Ukraine Unrest

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by Scepticalscribe, Feb 19, 2014.

  1. Scepticalscribe, Feb 19, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2014

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #1

    Perusing the PRSI section, I am a little surprised that nobody has posted anything about what is currently happening in Ukraine.

    For what it is worth, I paid a brief visit to Ukraine last February (2013), almost exactly a year ago. During that short trip, I visited the former missile base in Pervomaiskye, Chernobyl, and spent several days in Kiev, visiting museums and just strolling around the place, drinking coffee, having a beer, and getting a sense of the city.

    My strong sense was of a country, and a city, on a knife edge, rigid with tension, and not too far off exploding; but not then, or in the immediate future.

    I used to teach the history and politics of the old Soviet Union, and of the Warsaw Pact countries (the former central & eastern Europe), and one way or another, have worked in, and visited, many of the countries in the wider region over the past two and a half decades.

    For a variety of reasons, Ukraine is by far the most important country (apart from Russia itself, of course) in the post Soviet space, and it is the one country in the whole post Soviet space that - in my opinion - Russia will go to the wire over.

    A quick gallop through recent Ukrainian politics & history shows a series of somewhat shaky - but peaceful transitions, which the events of the past few weeks have dramatically altered.

    The country managed a peaceful exit from the wreck of the Soviet Union in 1991, and didn't implode into civil war, unlike many of its neighbours, although corruption was (and is) something of a problem.

    The first post independence leader, Mr Kravchuk, - who steered the country out of the collapse of the Soviet Union, - was defeated by Mr Kuchma in 1994, who served as President until 2004. Mr Kuchma's (who was viewed as quite corrupt) last Prime Minister was Mr Viktor Yanukovich, who had earlier served as Governor in his eastern power base of Donetsk.

    Mr Yanukovich ran for President in 2004, and following vast protests after what were seen as deeply flawed and bitterly contested elections eventually resigned; these protests led to the 'Orange Revolution' and a number of 'western' leaning politicians, such as Mr Viktor Yushchenko (the handsome individual with the ruined face following an attempted assassination using dioxin), and Yulia Tymoshenko took office.

    Unfortunately, the outcome was not 'they all lived happy ever after' and internal problems between Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko paralysed the Government, allowing for the eventual political return of Mr Yanukovich, firstly, as Prime Minister, and latterly (in relatively free and fair elections) as President in 2010. Since then, the imprisonment of the main opposition leader Ms Tymoshenko (on very dubious charges), and drastic changes to the constitution and legal code have transformed the governance of Ukraine into something a lot less open.

    Of course, the country - as it currently exists - is constructed on an extraordinarily deep political fault line. Borders (and lines on maps) change all the time; sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.

    In 1945, Stalin pushed the borders of what was then Soviet Russia several hundreds of miles/kilometres further west, taking chunks out of countries that weren't a part of Russia. In turn, Poland changed shape, (compare what maps called Poland before September 1939, with the cynical and amoral changes imposed after September 1939, and indeed, contrast that with what it looks like after 1945), as did Belarus and Ukraine, as both were pushed several hundred miles further west in compensation. That had an impact on what is now Germany; the old 'east Prussia' is now western Poland. This didn't matter very much when Soviet Russia ruled the lot, but it matters a lot more now.

    The point of all this is that what is now a large part of western Ukraine used to be a part of Poland (and further back some of it was even a part of the old Habsburg Empire) and sees itself as culturally, historically, linguistically, religiously, socially and of course, politically, very different from cultural and political identities in the eastern half of the country, where religious, social, linguistic, ties with Russia are far stronger, and where language, interpretations of history, religious identity, cultural identity and preferences, differ drastically.

    This is the main fault line in the country, and is replicated politically. Unless the country can accommodate - and somehow integrate - both identities, rather than their tradition of zero sum politics (I win, which means you lose) the country will fracture, and it will be messy.

    Quite apart from the ongoing imprisonment of Ms Tymoshenko (who was certainly no saint in a country where saints are rather thin on the ground, but who was most certainly imprisoned on trumped up charges), the recent events were sparked by Mr Yanukovich eschewing an agreement with the EU and accepting a loan from Russia late last autumn.

    For a period of a number of years in both Ukraine and Georgia (both of whom had western leaning Governments following peaceful 'revolutions' which came about after huge protests had disputed the outcomes of fraudulent elections in 2003 in Georgia and 2004 in Ukraine), a stated ambition had been to join NATO and - eventually - the EU.

    The high water mark was in April 2008, when NATO actually discussed awarding both countries a MAP (roadmap towards possible membership) but deferred taking a decision. The western economic collapse later that year, along with the August 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia meant that this discussion was deferred indefinitely.

    Mr Yanukovich had sought to give the impression that he wished to keep lines of communication (and the possibility of agreement) open between both the EU and Russia; Ukraine, of course, was (and is) in dire economic straits, hence a loan from Russia (inevitably with strings attached) was deemed a greater priority than a trade agreement with the EU (which may have served as a prelude to further talks about possibilities in the future).

    However, with a quiescent parliament where debates on such matters had become impossible, protests at the Government's actions took a more public, and initially, peaceful form when the streets and squares of the capital were occupied.

    The Government sees this as a challenge to their authority which they cannot ignore; the protestors argue that the Government does not have the support of what is - in essence - the western half of the country, and runs the risk of stumbling back into becoming a satellite in an orbit it escaped from over two decades ago.

    This is going to get very, very ugly, and is extraordinarily dangerous. Indeed, the very state itself may fracture over this particular fault line, and two versions of Ukraine may emerge from the wreckage, both much weakened.



     
  2. Peterkro macrumors 68020

    Peterkro

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    #2
    Yes it's potentially a very grave problem.The way the western media are presenting it is not helping at all.The government are authoritarian gits, unfortunately a large number of protesters (going under the label of "nationalists") are out and out fascists.I don't see any easy outcome,the EU with Obamas prompting started this and have ignored Putin's offer of a tripartite solution (it's not even been reported in western media).I can see Russia going in with tanks if the situation worsens.It's very sad that a situation has arisen where neither side has any chance of sympathy from those wishing for freedom and self determination for the Ukrainian people.
     
  3. Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #3
    Yes, the Government are profoundly authoritarian, and deeply undemocratic in the manner in which they have conducted themselves over the past three years; unfortunately, given the constitutional changes forced through by Mr Yanukovich, there is no legal way of holding the Government to account, and the democratic leader of the opposition (Ms Tymoshenko) has been imprisoned on dubious charges for three years.

    Those protesting cover a wide umbrella of political interests; there are the genuine democrats, as well as those who would prefer the country to have a more 'western' orientation, western 'liberals', Catholic conservatives, and, yes, of course, hardcore 'Ukrainian nationalism', the very ugly face of suppressed fascism, where out and out anti-Semites (the different historical perspectives on the role of Stepan Bandera as viewed in east and west Ukraine are most instructive) were viewed as freedom fighters (fighting for Ukrainian national independence against the evil Soviets) when they welcomed invading German troops in 1941 in the west of the country, and as vicious and enthusiastic anti-Semites who committed some of the foulest crimes of the war in the east, where they are viewed as sadistic war criminals.

    However, Mr Putin does not come to this with clean hands either, and he has played the 'gas card' less than honourably, using it as a political tool (especially against the Government led by Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009) to gain political leverage rather than an economic transaction governed by the 'rules of the market' and law based contracts; his interest is to retain a degree, or sphere - of 'influence' in - if not all of the country - then, at least some of it, and not all of his interventions have been benign.

    Nevertheless, those in the west who think that Russia merely wants to recover the old Soviet Empire are mistaken. Even if this is what they wanted, this is not going to happen.

    Moreover, from the Russian perspective, the EU now includes not only what used to be the Warsaw Pact countries (the old 'central & eastern' Europe), but also three of the states that used to be a (reluctant) part of the old Soviet Union, namely Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Where once the west ended at the Elbe, now it is lapping right up against the old Soviet Imperium. Naturally, there is a degree of unease in Moscow.

    However, what is happening is that Russia has reclaimed a degree of influence and leverage in parts of the post Soviet space, and has succeeded in disabling or limiting the political autonomy of a number of these states, by reclaiming influence (often welcomed) in some of the chunks, or regions, within them which contain minorities with a different set of preferences, loyalties and identities to the dominant national narrative of the post Soviet states. Thus, Moldova has lost Transdniestr to all intents and purposes; Georgia will not recover either Abkhazia or South Ossetia. And, as it happens, I think that Ukraine is dangerously unstable just now, and has been for some years.

    Notwithstanding that, I do not envisage a situation where Russian tanks would be welcomed, even in eastern Ukraine. While in the east, they are sympathetic to Russia's perspective, and recognise the need to acknowledge Russia's interests, see themselves as fellow-Slavs with linguistic, theological, and cultural ties to Russia, there is no appetite anywhere in Ukraine for a physical intervention by Russia which would take the form of tanks.

     
  4. rhett7660 macrumors G4

    rhett7660

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    #4
    Some of the pictures that are coming out of the cities. Just wow. The one with the police departments building going up in smoke and the one over looking the city. Just wow.

    Sorry don't have links right now...
     
  5. Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #5
    The European Football Championships of 2012 were hosted jointly between Poland and Ukraine, which meant that any part of Ukraine which hosted football matches (above all the capital, Kiev) were refurbished generously.

    Thus, last year, when visiting the country, I stayed in the old Intourist hotel, which had been completely renovated for the European Football Championships, and was now most comfortable, although, from the outside, the exterior still resembled a structure constructed in Soviet times.

    However, for location, it couldn't be beaten, with a superb setting right in the city centre, overlooking the main square. My bedroom overlooked the main square of the city, as did the main restaurant in the hotel. This, of course, is where the demonstrations, occupations, - and most of the killings and violence - have taken place over the past few months and are taking place now.
     
  6. Wild-Bill macrumors 68030

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    #6
    Glad I just came across this thread. I'm watching RT news right now (streaming via AirPlay b/c Comca$t is blocking RT) and they are covering the situation in Ukraine.

    They showed an armored car showing up to pick up several duffel bags from an inbound flight. The duffel bags are filled with cash, and there are other diplomatic papers that went into the US Embassy car.

    So our government is dumping money to influence the outcome in Ukraine. Won't find that covered on mainstream media. It's time to tell these a hole politicians to STOP meddling in other countries' affairs!!!
     
  7. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #7
    Some of the people they are supporting are deeply unsavoury, needless to say.
     
  8. Peterkro macrumors 68020

    Peterkro

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    #8
    Scepticalscribe:
    Don't think anything I've said means I support Putin,far from it.What I am saying is this is a very dangerous resurgence of the far right and it's being encouraged by the west.I have some connections with Anarchists in the Ukraine and they are being battered,not only are they trying to resist the fascists but they are also being attacked by government forces it is as I said a very grim situation.
     
  9. Wild-Bill macrumors 68030

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    #9
    Deeply unsavory indeed. The program highlighted the military-style uniforms, clubs, and riot helmets and gear that some of the opposition have. Wonder who paid for that?

    Better to dump billions of dollars into another country's unrest than use that money to fix the crumbling, Eisenhower-era road and bridge systems and other infrastructure problems..
     
  10. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #10
    Glad to see you're still around, PK. :)

    Victoria "**** the EU" Nuland has stated that “Since the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1991, the United States supported the Ukrainians in the development of democratic institutions and skills in promoting civil society and a good form of government…We have invested more than 5 billion dollars to help Ukraine to achieve these and other goals.”

    Not much civil society to be seen for all that.
     
  11. Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #11
    Agree with you completely about the far right in Ukraine - as nasty, deeply unsavoury - to use Skunk's description - and as profoundly repellant as one can find on the planet (and historically) from that political stable.

    And, yes, I have been following the splits in the protest movement, where the hard right seem to have gained an increasing ascendency and have become increasingly vocal and visible and influential in recent weeks; you are quite right to point out that some of the battered and brutally beaten individuals have been battered not just by the security forces, but by the more thuggish and violent element which has become more powerful, and is clearly squeezing out the more peacefully (and democratically) inclined members of the protest movement.

    Thanks, too, for clarifying your position re Mr Putin.

    That far-right strand has always been present in Ukraine; it is just that is was suppressed for years.

    Ukraine is a huge country, with a vast, organised, well-funded and articulate diaspora (in Canada, Australia and so on)- many of whom would also hail from such a background, or, region.

    This is also going to place considerable strain on Belarus, squashed as it is between Ukraine and Poland, and, of course, will place stress on Poland itself, where ties - historic, cultural, theological - with western Ukraine are very strong and are mutually acknowledged. Poland, in turn, will be vocal within the EU.

    While I am horrified at what is unfolding, unfortunately, I am not at all surprised.




    ----------

    As long as politics and power are seen as zero sum games, 'civil society' cannot develop along such idealised lines. Politically, neither 'region' has acknowledged that the perspectives held by the other have much validity, and, until they can reach some sort of accommodation with some version of the identities or narratives cherished by 'the other' the country will remain unstable. In a country that size, where the fault lines are so evenly divided, unless accommodation (negotiation, compromise, acceptance and acknowledgement) is attempted, (let alone reached) the country will remain profoundly unstable. Stagnation is a possible temporary solution, but zero sum politics cannot work.

    For the past five years, I have been convinced that Ukraine was going to crack; my only question was when this would happen.

    For Europe, this is highly dangerous, and, because Ukraine was deceptively tranquil for so long (and did indeed manage a few peaceful transitions) political elites stopped paying attention to what was happening there.

    For Russia, the fact that this has occurred right in the middle of the Sochi Olympics cannot be relished.

     
  12. Peterkro macrumors 68020

    Peterkro

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    #12
    Changed my password during the hack freakout and promptly forgot it.It was easy enough not to miss the authoritarian admins (one in particular, I came close to being banned on several occasions ),but hey if no ones here to pick up the holes in the (generally) right wing posters arguments what is the point.:)
     
  13. Desertrat macrumors newbie

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    #13
    One aspect of this WRT Russia is that if the Ukraine went to the EU, we'd be getting them into NATO and building bases in Russia's underbelly. Can't blame Putin for not wanting that; remember how JFK looked at USSR missiles in Cuba.
     
  14. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

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    #14
    Yep, I was around at the time. ;)

    And look how the U.S. is still 'punishing' the people of Cuba for that time.

    And cane sugar has nothing to do with it.

    R-i-g-h-t.
     
  15. Happybunny macrumors 68000

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    #15
    Scepticalscribe once again a fantastic written thread, this is a topic which will have to be resolved sooner rather than later.


    Ukraine is the latest victim of the breakup of the old order in Europe.
    This is the most important point to remember.
    Culture, Language, and Ethnic background count for far more than a few lines drawn on a map, in peoples minds.

    As has been said the deep divisions in the country, combined with a winner takes all type of political system, the result is always bad.

    Add to this the feelings in all of Russia of shame and humiliation about the period of 1991-1999. Russia was in their eyes made to beg for Western help, and made to look small on the worlds stage. Under Putin Russia is back as a major player, and is looking for pay back.

    This is going to get a lot worse before it has any chance of getting better. There are no clear good guys vs bad guys, they are all tainted. There will be very few winners, but a tremendous amount of losers.
     
  16. Eraserhead macrumors G4

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    #16
    Why the hell does Comcast block Russia today?
     
  17. decafjava macrumors 68000

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    #17
  18. Peterkro macrumors 68020

    Peterkro

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    #18
  19. Peterkro macrumors 68020

    Peterkro

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    #19
    There is some truth in that however if you look at what's going on in Bosnia-Herzegovina (very little is being reported by mainstream media) you'll see massive resistance to the systems set up with the Drayton accord.By that I mean separate bodies being set up for each group with the usual shock doctrine from IMF etc. The protests there are decidedly non-nationalist and non-religious,with people acting together in spite of their differences.
     
  20. Happybunny macrumors 68000

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    I in no way want to side line this thread, but your point about the resistance to the IMF in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a good one. I would however like to point out that people will act together against a common enemy in the short term. The IMF is everyones favourite boogie man, but unless the various groups feel equal status in the new system, it won't last. History shows long term the old differences will re-surface, just look at Belgium.
     
  21. Scepticalscribe, Feb 20, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2014

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #21
    Thanks for your kind words.

    Yes, Russia's experience & feelings of humiliation and shame in the 1990s (the country defaulted on its debt in 1998, and the rouble collapsed) are undoubtedly a factor in explaining some of the motivations behind the actions of Mr Putin; he is on a mission to restore 'greatness' to the country, and, equally importantly, to be seen to 'win respect' and to be treated with respect by the international community.

    There is a sad, and unsettling tale, told by Mr Putin himself, to TIME magazine (it appears in the lengthy piece which accompanied the cover story when he was made Man Of The Year in 2007); apparently, shortly after Mr Yeltsin first appointed him Prime Minister of Russia in 1999, (he succeeded Mr Yeltsin as President in 2000), Mr Putin - in his capacity as a newly appointed PM - travelled to the ASEAN summit.

    As Russia had just gone bankrupt, and was perceived as an international basket case, with a startling lack of foresight, and worse, and an abysmal lack of historical knowledge, (history should teach us that Russia always eventually bounces back, no matter how badly down), the Russian delegation was placed at the bottom of the room, at a table which reflected their relative lack of status. As Mr Putin had just been appointed, he didn't know any of the others personally. As he was the third Prime Minister to hold that office that year (Boris Yeltsin tended to fire his close staff frequently in his latter, erratic years), nobody assumed he would be around for long, so he was more or less ignored.

    Mr Clinton, then still President of the US, noticed this, and strode the length of the room, his hand out-stretched. He shook hands with with the astonished Mr Putin, introduced himself cheerfully yet politely, and suggested to the stunned Russian that they take a walk together and have a chat.

    Of course, it is very bad manners, very poor diplomacy and incredibly short-sighted - not to mention downright foolish - to treat a country going through a rough patch (rather than one which has been busily transgressing legal and moral norms) in such a manner.

    Recalling this, nearly a decade later, to TIME, Vladimir Putin remarked (with a degree of emotion which comes through in the transcript, which I read) that he would never forget that gesture of respect.

    It is very telling that Mr Putin thought to tell this story years later, when he no longer had need to be seen to try to win the 'hearts and minds' offensive, because his policies and motivation had already taken him in a different direction.

    Personally, I have long thought that 'the west' failed to seize a terrific historic opportunity when they didn't offer support on the lines of the Marshall Aid programme to Russia during those years. Yes, it would have cost a fortune (financially), but the political dividends (as with anchoring Germany into Europe after World War 2) would have been incalculable and infinitely positive.


    The point is that the very basis of Ukraine, as it currently exists, is profoundly unstable, and I doubt that it will last; that is, not unless the two halves of the country, (evenly split in both size, and population) agree to accord a degree of respect to the culture, attitudes, versions of history, language, liturgy, and political and cultural preferences of the other, and develop a version of political activity that allows for 'the other' to be integrated, and respected within the country.

    The very opposite to that is happening, instead.

    Guaranteeing the integrity of Ukraine, in the absence of political will from the elites on both sides will not work.


    For what it is worth, I've worked in Bosnia, where I have observed several elections since 1997. Frankly, the country is on financial life-support, - and has developed a culture - cafe, economic, social and political around that; indeed, perhaps, it has also become a little politically complacent as it has lasted almost 20 years in its current form.

    The problem with the IMF is that we, in the west, have become enthralled to a version of economic theory which doesn't work, - despite the lessons which might have been learned post 2008 - and we have insisted on applying it to others, before understanding it ourselves. But that is a different debate.

    However, BiH is not Ukraine; Europe will survive the collapse of the former. The messy collapse of Ukraine will be a disaster for Europe.


    Very good post, and I'm in full agreement with you.
     
  22. Tomorrow macrumors 604

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    #22
    Excellent post, Scepticalscribe. Thanks for summing it up for the folks like me who only kind of had an idea of what was happening.

    I saw a video this morning of protesters being shot (presumably) by government gunmen. It was shocking, to say the least.
     
  23. VulchR macrumors 68020

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    #23
    I'm an academic and have had colleagues visit from the Ukraine to discuss possible collaborations. Even 10 years ago I had the sense that these colleagues were feeling pressured to align either with the West or with Russia. Since I am ignorant about about the issues I appreciate this thread. Can anyone explain to me why Ukraine cannot position itself to be a bridge between Russia and the EU? No doubt it is naive of me, but I would think that the people of the Ukraine should be allowed to pick and choose the best features of Russia and the West. Indeed, I wonder why Russia and the EU do not have better relations.

    One other thought struck me about the discussion about the right-wing parties in the Ukraine: In general I think we are seeing the emergence of right-wing xenophobic parties in many countries of Europe. Last night in the UK ITV had a debate about immigration. Clearly some of the people they chose for the panel discussion are provocateurs, but the racist, xenophobic hatred some people expressed was shocking (to the point it makes me wonder about whether I should stay in the UK, and whether Scotland would actually be better off being independent from a kingdom in which UKIP is becoming increasingly popular). Europe has been at relative peace for an unusually long time. I wonder if the people of Europe are winding themselves up for more war.
     
  24. MacNut macrumors Core

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    #24
    Are they olympic sponsors?
     
  25. Happybunny macrumors 68000

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    #25
    Put very simply 1000 years of history, a lot of hate has built up in that time, and coupled to a, I win big, you lose big, political system.

    Like Yugoslavia and most of the ex Eastern bloc this is a problem which has been simmering for years.

    I don't think that there is an easy way.
     

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