The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Friday, March 21, 2014

¡Viva Crimea!

When Honduras Met Sevastopol

There is a classic scene in the film When Harry Met Sally in which Sally loudly demonstrates a fake orgasm for Harry in a crowded restaurant.  Following its conclusion, a woman at another table, unaware of what was happening, puts down her menu and tells the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s [Sally] having.”  I will always wonder exactly what that waiter brought her but I am pretty sure she ended up disappointed.

Maybe countries are like that too.  History has a funny way of repeating itself.  Consider the case of Crimea, formerly an autonomous republic associated with Ukraine that is about to be annexed by Russia.  Its population is apparently thrilled by the prospect.  Let’s ask them again how they feel in three to five years.
Out of the ashes of an old motto arises a new one.

Here’s the story – Ukraine had a long-term relationship with Russia.  That changed with the election of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010.  He began flirting with the European Union.  Alas, Yanukovych proved abusive at home, then seemed about to go back to his old lover [Russia].  A series of populist protests in Kiev caused him to flee the country.  He was subsequently divorced as President by the new Ukraine legislature.

In the midst of this turbulence, Russian President Vladimir Putin removed his shirt and dispatched troops to Crimea, ostensibly to protect the large former Russian population living there.  A week later, Crimea held a populist referendum.  The vote to succeed from Ukraine and join Russia was almost orgasmic in scope.  President Obama immediately condemned the affair as unlawful.

The situation was reminiscent of the ouster of Honduran President Maunel Zelaya back in June 2009.  Zelaya also abused power.   The final straw came when he announced a populist referendum to amend the constitution allowing him to run for President again.  He was forcibly exiled by the Honduran military and removed from office by its legislature.  Obama also protested these actions as unlawful.

For his part, Putin argues President Yanukovych was ousted in an illegal coup, thereby ending the Ukrainian government’s legitimacy and its authority over Crimea.  Putin also contends the right of Crimeans to decide how they want to be governed, citing Article 1 of the United Nations Charter regarding the principle of self-determination.

This does seem to place Obama in a hypocritical light over his past condemnation of Honduras for the removal of its President in similar circumstances.  If the usurpers were the bad guys in Central America, why are they now the victims in Eastern Europe?

However, Russia’s government also had problems at the time with the legitimacy of Honduran actions.  Former news agency RIA Novosti reported a Foreign Ministry spokesman’s condemnation of the coup.  Specifically, “All actions by political players in the country must lie within the bounds of the law and the constitution."  That Russian government was led by a Prime Minister also called Putin.  (Hint – He was not current President Putin’s father).

So it was the Honduran constitution, not a U.N. resolution, which was supreme according to Putin in 2009.  Title III, Article 73 of the Ukraine constitution clearly states, “Alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by the All-Ukrainian referendum”.   Thus, the Crimean referendum was too limited and unconstitutional.

Moreover, Fred Kaplan points out in Slate magazine that the annexation of Crimea violates other international law.  “The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom – while it didn’t have the binding effect of the North Atlantic Treaty that established NATO – did offer Ukraine security assurances in exchange for giving up the 2,000 nuclear weapons left in its territory as a remnant of Soviet days.”

The presence of Russian military in Crimea impacted Ukraine’s ability to maintain control over the region.  Crimea’s Russian-speaking population was likely emboldened to attempt succession by that presence.  Finally, an editorial in The Economist notes, Crimean fervor to succeed was stoked by “rabid anti-Ukrainian propaganda which portrayed the government in Kiev . . . as a bunch of crazed fascists hell-bent on exterminating the Russian-speaking population of Crimea”.

Some Americans were sympathetic to Honduran President Zelaya’s ouster.  This often had less to do with the coup’s legality than Zelaya’s cozy relationship with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.  Preventing South America from being swallowed up by socialism apparently was viewed as more important than honoring the integrity of foreign consitutions.   A populist referendum was democracy in action at the most basic level.  A motto became popular that ran ¡Viva Honduras!

Out of the ashes of that motto rises a new one – ¡Viva Crimea!  What right has the U.S. to complain about what the people of Crimea clearly want, ask critics?  Maybe so.  But the Crimeans might want to remember that a big part of Zelaya’s unpopularity resulted from his defiance toward the corporate oligarchies that were (and remain) the traditional power in Honduras.  Such oligarchies also exist and hold the real power in Russia, as Alexey A. Navalny, a Russian lawyer, anti-corruption activist and opposition politician, points out in a New York Times op-ed piece.

John Perry, writing at in 2012, profiled conditions in Honduras three years after that nation rejected its President and the rule of law.  “Its murder rate is four times that of Mexico and it has become the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, with 23 having been assassinated over the last three years. “  Zelaya’s eventual successor came to power through “highly questionable elections.”

If I were Crimea and choosing from a menu of possible futures, I would not tell the waiter, "I'll have what she's [Honduras] having."  It would be a shame if Sevastopol ended up another small, failed republic.  Even bare-chested, Vladimir Putin is no fiery Latin lover of her dreams.

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