My colleague at the University of Newcastle, Roger Markwick, has written a great piece in the Newcastle Herald about the situation in Ukraine. Roger is a well-respected specialist on Russian history, with a couple of books and many articles focusing on the Soviet era. The piece is entitled ‘Russia Not Responsible for Upheaval in Ukraine’, in which he writes: 

Far from Mr Putin stoking the flames of Ukrainian separatism, with the notable exception of his annexation of Crimea, he has been cautious in dealing with the West, Kiev and Russian separatism.

 

If responsibility for the upheaval lies anywhere, it is with Washington and Western Europe; particularly NATO, as it has marched eastward: nine former Warsaw Pact nations and three former Soviet republics have been incorporated into NATO. Given the catastrophic Nazi invasion of the former Soviet Union during the Second World War, it is not surprising that Moscow has viewed the prospect of Kiev falling into Europe’s and NATO’s orbit with alarm.

 

Notwithstanding his Russian patriotic rhetoric, Mr Putin’s priorities are Russian national security and stability, not the occupation or break up of Ukraine.

 

Look what happens when you stay away from the incessant news cycle for a day or two: suddenly two universes are created. In those two universes, two very different Ukraines emerge, two Vladimir Putins, although only one plane has crashed. In one universe, ‘Vladimir Putin breaks his silence on MH17 crash’ – so proclaims the liberal Sydney Morning Herald (part of the Fairfax media chain). The hard-working journalists at this paper seem to have sourced their story from Agence-France Presse, which claims to have ‘200 desks in 150 countries’. For some reason, these 200 desks have missed the fact that Putin first broke the news to Obama a few days ago, then spoke with Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime, Rutte in the Netherlands, Merkel in Germany … and then, well down the pecking order, that embarrassment of a ‘leader’, Tony Abbott, who is still huffing and puffing and trying to look important on the world stage. He may actually believe that he forced Putin to ‘break his silence’. Meanwhile, Putin has been saying for some days now that a proper and impartial international investigation should be undertaken (here and here) and that people shouldn’t rush to rash conclusions and use the crash for narrow political goals (also herehere and here – perhaps a little self-castigation on that one). Of course, no one actually believes what any politician says, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak.

If I stay away for a few more days, perhaps another universe or two will be created.

Everyone is keen to blame someone else for the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine today. But you have to ask: who in their right mind would fly over an area where anti-aircraft weapons are in daily use? Only the day before, the armed forces of the independent republics of eastern Ukraine shot down two Ukrainian air force planes, and damaged another. One of them was flying at a high altitude, trying to avoid anti-aircraft fire. (In fact, the Ukrainian armed forces are losing the battle, with quite a number of planes shot down and troops surrounded.) Both the Ukrainian army and the independents have the Buk missile systems, which can reach 24,400 metres, way above a passenger plane height limit. And what government would declare its skies safe for passenger planes, as the Kiev regime did, when all this going on? Anyway, the tragedy was probably a mistake by one side in the conflict, thinking the plane was either Ukrainian or Russian.

But the conflict does reveal that rarely if ever is there a purely ‘civil’ war. In Ukraine, NATO and US advisors, equipment and personnel have been present for months, especially the notorious mercenary outfit, Academi (Blackwater until 2009). So you can hardly blame Putin for sending personnel and equipment to aid the separatists. Any of the ‘civil’ wars in memory always seem to be microcosms of international conflicts – the Spanish Civil War and the Russian Civil War after 1917, are perhaps the two most telling examples.

What has been achieved as a result of the Maidan coup in the Ukraine?

1. Hundreds of people shot, burned and slaughtered; thousands wounded.

2. Trashing of its own cities (Kiev, Odessa, Mariupol, Slavonic)

3. Loss of Crimea through a referendum.

4. Potential loss of eastern Ukraine.

5. Visits by CIA boss Brennan and US Vice President Joe Biden at crucial turning points.

6. Oligarchs have increased their power.

7. What’s left of the economy is systematically being destroyed.

8. Hitherto unseen levels of corruption.

9. Debt has spiralled out of control.

10. Credit rating has been reduced to CCC (trash status).

11. Value of Ukrainian Hryvnia has plummeted by 50%.

12. Delays and non-payment of salaries to state and municipal enterprises.

13. Drastic reductions in pensions and social benefits.

14. Reductions in child benefits.

15. Sharp jump in inflation from 0.5% to 15%.

16. Gas prices through the roof.

17. Petrol prices have skyrocketted.

18. Taxes raised, including more than 120% on housing services.

19. Significant increases in the cost of public transport, particularly in Kiev.

20. Increases between 25% and 42.5% on alcohol and tobacco (this is really serious in the Ukraine).

21. Medicines taxed with VAT.

22. Significant increase in electricity tariffs.

23. People called on to donate  5 Hryvnia personally to the army.

24. Ukraine agrees to be dumping ground for Europe’s radioactive waste.

(ht ll)

What is it like to live in a country torn apart by civil war – at an everyday level? A few glimpses from correspondence with some friends in different parts of Ukraine:

You caught me just at the moment when I am thinking about what is happening and how to “tell” you about it, trying again and again to understand what is happening. In place of the period when people could not tear themselves away from the TV, not to “miss” the truth, we have come to the period of non-news (TV, talking to each other). Many have not slept for some time and continue to take tranquilizers. Unfortunately, intolerance increases and therefore it is dangerous to express an opinion different from the one imposed. “Searches” happen, for anyone supporting a separatist-federalist position; nationalism appears even at the household level … I never could have imagined that people could turn into animals so quickly.

Suspicion and fear are gaining momentum, manifested in everyday life. Some of it is still non-systemic and can be perceived as misunderstanding. But wiretapping of telephone conversations now happens, and among the population, even among friends, are many informants. They ask supposedly random questions: “Were you there? And you do not want to leave?” … Many are worried about their relatives who participated in the referenda in the south-east. My aunt [who lives there] said that, despite the threat to life, she had not seen so many people come out for a vote in recent years.

But who is who? Today I witnessed a scene: two young men were talking near a car with its doors and windows open. The driver of the car shouted that they were Muscovites (Russian) and do not speak the language. So one of the young men leapt upon the driver and hit him several times.

It does not surprise me what is happening. This has been “brewing” since the 1990s. Then they “crushed” Crimea and the Donbass, but the problem is by no means solved. What do we have now? Accumulation of Capital; revival of impoverishment; a nation based on Russophobia; an aggressive minority insolent through the support of its foreign backers. The blind worship of everything foreign, kowtowing to the so-called Americans and Europeans has always irritated and annoyed me. I think that this worship has a long history, going back at least to the time of Peter the Great. And so, today’s oligarchs live in Western Europe, and come here only to earn money … But what does merging with Europe mean? Perhaps all we are allowed is to “merge in ecstasy” with Euro-Atlantic values. Then arguments are irrelevant.

Two new items on the situation in Ukraine, which will have profound implications for the geopolitical situation, and not only in Europe. First, a sign that those in eastern Ukraine have little sympathy with the protesters in Kiev and western parts. This comes from a blogger’s report on an attempt by a right-wing group of 200-300 to seize government buildings in Odessa, on the Black Sea. Answering a call to ‘stop the Nazis’, thousands of citizens of Odessa turfed them out, aided by the police. After an hour’s standoff, the group dispersed with their tails between their legs. The governor of the Odessa region has called on people to offer a citizen’s guard of the local administration buildings, which they seem to be doing.

Second, a debate between Stephen Cohen and Anton Shekhovtsov, the former a specialist in Russian studies and politics, and the latter a researcher at the University College London. Unexpectedly, Shekhovtsov takes the ‘democracy’ line, arguing that the protesters seriously want to link up with Western Europe in the name of ‘freedom’ and so forth. Cohen, by contrast, calls this half-truth an ‘untruth’. He blames the EU for precipitating the crisis, for the EU insisted that there could be no three-way deal, between Ukraine, the EU and Russia (as Putin suggested). Instead, it was to be EU or nothing, with NATO military lines. Not only would it destroy any form of liberal democracy in Ukraine, with the EU supporting the overthrow of an elected government, but it would have been an economic disaster for Ukraine, since the EU was offering an austerity package. Not hard to see why it was rejected.

More importantly, who runs the show? For  Shekhovtsov, it’s the moderates of the Euromaidan, with a few marginal right-wing elements who are quite limp. For Cohen, on the other hand, the evidence points tellingly to the far right. Their position:

They hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine.

The debate gets quite heated towards the end, but what interests me the most is Cohen’s point that there really is a civil war under way in Ukraine already. The moderate leaders (Vitali Klitschko and others) have lost control of the streets. They have told the rioters to stop attacking police with Molotov cocktails (filled with napalm) and to vacate the occupied buildings. But the rioters have refused, as they have refused any possible deal. ‘And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway’.

Cohen points out what I have mentioned earlier: that there are really two Ukraines already. ‘One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. … This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure’.

(ht cp and ll)

More material from the Ukraine. First, from the earliest days these lovely lads have been doing security work for the protesters in the central square in Kiev:

Ukr 01

Armbands with Ukrainian swastikas, I believe. A necessary item of the ‘security guard’ wardrobe. And to spread the word of a white, Christian Ukraine, they read from and have read to them the xenophobic ‘Voice of Blood’. More here. The combination of a tanking economy, high youth unemployment and active far right groups – working hard for quite some time – seems to have provided the basis for what is happening now.

Ukr 03

Second, some western and a couple of central regions have declared independence. Or rather, a number of ‘people’s councils’ have done so. Further, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv have banned the communist party. Meanwhile, those of the Donbass and other regions in the south-east have the resources and are quite ready to use them to defend their own interests. The breakup of Ukraine seems to be on its way, unless someone acts quickly.