Monday, April 14, 2014

"Terms of Crisis" by George Packer re Ukraine situation

Posted: April 14, 2014

On April 7, 2014, Tom Rogers wrote:
Dear Zhenya and Birgitta:

Please read George Packer’s analysis in THE NEW YORKER’S March 31 lead editorial by George Packer (“Terms of Crisis”). He nails it.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Neo-fascists in Ukraine???

Posted: 1 April 2014

During the unrest in Ukraine, which was sparked in November 2013 by then-president Yanukovich after he unilaterally reversed the Ukraine government agreement with the EU to develop closer ties with European trade, I received a number of alarming emails from a Jewish friend in the Philippines. He wrote about having lost half his family to the Nazis during WWII and warned about "ultra-nationalist" Ukrainians (the kind who had collaborated with the Third Reich Nazis) that were attempting to impose fascist-like laws on the Ukrainian population at the expense of the Russian citizens within it, including outlawing Russian as an official language. I thought his emails were over the top and did not take them seriously.

But then the EuroMaidan Revolution began and some of these ultra-nationalists began showing themselves to prefer violence in advancing their aims. In a news video from Kiev I witnessed a physical assault by one of these men on the director of the main TV station forcing the director to sign a paper of resignation. Such behavior is unacceptable.

To be continued....

On March 27 friend Tom wrote:
Hi Zhenya,
I haven’t forgotten the impressive Peter Hitchens article you forwarded from Joseph Dillard.  He must be related to the late, formidable atheist and maverick critic Christopher.  His background in history and foreign affairs is most erudite and his topic one I readily warm up to. 
That I earned my B.A. in international relations in 1955 and started studying Russian as a freshman hardly makes me an expert on the subject, though I’ve occasional waved that dubious credential in front of those whose politics differ from my own—which is most everyone in the state of Utah. 
Hitchens’s essential argument that claims to sovereignty are often quite arbitrary certainly bears itself out in numerous instances.  I think of the classic dialogue in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War in which their captors tell the people of Melos that “Ours is to command.  Yours to obey.”  We’re also given to understand that history is most often written to favor the victors.  For me, the single most tragic and shameful event in modern times was the Great Powers’ blind loyalty to the network of alliances that Metternich felt would offset the menace of a future Napoleon and that worked fairly well during Queen Victoria’s long reign until Gavrilo Princip assassinated just one man and one woman in Sarajevo and two of Victoria’s own grandsons then took sides against a third who, again through an alliance, vengefully sided with the ally of those two initial victims (Austro-Hungary)—leading to the devastating consequences with which we are all familiar, including the deaths of millions from consequent communicable disease and circumstances leading to the rise of both Lenin and Hitler, the subsequent Cold War and the development of nuclear weapons.
Our own frequent interventions in the internal affairs of other nations—well reviewed by Hitchens—indicate to what extent we too have so often abused the sovereign status of other nations—even at times with humane (Bosnia, for example) rather than with avaricious intentions (Hawaii, Mexico, the Philippines, the ‘banana republics,’ Iran, Chile, Iraq). 
It is true that Russia has long dominated Crimea and that perhaps two thirds of today’s Ukrainian are the descendants of Russians transplanted to Ukraine by Stalin after its decimation by Hitler.  When I am there it is hard to imagine that I’m not in Russia.  Everywhere but in Western Ukraine, Russian is the lingua franca, and the recent attempt to impose Ukrainian as the nation’s official language was a terribly short sighted provocation.  (Canada does just fine with its large French speaking minority, as do the Belgians with both French and Dutch.)  With their own imperialistic ambitions, nineteenth-century czars yearned for an outlet to compete with the British in India via the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, resulting in the Crimean War.  And the Russian landmass was always vulnerable to encroachment along its vast borders, though It seems less likely just now that anyone cares to occupy some of it, unless it’s the Chinese, who are far from Crimea. 
So Putin's motives are no more heinous.  However, we have a familiar religious saying that “the Lord’s house is a house of order,” without which a religious community would be anarchistic and at cross purposes.  Such chaos would also surely rage across the globe in the absence of an at least tacit understanding in the community of nations that their individual sovereignty is and deserves to be considered sacrosanct.  The many descendants of Russians now agitating for annexation were nevertheless born and raised as Ukrainian nationals.  We would not allow Governor Rick Perry’s Texas to declare its emancipation from the United States, though I sometimes wish it and certain other southern states would do so.  At a terrible price, our devastating Civil War was fought to establish that ours is in fact a sovereign federation.  That must be as valid a claim by weaker nations like Ukraine. 
We know that, at heart, Putin is still an autocrat whose coercive values are those of his still beloved USSR and that, like other despots, he favors his oligarchic cronies at the expense of his many far less privileged countrymen.  (We have the equivalent, of course, in our one percent and the inordinate influence of their special interests upon those elected to office.)  We also know that, except for its natural gas and oil, the monolithic  Russian economy is extremely weak.  Why hasn’t Russia tried harder to manufacture its own goods, apart from weaponry, and create its own diversified economy?  Its traditional recourse, learned from the Tatars, is instead to be a marauding, predatory kleptocracy that preys on the labor and property of others.  (Here too we have our own parallels.)  Surely that is one reason the current Kremlin has so greedily usurped Crimea, not to mention those submarine pens and the arsenal of nuclear rockets at Balaclava. 
We say that no one can acquire too much wealth without greedily yearning for still more.  That also seems to me to be Putin’s natural man mentality.  The Soviets wanted to dominate the entire Earth, its people and resources.  (As some of our own would like to, economically.)  Putin is, I believe, no different.  He mourns the demise of the regime he served so ardently and is still at heart a Bolshevik.  As during the Cold War a Red Army general toured Krakow and was shown the statue of the earlier Polish king, Ivan Sobeski, who led the successful repulsion of the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna, he asked his guide for that august ruler’s name.  “Sobeski.”  Still not satisfied, the general retorted, “Of course he’s Sovietsky,” but what’s his name?"   
I condemn our own far too frequent past incursions against other societies but must condemn Putin’s ambitions on similar grounds.  The precedent of earlier villainies does not justify more of the same.   


On 31 March 2014, friend Joseph (referred to above) wrote:

Dear Eugene,

Despite all the current bad news about Ukraine, I am optimistic about its long term prospects. Here are the reasons why.

The widespread corruption based on twenty years of oligarch capitalism and before that, economic distortions due to widespread price subsidies for gas, are coming to an end due to terms of the IMF loan. This is going to force basic governmental reform there. It will be painful and it will take twenty years for the Ukraine to recover from the shock treatment.

Ukraine will be federalized and turned into a neutral state like Finland. There really is no other choice. NATO wants but can’t put its forces there; Russia will want to insure the safety of the people in the East and will threaten perpetual invasion unless the eastern and southern provinces are given relative autonomy.

Once it has a new constitution affirming its neutrality, normal trade relations with the EU and Russia can develop, which will slowly grow the economy. But I do think that even if all the above occurs quickly (in the next year to two years) that it will be twenty years before Ukraine’s standard of living compares to that of say, the Baltics, which is depressed by EU standards but much better than Hungary, Romania, or Serbia.

However, the creation of a neutral Ukraine will eliminate a major flashpoint between the US and Russia. I am sure the EU will push for it, since it has the most to lose by an unstable Ukraine.