In Soviet Russia: A farcical moral condemnation of Russia

Pierre Marthinus

Opinion News

Does the argument that “a choice isn’t a choice when made with a gun to your head” really stand? Unfortunately not.

The Indonesian revolutionary rallying call was “merdeka atau mati” — the equivalent of Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death”.

In the early years of the Indonesian revolution, British forces were sent in to quell the nascent Indonesian nation and ordinary Indonesians were forced to make that difficult — if not impossible — decision at gunpoint.

The national vote commenced under a heavy British military presence in Surabaya and Bandung, the voting paper was Indonesian soil, the voting ink was Indonesian blood, and the cost of registering was the lives of able-bodied men, women and children — it was Indonesia’s rendition of universal suffrage at its best.

Dutch observers, unconvinced the vote was free and fair, decided to organize their own series of “referendums” in other major Indonesian cities, resulting in a very high turnout and an astounding number of Indonesians voting for independence. Yes, such votes were choices made at gunpoint.

The foul-smelling truth is that Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea is as legitimate as Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, Australia’s intervention in East Timor in 1999, and the US intervention in Iraq in 2003.

Crimea’s referendum — held under the shadow of Russia’s military presence — is as legitimate as the 1969 Act of Free Choice in Papua held under Indonesian military presence and the Iraq elections held under a heavy US military presence. The only difference is the selection of territorial scale, legal pretexts and moral justifications for each intervention.

Undisclosed 30-year-old Australian documents are still being withheld at the moment (The Guardian Australia, Jan. 30, 2014), but their contents are already speculated upon; that Western powers, especially US and Australia, not only permitted, but were likely the main reasons behind Soeharto’s decision to invade East Timor to prevent a communist takeover of East Timor by the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) in 1975.

Australia secured a favorable maritime border with Indonesia and could sleep better at night, knowing there was no East Timorese “Cuba” north of its border.

Historically, dealing with Western powers is a lot like sharing your bathtub with a bull shark and a saltwater crocodile while trying to negotiate a recurring Faustian bargain — mostly printed in fine print — on how you can get your rubber ducky back from them.

Look no further than Australia’s Aborigines and the native Americans in the US, the first major trading partners of Western powers. Their history will reveal trade “agreements” made at gunpoint, “free and fair” referendums of white male settlers, just wars to conquer “empty and uninhabited land”, as well as “private ownership” over other human beings. Trading whole continents for reservation zones, welfare coupons and university tuition waivers is not really my idea of a “free and fair” trade.

Internationally, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) cannot declare the Crimean referendum illegal simply because their boat, carrying a number of unsolicited observers, was turned away and barred from entering Crimea by Moscow.

The point is that “the web of international agreements and institutions” that had once failed so miserably in preventing the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 will inevitably perform an encore, this time for a Crimean audience.

Interventionist Western powers, however, are far from being the political embodiment of evil. If anything, dancing in uncharted waters with such beautiful beasts is an extremely rewarding political and intellectual venture for any nation. Their long blood-tainted history inspires fear, excitement, contempt and inspiration — all at the same time.

Just like the excessive number of teeth that a bull shark or a crocodile has, the West wield weapons in excessive numbers, amassing quantities of arms that no “sane nations” should ever have, let alone use against others. Their fearsome form, preying eyes and killing instincts, designed to elegantly maim and dismember other sovereign nations, have mainly evolved from their “most basic instinct of surviving in places they shouldn’t be in”.

These awe-inspiring beasts have earned their place at the very top of the global political food chain and therefore deserve our utmost respect and admiration. A rising Indonesia hould always keep this in mind and at heart.

I am merely trying to show that historical, legal and moral condemnations are of little value and at times can be deeply flawed. My point is that diplomatic arguments should be made on the basis of Crimean and/or Ukrainian interests rather than from a Western-biased historical, legal and moral condemnation of Russia alone.

Most Western diplomatic criticism of Russia often seems like an uncreative plagiarized fill-in-the-dots template devised by an overpaid Washington-based public diplomacy firm struggling to keep its government contracts and refusing to downsize its employees.

Ironically, Moscow has been doing a relatively better job, choosing all the right diplomatic keywords, invoking the rhetoric of a “responsibility to protect” the Russian-speaking population of Crimea and the Crimean “right to self-determination”.

Recently, the US organized a discussion on the Crimean crisis in Jakarta, but decided only to invite representatives of Poland and Ukraine — the equivalent of a low blow in public diplomacy. The Russian ambassador, unfortunately, decided to crash the party “Putin-style” and conveyed his utmost displeasure at the organizers for all the participants to see.

Russia is unflinching, allowing itself to neither bleed nor show fear to the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brinkmanship was reckless enough to be taken seriously, but not so much that it would inevitably hurt Moscow’s own strategic interest.

The West’s response is now “more talk than walk” due to three main factors, namely their economic downturn, Russia’s own leverage, and the asymmetry of interests regarding Ukraine. In the current US economic downturn, any form of military conflict with Russia is unlikely since the costs of deploying troops in combat theaters increases exponentially with distance, far outweighing any perceived benefits.

The US, still paying for Afghanistan and Iraq, will most likely resort to military maneuvering and posturing to save face, but is unlikely to take any real action. Australia, the only Western power unaffected by the economic downturn, will continue to be a militarily insignificant cheerleader — instead of a quarterback — for the West.

Unfortunately, Ukraine has been taking and measuring risks like a broken calculator and splashing around wildly like a cat thrown into a bathtub — yes, the bathtub with the bull shark and the saltwater crocodile.

Kiev could not foresee Western propensity toward inaction and failed to accommodate Russia’s strategic interests, overestimated its own value to the West and underestimated Moscow’s intention to defend its strategic interests by any means necessary.

Aggressive military action against the nuclear-powered bear-riding Kalashnikov-wielding Putin is not a very enlightened argument by any standards. Moscow makes it clear that it is only playing “the game” of interventions that Western powers have so long played. Unfortunately, in Soviet Russia, the game plays the West.

Again, diplomatic arguments made on the basis of Crimean and/or Ukrainian interests are more appealing to the Indonesian public than a deeply flawed Western-biased historical, legal and moral condemnation of Russia alone.

The writer is executive director for the Marthinus Academy in Jakarta.

Source: The Jakarta Post, March 21 2014

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