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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/7/14

Who Is Provoking the Unrest in Ukraine? A Debate on Role of Russia, United States in Regional Crisis

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Russia is vowing to keep its troops in the Ukrainian region of Crimea in what has become Moscow's biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War. Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had effectively declared war on his country. Concern is growing that more of eastern Ukraine could soon fall to the Russians. Earlier today, Russian troops seized a Ukraine coast guard base in the Crimean city of Balaklava. On Sunday, the new head of Ukraine's navy defected to Russia. To talk more about the crisis in Ukraine, we speak to Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder. His latest article for The New York Review of Books is "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." We also speak to retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern. He focused on Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the agency. He recently wrote an article titled "Ukraine: One 'Regime Change' Too Many?"


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Russia is vowing to keep its troops in the Ukrainian region of Crimea in what has become Moscow's biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War. Russian troops seized part of the Crimea Peninsula without firing a shot as the Parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to proceed to protect Russian interests following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Crimea houses a major Russian naval base and is the only Ukrainian region that has an ethnic Russian majority. It was a Russian territory until it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954, during the Soviet era. Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Putin had effectively declared war on his country.

PRIME MINISTER ARSENIY YATSENYUK: This is the red alert. This is not the threat. This is actually the declaration of war to my country. And we urge President Putin to pull back his military and to stick to the international obligations and bilateral and multilateral agreements that were signed between Ukraine and Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, Russian troops seized a Ukraine coast guard base in the Crimean city of Balaklava. On Sunday, the new head of Ukraine's navy defected to Russia. Concern is growing that more of eastern Ukraine could soon fall to the Russians. Putin sent troops into Crimea in defiance of President Obama, who addressed the crisis Friday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea. But any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia or Europe. It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of Russia's commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration is still debating how to respond to the Russian troop movement. In an initial step, the United States and other G7 nations said they are suspending preparations for this year's G8 summit in Russia, due to take place in Sochi in June. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is considering placing sanctions on Russia and kicking Russia out of the G8. Ukraine's envoy to the United Nations said Kiev may ask for international military support if Russia's military action expands.

To talk more about the crisis in Ukraine, we're joined by two guests. Timothy Snyder is back with us, professor of history at Yale University, author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. His latest piece for The New York Review of Books is titled "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." He's joining us from Vienna, Austria.

Joining us from Washington, D.C., is Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst. He was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the agency. His later duties included preparing the President's Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates. McGovern is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He recently wrote an article for Consortium News called "Ukraine: One 'Regime Change' Too Many?"

Let's start with Professor Snyder. Can you explain what's happened until this point?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, revolution and then counter-revolution. Ukraine was governed by probably the most financially corrupt regime in the history of the world, which by the end of its rule was not only physically oppressing, but finally killing its citizens as they attempted to exert pressure by way of exercising their rights to speech and assembly. This president left after an agreement, according to which presidential elections were going to be called, leading to a change of power where power shifted in Ukraine from the streets to the Parliament, where it resides now. The constitution in Ukraine has been changed such that Ukraine has now become, instead of a super-presidential authoritarian regime, a parliamentary democracy, and elections have been called for this coming May.

What happened immediately after that was an entirely unprovoked Russian military intervention on part of Ukrainian territory. The goal of this seems to be twofold -- first of all, defensive, from Putin's point of view, to prevent this sort of thing from happening again in Russia. If you can create the image of chaos in Ukraine -- and, of course, invasions have a way of creating such images -- then you can make Russians believe that what's happened in Ukraine is entirely unattractive. 

The second goal, the long-term goal and the more offensive goal, is to propound an alternative idea of what European civilization means. Putin and his advisers and the Russian press have made very clear that they understand Ukrainian events not just as an expression of Ukrainian interests or ideas or aspirations, but as part of a decadent European civilization. And by decadence, they mean rejection of Christianity, advocacy of the rights of ethnic and sexual minorities. They're making it very clear that this is what they oppose, and they seem to be trying to draw a line in Ukraine. Of course, these issues are not central to Ukrainians themselves. What Ukrainians were campaigning for was something like the rule of law. And what they're concerned about now is also very simple: namely, the territorial integrity of their own state as it's being invaded by an outside force.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about moving forces into Crimea? How significant is this, Professor Snyder?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, it's probably the worst thing that has happened in Europe since the Yugoslav wars. It's a desperately dangerous thing to do. For one thing, it's a violation of all conceivable international law and standards. It's a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. It's a violation of the Helsinki Final Act. It's a violation of multiple treaties between Ukraine and Russia, including the one by which Russia has basing rights in Ukraine. It's a violation of the 1994 agreement between Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, according to which Ukraine, which was then the third-largest nuclear power in the world, gave up all of its nuclear weapons, filled up its silos and planted daisies on the top of them. So, what this precedent shows, among other things, is if you give up your nuclear weapons, you're inviting invasion from neighboring powers. That's a horrible lesson, apart from anything else.

But what this is is an entirely unprovoked act of military aggression in the middle of Europe between -- where one very large military power is engaging or provoking another very large state. What has already happened is quite bad. For no reason whatsoever, one state is being asked to concede part of its territory. But Russia, the aggressor, is asserting for itself the right to continue to invade the country to protect the ill-defined rights of very flexibly defined people, who, by the way, are not asking for any intervention. On the contrary, there's a very long petition by Russian-speaking Ukrainians going on now in which they explain that they do not need any external interference, especially armed interference, to protect their rights. The governors of Ukraine's eastern provinces, who are themselves Russian speakers, are also making this point very clearly. So, what we have now is one of the worst things that's happened, and it threatens to get very, very, very much worse.

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