartars living on the peninsula. Stalin moved in politically reliable Russians to take control of their land and houses. It was only under Mikhail Gorbachev that some 250,000 Crimean Tartars made their way back to their homeland, where they constituted ten percent of the population on the day of Russia’s Anchluss.
|Deportation of ALL Crimean Tartars, May 1944|
Putin’s claim that Crimea is and always has been Russia rests upon the fact that his predecessors twice practiced ethnic cleansing on the Crimean Tartars, who now face a third round of deportation and worse.
Putin’s clear message to the West is: Move on! Annexation is a done deal. The international community has no right to object. A democratic election has been held and Crimea belongs to Russia as it always has. Stop wining and take care of the neo Nazis and extremists in Kiev.
The Western world might learn how to deal with a nineteenth century dictator like Putin if it understood who he is and what he does. We find it hard to believe that the leader of a major country with a massive nuclear arsenal could invade a foreign country in violation of international treaties, lie that his troops were not involved, advise his agents to commit the war crime of using human shields, use special forces to install a puppet government, appoint as head of state an organized crime boss, conduct a referendum under the supervision of Kalashnikov-carrying storm troopers, all the while carrying out a non-stop campaign of the Big Lie beamed to his people and occupied Ukraine, while blocking any broadcast that told a different story.
Understanding a problem is the first step to solving it. We must take as given that Putin does not head a normal country, but a massive criminal undertaking that deprives its citizens of basic human rights, such as the right to petition, demonstrate, and choose its leaders. He heads a regime that has no regard for civilized behavior, diplomatic niceties, or truth telling, but believes instead in raw power and intimidation to back down rival powers at little cost to him. As a dictator virtually for life, he can play a long game and wait for opportunities to arise.
In the wild decade after the Soviet collapse, I encountered everywhere in the former Soviet Union the desire to live in a “civilized” country where people followed rules and were not intimidated, harassed, and maltreated by government or by organized bands. I assume the Russian people still harbor this thirst for “civilization” and realize all to well that they will not get this dream with Vladimir Putin in power.
For the people of Russia and Ukraine becoming part of Europe appears to be the only way to enter a “civilized” world. I am firmly convinced that virtually all citizens of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and Georgia would vote in a instant for Anschluss to Europe. It is this yearning that made the presence of a civilized Ukraine on Russia’s border a fatal threat to Putin and his band.
repost from Paul Gregory's blog.