Sunday, February 08, 2015

Competing visions on Ukraine

Reading “pro-Russian” and “pro-Western” articles about the conflict in East Ukraine and hearing politicians on both sides talk about it one gets the impression of two different realities. The “conversation” below gives a good impression of the arguments used.

About the Maidan revolution

The Maidan revolution came from the desire of the Ukrainian people for more freedom and democracy.

The Maidan revolution was an US sponsored coup. It was a classical color revolution. See the leaked conversation between Victoria Nuland and US ambassador Pyatt as evidence.

Pro-Western: Opinion polls show that support for Yanukovich was very low at the time of the revolution.

Opinion polls show that only about 50% supported the “coup”. Most of the rest didn’t like Yanukovich but they believed that the constitution should have been respected and that Yanukovich should have been allowed to serve the rest of his term.

The new government will finally liberate Ukraine from the oligarchs and reform its economy.

Oligarchs control the new government. Since the revolution there have been almost no reforms. Very likely Yanukovich would have introduced more reforms. Not because he liked it, but because he would have been forced by the IMF. Since the revolution the Western countries have played sugar daddy for Ukraine, taking away the need to reform.

Ukraine is now democratic and free.

 Pro-Russian: Since the massacre of protesters in Odessa on 2 May and the farcical investigation of that disaster adversaries of the Maidan have become very careful about protesting. The coming lustration with very general criteria further adds to their fear.

Pro-Western: Russia is violating Ukraine’s independence by supporting the uprising in the East.

Pro-Russian: The US violated Ukraine’s independence by installing a puppet regime in Kiev.


Pro-Western: Poroshenko was democratically chosen.

There was no level playing field: a pro-Russian candidate was beaten up by protesters. Also Poroshenko betrayed his voters. Before he was chosen he promised that he would immediately start peace talks. After the election he increased the hostilities, claiming that true peace could only come through a total victory.

Pro-Western: The parliamentary elections showed that support for right extremist groups is low. Neither Right Sektor nor Svoboda passed the 5% threshold.

The power of right extremists in Ukraine is not rooted in their popularity but in the threat coming from their militias and in their occupation of key positions in the army and police.  Since the revolution the mainstream parties have copied much of their agenda.

The violence in the East

Pro-Western: The Russians and the rebels started the violence.

Pro-Russian: The violence started with Right Sektor and other Maidan militia harassing local administrators who didn’t support the Maidan and disturbing anti-Maidan protests.

Pro-Western: Without support from Russia the uprising would never have come from the ground. The rebels are armed from Russia. And without the influx of Russian soldiers in September the government could have ended the uprising.

Putin has said many times that he considers a defeat of the rebellion not acceptable. He wants a negotiated solution.


Pro-Western: The rebels shot the plane. There are lots of indications that the plane was shot by a BUK missile and that the rebels had such a missile at the time of the disaster.

Ukrainian government: Russian troops shot the plane. Only they had the knowledge and technology.

Pro-Russian: The plane was shot by an Ukrainian BUK or by an Ukrainian war plane. The Ukrainian government keeps refusing to disclose information such as the conversation with the cockpit and the radar images.

The Minsk Peace Process

Autonomy for the Donbass was at the core of the Minsk Protocol. But Ukraine refuses to give it.

Pro-Western: Autonomy for the Donbass would create yet another Russian “protected” enclave like South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdniester.

Pro-Russian: South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdniester have remained problems because the US has encouraged the regimes in Georgia and Moldova to be uncompromising. It is not only Russia’s fault. Also, those are ethnic conflicts in a sense that Donbass isn’t.

Autonomy is a standard solution shortly after conflicts when there isn’t trust between the parties. When trust comes back it can be gradually reduced. By refusing autonomy the West implicitly states that the conflict can only be solved by surrender of the rebels.

Pro-Western: The goal of the present rebel offensive is to increase the economic viability of their enclave. It is against the spirit of Minsk. They want to conquer Shchastya for its power plant, Andiivka for its coke factory and Mariupol for its steel mills. They want Donetsk airport because it blocks their northern expansion. They want Mariupol because it would open the road to a land
bridge towards Crimea. And they want Debaltsevo because that would make it easier to import weapons by rail from Russia and so enable an offensive elsewhere.

Pro-Russian: The goal of the present rebel offensive is to make the Donbass less
vulnerable for shelling by the government army and for sudden attacks. The reason why the government has so many troops in Debaltsevo is because they planned another attack from there.

Russia wants to control Ukraine’s foreign policy. They have made many demands in that direction for peace in Ukraine.

Russia’s demands are rather limited and are shared by a large segment of the Ukrainian population. It was the EU that tried to force Ukraine to a foreign policy that it didn’t want when it forced it to choose between the EU and Russia – instead of allowing it to maintain its traditional role as bridge between the two.

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