A Problem Like Viktor

by Erin Baumann on February 21, 2014

The below is a guest post by Erin Baumann, who is an occasional lecturer in politics at University College Dublin, and is currently working on two academic articles on the politics of Ukraine.

After speculation began early this morning with an announcement from the Ukrainian presidential press service, Opposition leaders and the Foreign Ministers of Poland, France, and Germany have finally confirmed the outline of a temporary agreement on the resolution of Ukraine’s current political crisis.  Under the new agreement work is set to begin sometime in the supposed near future on the formation of a “government of national trust” and on the reinstatement of the country’s 2004 Constitution – which strips the president of a number of powers and, for all intents and purposes, reforms the state into a parliamentary republic.  In addition, the agreement stipulates the calling of early presidential elections.

In effect these reforms meet the demands of those protestors who have now spent months occupying Maidan Square and days fighting in the streets of Kyiv, Lviv, and other Ukrainian cities.  Yet, there is still significant ground to cover between the current situation and the kind of resolution this agreement appears to forge.  The extent to which protestors and other elements of the public will be satisfied with the reforms called for in this agreement is questionable.  Already Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk has offered a qualified apology to his supporters, suggesting that he “could not do more”.  In his public statement the Batkivshchyna leader further alluded to the dissatisfaction of Oleh Tyahnybok and his populist right-wing Svoboda party.  This leaves the question of how effective the resolutions offered in this agreement can truly be.  If elites aren’t satisfied how likely is the mistrustful public to be?  If Svoboda isn’t satisfied how likely are the more radical elements of Ukrainian civil society, such as the militant Right Sector, going to be with these outcomes.  Finally, the glaring question at the end of it all must remain ‘what happens to Viktor Yanukuvych?’

Yanukovych’s Party of Regions continues to be widely popular, particularly in the more industrialised regions of Southern and Eastern Ukraine.  Though they have been more reticent to take to the streets in support of their government than Opposition supporters, populations in these regions seemingly have yet to lose faith in the President.  As Yatsenyuk noted this morning, the continued power of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions in parts of Ukraine “can not be ignored”.  It is unlikely that a Party of Regions candidate will win a presidential election in Ukraine anytime in the near future.  It is also unlikely, however, that the next President of Ukraine – whoever it may be – will have the full support of Yanukovych’s former base.  Such divisions rarely make for stable politics in any state.

Further complicating matters are the norms and structures of politics in Ukraine.  The 2004 Constitution, which it now appears the country will revert to, has been championed by the Opposition because of the limits it places on executive power, and more specifically the power of the president.  In effect, however, this Constitution has proven before to be less than helpful in managing the basic functioning of Ukrainian politics.  The awkward balance of powers and responsibilities it creates between the President, the Prime Minister and the Government leaves significant room for personal and political conflict to trump productivity in a system where the norm of confrontational politics is already deeply entrenched.  It is symptomatic of the myopia of the political elite in Ukraine that a country which has known little other than chaotic politics for the last 20 years would look to its past to solve its current problems.

Whether Ukraine’s exit from the current crisis is led by Yanukovych, Yatsenyuk, Klitchko, Tyahnybok, or some other figure, it is unlikely that the country’s problems will be resolved without significant structural reform.  As improbable as it is that supporters of Batkivshchyna, Svoboda, or Vitali Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) will vote for a Party of Regions candidate in future elections, it is equally improbable that Party of Regions supporters will vote for a ‘Western reformer’.  This is not because they are divided by language, ethnicity, or national identity.  It is because Ukrainians are divided by their vision of Ukraine’s role in the world.  Cleavages stretch across the state’s population – crosscutting regional, linguistic, and religious divides – along the lines of age and economics.  While older voters at the extremes of the socio-economic spectrum tend to support a ‘multivectoral’ vision of Ukraine balanced between strong relationships with both Europe and Eurasia.  Younger voters and those from the middle class tend to view Ukraine’s future through a European lens.  At present there are few political figures in the state and even fewer political structures that have the potential to rectify this divide.

According to traditional logic, presidents are supposed to be a unifying figure in countries where they are head of state.  Having a national constituency should, theoretically, give them a degree of universal authority unmatched by locally or regionally elected parliamentary representatives.  In post-Soviet Eastern European practice, however, presidents have consistently proven to be divisive characters.  A series of presidents in Moldova – elected in a series of different ways – have exacerbated existing divisions within the state’s population and existing dysfunction within its political system.  The President in Belarus has used his position as head of state and head of government to entrench his authoritarian hold over the country.  In Ukraine presidents have managed to do a little bit of both.  The sort of unifying figure that a president should theoretically be, however, is exactly what Ukraine needs.

Structural change is the only mechanism by which long-term stability in Ukraine can be achieved.  One possible solution to spanning the seemingly intractable divides within the state may be to move to a fully-fledged parliamentary system overseen in name only by a ceremonial head of state.  There needs to be an actor in the political system who unifies the country, bridging the divide between the rural Western steppe and the Eastern industrial cities.   Someone who can represent the interests of Ukraine from the Mitteleuropa cafés of Lviv to the steel mills of Donetsk.  A popularly elected president cannot achieve this.  Other European states have publically popular, politically respected, and functionally critical heads of state appointed through consensus by the parliament.  To achieve this in Ukraine an upper house of parliament needs to be created to both assist in the choosing of a consensus head of state and the running of the legislature.  There must be a body tasked with the responsibilities of promoting political compromise and ‘cooling down’ the political ‘mosh-pit’ that is the Verkhovna Rada.

Today’s temporary ‘peace’ agreement in Ukraine is a necessary step in the right direction.  It is not, however, the last step needed.  The fundamental question that must be resolved is not how do we solve the Euromaidan crisis.  It is how do we build consensus politics in a country that has never known political consensus.  Until this is achieved there will be more Euromaidan-like crises and the tumultuous nature of Ukrainian politics will continue.

 

 

 

{ 58 comments }

1

Anarcissie 02.21.14 at 5:34 pm

It’s kind of odd to read an apparently serious treatment of current events in Ukraine without any mention of you-know-who.

2

JW Mason 02.21.14 at 6:04 pm

The 2004 Constitution, which it now appears the country will revert to, has been championed by the Opposition because of the limits it places on executive power

I guess they hope this constitution will produce similar results over the next ten years, as it did in the ten years after 2004.

3

Matt 02.21.14 at 6:51 pm

There needs to be an actor in the political system who unifies the country, bridging the divide between the rural Western steppe and the Eastern industrial cities. Someone who can represent the interests of Ukraine from the Mitteleuropa cafés of Lviv to the steel mills of Donetsk.

You forgot to ask for a pony! (Of course the problems of the country are not _impossible_ to solve, but reading much of the commentary seems to me to be like reading articles about how we need some bi-partisan 3rd party in the US that will sort out everything, only much, much more unrealistic.)

4

bob mcmanus 02.21.14 at 7:25 pm

3: Actually, the end of the article inspired me to re-examine and perhaps revalue the function and role of the US Senate.

5

Bruce Wilder 02.21.14 at 9:14 pm

Is partition completely out of the question as part of a constitutional reform?

6

Sasha Clarkson 02.21.14 at 9:19 pm

“Whether Ukraine’s exit from the current crisis is led by Yanukovych, Yatsenyuk, Klitchko, Tyahnybok, or some other figure ….”

Is this phrase an interesting but pointless rhetorical device, or an indicator of complete lack of realism by the author? Yanukovich cannot “lead” Ukraine’s exit from the crisis which his personal ineptness helped cause. Even less is Tyahnybok in a position to lead Ukraine from the far right: even an attempt to do so would cause far worse violence than we’ve seen so far, and then secession of half the country.

Klitschko just might have a better chance, as one of the few relatively honest and, so far, untainted players. But he would carry the burden of, almost certainly, unrealisable expectations, and might well be forced, as Yushchenko was, to do a deal with the Party of Regions in order to keep the country together. The rumour is that Tymoshenko is to be released. Her divisiveness helped Yanukovich get elected. If she attempts a return to politics, that will play into the hands of the present regime.

” Other European states …..etc “ This really smacks of wishful thinking to me. Ukraine is very unlike</i) a typical European state. Foreign politicians and commentators who insist on viewing Ukraine "through a European lens" have helped fuel the flames of this crisis. Also, I doubt whether the ordinary citizens will buy the idea that a solution to their problems is the creation of yet another tier of politicians.

7

Sasha Clarkson 02.21.14 at 9:26 pm

Bruce @5 It won’t be an option in any European plan. The US and its allies do not want partition, because that would effectively give Putin too much power in the Black Sea.

PS sorry for fouling up my formatting last comment – I wish there were a “preview” button :)

8

The Raven 02.21.14 at 9:43 pm

But how will Putin vote?

I fear for Ukraine and the Ukrainians.

9

The Raven 02.21.14 at 9:49 pm

What seems to me most likely is that six months or so after the Olympics, when the eyes of the world are off Russia, is that Russia will initiate some renewed assault on the Ukraine. What institutions will be strong enough to stand? Churches, perhaps, but the Ukrainian Church is split three ways, and a major faction is aligned with Moscow.

10

Anarcissie 02.21.14 at 10:34 pm

I don’t see why Putin would have to do any ‘assaulting’, unless by ‘assault’ we mean offer money, credit, trade, and cheap energy.

11

SoU 02.21.14 at 11:59 pm

@10
do you know to whom Ukraine’s debts are due?

12

Sasha Clarkson 02.22.14 at 12:42 am

Look at the very revealing report from L’viv by Mark Lowen on this BBC page. “It is a city that has been at the forefront of the protests, sending busloads of demonstrators 500km east to Kiev on a nightly basis. “

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26289318

Tyahnybok’s Svoboda controls L’viv, and it is not too difficult to guess which faction of the opposition was doing the trashing in Kiev. As I’ve said before: it’s not their city, nor do the Galicians respect or understand the culture and traditions of the centre and east – and vice-versa. If Galicia returned to Poland, or became independent, the rest would probably be able to sort out their differences.

@8 The Raven Do you really “fear” for Ukrainians, or just fear that a majority might make a choice which you, by your own admission in previous posts and threads, don’t understand and don’t approve of?

13

Bruce Wilder 02.22.14 at 1:14 am

SoU @ 11

and, would those debts be denominated, perchance, in euros?

14

The Raven 02.22.14 at 2:56 am

Considering that the history of the relations of Russia to Ukraine has been one of centuries of oppression that culminated in genocide, I see no reason to believe that any future Ukrainian “trade relations” treaty with Russia is going to have a positive result for Ukraine. The majority of Ukrainians overwhelmingly made their choice, nearly 25 years ago, to leave the Russian-dominated USSR. I think they know their own history, needs, and desires better than well-meaning outsiders.

Anarcissie, for heavens sake, as an anarchist, why are you defending imperialism? I don’t think that closer relations with the EU are going to be entirely positive for Ukraine, but it is unlikely to be as much of a disaster as the historical Ukraine-Russian relationship. All this, of course, assuming that Putin can be persuaded not to send in the tanks—perhaps not a possible thing.

From my viewpoint, Ukraine needs a leader who can balance the EU against Russia. I therefore generally side with the Ukrainian olds. But younger Ukrainians want the freedom of a Western-style open society. I am underwhelmed with the EUs economic policy. So, where is the way? And who can lead Ukraine on that way?

15

Anarcissie 02.22.14 at 2:58 am

I don’t know who is holding Ukraine’s paper, or what it’s denominated in — US dollars, maybe — but the problem remains the same regardless, or so it seems to me. According to http://qz.com/179377/ukraines-19-billion-question-of-debt-and-corruption/ , the price tag for Ukraine will be $19 billion for the EU (to obtain a new additions to the poor PIIGS). Apparently Russia can get it/them for $15 billion plus some other considerations like cheap gas. So who will buy? Well, Russia really cares — or at least its rulers do.

16

Anarcissie 02.22.14 at 3:07 am

‘Anarcissie, for heavens sake, as an anarchist, why are you defending imperialism?’

Where have I defended imperialism?

The best thing for the people of Ukraine would be for the imperial powers to leave it alone. But that doesn’t seem to be possible. There is going to be a good deal of pushing and shoving on the way to determining which rulers will get to rule the empire of Capital, and woe unto those who happen to be in their way.

17

teraz kurwa my 02.22.14 at 3:12 am

Kyiv is pretty firmly a majority anti Yanukovich, same goes for most parts of central Ukraine. The Yanukovich strongholds are in the East and South. The idea that Eastern Galicia should be returned to Poland _because_ it has a fair number of hardline right wing Ukrainian nationalists displays a truly remarkable degree of ignorance about Ukrainian nationalism and the history of Polish-Ukrainian relations. The type of people you are talking about aren’t exactly fond of Poles. If anything they hate them even more than they hate Russians.

18

The Raven 02.22.14 at 3:23 am

One thing that seems obviously worth addressing: alternative energy. If even 10% of Ukraine’s energy could be derived from renewable sources, Ukraine’s position would be substantially improved. Ideally, this would not be a public/private partnership; the point is to achieve energy independence, not to make Ukraine dependent on yet another foreign organization.

19

Matt 02.22.14 at 4:06 am

the history of the relations of Russia to Ukraine has been one of centuries of oppression that culminated in genocide

If you believe that’s an accurate account, then it’s not a surprise that you’d be waiting for a man on pony-back who can lead Ukraine on it’s way to a “Western-style open society”. Really, the world, the situation, and history is more complex than the children’s book version of it you’re giving here.

20

Chaz 02.22.14 at 5:01 am

I don’t see what good adding an upper house would do, or what it has to do with the idea of a figurehead president. The president could just as easily be elected by the Rada.

I also don’t see how an upper house would do anything to cool tensions. The upper house will just include the same tensions as the lower house, but in a slightly different proportion. This is what happens in the US and Italy. And there are obvious costs: adding an upper house with a different majority is likely to cause gridlock. In the US we frequently have the situation where one person controls the presidency, and different factions control the House and Senate. Neither side has to ability to pass its platform, and the voters don’t know who to hold accountable, so no one is accountable.

21

mab 02.22.14 at 6:08 am

What 17 said. Would add that the eastern parts of the country — i.e. “the Russian parts” — are also not so happy with Yankovych because, let me say it again, the fundamental problem is NOT ethnicity (although ethnicity, language, culture, nationalism, and religion are issues), but the incredible corruption and mess that the economy is in. The notion that the western Ukrainians are causing the problem is RT and Putin-talk. Because, of course, they — Russian authorities — can’t admit that the problem is corruption and lack of rights to fight corruption. That might give the folks at home seditious ideas.

22

Vanya 02.22.14 at 7:18 am

@21 – exactly. The current protests seem to me to be more “anti”, i.e. anti Yanukovych and his corrupt and incompetent band, than “pro” anything. This is why right now it is very easy for Western Nationalists, ethnic Russians, pro-business Ukrainians, and the non-ideological to find common cause against the Government. Even the Russian Government appears to have lost faith in Yanukovych a while ago. The question is what comes after.

23

notsneaky 02.22.14 at 8:12 am

Let’s keep in mind that it hasn’t been that long since the Russians themselves were also protesting (everyone seems to have forgotten that already somehow). Those must’ve been “fascists” too, paid off by EU, US, Soros and the Rothschilds no doubt.

24

Ronan(rf) 02.22.14 at 9:34 am

“If you believe that’s an accurate account, then it’s not a surprise that you’d be waiting for a man on pony-back..”

I’m not really sure why you’re so adamant that ..”There needs to be an actor in the political system who unifies the country” .. is Utopian pony seeeking ?

25

Ze Kraggash 02.22.14 at 9:55 am

Protests are fine, happens everywhere. The protests probably aren’t as much anti-Yanukovych as anti-government in general, because the previous governments (from what I hear) weren’t any better. But all the mayhem with molotov-cocktails definitely looks like the work of Bandera followers from Galicia, and those are indeed vicious ultra-nationalist bastards. Indeed, from what I hear, their Polonophobia is only second to their Russophobia and a bit stronger than their antisemitism.

The government is unpopular and weak. If occupy-wall-street protesters in NY started throwing molotov-cocktails at the police, it would’ve been finished in two hours, and everyone would’ve been denouncing the protesters as thugs.

26

Bruce Wilder 02.22.14 at 10:14 am

Maybe, it is about food prices.

http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/a-complex-systems-model-predicted-the-revolutions-sweeping-the-globe-right

Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand, Bosnia, Turkey, . . .

I think we need to think more concretely and systemically. It is not all fumbling politicians and shadowy conspiracies, though both may play their parts.

27

mab 02.22.14 at 11:47 am

@25
If occupy-wall-street protesters in NY started throwing molotov-cocktails at the police, it would’ve been finished in two hours, and everyone would’ve been denouncing the protesters as thugs
If the US govt had put every bit of power in the president’s hands and cancelled the bill of rights, and if Obama’s two daughters owned 3/4 of the companies in the country — and a bunch of protesters started throwing molotov cocktails at cops, we’d be passing them the gasoline to fill up more. That is, it’s not the same thing.

28

Ze Kraggash 02.22.14 at 12:52 pm

That is, it’s not the same thing.

It’s not? Isn’t it pretty damned close to what Wall Street symbolizes to those protesters? Aside from the fact that, unlike Wall Street, Yanukovych actually managed to get himself elected.

29

notsneaky 02.22.14 at 12:57 pm

Is there a script somewhere on the internet I can download or something? Every single discussion I’ve seen, somebody shows up and says “if this happened in the US, the US gov’t would crack down even harder” (doubtful). That, and a few other talking points seem to be repeated everywhere. Almost makes one believes in those Russian web brigades.

30

Ze Kraggash 02.22.14 at 1:36 pm

Right, but it wasn’t my main point. I got trolled by the opposite script. My main point was that I would expect violent riots (as opposed to mere protests) to be, at the very least, more controversial in these parts, to this audience.

31

Anarcissie 02.22.14 at 2:28 pm

If people were throwing Molotov cocktails in New York or Washington? How long do you think that would last? And some of you would support it, if our government were in the hands of a corrupt elite? Which of course it isn’t?

32

Matt 02.22.14 at 3:02 pm

I’m not really sure why you’re so adamant that ..”There needs to be an actor in the political system who unifies the country” .. is Utopian pony seeeking ?

A few reasons. Most importantly, it suggests that the divisions between the sides here are somehow not deep- but they are real and very deep! When people postulate a “unifying actor” or “unifying party” or the like, they are almost always assuming that this person will _mostly_ favor their side, at least on the important issues. This really seems to be the case in the commentary here (both in comments and the main post.) “If the other side would only give up things it really cares about and accept the things I really care about, we’d all get along!” isn’t a very plausible theory of politics. (It’s especially well emphasized by “The Raven” above. At least he’s stopped adding “croak!” after all his comments.) It also seems to me to greatly over-emphasis the importance of individuals as opposed to groups and political structures. It’s a news-casters approach to politics and history.

Does this mean Ukraine is doomed? No- the world is full of societies with groups that are deeply opposed on important issues. What allows those to work, insofar as they do, is a political structure that allows for sharing of power, exchange of power, and certain areas that are sheltered from political power. This only works, when it does and insofar as it does (always imperfectly) when the parties are committed to working within the political system, at least largely. (This has been breaking down in the US for some time.) The role for individuals here would be in helping deeply divided parties to commit to a system, not to “unify” the country in some way. I’m not optimistic that this will work out in Ukraine as it’s currently constituted, but would be very glad if it did.

33

Ronan(rf) 02.22.14 at 4:01 pm

Ah okay, of course. That makes sense.

34

The Raven 02.22.14 at 4:06 pm

“If the other side would only give up things it really cares about and accept the things I really care about, we’d all get along!”

The things I care about are mostly the people and the land. Would you argue for the destruction of either? I will grant there are many people and factions that are perfectly willing to throw one or both away, but how can such factions be integrated into any political system, or international order? It is not a case of everyone getting along, but rather people having space for their lives and livelihoods, and a world to live in.

And, for heaven’s sake, why do I need to make this argument?

35

Sasha Clarkson 02.22.14 at 4:18 pm

@17 You are of course right. It’s true that the Galicians are anti-Polish. But their alternate view of what it means to be Ukrainian does stem from centuries of Polish/Lithuanian rule and influence, and in particular the rôle of the Eastern Catholic Church in their society.

Galicia is not the cause of Ukraine’s problems: even the Russians agree that Yanukovich’s incompetence has caused the current crisis

http://rt.com/news/yanukovich-failure-ukraine-crisis-264/

However, Galicia does make it more difficult for the rest of Ukraine to resolve its differences peacefully. Klitchko, the most honest politician Ukraine has, was undermined and booed by the Svoboda militants who want nothing less than total victory on their terms. These people largely comprise the militias who are now patrolling the streets of a city which isn’t theirs.

Matt @ 32 Good analysis.

MAB “every bit of power” …. “3/4 of the companies in the country”. As usual, your arguments are superficial and depend upon serious exaggeration. The truth is bad enough. Do you have a reliable source to justify your 3/4 figure, or did you just make it up? As for “… we’d be passing them the gasoline … etc”, just remember that many government buildings are in residential/shopping areas that the locals would be very upset to have torched. My mother was brought up in a one-room flat in Luteranskaya, literally 5 minutes walk from the Presidential complex in Bankova. It’s very eerie looking at it all on Street-View: I can see a bench in the street which I sat on with her, chatting to a very friendly local lady of a similar age.

36

notsneaky 02.22.14 at 5:18 pm

Klitchko, the most honest politician Ukraine has, was undermined and booed by the Svoboda militants who want nothing less than total victory on their terms.

Probably at one point. Now I’m seeing him getting ovations. So…”it depends”. If he’s politically savvy enough, which is a big if, he could convince a good chunk of the Western Ukrainians to vote for him.

One thing that I’ve seen some people bring up – you know, “Ukrainian friends” – is that the level of support for Svoboda is somewhat illusory. According to them, the 10% (“fourth largest party in the country”) they got in the last election was in large part due to “protest votes” by former Batkivshchyna folks who saw the latter party as weak because it let itself be bullied by Yanukovych (Tymoshenko’s arrest, etc.). Supposedly these voters don’t really have any kind of strong attachment to Svoboda or its ideology, they were just frustrated and voting in a way that’d piss Yanukovych off.

Now, it’s true that this kind of thing happens, and I would like for it to be true, but I’m not really buying it myself. At least not 100%. My sample is probably not representative.

37

roy belmont 02.22.14 at 7:02 pm

Raven-
The things I care about are mostly the people and the land. Would you argue for the destruction of either?

And, for heaven’s sake, why do I need to make this argument?

Don’t mistake the lack of argument, or the lack of articulated intent, for the absence of virtually inevitable result being exactly that, destruction of the land and the people.
Delusional, possibly autistic in some outlier spectrum, and very materially powerful folks are doing exactly that.
Destroying people and land. And pretending they’re not.
Pretending their greed and myopic delusions aren’t the cause of exactly that. But never saying it, never overtly championing it, even as they force the conflict into an apocalypse of snarling denial and raging destruction.
You have to make that argument so the terms of the engagement are clear.
We’re going up against a heartless and inhuman thing, that wants to live, like all organisms want to live, and it’s worked its way into a cul-de-sac from which the only exit is global domination.
It can’t go back to some harmonious more humane path. It won’t survive that. You have to continue to make that argument even as the terms of compromise and collaboration become the only visible means of survival.
Because that’s what we were handed in our turn, by people who faced their own version of this, before us, and refused to give in to it.

38

hix 02.22.14 at 7:54 pm

Why the need to hold on to some ceremonial quasi king once presidential power is abolished? The Suiss model consociational democracy knows no such role at all.

39

Sasha Clarkson 02.22.14 at 9:00 pm

@36 notsneaky “Svoboda …. only 10%” I don’t buy that: in recent elections it was getting a third to half the vote in Galicia.

The Raven “The things I care about are mostly the people and the land. Would you argue for the destruction of either? I …. And, for heaven’s sake, why do I need to make this argument?”

Fine sounding rhetoric, but with no concrete meaning. It sounds like a control-freak’s Transactional Analysis script “I’m only trying to help – why don’t you see things my way” , quite similar to Saruman’s reproaches to Gandalf in The Two Towers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Games_People_Play_%28book%29

Talking about “the people” is always a bit dubious, because “the people” is not usually a monolithic entity. But if you do care about people, you should be prepared to try and understand their motivation and needs, not just demand that they understand you: eg ” … And, for heaven’s sake, why do I need to make this argument?” again. You are not a martyr.

40

mab 02.23.14 at 2:39 pm

@35 I don’t think my arguments are superficial or exaggerated. True, I wasn’t trying to be exact, and I was writing about the “if this happened in the US” argument. The point I’m making is that the complaints aren’t just about Yanukovych’s “incompetence” but that his sons, particularly one of them, are now extremely rich. Did you see the surveillance tapes of the Yanukovych entourage loading up the helicopters before they fled? Did you see the photos of the presidential compound? People had no idea what was there. Moscow is filled with Ukrainians who work 7 days a week for a pittance to send home because there isn’t any work there.

41

Anarcissie 02.23.14 at 3:44 pm

42

JG 02.23.14 at 4:21 pm

What do those who understand the Ukraine think of the events of the last couple of days? Seems like most of what has been written here does not anticipate what has actually happened. Is that because the recent events don’t matter, or what?

JG

43

Vanya 02.23.14 at 4:38 pm

Moscow is filled with Ukrainians who work 7 days a week for a pittance to send home because there isn’t any work there.

Vienna, Berlin and Warsaw are also full of Ukrainians fleeing the economic wasteland of modern Ukraine. I wonder to what extent the West/Central European diaspora has helped radicalize people back home.

44

Richard Cottrell 02.23.14 at 10:12 pm

The parallel is all too likely to be a re-run of the Czech Crisis and Munich. Partition, appeasement, and war. Like the Czechs in the 30′s, the Ukraine sits on a topical tectonic plate where the locals have less to do with the outcome than distant ‘interested parties.’ This may well end badly, for all of us.
Richard Cottrell

45

notsneaky 02.24.14 at 8:58 am

At this point, it’s about the Crimea. Eastern Ukraine is not going anywhere, for a couple of reasons.

First, that whole Eastern vs. Western Ukraine thing is real, but exaggerated. Yes, there’s a lot more Russian speaking folks in Eastern Ukraine but being Russian-Ukrainian (or Ukrainian-Russian) doesn’t immediately translate into wanting to be a Russian-Russian anymore than being a Mexican-American translates into “I want California to go back to Mexico”. One sort of funny example – the “special forces” troops who where being sent from Eastern Ukraine to Kiev to help put down the protests where stopped on the rail tracks by … some old guy in a wheel chair and few youths waving flags. These are the “Delta Force” commandos kind of forces we’re talking about, from the supposedly pro-Russian part of the country, yet somehow, they had a lot of trouble moving that guy’s wheel chair off the railroad tracks which would take them to their orders’ destination. Never made it there in time, damn! Sure, they’re not gonna be waving any Ukrainian flags anytime soon.” Please clear the rails Sir… just take your time about it”

Second, from Russia’s point of view, now’s not the time for it. People got shot on the maidan, and everybody’s watching. This is like the worst time ever to try and break off a chunk of a sovereign country. And the stupid Olympics. Thank god it’s over, how long will it take before everyone stops paying attention?

Finally, the way to understand the politics of the region is not to think about political parties or even ideologies, fascist, nationalist, socialist, communist, capitalist, european or otherwise, but simply… watch Godfather. Think about it as mafias. Yanukovych was Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, mafia. Aside from pissing off the Western Ukrainians he also pushed out all the other Eastern Ukrainian “families”, in particular the Kharkiv mafias. Which is why he wound up all alone, with not even the Eastern Ukraine standing up for him. The Kharkiv (and other Eastern Uk mafias) are no fans of the West (Ukrainian or European), and they don’t give a beet about Ukrainian independence, but they didn’t like Yanykovych hitting at their bottom line. He got greedy, it was all about him and his family he cut them out. So he’s dead to them (maybe literally, who knows)

And. The oligarchs from the East, while completely cynical, self serving, and uninterested in ideological questions (as regards Ukrainian independence or Europe or nationalism) do know one thing. And that’s that IF their part of Ukraine became part of Russia,they, the little Ukrainian oligarchs, would quickly get eaten up by the big Big Russia oligarchs, with Putin’s blessing. It’d be like the Washington DC gangs taking over turf from Baltimore gangs. Baltimore gangs may split east, west, but they know that they don’t want competition from outside. All that heavy industry in Eastern Ukraine which gets mentioned so often – you know, it’s the “industrial heart” of the country – is in direct sectoral competition with Russian industry (mostly in Urals). They make the same stuff. Eastern Ukraine joins Russia, not only do the local oligarchs lose their graft, but the local plants are closed down, massive layoffs, unemployment for the locals, hell, some of these Russian-Ukrainians just might discover that their grandfather was actually forcibly Russifed by Stalin or something. All that nationalism stuff takes second place to cold calculated self interest. Not that you got any right to lecture these folks as they make less way money than you do.

So no go. Now, Crimea, there you don’t have these same kinds of considerations. It’s like Florida for retired old Russian people and the old Floridians really really don’t want to be ruled by a bunch of Spanish speaking natives. And they’re a majority now!So they may try something crazy. It sort of bothers me, because I have this feeling that the ones who will really get screwed over in all of this are the poor Crimean Tartars, who had just been allowed to return to their homeland after getting expelled by Stalin way back when. They probably hate the Russians more than the Ukrainians do but, hey, you just came back from exile, you don’t exactly want to make waves, you might grumble but not wave any flags around, but mostly you’re just thankful that you can walk past the house where your grandparents once lived (now lived in by some Russians). But now you’re going to get stuck in a middle of other people’s fight. And all those people waving around sickle-and-hammer flags… that just can’t be good.

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Anarcissie 02.24.14 at 1:53 pm

Richard Cottrell 02.23.14 at 10:12 pm @ 44:
‘The parallel is all too likely to be a re-run of the Czech Crisis and Munich. …’

But the current dispute is not about ideology. As to how the world should be operated, the Russian, Chinese, European, American, etc., ruling classes agree. The question to be settled now is who will be at the very top of the empire of Capital and who will take a subordinate role. Therefore, unlike the tiger-riders of eld, the masters of the current universe could be moderately rational. Kill a few Ukrainians or Arabs? Sure, especially if they volunteer for the job. Kill each other? Not so likely.

47

Walt 02.24.14 at 3:15 pm

Anarcisse, your argument applies pretty well to the world on February 24, 1914, as well.

48

mpowell 02.24.14 at 6:42 pm

Ze @ 28: It’s not? Isn’t it pretty damned close to what Wall Street symbolizes to those protesters? Aside from the fact that, unlike Wall Street, Yanukovych actually managed to get himself elected

Well, that’s just completely missing the point isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how the protestors view the situation, it’s how the police and public view it. The 75th or 50th percentile of most furious Americans during the Occupy Wall Street movement was not as remotely upset with the govt as the equivalent Ukranian. That’s the difference.

49

Ze Kraggash 02.24.14 at 7:02 pm

@48, no, it’s not missing the point. You’re making a different point. Protesters here and there, both groups believe the country is being looted, only one group use violence. What does it have to do with percentiles?

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Anarcissie 02.24.14 at 8:39 pm

Walt @ 47 — I thought of that, but there are some important differences between then and now. In any case I was mostly objecting to the introduction of good old Munich. Putin and his Western adversaries are not like Hitler, for whom the Drang nach Osten and world domination through military conquest were not only ideals but fundamental and necessary principles. This is not to say that disastrous mistakes might not be made, as they were in 1914. But I don’t think disaster is guaranteed, as it was in 1938.

51

Sad Observer 02.25.14 at 12:18 am

It seems to me that there a few major threads to consider.
a) The struggle of powerful oligarchs
b) the talons of Russia
c) Large scale, but unfocused ethnic nationalism, on both sides (Ukranian and Ukranian Russians)
d) Real economic problems.

The democratic institutions of Ukraine(legislature and courts) are weak relative to the above four considerations. If corruption is very powerful, then democratic institutions are just puppets to obscure the actions of the power players.

If I was interested in solving the problems of the people of the Ukraine (not the oligarchs), a key issue would be understand in detail, the interests of the different groups, oligarchs and the power players, aside from the visually obvious ones.

If Ukraine is really ethnically split along a clean geographic lines, perhaps a peaceful separation like Czech/Slovakia is in order.

52

Anarcissie 02.25.14 at 4:00 pm

@51 — There are other talons beside those of Russia. From what I read, the ethnic etc. variation in Ukraine is unfortunately rather like that of poor Yugoslavia.

53

Randy McDonald 02.26.14 at 7:40 am

Ukraine isn’t cleanly split. As I understand it, Russian-speaking Ukrainians are no more or less implausible than (say) English-speaking Irish.

54

Peter T 02.26.14 at 10:58 am

What stands out for me is the extreme weakness of the post-Soviet order. Some demonstrations, a few busloads of vocal supporters and the government falls. It’s as if the Miner’s Strike had forced Thatcher into exile and led to the dissolution of the Tory party. And Belorussia, Moldova and Russia are not much stronger. This goes deeper than institutions – the oligarchs have taken over, but they are not united in anything other than their opposition to an independent state. This is C17/18 Poland or Hungary over again.

55

Sasha Clarkson 02.26.14 at 11:03 am

@51 “If corruption is very powerful, then democratic institutions are just puppets to obscure the actions of the power players.”

That’s one of the truest and most relevant statements on this blog. Even Klitchko, though not an oligarch himself, owes part of his political position to oligarchic support.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/how-oligarchs-in-ukraine-prepared-for-the-fall-of-yanukovych-a-955328.html

As for the possibility of a “clean” split, it has to be said that there is no completely clean split anywhere in the world, but in Ukraine there may be several clean”ish” splits possible. However, none of them are being proposed internationally at the moment, because, I suspect, all the players in the geopolitical game would want to grab more than they could get under current conditions. Again, Spiegel gives a good, though not complete, insight.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/situation-in-ukraine-puts-putin-in-a-difficult-spot-a-955604.html

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Anarcissie 02.26.14 at 3:00 pm

How is it that only countries speaking an eastern Slavic language have ‘oligarchs’?

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Walt 02.26.14 at 5:30 pm

Oligarch is Church Slavonic for “leader”.

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Anarcissie 02.27.14 at 1:25 am

Etymologically, oligarch is Greek (oligarkhes, oligarkhia, etc.) meaning leadership or government by a few, as opposed to monarkhia, government by one, demokratia, anarkhia, etc. This phenomenon is hardly confined to the eastern Slavic lands.

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