The Nation backs Col. Putin

If The Nation’s endorsement of the Russian seizure of Crimea doesn’t make you spew, I envy your digestion.

Some time ago in this space, I identified The Nation as part of the “American-power-hating left” that fawns over Vladimir Putin, Asked for chapter and verse, I couldn’t find it, and removed the offending reference. (See the discussion in comments.)

It turns out that I was premature – would it be boastful to say “prescient”? – rather than actually wrong. Here’s The Nation’s editorial take on the first territorial acquisition in Europe made by military force since Hitler and Stalin launched World War II by trying to divide Poland between them. If it doesn’t make you spew, your stomach is stronger than mine. Bottom line: Now that Russia has taken Crimea, the only think to do is “negotiate” on the basis that Crimea is now part of Russia. In those negotiations, Russia is to give up nothing, while Ukraine is to be treated as a subordinate power whose sovereignty is modified to whatever extent its larger neighbor desires. If Russia wants Eastern Ukraine to “have a reasonable degree of autonomy” (i.e., be ruled by Russian proxies), why should anyone object? And of course the Ukrainian government must be “stripped of neofascists.” That is, the range of acceptable political opinion in Ukraine is to be determined in Moscow. No mention of “stripping” the Zhirinovsky faction from Russian politics, of course.

A full analysis would be a bore, so just a few samples of facts from which the editors of The Nation don’t bother to mention:

1. Russia agreed to “respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders” in the Budapest Memorandum, in return for Ukraine’s de-nuclearisation.

2. Thirteen of the fifteen members of the UN Security Council voted for a resolution holding that the Russian annexation of Crimea is illegitimate. Naturally, Russia vetoed it; even China merely abstained. (The Nation: “Crimea, now annexed to Russia …” The editorial does note that the seizure was a violation of international law, but hastily adds that the United States has no right to complain. Why flawed U.S. foreign policy implies that the Ukrainians should acquiesce in having their territory seized isn’t explained.)

3. Russian aggression does not enjoy universal support within Russia. The sort of liberal-minded Russians who, if they were Americans, would subscribe to The Nation, oppose it; some of them do so while under house arrest. There have been large anti-war protests in Moscow.

4. The acting president of Ukraine has announced that he will not approve the hasty and unfortunate (to say the least) action of the parliament that would have removed Russian as a second official language in areas with strong Russian minorities. Other than that, there is no actual evidence that anyone civil liberties are threatened Ukraine. Russia, of course, is a different story.

5. Two newspeople for the Kremlin-owned American version of RT have left, one voluntarily and one not, over RT’s Ukraine coverage. One of them is a 9/11 Truther, which gives you some idea the sort of “progressives” Putin employs. The Russian version of RT features a neo-Nazi as a “German journalist.”

6. In addition to grabbing Crimea, Russia is threatening to “protect” Russian minorities in Estonia and elsewhere. (I gather no one is allowed to mention the Sudetenland in this context, so I won’t.)

7. Putin is promoting a “Eurasian union” based more or less on the opposite of all Enlightenment values. His alliance with the Orthodox Church to suppress “foreign” religious activity, his homophobia (defending “traditional Russian values” from “aggressive minorities”), and his aggression are all part of the package.

But I urge you not to follow any of those links or believe what is in them. Otherwise you, too, might wind up “bellicose” and “hysterical,” in the authoritative view of the editors of The Nation. No sane person wants the U.S. to go to war over Crimea. But there’s a difference between admitting that an act of aggression can’t practically be reversed by force and pretending it’s not an act of aggression. The Obama Administration seems committed to making Putin and his cronies pay a price for what they’ve done. I understand why RT opposes them. Why The Nation does so is harder to figure. Maybe it’s just the persistence of a bad Cold War habits of reflexively opposing anything anti-Soviet. Susan Sontag got it right, and she still has it right:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or the New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

What’s bizarre is that, while it made a twisted kind of sense for leftists in the West to support what was nominally a left-wing government in the Soviet Union (never mind that it was actually an oligarchy), it makes no sense whatever for progressives to support a Russian government with a Rush Limbaugh ideology. Why is it hard to figure out which side to take, between an America led by a constitutional lawyer and a Russia headed by a career secret policeman?

Footnote I hadn’t seen this, or any reference to it. But Putin’s speech to the Reichstag State Duma has a remarkable passage, which completely trashes the idea pushed by some of his Western apologists that Russian troops didn’t move into Crimea:

… the President of the Russian Federation received permission from the Upper House of Parliament to use the Armed Forces in Ukraine. However, strictly speaking, nobody has acted on this permission yet. Russia’s Armed Forces never entered Crimea; they were there already in line with an international agreement. True, we did enhance our forces there; however – this is something I would like everyone to hear and know – we did not exceed the personnel limit of our Armed Forces in Crimea, which is set at 25,000, because there was no need to do so.

“Enhance” is very good, don’t you think?