As this piece is being written, United States Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the annexation of Crimea…
Except that’s not correct. Kerry is meeting Lavrov to discuss Ukraine. Crimea is not, allegedly, on the table, which suggests that its annexation by Russia is now considered a fait accompli. The talk is to discuss the future of Ukraine, even though it is being cast in very different terms by both sides; but leaked reports suggest that Russia is demanding that Ukraine be re-designed from the ground up to make it a more federal republic (more power to the regions, less to Kyiv), and that Washington (and by extent Brussels) have all but signed off on this, to further Russian cooperation on Iran, Syria, and Crimea when they get the laughter under control.
How Kyiv feels about this proposed dissection appears to be an entirely secondary consideration.
As Mr. Lina is on sabbatical for now, the question of how this matters in internal Ukrainian politics and policy will stay to the side for the moment. Instead, let us consider what this means for the New Russian Empire.
For a month, the West — especially but not exclusively Europe — has been engaged in a round of strenuous self-back-patting over the imposition of sanctions on Moscow for its acts in Crimea, which have putatively kept Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. This is to completely misunderstand what Putin is trying to effect, confusing the last Hitler and this one.
Putin does not really care all that much about having more territory — he cannot even completely govern his East along the Chinese border. He cares about controlling vassal states from a large enough territory and population to maintain that control for decades and centuries, as every Russian Empire has ever done. Crimea is a finger into Ukraine and a warm water port. The Georgian and Moldovan breakaway provinces increase his sway there even as he annexes them or doesn’t.
A federated Ukraine, with Eastern, industry-heavy regions swayed by Moscow, gives him control of Kyiv in all but name.
Baltic states with large Russian populations, having seen the West cower when the threat of Russian power comes to bear, know that they must either be prepared to fight on their own or side with Russia — and while their independent-minded peoples, still smarting from Soviet domination two decades later, will not bow, they will sway a bit more.
An empire does not need land mass to rule. It needs wealth and people and power, and even though Russia’s population is dying, so is every other Eastern European nation’s. The West shows no stomach for breaking Russia’s wealth, no inclination to challenge its military power, and no desire to put boots on the ground. The slowly dying peoples of Russia’s former vassal states will understand where the new center of power is and act accordingly.
So while the world is vaguely riveted to whatever John Kerry is playacting at, the real action lies to the East, where Moscow will continue to rebuild what it had lost, in a new form, the same as the old.
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