On February 28, 2014, Russian troops arrived in the dark of night, orchestrating a military invasion and occupation of the Crimean peninsula. Unidentified, uniformed Pro-Russian gunmen seized control of the main airports at Simferopol and Sevastopol, also taking over the Crimean parliament located in Simferopol. Despite Ukraine’s independence from the U.S.S.R in 1991, Russia had been maintaining its fleets at Sevastpol since that same year. Because of this, the Russian Foreign Ministry reasoned that troops were “required to protect deployment places of the Black Sea fleet in Ukraine” (MacAskill 46). However, the Ukrainian interior minister claimed that the Russian attack was a “military invasion and occupation in violation of all international treaties and norms,” which were outlined in the United Nation Charter (Article 2(4)), a document that prohibits ‘the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations” (MacAskill 21). Therefore, it was apparent that Russia’s military actions were aggressive and illegal and that they were occupying the Crimean peninsula only to increase Russia’s geopolitical power.
In Tom Toles’ political cartoon, “Naked Aggression,” (Tole cartoon) published in the Washington Post on March 4, 2014, he satirizes the military aggression and unjust actions taken by Russia in order to claim Crimea. The cartoon depicts Vladamir Putin as a villainous individual who is seen with only his red underwear on, which is humorously embellished with an array of skulls and crossbones. Additionally, Putin is illustrated without a shirt, referencing his well-known and proud penchant for being photographed bare-chested, while engaging in “macho” adventures such as hunting, boating, and spearfishing (Brown 3). Putin is characterized as aggressively advancing across the land while carrying a large Russian rifle. Particularly, he steps on the word, “Crimea,” as he marches into that territory. Two men in the background state, “Now he’s dropped his trousers too,” as they observe Putin “nakedly” marching into Crimea.
The context of this comic revolves around the climactic and geographic factors that limited pre-Soviet imperial Russia’s economy. Due to the vast amount of bitter cold regions in Russia, this limited Russia’s agricultural activity to about ten percent of the country’s land area. Of this amount of land, approximately sixty-percent of it was used for cultivating crop (“Russia- Agriculture”). During the beginning of the twentieth- century, “agriculture constituted the single largest sector of the Russian economy, producing approximately one-half of the national income” (Jackson). However, due to the lack of technological advancement, the Russian agricultural industry began to decline. Crops and livestock failed to withstand Russia’s harsh winter, ultimately leading to famines. Gradually, this led to Russia’s imperialistic nature of searching outwardly in other countries for land, resources, and even for warm water ports for year-round trading and building their navy. The agricultural difficulties that limited Russia’s economy not only influenced social reforms, but it also contributed to the rise of the Bolshevik revolution.
The Bolsheviks, headed by Vladimir Lenin, were a revolutionary party devoted to the philosophies of Karl Marx (“Bolsheviks”). They believed that the working class should liberate themselves from the economic and political bindings of the ruling classes. Since Russia was a backward agriculture country, a mass amount of peasants demanded more land, and factory workers began to protest the wretched working conditions and economic turmoil. Therefore, the Bolsheviks, became increasingly popular among the working class, eventually overthrowing the Provisional Government in 1917 (“Bolsheviks”). Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution, they changed their name to the Russian Communist Party in 1918, beginning the reign of a socialist government (“Bolsheviks”).
During the reign of the Soviet Union from 1922-1991, it consisted of fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgiziya, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan (Dewdey 8). During its existence, the total area possessed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R) constituted the world’s largest country – essentially covering one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface (Dewdey 31). Not only did the Soviet Union obtain vast areas of land during its reign, but it also possessed control over a multitude of waterways and valuable resources, thereby aggrandizing its geopolitical power.
However, by 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, rose to power the Soviet Union experienced severe stagnation both politically and economically. In order to remedy this, Gorbachev introduced the two-tiered policy: “perestroika” (“restructuring”) and “glasnost” (“openness”). The policy of perestroika was an economic reform program that would attempt to replace the centralized command economy with a progressive version of market economy, while the policy of glasnost enabled the freedom of speech among citizens (Dewdey 116). However, this change to the economy was unsuccessful, resulting in a further decline in production. Because of this economic regression, the citizens of the U.S.S.R and its republics utilized their new freedom of speech to criticize Gorbachev’s failure to improve the economy. Consequently, non-Russian areas such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania began to demand their own autonomy. With the combination of countries demanding their independence and democratic momentum within the U.S.S.R, this eventually led to the downfall and disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991(Dewdey 134).
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, only twelve republics emerged from the U.S.S.R. These remaining republics formed the Russian Federation. Boris Yeltsin became President of the Russian Republic in 1990 (“Boris Yeltsin”). He attempted to repair the country by supporting a market-oriented economy and the right of Soviet republics to greater autonomy within the Soviet Union. However, his popularity declined quickly as he failed to reform the free-market economy in order to spur economic growth. Yeltsin was eventually forced to resign in 1999, when Vladimir Putin, who was a former KGB (the primary security agency of the Soviet Union which is now known as the FSB) official, threatened to expose Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, who had been taking part in “high-level corruption and financial malfeasance” within the government (Bolhen 26).
Vladimir Putin was soon elected President in 1999 (“Vladimir Putin”). Since his election, Putin had been attempting to rebuild “Soviet Russia,” stating that the “demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” (“Putin: Soviet Collapse a ‘Genuine Tragedy’ ”). Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia continued to experience severe economic turmoil. However, in order to increase geopolitical and economic security, Vladimir Putin deployed Russian troops on an overnight mission on February 27, 2014 to seize the Supreme Council and the Crimean peninsula. The surprising and sly invasion of Crimea underscored Putin’s “flagrant violation of international law and the postwar order” land “was an aggressive move to return to a world in which Russia was still an international superpower” (Pinkham 58).
While Russia characterized the invasion as simply deploying soldiers to protect Russian fleets in Crimea, it was evident that the access to oil and gas reservoirs located in the Black Sea were the real objectives. The vast amount of valuable resources within the Black Sea not only would provide a much more stable and powerful economy, but the possession of the port would also extend Russia’s maritime boundaries (Goncharov 9). This strategic waterway served as an important naval port, increasing Russia’s geopolitical power.
These aggressive military actions mirror the hostile actions made by Japan in demanding the cessation on the boycott of Japanese goods in Shanghai during the 1930’s. In the midst of its imperial conquest, Japan invaded and conquered Manchuria through the Mukden incident that took place in 1931 (Byas 2). Manchuria was a territory rich with valuable resources that was legally governed by China. After the establishment of the pseudo-government, “Manchukuo,” in Manchuria, Japan began to use excessive military force in Shanghai to suppress Chinese boycotts of Japanese goods that arose out anti-Japanese resentment. In doing this, Japan hoped to occupy Shanghai in the process, gaining a foothold in another valuable area in order to spread its sphere of influence. Ultimately, these aggressive acts carried out by Japan not only violated its legal obligation to denunciate war, as outlined by the League of Nations, but also further heightened tensions that already existed between the two nations.
Similarly, Russia invaded Crimea, violating the United Nations charter by committing an aggressive and unjust act of imperialism. By possessing control of the Black Sea, it was evident that this was Russia’s key to geopolitical and economic stability. In Tole’s cartoon, Putin embodies a similar body language and image to the Japanese militant in John Knott’s cartoon, “Having Crushed the Chinese ‘Bandits’ ” (Knott cartoon). Putin and the Japanese soldier both possess a large military gun as they invade into a territory that is not their own. Furthermore, the bully-like characterization of the soldier compares to Putin’s “nakedness.” While the immense size and strength of the militant corresponded to Japan’s militaristic demeanor, Putin’s nearly naked state parallels to his “naked” or bold aggression that was portrayed by the Russian invasion on Crimea. Therefore, both cartoons resonate with the sheer aggression exhibited by Japan and Russia.
Due to the economic and geopolitical pressures that Japan and Russia experienced during their respective time periods, these factors pushed them to aggressively seize territories, even if it was illegal, in order to achieve economic and geopolitical stability. While the 1928 Kellogg- Briand Pact and the 2014 United Nations Charter (Article 2(4)) were both designed to urge nations to reject war, the geopolitical and economic circumstances presently occurring in the world may cause countries to act in their self interest in order to gain stability. Therefore, it is important to keep the past in mind to better evaluate the future outcomes of Russia’s war on Crimea.
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