THE question facing Ukraine’s Crimean citizens in today’s referendum ought to ask, ‘Do you prefer to be part of Russia again – or be mashed into a gooey blinis topping by a bunch of uniformed goons, who’ve apparently arrived from nowhere to offer fraternal greetings?’
Because, however quasi-democratic – and America dubbing it ‘illegal’ – the plebiscite’s outcome is a given: the Crimea, once Stalin’s holiday playground, will revert to its previous status of a Russian entity, this time as part of Vladimir Putin’s new, expansive, nationalist empire.
It will also signal the culmination of one of the slickest coups d’état, a ‘mini’ Crimean War that’s a throwback to Soviet power plays, with all the familiar Kremlin agitprop used to justify crushing upstarts (think Hungary, in 1956, and Czechoslovakia a dozen years later).
Also, it’s an ominous reminder of Hitler’s 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland, carried out in the name of ethnic Germans living in the Czech province.
Back then Britain and France gave the Nazis a free pass, but the warning signs were glaring. Thus emboldened, Germany invaded Poland – again on the specious pretext of defending nationals there – and the Second World War was up and running.
Like Hitler, Putin claims he’s intervening in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians and spare the country from ‘fascist, racist revolutionaries’, who overthrew their democratic leader.
For the record, that was Viktor Yanukovych, a thieving bruiser with a penchant for sharp suits and tyranny, who hot-footed it to safety under Putin’s protective wing when the people tired of his lies.
As an aside, totally disregard any scurrilous rumours the mysterious horde of heavily-armed men – in uniforms minus regimental flashes – who turned up weeks ago to corral Ukrainian forces into their barracks, are Russian.
They are merely local patriots, insist Kremlin mouthpieces, outfitted by a nearby army surplus store I wish I had shares in, who only sought to restore law and order. That they can’t speak a syllable of Ukrainian is a by-the-by.
So, game, set and match to V.V. Putin.
The only issue to be resolved is: what will be the grand bully of diplomatic chess’s next gambit?
Will he ‘liberate’ the rest of eastern Ukraine, with its Russian-speaking majority, who magically appear as a rent-a-mob to decry the ‘neo-Nazi’ usurpers in Kiev?
Or could other soft-touch nations bordering the Black Sea, like Moldova, be on Vlad The Invader’s wish list, because surely it’s a matter of time before he flexes his muscles again?
And who’s going to stymie the ex-KGB thug’s pursuit to rebuild the Russian Empire?
Enter the brave, bold West, with a procession of foreign ministers trekking to Kiev to allay fears that ‘free’ Ukraine has been abandoned.
Perish the thought, intimated Britain’s William Hague, as his boss, Squire Cameron, fulminated about ‘the most serious crisis in Europe this century’ and ‘unacceptable’ Russian expansionism.
Tough, if empty talk, because the reality was laid bare when a Downing Street policy document was inadvertently revealed, stating, ‘We should not support, for now, trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre to Russians.’
Heartening news, then, for estate agents in Mayfair and South Kensington, if not gladder tidings for Putin: British bluster is a sham.
Conversely, if briefly, it seemed President Obama – or The Great Ditherer as he’s now known – nearly discovered he had a backbone, after announcing, ‘Putin must know that there is a price to pay for his actions.’
Inexorably, he reverted to type and sabre-rattled with a penknife, merely despatching a squadron of Phantom jets to Poland and a couple to safeguard the Baltic republics…feeble gestures, indeed, and unlikely to wipe the smirk off Putin’s face.
But hark! More sanctions are being threatened, like Russia being kicked out of the G8, visas revoked, asset freezes on Kremlin apparatchiks and – who knows – oligarchs banned from Harrods’ food hall.
For its part, the punchless, witless European Union vacillates from the sidelines, despite Ukraine proverbially being in its backyard (as was Kosovo, remember – and look what a mess they made there).
Unsurprising, I suppose, since so many EU nations – notably Germany – rely on Russian gas, EU leaders just gassed on, condemning Putin’s moral, political and legal bankruptcy, but paying only lip service to diplomatic retaliation.
And, as regards Obama, the nationalist tsar sussed out long ago he was no Cold War warrior in the Reagan mould; that this occupant of the White House was a navel-gazing poseur, more social-worker than commander-in-chief, whose foreign policy – if, indeed, he has one – is anchored in the biblical credo that the meek shall inherit the earth.
For all Putin’s paranoia over perceived Western encroachment eastwards into Russia’s sphere of influence, like his inglorious Soviet predecessors, he recognises wobbling when he sees it.
As a NATO official noted last week, ‘The Kremlin respects strength and despises indecisiveness – they see comprise as weakness.’
So, for all his macho posturing, Obama has reverted to a default setting that’s hands-off and isolationist – or, in Russia’s eyes, jelly-kneed and wimpy.
Putin probably first recognised it when the President shelved plans to base missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic in 2009, then scotched talk of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO.
The next signals were Obama backing the losing, Islamo-fanatic side in Egypt’s ’s Arab Spring counter revolt and a retreat on Libya, when he subcontracted the destruction of Gaddafi’s maniacal regime to the RAF and French air force.
Then came the vacuous ‘red lines’ warning to Assad over chemical weapons in Syria, which vaporised into nothing and left Putin – of all people – orchestrating US foreign policy towards the Butcher of Damascus (NB: so far it’s going nowhere).
Worse still, security analysts agree almost universally that America’s deal with Iran over checking its nuclear weapons development was a diplomatic farce, with only one winner – the mad mullahs of Tehran.
Little wonder last week The New York Post heaped further scorn on the gullible President, dubbing him ‘Jimmy Obama’ in an unsubtle reference to James Earl Carter, probably the most inept US leader in living memory.
So apologies to the valiant Ukrainians. None of what I’ve said is any consolation, but be assured that with friends like us in the West, you don’t need enemies.