To the Editor:
The Mercury’s March 20 editorial, “US should help the ‘real’ Ukraine,” and Dale Herspring’s March 23 column, “Right or wrong, Putin is an opportunist,” share a common problem. They both make factual errors and present facts in a one-sided way. The result is that they explain away and thereby in effect justify Vladimir Putin’s naked grab for the Crimea.
Both pieces claim that the Crimea provides Russia’s only warm-water port in order to explain and justify Putin’s desire to seize Crimea and preserve the Russian Navy’s base at Sevas-topol. But this claim is false. Russia possesses several major ports that are ice-free year-round, including Novorossiisk on the Black Sea and Murmansk in Russia’s far north. Both are also major naval bases. Russian exports and imports simply do not flow through the Crimea.
The Mercury states flatly that Crimea is “ethnically and historically Russian,” and Herspring calls it “overwhelm-ingly Russian.” In fact, a 2011 IRI survey found that 45 percent of residents of the Crimea identi-fied themselves as Russian, with the remainder split among those identifying as Ukrainian, Tatar or Crimean.
The editorial endorses Putin’s claims about the desire of the population of Crimea to join Russia, and Herspring suggests that the “vast majority” of Crimea wished to join Russia. Yet the same IRI poll found that only one in three residents of Crimea wanted to be part of Russia; half wanted to maintain Crimea’s status as an autonomous region within Ukraine. Although Herspring claims that the Crimean election was freer than any recent Russian election, it is impossible to imagine a free and fair vote on joining Russia taking place under Russian military occu-pation
The editorial dismisses Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea from the Russian Repub-lic to Ukraine as an “accident.” The logic behind this is deeply troubling. If we apply the standard that a place once ruled from Moscow should always be ruled by Moscow, then Finland, Estonia, Poland, Georgia and Uzbekistan should all return to Moscow’s control.
If we apply a narrower standard — that a region once part of the Russian Republic in the Soviet Union is fair game for Russian seizure today — then Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, both part of the Russian Republic until 1936, should be headed back to Moscow’s orbit. Finally, those who condemn Khrushchev’s transfer of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 as undemo-cratic and illegitimate fail to explain how it was any more democratic or legitimate for Lenin’s communist government to assign Crimea to the Russian Republic in 1921.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the editorial notes Russia’s treaty with Ukraine allowing 25,000 Russian troops to be based in Crimea. It ignores that 1997 treaty’s requirement that those troops refrain from any interference with Ukrainian sovereignty or internal affairs. The editorial also ignores Russia’s 1994 commitment to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Vladimir Putin’s government is generating ample amounts of disinformation to justify its seizure of territory from a neighbor. Observers in the West shouldn’t do Putin’s job for him.