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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/19/15

Seeking the Truth about Ukraine

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He notes three distinct and irreconcilable social and political tendencies that have undermined the state-building processes in Ukraine -- the Orange, Blue and Gold. The first, which he calls Orange and "monist," is largely based in Galicia and western Ukraine. It is ultra-nationalistic and wallows in its victimization at the hands of Russians. It fosters support for nation-building by focusing its attention on an external evil that has kept Ukrainians down. Thus, it is virulently Russophobic. But, "externalization means that inadequate attention is devoted to finding negotiated domestic solutions to domestic problems" (p. 70).

The Orangists seek to create a culturally autonomous state for Ukrainians, largely by constructing myths about its history and by purging itself of the Russian language. For example, they demand that Holodomor be recognized as genocide, notwithstanding the fact that Stalin's viciously engineered famine of 1932-33 "was not restricted to Ukraine alone, with millions dying in the Kuban and the lower Volga." (p. 19) Worse, in 2010, the Orangists outraged much of the civilized world when it awarded the notorious Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera, the title of "Hero of Ukraine" (p. 19).

The Orange tendency also can be credited for ensuring that the 1996 constitution recognized Ukrainian as the sole national language and described Russian as the language of a national minority -- notwithstanding the fact that 80 of Ukraine's population uses Russian as its language of daily communication, and notwithstanding the fact that, according to 2012 data, "60 percent of newspapers, 83 percent of journals, 87 percent of books and 72 percent of television programs in Ukraine are in Russian" (p. 59) As one correspondent put it: "Is there any other country on earth where a language understood by 100% of the population is not a language of state?" (Sakwa, p. 149) Clearly, it was a move made by a people with a huge inferiority complex when it comes to Russian culture.

The Blue and "pluralist" tendency, like the Orange, has been "committed to the idea of a free and united Ukraine" (p. x). But, it "recognizes that the country's various regions have different historical and cultural experiences, and that the modern Ukrainian state needs to acknowledge this diversity in a more capacious constitutional settlement" Unlike the Orange tendency, the Blue tendency insists that "Russian is recognized as the second state language and economic, social and even security links with Russia are maintained" (p. x)

Finally, Professor Sakwa describes the Gold tendency; the tendency of powerful and corrupt oligarchs to use their dominant political and economic power to create chaos, suck the lifeblood out of its people, and make a joke of Ukrainian democracy ever since the state achieved independence. As Professor Sakwa puts it, "While the two models of Ukrainian state development, the monist and pluralist, quarreled, the bureaucratic-oligarchic-plutocracy ran off with the cream" (p.60). In reality, Ukraine has been a basket-case since its independence.

"One hundred people control some 80-85 percent of Ukraine's wealth" (p. 61). Name the oligarch. Whether it has been Kuchma, Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Akhmetov, Taruta, Firtash, Poroshenko, Kolomoisky, Yanukovych or others, the oligarchs have alternately competed or cooperated with one another, through bribes and political favors, to make Ukraine one of the most corrupt countries in the world (See: click here ).

As a consequence, Ukraine is one of two post-Soviet countries whose GDP has yet to reach its 1991 level. One person in three lives below the poverty line and, in 2014, inflation reached 20 percent. Unemployment in the first quarter of 2014 was 9.3 percent -- and that was after millions of Ukrainians had left the country to seek work on the EU and Russia (Sakwa, pp.72-73).

Professor Sakwa is correct to note that "endless oligarch war and self-enrichment of the elite" was accompanied by "declining living standards" and the "onset of 'stealth authoritarianism'" (p. 73). He also is correct when he concludes that the rule of Viktor Yanukovych was the most corrupt, self-enriching and authoritarian of all of. "Crude methods of physical coercion were applied, of the sort that Yanukovych had long practiced in Donetsk but which were new to Ukraine as a whole, and exceeded anything in Putin's Russia" (p. 74)

The fact that the EU and Russia found Yanukovych an acceptable partner with whom to do business, did not prevent "the growing gulf between an irresponsible elite and the mass of the people," which "was the crucial precipitating factor for the protest movement from November 2013. The 'European choice'" -- made by the protesters after Yanukovych backed away from signing the Association Agreement on November 21st -- "acted as the proxy for blocked domestic change" (Sakwa, p. 67).

Professor Sakwa credits neo-Nazi Right Sector (Pravy Sektor) for taking the lead in organizing the defense of Kiev's Independence Square (known as Maidan) during the protest against Yanukovych's decision to accept aid from Russia. He also credits Right Sector and neo-Nazi Svoboda for preventing the collapse of the revolt on the Maidan.

But, he blames Right Sector and Svoboda, among other protesters, for the sniper fire on February 20th that proved decisive in achieving the coup that took place two days later. He also blames the "high degree of U.S. meddling in Ukrainian affairs," and notes that Victoria Nuland's infamous "f*ck the EU" actually referred to "the hesitancy of the EU to go along with American militancy on the Ukraine crisis" (p. 87).

Professor Sakwa makes mincemeat of the claims, made by members of the coup regime and its supporters in the West, that by fleeing from Kiev, President Yanukovych had, in effect, abdicated. In fact, at least four attempts to assassinate Yanukovych occurred after his security service deserted him. (p. 89)

Finding the counter-mobilizations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine to be as justified (or unjustified) as the one that occurred in Kiev, Professor Sakwa observes: "The forcible seizure of power by radical nationalists represented a breakdown of the constitutional order in Kiev; and if the constitutional order had been repudiated in the center, then on what basis could it be defended in the regions?" (p. 109)

Professor Sakwa also believes that Putin's decision to annex Crimea was not part of a long-term plan to reconstitute the Soviet Union -- as many fools in the West believe -- but a "counter-coup" in response to the coup in Kiev. It proved to be enormously popular in Russia.

When attempting to assess what happened in eastern Ukraine, Sakwa concludes that "two elements developed in parallel: a genuine regional revolt adopting the tactics of the Maidan against the 'Ukrainizing' and anti-Russian policies pursued by the Kiev authorities; and the strategic political considerations of Moscow, which exploited the insurgency to exercise leverage against the Kiev government to achieve defined goals -- above all a degree of regional devolution, initially called federalization -- as well as to ensure that the strategic neutrality of the country was maintained" (p. 156). He adds that these goals might actually be in the best interests of Ukraine itself.

He reaches two conclusions about events in eastern Ukraine that this reviewer would dispute: (1) Russia probably supplied the SA-11 Buk missile-launcher that unintentionally shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and (2) Russia's military had little to do with the devastating defeat that separatist forces inflicted on Kiev's army at Ilovaisk. But, I'm in no better position to defend my conclusions than he.

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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