The Ukraine Mess

Revolutions can get ugly.

Most revolutions are ugly, inhuman and ruthless. Their children are chaos, deception, hypocrisy, violence, repressions, death, along with broken hopes and promises. Each revolution in its own way is a Pandora’s box. Ukraine is no exception.

As I write this from my vantage point in Kiev, where I have been for several months, it is safe to say the country—for lack of a better term—is a mess. Clashes between the groups of Maidan winners are leading towards a collapse of law and order. “Revolutionary justice” squads threatening politicians, journalists and businessmen are forcing many Russians to flee Ukraine. All this is occurring against the backdrop of a falling economy, a rise in unemployment and shrinking social care—coupled with mass protest movements in regions of South-East and Southern Ukraine, where ethnic Russians constitute a majority unwilling to bow to the Russophobic state-building imposed by western Ukrainian politicians. They are sending “friendship trains” to install revolutionary rule in provinces.

Such “trains” with cargoes of firearms and explosives, would have gone to Crimea but were turned back at its frontiers. “We are not minority or diaspora here,”—say protesters at South-East rallies, sometimes equal in strength to the Kiev Maidan,—“we are the people.” In such uneasy times Kiev is appointing oligarchs—major Maidan sponsors like the oligarch Igor Kolomoisky—as governors to control regions such as Dnipropetrovsk. The new regional bosses are innovative: local police are unreliable, so some governors hire private security companies to quell unrest. Others display patriotism by paying their private money to dig deep, wide anti-tank ditches to stop Russian tanks.

Then there are the looming elections. With a month and a half until presidential elections, and turmoil at home and abroad, how free, fair and representative can the voting be? Who will ensure due procedures and legitimacy of the enterprise in a divided electorate? Maidan activists, Right Sector or the coup organizers who unleashed the wave of intimidation and lustration?

The story of regime change and burst of passions around Ukraine delivers a moment of truth in world affairs: with all changes of past decades, the Euro-Atlantic policy towards Russia is out of whack. To call a spade a spade, Russia is still considered an adversary who should be subverted, weakened and brought into compliance with the interests of the West. The hidden anti-Russian agenda was behind the project of Ukraine-EU Association project and the regime change in Kiev. This isn’t paranoia; it’s reality.

Of course the Ukrainian crisis creates troubles for Moscow. But what were the choices? After dethroning Yanukovych, de-Russification was a top political priority for the new administration. In a country where at least a third of inhabitants identify themselves as ethnic Russians and no less than a half of population thinks and speaks in Russian, the first draft law submitted to Rada prohibited previous, modest minority-language arrangements. Sources reported there were plans to give the status of noncitizens to those who identify themselves as Russians, and others. Slogan chants like “Hang Muscovite on a tree” were heard at Maidan and regions, even at schools, hysterical speeches, beating “unpatriots” and torchlight actions were turning the country into a land of hatred. The EU and United States, vigilant and indignant in other cases, hardly noticed that. Would it be right for Moscow to sit idle and wait for carnage? Had bloodshed happened, how would Russian authorities have looked into the eyes of their people—and of Ukrainian Russians? Russian legislation allowing to use troops in Ukraine may seem excessive, but up to now it was probably the only thing to have restrained xenophobes from the worst—in Crimea and other parts of the country. The West didn’t even try.

So who is to blame? Probably those who, following Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice to tear Ukraine away from Russia, worked for years, spent billions of dollars and euros to cultivate the choice between “us and them”, i.e. the West and Russia, and create at all levels networks of people who, given the opportunity, would rush to the West irrespective of consequences to Mother Ukraine. Those who elaborated sophisticated plans and political technologies for the current Ukrainian project, trained politicians and operatives, guided the events and actions and finally achieved the goal—regime change occurred, the power in Ukraine and the right people to use it are at hand, revolution is under way.

Is Russia to blame? It is. For being too aloof and sure that brothers and kinsfolk are good relatives forever and partners are really partners and won’t use Russia-haters against Russia; for believing that the world has really changed and grand operations against Russia’s existential interests belong to the past, etc. Whatever happens to Ukraine, the crisis affected and will further influence Russian thinking. As to US-Russian negotiations, it’s wise to remember—Pandora’s box is still open.

Dmitry Ryurikov is a retired career diplomat. He worked in Iran, Afghanistan, dealt with humanitarian law and was ambassador to Uzbekistan and Denmark. His top post was Foreign Policy Assistant to the President of Russia in 1991-97. His current position is adviser to the director of Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank for the Presidential Administration.

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