This is reposted from here: http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/paul-murray/54826/on-the-current-kerfuffle-in-the-crimea . Smirkingchimp is always threatening to run out of money, so in case it goes dark here is this piece on my blog. It’s not currently in the news, but the topic is perennial.
I think I might weigh in on the topic of the recent kerfuffle in the Crimean peninsula.
But before I do, I am going to talk about Panama.
CAVEAT: I am not a defence person, I know nothing about these topics other than general knowledge and access to Google maps.
The USA is and always has been a naval power. It’s simple. To the west, over the Pacific Ocean, is Asia and civilisation. To the east, over the Atlantic Ocean, is Europe and civilisation. While europeans can fight with each other using land armies, the only way the USA can make war is over the ocean. The USA, in fact, has an entire corps of armed servicemen alongside the navy, army, and air force whose entire reason for being is “soldiers who go to places on ships”.
The USA has two coastal frontages – east and west. There are four ways to get a navy from one side of the USA to the other.
First, put the ships on rollers and haul them down the interstate. Good luck with that.
Second, and just as impractical, sail them through north around Canada through the arctic sea, which only recently has not been icebound in summer.
Third, sail them around the tip of south america – a quarter of the circumference of the world away – and through the Southern Ocean.
Fourthly, the ditch. The Panama Canal.
The military importance of the ditch to the USA cannot be overstated. I mean literally – try overstating it, try coming up with a form of words that is maybe a bit much. Can’t do it, right? The permits the USA to threaten both China and also Europe/Africa/The middle east with the full force of its naval power. The USA can field all of its carriers, all of its subs, all of its marines against the enemy du jour in either hemisphere in a matter of days. Without the ditch, the USA would have to run two navies, or only be able to field half a navy to each.
The USA will never, never, never cede control over the ditch to anyone. Ever. Oh, it may be technically in the hands of a foreign power, Panama may be a whole ‘nother country to the USA, but you know and I know and everyone in the world knows that that’s bullshit. It’s a US asset. And the USA would, if it had to, fight WWIII over it.
I am not exaggerating.
What do you think the Cuban Missile Crisis was really about? Nukes striking the American mainland? Pfft. A nuke will take out several square miles of a city – but there’s plenty of those. It will kill a bunch of people – there’s millions more. It will destroy an ammo dump (Dr Strangelove reference there) or a military base. So what? Miami is simply not a military target. Military targets (missile silos, airfields, command centers) are dispersed all over the US exactly in order to make the US military capability more nuke-proof.
But nuking the ditch would be a serious and unacceptable game-changer. It would not only maim the Navy, it would throw the armed forces into chaos for days. No freaking way will the USA permit it, or even the possibility that it might be done. Kennedy would have pressed the button over it.
At this point, dial up google maps, zoom out, and have a look at Russia.
Actually – this is really the main point that this post is trying to make. None of this makes sense unless you look at a freaking map and get an idea of where everything is. It’s all about geography. Look at a goddamn map – not opinion pieces about gay rights, not comparisons of Putin to Hitler, not blatherings about ethnic russians – you need to look at the damn map. That’s what it’s all about. People are talking about the Crimean business like it’s a battle of words and ideas, probably because that’s what they mainly know about. The Crimean Kerfuffle is not about words and ideas. It’s about ships and troops.
Russia has three naval frontages. In the east, access to the Pacific. In the north and west, access to the Arctic Ocean. Good luck sailing out of that in winter – although I suppose its ok for submarines (and this is why subs are important to Russia).
The third naval frontage is access to the Black Sea. The Black Sea is connected to the Agean Sea and the Mediterranean via the Bosphorus, and from there to the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Suez canal to the south east.
As you can see because you are looking at the map, Russia has a fair bit of the coast of the Black Sea on the east. But you can see that it’s all mountains – the Caucasus I think. Useless. The land is inhabited by wild, hairy tribes of barbarous inbred wogs, many of whom don’t much like Russians (with, admittedly, excellent reason). You can’t build a road there, and if you could you couldn’t march troops down it to the transports.
At the north of the Black Sea is a booger of land about a hundred miles across. This is the Crimean Peninsula. And at the southern tip of it, on the west coast, a little place called Seavastopol. This place was put there by the Tsars to serve as Russia’s port and access to the Mediterranean. The Crimean Peninsula is Russia’s Panama, and that port is Russia’s panama canal. Thanks to some stuff that went down late last century, that booger of land is technically part of a whole ‘nother country called “The Ukraine”. But you know and I know and everyone in the world who pays attention knows that that’s bullshit. It is a Russian asset.
The kerfuffle in the Crimea has go nothing to do with gays, or ethnic russians (although obviously the Crimea is as full of them as Panama is full of americans), or even Putin. It is 100% about The Great Game. There is no way in hell that Russia will lose control of that port. No freaking way. They will fight WWIII over it, if they have to. They would rather not, but like Kennedy and Panama, Putin will press the button rather than lose that asset.
And that’s what this is about.
Perhaps the main question remaining is: why is this blowing up now? That is a whole new topic, and the answer is probably (as in: you know and I know and everybody else in the world knows) that the Pentagon and the security state of the USA are fomenting trouble there in response to the budget squeeze at home. It’s a fund-raiser.
And a lunatic dangerous one. Russia will not, will not, will not lose control of Svestapol without a fight, and they will escalate as far as it takes, whatever it takes. They are not bluffing. They still have nukes. If they have to, they will march the Red Army south right through the middle of the Ukraine, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way. If Kiev doesn’t like it, fuck them. If anyone wants to help out Kiev, fuck them too.
And it’s all down to the pentagon having a hissy-fit over their trillion-dollar budget taking a haircut, the military establishment wanting to remind the world that warmaking is still relevant.