Sunday, March 02, 2014


The Russians have moved troops into the Crimea. We can expect to hear a lot in the coming weeks from neocons and assorted other rightwingers about how we have to do more to combat the New Russian Menace and about how Vladimir Putin is a dreamy manly-man who knows who to throw his country's weight around like Obama should be doing.

Boys will be boys, warmongers will monger war.

The Crimea was part of Russian until 1954, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Crimea became a "autonomous republic" and remained part of Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has a major base in the Crimea under treaty with Ukraine. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that in today's Russia, it is generally considered a mistake for Khrushchev to have ceded such a strategically important location to Ukrainian sovereignty. It didn't much matter during the existence of the USSR, of course. Now it does. And part of the Russian concern has to be that the current, Western-oriented interim government in Ukraine is less inclined than the previous one to continue the treaty. "In Russland ist man sich spätestens jetzt weitgehend einig: Das Geschenk von Chruschtschow war ein historischer Fehler. Hätte der Sowjetpolitiker damals das Gebiet nicht an die Ukraine abgetreten, müsste Moskau jetzt nicht um einen seiner wichtigsten militärischen Stützpunkte kämpfen." ("In Russia, opinion is united, at least since a short time ago: Khrushchev's gift was an historic mistake. If the Soviet politician had not then ceded the area to the Ukraine, Moscow would now have to fight over one of its most important military bases.") (Warum die Krim für Russland so wichtig ist 01.03.2014)

Ursula Koch-Laugwitz in Ukraine: Protest ohne Projekt Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 3/2014 (accessed 02/27/2014) takes a look at the diverse political nature of the opposition to the recently-departed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. She notes that, just as in the events of the Arab Awakening and current protests in Thailand, there is not simply one opposition. The current crisis began last November, when Yanukovych broke off negotiations aimed at bringing Ukraine into the European Union. Koch-Laugwitz explains:

Janukowitsch befürchtete, die durch eine Annäherung an die EU entstehenden „Anpassungskosten“ und strukturellen Reformen könnten seine Wiederwahl gefährden. Anstatt in den langen Verhandlungen Unterstützung für die Integration anzubieten, drohte Brüssel, der Ukraine die Assoziierung zu verwehren, sollte es die drei Bedingungen der EU nicht erfüllen: die Freilassung von Julia Timoschenko, eine Wahlrechtsreform und das Ende der selektiven Justiz. Gleichzeitig setzte Russland, das die Ukraine am liebsten in Putins Lieblingsprojekt einer Eurasischen Union integrieren will, das Land massiv ökonomisch unter Druck und lockte die ukrainische Regierung kurzfristig mit umfassenden Finanzhilfen – mit Erfolg. Doch Janukowitschs Entscheidung, das Abkommen mit der Europäischen Union auf Eis zu legen, stellte seine Machtperspektive nur noch mehr in Frage.

[Yanukovych feared that his re-elected could be endangered through the "adjustment costs" and structural reforms that would be generated by a closer association to the EU. Instead of asking for support for the integration, Brussels threatened to deny Ukraine the association if three EU conditions were not met: the release of {imprisoned former President} Yulia Tymoshenko {of the Fatherland party}, an election law reform and an end to selective justice. At the same time, Russia, which most prefers to integrate Ukraine into Putin's pet project of a Eurasian Union, put the country under massive economic pressure and tempted the Ukrainian government in the short term with comprehensive financial assistance - successfully. But Yanukovych's decision to put the agreement with the European Union on ice placed his grip on power even more in question.]

Koch-Laugwitz identifies the three major opposition parties as Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, the liberal Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) of Vitali Klitschko and the rightist Swoboda ("Freedom") party of Oleh Tyahnybok; Koch-Laugwitz calls the latter "extreme rightwing" ("rechtsextreme"). Yanukovych's party is called the Party of the Regions and governed since winning the January 2010 election with an unstable majority in Parliament. Fatherland, UDAR and Swoboda forged a tactical alliance to unseat Yanukovych. His government made a move to split that alliance by inviting Fatherland to provide a minister in his government.

The perception that Janukovych was pushing corruption to a new extreme combined with a poor economic and financial situation to create widespread discontent with his government.

Various and sundry citizens' groups and NGO's have joined the recent protests. Koch-Laugwitznotes that right- and leftwing splinter groups as well as Swoboda to some extent have adopted violent tactics. And: "Die Staatsmacht und ihre Sicherheitsorgane wiederum gehen mit äußerster Brutalität vor" ("The state power and its security organs have conversely proceeded with the most extreme brutality").

Robert Parry in Cheering a 'Democratic' Coup in Ukraine Consortium News 02/26/2014 looks at the opposition with special attention to how American neoconservatives see that situation as one of the opportunities they find everywhere and always to promote war and military buildup. He also suggests a broad connection between events in Ukraine and Venezuela:

There was always a measure of hypocrisy but Official Washington used to at least pretend to stand for “democracy,” rather than taking such obvious pleasure in destabilizing elected governments, encouraging riots, overturning constitutional systems and then praising violent putsches.

But events in Ukraine and Venezuela suggest that the idea of respecting the results of elections and working within legal, albeit flawed, political systems is no longer in vogue, unless the "U.S. side" happens to win, of course. If the "U.S. side" loses, then it’s time for some "shock doctrine." And, of course, the usual demonizing of the "enemy" leader.

Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was surely no one’s idea of a pristine politician, though it looks like there are few to none of those in Ukraine, a country essentially controlled by a collection of billionaire oligarchs who jockey for power and shift their allegiances among corrupt politicians. ...

There has been, of course, a long and inglorious history of the U.S. government supporting the overthrow of elected governments: Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Allende in Chile in 1973, Aristide in Haiti twice, Chavez in Venezuela briefly in 2002, Zelaya in Honduras in 2009, Morsi in Egypt in 2013, and others. After Yanukovych, the next target of these U.S.-embraced "democratic" coups looks to be Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.
Parry argues that US mainstream reporting has been starry-eyed and insufficiently critical-minded about the most recent events in Ukraine:

Reasonable people can disagree about whether the EU was driving too hard a bargain or whether Ukraine should undertake such painful economic "reforms" – or how Yanukovych should have balanced the interests of his divided country, with the east dominated by ethnic Russians and the west leaning toward Europe.

But protesters from western Ukraine, including far-right nationalists, sought to turn this policy dispute into a means for overthrowing the elected government. Police efforts to quell the disturbances turned violent, with the police not the only culprits. Police faced armed neo-Nazi storm troopers who attacked with firebombs and other weapons.

Though the U.S. news media did show scenes of these violent melees, the U.S. press almost universally blamed Yanukovych – and took almost gleeful pleasure as his elected government collapsed and was replaced by thuggish right-wing militias "guarding" government buildings.

With Yanukovych and many of his supporters fleeing for their lives, the opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws often unanimously, as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene. Amazingly, the U.S. news media treated all this as uplifting, a popular uprising against a tyrant, not a case of a coup government operating in collusion with violent extremists. ...

Now, right-wing militias, representing those historical resentments toward the Russians and hostility toward the Jews, have seized control of many government buildings in Kiev. Faced with this intimidation, the often-unanimous decisions by the remaining legislators would normally be viewed with extreme skepticism, including their demands for the capture and likely execution of Yanukovych.

But the U.S. press corps can't get beyond its demonization of Putin and Yanukovych.
Also at Parry's Consortium News site, Paul Pillar makes some comparisons between regime changes in Egypt and Ukraine (A Selective View of 'Democracy' 02/26/2014):

There are many criteria by which we in the West can assess what is good and what is bad about the events in these countries and any others in which similar political change occurs. What happens to democracy is only one of those criteria.

There are the various issues of human rights and governmental integrity, and in this respect an end to the more thuggish and corrupt aspects of Yanukovych’s presidency may be a good thing. (Zbigniew Brzezinski describes Yanukovych as “a mendacious schemer, a coward and a thief.”) And for realist observers, the foreign policy orientation of a government may be at least as important as any of the internal considerations.

Each individual case is worthy of assessment in its own right. The two cases mentioned here are quite different in important respects. Some of the cheering over Morsi’s ouster reflected an ignoble Islamophobia that is not a factor in Ukraine. The alternatives to the ousted leadership are also quite different; in Egypt it is a restored authoritarian military regime, while in Ukraine we can still hope it will be something not just different but more to the benefit of the Ukrainian people.

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