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Screw Waldo, See If We Can Find Europe

the Ukraine is more dangerous and embarrassing than the media seems to care about....

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

When William Pitt said Napoleon had rolled up the map of Europe after early conquests, his eloquence was catchy, and when Hitler did much the same, variants of the phrase found their way into the newspapers. Today, as Russia is moving into the Crimea and perhaps the rest of eastern Ukraine, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russian President Putin of rewriting the map of Europe. I admire Clinton, but that's not entirely true, and at base, that's the issue.

Europe and Asia are really the same continent, but over time the fiction of a separate continent status for Europe allowed the term to convey a warmth towards what are now referenced as Western values and goals in opposition to stereotypical Asian goals. It's cultural. Asian nations had and have cultures who face east to the rising sun and are often locked in cyclical concepts of time while the west, early on, went to linear and looked longingly at the setting sun. This was part of the divisions that made the west advanced of Asia in invention and power, including military power.

Peter the Great wanted Russia to be in Europe and viewed as a western and European power. Previous to him, it was altogether too easy for the world's nations to view Russia as solely Asian, like China, and given the location of Moscow, it was an image that stayed. People notionally said Russia was in two continents which divided roughly at the Ural Mountains near central Russia. But the Urals didn't go far enough south, and so the thought was the dividing line bent west to utilize the Caucasus mountains to complete the division.

The problem was that Georgia and other entities - variously duchies, republics, or sovereign nations - weren't as concerned about which continental T shirt they wore. Then, Peter's daughter Catherine came to the throne and her lover Potemkin was sent to a newly conquered and unexplored area in the south called the Crimea, which more or less is astride the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Potemkin was brilliant and energetic and he founded the ports in the Crimea that Russia has since claimed as naval bases when the Soviet Union collapsed and - not unlike our Guantanamo - Sevastopol and these military enclaves have been Russian since the eighteenth century. The surrounding areas were settled by Russians.

The Ukraine, which is north of Crimea and has been mostly between Russia and this annoying appendix of land, has been a slaughter pen for centuries. It has about the best farmland in the world and a lot of it with lots of sun and rain and temperate climate. Because of the intersection, as in the Balkans, of Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and near everything else, and these religions appended themselves to violent groups of people through the years, the Ukraine's crops were nurtured with much blood. The borders of historic Ukraine when it was a nation at war with Poland and Russia and Turkey and everyone, varied, but mostly it didn't include the Crimea because until Potemkin not much was there and it was a strategic salient difficult to defend.

When the Soviet Union ruled and Khrushchev had just come to power, he assigned the Crimea and the land above to be run by the Ukraine in a new farm collective program. He'd lived there happily before and after the Patriotic War and the Ukrainians were well known to him. The Nazis invaded, heavy on SS involvement, and had turned Ukraine into a hell and Khrushchev enriched it.

Recently, Ukraine had a democratically elected pro-Russian President overthrown by those who favor closer ties with the west, and to be considered as part of Europe. Corporate interests in pipelines across the Ukraine make it more complicated. Elements of neo-Nazis arose, and Russians in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine looked to Russia, and there has been no resistance to Russia's moves and much celebration. Crimea just voted heavily in favor of joining Russia.

So Putin isn't rolling up the map of Europe, primarily because there is no agreement that the Crimea is part of Europe, nor the Ukraine either. It would be handy if everyone dropped the opportunity to quote leaders from past centuries - as Clinton did - and recent ones, as John McClain tried with 'we are all Ukrainians!' Sounds like a Star Trek episode.

Most Americans can neither name the continents at issue nor identify the original quotes anyway. And it all masks the fear we're risking conflict over corporate oil profit surging through Ukrainian pipelines.