Thursday, April 10, 2014

Critchlow on Crimea

James Critchlow* on Crimea
(posted here with Mr. Critchlow's kind permission)

After a hiatus of several years, I recently received my first resumed take of the Johnson Report, now issued in the name of GWU’s Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.

Has something happened during that time? The first thing that caught my eye was a piece on the Ukrainian situation, apparently written originally for the Johnson Report by the Moscow writer Sergei Roy. The editor, “DJ,” prefaced the piece with a ringing endorsement: “Don’t believe everything you think—but do believe this insightful piece by Sergei Roy, a man of singular reputation and achievement in the history of the Soviet Union and Russia. He deserves your attention.”

What followed at considerable length could almost have been an endorsement of the Putin-Lavrov Ukraine policy. I won’t attempt to critique the whole thing, but let me comment on Roy’s portrayal of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Here is what he writes of the Western role:
It was they who had largely prepared and instigated the crisis in Ukraine (more of this in p.7), but now their immediate, prime concern is to punish Russia by applying an array of sanctions (of course, in some such devious manner as not to punish themselves - no mean feat in a globalized world). Punish Russia for what? For acceding to the democratically expressed wish of the Crimean people to return where they belong, and have always belonged. Why do the Crimean people wish to do so? Their leaders keep telling the world why till they are blue in the face: because they fear the coming of armed neo-Nazi hordes to their land in order to make Crimean Russians forget their native tongue, their traditions, their glorious history and, last but by no means least, their own interests.
The “democratically expressed wish of the Crimean people people to return where they belong, and have always belonged”? Leaving aside the fact that Catherine stole Crimea in the eighteenth century, how was this wish “democratically expressed,” given the abundant evidence that foreign observers were prevented by force from witnessing the plebiscite and that quasi-military Russian forces had been deployed there? Why did Roy make no mention of the Crimean Tatars, the surviving remnant of the large population that was deported overnight to Central Asia by Stalin in cattle cars.

Ironically, Roy’s piece points to the great weakness of the Putin-Lavrov position on Ukraine. There was in fact enough of a Russian presence in Crimea, the vestige of centuries, that a legitimate plebiscite might have won the territory for Russia. That could have come about through patient diplomacy from Moscow. (I could see myself supporting a Russian claim made in that way.) Instead, Putin chose gratuitously to create a major threat to world order, and to this the West needs to respond vigorously with sanctions and other means at its disposal.

There are other things about Ukraine in the piece with which I might agree, although I think he overdoes branding of just about every Ukrainian politician as “neo-Nazi.”

Let me be clear. I would have been happy to see Roy’s piece in JR if it had been labeled as from a Russian source (and not endorsed by the JR editor). As an old Cold Warrior (head of Soviet research at Radio Liberty and USIA) I appreciate the great value of knowing what the other side is thinking, and also the importance of an analyst having leeway for interpretive opinion. But the way the piece is presented in JR could have an unfortunate effect on an uninformed person simply looking for enlightenment. It might be devastating to some reading it in Ukraine or one of the Baltic republics. I hope that it is only an aberration and not evidence of some change in editorial approach.


*James Critchlow went to Munich in 1952 to help set up the future Radio Liberty and was for a time head of its research, then in 1972 switched to USIA as head of Soviet research. In 1976 he began work as Planning and Research Officer at the Board for International Broadcasting. On retirement in 1985 Critchlow spent a year as Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), after which he became affiliated with the Harvard Russian Research Center (now Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies).

Image from

No comments: