Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reaction to the ICG on Ukraine

The International Crisis Group has published a report ("Ukraine: Running out of Time") on the Ukraine crisis. I found it rather lacking so below you will find a refutal of some of the claims and recommendations they make. Quotes from their report are in italic.

The first thing that strikes the attention is the selective history. Victoria Nuland isn't mentioned once. Neither is the controversy on who did the Maidan shooting.

The report talks about the protests as if the Maidan protests were a single thing. In fact the forever changing subject of the protests (first the treaty with the EU, then new legislation regulating protests, then violence by the government and finally - mainly after the takeover - corruption and economic mismanagement) lends support to the claim that the desire to topple Yanukovich - probably funded by the US - was the real motive.

The separatists’ objective seems to be to provoke sufficient disruption and bloodshed so that President Vladimir Putin can assert, if he chooses, what he says is Moscow’s right to protect Russian speakers anywhere.
Most of the bloodshed came from the government. Putin doesn't seem very enthusiastic about annexation. It looks like he will only take that step if government repression from Kiev becomes so fierce that there is wide demand for it among the population.

President Putin appears to consider that a West-leaning Ukraine government born of mass protests would set a dangerous example at home and thwart his ambition of establishing dominant Russian influence over as much of the former Soviet republics as possible.
This is a standard claim from State Department propaganda. There is not a shred of evidence for this claim. It seems designed to divert the attention from the demands that Putin did make: no NATO on his doorsteps, continuation of the economic ties between East Ukraine and Russia, decent treatment of Ukraine's Russian speakers and reduction of the influence of right extremists.
In fact it is the US that has destabilized Ukraine by sponsoring two "revolutions".

A mid-April four-party – Russia, Kyiv, U.S., EU – Geneva agreement to calm the situation was ignored by the separatist forces, so is a dead letter.
In the report it is mentioned that this agreement should also cover end of occupations by Right Sektor. However, it fails to mention how the Kiev government has tried to circumvent the agreement, enlisting Right Sektor fighters in the National Guard and "legalizing" the occupation of buildings in Kiev. In the recommendations it is suggested that only the "separatist forces" were at fault. It is a common problem in ICG reports, where the summary and recommendations often look like they were censored by the State Department.

So too [high on the governments agenda] should preparing the population for the inevitable pain of deep reforms required to save an economy wrecked by two decades of endemic corruption and incompetence.
This is mixing things up. Under Yanukovich the country lived beyond its means, so it now needs urgent budget cuts. The Maidan revolution didn't help either: unrest is bad for the economy. But these are all recent problems, not 20 years old.
Other reforms are needed too but that is another story.

Although conditions for the election are far from ideal, it is vital it takes place as planned and nationwide. The polls are needed, above all, to produce a new leader with enough public support to steer the country through a process of national reconciliation and painful economic reform.
Turchynov has turned out to be a divisive president, so replacing him could turn out to be beneficial. However, any look at the threats and violence directed at those parliamentarians and presidential candiadtes who don't agree with the Maidan revolution should be enough to destroy any doubt that these will not really free elections.
There is also the problem that the main candidates are all oligarchs. The fact that some see Tyahnybok as the only serious politician says enough.

The government inherited security, police and defence structures that had by accident or design almost ceased to exist under the deposed president.
Again a myth enthusiastically spread by Kerry and Yatsenyuk. It ignores the demonization of the police by the Maidan protesters. It ignores the dissolution of Berkut. It ignores that the government is asking the police to use much more violence against protesters than they did under Yanukovich.
As for the army, according to the constitution it can only be employed against civilians under a state of emergency. The government has tried to circumvent this rule by painting the protesters in the East as "terrorists".
What doesn't help is that the government refuses to negotiate with the protesters in the East and instead has sent Right Sektor thugs to impose "order".

Right Sector emerged directly from the Maidan demonstrations
This claim is simply wrong. Right Sektor is primarily a confederation of existing right extremist organizations. That this was connected to the Maidan protests is only of secondary importance.

The most recent polls do not indicate widespread fear among the majority of Russian-speakers or ethnic Russians.
This selective quotation of opinion polls ignores the main problem for the government in Kiev: that most people in the South and East consider the Turchynov administration illegal.

10. Express support for a post-election government of national unity
This is one of the recommendations. Interestingly the report mentions that the West of the country is overrepresented in the government but fails to mention that as a problem. I think it is. Before the takeover a national unity government had been promised. It is also usual rather usual in situations like the present one.

4. Distance itself publicly and as rapidly as possible from the extremist and anti-democratic ideology of the Svoboda (Freedom) Party and Right Sector.
This recommendation suggests a light disconnection from reality:
- the government is increasingly relying on Right Sektor fighters
- the report completely ignores the militia of Kolomoysky that has been accused to have played a major role in the violence in Odessa and Mariupol.
- Western leaders are meeting with those guys and lending them credibility.

A successful, democratic Ukraine, substantially integrated economically in the West, but outside military alliances and a close cultural, linguistic and trading partner mindful of Russian interests would benefit all.
It is not clear what the ICG really wants. At one moment they ask for economic integration with the West while at another they talk about a bridge function between Russia and the West.