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A Ukrainian Gestapo goon pulls down the pants of a helpless FEMEN protester for a little peek at her anatomy while dragging her down from the roof of a vehicle as she heroically protested the clearly illegal prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko in Kiev last week.
Ukraine, off the Reservation
What we are witnessing these days in Ukraine is truly one of the most astounding developments in the modern history of the region.
When Victor Yanukovich was elected president of Ukraine in February 2010 over rival Yulia Tymoshenko, many Russophiles may have thought it was a big win for Russia. But recent events indicate it may become one of Russia’s biggest nightmares.
On the surface, Yanukovich’s sensational arrest and prosecution of Tymoshenko following his election may have seemed like an aggressive move to silence a tough critic of the Moscow Kremlin. Looking deeper, however, it’s anything but that.
Rajan Menon, writing on Foreign Policy:
There’s no love lost between Europe and Ukraine’s ruling regime — or certainly between the Western press and Kiev. Indeed, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who unseated the pro-Western leaders of the Orange Revolution, is commonly depicted outside his country as an oppressive and reflexively pro-Russian figure. But while there’s certainly something to this unflattering characterization, there’s a bit more to the man — and a lot more happening in Ukraine than the authoritarian picture most commentators paint.
Paul Goble reports:
An “extremely significant segment” of ethnic Russians in Western Ukraine, particularly among the younger generation, regularly vote for pro-Ukrainian parties, either because of “nationalist propaganda” or because they hope to live “‘in Europe’” rather than to maintain “ties with their historical Motherland – Russia,” according to a Russian analyst.
And that is just one of the indications of the declining role of an ethnic community that came into existence in the years after World War II and that played a large role there until the 1990s, Dmitry Korolyev says in a detailed essay on the Russians in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv. The first Russian who settled in Lviv, he writes, was Ivan Fedorov, the printer who arrived in 1572, but until 1939, there were very few ethnic Russians there. They consisted mostly of anti-Bolshevik White Army soldiers and their families, and they numbered at most in “the hundreds.”
Edward Chow, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and Taras Kuzio, a senior fellow for Ukrainian studies at the University of Toronto, writing in the Moscow Times:
President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Ukraine this week is a continuation of the weekly meetings between the Russian government and the new leadership in Kiev at either a presidential or prime ministerial level since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s election in February. The series of high-level meetings don’t appear to confirm Ukraine’s initial intent to establish a balanced foreign policy between Russia and the West.
After years of political crises and instability in Ukraine, the West greeted Yanukovych with a strong desire to believe his promise of bringing stability and reforms. Ukraine fatigue was replaced by wishful thinking.
Less than 100 days later, though, it should now be abundantly clear to Western governments and international organizations such as NATO and the European Union that neither stability nor reforms are in the cards for Ukraine, and there are five reasons for this:
Vladimir Putin, Raving Psychopath
As many predicted it would do after Russia’s 2008 annexation of Ossetia and Abkhazia, it appears Russian success with aggression in Georgia has induced it to turn its eye toward an even juicier tidbit known, for now, as Ukraine.
Last Friday, in one of the most fully deranged displays by a world leader in recent memory, Russian “prime minister” Vladimir Putin spontaneously announced at a press conference in front of his Ukrainian counterpart in Moscow that he thought it would be a good idea if Russia’s giant natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, acquired its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz lock, stock and gas pipelines.
What was so astounding was not that Putin would entertain such thoughts, or even that he would say them (most of Russian public supports neo-Soviet aggression against Ukraine and Georgia), but that he would publicly announce such a scheme without giving any advance warning to his diplomatic peer, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who could do nothing but stammer in diplomatese that Putin had “expressed it in an impromptu way.” It’s simply unheard of for a the leader of a major nation to behave this way. Which means, of course, that it’s not the least bit surprising to find the Russians doing it.
Defense expert Alexander Golts, agreeing with a point we made last week and writing in the Moscow Times, points out how Ukraine has suckered Russia on the Sevastopol naval base deal it recently inked:
The Duke of Wellington used to say some victories are worse than defeat. I suspect that President Dmitry Medvedev’s “brilliant diplomatic victory” in Kharkiv on behalf of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will in reality create very serious problems for Russia in the future.
After inflating gas prices for Ukraine a few months ago, Moscow has now graciously agreed to reduce them by 30 percent in exchange for Kiev’s agreement to extend the lease on the Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol through 2042. The Kremlin thereby resolved an important strategic problem. Only a few years ago, the Black Sea Fleet, which is virtually locked in by the Bosporus, seemed like a deadweight and a throwback to the Cold War era. But the increasingly unstable situation in the Caucasus and Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 have given the Black Sea Fleet a new meaning. It gives Russia the ability to deploy its forces rapidly into a region where crises are most likely to develop. In addition, the Kremlin believes that keeping the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea symbolizes Russia’s continuing influence over Ukraine.
Ukraine suckers Russia, but Good!
Last week, Ukraine’s new president Victor Yanukovich sold a piece of his country to Putin’s Russia in exchange for wildly reduced prices on natural gas.
Specifically, Yanukovich renewed Russia’s lease on its naval base on the Black Sea at Sevastopol from 2017 to 2042. For Yanukovich, it was the deal of the century. For Russian “president” Dima Medvedev, it was yet another amazing sucker move.
The irony in light of our lead editorial in this issue is palpable: Russia is running out of gas rapidly, yet it is going to send a flow of cheap energy to Ukraine indefinitely in order to secure a naval base which offers Russia absolutely no strategic value, since the Russian “navy” is a mere figment of the Kremlin’s imagination, in reality nothing more than rusty, creaking bucket of bolts.
Paul Goble reports:
Even as the Russian government proclaims “a new era” in relations with Kyiv thanks to the election of “pro-Russian” Viktor Yanukovich and even as the new Ukrainian president announces plans to build a bridge linking Crimea and Kuban, Moscow is seeking to suppress the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia. These various actions may seem contradictory to some, but in fact, they reflect a deeper and longstanding set of Russian attitudes, one that many in the West are loathe to admit or even share: the current Russian leadership and those in neighboring countries it can put pressure on do not view Ukrainians as a separate nation worthy of a separate state.
After the Soviet Union came apart, there were 11.4 million ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, something Moscow worked hard to ensure that the entire world knew and that the Russian government insisted the international community demand that Russian-language schools there be kept open. But at the same time, few people paid much attention to the equally important reality that there were three to five million ethnic Ukrainians living in the Russian Federation, for whom there were no Ukrainian-language schools or other native-language institutions and who even faced loss of work in the early 1990s if they sought to acquire Ukrainian citizenship.
Yulia Latynina, hero journalist, writing in the Moscow Times:
Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election — not unlike the victories of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Adolf Hitler — once again raises doubt about the basic premise of democracy: that the people are capable of choosing their own leader. Unfortunately, only wealthy people are truly capable of electing their leaders in a responsible manner. Poor people elect politicians like Yanukovych or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
When the Orange Revolution hit Ukraine five years ago, the people arose in a united wave and did not allow themselves to be deceived by the corrupt elite. That elite had reached an agreement with the criminals and oligarchs of Donetsk to make a minor criminal, who could not string two sentences together, the successor to former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.
Five years ago, the Ukrainian people gave President Viktor Yushchenko a mandate for reform, but he failed. The country remains highly corrupt. One example: Yushchenko himself allowed the murky scheme in which all Russian gas came into the country through the intermediary firm RosUkrEnergo.
Whenever a weak leader is incapable of managing the state, he starts looking for enemies and begins stoking nationalist passions. Yushchenko singled out Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as his enemy and engaged her in a heated polemic over the Holodomor.
The upper sign on the tree reads “Yanukovich” while the lower reads “Tymoshenko.” The skier wears the colors of Ukraine.
The Election in Ukraine
Before voters ever went to the polls in Ukraine last weekend, they had already won.
They had already shown themselves to be far more civilized and advanced than their Russian neighbors, for instance, because they had carried out a real election, ousting the current regime and replacing it with a radically different opposition candidate. They repudiated the sitting president long before the votes were counted, and we can only wonder: What sort of barbaric crimes would Vladimir Putin have to commit before Russian voters would do the same. Would he have to actually eat babies on TV? Would even that suffice. Russia, behaving like a nation in the dark ages, has never once ousted a regime in an election in its entire thousand-year history — not once, not ever.
Similarly, Ukraine is building a real economy, not relying on the accident of natural energy resources, and it is not attacking any of its neighbors in any way, but rather building solid relationships with Western nations that will last for centuries..
What’s more, as we reported in our last issue, Ukrainians have already made it clear that no matter who won, Ukraine would turn its back on Russia and look towards the West for its future prosperity and security.
So there was lots of good news, and Ukrainians have much to be proud of. With that said, Ukrainian voters sadly made the wrong choice on Sunday when they handed power to the charlatan Victor Yanukovich.
When Yuri Davydov needed investors to expand his Ukrainian food company, he looked west to the European Union, not east to Russia, even though his VAT Creativ Industrial Group is in the Russian-speaking part of the country.
“We have good connections with Russia, but we prefer to trade with non-Russian companies,” Davydov said after a Jan. 19 presentation to potential investors in Vienna. “If the European Union removes barriers, we can find a niche.”
His attitude may explain why both contenders in the Feb. 7 runoff presidential election, Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Timoshenko, have vowed to sign a trade accord with the EU. They favor it even though Yanukovych had Russian backing for his first run in 2004 and Timoshenko accused President Viktor Yushchenko of being too confrontational toward Russia.
The EU is looking more attractive to executives from Ukraine’s eastern industrial centers of Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk, as well as in Kiev and Lviv farther west. The need to diversify from Russia, Ukraine’s largest single trading partner, has business leaders pushing politicians for easier access to the 27-nation EU. Its market of 449 million people is more than triple the population of Russia.
Russia on the Verge of a New Energy War
Once again, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has proved itself wholly unable to carry on productive, friendly relations with its nearest neighbors.
Last week, in response to libelous, provocative unilateral Russian threats to shut down gas supplies in the event of payment default or “theft” of gas, Ukraine announced that “it would double the fees that Russia must pay to transport natural gas through Ukrainian territory to the rest of Europe.” Russia called the announcement “political blackmail,” yet Ukraine has not been late on any payments to Russia this year and there have been no allegations of siphoning.
Russia’s crude threats are the same ones the world heard last year, and Ukraine’s response was predictable as well. The reasons for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine are perfectly clear.
The New York Times reports:
IN a corner of Bukvatoriya, a bookstore here in the capital of the Crimean Peninsula, are some stacks of literature that may be as provocative to the Kremlin as any battalion of NATO soldiers or wily oligarch. The books are classics — by Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare — that have been translated into Ukrainian, in editions aimed at teenagers. A Harry Potter who casts spells in Ukrainian also inhabits the shelves.
Two decades ago, there would have been little if any demand for such works, given that most people in this region are ethnic Russians. But the Ukrainian government is increasingly requiring that the Ukrainian language be used in all facets of society, especially schools, as it seeks to ensure that the next generation is oriented toward Kiev, not Moscow.
Children can even read Pushkin, Russia’s most revered author, in translation. (This tends to bother Russians in the way that “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung in Spanish can touch off cross-cultural crankiness in the United States.)
A reader tips us to the following item from Zik.com:
Prof. Petr Khomyakov, the Russian scientist and writer, said during his press conference in Kyiv Aug. 13 that he is outraged by Pres Medvedev arrogant letter to Pres Yushchenko and has asked for political asylum in Ukraine.
“Medvedev’s hardball attack against Pres Yushchenko has been due to the fact that nourishing a foreign enemy hoax is Kremlin’s last chance to remain in power. The Russian regime, let alone Russia, is far from stable. Despite its token stability, Russia is very close to collapse,” Homyakov said.
By Aug. 2010, the Russian scientist forecast, Russia may find itself on the brink of existence.
Biden in Ukraine & Georgia
Visiting Ukraine and Georiga last week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (shown at left meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko) had some tough words for Vladimir Putin: “As we reset the relationship with Russia, we reaffirm our commitment to an independent Ukraine, and we recognize no sphere of influence or no ability of any other nation to veto the choices an independent nation make.” He told the people of these two besieged nations something they’ve been waiting too long to hear, that America sends “an unequivocal, clear message to all who will listen and some who don’t want to listen, that America stands with you and will continue to stand.” And he said that Russia “used a pretext” to invade Georgia
Putin’s Lost Weekend
“He has a discussion there about Big Russia and Little Russia — Ukraine. He says that no one should be allowed to interfere in relations between us; they have always been the business of Russia itself.”
— Russian “prime minister” VladimirPutin, quoting White Army Commander Anton Denikin last Sunday while laying a wreath upon his grave
There he goes, again. Is he drunk, stupid, a maniac or simply evil? Any way you slice it, he’s a venal enemy of Russia’s future.
It must be so nice to live in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, mustn’t it? Everyone is a hero! It would be like living in the USA and feeling that Martin Luther King and David Duke both made equally important contributions to American success — just different, that’s all.
Josef Stalin, Bolshevik; Anton Denikin, Tsarist. Great Russian heroes, one and all!
The New York Times reports:
A quarter century ago, a Ukrainian historian named Stanislav Kulchytsky was told by his Soviet overlords to concoct an insidious cover-up. His orders: to depict the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s as unavoidable, like a natural disaster. Absolve the Communist Party of blame. Uphold the legacy of Stalin.
Professor Kulchytsky, though, would not go along.
Salt in Russia’s Wounds
From our earliest days here on this blog, it has been our policy to pour salt in the wounds of Vladimir Putin’s Russia at any opportunity. Our purpose in doing so has been quite simple: To dispel the notion that Putin is running a successful state and deserves the 75%+ approval ratings he routinely gets in polls. It was yeoman’s work, of course, when Putin had the convenient cover of oil prices at $150/barrel. A monkey could have ruled Russia during that period and looked somewhat effective. Now, it’s more like child’s play.
Which brings us, grinning from ear to ear, to young Miss Anastasia Prikhodko, winner of Russia’s national round of the Eurovision song contest. Not only isn’t Ms. Prikhodko Russian, but — of all things — Ukrainian, her song “Mamo” is not sung in Russian either, but also in Ukrainian.
In civilized countries, a national ambassador is seen as a representative of the best his country can offer, and expected to use only the most diplomatic language even in time of war, to show that he does in fact represent a civilized, modern nation deserving of the world’s respect.
But Russia, of course, is not a civilized country. So Russians apparently have no problem with their Ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, publicly stating that the President and Prime Minister of Ukraine were “at each other like dogs.” Instead of censuring Chernomyrdin, the Russian Foreign Ministry castigated Ukraine for daring to complain about his outrageous insult.
Hero journalist Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:
The Russia-Ukraine gas war officially ended in Moscow on Jan. 19, when Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a 10-year agreement. But there was a strange epilogue when Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko demanded shortly thereafter that the agreement be annulled.
Tymoshenko pushed very hard to include a clause eliminating the role of the controversial intermediary RosUkrEnergo. If Yushchenko gets his way, RosUkrEnergo will be the big winner.
Russia Through the Looking Glass
There are times when things happen in Russia that are so bizarrely inane that they defy the comprehension of normal human beings unschooled in the finer points of Russian “thought.” This is one of those instances.
The Moscow Times reports that a shadowy organization calling itself “Creative Warriors” has installed an ad campaign in the Moscow Metro which, as shown above, depicts cans of “Amerikanskoye Salo” emblazoned with the American flag. The MT describes “salo” as a ” traditional Ukrainian dish of salted pork fat” and explains that CW’s purpose is to unseat Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko by convincing the people of Ukraine that Yushchenko is a puppet of the U.S. and that “American salo is just as impossible as an American Ukraine.” The group stated: “We have been created for a new humanitarian mission and that we should spread throughout the entire world. If the campaign is allowed to be fully conducted on a national scale, Yushchenko simply has no chance to win.”
This idea is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin. Only in Russia can a failure be this pathetic, absolute and spectacular.