By Brigitte L. Nacos
Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry told Bob Schieffer of CBS News that Russia’s move into Crimea is “an incredible act of aggression. It is really a stunning, willful choice by President Putin to invade another country.” According to Kerry, Russia has violated Ukraine's sovereignty and several of its obligations under international agreements. "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext," he said.
I wondered: Did Kerry indeed say that in the 21st century you are not invading another country on completely trumped up pretext? Yes, he did. Obviously Washington’s diplomat-in-chief chose not to remember the invasion of Iraq some 11 years ago that fell squarely into the 21st century and was trumped up with bogus justifications.
I certainly do not applaud or justify Russia’s military move into the Crimean peninsula. But one cannot ignore that the European Union and NATO contributed a great deal to Vladimir Putin’s reaction, overreaction, to the violence accompanying the political crisis in the Ukraine.
By relentlessly pursuing their goal to bring the former Soviet republics into the fold of the European Union and NATO, the leading European players and Washington expanded their western alliance ever closer to the Russian Federation’s borders with the Ukraine as the latest domino at the verge of falling from the Russian-dominated to the western sphere.
Long part of Russia, in 1954 Moscow transferred Crimea to the Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. That symbolic administrative change came to haunt Russia after the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the subsequent independence of former Soviet Republics. Russia has multiple interests in the Ukraine, most of all in transporting natural gas through Ukrainian pipelines, and in the Crimean peninsula, most of all as access to the Black Sea and site of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
When the clashes in Kiev and elsewhere unfolded, the U.S. and European governments were eagerly supporting the pro-EU side. I was stunned when a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State visited and encouraged pro-western protesters in Kiev and provided them with cookies. Just imagine the reaction here, if a Russian assistant foreign minister whipped up anti-war protesters before the Iraq invasion before TV cameras and microphones.