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19 April 2017
Zbigniew Brzeziński’s Five Mistakes
On March 14th, Dorota Wysocka-Schnepf’s 40-minute interview with Zbigniew Brzeziński appeared on the Gazeta Wyborcza website. The bulk of the discussion was on the topic of Donald Trump’s foreign policy (China, North Korea, Russia, Brexit) as well as the turbulence in the new US presidential administration. The interview also contained references to Crimea, of which Ukraine has been robbed, and an extremely negative judgement of the current Polish government and its foreign policy supported solely by epithets.
First Mistake – Crimea
Prof. Brzeziński is not only an international relations expert – above all, he is a politician, one who is too experienced not to realize his words have more than just academic meaning. His digressions on the history of Crimea which was “gifted” by Russia to Ukraine in 1954 and had “never before belonged to Ukraine” are surprising. They lend credence to the theory that the future of the peninsula should be decided by a compromise which eliminates the option of its return to Ukraine or by simply recognizing it as a part of Russia while accounting for the needs of Russians, Ukrainians, and Tatars. Brzeziński is not a member of the US administration. He is a former adviser to President Carter – a democrat symbolizing the deepest paralysis of US international affairs after Vietnam. Fortunately, he cannot be considered even a semi-official spokesperson for the government in Washington.
The history of Crimea is – as history always is – complicated. Captured by Russia in 1783, it remained part of Russia until World War I and underwent deep Russification. Its native inhabitants – Crimean Tatars – were strong enough to proclaim the independence of the Crimean People’s Republic (CPR) on November 11th, 1917. They were forcibly put down by the Bolsheviks who were, in turn, beaten by the Ukrainians in 1918 who maintained control over the peninsula for a short time. Thus, Prof. Brzeziński is making a mistake. Crimea belonged to the Ukrainian People’s Republic until it was taken by Germany, restoring the CPR. At its head stood a Polish Tatar, General Maciej Sulejman Sulkiewicz. When Germany broke and Denikin’s “White” Russians took over, the Tatars appealed to the League of Nation to give Crimea to Poland as an LN mandate. However, the “Whites” completed their takeover of the peninsula and, in November 1920, the Bolsheviks invaded, murdering 60-70 thousand and causing approx. 170 thousand to flee. That is how Crimea became part of Soviet Russia and later the USSR. On May 18th, 1944, the Soviets carried out a genocidal deportation of Tatars into the USSR. That is how Crimea became ethnically Russian. Khrushchev giving it to Ukraine in 1954 (on the anniversary of the 1654 Pereyaslav Council which granted Ukraine, torn from Poland, to Moscow), transferring Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR, within the framework of the totalitarian USSR, was purely a propaganda exercise. What does this leave us with today? That Russia’s rights to Crimea are the same rights a thief has toward his stolen goods. In 1991, the majority of the inhabitants were in support of Ukrainian independence. Crimea (Russians in Crimea) received significant autonomy, and Tatars were able to return from exile, previously blocked by Moscow. This was a compromise violated by Russian aggression in 2014. Those are all the academic considerations. The political conclusions are harsher. Prof. Brzeziński is suggesting we reward the invader for their aggression. Playing by the Russian rule “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours – we’ll negotiate” can only lead to more invasions and annexations. It was the US which, in 1994, as part of the Budapest Memorandum, guaranteed alongside Great Britain and Russia the territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Kiev giving up its nuclear arms. Rewarding the Kremlin’s aggression with a readiness to negotiate how many of the war prizes taken by Russia can be kept is a mistake. It is – to quote Prof. Brzeziński speaking later in the interview on the topic of the Polish government “stupidity, setting oneself up for ridicule and discredit” except now the receiver of these opinions is their creator. The inviolability of borders in Europe is a fundamental Polish value. Historical rights of Russia to foreign lands are of questionable nature and the Professor’s references to them force us to remember that everyone who wants to open a historical debate on the topic of Russian borders will have to answer the question: who does Vyborg belong to? The Karelian Isthmus? Southeastern Karelia? Petsamo and the Rybachy Peninsula ripped from Finland by the USSR, Pechory and Evangorod taken from Estonia, Abrene stolen from Latvia? Who has the better rights to Kalingrad? And should Smolensk not belong to Belarus – the inheritor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania? These are dangerous digressions and on the lips of a serious analyst would be discrediting.
Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, DC