“Away with Hitler! Down with him” said the British officer [appealing for Africans to fight against Hitler]. ‘
What’s wrong with Hitler?’ asked the African.
‘He wants to rule the whole world’, said the British officer.
‘What is wrong with that?’
‘He is German, you see’, said the British officer, trying to appeal subtly to the African’s tribal consciousness.
‘What’s wrong with his being German?’
‘You see,’ said the British officer, trying to explain in terms that would be conceivable to the African mind, ‘it is not good for one tribe to rule another. Each tribe must rule itself. That’s only fair. A German must rule Germans, an Italian Italians and a Frenchman, French people’. From which way Africa? The search for a new Society. By Basil Davidson
nce upon a time, Crimea was part of Russia. In fact, from 1783 it was part of Russia until President Khrushchev gifted it to Ukraine in 1954. Majority of the population of Crimea are ethnic Russians and are a minority in Ukraine. In addition, Crimea is very close to Russian and of strategic impotence to its black sea fleet. Therefore, the anxiety of Russia over a pro-western Ukrainian government is understandable.
Besides security concerns, the development in Ukraine and attempt by Russia to reclaim Crimea, raises serious questions about the validity of international agreements, sovereignty, ethnicity, due process and nationality. This is made even more poignant because, President Putin states that his aim is to protect ethnic Russia living in Ukraine. The questions are: has president Putin any legal obligation to protect ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine? Does sharing the same ethnic origin with a minority in another country, give a country any right or obligation to intervene in another country? Does common ethnic origin give a government a moral right to intervene, when people who share the same ethnic origin with majority of people in the country are threatened, and to stand back, when people who do not share the same ethnic origin with them are at risk? Does Russia have a legal right to conduct a referendum in Crimea while it was still part of Ukraine? What does this say about the mentality of President Putin to international treaty, due process, ethnicity, multiculturalism and multiethnic nations? What is the right way to right historical injustices of the type president claims to be righting by the annexation of Crimea?
What would Putin do, if some of the ethnic minorities in Russia unilaterally conducts a referendum and vote to join the countries with majority of people who share the same ethnic origin with them? What Putin has done raises many ethical, moral and legal and questions, which the world needs to find fair answers. Putin is setting a dangerous precedent, which may begin to reverberate in other parts of the world as some ethnic minority groups in some countries elect to join their kinsmen in a bigger and stroger countries. It would seem that Putin would like to drag the world back to the dark ages, when men only segregated on the basis of ethnicity and race, and prevailed by force.
This development reminds me of Bakassi peninsula, which was once a part and parcel of Nigeria, until General Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo conspired and gifted it to Cameroon against the protestation of the people of Bakassi for reasons they are yet to make public. Cameroon took Nigeria to court to claim it because of the oil reserve around Bakassi which ELF oil Company was interested in and at the world court a French Judge ruled in favour of Cameroon against the wishes of people of Bakassi. The people of Bakassi say loud and clear that they do not wish to be part of Cameroon. Bakassi has never been part of Cameroon. What would happen, if a nationalistic minded Nigerian president, who wishes to redress the injustices of the past, invades Bakassi and conducts a referendum, which shows that majority of Bakassians , wants to rejoin Nigeria, and quickly re-annex Bakassi to welcome her back to Nigeria, where she rightly belongs? Would anybody in Nigeria see it as unjust? What is the right way for the people of Bakassi to right the legitimized injustice against them apart from might?
The development in Crimea is complicated, but understandable to those who have taken the time to study the history of the region and people. Crimea, as part of Ukraine, was a historical mistake, which the revolution in Ukraine gave Russia opportunity and excuse to remedy. The chance to reclaim Crimea was one, which Putin could not resist under the circumstance, knowing its potential to secure his hold on power and make him a Russian nationalist hero. If Ukrainians want to blame some one, they should blame those who opted for violent revolution and quickly took some anti-Russia measures, which alarmed the Russia speaking population of Ukraine and gave Putin the excuse he needed to act. Ukraine will have to find a way to live with the loss of Crimea as the price of her revolution and the way the world look at historical injustices would never be the same. This is the inconvenient truth.
Yes, radicals are free to have their revolutions, disregard democratic mandates, trample on due process and insist that corrupt leaders quite on their terms, but they cannot dictate how their opponents and those who have the power to have their own way would react. Now and then, revolutionaries find out that only the rule of law can secure the rights and liberties of the weak, and that revolutions which show contempt for due process, often destroy the strong foundation needed build their dream. They cannot have it both ways. Putin has only acted in a way he believes is in the best interest of Russia, in view of the development in Ukraine. Under similar circumstance, it is difficult to imagine how America or European countries would act. No serious country dithers, when its strategic interest is at risk. America ignored UN resolution and invaded Iraq and Israel has ignored all UN resolution since it displaced the Palestinians and occupied their land to right a historical injustice to mention but two examples. We live in a world where might is right and the rule of law is the only the protection of the weak.
It may well be that all the west is against is the way and manner Putin annexed Crime and may be persuaded to let Russia keep Crimea, if Russia gives some grounds and reassurance that it has no further nationalistic and expansionist ambition. Germany and many European countries, including Ukraine depend too much on Russian gas to risk doing more than condemning Russia for what it has done. Russia is also aware that if it turns off its gas supply to European countries that the beneficiaries would be Quarter, Saudi Arabia and the US.
This reminds me of an incident during the Second World War, before Hitler, started the London blitz. France had the best Navy in Europe, with some of the most sophisticated war ships, some of which were anchored in North Africa. When Germany invaded Poland, Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, met with the head of the French Navy about his concerns that Hitler may want to invade France to take over the French Navy and if he did, that the war would have been lost. The French military Chief promised Churchill that the French Navy will never fall into the hands of the Germans. He told him that he has a plan to make sure that this would never happen and that in the event of Germany invading France, all French war ships would be destroyed.
Winston Churchill went back to London and ordered a secrete operation by the British secrete service to destroy all French ships in northern Africa. And they did. The French did not like this and were enraged. Few months later, Germany invaded France and the French Navy destroyed all French ships. The French Naval Chief then telephoned Churchill, and Churchill told him that Britain will never leave its national interest to the promise of a single man. He said that waiting until Germany invaded France was a risk Britain was not prepared to take in the war. The French were angry that the British did not trust them. There is a time when a country has to do, what it has to do, if she believes it is in her best interest and this would seem such a time for Russia.
Moreover, Putin can argue that Russia is only following a precedent set by NATO in Kosovo. NATO conducted a referendum in Kosovo, while Kosovo was still part of Serbia and supported its independence to the prostration of Russia and Serbia. At that time, Bill Clinton was President of America and Tony Blair Prime Minister of Britain. It rather surprising that both men have been quiet on the development in Crimea. Today, the European Union and America recognize Kosovo as an independent country, while Russia and Serbia do not.
Therefore, the development in Crimea is not really as catastrophic as some people would like the world to believe. Even though Putin’s action represents a violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine, he may have saved Ukraine future conflict in Crimea as the ethnic Russians in Crimea might have resulted to self-determination like the Albanians in Kosovo. The development gives those who have suffered historical injustices hope that justices may be delayed, but that some how, someday, if not in their life’s time, certainly after they have gone, that justice will finally be done no matter how long. Maybe, many troubled countries in Africa, where ethnicity and religion are serious causes of the problem should consider the Crimean option and offer the regions a referendum to decide which country they wish to join. To be continued.