Coup on the Horizon

Today’s deal of compromise between the united opposition and Viktor Yanukovych has yielded little love from the Euromaidan crowds. So little, that violence may come of it. The fragile peace agreement is beneficial insofar as it maintains the tempers of the Kyivan crowds, but baseline concessions may be too little too late.

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In response to the deal, Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh rejected the agreement, stating “We have to state the obvious fact that the criminal regime had not yet realized either the gravity of its evil doing,” and said the agreement failed to address the arrest of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, Berkut commanders involved in the murder of civilians, removal of General Prosecutor Pshonka and Defense Ministers, ban on the Party of Regions and Communist Party, and guarantees of safety for those involved in the opposition. He then called for the ‘people’s revolution’ to continue until there is a full removal of power from authorities. Euromaidan self-defense leader Andriy Parubiy insisted that elections be held as soon as possible, and reiterated that one of the main demands of protesters has been the resignation of President Yanukovych. Automaidan also announced it also would not accept anything short of Yanukovych’s resignation.

These are all valid claims. The concessions made today would have been acceptable to the crowds in November, maybe even January, but not after the massacre that occurred on the 20th. With blood on his hands, Yanukovych cannot command public confidence, even if it’s for 9 months. Nobody will pretend nothing happened for the next 9 months. A lame duck option isn’t possible.

Vitali Klitschko apologized to the crowd on Maidan if he offended anyone by shaking hands with Yanukovych, realizing he was at risk of losing the crowd, and thus the people’s, support. Activists on Maidan responded to the deal by booing opposition leaders. Then an anonymous Sotnia soldier took the stage with opposition leaders standing by speechless, and warned that if Yanukovych does not resign by 10am the next day, an armed coup would be staged. Even radical Oleh Lyashko expressed his support to the call that Yanukovych resign by the 10am deadline; “Either he resigns, or we take him away,” Lyashko told the crowd.

Yarosh made it clear that he and his men would not disarm or surrender state buildings unless the president capitulated. Coffins of the deceased were brought to the Euromaidan stage. To prove they weren’t kidding (unknowns) torched the summer home of pro-Russian and Putin family member Viktor Medvedchuk’s summer home. A message has been sent.

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In the early morning, Andriy Parubiy, speaking in his capacity as leader of Maidan self-defense and security, announced that all opposition factions had agreed to take further action, and that the military was with them. He made clear that all government buildings in central Kyiv were under their control.

Parubiy, it seems, has succeeded in finding arguments for the Maidan. God willing! Now all the leaders of the Sotnia [companies] are declaring their consent to coordinated action, including the hundreds of the Right Sector” – journalist Natalia Ligacheva

Parubiy reappeared appeared on stage with  military staff to a cheering crowd.

We’re in control of Kiev. We have seized control of the government quarter […] We created a headquarters in the Maidan and we will not tolerate any action without coordinating with it. We must show that when Kyiv is under the control of the Maidan, there will be order in Kyiv. Where there is Maidan, there will be order and discipline.”

At night, it was announced that Maidan self-defense formations had occupied all government buildings in Kyiv, including the Cabinet, Parliament, and most importantly the Presidential Administration. According to Parubiy, 700 (or 7 Sotnia, if that’s your preferred unit of measurement) currently occupy Parliament, 1,900 are in the Presidential Administration, and another 1,500 in the Interior Ministry. Their numbers grow as more conscripts join and disenfranchised police defect.

So far it doesn’t look like the Sotnia of Parubiy, Yarosh, and Danyliuk are going to wait for this to end on it’s own. They may just take it. And with the city devoid of police forces at the moment, it’s theirs for the taking. 

This article will update as the situation develops

Snyder: Putin’s Eurasianism

Concerning the formation of a Eurasian Union of post-Soviet states, Timothy Snyder elaborates on the ideological roots of Putin politics, and the underpinnings of the propaganda that fuels it. Often times those who oppose Russian imperialism are labelled as fascists by state media in attempts to discredit opposing views. Snyder discusses in his upcoming piece for the New York Review both the obvious irony in such criticism, as well as the foundations of what may ultimately amount to Russian fascism in open policy.

The ethnic purification of the communist legacy is precisely the logic of National Bolshevism, which is the foundational ideology of Eurasianism today. Putin himself is an admirer of the philosopher Ivan Ilin, who wanted Russia to be a nationalist dictatorship.

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.

The point man for Eurasian and Ukrainian policy in the Kremlin is Sergei Glazyev, an economist who like Dugin tends to combine radical nationalism with nostalgia for Bolshevism. He was a member of the Communist Party and a Communist deputy in the Russian parliament before cofounding a far-right party called Rodina, or Motherland. In 2005 some of its deputies signed a petition to the Russian prosecutor general asking that all Jewish organizations be banned from Russia. Later that year Motherland was banned from taking part in further elections after complaints that its advertisements incited racial hatred.

Why exactly do people with such views think they can call other people fascists? And why does anyone on the Western left take them seriously? One line of reasoning seems to run like this: the Russians won World War II, and therefore can be trusted to spot Nazis. Much is wrong with this. World War II on the eastern front was fought chiefly in what was then Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus, not in Soviet Russia. Five percent of Russia was occupied by the Germans; all of Ukraine was occupied by the Germans. Apart from the Jews, whose suffering was by far the worst, the main victims of Nazi policies were not Russians but Ukrainians and Belarusians. There was no Russian army fighting in World War II, but rather a Soviet Red Army. Its soldiers were disproportionately Ukrainian, since it took so many losses in Ukraine and recruited from the local population. The army group that liberated Auschwitz was called the First Ukrainian Front.

Timothy Snyder is an American historian and Professor of History at Yale University.

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Hepburn: Putin’s meddling in Ukraine sinister

The former colonel’s approach follows standard practices, which Putin acquired at the KGB. First, create chaos where you want to rule then oppress the population, introduce fear, force a crisis and, finally, take over by offering “salvation” from the opposition now called right-wing extremists, mobsters and terrorists.

Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has been escalating. He gained expanded control for foreign policy, defence and security ministries. Hateful anti-Ukrainian propaganda bombard the media in both countries and in the West to discourage support for the opposition. Currently, the most dangerous tactic is the insinuation Russia must be part of the resolution of the crisis, despite having had a heavy hand in destabilizing Ukraine by pressuring Yanukovych to drop progress to Euro integration at the 11th hour. Throwing the fox among the chickens is not the way out of Ukraine’s crisis.

As was the case under the former USSR, however, Western-grown neo-Russia apologists like Stephen Cohen, Dmytir Simes or under-informed pundits like Patrick Buchanan are Russia enablers. They snarl at the U.S. to stay out of Ukraine’s internal affairs, allowing Russia to advance as a peacemaker, despite ongoing documentation of its hand in the violence since protests began in November and war rhetoric.

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Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former Canadian government executive, is a founding member of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine.

Is Russia Opening a ‘Crimean Front’?

Recent discussions, such as Ukrainian journalist Velentina Samar’s article, Russia has Opened a Crimean Front, assert that experts are now seeing the necessary preconditions for Russia engaging in a ‘Georgian scenario’ with regard to Crimea. In the aforementioned article, Samar claims that there is clear evidence that such an Anschluss is already being carried out. American analyst Paul Goble was kind enough to offer translation and commentary on the scenario as well in his own article.

Samar points out the ongoing Russian pressure from trade wars to act as a lever in the region, its current involvement in the formation of a ‘fifth column’, and the laying of groundwork for military deployment.

Neo Cossacks
Militants & neo-Cossacks at a rally in Sevastopol

With regard to the emergence of a fifth column in Crimea, possible suitors could be neo-Cossacks, the use of Russian biker gangs, or neo-Soviet radicals in general. The issue here which requires further study is just how much popular support such groups could rally, or how effective their mobilization could be. By and large, the majority of the nation’s so-called Antimaidans outside of Kiev have taken place in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, but not much has else has taken place in the rest of the republic. While incredible for their visual symbolism, the effectiveness of these groups remains to be seen. As Goble pointed out recently, “ethnic Russians in south-eastern Ukraine haven’t pushed their own agenda or organized their own groups to push either changes within Ukraine or their own social issues.” The Russian Bloc, if used as a measure of political radicalism in Crimea, is for all intents and purposes is fringe even in the regional scene. While Ossetia was in crisis, Crimea is comparatively sleeping.

With regard to potential military involvement, Samar does allege what would be troubling developments in Crimea at the moment. Vladislav Surkov, former Deputy Prime Minister and noted supporter of Chechen leader Kadyrov, who is also known for his his involvement in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has recently been visiting Crimea to speak with the political leadership. The discussions, she says, concern the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, connecting Crimea to Russia. This, while potentially a long-term play, would allow for theoretical troop movements to take place. When Russia invaded Georgia, it did so via the Roki Tunnel.

Umland’s recent article The EU should prevent the “Georgian scenario” in Ukraine, also weighs in on this topic, pointing out that notable pro-Russian politicians and activists has begun petitioning for Moscow to intervene in Ukraine to “protect” the inhabitants of the Black Sea peninsula, which holds a Russian ethnic majority. The echoes of the need to protect Russians abroad misleadingly points to the Georgian scenario and here is why: South Ossetia’s population prior to invasion was 3% Russian (2,100) citizens. Abkhazia, by comparison, also had no ethnic Russian minority of note. The pretext, instead, was that much of the population (illegally) held dual Russian citizenship. A much better historical comparison of ethnic liberation as a pretext for invasion would be the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia. Also, a Georgian scenario would require an armed civil conflict between the Ukrainian military and Crimean separatists, a Sudeten scenario would only require allegations of oppression.

So, is Russia really opening a Crimean Front?

Motyl illustrated recently the ineffectiveness of a separatist or occupation scenario. The ruling regime benefits more from the threat of separatism in order to receive concessions, than from actually leaving the country. The Crimea is an economic sink on the state budget, receiving considerable subsidization from Kiev. A pseudo-independent Crimea would require substantial investment and subsidization from Moscow – a Crimea within the Russian Federation would be even costlier. South Ossetia has a population of 55,000 people, while Crimea’s population is nearly 2 million. That is also 2 million potential less pro-Russian voters in Ukrainian borders.The realpolitik conclusions here are straightforward from Russia’s perspective. Perhaps it is too early, and sensational, to speak of a ‘Crimean Front’ having already been opened.

Motyl: The Secessionist’s Bluff

Alexander Motyl explains why threats of secessionism in Ukraine are a bluff which would only negatively impact the Donbas regime as well as Russia, and how Ukraine’s divisions are no different than any modern state:

Has any country ever been “one” country—especially twenty-odd years after its establishment? The United States was a loose agglomeration of former colonies—and, oh, yes, there was that slavery thing between the North and the South. Canada? Ditto. Otto von Bismarck’s Germany? Mazzini’s Italy? Ditto, ditto. And how about Russia? It’s always been a multinational empire marked by enormous regional, ethnic, and confessional diversity

Personally, I have no doubt that Ukraine without its southeast would be much stronger, more stable, and more prosperous than Ukraine with its southeast. The southeast’s rust-belt economy needs either to be shut down entirely or to be refitted at the cost of trillions of dollars of non-existent investments. Moreover, the statistics plainly show that Kyiv subsidizes the Donbas, and not vice versa. The southeast also has a low birth rate, a high death rate, low life expectancy, high energy consumption, and high AIDS and crime rates. Last but not least, the southeast is home to the ruling Party of Regions and the Communist Party. Remove the southeast and Ukraine’s treasury experiences an immediate boon; its demographics, energy consumption, and health improve; and its politics automatically become more democratic and less corrupt.

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Minorities on Maidan: An interview with a Jewish Euromaidan self-defense unit leader

Does your self-defense unit contain other Jews?

In my unit are four Israelis with military experience, who, like me, came to Euromaidan with a desire to avoid useless sacrifice. I would say that our whole group are “blue helmets” (an analogy with UN peacekeepers). The mood is quite nervous at the Independence Square; many people want to avenge the blood of the victims, even more are tired of the inaction of the opposition  all these hotheads are full of illusions about what real battles are like and, accordingly, can’t imagine the consequences. They also don’t realize that on the other side of the barricades are people too, so our actions must not defame Euromaidan with a human face.

Have you encountered, not even outright anti-Semitism, but any condescendence? Do they see you as an outsider?

There was no shadow of such sentiments. I talked since the first days with Right Sector and the UNA-UNSO – with all the people that in peacetime would be unlikely to find common ground. I see myself exclusively as a Jew, and religious. Under my command are dozens of resistance fighters, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Russians – who do not even try to speak Ukrainian – and we have not encountered a manifestation of intolerance towards each other. All of them have respect for my religion – they already know what I eat, what not to eat, etc. and it has not caused any animosity.

Read the full interview (English translation)
Read the full interview (Russian)

Pifer: ‘The EU and the US have leverage’

DW recently conducted an interview with the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer. In it he provides his recommendations to the current crisis and discusses the prospects of Euro-American involvement.

DW: An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Glazyev, accused the United States last week of not only financing the Ukrainian opposition, but went so far as to say that Washington was arming “rebels.” Is there truth to these claims or is this hyperbole?

The idea that the US government is financing the protests is utter nonsense. There’s no evidence that I have seen of it. And the idea that Mr. Glazyev says it’s providing weapons is also nonsense. If you go back and look at what Mr. Glazyev has said, he’s been the point person in Russia to try and do everything he can to undermine Ukraine’s effort to do the association agreement with the European Union. And he’s said some things in the past that have had very little credibility.

DW: How would you characterize the US relationship with the Ukrainian opposition and the protest movement?

The US government has reached out and has contacts with the opposition, which I think is appropriate for the embassy and for visiting officials to do. I think the US government would like to find a way to encourage the opposition and President Yanukovych to get a meaningful political dialogue underway. That would be the best way out of the current political situation.

DW: In January, Arizona Senator John McCain met with several Ukrainian opposition leaders, including Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who’s made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. What’s Washington’s relationship with the right-wing groups that are participating in the protests?

I think there actually have been conversations with Tyahnybok since his party became a political force. And I know for a fact that the American embassy has been pretty direct with Mr. Tyahnybok and the Svoboda party about some concerns about some things they have said, including handing over several pages of quotes of things that were seen as anti-Semitic and such.

DW: When we talk about Yanukovych’s inner circle are we talking about people in government or people in the business sector?

The people who have the control of levers of force are in government. You want them to know this. But I think also when you’re talking about the inner circle, you’re talking about business people. Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych. I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with President Yanukovych to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution. And if there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever.

DW: In the leaked conversation between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, the two US diplomats discuss the roles of the opposition leaders. Is the US laying out a roadmap here for a political transition?

I read that as a conversation between two American diplomats, how they thought things ought to play out from an analytical sense. I did not read that conversation as them saying, “and this is now the roadmap that we will give to the opposition.” First of all, it would be awfully presumptuous for them to assume that they could dictate and provide that kind of roadmap. And there’s no indication that Vitali Klitschko or Arseniy Yatsenyuk or Oleh Tyahnybok are open to that kind of influence.

DW: Why are there conflicting interests between Russia on the one side and the US and the EU on the other side in Ukraine?

For Vladimir Putin, I think that this is a hugely important question. It’s important for his view of Russia as a great power having a sphere of influence in the post- Soviet space. Ukraine is a big piece of that and if Ukraine is not part of it, that leaves a big hole. Second, I think it’s also important to Mr. Putin domestically because he wants to be shown as taking a tough line and bringing Ukraine closer.I don’t think the West – particularly the European Union – has engaged in this in a geopolitical sense. The EU could have had a signed association agreement two years ago, except they said, “no, we want Mr. Yanukovych to demonstrate his commitment to moving toward a more democratic path first.” The European Union put in that case democracy ahead of geopolitics, which was the right decision.The United States for most of the last five years has come to a conclusion that in terms of Ukraine’s engagement with the West, the logical path for Ukraine to proceed is down the path of doing the association agreement with the European Union. So the United States, I think, has been quite comfortable letting the European Union take the lead for most of the past several years.

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Goble: Ukrainian Activism Highlights Russian Submissiveness and thus Infuriates Russians

“Nothing so infuriates a Russian as does indisputable evidence of his own slavish submissiveness both in the east of Ukraine and in the post-Soviet state as a whole,” according to one ethnic Russian commentator, and thus Ukrainian activism has challenged the self-assessments of Russians and driven them out of their “comfort zone.”

What the Maidan has done, Viktor Yadukha says, is divide people not between supporters and opponents of the Ukrainian protest but between “those who believe in the possibility and necessity of ‘achieving liberation by their own hand’ and those who don’t believe in that”

The latter, he continues, generally “believe in conspiracies,” a belief that allows them to feel about not taking action on their own behalf. “The more global this secret behind the scenes action is assumed to be … the greater justification there is [in their minds] for sitting on the couch” rather than going into the streets.

This is an attitude and approach that underlies all assessments of what is going on. “Sooner or later, we Russians,” he says, “will have to become involved with the arrangement of life in our own country,” especially given its problems. “But how will we be able to do this if the archetype of national behavior is [someone] ‘who very much loves to talk back to the TV.’”

It is important to note that ethnic Russians in south-eastern Ukraine haven’t pushed their own agenda or organized their own groups to push either changes within Ukraine or their own social issues. Instead, they have “preferred to wait” for the bosses, any bosses to decide. “For these people as for the overwhelming majority of citizens of the Russian Federation, everything is decided in the capital.”

On the basis of his experience in his native Sevastopol, Yadukha says, he is confident that “if Yanukovych falls, then the authorities and militia of south-eastern Ukraine will raise the black-red flags of the OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists]” and then be ready to move against those who had supported Yanukovych and been part of the anti-Maidan.

Ethnic Russians wherever they may be are ready to follow orders, he continues, recalling the half-joking comment of dissident writer Aleksandr Zinovyev to a group of Sovietologists 40 years ago that the best way to defeat the Soviet Union was not to organize the population but rather to put their own person in as general secretary of the CPSU.

“I don’t know why we [ethnic] Russians are this way,” he says, and whether the Mongol yoke, serfdom, 1917, 1938 or 1991 are to blame. “But it is obvious that the ‘Russian vertical’ presupposes the submissive subordination to any change of course,” however radical, for the boss is seen expressing “the will of God” and any opposition is “from the anti-Christ.”

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Timtchenko: The West’s Deadly Illusion of a Divided Nation

The problem is that much of the media’s referenced information is coming from the outdated 2010 presidential elections or even from the 2004 Orange Revolution data. Understandably, this is majorly explained by the available data that the media looks at. For example, Western scholarly political science research on Ukraine can be characterized by four distinct peaks since the 1980’s: the first peak was in 1994 and can be explained by the interest in the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union; the second was in 1999 and is explained by Kuchma’s economic reforms and the signing of the PCA agreement in 1996 (which came into force in 1998); 2005 was the third because of the Orange Revolution; and the fourth peak was in 2009, explained by the unexpected turnabout of Yanukovych’s presidency. Yet, little scholarly work has been done on Ukraine since then. During the past 6 months – the picture has dramatically changed. As for the past two months – the harsh division is simply not there anymore.

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