Ukraine’s been off the headlines lately,* which is exactly how Vladimir Putin wants it. Not because he’s prepping a major invasion but because he’s counting on a steady deterioration of normal life, and Ukrainians are his best allies in that endeavor.
In the year and a half since the ouster of Yanukovich, the country’s economy crumbled and the Soviet mentality asserted itself. I’m not just talking about the Novorossia faithful, who imagine themselves refighting the Great Patriotic War, but the fire-breathing nationalists and the scarredy population.
Since the ouster Ukraine went through several bouts of political repression aimed at dissociating itself from Russia. Ukraine was formed as a result of confrontation between Russia and Poland and the periodic take over the land from Poland (and the Ottomans) by Russian Empire. Throughout the 20th century ethnic Ukrainians contributed their talents to Soviet life and culture, which was, in broad terms, Russian life and culture. The break up of the Soviet Union left Ukrainian state in search for its own identity, something they are now executing in the best Soviet traditions.
Ukraine went through bouts of censorship, banning Russian TV channels and airing of Russian miniseries and film and establishing the ministry of truth to comb through Ukrainian programming. To “combat separatism”, Ukraine banned several publications including one titled Russian Rock and several that had the word “Russian” in it and were dedicated to pedagogy. Presumably all, at one time or another, included Russian nationalist materials of sorts.
Then there is the law concerning “everyday” separatism, a thoughtcrime punishable by 7-12 years of penitentiary. SBU (former KGB) organized what they call an “information campaign” throughout the South-East urging their countrymen to turn each other in in case they “see something” or “hear something”. Ukrianian media laughed: Russians are “standing on their ears”, but Ukrainians don’t snitch; they just need to be informed about the consequences.
At the time this was happening American Libertarians were concerned with the fate of Ukrainian journalist avoiding draft.
What made the most noise in the West, deservingly, was the law banning communist and the Nazi ideology and symbolism, while simultaneously forbidding the questioning of the legacy of “fighters for Ukrainian statehood”. The “fighters” in question being, notably, the Ukrainian Nazis of OUN-UPA. OUN was a standard-issue Fascist organization which originated in the 1920’s and went on to collaborate with the Nazis, participating in the Holocaust and incineration of Belorussian villages. Their greatest crime against humanity, however, was the massacre of ethnic Poles in Volynya and Galicia.
For reasons mysterious to this blogger Western journalists keep inserting the bit about the UPA (or Banderovites, as they are known in Russian and Ukrainian) fighting both the Soviets and the Nazis in their reports. I suspect that the journalists are simply lifting from each other’s pieces because most of the literature on the subject is in Russian, which makes it immediately suspect. But here’s Marc Solonin, a Russian supporter of EuroMaidan, on how there is no reference whatsoever on Banderavites fighting the Wehrmacht. To the contrary, Solonin says, Banderovites were nothing but obedient German lackeys, fascists and murderers.
Anyhow, the above-referenced Ukrainian law stipulates the removal of all Soviet symbols everywhere, including every red star. Think Holden Caulfield.
That will pacify the fire-breathing nationalist, right? Wrong. The Right Sektor faithful, who always had a rather uneasy relationship with the establishment, marched on Kiev. The reason behind the stand off was decidedly non-ideological; it followed the division of protection customs area in Zakarpatia, along Ukraine’s Western border. At the time Zakarpatia governor Vasil Gubal opined that “The distribution of revenues from smuggling should proceed in accordance with the law”.
“We aren’t demanding that British, American or French soldiers come here and fight for us,” Mr. Poroshenko says. “We’re doing this ourselves, paying the most difficult price”—here his voice breaks momentarily—“the lives of my soldiers. We need just solidarity.”
What he meant by “solidarity” is lethal aid. That he will need more loans co-signed by the US to keep the country afloat was left unmentioned.
The fact that many Ukrainian soldiers and militiamen paid with their life and limb for the war in the East should not be mistaken for resolve of the country as a whole. I touched on the subject of Ukrainian draft dodging before; it’s massive. And yet with whatever forces both sides can mount, the war in Donbass can go on for a long time — and this is just like Putin.
At the same time, the war is not about the territorial status of Donbass, a run-down industrial region/buffer zone with an epic Soviet past. Truth is, nobody needs Donbass, at least not in and of itself, which is why Kremlin signed of on it having a special autonomy status within Ukraine. The southern port of Odessa, on the other hand, has strategic value. This third largest Ukrainian city is a destination for our non-lethal military aid. Its governor and fugitive former Georgia president Mikhail Saakashvili boasted that the US is paying the salaries of his team — the US immediately denied it.
Another problematic area is the highly nationalistic Galicia, or the three westernmost regions which contributed the majority of protesters to Maidan and vote enthusiastically in the post-Maidan elections. The area is majority Catholic and its economy and culture is more integrated with Poland than the rest of the country. So what’s the problem? Russians insist, and I think they might be just right about it, that in the event that Ukraine will be denied EU membership, the area will demand independence, stressing their central European roots, and try to join the EU without the rest of the country. A Galician autonomy demonstration did take place recently in Lviv. Putin is known to support separatist movements everywhere.
Anyhow, in the interview above Poroshenko channeled neo-con:
Are you together with the barbarian or together with the Free World?
But Petenka, who are you calling a barbarian? I am a bit of a Rusophobe myself, and I can say lots of unpleasant things about Russia, but Afghan cave-dwellers Russians are not (and Porosh is no Bibi).
Beloved Russian actor Mikhail Tabakov (who is no tool, mind you) recently found himself in hot water after airing of his private telephone conversation in which he called Ukrainians “shabby”. A song was immediately dedicated to the scandal (say what you want about Ruskies, but they know how to do sarcasm):
Tabakov was compelled to explain himself, and his explanation was by no means original. Ukraine is cutting its cultural ties to Russia and, as a result, is risking to be left with nothing but peasant blouses. Ukrainians are quite proud of their peasant blouses, actually; those became a symbol of independence. In the days following the Maidan victory half the country paraded in peasant blouses. At that very time Russia staged the closing ceremony of Sochi Olympics during which they flashed the portraits of famous Russians, many of them with ethnic and/or biographical connections to Ukraine.
This brings me back to the point about Ukrainians and Russian culture. Ukraine is a large and diverse country — linguistic diversity only begins to describe it. What ties together cities as different as Kharkov and Odessa is Russian high culture. And residual Stalinism.
How can Ukraine keep itself in one piece? If they are lucky, they will get somebody like Pinochet; a dictator to usher in free market reforms, but I doubt this will happen. Most likely they’ll experience petty oligarchs and petty tyrannies before getting back into Russia’s embrace.
OK, it took me about a month to finish this post (mom’s life) so Ukraine is back in news with speculations of a major DNR/LNR offensive.