Now before we start let's get this straight: I'm no foreign affairs expert. I'm an interested observer with nothing more than an opinion to wield. But it seems to me that Russia has done a fantastic job of persuading us that Crimea is more of a management buy-out than a hostile takeover; which is probably one of the reasons why we're not, as we speak, at war with Russia.
Crimea has always been a bit of an anomaly. It was the Autonomous Republic of Crimea up until a few weeks ago; a part of Ukraine but with its own parliament. Sound familiar? Yes, it was a bit like Scotland but more so. The Crimea also had its own constitution and its population was 75 per cent Russian. So, at a stretch, it was a bit like...well...Gibraltar or Canada or Australia or India or any number of Commonwealth countries. And that's the problem for us in the West. The situation is a little too close for comfort. Standing directly in Crimea's shoes, there is a part of us that thinks: who can blame them for their 'conscious uncoupling' from Ukraine.
Basically, the Russians have played a PR blinder. According to them, they've democratically 'liberated' a loosely affiliated part of Ukraine full of Russians that was never keen on being part of Ukraine anyway. They've helped the population of Ukraine buy-out their own country. While everyone else was shouting at each other, Russia steamrollered the region, held a snap referendum (take heed David Cameron) and announced that the people had spoken. Meanwhile in the newly created G7-land, the best we could come up with is a raft of 'powerful sanctions' that send a 'powerful signal' - so powerful a signal absolutely nobody gives a damn, even if they've managed to spot it waving away on the horizon.
For Russia it's a complete win/win. And they've been astonishingly quick to ensure their version of events is widely received. If you go onto Wikipedia today and search for Crimea you'll find that history has already been rewritten with great vigour to this effect.
Of course all this ignores the fact that the Crimean situation is not a country MBO, it's a veiled annexation by Russia. Though the Crimea has split from Ukraine it has not bought its freedom from the historic Cold War parent company. But the way the breakup has been done leave us all with a problem. It sets a massive precedent.
Prior to the financial crash, management buy-outs (MBOs) were the absolute rage. In the early 2000s everyone was at it. There only needed to be a sniff of a boss retiring or a whiff of financial instability and whoosh: an MBO! By 2004, there were 12 MBOs per week in the UK. Many of these MBOs have become highly successful companies. There is something about taking over the company you work for - or the country you live in - that unsurprisingly gives you an added incentive to make it work.
If you run with my overview and transfer this craze for company MBOs to countries, you can see that the groundwork was done in the Arab Spring. While dissimilar in very many ways, these civil conflicts did start a global chain reaction. People spotted a weakness and an opportunity. They started to rise up and topple unpopular leaders. They started to see that it was possible to run your own country. Roll on a few years and Crimea is the inevitable upshot. A more tightly managed version of those early country MBOs.
The irony is that Russia is the home of the biggest country MBO ever. The breakup of the USSR created 15 post-soviet states or country MBOs. I've been to one of them, Tajikistan, with my client Rupert Scofield, the head of microloan company FINCA. It's an incredibly beautiful country but incredibly poor too. And that's the problem with all types of MBO: when things don't go right, when the new leadership can't make the improvements necessary for the entity to become a success you end up looking at the old parent company - or country - with rose-tinted nostalgia.
I suspect Crimea is just the start of a long series of country MBOs. Or in the case of Crimea: country takeover disguised as an MBO. It's a part of the 21st Century that we're going to have to get used to. There may not be, hopefully, quite so many outright wars in the coming decades, but what there will be is a lot of country MBOs. Especially, I suspect, on the borders of Europe and Russia.Suggest a correction