The cold fact of European geo-political history distinguishing March 18, 2014, from March 17, and, for that matter, making it precariously unlike any other day since the end of World War II is this: Military aggression in Europe by a major European power has led to political annexation and territorial expansion.
On Feb. 25, Russian military forces invaded the Crimea -- Ukrainian territory -- without provocation. That's military aggression. On March 18, Russia annexed Crimea. Two days earlier, Moscow conducted a sham Crimean plebiscite to ascertain support for secession. Kremlin propagandists claimed 95 percent of the ballots ratified absorption.
The referendum, however, was a cover story concocted ex post facto. Russian rifles cast the votes that mattered. When he announced the annexation, Russian president Vladimir Putin touted Crimea's three centuries of Russian control. Whatever the cover story or sphere of influence explanation, this is territorial expansion.
The legacy of aggression, annexation and expansion by a major European power is mass slaughter across the Continent and, in the 20th century, global war.
Russia's Crimean adventurism has also created two other chilling, peace-killing facts. Cold fact No. 2: Russia violated a multi-lateral diplomatic agreement guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity. Cold fact No. 3: The violated agreement, the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, traded Ukrainian nuclear for mutual security guarantees. Bill Clinton signed it. It was part of a larger post-Cold War diplomatic framework forwarding disarmament, economic development, constructive cooperation and democratic development in former Iron Curtain countries.
Nuclear disarmament. Mutual security guarantees. Multi-lateral diplomacy. Economic development. Constructive cooperation. Among "soft power" advocates, especially that snarky lot which condemns "hard power" as a Neanderthal artifact, these phrases are a policy religion. Why, if Pentagon "hard power" troglodytes just weren't so damned belligerent, we'd all get along!
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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