Archive for March 13th, 2014

Naimark on the Ukraine crisis: “It’s scary. Things could get a lot worse.”

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

“What is to stop him next time?” (Photo: John LeSchofs)

“It’s scary. Things could get a lot worse.” That’s how Norman Naimarkan expert on Eastern Europe and author of Stalin’s Genocides, summarized the crisis in Ukraine.

The Stanford scholar was delivering a short, galvanizing talk on the exuberant growth of democracy in the 1990s at the Hoover Institution’s Stauffer Auditorium on Tuesday. In the questions that followed, inevitably someone asked about the Ukraine crisis. And then the situation was like the top pulled off a  bottle of Coke after its been shaken for a quarter-hour. His language was unequivocal and condemnatory: “I think the situation is awful, depressing, and a major challenge, not a minor one, to the international system and how it operates. It’s a terrible thing that happened with the invasion. The real historical analogy is, as Hillary [Clinton] said it, the late 1930s.”


“The Baltics are scared to death.” (Photo: John LeSchofs)

“I think concessions are not going to work, much like the 1930s,” he added, referring to the West’s yielding of the Sudetenland in the 1938, which was followed by other compromises. Despite the analogies with the 1930s, “Putin is not Hitler,” he said, but the international community must nevertheless “show Putin and Russia this will not go.”

 “Crimea is gone,” he said definitively. “The Baltics are scared to death.” Now he said the international community must shore up Ukraine’s Donetsk, Khargiv, and Odessa. “The natural question is: What is to stop him next time?” Naimark was deeply concerned that “we’re not taking charge of actions and steps that will contain the crisis.” He said it was vital to fortify the destabilized government in Kiev.

“We should be there in a big way, and use this opportunity because Putin has broken the rules.” It’s going to have a price tag for the West, in terms of trade, dollars, resources, and alliances, and will require “a serious commitment, a readiness to sacrifice.”

Naimark said he is very irritated by the West’s readiness to accept Russia’s rationale that Ukraine has historically been a Russian territory. Crimea, in particular, has belonged to the Cimmerians, Bulgars, Greeks, Scythians, Goths, Huns, Khazars, the state of Kievan Rus, Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, Ottoman Turks, Golden Horde Tatars, and the Mongols. In the 13th century, it was partly controlled by the Venetians and by the Genoese; then the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire in the 15th to 18th centuries. “It was not part of Russia till Catherine took it,” he emphasized.  That would be Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

In one surprising anecdote, he said a visiting Russian scholar recently told him that  “they’re under pressure from their side” not to partner with reputable American institutions.

As a “humble historian,” Naimark said he deplored the ignorance of the press about history and the negligent media coverage. For example, he said, there has been universal press silence about the 6,000 Russian intellectuals protesting the the invasion. Not quite universal; it was reported in Frankfurter’s Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday, in an article entitled “Sorry Ukraine”:


“It’s mine, mine, mine.”

More than six thousand Russian intellectuals, including the writers Ludmila Ulitzkaya, Boris Akunin, Olga Sedakova, and Sergei Ganlewski have signed a protest letter against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, because … it in no way protects the peace, but only makes a bad situation worse.

The demagogic reporting of Russian media reminds one of the publicity policies of Hitler and Stalin before the outbreak of World War II, according the the text, that carries the slogan of “For Our and Their Freedom,” with which Soviet Russian human rights activists already protested the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Also among the signatories are the composer Dmitri Kurliandski, the Architect Evgeni Ass, the liberal Russian priest Jakov Krotov. The writer and publicist Lev Rubinstein directed, in addition, a personal message to “Ukrainian friends” in which he asks for forgiveness because the few Russians not poisoned by imperial poison gas were unable to prevent this “shameful occupation.” Rock musicians produced a video urging Russians and Ukrainians to resist efforts to get them to fight each other.

Only the reactionary Russian writers union spoke directly for the military action to “protect the Russian speaking population.” Sixty authors signed a similar resolution. In addition the businessman Roman Romanenko from Vologda in Northern Russia directed a satirical appeal to Putin to send troops and money to Vologda because the rights of Russian speakers were being abrogated in terms of education, medical care, and honest elections. A group from Tver demanded the same by return mail.


“Ukraine, forgive us.”

Inevitably, there was blowback. In response to the petition of 6,000 names, the competing “reactionary” petition mentioned above circulated with words to this effect, defending Putin: “In the days when the destiny of Crimea and our compatriots living there are being decided, we, the responsible workers of Russian culture, cannot remain indifferent and cold-hearted observers. Our common history and roots, as well as our culture and its spiritual origins, our common fundamental values and language, united us forever. We wish to secure a durable future for the bond between our peoples and cultures. This is why we firmly declare our support for the Russian Federation president’s position in the Crimea and Ukraine.” I’m told the document bears a striking resemblance to Soviet era “letters in support of the Communist Party.”

The list of 86 signatures includes Russian artists and cultural figures, some of them prominent figures who travel around the world with concerts and performances, exhibitions and book tours, participate in film festivals and conferences.

Names are on the breakover page below. Norm said no one stateside is covering this. Well, now I am.