CIB

A Dispatch from Crimea, Part I

Date: 01/12/2022

Author: Kent Moors, Ph.D.


I am in the middle of writing future entries for the Classified Intelligence Brief  Spy Tale series on some rather painful episodes. If you remain in the business long enough, there are more than enough of these to create sleeping problems later on.

Well, legal ramifications have emerged. Some of what I intend to write may expose figures to accountability on matters that have no statute of limitations. As a result, careful writing and attendant sideboard conversations are ongoing.

So, in the interim as I figure how to approach all of this, contemporary crises oblige a return to earlier experiences. With the world awaiting the next Russian move against neighboring Ukraine and Kazakhstan, this week I have decided to address a particularly poignant installment in my wife Marina’s highly read “Moscow Diary” column from years back.

Next month marks the eighth anniversary of the Kremlin’s initial contemporary move against Ukraine. In late February of 2014 Russia began the process of annexing Crimea from Ukraine with the introduction of Russian troops. The move was highly condemned (then and now) by Kiev and all of the West, ushered in another round of sanctions against Moscow, and brought about a lingering civil war between Ukrainians and the dominant Russian ethnic population in eastern Ukraine.

By mid-March of 2014, the process was underway to incorporate Crimea as a domestic republic of Russia and Sevastopol as a federal city. There is little question that the move was supported by an overwhelming portion of the Crimean population.

It is Russian in ethnicity and had been part of Russia until Khrushchev bequeathed it to Ukraine in 1954. Then, it was simply a matter of transferring territory from the jurisdiction of one part of the Soviet Union to another. After the fall of the USSR in January of 1992, it became a thorn of contention between two sovereign independent countries. Sevastopol emerged as the uneasy port for both the Ukrainian and Russian Black Sea fleets, the continuation of tensions, and a chess game over maintaining northern Black Sea security for both countries.

As Marina’s personal journey conveyed in two of her columns (May 29 and June 12, 1994) attests, the problems had been intensifying well before the events of 2014. In the first, she exhibits her ability to act as a journalist. In the second, her well-known penchant for personalizing what is exploding about her takes over.

The first appears this week. The second comes along as the next Spy Tale installment in next Wednesday’s CIB. Once again, I have added photos and, where appropriate, bracketed editorial notes.

An intel colleague of mine would later remark that these two pieces were the most prescient on the crisis he had ever read. They also indicate that, while names of the players may change over the years, the situation has not.


Moscow Diary

Diary Entry for May 29, 1994: “Crimea is ‘Football’ in Ukrainian Crisis

As I write, it is early morning, Thursday, May 26. The day after you read this (Monday, May 30), the next stage in a developing crisis will have taken place. Moscow is particularly conscious of time these days. There is a foreboding feeling and the signs are not encouraging.

War is not an issue taken lightly in Russia, despite the rhetoric of extremist politicians. This is a country that lost (directly and indirectly) upwards to 40 million in World War II.

Russians call it The Great Patriotic War; basic survival was at stake. Every single town and village has its memorial to an entire generation lost.

[Editorial note from Kent: some, like the one below, are among the most impressive statuary in existence.]

The famous “Call of the Motherland” Memorial, Volgograd photo: Lori/Legion-Media

If there is one issue that will still galvanize opinion in this nation of disagreement, it is the defense of Russians and the integrity of a heritage. These deeply held beliefs are now focused on a rapidly collapsing situation.

At issue is the status of Crimea, the southeastern part of Ukraine and the base of the once mighty Soviet Black Sea Fleet. Russian and Ukraine have contested over the fleet’s ownership for years. But it took a recent election to bring the wider disagreement to a boiling point.

Source: bbc.com

The new Crimean president [editorial note: this is equivalent to the governor of an American state], Yuri Meshkov, is a Russian nationalist. He has not hidden his intent, one shared by a large majority of Crimeans. They want to be part of Russia and Ukraine will never allow that to happen. On the other hand, that the peninsula will remain the center of a political storm is now guaranteed.

Crimea was given to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, when movement from one Soviet republic to another made little real difference. Once Stalin had exiled the Tatars to Siberia in the 1940s, it had become overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Russians. They voted for Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union and now want independence from Ukraine.

Their government has until Monday to rescind a new constitution, which is essentially the latest call for Crimean independence. Actually, this same document had been put forward in 1992, only to be withdrawn by the Crimean legislature. They will not do so this time.

Even if the national Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev agrees to extend the deadline, it will do nothing to deaden the crisis. The present stage, once exhausted, will merely give way to the next. On each occasion, the fever pitch is rising.

Unlike Russia, which is comprised of over 80 autonomous areas each with its own constitution, Ukraine is a unitary state and recognizes no internal independent republics. The government in Kiev will not relent over this. Neither will the Crimean government in Simferopol.

What makes this controversy different from others between the two dominant post-Soviet republics is the loss of control each nation’s president has in resolving it. Nationalistic elements are severely limiting leverage, and now control public opinion in both nations.

[Editorial note: Then] Russian President Boris Yeltsin has pledged to respect national boundaries in return for [ditto: then] Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk agreeing to the nuclear arms initiative in January. Recently, however, Yeltsin has indicated concern over the “ethnic” Russians in other post-Soviet republics, including Ukraine. He is under strong pressure to defend Crimea, which Russians have always considered as their own.

Kravchuk has attacked Yeltsin’s statements as an intrusion into internal Ukrainian politics. For his part, Kravchuk is well aware that the strongly pro-Russian population of Crimea is mirrored by a similar Russian concentration in the industrialized Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. To give on one will weaken his position on the other.

The Ukrainian president is also facing severe domestic problems, owing to his quickly declining popularity and the spiraling contraction of the national economy. He has sought to delay the upcoming presidential election. The cascading Crimean crisis is a ready-made argument for that delay.

Genrikh Borovik, a well-known commentator for Russian Ostankino TV, has suggested that this was Kravchuk’s intent all along. Within 24 hours, Kravchuk responded by revoking the press credentials of all Ostankino correspondents in his country. This is Russian national television and  is seen throughout Ukraine.

Borovik’s sentiments agree with numerous press reports here in Moscow. No less than six editorials have appeared in city newspapers this week echoing similar convictions. Radio Moscow has broadcast alarmist reports of Ukrainian troop movements, and the rumors of impending military action abound.

Of greatest concern is a piece appearing May 25 in Krasnaya Zvesda (“Red Star”), the Russian army’s daily. It states that the Crimean problem is a direct result of moves by Ukrainian politicians. The piece further suggests that Russian lives in Crimea should not be held hostage to “amateur politicians in Kiev who play at being legislators.” It is a direct call for support from the Russian army, which could not have been published without the support of the Russian Defense Ministry.

Crimea has become the football in a deadly game of politics having no clear rules. Russian newspapers, politicians, and national front organizations that can agree on no other political issue are in unison on this one – if Kiev attempts to use military force against Crimea, Russians must defend Russians.

Valerii Kusnetsov, the Crimean Interior Minister, has claimed that Ukraine has moved some 3,000 “national guard” troops to positions near Crimea. Serhil Tsekov, speaker of the Crimean Parliament remains optimistic that a solution can be reached. Yet Tsekov has also declared that any Ukrainian moves against the Crimean government will be resisted.

Impartial accounts from the BBC and Reuters have confirmed that Ukrainian internal security forces have taken control of strategic buildings in Sevastopol, the base of the Black Sea Fleet, while regular army exercises have been moved up to allow greater troop strength on the Crimean border.

Portion of Sevastopol Black Sea Fleet port, ca 2004 photo: interpretormag.com

These reports from London have had wide play on Russian TV as world confirmation of a sinister threat. One Moscow newspaper editorial compared it to Soviet black berets moving on Lithuania in January 1991, while a call for volunteers to defend Crimea appeared in another. A third reports Ukrainian national front organizations are attempting to raise money abroad to fund a “Popular Army of Ukrainian Crimea.” Canada, with its large Ukrainian population [editorial note: throughout the USSR period, the Soviet embassy in Ottawa was the only to have a separate Ukrainian Affairs Office], is suggested as the primary source of money, but there is no way to confirm this.

Both houses of the Russian Parliament have condemned Kiev. The Ukrainian Parliament has returned the compliment to Moscow. Each nation is now hastily marshalling international support for its position.

The Russian Defense Ministry has expedited support for the NATO “Partners for Peace” project in hopes of receiving backing in Brussels. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has called for both the United Nations Security Council and European Security Commission sessions to counter what he clams is Russian support for domestic insurrection. The Polish and Romanian governments have declared general support for Ukraine. This far, the remainder of Eastern Europe sits and waits.

Bilateral sessions in Moscow between Russia and Ukraine on the Black Sea Fleet, as well as meetings in Simferopol between Ukraine and Crimea on the Crimean constitution, are dead in the water. Face-saving protocols are expected from each but they will have no impact on the mushrooming crisis.

Small areas have an irritating habit of producing big calamities. World War I started that way. More recently, the conflicts in Kuwait and Bosnia come to mind. Crimea is a beautiful place. So was Beirut before the tragedy in Lebanon.

When next I write, it will be from Simferopol. I am going to get some perspective, to see for myself. I hope cooler heads prevail. If not, I may end up a war correspondent.


Next time, Marina takes a dicey “road trip” in Crimea recounted in a June 12, 1994 Moscow Diary column entitled “From the Road: Crimean Crisis Takes Toll on its Citizenry, Ignites Nationalism.”

Dr. Kent Moors


This is an installment of Classified Intelligence Brief, your guide to what’s really happening behind the headlines… and how to profit from it. Dr. Kent Moors served the United States for 30 years as one of the most highly decorated intelligence operatives alive today (including THREE Presidential commendations).

After moving through the inner circles of royalty, oligarchs, billionaires, and the uber-rich, he discovered some of the most important secrets regarding finance, geo-politics, and business. As a result, he built one of the most impressive rolodexes in the world. His insights and network of contacts took him from a Vietnam veteran to becoming one of the globe’s most sought after consultants, with clients including six of the largest energy companies and the United States government.

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