Monday 24 January 2022

Sturgeon and the EU both follow Putin's logic

If in 1979 the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had held a vote on leaving the USSR the Red Army might have moved in to stop it. There would in that case have been less protest from the rest of the world than occurred when the Red Army invaded Afghanistan. It would have been an internal matter for the Soviet Union to determine how to deal with the secessionists in Kiev. International law upholds the right of a state to maintain its territorial integrity. What has changed in the years since to make the prospect of the Red Army invading Ukraine potentially the most serious international crisis in decades? The answer is that Ukraine is now a sovereign nation state, which it was not in 1979.

Was Ukraine a country in 1979? Ukrainian nationalists, insofar as they existed back then, might have pointed to various historical periods which might have been described as constituting a separate Ukrainian state, they might have pointed to differences in language, religion and identity. But whether they thought that Ukraine was a country or a nation, did not matter, because in international law it was part of the Soviet Union.

In 1991 it would have been perfectly legal if Gorbachev had decided to hold the Soviet Union together by force. There would indeed have been minimal complaint from NATO if he had decided to hold the Warsaw Pact together by force. After all we did not go to war when the Soviet Union crushed the Prague Spring in 1968 or the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. But the Soviet Republics and the Warsaw Pact countries were allowed to depart and afterwards the situation was not the same.

Ukraine today is a sovereign nation state. It matters not one little bit if previously it was a country or considered itself to be a country prior to leaving the Soviet Union. It has the same rights as any other sovereign nation state, simply because it is one. It is for this reason that the secession of Crimea is not recognised internationally. It doesn’t matter if the majority of the citizens in Crimea consider themselves to be Russian. It doesn’t even matter if they hold a vote to secede. They are still legally part of Ukraine.

There are as I have long argued two forms of nationalism. There is the secession form of nationalism and the unification form of nationalism. Wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of your country is not nationalism, otherwise the word would apply to all countries and so become meaningless.

Sovereign nation states may protect themselves from both of these forms of nationalism. This means that Ukraine can legally prevent Crimea attempting to leave even if the overwhelming majority of Crimeans want to do so. Ukraine can also legally fight against a Russian nationalism which seeks to unite Russian speaking people on the basis that they previously were all part of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.

While it would have been legal for the Soviet Union when it was a sovereign nation state to defend its territorial integrity, it is not legal for Mr Putin to attempt to recreate either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union by force. Indeed, even if he were able to overwhelmingly win a referendum in every former member of the Soviet Union for reunification the governments of these states could refuse to allow it.

But while we accept the illegitimacy of both secession nationalism in Ukraine (re Crimea) and unification nationalism (re the Soviet Union) we don’t apply this logic closer to home.

Scottish nationalists are secession nationalists, which is no different from Crimea voting to secede from Ukraine. It doesn’t matter one little bit that Crimea had an historical existence that was different from Ukraine, or that the people living there today have a different identity and language from other Ukrainians. They are only allowed to leave Ukraine if the government of Ukraine permits it.

For this reason, Nicola Sturgeon’s latest threat for the Scottish Parliament to hold a vote on an independence referendum, is no different from if the Ukrainian SSR had held such a vote in 1979 or indeed if Crimea or the Donbass held such a vote today. To suppose that it is legitimate is to use Mr Putin’s logic.

Irish nationalism started off as secession nationalism. In this case it would have been perfectly legitimate for the United Kingdom to have held itself together with force. But having allowed Dublin to depart, the UK has no claim whatsoever on that territory. To attempt to reunite the UK by force would be no better than Mr Putin trying to reunite the Soviet Union by force.

But so too for Ireland to attempt to unite Ireland and Northern Ireland is equally a case of unification nationalism and is as illegitimate as Mr Putin trying to unite the Russian people of the former Russian Empire.

It matters not one little bit how Northern Ireland came to be. It is legally part of the United Kingdom. To seek to make that territory part of your own territory is no different from Mr Putin seeking a United Russia by grabbing Crimea.

Of course, in the case of Northern Ireland there is the Belfast Agreement. But this was the result of attempting to achieve the goal of unification nationalism by force of arms. The British Government would never have agreed unless there had been decades of bombing. But if a united Ireland can be achieved by violence why cannot a united Russia? Democracy has nothing to do with it. We have accepted that the people of Crimea cannot democratically decide to unite with Russia even if the overwhelming majority want it. They cannot because Crimea is legally part of Ukraine. Well Northern Ireland is legally part of the UK.

No wonder the EU is so confused about events on the border of Ukraine. The Germans will send no aid to Kiev and will stop the British flying weaponry through German airspace. Well German unification only happened because of force and German reunification only happened because the Russians permitted it. Combined with German guilt, the result is that the EU will do nothing.

But more importantly I think is that the EU has sympathised both with Scottish secession nationalism and Irish unification nationalism in its attempt to get revenge for Brexit, and this make the EU logically sympathetic to the Russian argument about Crimea’s secession and reunification with Russia and indeed with the moral case for the recreation of the Soviet Union. After all, if you believe that it is a moral imperative to create a United States of Europe, you are bound to regret the dissolution of the United States of Eastern Europe and Asia, otherwise known as the USSR.