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Ukraine & Egypt: A tale of two coups

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This Ukraine is not the one the EU bargained for. The new government includes Freedom (read: neofascist) Party officials in control of the armed forces, national security, the economy, justice and education. They include the "kommandant" of the EuroMaidan movement Andriy Parubiy as the new secretary of the National Security and National Defense Committee, Oleh Makhnitsky as the new prosecutor-general of Ukraine, Serhiy Kvit as the new education minister, to name a few. This no doubt gives heart to neofascists in western Europe, who are itching to join similar governing coalitions.

It is not the Ukraine Russia bargained for either. It certainly looks like Ukraine will be pulled into the EU now, and despite support for closer relations with Russia by half the population, it will be officially firmly anti-Russian (unless it splits apart).

Russian hardball

Early fantasies by Russian liberals of joining the empire as an obedient postmodern EU member-state evaporated as the empire's plans became clear in the 1990s, and mutual EU-Russian hostility became entrenched. Russia's reassertion of control of Chechnya and refusal to abandon allies in Ossetia and Abkhazia, and its newly assertive policy in the Middle East and elsewhere are further proof that it will not join the empire as a subservient member.

On the contrary, apart from Ukraine, it faces off against the West in Syria and now in Egypt. It is reestablishing a military presence in the world distinct from the empire's, a presence which includes its traditional base in Crimea, the Syrian port at Tartus, and--the week before Ukrainian president's resignation--a $2b arms deal with Egypt's junta.

Russia's gentlemanly agreement with the previous Ukrainian government for use of Simferopol till 2042 was voided by the recent coup. Unless Russia plans to join NATO itself, the prospect of paying rent to NATO to use its own Black Sea docking facilities doesn't make much sense. Simferopol and Tartus are stepping stones to allow Russia an international naval presence, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu alluded to last week when he announced the military was engaged in talks with Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Algeria, Cyprus, the Seychelles, Vietnam and Singapore for use of naval facilities.

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It looks now as if the EU will have its cake--minus Crimea, but it is bound to be inedible. It has no money to spare for the gargantuan task of incorporating Ukraine as it did the neighborhood Latvias. Britain has already given the EU notice after the Polish invasion. There will be no stomach for tens of thousands of desperate Ukrainians selling their labor or whatever. Already the coup is unraveling, an unstable mix of neofascist xenophobes and neoliberal Europhiles. Rebel leader Aleksadndr Muzychko has threatened to assassinate the new interior minister after his pledge to investigate Muzychko for some of his recent actions. Sound like Libya?

Compare this "populist coup' with another carried out on a wave of US-cheerled anger--in Egypt last July. There, it was by the army. In Ukraine, it was by the parliament (Ukraine doesn't have much of an army). Both featured the standard occupation of the main square in the capital. However, in the Ukrainian protest center, western Ukraine's Lviv, the mayor assisted demonstrators to take control of the local police station and distribute arms to create a citizen militia to replace the police. In Egypt, in contrast, the police and army actively conspired with the demonstrators to overthrow the president, making the coup a walk-over. In both cases, the demonstrators were a coalition of liberals and right-wing nationalists.

Both coups succeeded because they were backed by the empire, but will be faced with unsolvable economic problems and a fractured, weakened state, in desperate need of handouts. The Russian response to both was neither aggression nor R2P, but rather calculated realpolitik--salvage the Crimea in Ukraine (albeit full of loyal Russians), try to wean the coup makers in Egypt from their total reliance on what is clearly a fickle US. Not a pretty picture, but there it is. Save the collapse of the EU or the empire itself, the writing is on the wall. Welcome to the world of postmodern imperialism.

A version of this appeared at PressTV

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Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games" and "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" are available at (more...)

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