Monday, 17 March 2014

Ukraine crisis

Much has been said about the crisis in the Ukraine and much criticism leveled at the Russian state, Putin in particular, over its invasion / occupation / interference in Ukraine's affairs; and criticism has been leveled at comments in the blogosphere, by those ill equipped to comment on international affairs or strategy - as if this was the preserve of journalists in the traditional media.  I'm talking about you, David Aaronovitch.

Much as I enjoy David Aaronovitch's articles in The Times newspaper, I take exception to his dismissal of alternative points of view in relation to the Russian action in Ukraine - by all means use your skill to demolish opposing arguments with facts, reasoning and logic, but the valid points you make are diminished by categorising alternative viewpoints as: "There’s the irritate-your-neighbour “Putin’s got a point” brigade", "The amateur strategists", "The Ladybird Book demographers".   I might be all of those things, but I also have a viewpoint.  Right. Here's my two penneth worth:
I was supportive of the popular will to rid Ukraine of its corrupt and incompetent leader Yanukovich. I was glad to see the back of him, and as far as I can judge from interviews I saw on TV before his ousting, so were of some of the Russian population in Crimea. I don't think any of the population of Ukraine want to see one set of crooks replaced by another set of crooks whatever their orientation - pro EU or pro Russian. I'm sure that all they want is an end to their economic woes, an end to corruption and an improvement in their political freedoms.

I'm certainly not anti-west, and I'm not Putin apologist either, but I do have a certain sympathy for the Russian position in this matter, although I don't exactly agree with all of the actions they have taken nor do I believe the propaganda they are putting out for justifying their actions. I can't pretend to know what their endgame is, what they are hoping to achieve or whether they are trying to annex Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine (or whether they will stop at that).

I do think that the actions in Crimea are no more or less illegal than the takeover by the protesters of the Ukrainian government in Kiev (and the ousting of Yanukovich).  Very few countries - and certainly not Russia - would tolerate an unstable country on their doorstep especially when it seems that their is an overt courtship by western countries and institutions (NATO and EU) to bring Ukraine under its sphere of influence and control.  Ukraine is a failed state: it is bankrupt;  it is not politically and culturally cohesive; the protesters might have been united in their hatred of Yanukovich, but they were so divided themselves, there was no guarantee they could have put up a serious democratic challenge to Yankovich's presidency in the elections originally scheduled for later this year.

It seems entirely logical and legal that Russia beefed up the protection of its military assets in the Crimea, however much they over-egg the pudding on the threat from Ukrainian extremists.  But I think the Russians are right to feel an existential threat to their sovereignty. Since the end of the Cold War, despite promises from the US not to make a single step eastwards, the EU and NATO has steadily advanced eastwards.  On its western borders, Russia is now flanked by NATO countries (Belarus and Ukraine being the exception).  One by one, the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and former client states of Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech republic, Slovakia have become NATO members and part of the EU.

In addition, the US and EU have long been interfering in the affairs of former Soviet republics, encouraging anti-Russian sentiment and political movements, in countries such as Ukraine and Georgia.  They stir things up but pay no heed to the consequences.  They lack the military clout or political will to follow through with their meaningful support to these countries / opposition movements in their hour of need.  Neither side can bale out Ukraine economically and there is no appetite for any military confrontation with Russia.
Remember the Balkans in the 1990s?   Germany and the EU were keen to encourage Croatian independence and separatist movements - Germany was the first to recognise Croatia as an independent country.  But they stood by and watched while Yugoslavia broke up and a humanitarian crisis of grave magnitude unfolded. Same with the Kurds in Iraq. And with the Arab spring - especially Syria (although Russia's intervention here was self-serving and morally repugnant).  

The West needs to wake up to the fact that by trying to get Ukraine under is sphere of influence, by encouraging it into the EU or NATO, it has in fact handed a huge chunk of territory to Russia - which Russia grabbed from under their noses via a stealthily executed coup d'état.

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