Ukraine crisis: Russian nationalists dream of empire’s rebirth

 

Share

Listening to the choir of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the sunshine at Yalta, Ilya Drozdov, a key figure in the Duma’s committee to “reintegrate” former Soviet states, confidently told me: “Crimea will join us within a few weeks, the east and the south within four or five months.

“Remember Lenin, ‘Russia without Ukraine is like a body without a heart’. The only way those currently in power in Kiev stop this is by force and that will bring consequences.” The deputy head of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing party was wrong on the time frame: President Vladimir Putin signed the document to annex Ukraine just eight days later.

In Simferopol, the Crimean capital, another Russian MP, Leonid Slutsky, was keen to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter: “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, with Ukraine, it automatically turns into an empire.” The head of the committee on relations with former Soviet states said: “Some other parts of what they call Ukraine will join Russia soon, because people there want to; it is, of course, in the interest of the West to stop this happening, they will be using the so-called government in Kiev.”

These could be taken as the wishful drum-beating of ultra-nationalists. In the same speech in which he announced the annexation, Mr Putin stressed that Russian troops would not be going into other parts of Ukraine: this has been repeated since by the Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. It has been repeatedly stated by Russia watchers that with the West seemingly accepting the Crimean fait accompli, it would be logical for the Kremlin to desist from further Ukrainian adventures.

And yet, the latest protests in the east show far more organisation and determination compared with those of just a few weeks ago. They sing the same verses from the hymn sheet in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk; the call for a referendum and a plea for Russian “peacekeepers” to defend them. This strikes a chord with the repeated demands from Moscow that Ukraine should give a voice to the regions and adopt a federal structure and pledges that ethnic Russians will not be abandoned: the Kiev government does not need reminding that President Putin obtained authorisation from parliament to deploy troops not just for Crimea, but Ukraine.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said “it’s clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours” and this “could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention as we saw in Crimea”.

The Kremlin had its own version of foreign hands in the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist” operations. The Foreign Ministry said: “We are particularly troubled by the circumstances that some 150 American specialists from the privately owned military organisation Greystone dressed in the Sokol [police] unit’s uniform have joined the operation.” Pro-Russian crowds in Kharkiv chanted “Blackwater”, “mercenaries” and “faggots” at members of the security forces. Greystone was reportedly founded in 2004 as an affiliate of Blackwater.

The Russians have provided no evidence of the involvement of American contractors. Knowing their reputation, I would have thought there would have been considerably more fatalities than had taken place so far.

The operations by the Ukrainian government forces had recaptured the security service headquarters in Donetsk and Kharkiv. But there is now a siege at the administration building in Kiev and reports of protesters taking hostages and positioning explosives in Luhansk. We wait to see whether people such as Mr Drozdov and Mr Slutsky were just dreaming of the rebirth of a Russian empire or revealing the Kremlin’s real intentions.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone