Reports are coming through of an incident in the sea off the coast of Crimea involving a British warship and fighter jets of the Russian Air Force. The British denied that they were doing anything wrong, and similarly denied that the ship had been fired upon by the Russians. To counter that latter argument the Russians have released video footage that clearly shows warning shots being fired upon the British ship. A BBC reporter happened to be on board the warship and he has also issued a report that contradicts the official British version.
The problem arose because the British warship travelled within the 12 mile zone that flanks the Crimean coastline. Law of the sea permits the travel of warships within the coastal waters of another nation, provided it is for friendly purposes, i.e. in transit only. That immediately raises the question of why the British ship was transiting these particular waters when the route they were taking was not required for them to travel the intended journey.
The answer to that question lies in the British attitude to the status of Crimea. They never accepted the return of Crimea to Russian rule, insisting that, to this day, it remained part of Ukraine. From their point of view, the ship’s transit was in Ukrainian waters. Here, a little history is of use. The British, in common with many western nations, appear to have forgotten that they, along with their Australian allies, actually fought a war in Crimea in the 1850s. Who was the enemy du jour? None other than the Russian Imperial forces, defending part of their territory.
Crimea was at that time part of the Russian Empire. In 1954 the then Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine. The transfer was done without consulting, much less obtaining, the agreement of the Crimean people. Khrushchev was himself Ukrainian and probably thought that as they were all part of the Soviet Union it did not matter who was the nominal ruler.
The break-up of the Soviet Union changed all that. Crimea remained a part of Ukraine until the American inspired coup in 2014 that brought to power a frankly fascist regime in Ukraine. The Crimeans decided they no longer wished to be part of that arrangement. They held a vote which resulted in the overwhelming majority of people voting to leave their increasingly uncomfortable relationship with Ukraine and to request re-joining the Russian federation. It is this sequence of events that is commonly ignored by all western commentators who persist in using phrases such as “Russian annexation of Crimea”, totally ignoring the relevant history.
The western attitude also conveniently overlooks some relevant points of international law. A region is free to choose to dissociate itself from its governing body. The West conveniently overlooks the relatively recent example of Kosovo’s separation from Serbia in February 2008 which was supported by the West. That separation was supported in particular by the United States which promptly established its largest European base in the country. It is not unrelated that Kosovo is today a major European Centre for the distribution of Afghanistan heroin, again thanks to the Americans who largely control the export of Afghanistan heroin.
The West is remarkably silent in discussions of what happened in Kosovo when the question of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine is put into the verbal equation. The Crimeans at least had a democratic vote, which was essentially to return to the earlier status quo of being part of Russia.
For these various reasons, the British claim that their ship was peacefully transiting Ukrainian waters is a complete fiction. A perhaps more important question is to ask why? The British have a particularly bad relationship with Russia at the moment, largely based on wholly false allegations of Russia’s alleged attempted poisoning of the Skripal father and daughter. The daughter in particular has been forcibly detained in the United Kingdom and unable to return to her homeland, despite her clear wish to do so. The forcible detention by the British of these two individuals has virtually disappeared from the western media landscape, but it is an important reminder that the British are world class hypocrites when purporting to lecture others on the alleged sanctity of British law.
The continued detention of Australian citizen Julian Assange in a maximum-security prison pending the leisurely pursuit of the American appeal against a judge’s refusal to extradite him to the untender mercies of the American “justice” system is another example.
Given the record of hostility between the two countries, the British attempt to create an international incident by their blatantly provocative behaviour in the waters off Crimea hardly comes as a surprise. The British provocation was also probably intended to try and disrupt the steadily growing relationship between Russia and some members of the European Union, in particular Germany, with whom it is on the verge of completing a major energy pipeline.
Even the Americans for long bitter opponents of the Russia-Germany pipeline recently admitted defeat and withdrew their opposition to the project. That was an example of real politic, with the Americans recognising that retaining German goodwill was more important than retaining their self-interested opposition to the pipeline.
Whether the American change of mind will be sufficient to prevent Germany’s ever-growing relationship with both Russia and China is a moot point. The election of a new German Chancellor in September, most likely to be the Christian Democrat Armin Laschet, will probably see an acceleration of Germanies trade ties with both Russia and China.
That will not please the Americans, but it is indicative of major geopolitical changes that are looming. In this context the British are becoming increasingly isolated. It is significant that their latest clash with Russia was notably lacking in support from the major European powers. They quite properly viewed it is a clumsy British attempt to foster difficulties between Russia and the European powers.
The sending of an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea is similarly seen as disruptive in its intentions. It is likely that Australia will be among the very few nations who welcome the manifestly clumsy attempt to stir up trouble in the region.
The days when Britain “ruled the waves” are a distant memory. The sooner the British recognise that reality the safer the world will be.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.