Mr Kerry, the American Secretary of State, in response to Russian forces occupying strategic areas of the Crimean Peninsula, as the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, has said, by way of censure and criticism, that: ‘You just don’t in the Twenty First Century behave in a Nineteenth Century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped up pretext.’ That’s a bit rich, coming from an American politician; when we have had a succession of American invasions of sovereign nations, and unilateral exercises in regime-change, from Iraq to Afghanistan; none of which have been successful, or achieved anything near the stated objectives. And in the case of Iraq has led to death and destruction on an epic scale.
We have seen the Gadhafi regime in Libya toppled by NATO, with American participation; which may have got rid of a dictator, but which hasn’t led to peace and stability in that troubled and divided nation. And moreover these countries were far away from American shores, and with which it shared little prior political or cultural relationships with.
Whatever one’s views of Russian intervention in Crimea, it is a place with strong cultural, political and historic associations with Russia. It has a majority Russian-speaking population; it is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sebastopol; and prior to Khrushchev handing it to Ukraine (without of course asking the local populace if they were happy about such a move) in 1954, it was actually part of Russia. (Indeed, imagine if we had some unelected dictator in the UK, who decided, on a whim, to gift the Channel Islands to France as a goodwill gesture, without asking the people who lived on those islands, or in the rest of the UK, what they felt about such a transfer of sovereignty? I don’t think that such a move would go down at all well with the ordinary man or woman in the street). As so often with American foreign policy, it is a matter of almost institutionalised double-standards; of do as I say not do as I do; and espousing pristine principles which can be effortlessly bypassed by an appeal to American exceptionalism.
Events in Ukraine and Kiev over recent weeks and days, which have led to this crisis, have been hailed by some foreign politicians and commentators as a spontaneous revolution on behalf of the downtrodden masses, in that country, to unseat and overthrow a dictatorial and oppressive regime. But was it as simplistic, black and white, and one might almost say, as melodramatic as that? Was it a contest of good versus evil, with the West and democratic freedom fighters on one side, and a corrupt regime, and Mr Putin, on the other?
However you might paint it, this was the overthrow of a democratically elected government, and the ousting of a leader who came to power, through the ballot box, in an entirely lawful and constitutional manner. And his removal was brought about by an organised and impassioned, and in some cases violent mob, with much outside, American and European support and encouragement. Indeed a significant number of the more virulent and violent protesters in Maidan Square and elsewhere in Kiev and Western Ukraine, were members of extremist, nationalist Neo-Nazi Parties, espousing an intolerant, racist and anti-democratic ideology. (Though Nazism, or Neo-Nazism, is a curious ideology for people in that part of the world to espouse, seeing that Hitler hated Slavs almost as much as he hated Jews). Indeed you only have to look at some of the news footage of Maidan Square in Kiev, to see where a whole, substantial block of buildings has been burnt out and gutted, to appreciate that this wasn’t a peaceful, non-violent protest.
Mr Yanokovich was far from an ideal politician (though of course there aren’t too many of those about, East or West) – he had his enemies, and made mistakes; particularly over his handling of recent negotiations with the EU – but is that a justification for a mob to take the law into their own hands and to remove him and his government by force? (And in the process creating a political and social vacuum at the heart of power in Ukraine). If they disliked him, his government and its policies – as clearly many people did – they only had to wait a year or so for an election, to vote him out of office and elect another leader and government, to power, with a different policy agenda.
Indeed what kind of legitimacy has a government, that was literally cobbled together on the streets of Kiev, that was brought to power by a militant mob, that has no democratic mandate, and that has alienated much of the East and South of the country, who voted for Mr Yanokovich and his Party of the Regions? And which to add to the lunacy has passed a law, though with what real legitimacy, which has removed Russian as the second language of Ukraine. Though it is a language that is spoken by a significant minority of the nation, particularly in the West and South of the country; and by a clear majority in Crimea. That ludicrous ‘law’, makes, at a stroke, millions of Russian speakers into second class citizens in their own country; and can only stoke further division and resentment in that divided, troubled and bankrupt nation. If they deliberately wanted to foster division and even separation in the country, or even provoke a Yugoslav style civil war, they couldn’t have gone about it a better way.
To add to the absurdity this new, adhoc government, in Kiev, has announced that it is sending out some wealthy unelected oligarchs, like so many latter day Proconsuls, to provinces in the East and South, more sympathetic to Russia, in order to try to win those restive populations over. A ploy that is almost certain to fail in its objectives. Especially when one considers that it is the influence of oligarchs on successive governments which is the source of much of the graft and corruption of Ukrainian politics.
Do the impassioned feelings of a significant number of disgruntled people amount to sufficient justification for ousting and overturning a democratically elected leader? One might recall that many millions of people in the UK, at the time, hated Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax – they thought it unfair and discriminatory (indeed there was the slogan at the time: ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’); and thousands of people went onto the streets in noisy rallies and protests, to show their disapproval. Others broke the law by deliberately refusing to pay the tax. And some were sent to jail because of that. And it was so unpopular, it proved to be unworkable in practise, and was eventually dropped. But I don’t think there were many people, outside the ranks of the Trotskyite and revolutionary left, who would have claimed that this would have given them the right to ditch our democratic procedures and overthrow an elected government by force, and put in a new one, drawn from the streets, in its place? And if Ukrainian and Russian politicians had turned up in London and other UK cities to encourage and egg on these revolutionary anti-government mobs, and to hand them cakes and cookies, it would have been thought to have been a great impertinence.
Prior to the sudden changeover of power in Ukraine, the anti-government protestors, activists and spokespeople, rejected almost any and every compromise that the Yanakovich government made with them, in order to avoid the chaos and disruption we have since seen. When he sacked some controversial ministers, it had no effect, as they only accepted their own absolutist and rejectionist agenda. And they even reneged on a solemn agreement they undertook – negotiated between some of their representatives and the Yanokovich government, with the active participation of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland – to hold a general election later in the year, to seek to resolve matters through a legitimate, democratic and constitutional manner. That agreement was binned and rejected by the mobs on the streets, who were acting as the self-appointed leaders of the nation. That would have been the ideal way out of the impasse, and might have helped to cool the emotional temperature down a little. But that was torn up by the opposition, before the ink was dry on the paper – though without eliciting a pipsqueak of protest from European and American politicians, for the bad faith that entailed.
The violence continued, government buildings were ransacked, police officers and security personnel were taken prisoner, people were killed, on both sides, and Mr Yanokovich and other members of his government had to flee from Kiev, under threats to their lives. Indeed, in a later speech to the media, Mr Yanokovich even said that the lives of his grandchildren were threatened by those mobs. Hardly what one would call the evidence of a liberal or democratic movement? In their zeal and avidity to get the Ukraine out of the Russian orbit and into the Western camp – into the embrace of the EU and NATO – American and European politicians, and EU bureaucrats, have deliberately downplayed the role of the radical far right in these recent events, and have virtually ignored the views and the interests of those who live in the East and the South of the country. They have tried to impose their own template on the country, in their own political interests, while ignoring political, cultural and historical reality. All to disastrous effect.
Mr Yanokovich – who had been on the run since leaving office, and has recently surfaced in Russia, where he addressed the media - has been treated, by the new adhoc government in Ukraine, as the universal scapegoat, on which to heap all the ills and evils on the system. They have shown images of his luxurious residence, and the expensive baubles and luxuries he possessed, in order to demonise his character, and to make him out to be some kind of plunderer in chief. (Though I suspect that if a rampaging mob of disaffected citizens stormed the Elysee Palace, or the White House, or various other Western presidential palaces, they might be shocked and taken aback at some of the luxuries and riches they might see there, but which are normally off limits to members of the public. Indeed it has been reported that President Hollande’s mistress, and first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, destroyed two and half million quid’s worth of luxury items, including an exquisite Louis XVI Sevres vase - money that the French taxpayers will have to stump up – when she went on the rampage after being told that she was to be dumped in favour of another woman, and before being taken to a hospital for some rest and recuperation). The fact is that the Ukrainian political system as a whole is almost a byword for graft and corruption, you might even call it a kleptocracy, and has been ever since it became an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s doubtful if Mr Yanokovich was any more crooked and corrupt that his predecessors in office. And if the spotlight had been turned on their private lives, in the same manner, it would have probably been to similar effect. Ukrainian power politicians and leaders have frequently been superrich oligarchs who used power to increase their own wealth, even at the expense of the general good. Mr Yanokovich was no exception to that rule. (Indeed his predecessor, as Prime Minister, Yulio Tymoshenko – now released from jail, and who many are flagging up as the country’s saviour – had a rather shady business background, herself, before entering the political arena. She is herself, like so many other Ukrainian politicians, a fabulously wealthy oligarch, who acquired her fortune through some dodgy business deals; and then used her wealth to bankroll her political career).
This sinister synergy between private wealth and political power perhaps explains why Ukraine – which has considerable natural resources, developed industries, and an intelligent and well educated populace – is, despite all those advantages, such a basket case that it is in danger of an economic meltdown, if it doesn’t receive a huge multi-billion injection of funds from some outside source. (And the mere five hundred million Euros that the EU offered the country, in recent negotiations, was peanuts, up to the vast sums the country actually needs to keep itself afloat; though the EU has spent astronomical amounts of money trying to shore up the deeply flawed and malfunctioning Euro currency).
An article in the Mail gave a list of fabulously wealthy Ukrainian oligarchs, who are sitting on a fortune, just in the UK alone. How did they get hold of all that money, and siphon it abroad, when it could be of such tangible use to the struggling Ukrainian people, and help to shore up a badly damaged and malfunctioning economy? There is something rotten in the state of Ukrainian politics, and that won’t be cured by merely blaming and stigmatising one politician, or trying to finger, as the right-wing press and various commentators are trying to do, Mr Putin, as some sinister manipulator of events behind the scenes. It isn’t just a change of parties and personalities that is required; the whole system needs opening up and reforming.
We have had some all too typical, right-wing, Putin-bashing, anti-Russian hysteria, from the press and politicians. In a recent debate in parliament, some politicians, known for their enthusiasm for Neo-con adventurism, and the projection of American and NATO power, criticised Russia for pursuing the politics of ‘spheres of influence’. Though you never heard them use such language when George W. Bush was on the rampage.
This year is the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, one of the most murderous and destructive conflicts in human history. A war that was initiated through a series of cack-handed, diplomatic cockups and blunders; and which went on to destroy millions of lives and wipe out old empires and dynasties that had been around for hundreds of years. Unfortunately the politicians and bureaucrats of the present day, pursuing their blinkered, purblind agendas, don’t seem to have leaned any significant lessons from past blunders and mistakes.