Forgive me, I had the writing bug and couldn't stop writing today, so I finished the chapter significantly quicker than I expected. We'll be visiting Chechnya soon.
The Shackles of Moscow
Extract from 'A Great Hour: The Birth of Modern Ukraine' by Taras Lomachenko
Among the dwarves of Soviet economy, Ukraine had been among the tallest. Naturally, their economy was unenviable compared to America or Western Europe, but it was considered a relatively pleasant place to live if one was born behind the First Iron Curtain. However, amidst the initial fall of the Communist system, Ukraine had actually fallen behind some of the Warsaw Pact nations that it was leading. Its economic collapse was similar to Russia, with a budding Oligarch class and the resurgence of the Communist Party due to the anger with how privatization was shaping up. Perhaps the most rebellious region was Crimea, the only region with an ethnically Russian majority (as a result of the 1944 ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars by Stalin). Despite narrowly voting alongside the rest of Ukraine for independence in 1991, the locals quickly elected officials who wanted either closer ties or outright union with Russia. It maintained limited autonomy but the Crimean Republic soon found itself in conflict with President Kravchuk in (then) Kiev over how much autonomy it was actually granted. Of course, the Crimeans found many champions in Russia, including the cowed President Ruskoy. While he mostly walked on eggshells around the fanatics that now infested the halls of the world’s largest nuclear power, even he couldn’t keep himself from tubthumping over Crimea. The remaining liberal groups in Russia too were severely weakened by the increasing noise over Crimea that stirred Russian unity, which is generally considered an important reason why the initial conflict of the Civil War Period between the Parliamentarians and Yeltsin loyalists was finally closed and turned into nothing more than a Cold War between Kaliningrad (who were extremely quiet during the whole affair) and Moscow.
These disputes were compounded by disputes over Sevastopol, the home of the Black Sea Fleet. The officers of the Black Sea Fleet were mostly loyal to Russia and the subsequent NSF regime that they correctly assumed would go to bat for them, but Kravchuk wanted to incorporate large elements of the fleet for Ukraine. Given that he’d presided over a 40% drop in GDP in merely three years, any sort of win was sorely welcomed. At the same time, the Supreme Soviet in Moscow had made their own announcements, voting in November 1993 that Sevastopol would be considered a federal subject of Russia, which went down like a bucket of sick in Kiev.
The ascension of the NSF made matters even more heated, after the election of Pro-Russian Yuriy Meshkov as President of the Crimea Republic on nearly three-quarters of the vote in January 1994. Meshkov was in close contact with Makashov and the two coordinated their movements precisely. Makashov was determined by hook or crook to take Crimea, seeing it like many Russians as the biggest sore of all the losses from the transition from the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation. Like the Baltic Republics, he gambled that the West would not risk a conflict over something almost everyone saw as ‘part of Russia’ in ‘the Ukraine’. The referendum would be on March 27th, along with the parliamentary elections in Ukraine and Crimea, with regards to greater autonomy, the issuing of dual citizenship with (Makashov’s) Russia, and giving Meshkov the power of Presidential decree. Members of the NSF government, especially the Right Bloc, would loudly rant and rave about the ‘illegal occupation of Sevastopol’ in the Supreme Soviet. A dark mood filled the minds of Western policy planners that the long-delayed showdown over Crimea might finally be coming to a head.
The possibility of Russian intervention was significantly more terrifying to the Ukrainian government who knew they would have to face a Russia that had yet to be thoroughly humbled and humiliated in Chechnya. But much to the surprise of Western and Ukrainian diplomats, Makashov would take a surprisingly diplomatic tone by refusing to state whether they would recognise the referendum results as legitimate in favour of seeing it as ‘a basis for negotiations’. The reason for the tension between both sides, of course, was due to one very salient factor: both countries ‘had’ nuclear weapons. The ‘had’ is put in apostrophes because Ukraine, despite having thousands of Soviet missiles on its territory to the extent that it could technically be considered the third largest nuclear power on the planet, had no actual power over the missiles themselves. Kravchuk could not launch an ICBM at Moscow if he wanted to as the codes and directional bearings all came from Moscow. Ukraine had a small number of gravity bombs (which could work but were not a great form of deterrence) and a large number of missiles that could only be blown up on the ground as dirty bombs. The problem was that these missiles had an effective operating range that was made with America in mind, and if they were turned around and faced east, the closest target they could hit would be around Mongolia. More importantly, it would take 12-18 months from scratch to take full operational control of the missiles. Thus, ‘their’ nuclear arsenal was useless.
Indeed, the fact Ukraine was ostensibly a ‘nuclear power’ would be a hindrance rather than a help. The Western public naively assumed that a ‘nuclear power’ would be able to sufficiently defend itself, or that the situation would be too hairy to needlessly involve themselves in if the two nuclear powers went to war. Furthermore, the recent triumph in Bosnia and Croatia would likewise depress demand for action on Ukraine, as the humiliation of the Baltic annexation was erased from memory. And of course, it was a lot harder to drum up fervor when the thing that Kiev opposed was an essentially legitimate, democratic referendum over subjects that were rather droll to the average voter. Thus more hardline demands from Republicans to threaten force if Crimea was seized proved less effective than political observers expected. Indeed, Makashov went as far as to issue a statement the referendum was ‘purely non-binding’ and simply a show of will for the people of Crimea to vent their frustrations with their current status that needed to be addressed in negotiation with ‘an eternal Slavic brother’. Makashov even floated talks with the West about coming to a resolution in the Kaliningrad dispute. Indeed, observers considered whether this was a signal of reform within the NSF and that they had decided to become more moderate to deal with crippling shortages of material and increasingly food.
Then, on March 21st, 1994, Makashov showed the world how stupid anyone who had acted as his apologist was.
Extract from CNN Broadcast, March 21st 1994
: “Good morning, Moscow has confirmed that its troops are currently occupying the city of Sevastopol in Crimea. It is believed that armed Pro-Russian members of the Black Sea Fleet seized the local airport and allowed thousands of Russian troops to land and take control of Sevastopol. The Crimean President Yuriy Meshkov has issued a declaration calling on all local security forces to side with Russian forces and called the invasion ‘the Crimean Spring’. We take you now to CNN’s Christine Amanpour, in Kiev. Christine, what has the reaction been in Ukraine to this?
: “Good evening from here in Kiev, Judy. The reaction from President Leonid Kravchuk has been to order the mobilisation of the army and to denounce Meshkov as a traitor. He has called the presence of Russian troops ‘an invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory’ and told Chairman Makashov ‘Three Hundred Years of brotherhood depends on what you do in Crimea in the coming days. Do not go down in history as the man who ended the fraternity between Russian and Ukraine.’ The Nationalists in the Parliament have vigorously denounced this invasion and talked of ‘expelling the Russians like we expelled the Germans in 1944’, even Communist politicians are openly uneasy about what has happened. At the same time, Judy, the reports we have coming in from Crimea are not encouraging from the Ukrainian perspective. We have reports of most men simply refusing to fight, accepting surrender, very little reports of casualties with the exception at the beginning of this crisis when we heard about security guards being shot at the Crimean airport. It seems that President Kravchuk will have to seriously consider how he will take back Crimea, especially since the Ukrainian army is highly unmotivated and undisciplined.”
: “Thank you Christine, and what about the Ukrainian people themselves? What is the mood in the streets of Kiev?”
: “The whole of Kiev is in stunned silence, Judy. Even throughout the previous months here, most people maintained a positive opinion of Russia, they had friends and family across the border, a shared history and religious tradition, a shared culture. But now, almost in a single day, several hundred years of connections have come to a shuddering halt. Even among more Russophilic Ukrainians, particularly members of the Communist Party, the move has been met not just with anger but with outrage. And of course, there are real fears that Russia might not actually stop with just Crimea. There are concerns they might try to take more ethnic Russian enclaves in the east, or perhaps declare, as some members of the NSF have, that the very state of Ukraine is illegitimate and that a sort of Pan-Slavic Union under the NSF’s heel would be preferable. It’s extremely hard to make predictions here but undoubtedly this will rank as one of the most significant days in Ukrainian history, certainly a tragic one.”
: “Christine, there have been serious discussions about the possibility Ukraine could deploy nuclear weapons in response to a Russian invasion. How likely is that?”
: “Well, during his press announcement, President Kravchuk said that if Russia were to make any further incursion beyond the borders of Crimea that they would ‘use all means at their disposal’ to stop it. That has been interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons, the question though is how they can use them, Judy. The only deployable weapons they have can only be used by slow-moving bombers that would likely be met by a Russian retaliation that would involve missiles moving significantly faster than the speed of sound that could easily take out every population centre in Ukraine. Of course, this would likely mean some form of nuclear reply from the West but any such exchange will leave Ukraine the worst off from the exchange, hence fears of nuclear conflict remain low. There were talks about using some of the missiles like mines along key roads in Ukraine, but again, it’s hard to hide such a thing given the inevitable air power the Russians will enjoy in any full conflict. It is believed there are no nuclear weapons in Ukraine either, so this further limits how Ukraine can respond to this invasion.”
: “How has the Kaliningrad government, recognised by America, the West, how has it reacted to the invasion?”
: “Well this certainly has been a source of controversy. The initial statement by President Gaidar stated that, quote, “While this reunion of Russian people has brought great joy to our nation, to betray the trust of Ukraine like this was an act unbecoming of its brother nation.” This was taken as an implicit endorsement of the seizure of Crimea, if perhaps not by violent means, implying that if the Kaliningrad government was to somehow return to power in Moscow that it would not return Crimea to Ukraine. That statement was rescinded and replaced by a simple statement that condemned the violence and the risk of war but once again refused to state that Crimea was the territory of Ukraine. This has hurt President Gaidar’s standing in the West, with increasing questions of his own authoritarian policies in Kaliningrad. Ukraine had actually agreed to recognise the Supreme Soviet as the legitimate government of Russia last year, so many people in Ukraine don’t even care about President Gaidar, but certainly, in the West there has been significant investment into Kaliningrad as some sort of Free Russia, something like what Taiwan was to China in what we may now have to call the ‘First’ Cold War.
Extract from ‘The Wild East: How the Second Russian Civil War Changed Europe’ by Ilya Shevchenko
Despite fears of further Russian advances, nothing would happen outside the initial seizure of Crimea. The eastern border waited with dread for the supposed Russian bulldozer that never came. Russian and Ukrainian troops eyed each other suspiciously around the new ‘border’, and Ukraine’s economic crisis somehow worsened. On March 27th, the referendum was performed with minimal issues, and all three motions were passed overwhelmingly. In his first Presidential Decree, Meshkov announced that since the 1954 transfer of Crimea was unconstitutional, Crimea was therefore legitimately a part of the Russian Federation. On April 1st, a fitting day in retrospect, Makashov would announce the official incorporation of Sevastopol and Crimea as two new regions of the Russian state. Russian troops spared the trial of fire they so desperately needed to expose their weaknesses before it was too late, flooded into their new conquest.
The near bloodlessness of the operation, the visceral joy of having so completely hoodwinked the world’s great powers and the return of what had long been a region important to Russian identity since Tolstoy. All these things brought great haughty joy to Russia’s population (including Kaliningrad), replacing the food in their stomach with at least the joy of somewhat restored ‘prestige’. Makashov’s approval rating reached 80%, the conflicts between the Right and Left Blocs were at a minimum, and he’d seized almost the entirety of the Black Sea Fleet while he was at it. At the same time in the West and Ukraine, whose leaders had dismissed scattered reports of a pre-emptive invasion due to how the other reports of serious shortages and economic fears spurred the hypothesis that the NSF really did want to reach Détente, the reaction was one of utter disgust. That the Russians had so straight-facedly, sociopathically been lying to their faces during the whole process burned everyone but the harshest hawks. Clinton’s approval ratings once again sank before eventual victory in Bosnia brought it back up again. That the Kaliningrad government too had been a silent supporter of this process destroyed countless bridges, and Gaidar further tightened dissent over his ‘democratic’ government to ensure.
This further cemented the NSF’s Victory Disease. But despite Makashov’s celebrations, his actions have subsequently been regarded as initiating perhaps the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century.
The seeds that Russia would later be forced to reap were first sown in Ukraine, where the reaction to Russia’s betrayal was positively explosive. The invasion had caused a political earthquake that shook the Rada to its foundation. On March 27th, concurrent to the Crimean referendum, the Rukh Party under Soviet Dissident Viacheslav Chornovil, which a Liberal-Conservative and Ukrainian nationalist party, became the largest party after polls had given the Communists the lead for months. While the Rada was a mishmash of countless independents, it was no surprise that the Pro-Russian elements were pulverized in the backlash to the invasion of Crimea. In the coming years, the Rukh Party would become the main party of the Right in Ukraine. Chornovil would forcefully denounce the Russian invasion and make a great political fortune from the tragedy. One person who did not make great fortune was President Kravchuk. While previously many in Western Ukraine had ironically looked at him as the man who would stand up to Leonid Kuchma’s more Pro-Russian administration, the tidal wave of March 21st would sweep both from the political scene. Kuchma was accused of being an NSF agent and Kravchuk was accused of being a coward who let Crimea fall. Chornovil would channel the rage of Ukraine in his maiden speech as Prime Minister, declaring Kravchuk ‘Not simply content to see Ukraine collapse into ashes, but see Moscow steal even those ashes’. The speech was so devastating in the fervor that Kravchuk announced he would no longer stand in the Presidential election in July.
The subsequent election would be between Leonid Kuchma, who needed armed guards to walk the streets of Kiev unmolested, and a fellow dissident of Chornovil and Holodomor survivor, Levko Lukianenko. Lukianenko was the author of Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence and on behalf of the Rukh Party would run for President. Previously his nationalism was unpopular in Ukraine, with many becoming nostalgic for the Soviet era due to its ‘stability’ compared to the ‘Cowboy 90s’. However, unthinkable even months before, Lukianenko would win 72% of the vote on a platform of reversing the destruction of Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal and taking it for themselves, moving closer to the West, and military reform to ensure the humiliation of simply letting Crimea fall into Makashov’s lap would not be in vain, removing Communist symbols and leading a comprehensive program of Ukrainisation throughout the country to promote Ukrainian culture and language. Indeed, his first decree was to rename ‘Kiev’ to ‘Kyiv’, the Ukrainian language version of the city’s name. Despite vehement Communist opposition, the subsequent direction of Ukrainian society would soon assign them to Reagan’s ‘Dustbin of history’, and even without his actions during the Second Russian Civil War, he is regularly considered the most popular President in Ukrainian history. His thundering pronouncement that ‘Crimea's wrists will be freed from the shackles of Moscow!” sent his inaugural crowd home cheering.
At the same time his uncouth ways were, much like Wałęsa in Poland, a source of diplomatic embarrassment to the West despite their essentially unwavering support. His comments about his ‘strange newfound respect for Jews’ in reference to Israel’s strident opposition to the National Salvation Front were bad enough. As was stating his ‘thorough support of Israel taking as many Jews from Ukraine as possible’. Perhaps the most famous (in)famous incident was a meeting with American and (visibly frustrated) Israeli officials who were briefing him on intelligence reports on Russian troop movements in Crimea, to which he replied how great it was that ‘Jews were helping to solve the problem they created in the first place’, in reference to the number of Jews in the initial Bolshevik government. At the same time, loaded with helpers to try and give him a more presentable image in the West, Ukraine was soon flooded by aid in both the military and non-military sense. In fact, some of that aid was initially earmarked for Kaliningrad, but the increasing coldness between the West and Gaidar had led to the much more significant prize of a Pro-West, Pro-NATO Ukraine. Certainly however, his Belarussian partner was more presentable.
Extract from ‘Averting Armageddon: The West in the Second Russian Civil War’ by Frank Wolfowitz
Zianon Pazniak’s political career was born in 1988. A historian, his research in the era of Glasnost led him to find something truly horrifying. In the woods just outside Minsk in Kurapaty, he discovered a mass grave. Mass graves were a sadly normal fact of history in Eastern Europe, whether it be Babi Yar or Katyn, but this grave was different. While the most infamous mass graves involved tens of thousands of bodies, this mass grave contained a quarter of a million. The lion’s share of the victims were Belarussian intelligentsia and nationalists, killed by Communist bullets during the Great Purge. The discovery led to multiple religious and political meetings at the location, giving birth to the Belarussian Popular Front, led by Pazniak. It was a Right-wing, Pro-Democracy Party that supported Belarussian nationalism and distancing Belarus from Moscow towards the West. Despite its key role in the protests that helped bring democracy to Belarus, they quickly found themselves shut out of a government dominated by former (and often current) Communists. In the 1994 Presidential election, it was widely expected that Anti-Corruption campaigner and Russophile Alexander Lukashenko would take power.
However, fate had something funny in mind for Belarus. After the seizure of Crimea, a wave of horror took hold of Belarus that the NSF would target Belarus as well and forcefully swallow them into their empire. Belarus had received Latvian refugees from the north (from occupied Latgale) and opinion had already been turning against Moscow. The seizure of Crimea likewise obliterated Pro-Moscow feelings, especially given how two-facedly Moscow had acted during the whole affair. As if the world itself had conspired to one outcome, a recording of Lukashenko in discussion with NSF representatives over the phone discussing the creation of ‘a Union State’ was the final straw. Lukashenko would get less than 10% of the vote in the eventual election, his image destroyed by his own corruption. The winner would be the only person on the ballot who had consistently opposed Moscow and supported the Belarussian nationalism that the country was now in sudden but desperate need for, Pazniak’s BPF. Less tub-thumping and of a comparatively tame nature compared to Lukianenko in Ukraine, he still set a goal that most new school children would be taught in Belarussian by 2000 and a ‘reasonable Belarussification’. His inauguration would be performed by the main Cross monument in Kurapaty under the White and Red of the Belarussian flag, a tradition that continues in Belarus to this day. He also offered transit for Latvian refugees from Latgale to escape to Latvia, though he refused to allow the New Forest Brothers to operate along the border.
Like Lukianenko, he soon found himself overwhelmed by American economic support to keep his support strong in the face of the NSF. But while Pazniak was of an altogether more timid nature than Lukianenko, saying of himself that he was ‘A scholar thrown between opposing canons’, both were consciously aware that their elections were in a part only allowed by Moscow due to their distraction in Chechnya and the disaster there. This gave both of them an unprecedented and once-in-a-lifetime chance to ensure the long-term viability of their states against an eastern assault. Much of the details would not be revealed until the other side of the millennium, but given that Russia would soon be practically no more than a memory on the geopolitical chessboard, the details have been revealed in rather astonishing detail. On August 2nd 1994, in a dingy warehouse in Budapest, representatives of the American, British and Israeli governments faced representatives of the Belarussian and Ukrainian governments sitting opposite. The two Slavic representatives explained the status of their respective nuclear arsenals in thorough detail while the Americans, British and Israelis calculated their capabilities. Eventually, an agreement (‘The Budapest Agreement’) was reached over a handshake. The agreement was simple: the three Western nations would help the two Slavic nations take over and modernise their nuclear weapons stockpile to have a genuine deterrence against Russia. Israel would come in particular help given its history of developing a secret weapons program. The British would come in help as their intelligence agencies would worm out NSF supporters within the nuclear program while an official story was broadcast that the movements were simply a plan to make a ‘country of nuclear mines’, like Lukianenko had suggested soon after his election. And the Americans would naturally be important in finding the money to pay for it all.
Later that year, with full knowledge and approval from the Americans, on the other side of the world island on September 5th, representatives of Kazakhstan met with Chinese officials in Ürümqi in Xinjiang. The Chinese made a rather simple deal with the Kazakhs, for every five unusable intercontinental missiles they handed over, the Chinese would give a short-range nuclear missile that was capable of striking European Russia. By the end of the year, the first transfers would already have been made. The ‘Xinjiang Agreement’ was of a similar nature to the Budapest Agreement though of a much more cutthroat nature. China publicly supported the NSF government in many affairs, but they were mortified by the invasion of Crimea on two counts. First, ‘territorial inviolability’ was their entire argument for Taiwan, and secondly, the fact that Russia had been so two-faced and gone as far as to invade a ‘nuclear power’ led to the Politburo to agree that an alliance with Russia was a fool’s errand. To their surprise, they found that the Clinton Administration was quite open to covert warming of relations that would drag Beijing out of the diplomatic doghouse they were in since the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Thus, a rough zone of influence map was drawn up, with Belarus and Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal being considered part of the West’s defence effort while China considered Kazakhstan’s to be part of theirs. The two had radically different ideas of where they wanted Russia to end up, but both agreed that Makashov was a loose canon that needed to be brought to heel. And for as long as Makashov or his cronies were in power, that was enough.