An outsider look at Ukraine

Over the past several days the airwaves have been filled with loud demands that we do more to support the Ukrainian protestors (frequently dubbed a struggle for freedom against the evil Russians).  This reaction comes quite natural to America, with our long Cold War history, but I have some questions about the situation that I haven’t found clear answers to yet.

First, let me say I am weary of the American media latching onto these international crises and presenting everything as a “fight for freedom”, without providing much in the way of historical background information.  It’s very easy to jump onto foreign causes when they are presented as “struggles against Russian oppression” or “fighting against tyranny”, but truthfully the internal politics in these areas usually are fraught with corruption with a capital C, excesses of violence, abuses of power, and  long-held ethnic animosity.  The situation in the Ukraine is no different.  You can go read about the Holodomor, where the Soviets starved millions of Ukrainians to death, to get a taste of the animosity that still ripples below the surface among many ethnic Ukrainians.

In this latest violence, it sure looks like the protestors are the ones who have been on a torching buildings spree in Kiev, not the government.  Not sure how I would feel if protestors in America started setting buildings ablaze, because those 1-percenters with their destruction of other people’s property sure angered me – urinating and defecating anywhere like animals…  Why does no one in the West tell the protestors to quit torching Kiev, yet all you hear about are how the police need to calm down?  I am not condoning police or military forces shooting unarmed civilians, I’m merely asking why our reporting always champions protestors, even when the protestors are setting a city aflame?

The CIA Factbook offers these statistics as to the demographic make-up of present-day Ukraine: “Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belarusian 0.6%, Moldovan 0.5%, Crimean Tatar 0.5%, Bulgarian 0.4%, Hungarian 0.3%, Romanian 0.3%, Polish 0.3%, Jewish 0.2%, other 1.8% (2001 census)”  As to the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election, irregularities ran rife, as usual.  International monitors gave varying accounts.  A report by a group of monitors which included Russia, Poland, France, Armenia, Kyrgyzistan and Belarus (Centre for Monitoring Democratic Processes) offered their verdict here.  A Christian Science Monitor explanation of the election can be found here.  Yanukovich won with a less than 50% of the vote, but it seems like he had a good bit of ethnic Ukrainian support or the ethnic Ukrainians didn’t turn out in sizable enough numbers given this huge ethnic Ukrainian numerical advantage. Here’s a NY Times report on the 2010 election, replete with plenty of criticisms – (NY Times story here).  Any theories, facts or information on this numerical question, anyone?

Now, as in all these other hotspots, American politicians like to get on their soapbox and berate the evil Putin for his undo influence in other countries political affairs and in the Ukraine this charge accompanies almost every report in this latest flare-up.  What you don’t hear much about is how American political groups get actively involved in actually managing campaigns (paid political consultants) in many foreign elections – from Israel to the Palestinian Authority to Iraq to Afghanistan to the Ukraine, and so it goes.  Here’s a link to which American political consultants were hired to work for the respective Ukrainian candidates in the 2010 presidential election in the Ukraine.  Now, what this means is American politicians and their cronies pick sides in many foreign elections, their consultants make big bucks organizing campaigns in foreign countries and our “American” foreign policy ends up being as divided as our internal politics due to this partisan-charged environment.  None of the folks in Washington will step back from their partisan talking points and spoon-fed politicized dogma to actually think about America, in the big picture sense – as one country, needing one voice abroad, to promote our national interests.  We can’t even agree on what our own national interests are, yet here we go again trying to jump into other countries internal affairs – half-cocked.  Naturally, John McCain is at the forefront.  Our politicians are just as much trying to influence internal affairs in the Ukraine as the Russians are – let’s at least be honest about that.

And let’s look at the Obama administration flip-flops dealing with foreign hotspots – completely incoherent.  Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Israel – totally embarrassing and colossal failures.  In Syria, Madame Secretary Clinton proclaimed Assad a “reformer”, President Obama declared red lines, and in the end John Kerry and President Obama handed over control of the situation to Putin.  CNN reported: “U.S. talks tough, but options limited in Ukraine”, indicating that even at CNN  the real world seems to be crashing through their  idolization of President Obama as more hype than actual “change you can believe in”.

Before Americans get too fired up by the likes of John McCain with his denunciations of Putin (here’s a pretty typical rant of his), be fully aware that a financial crisis precipitated this latest Ukrainian unrest, when Yanukovich went with a Russian bail-out offer rather than a lesser European offer.  Here’s a quick background on the real source of Ukraine’s continual corruption problem within it’s natural gas and energy industries: “Ukraine’s $19-billion question of debt and corruption”.  So, while McCain is bellowing about sanctions against the Yanukovich government, be aware that what’s really going to be asked of us, to secure  a European-leaning Ukraine, is a huge bail-out for the Ukraine, which is ranked 144th by Transparency International on corruption – tying with countries like the Central African Republic and Iran and scoring worse than Uganda.  The Ukraine is the most corrupt country in Europe.  If you still feel dismayed at Obama’s bailouts and haven’t had any satisfactory answers as to where all that money went, imagine tossing money into this Ukrainian gambit?

Finally, the Russians have a legitimate interest in the Ukraine based on centuries of ties.  The Russians have based their Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol since the time of Catherine the Great, so it’s not like they just decided to meddle in the Ukraine on a whim.  NATO has pushed toward integrating the Ukraine and Georgia into it’s sphere and there are many Ukrainians who would welcome aligning with Europe.  There are also many ethnic Russians in the Ukraine who want a closer Russian alliance.  The Russians brokered a deal with Yanukovich in 2010, extending the lease for the Black Sea Fleet for 25 years (story here), putting a kibosh on the NATO dream.  As I stated in a post the other day, in real terms, the Russian national security framework shattered with the collapse of the Soviet Union and if you’re Putin standing in Moscow today, his European adversaries are a thousand miles closer – with no natural geographic roadblocks.  Unlike President Obama, I am confident that Vladimir Putin understands military strategy, geopolitics and has a keen grasp of map-reading (remember O and  his 57 states…), so in clear strategic terms, Putin’s moves make perfect sense, while our meandering posturing creates more chaos and international instability.  I’m not for or against either side in the Ukraine.  As an outsider, I’m just trying to make sense out of the chaos and understand what the respective sides are demanding and demolishing.

2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, General Interest, History, Military, Politics

2 responses to “An outsider look at Ukraine

  1. Minta Marie Morze

    Libertybelle: “I’m not for or against either side in the Ukraine. As an outsider, I’m just trying to make sense out of the chaos and understand what the respective sides are demanding and demolishing.”

    Excellent post! The links on this and other posts you’ve made on Ukraine make it clear just how complicated this whole situation is, and how important it is to find out a lot about the background before making a knee-jerk decision on taking sides.

    So often, the press reports we get side with one of the parties involved, and present these situations as though they are a black/white dispute between the good guys and the bad guys. Usually, a person can assume that the opinion of the MSM is going to be for the Left-most faction in the dispute, but as you have pointed out in this and other posts on Ukraine, the situation is incredibly complicated, and not easily bifurcated into good/bad.

    What’s even worse, with so many Ukraine issues it is extremely difficult to see how the various pressures on the forces involved can actually being this conflict to a resolution. The EU is a joke, but it is better than the Russian side—the choice is like a macabre joke. Russia absolutely needs the access it has to the waterway, and will not give it up without a real fight. Ukraine hates Russia with a passion, but international agreements are often forged despite such internal anger. The people aren’t monolithic. And on and on. And the events of today, with everything up in the air even compared to yesterday, and the buildings under attack, it is almost heartbreaking to see the destruction and casualties and all and to know that it will get worse before it is any better, and that even “better’ is an ambiguous and even sardonic term.

    Good work, Libertybelle! You’ve given me some truly useful information on this and the other recent link on the Ukraine situation. A lot of things to think about.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks Minta, Things changed dramatically and not for the better in the Ukraine today. More chaos. The problem with so many of these street protestors overthrowing governments, is rarely is there any coherent, competent, political organization accompanying the idealism. The established power players capitalize on the instability and quickly try to wrest power into their corner, which usually leaves those protestors ending up with much less freedom and much diminished economic security in the aftermath. Just watching these street protests that result in government overthrows over the years, this seems to be the norm. How it shakes out, with control usually depends on either foreign intervention to impose a solution or who can seize control of the military. Often, the resulting “government” is worse than the toppled regime. Americans are slow to recognize that the American Revolution stands a rare exception to this rule – we think our experience can be universal. Sad to say, with the level of corruption in most hotspots, that’s not even a remote possibility.

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