Monday, 3 March 2014

Reflections on the Revolution in Ukraine

Is Ukraine a real country, even by the standards of Eastern Europe? We shall see. Nation-building is what the Ukrainian revolution is about.
Ukraine became an independent country in 1991 as a result of a deal between leading Eastern and Western Ukrainians. To be specific, between people in Western Ukraine, (which was once part of Austria and then Poland) who wanted independence and certain powerful Russian members of the nomenklatura running factories in the East, who wanted to keep control of them rather than ceding it to other Russians in Moscow. This uneasy alliance threatened to fall apart the last time Mr. Yanukovych was toppled in a revolution, ten years ago, and might do so again now.
I am told by reliable sources that the reason Viktor Yanukovych ordered the snipers to stop killing protesters on Friday is because the two richest oligarchs in Ukraine told him to do so, not because he got tired of wallowing in blood. They saw that a Yanukovych victory achieved through great bloodshed would lead Ukraine in a clear direction: Belarus. And Belarus was not a good place for their businesses.
The end of Communism was essentially a management buy-out and the new owners ultimately conduct things on business principles.
For an old cold warrior and Romanophile like me the defeat of Mr. Yanukovych is good news. He is recognizably like but much worse than the worst kind of Romanian politician. He is the Ukrainian equivalent of what Ion Iliescu would have liked to have been had Romania occupied Ukraine’s geographical and political position.
The demonstrators seem like the equivalent of the brave Golani (‘hooligans’ according to the Romanian Government) who were beaten up by the miners in University Square in the summer of 1990, revealing to the outside world that the Romanian National Salvation Front were not the good guys that the Western media had thitherto thought but the Communists.
But some points should be mentioned.
Mr. Yanukovych rigged the election that he won in 2004 but he won the 2010 election fair and square, so he was the legal and democratic president. He was dismissed on Saturday by parliament, it is true, but he was in effect overthrown by an uprising, a rebellion aided to some unknown extent by foreign powers. The EU has also been lending support to the protesters and to some extent (I have no idea what) the EU helped overthrow the government.
Mr. Yanukovych is nasty and corrupt. So are all other Ukrainian politicians who have so far held office.
In opinion polls I saw at the end of last year, he enjoyed the support of over 40 percent of the electorate. By contrast, Victor Yushchenko, who replaced Mr. Yanukovych in 2004 in the ‘Orange Revolution’, became more unpopular than any leader in any democratic country in history, since opinion polls began.
Of course Mr. Putin and Russia were interfering to impede and destroy the governments that held power between 2004 and 2010 and had many means to do so. But Putin has interfered in other countries far less than the USA and UK have done in his time. Remember Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya.
In the rebellion the lives of many protesters were lost, shot by snipers whom we can presume Yanukovych ordered to shoot on the crowd. These people were brave, heroic. But on the first day of bloodshed more police than protesters were killed. The demonstrators in University Square in Bucharest in 1990 did not attack anyone, let alone kill policemen.
When is it right to rebel against a legitimate government, however unsatisfactory? Never, according to the Orthodox Church, who nevertheless swung their support behind the protesters.
Russia has been smarting for a quarter of a century because the West took advantage of Gorbachov’s surrender at the end of the Cold War to unify Germany and later to incorporate Russia’s satellites including the Baltic States which were part of the USSR into NATO. They wanted Georgia in NATO and are now moving into Ukraine which Russians consider part of Russia. Kiev, after all, is where the Russian state originated.
Many social conservatives in Western Europe and elsewhere have decided that the EU is their enemy and Vladimir Putin their great white hope. This is partly Vladimir Putin’s strategy – gone are the days when American conservatives inveighed against ‘Godless Russia’. On the other hand, tn Kiev the Svoboda party, which the BBC calls far right, was fighting against Mr. Yanukovych.
Some say he originally helped create the party. If so it reminds me of how the National Salvation Front helped created the Romanian far right party, even financed a far right newspaper, thus making the government look moderate and statesmanlike. So Svoboda is lined up with those people – they are fewer than they were at the time of the Arab Spring, but include what is left of the the Neo-Cons (in fact Wilsonian liberals) – who think revolutions will make the world more democratic.
The BBC does not like Vladimir Putin – not so much because he is a former Communist and former KGB station chief, or alleged by Wikileaks to have salted away many billions, or even because of the brutal war he waged in Chechnya, but partly because he is alleged to have opponents murdered, partly because he gaoled Pussy Riot and to a large extent because he has made homosexual propaganda a crime. I think the BBC hates him for the reasons some right-wing foreigners like him – he looks like a sexist, racist homophobe, or in the words of Paul Gottfried, the paleo-conservative writer,
Putin gives the exhilarating impression of being a non-reconstructed, non-sensitized MAN.
But if the victors in Kiev include a party that contains anti-Semites and racists, this for some will make Putin seem the lesser of two evils.
I suspect that very few people under sixty in Ukraine are either genuine communists or genuine fascists and that most people in Ukraine are casual racists, homophobes and sexists in the way Romanians were in the late 1990s and the British were in the early 1970s. I expect that goes for people of all parties and none. I also doubt whether homophobia, sexism and racism are of pressing importance in Ukraine right now.
I hope the Ukrainians escape from a future as a satrapy of the Kremlin and become part of Europe and the European Union. This is, on the whole, the best hope for them and for us in the West.
I am sorry that this will mean they are forced to obey Brussels and the ruling human rights ideology of the West – but this is better by a long way than obeying the Kremlin and copying its affronts to human rights. Above all in a post-Communist country the EU means some check on the rule of the post-Communist ‘structure of power’. Let’s hope Ukraine can avoid having her agriculture destroyed by the EU as Romania’s has been.
The alternative is what Ukraine has had for the last twenty years. Putin has done some good things and some bad things for Russia, has above all restored her pride, but he cannot give Ukraine pride.
Ukraine, on the other hand, is just about small enough to be able to be one day absorbed by the EU. She is Western enough too, having Hapsburg Catholic and Polish traditions, as well as a Tsarist one. If Romania and Bulgaria can be part of the West, why not Ukraine?
The failure of the reformist governments between 2004 and 2010 was partly about Russian interference, partly about incompetence, partly about corruption, but partly a failure by the EU to make it clear that Ukraine’s future belonged in the Union. The deal offered to Ukraine by the EU at the end of last year did not offer Ukraine a path to EU membership but an existence outside the EU but closely connected to it. Russia sees the EU as being aggressive and not respecting the Russian sphere of influence but in fact EU has done that only too well.
There are a number of questions.
In 2004 the chanceries of Europe discussed offering Ukraine a path to EU membership and decided against it. Will they do so now?
If not, how can Turkey be considered European and Ukraine not?
What will Russia do now? So far, it is obvious that Mr Putin does not know what to do.
In 2004 Putin said a European Ukraine was good for Russia. He may well be right but he changed his mind.
Does the EU have the money to bail out Ukraine? Does it have the will?
What does this mean for Moldova’s chances of joining the EU?
Will Ukraine split in two? This question was asked in 2004 too. The authorities in Kharkov released Yulia Timoshenko from prison hospital on Saturday in obedience to Parliament, which suggested that Kharkov was not about to secede. Russia has many levers with which to influence Ukraine, without creating an enclave in the Crimea.
Will this revolution be a catalyst for a similar outbreak in Moscow? Probably not, I should say, but we shall see.
Can the next government, after fresh elections, succeed where Mrs Timoshenko’s failed and do better than Mr Yanukovych’s?
Why must Russia and the West be enemies? Russians and other Europeans want the same things: freedom, nice holidays, consumer durables, peace or whatever it is we all want.


  1. Thank you for the sensible article (in contrast to the content in much of the western media). I visited Ukraine as often as possible, from 1999 to 2008, and it is a shame their politicians have led them into this mess. I never thought blood would flow

    1. The media is very distorted but Ukrainian friends back the protesters and I do too. But the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Everything is so disgracefully simplified by journalists, who appallingly cannot foretell the future yet pretend often that they can.
      I want to visit it much more often. The most interesting places in the world are Romania and countries in this region - by which I mean from Armenia to Albania.

    2. I have similar tastes - my fascination is with the countries surrounding the Black Sea, so I adore Odessa, with its mix of Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Armenians, Poles (often all in the same family) plus some Turks, Uzbeks and so on. As for the protesters, I speak as someone whose view of Ukraine's police is coloured by having an extremely drunk one waving a pistol in my face while his colleagues tried to rob me, but this video, from back in early December, suggests some of the protestors were just as odious. Edit: I witnessed the UK riots in '81, and this looks similar, as in it seems personal, rather than political Richard de Lacy

  2. I hope i'm neither a fascist nor a racist, but since I live in Russia it is obvious I have no problem with VV Putin (I don't support his domestic politics, but that's for Russians). However, the anti-Putin stuff reminds me of Operation Yewtree, in that when really, really retarded BS accounts for well over 50% of the accusations (probably over 90% in both cases), it is reasonable to turn the spotlight onto the accusers and inquire as to how their brains became so diseased, even if one doesn't like the accused (You dislike Putin, and I couldn't stand Jimmy Savile). And with VVP's enemies (Berezovsky, Litvinenko, McCain, Obama, Hillary, Kerry, Palin, Miliband and New Labour, W Hague, Ashton and the EU, Peter bloody Tatchell, al Qaida, Yuschenko, the NY Times, the BBC, the Guardian's chief cretin Luke Harding and the murdering, tie-gobbling coward, Saakashvili) he must be doing something right.

  3. Thank you for posting the working link, and for the very thoughtful article. You should publish it in a mainstream mass media to provide some informed and common sense perspective on the very complex situation in Ukraine.

    I want to highlight something mentioned in your work:
    "But if the victors in Kiev include a party that contains anti-Semites and racists, this for some will make Putin seem the lesser of two evils."

    The party you refer to is Svoboda (meaning "Freedom"), one of the three main Ukrainian parties spearheadding the protests. I am amazed that, so far, the Western mass media utterly failed to notice the direct connection of Svoboda to the ideology of Stepan Bandera and his Nazi collaborator OUN organization. Bandera and his goons were responsible for massacres against many minorities of Galicia and were among the active perpetrators of the Holocaust. Leonid Grigorian

  4. The Ukraine and its people are, pardon my wording, completely screwed. There is nothing that the EU or the US can do. A Kosovo air war strategy won't work -- the Russians are not a Serbian nationalist militia -- and troops on the ground in a meaningful way could only be accomplished by attacking the Black Sea Fleet and attempting to land troops at the Crimea (maybe the British want to have another go at it.........rhetorical comment). This point is irrelevant anyway since nobody is going to start street-by-street fighting in Kiev with the Russian army. Back when the treaty was signed, Russia was significantly weaker both economically and milatarily and the feeling was that Russian recovery was decades away. Well, today, Putin and his allies are completely in control of Russia -- the decades have passed -- and Putin doesn't much care what the West thinks since the general perception is that Putin is playing another masterful game of realpolitik. He was probably watching repeats of "Monty Python" when Obama spoke last night.

  5. My take is simple, putin is a bored kid at the back of the class :) Livio