In an otherwise excellent piece on the TUC’s passing of an idiotic resolution on Ukraine, Dale Street writes that “for the first time since the Second World War the territory of a European country has been seized by that of a neighbouring big power.”
That doesn’t sound right — and it isn’t.
In fact there have been several occasions since 1945 when European countries have been the victims of aggression by neighbouring big powers.
There was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus 40 years resulting in a division of the country and an occupation of its northern part that continues until the present day.
That invasion was exceptional not only in the sense that such invasions are rare in Europe. It’s also exceptional because every other example I can think of involves the Russian army.
Russian tanks and troops invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and while they did not redraw any borders, they did impose regimes that were considerably friendlier to the Soviets than the ones the local populations would have liked.
In the 1990s the Russian army waged a brutal war of conquest targetting the breakaway Chechen republic, burying once and for all the Leninist myth about a “right of secession”. (There never was any such right.)
More recently, in 2008 the Russian army -- no longer the Red Army -- invaded Georgia, wresting control of the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, turning these into “independent” states recognized only by Moscow.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. The “independent republics” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are also recognized by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. Nauru for those of you who are not familiar with the Pacific island country formerly known as “Pleasant Island”, has a population of just over 9,000. The only country in the world that is smaller is the Vatican.
As for Nicaragua and Venezuela, this slavish kowtowing before Russian imperialism is utterly shameless. Even Cuba hasn’t gone so far as to recognize the breakaway provinces, currently occupied by Russian troops.
When tiny Georgia was facing the full might of the Russian army, a number of European leaders flew in to show solidarity, appearing at a rally in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square. These included the presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- the same countries that are today worried yet again by Russian sabre-rattling.
Historically, the left understood all this. Prior to 1917, the view on the European left was unanimously Russophobic, with the Tsarist empire branded as a “prison-house of nationalities”.
After the first few years of the Stalinist dictatorship, much of the international left turned anti-Soviet, and once again there would be widespread protests at Stalinist aggression.
But today with post-Soviet Russia reverting to the more traditional forms of imperialist expansion, first in Chechnya, then seizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, then Crimea, and now eastern Ukraine, you would think that the left would have no hesitation about condemning that aggression.
But none of these have provoked any serious protests, least of all from the organized left.
On the face of it, this is quite strange.
After all, when the Soviet Union was young, and when idealistic leftists believed it incapable of doing any wrong, Stalin could order the Red Army to march into Georgia and annex it once again to Russia. Communists in Britain and elsewhere supported that invasion without protest because it was done under the banner of, well, Communism.
They were wrong, and the social democrats who opposed Stalin were right. But at least one can understand their error. Soviet imperialism at least pretended to be somehow “progressive”. Putin’s aggression makes no such pretense.
The fact that the TUC couldn’t bring itself to condemn Putin this time should come as no surprise, as they didn’t say a word when Russian tanks poured into Georgia six years ago, or Chechnya a decade before that.
Shame on the TUC and the British Left for not speaking out.
Not the most important political issue in the world, and not central to the politics of the original article, but just to defend the sentence:
“For the first time since the Second World War the territory of a European country has been seized by that of a neighbouring big power.”
Crimea is now, since March, a “federal subject” of the Russian Federation. It was previously part of the sovereign state of Ukraine. But now it is a fully integrated part of the sovereign state of Russia.
None of the other invasions mentioned by Eric resulted in actual sovereignty over a piece of land being formally transferred from one state to another.
Stalinism certainly controlled Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But they did not end up, post-invasion (1956 and 1968), as the equivalent of a federal subject of the Russian Federation, i.e. they were not formally integrated into the Russia or the Soviet Union.
Northern Cyprus is occupied by Turkey and claims to be independent. But not even Turkey claims that it is part of Turkey.
Chechnya attempted to go independent when the Soviet Union broke up but was eventually defeated. It was never the territory of another European country which was seized from that country and then incorporated into Russia. Russia ‘simply’ refused to allow it go independent.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia both claim to be ‘independent’, following Russian military aggression. But neither have been incorporated into the Russian Federation as federal subjects. (The same also applies to the Transnistrian Republic of Moldova.)
So, what distinguishes Crimea from all the other instances cited is not military invasion and occupation – which certainly also happened in the other cases cited by Eric – but the fact that it ended up being fully integrated into Russia, having previously been part of a different sovereign state.