Ukraine – are we the bad guys?

prayforukraineAm I the only person experiencing a sense of disconnect watching the people in Crimea happily waving their Russian flags and then hearing the White House and European leaders condemn them and imposing sanctions on Russia for aggression?

Here’s the story as I see it.

The democratically-elected President of Ukraine was overthrown by a revolution. You know I’m not a fan of revolutions. This one wasn’t as bloody and violent as many, but the revolutionaries were armed with guns and petrol bombs and nearly a hundred people were killed.  I’m not saying that the Ukrainian police behaved well, but attacking armed police with firearms is inevitably going to lead to people getting killed. Not widely reported in Western media was the fact that a neo-Nazi organization was prominent in organising the anti-government protests and violence.

ukraine

As a result, the government of Crimea invited Russian forces into Crimea for “protection”. Russia did not invade – this is not like Czechoslovakia or Hungary where a puppet Soviet government asked the Russians to put down popular rebellions. The Russians didn’t shoot anyone. Remember that the majority of people living in Crimea are ethnic Russians who speak Russian. Many people in Crimea supported President Yanukovych and believe he is the victim of a coup.

The recent referendum showed overwhelming support from the people of Crimea to become independent of Ukraine and join Russia.

crimea-referendum-celebrate

And the response of the West? To condemn the referendum and insist that the unelected government of Ukraine is legitimate. And now the West is imposing sanctions on Russia. Is that really going to calm things down? Does anyone really believe that Crimea is going to stay part of Ukraine?

The European Union could have solved this problem at any time during the months leading to the revolution. It was clear that Ukraine was divided between a trade deal with the European Union  and a deal with Moscow. So why insist that Ukraine had to choose between East and West? Ukraine’s interests are obviously best served by having close trading alliances with both the EU and Russia. The EU could have allowed that to happen. Instead it insisted on exclusivity, forcing Ukraine to choose  and playing into Putin’s hands.

Sure, Putin’s a bad guy. We all know that. But the West provoked this particular problem and the West is now fanning the flames.

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14 responses to “Ukraine – are we the bad guys?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with all your points, and appreciate the info on the neo-nazi group. There enough problems in this world. Why stick our noses in a situation that has solved itself? Thanks for your post. I have been feeling your frustration since this thing started.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

  2. I have some thoughts on your post, but don’t have time at the moment to respond appropriately. My sister worked and lived in Ukraine for many years so she, and I, have particular interest in the happenings there. I’ll get back to you on this one…

  3. I’ve been wondering much the same thing, and whether or not I was just missing something. I think the reason most of the international community is now upset has more to do with any violation of sovereignty and any precedent this might set.

  4. You echoed my thoughts there, though of course there is always the danger that Russian appetite for expansion will not end in Crimea. I am glad there was a peaceful solution with the soldiers trapped there. I thought their commander was an excellent leader and handled the whole affair supremely well….

  5. I thought it was Putin that insisted on exclusivity of trade agreements. Hmm. Because the facts seem complex, I’m kind of refraining from judgment. If this doesn’t go beyond the Crimea I’m sure time will heal this wound. In the meantime my friend Dima (in Moscow) and I have decided that we are friends no matter what.

  6. I have two rather contrary thoughts. On one hand, the Crimea belonged to Russia for years and years, during the Imperial period it was filled with vacation palaces for wealthy St. Petersburgers … on the other hand, in the I don’t trust tyrants and watching Putin on TV this morning with his panoply of flags and gold ornamentation it reminded me of Hitler and the Sudentenland … so …

  7. OK, now I have some time so I will try to address this as succinctly as I can.

    Let’s start with the “democratically elected president,” Yanukovych. He was the winner of a highly suspect election. He won approximately 48.5% (election maps are interesting to look at) in the second round of voting and there were many claims that voter fraud (along with backing and support from Moscow) was the only reason he was president. While the claims of fraud were used by both sides and ultimately international observers declared the elections “fair and open,” many Ukrainians still felt as though a fast one had been pulled on them.

    Was it a revolution or a coup? That seems to be just a matter of opinion or a point of view. A coup, according to Dictionary.com, is “a highly successful, unexpected stroke, act, or move; a clever action or accomplishment.” Clearly this was not a surprise and had been building for some time as the president and his cronies in the the parliament implemented ever increasingly restrictive reforms on the population of Ukraine. A revolution, also according to Dictionary.com, is “an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.” As you can see from the definition, what happened in Ukraine was a revolution and not a coup, as Mr. Putin would like to have the world believe. If you tell a lie enough times, eventually someone (including yourself) will believe it. That seems to be the case for Putin.

    The fact that there was a neo-Nazi group(s) doesn’t lessen the fact that this was a revolution. Yes, having a group with such ideals or motives back the move toward political freedom is not at all a savory one. However it was executed, the peaceful protests were not going to get the government to back down (as much as we in the West would like to see happen) and people with the willingness to step in, perpetrate violence or have it done to them, was needed to show the world that they wanted their freedom from an oppressive regime. Think about what is and has been going on in Syria. The Syrian people have been fighting for nearly four years for freedom from the government of al-Assad. Just because there are elements of al-Qaeda fighting in Syria doesn’t lessen the value of the revolution there does it? No, I don’t think it does. However, it would be important for the people of Syria to stand up to the terrorists, as they have and are. It’s a muddled situation, both in Syria and in Ukraine, but let’s not minimize the efforts of the people that put their lives on the line to demonstrate and use their voices in a cry for freedom.

    Despite the ethnic makeup of Crimea, Russia occupied the territory of a neighboring country in a land grab very similar to Hitler and his claim to the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and annexation of Austria. He was supposedly protecting ethnic Germans in both places. The people in Crimea did not need protection from the rest of Ukraine. Ukrainians see Crimea as part of their country, an important part, just like the rest of the world recognizes their right to protect their borders. Putin’s claim that Russian speakers needed protection is false at best. An “invitation” for Russian troops to take control of Crimea seems just a bit trite. With a major Russian military base right there on the peninsula it hardly seems that the population of the area would be free from influence from an overwhelmingly armed and equipped force. Provided the Crimeans may even want to join Russia, there is a political process for that and they hardly followed it. You can’t have a legitimate referendum while you are occupied or seek protection from an illegitimate big brother. The fact that Russia immediately recognized and then annexed Crimea is just further confirmation that Russia has ulterior motives. How far they will go still remains to be seen, but it is evident that “Cold War” Russia is back.

    Crimea will remain a part of Russia from this day (literally) forward. Putin knows this. He gambled and he won. Ukraine obviously has no chance of defending itself against such aggression. He knows the West doesn’t have much backbone at this point to stop him. Europe is afraid of war and can’t muster enough muscle to displace him. The U.S. is weary of war and we are in the process of withdrawing from the world, again. We have the power to stop him, but at what cost? We have the power, just not the will.

    Finally, and maybe more disturbing, is what of the other neighbors or even more of Ukraine? If Putin continues to disregard international law and violate the sovereignty of his neighbors, will anyone be able to stop him? Most likely not. Putin has demonstrated that he will be obstinate wherever and whenever he can. The Western response has amounted to a similar response from Western Europe pre-WWII – finger wagging, meaningless sanctions, and appeasement.

  8. backuphill, thank you for taking the time and trouble to make such a detailed statement here. You know more about the situation than I do.

    At no point was I saying that Putin is a well-intentioned guy who can be trusted. My criticism was of the West’s response.

    I am also conscious of the Sudetenland parallel.

    Yanukovych may not have been a popular President, and Ukraine doesn’t have a well-established tradition of democratic elections like we do in the West, but nevertheless he was the elected leader. Few mid-term leaders in any country are very popular, but the answer is not revolution. Revolution is almost always the wrong answer. Russia itself still hasn’t recovered from its own revolution a 100 years ago.

    I am struck by the parallel with Egypt. A government was elected democratically (roughly) and then a year later the people decided they made the wrong choice and had a revolution. Wrong solution.

    In both cases, the West supported the revolution and then almost immediately something bad happened and the West blamed someone else. In the case of Egypt we blamed the army. In Ukraine we blamed Russia. We should never have supported the violent overthrow of democratically elected leaders. After a revolution, bad things happen. That’s the pattern. We can’t always predict what they will be, but they nearly always happen, and that’s because revolutions overturn the rule of law. Whatever the problem, violent overthrow of the state will lead to many more problems, perhaps much worse than whatever sparked the revolution.

    As for other parts of Ukraine or other countries bordering Russia, yes, I think that there may still be more border changes to come. But the West’s actions are encouraging these, first through the EU’s geopolitical efforts and secondly by the West’s condemnation of everything Russian.

    This is a situation that needs calming. Instead we are pouring oil on the blaze. We’re not really going to stand up to Putin in any meaningful way and he knows that. Instead we’re just antagonizing Russia and making Putin’s authoritarian government more popular. If Putin ends up like Hitler, it will be because we made him so.

  9. I got your point about Putin. He is, indeed, a man that is a megalomaniac.

    However, I am not sure we can uphold “democratic” elections in every case though. Some tend to reflect the wind and whichever direction if was blowing at the time.

    Yes, the former leader of Egypt was elected by popular vote but he was also heavily supported by the Muslim Brotherhood (a terrorist organization). The West, of course, can’t really treat the government of Egypt as a legitimate government. In 2005 the Palestinians voted Hamas in power in their parliament and gave them the ability to form the cabinet for the president, Abbas, who is from the Fatah faction. Again, the West has had a hard time recognizing it as a legitimate government because there is a terrorist organization as a major part of the governmental structure. Negotiations with Abbas continue today, but virtually no progress has been made in getting peace. Ukraine’s election, in the view of many of my sister’s friends who send updates via Facebook and email (she still has many friends over there despite being out of the country for two years) all believe that Yanukovych was merely a puppet of Putin. With the corruption and mafia like thuggishness, he was taking the country backwards not forwards.

    I can understand your dislike of revolution. It isn’t ever ideal and perhaps the regions that we are talking about resort to is so quickly is precisely because they do not have a long standing tradition of peaceful elections/transitions. We in the West understand that stability and using a process provides for long-term prosperity. We should all hope that they will eventually get there as well, but we can’t expect that people would want to live under oppressive regimes, legitimately elected or not.

    What we can’t do is allow territorial encroachments and sovereignty to be violated. When one leader is allowed to do it others will follow, or at least try. AND, we should be supporting people’s who are trying to have more voice (albeit an appropriate one) in their governments.

    • I hear what you say about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Palestine. Both were very poor choices of government, from my perspective. And yet the people choose them and I think we must accept that and try to do business with those governments. It’s like free speech – freedom of speech means the freedom to say things we totally disagree with. Putin himself is democratically elected, although he may be a thug. Hitler was democratically elected too.

      You’ll find posts on my blog in which I express my dissatisfaction with democracy. It’s a long-running obsession of mine. Democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and I really think that one day it will be replaced with something better. It’s an improvement on dictatorship however.

  10. I hear this evening that Russian troops may have entered a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. If that is true, then it’s clearly an unacceptable move. I hope that Ukraine will order its troops to leave Crimea rather than attempting to resist -a move that would surely lead to bloodshed.

    I still think that the West’s actions largely contributed to this. After all, we created a situation in which Putin has nothing to lose and much to gain.

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