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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
“I just wanted some chicken wings,” Tan Shen told the assembled media. “But once I got in there ... I decided I needed time to think.”  

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Ellen E Jones
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015