India has a vital stake in supporting Russia that goes beyond friendship, solidarity with an old and valuable ally and stability of arms supplies: multipolarity of the world order. India is right to oppose sanctions against Russia over Crimea, says

Crimea hosts the base of the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet. It is of vital strategic interest. Would the US allow a similar situation to develop next to its border? The 1962 Cuban crisis was about a sovereign country, Cuba, deploying missiles supplied by its ally, the Soviet Union.

Cuba, as a sovereign nation that respects past treaty obligations to the extent of coexisting with a US base in Guantánamo, a part of its own territory, had the right to deploy defense mechanisms of its choice on its own territory. That did not mean that deploying nuclear missiles a stone’s throw away from the US mainland was an acceptable development for anyone with any interest in maintaining world peace.

The situation in Crimea is similar. Having an anti-Russian government control Crimea would erode Russian security and thus stability of the world order, in which the US has overwhelming military superiority but not total. It is in the interest of countries that seek autonomous space for their own development to shore up, not weaken, the countervailing poles of power that exist, such as they are.

This is the strongest reason for India, China and other such countries that neither receive nor cherish a place under the sprawling security umbrella of the mighty US have for supporting Russia in its current stand-off with the West over Crimea. In reality, this logic holds for all of Ukraine. So, what is intriguing in the current developments in Ukraine is Russia’s apparent willingness to make short-term gains in Crimea at the risk of alienating Ukraine per se.

For, unless a civil war in Ukraine in which Russia intervenes, attracting global opposition of a kind that would have real bite, unlike the growls of protest over Crimea, and brings up a pro-Russian regime, Ukraine has been handed over to the West. Once the current Crimean contretemps gets over, it is not unlikely that Putin’s success is written down as a Pyrrhic victory.

Common Roots

Ukraine, Belarus and Russia share a common cultural and historical heritage. In the 10th century, Viking Oleg established an empire called Kievan Rus, of which Kiev was the centre of power and whose realms embraced what today would be called western Russia, besides Ukraine, Belarus and parts of Poland and other regions that now fall in assorted east European nations. This flourished till the 13th century when Mongol hordes put paid to centralised authority.

Later, the centre of power shifted further east to Moscow, from which the next Russian empire grew. Vladimir, who embraced Christianity, replacing polytheistic Slavic paganism as the state religion across Russia, did so in Crimea.

The Red Army fought some of its fiercest battles with Hitler’s forces in Ukraine. Of the 20 million Soviet war dead at the end of the World War II, a sizeable contingent came from Ukraine. Strong bonds of history, culture and blood tie Russia and Ukraine together. Which is why the current bout of hostilities seems to be the result of particularly inept policy on Russia’s part.

The Tatars were a large presence in Ukraine, including Crimea, till they were forcibly exiled by Stalin, whom comrades of the CPI(M) still celebrate as a great master on the subject of nationalities and their peaceful coexistence. Some have returned, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and constitute sizeable minorities, as in Crimea.

Crimeans Creamed Ukraine

It is not clear whether they voted to join Russia or stay with Ukraine in the Crimean referendum of March 16. But there is little reason to doubt the validity of the vote that saw 96% of those voting choosing to join Russia. The international community has conveniently chosen to rule the referendum invalid. In any case, in Crimea, 76 per cent of the population voted in the referendum. There are no reports that any force was used to intimidate anyone into not voting. If there were any hint of anything like that, the world would definitely have heard of it. That means an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to join Russia.

Silent on Referendum

New Delhi, on its part, will not be keen to cite the right of a people to determine their own national affiliation or autonomy, thanks to Kashmir. You can’t say this particular right is good for the people of Crimea but wholly inappropriate in Kashmir.

Kashmir is another place where millennia of past historical and cultural association have not prevented the emergence of extreme alienation and where migration, forced and otherwise, has changed the composition of the population.

Migration raises questions over correspondence between the timeframe that is valid for determining national belongingness and the population that is called on to make the choice about belonging. But India’s case for siding with Russia is in terms of the world order it wants, not anything else.

844 reads | 27.03.2014

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