Sunday 1 March 2015

The half truths of apologists for Putin's agression in Ukraine.

After my article on Ukraine was published in February's Liberator 370, Liberal colleague Geoff Woodcock asked what I made of a review of a book in the Guardian on the Ukraine crisis.

'Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands by Richard Sakwa review – an unrivalled account' Jonathan Steele, 19 February 2015.

The review appears to show a lot of the ideological and political assumptions behind it – for me it is typical of the more thought out excuses given by 'left wing' and 'right wing' commentators to make excuses for the Russian state's war in South East Ukraine.

I think many of the basic points in this review are correct. But as with most of the articles that are basically hostile to the Kyiv government and make excuses for the fighting in the East, it is very one sided. I don't know whether the book is like that but the review is. The war in two parts of SE Ukraine, and the terrorism in other cities, would not be happening without the Russian state fuelling it. It is not a civil war (as some commentators like to overstate it) or popular uprising, it is an orchestrated destruction of government control over a major industrial region. A Lib Dem commentator called Matthew Green wrote a blog on Putin / Ukraine recently where he detailed a Facebook argument with a critic of the Kyiv government. He made the point I've just repeated "This is interesting because it is largely accurate on the core facts." There is elements of truth in criticisms of the 'Ukrainian side' and certainly of how NATO / the EU and US have handled things, but all of this is used to wash over the fact that Putin's Russia is fuelling a war in a neighbouring country that is not what people in that country want.

Matthew Green's blog is here: 'How far will liberals go to defend their values? Putin poses the question.' I don't agree with all of it as it makes some of the kind of sweeping statements that the Putin apologists make on their side. In the Jonathan Steele review of Sakwa it is typical 'us against them' rhetoric.

I have always blamed Thatcher and Bush for the collapse in the former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, a great crime that they failed to support Mikhail Gorbachev with a Marshall Plan. I also think the expansion of NATO is ludicrous and that the EU failed to sufficiently take account of genuine Russian interests. But NATO, the US, the EU have not caused a war in Ukraine.

"Even today at this late stage, a declaration of Ukrainian non-alignment as part of an internationally negotiated settlement, and UN Security Council guarantees of that status, would bring instant de-escalation and make a lasting ceasefire possible in eastern Ukraine." This seems totally naïve as it involves trusting Vladimir Putin and you cannot trust Vladimir Putin. He has already breached such an agreement.

"Russia’s angry reaction to provocations in Georgia in 2008" means Russia's retaliatory punitive invasion of Georgia - provoked by Georgia but a grossly disproportionate response. "the EU has become little more than the civilian wing of the Atlantic alliance." is simply left wing ridiculous conspiracy nonsense. He (Steele or Sakwa) are entirely correct that crimes / war crimes committed against separatists supporters or on civilians by the Ukrainian army are not apparently acknowledged or investigated. That is appalling. I agree that there is this fictitious national myth by the Ukrainian state of some idealistic historic Ukrainian nation. A myth, a construct, like all the nation myths in Eastern and South Eastern Europe.

From my experience in a large Russian speaking city in the South East I entirely agree with this passage:

"The alternative “pluralist” view emphasises the different historical and cultural experiences of Ukraine’s various regions and argues that building a modern democratic post-Soviet Ukrainian state is not just a matter of good governance and rule of law at the centre. It also requires an acceptance of bilingualism, mutual tolerance of different traditions, and devolution of power to the regions."

Delivering this would not satisfy Putin and his agents though as their work appears to be to fundamentally undermine independent Ukrainian statehood. There are many reports of industrial plant and equipment from Donetsk and Luhansk being systematically dismantled and taken back to Russia. The voices of the million and a half displaced people (as many of them, maybe more to Russia as to other parts of Ukraine) and pro-Ukraine people in Donetsk and Luhansk are silenced by the mercenaries' take over of those regions.

Kiron Reid.

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