August 23, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Tuesday call to his local counterpart Cristina Fernández de Kirchner obviously tells us far more about the nature of Argentine politics than about possible outcomes to the Crimean crisis. The sly Russian strongman was basically seeking to turn a no into a yes — in the forum of the United Nations this year’s Security Council member Argentina had quite flatly voted against Russia’s annexation of the Crimea via a self-determination referendum (and nor was this vote any accident since the plebiscite was uncomfortably parallel to the Malvinas referendum in this month last year). Yet CFK’s confusing stance (“ambiguous” would probably be the preferred adjective for a friendly opinion, “contradictory” for the hostile) lent itself readily enough to Putin’s self-serving interpretation of her views. Argentina’s UN vote speaks for itself yet CFK not only blasted British “double standards” in rejecting the Crimean referendum while upholding its Malvinas predecessor but even said in Paris last week: “The Malvinas are as Argentine as Crimea is Russian,” as if the separation of both areas were accidents of history. Yet this confuses territorial integrity while on the basis of “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” Russia’s position would seem closer to Britain’s.
Yet CFK is not alone in her confusion. And here we are not just talking about double standards (compare Washington’s position on Kosovo and the Crimea, for example — or Moscow’s, for that matter). European governments are not afflicted by CFK’s verbal ambiguity, roundly condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine, but how much is their forthright rhetoric compromised by Russia’s clout as an investor, a market and a gas supplier? No Western country has come even close to producing an adequate response. Nor is even the basic issue as simple as it seems — nothing looks more clearly aggressive than the neo-imperialism of the obsessively virile Putin and yet might not Moscow’s attitude be fundamentally defensive, reacting against Ukraine’s drift to the European Union and hence to NATO? Neither is Russian self-interest clearly served by Crimean annexation — having had Russian-leaning leaders in Kiev during 15 of the former Soviet republic’s 23 years of independence, Moscow risks sacrificing any future control of the 45 million Ukrainians in order to ensure the complete integration of the Crimea’s two million.
In a word, CFK does not seem to have much idea where she stands on the Crimea — but then neither does anybody else.