Todd Huizinga, Acton Institute’s director of international outreach, was a guest analyst recently on Newsmakers, a public affairs program produced by WGVU television in Grand Rapids, Mich. Episode description from Aug. 22: “As tensions heighten between Russia and Ukraine, what is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s worldview and what role does Ukraine play in it? How has the shoot down of Malaysia Airline flight 17 killing 298 on board changed the dynamics of the conflict? We explore the internal and external factors in play.” Run time is 26:45.
So what just happened in Crimea?
On Sunday, Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia. Today Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty making Crimea part of Russia (it was a former satellite state of the Soviet Union). Putin says he does not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.
Why would Russia want to annex Crimea?
In 1997, Crimea and Russia signed a treaty allowing Russia to maintain their naval base at Sevastopol, on Crimea’s southwestern tip (the lease is good through 2042). The base is Russia’s primary means of extending military force through the Mediterranean. (The Black Sea is connected to the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosphorus Straits.) Without a military base in Crimea, Russia would be weakened as a global military power.
Earlier this month Russia’s parliment authorized a Putin to use the military on Crimea. (Technically, Russia’s parliament authorized Russia’s military forces to enter “Ukraine,” giving themselves a legal cloak to target more than Crimea.)
Where (and what) exactly is Crimea?
Note: This is an update and addition to a previous post, “Explainer: What’s Going on in Ukraine?”
What just happened with Russia and Ukraine?
Last week, pro-EU protesters in Ukraine took control of Ukraine’s government after President Viktor Yanukovych left Kiev for his support base in the country’s Russian-speaking east. The country’s parliament sought to oust him and form a new government. They named Oleksandr Turchynov, a well-known Baptist pastor and top opposition politician in Ukraine, as acting president.
In the southern part of the country, Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, elected in an emergency session last week, said he asserted sole control over Crimea’s security forces and appealed to Russia “for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness” on the peninsula. On Saturday, Russian president Vladimir Putin asked his own parliament for approval to use the country’s military in Ukraine. The request comes after Putin has already sent as many as 6,000 troops into Crimea.
Why would Russia want to invade Crimea?
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, banned in the Soviet Union until 1989, has been published in a new shorter, Russian-language edition aimed at schools. The book was included in the list of compulsory books in Russian schools only last year, according to a report in RIA Novosti.
The widow of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn presented on Thursday an abridged edition of The Gulag Archipelago that publishers hope will eventually be read by every Russian student. “It is necessary that people know what has happened in our country when they finish school,” 71-year-old Natalya Solzhenitsyna told journalists at the presentation of the book in Moscow.
The Gulag Archipelago vividly describes the mass arrests of innocent people and their deportation to labor camps during the Soviet era and Solzhenitsyna said people should know that they “were not just individual episodes, but a round-the-clock mowing down of people.”
The new edition gets an endorsement from the top:
At a meeting with Solzhenitsyna on Tuesday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – a former KGB agent – said the book was essential reading for students to have a full understanding of Russia.
In the current Religion & Liberty, we interviewed scholar Edward E. Ericson Jr. about the publication of the “restored” edition of the Solzhenitsyn novel, In the First Circle. Because of space limitations, we had to cut a section of the interview, published as “Literature and the Realm of Moral Values,” that dealt with the almost total ignorance of American students about the Cold War period. Maybe the Gulag Archipelago should be mandatory reading in U.S. schools today. Here’s the Ericson “outtake” from the R&L interview published for the first time:
How do American students today understand Solzhenitsyn and the history of the Soviet Gulag?
I’ll tell you how they react when they read The Gulag Archipelago. Incidentally, we have 100 pages of it as an abridgment in The Solzhenitsyn Reader (ISI Books, 2006). I have taught selections from Gulag many times. In short January-term classes where students keep journals, the same refrain about Gulag will come from them over and over. “Why didn’t they tell us this in school? I never heard this from my teachers. I thought I was getting a good high school education. We studied history. We studied World War II and the Holocaust. We studied the Cold War. I never heard about the Gulag.”
How do you study the Cold War and miss the Gulag?
Good question. I don’t know. And that’s what these students wanted to know. I used to ask students, when the subject of the Holocaust came up, does a number of those who died in the Holocaust come to your mind? This is isn’t a trick question, I tell them. For many of you, I say, I think a number has come to your mind. Never mind if it’s a right number or a wrong number. And someone will finally say, “Six million?” And heads will start nodding; yeah, that the number. When I ask if anyone else has heard that number, the hands go up all over. After they have found out what the Gulag is, I ask, “Does any number come to your mind?” No. “What would you say if I said 66 million?” The looks say, “Really?” And then you have to explain. Well, it’s over a longer period, and as for efficiency on a per-day basis, the Germans had better technology for eliminating humans. All the Soviets had were guns and big trenches and they’d line up the people, let the shot bodies topple over into the trenches, and throw dirt over them. And the number Solzhenitsyn learned and used is probably too high, but it’s a number calculated by a demographer who did statistical analysis of birth and death records and the like, and he came up with 66 million. Maybe that’s double what it should be. Since we’ll never know, let’s just agree to say so. But still …
A Polish friend recommended this NYT piece by Roger Cohen reflecting on the most recent tragedy visited upon the Polish people. Cohen’s friend, Adam Michnik in Warsaw, “an intellectual imprisoned six times by the former puppet-Soviet Communist rulers,” had said to him in the past that:
…my obsession has been that we should have a revolution that does not resemble the French or Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something, not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag.
Cohen observes the smooth constitutional transition of power upon the death of the Polish head of state, and points hopefully toward the potential for reconciliation between Warsaw and Moscow. In Cohen’s words, the show of grief by Vladimir Putin upon the anniversary of the Katyn murders signifies “the miracle of a Europe whole and free been built. Now that Europe extends eastward toward the Urals.”
Our series on the year in review continues with the third fourth of 2006:
“Isn’t the Cold War Over?” David Michael Phelps
I’ve got an idea for a new sitcom. Titled, Hugo and Vladi, it details the zany adventures of two world leaders, one of whom (played by David Hyde Pierce) struggles to upkeep his image of a friendly, modern European diplomat while his goofball brother-in-law (played by George Lopez) keeps screwing it up for him by spouting off vitriolic Soviet rhetoric and threatening all of Western civilization with his agressive (but loveable) arms sales and seizures of private oil companies….
“Wealth, Envy, and Happiness,” Jordan J. Ballor
This natural tendency to compare our financial status to others is an expression of money envy, which also finds expression, at least in part, in the concern about income disparities….
“DDT Breakthrough at the WHO,” John Couretas
Africans are hailing a major shift in policy at the World Health Organization: A recommendation for the limited, indoor use of DDT to control malaria….