UKRAINE: FROM THE UPRISING OF "MAIDAN" SQUARE TO CRIMEA – CONSIDERATIONS AND PERSPECTIVES
To express unconditional evaluations or final anticipations is nearly impossible in the political analysis of events, especially if such events are still developing as is the case with Ukraine; it is possible, instead, to advance pondered considerations and grounded hypotheses on the possible developments of the aforementioned events. When faced with such an intricate situation – as is often the case – it is firstly necessary to explain the lines along which events are unfolding.
The energetic blackmail that Europe is undergoing on the part of Russia is by now known to most; what is less evident is the active role played by Europe that landed its member states into this trap. In fact, in order to secure Russia's cooperation and to guarantee energetic security for its future, Europe has thought it wise to sign – during the past years – extremely long-term accords for the procurement of gas (and not only gas) with Moscow, while trying to exclude the possible intervention of other suppliers present on the market. Only after signing such accords did Europe realize that it had tied the noose around its own neck and that it had placed the other end of the rope in the hands of Russia, which can jerk the cord as it likes in order to strangle the EU and make it act according to its will. Ukraine is the territory through which the Russian gas destined to Europe and to Ukraine itself flows, rendering it the battleground between the sides; a battle in which they have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Behind the clashes in Kiev there hides the confrontation between Brussels and Moscow for the procurement of gas. The goal of the failed accord of “Association” between Ukraine and the EU of November 28, 2013, in Vilnius (Lithuania) was that of, on the one side, releasing Kiev from Moscow's grip and, on the other side, of injecting the interests of European policy within the Russian sphere of influence: Russia's reaction therefore shouldn't come as a surprise.
However, as is often the case in Europe – and not only in Europe, i.e. see the US – the reckoning had been done without one's host (in which case the host would be Vladimir Putin): Europe tried to destabilize Ukraine with an anti-Russian purpose, inciting the insurrection of Maidan square (in Romanian and Ukrainian, “Maidan” is the open space where children are sent to play so that they don't ruin the home; it would therefore be more appropriate to call the starting place of the Ukrainian revolt “Maidan Nezalezhinosti”, meaning “Independence square”) without evaluating the consequences thereof; and, in fact, faced with the unsettling reaction of Moscow, Europe decided to hide their hand after throwing the stone, thus leaving the filo-European Ukrainians defenseless.
But let's proceed with an order. At the eve of the Vilnius accord, the EU had offered the modest sum of 200 million euro of aid to Ukraine, asking Kiev to “do its homework” (as was stated by the Italian foreign ministry's undersecretary Lapo Pistelli). The President of the Urkainian republic Yanukovich, whom is probably not the most correct and honest of politicians, but certainly a person who can count straight, could not have found a better pretext to send the uncomfortable deal head-over-heels.
When faced with the figures, the real reasons for the Ukrainian President's change of heart appear quite clear: Ukraine, on the brink of bankruptcy, had accumulated 2,7 billion dollars of debt with Russia; they had signed an agreement with Moscow on December 17, 2013, which stated that Russia was going to acquire 15 billion dollars' worth of Ukrainian government bonds and was contemplating a reduction on the price of Russian gas by 33%, bringing it from 400 dollars/sqm to 268,5 dollars/sqm, thus allowing Kiev to save roughly 4 billion dollars per year (they usually import at least 30 billion square meters of gas each year). It is thus clear why the filo-Russian option carried out by Yanukovich was not merely propaganda but rather a substantial economic safety net.
The EU had also dug its heels on the release of Yulia Timoshenko, presenting it as an inalienable condition (she was released on February 22, 2014). Timoshenko, the “pasionaria” of the “orange revolution” of 2004, has been imposed by Europe as the only possible interlocutor in the EU's relations with the Ukrainian govenrment. Once again this shows, in our modest opinion, political shortsightedness on the European part: Paradoxically enough she could become the privileged interlocutor of her arch-enemy (but only on paper) Vladimir Putin. We should not forget that the champion of anti-Russian spirit and former Prime Minster Timoshenko ended up behind bars on August 5, 2011, for “abuse of office” following the lucrative and advantageous (for her, not for Ukraine) deals landed with Gazprom in 2009, in virtue of which the Ukrainian state ended up paying a decisively onerous price for Russian gas.
With these antecedents in mind and in the light of the inopportune emergent leaders on the Ukainian political scene it is safe to suppose that it will be Timoshenko – perhaps under the counter – that will be left to negotiate a dignified capitulation with the “tsar” Putin.
The inopportune leaders
Let's now shed some light on the “inopportune” authors of the coup d'etat – because that is exactly what happened – which has led to the ousting of Yanukovich: A President elected through free elections (even though there are suspicions of fraud) and surely not a dictator; the representative of a vast majority of the filo-Russian population and especially the guarantor of the dirty interests of a number of “oligarchs”, holders of the real power in Ukraine.
Ukraine is not a monolithic nation, it is rather a “triune” one.
- in the western part, which revolves around L'viv, the ancient Leopolis, people speak Ukrainian (a sort of archaic Russian); the culture is influenced by Poland, Romania and “Austria-Hungary” and the population feels “European” (but just in words, not in deeds).
- in the central part, which revolves around the capital Kiev and along the banks of the Dneper river, there are a number of “pure” (again just in words) Ukrainians and Russian speaking peoples.
- in the eastern and southern part, in particular in the peninsula of Crimea (an autonomous Republic of Ukraine) there is a net majority of Russian speakers, very close to Russia not only for their origin and geographical nearness, but especially on the “spiritual” level.
Speaking of the “purity” of the Ukrainian identity, it must be noted that there are a whopping 40 different ethnic groups within its borders. If we consider the facts objectively, putting aside the solidarity for the “patriots behind barricades” of Maidan square, we will see that the only common denominator of the anti-Yanukovich front is Russian-phobia.
To define this front heterogeneous is but a euphemism: Behind the facade of so-called “leaders” there hide upstart politicians that are just puppets in the hands of the “oligarchs”, the real protagonists of the struggle for power that is setting Ukraine ablaze. Nationalism, religion and Europeism are just different faces of the same Russian-phobia.
If we take a closer look at the “heroes” of Kiev and of L'viv; the same that have ousted the special forces of the police, taking prisoners in the process, we will find that for the most part they belong to groups of the extreme right-wing, such as the ultra-nationalists of the “Svoboda” party and the neo-nazis of the “Pravy Sektor” movement, which are not only Russian-phobic, but also racist, xenophobic and antisemitic.
In this regard, it should be noted that on January 27, 2014, while celebrations were ongoing in Auschwitz for the commemoration of the holocaust, in L'viv the neo-nazi, which boasted to be the “diamond point” of anti-Yanukovichism, were displaying swastikas and singing the praises of the pogrom against Jews (but this is something that the media did not mention). These people do not care about Ukraine's adhesion to Europe, which they look upon with hostility and contempt in the name of the precept “Ukraine to Ukrainians”. This is why all of these individuals have not managed to agree on a common program and why they will all run at the coming elections (May 25th) on their own.
There is something to be said about the proven anti-semitism of the Ukrainian right-wing and the ambiguous behavior of Israel (it wouldn't be the first time this happened) in its regards. In a recent interview, the international entrepreneur/speculator George Soros expressed his unasked views about the Ukrainian uprising without mentioning the fact that such uprising has been funded in good part by himself. Also, an Israeli General has recently declared that he has personally carried out the assembly and training of 40 Ukrainians: A sort of elite unit to be used against Yanukovich's police forces.
This seems to confirm the perplexities of those that doubted the “spontaneity” of the militiamen (because that is what they are) that enacted the uprising when, faced with their typically military training and equipment – which allowed them to defeat the special forces of the Ukrainian police (anything but inexperienced), and the suspicion that the Ukrainian revolt was – like many others – orchestrated by others.
A part of Russia
As far as the “religious factor” is concerned, it must be observed that the two orthodox churches of Ukraine, created exclusively as anti-Russian entities and excommunicated by the patriarch of Moscow because of their schism (they are not recognized by any of the other orthodox churches) have demonstrated their bad faith in the past days when, through an anachronistic auto da fe', they forced the imprisoned police agents to beg pardon on their knees in front of the crowd and of the orthodox icons and crucifixes.
It is the “religious factor” itself which goes to show just how much Ukraine is tied to Russia; the autocephalous Russian orthodox church was, in fact, founded during medieval times in Kiev and later moved to Moscow; it is the Rus' of Kiev that is considered to be the mother of Russian identity and, more generally speaking, of the Slavs of orient. It is not a hazard that the empire of Kiev (850-1240) was the first instance of the Russian state.
It is not surprising that some continue to define Ukraine as “the most Russian of all Russias”; if we wanted to simplify the concept we could state that “Ukraine is to Russia just as Kossovo is to Serbia”; it is in the interest of all parties – and of Ukraine (or what would be left of it) in particular – that Ukraine not follow the same fate of the tiny and novel Balkan state.
Not to mention the project of adhesion of Ukraine to NATO, which was prudently avoided by Germany (and by France and Italy) during the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest. Something that Sakashvili's Georgia was not willing to give up, ingenuously confiding in an American intervention in their aid, and which brought about their defeat in the war against Russia in the same year; a war which was little more than a drill for Russia with the launch of paratroopers and the disembarking of Navy riflemen. There exist profound Geo-strategic reasons – and common sense – which obstruct the enlisting of Ukraine into the Atlantic alliance, not to mention the imposing Russian naval base in Sebastopolis, Crimea.
After Kiev, Crimea is now under the spotlight of the media and of international diplomacy. In fact, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is practically a Russian enclave in Ukrainian territory since, 60 years ago, it was “donated” by Khrushchev (who was Ukrainian himself, just like Brezhnev) to Ukraine which was, at the time, one of the 15 Republics of the Soviet Union.
It is therefore not surprising if the escalation of the Russian military presence in the Crimean peninsula (first with armored vehicles on the streets, then with 2000 paratroopers “without insignia”, which were increased to 6000, then to 15000 and which have taken control of the key locations in the peninsula – airports, the seat of the government, a missile base, etc. - without mentioning the disproportionate “military drill” of the Russian army along the border with Ukraine) was welcome with enthusiasm by the Russian population that dwells Crimea.
In the past few days there has also been news of the passage of the new Ukrainian navy chief of staff to the Russian side; speaking of the navy, many ships belonging to the Ukrainian navy, which were anchored in the Russian base of Sebastopolis, have taken to the seas – probably in order to avoid being sunken in the harbor by the Russians in case of a full-blown war.
The options on the table
The breakup of Ukraine with the Ukrainian-speakers on one side and Russian speakers on the other, is not very probable option.
If there will be a breakup, it would not be enacted along this non existent, net line; it would be much more fragmented: The division of the former Yugoslavia should serve as an example. There would be no net separation but rather the loss, on the Ukrainian side, of some territories, such as Crimea, the separation of which from Ukraine and subsequent annexing by Russia are not to be ruled out ahead of time.
Another possible separation of Ukraine could see the western part entering the European Union and Crimea joining Russia. This hypothesis is even less probable than the preceding one. Russia would not accept an enlargement of the EU over part of Ukraine; and the EU would have nothing to gain from the straining of tensions between Kiev and Moscow, since it is through the Ukrainian territory that transits a good part of the Russian gas that keeps Europe afloat. Poland, for one – which cannot be suspected of harboring filo-Russian sympathies – is working to avoid a degeneration of the crisis which would produce a closer – and angrier – Russia along its borders.
A full-blown war between Ukraine and Russia would be suicide for Ukraine. The lesson given by Georgia in 2008 is – or should be, seen the rashness of the actors on stage – clear to all: Just like Georgia which, after a “solemn defeat”, has lost Abkhazia and southern Ossetia – the two states, under the guise of independence, have become Russian “protectorates” - Ukraine is bound to be annihilated on the military level – the stakes are much higher – and strongly reshaped geographically, with vast chunks of its territory (especially the east) which would shift, more or less formally, under the control of Moscow. As we have mentioned, this is a plausible perspective for Crimea even in the absence of a military clash between Ukraine and Russia, seen that there is a popular referendum asking for independence and/or annexing by Russia. The referendum was initially proposed by the new government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in conjunction with the Ukrainian political elections of May 25th, then it was anticipated to March 31st to “strike while the iron is hot”, thus riding the wave of enthusiasm and the presence of the Russian army on the territory of the Crimean peninsula.
Until now Putin has used the policy of the “carrot and stick” with regards to Ukraine, alternating the threat of shutting down gas supplies, showing their muscle on the military level and through the donation of economic aid without so much as a flinch. Up to the present Russia has paraded its force in order to avoid using it; if Putin were to dispose of the carrot to beat down with the stick, it would surely be inconvenient to both parties.
The truth is that Putin, in his attempt to rebuild the Soviet sphere of influence (or the “tsarist” one), has very precise plans with regards to Ukraine:
- their entry into the customs union, together with Belarus and Kazakhstan;
- their entry into the more ambitious Eurasian union guided by Moscow, to permanently squash any vain Europeist and/or Atlantic ambition.
The problem is that Ukraine finds itself in a battlefield of a war that is not (completely) theirs; a war for which the interests of other countries come together and clash; a bit like what happened during the “cold war” with its dreaded “proxy wars”. This has persuaded some observers to speak of a new cold war.
Some have even hypothesized that behind the Ukrainian crisis there lie the byzantine vices of American foreign policy, the aim of which would actually be to weaken the European Union by spreading it thin across Ukraine and Turkey: A perspective which, although fascinating from the political/theoretic point of view, is less than credible from the political/pragmatic one; beyond being a hypothesis difficult to demonstrate, it would entail uncontrollable risks with regards to the Russian reaction.
To make it simple, Ukraine is “in the wrong place at the wrong time”: condemned by geography to be within the gravity pull of Russia at a time when a man like Putin is at its helm; just like the former colonel of the KGB that he is, he spares no one.
In fact, the reactions of Europe and the United States – in the improbable scenario of a military clash (exactly as with Georgia in 2008) – are limited to threats of sanctions and boycotting of the next G-8 summit. Faced with such “threats”, a man like Putin can sleep soundly.
Meanwhile, to draw an advantage from the controversy between the West and Russia, while keeping its usual low profile, another player is stepping to the plate: China, which has already acquired, and is planning to acquire further, large chunks of land (“entire territories” would be more appropriate) in the Ukrainian republic. As usual, China acquires without imposing any pseudo -humanitarian conditions: While two dispute, the third enjoys.
Europe has delayed all initiative, save for some attempts to mediate the crisis, because it lacks a common strategy: it appears divided not only on the political level but on that of its energy needs as well. Each European country attempts to bring grist to its own mill. We must remember that, notwithstanding the Nabucco gas-duct – perhaps permanently foundered by now – various European countries, with Italy in the forefront, are participating in the Russian South Stream project.
A chronic Russian-Ukrainian conflict is detrimental to all sides, even to those “third parties” that have various interests at play in the juxtaposition (exception made, perhaps, for Israel). That which should have been, in the “obscure” plans of the architects of the Ukrainian trap, the designated victim, Vladimir Putin, through determination, initiative, the ability in changing the cards on the table and to “accelerate” the events; after a much needed (because of the particular circumstances of our times) “normalization” of the situation in Ukraine – with or without the use of the military, even if limited to Crimea alone – could actually come out reinforced from this whole story.