Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category
There is only one president being capable to be at the same time offensive, out of line and arrogant, as well as needed and constantly courted. No, it is not Putin, as he has followers and admirers, but the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Nationwide protests against his policies in May 2013, led to police crackdown resulting in 22 deaths and the stalling of EU membership negotiations. Following a split with long-time ally Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan tried to curb judicial power and started purges against Gulen’s sympathisers. His figure is subject of different views: a populist president, an Islamic reactionary trying to end secular power in Turkey, an opportunist and arrogant politician trying to exploit Islamic religion and conservatory policies to cover corruption, a future despot, etc.
In reality Erdogan is all and none of that, surely is a skilled and ruthless politician who exploit the confusion and lack of direction that Turkey, the EU, and the world face in these turbulent years. However, what strikes more is the ability to stay afloat and find renewed interest around his figure despite the continuous diplomatic faux-pas and international outcry. It is undeniable that Turkey under Erdogan acquired a new status and returned to the spotlight as a key player in the international scenario.
Hungarian Empire to annex the Balkans. The French were interested only in keeping the North African colonies and put a foot into Middle East, while the Prussians were becoming the latest power stepping into the colonial scenario, and saw in the Empire an ally to counterbalance Britain. The Italians took away Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Libya).
WWI, the imperialist war, brought to an end the life of the “sick man”, relegating Turkey to the actual position in the Anatolian Peninsula. With Kemal Ataturk, Turkey became a republic, and started a growth that put the country back into international spotlight after WWII, when the Cold War inevitably saw Turkey being at the centre of the competition between East and West, and not only for its geographical position.
Nevertheless, 20th Century Turkey was different from the Ottoman Empire, it was not a “sick man”, instead becoming a strong military ally of the US, a member of NATO, a powerful republic dominated by an army ready to intervene to stop any sliding towards socialism. The US and the Soviet Union regarded Turkey as their border, and any action in Anatolia was to be counterbalance elsewhere.
Today’s Turkey is something similar to the 20th Century status, but with a striking difference: today can flirt with any power, break with them, harass and humiliating them, and still be considered important and crucial for the geopolitical equilibrium. In few words, Turkey is a country that every power would prefer to avoid dealing with, but have to in order to avoid that someone else will step in. A love-hate relationship where Ankara has only to gain rather to lose, if not partially.
Back to President Erdogan, he has the merit to fully understand this new position acquired by Turkey, and he is milking it with no shame nor politeness. Few years back, what the EU had with Turkey was just a dialogue on access to the Union, on which the EU felt always stronger thanks to two main arguments: the death penalty and Cyprus status. The first was the anti-thesis of the Union Treaty and the second a remnant of the past century to be solved, as it also involved a member. That strong position has now been lost and Erdogan has been the first and most skilled in exploit the new scenario, created by the reckless US policy in Middle East.
The Syrian conflict destabilized the Middle East in the last few years, put Turkey back in the map and among the key players. Erdogan put his tactics at work in wooing and blackmailing every single power. At first, he was a strong US ally, as per tradition, siding for a change of regime in Damascus, threatening military intervention to protect Turkmen, but in reality was looking at the opportunity to wipe out the PKK Kurdish rebellion. In this position, he even followed the Obama’s administration in a strong anti-Russian policy, despite Turkey had strong economic ties with Moscow.
With the EU, he patiently used the open door policy on migration by letting millions of refugees into Europe through Greece and Bulgaria, and then blackmailing Bruxelles in renegotiating future access and obtaining financial support to face the humanitarian disaster. This first phase, however, was short lived, as Turkey committed a serious mistake: shot down a Russian MiG over the Syria-Turkey border. To the joy of the Americans (saw in it a point of no return in the relation between Ankara and Moscow), and to the embarrassment of Erdogan, Moscow adopted sanctions that hit Turkey very hard, as well as making clear remarks on avoiding future military actions by Ankara.
Nevertheless, when everyone was looking at a Turkey now in a straight and narrow, Erdogan restarted silently his contacts with Putin, started to adopt a low profile in the Syrian crisis, and especially mounted a strong campaign against EU. To this shift contributed the fact the Turkey suddenly found itself dragged into a spiral of violence, between the PKK and IS attacks, benefitting by EU open door policy to which Ankara at first agreed. The time for a new shift was coming, and was accelerated by the July 2016 coup. This military attempt resulted in an opportunity for Erdogan to change once again Turkey’s position on the international scenario. While Erdogan accused the US of supporting the coup by financing the Gulen Movement, considered a terrorist organization led by his former ally Fethullah Gulen, who lives now in Pennsylvania, United States, the EU and US accused Erdogan of staging a coup or using the coup to legitimate repression and extending his power. Whatever the reality, Erdogan used the coup to reset his international ties and officially opening his rapprochement with Putin. Turkey entered in Moscow sponsored peace talks, to which even the Iranian were invited and who never had idyllic relations with Ankara.
Erdogan’s erratic policies this time led to a war of words with the US over the extradition of Gulen, by irritating Washington for holding military talks over Syria with Putin, and by starting a series of accusations to his old friend in the EU. He accused Germany to use “Nazi practices” and the Netherlands to be a “Nazi remnants”, leading to a serious diplomatic row.
However, regardless of how irritating or arrogant could be, Erdogan continue to be sought by every single power to change alliance, to join again the western friends, while Russia tries to keep on its side as no Syrian solution can be achieved without Turkey’s participation. Between US sponsored intervention or Russian sponsored neutrality, Erdogan is enjoying a wealth of opportunities to obtain the most from all: silence on Cyprus, access to the EU, economic ties with Russia, military support from the US. To obtain this he uses the migrants issue, the US sponsored coup, the Russian relation with Iran, strong words against some European countries where Turkish expats resides.
In this Erdogan achieved what the Ottoman Sultans never did: be a power not for spoliation but for building a new world order where Turkey is at the centre stage. Only gullible and short-sighted politicians could not see that without Turkey any plan to solve the Syrian conflict, whether American or Russian sponsored, will be ineffective. Unfortunately for them, Turkey’s price is high and the presidents and prime ministers of many countries will have to digest more Erdogan’s Turkish Delights, although very different for the famous ones, to achieve their dreams.
The recent escalation in Syria, with the US attacking for the first time directly the Syrian territory, has taken many by surprise and confusion. To some commentators, is the sign of the unpredictability of Donald Trump, for others the continuous with a policy always directed to the change of regimes, for others more is the sign of end of Assad regime.
What is more striking, however, is the parallelism with the Iraqi War and its build up, as well as the confirmation of the “emotional diplomacy”, which affects mainly the West and its allies. There are no easy responses, or solutions, although an objective analysis requires to try to see the events with all eyes and minds in Washington, Moscow, Damascus, London, Bruxelles, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang.
All started with an attack, still not proven or completely investigated, on which a likely chemical substance (or more than one) has been used against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. On one side, the US and its allies accused the Damascus regime, on the other, Moscow and its allies talked about “involuntary chemical use” or accuses rebel fighting groups.
The bottom line in this terrible story, where more than 80 people have been killed, is that no one has a shred of proof or started a formal investigation to establish the exact causes. On this it is like going back to the initial stages on the Syrian war, when the western countries were taking every single excuse to put foot on Syrian ground. At the same time it is a deja vu of the Iraqi WMD fiasco, when not only proof was nonexistent but even fabricated.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Syria is home to a huge chemical arsenal, that under the US-Russia agreement should have been secured and stocked for dismantling. This amount, not known, added to the security on the ground difficult to establish, surely jeopardized any attempt to clear the area: Damascus has still chemical weapons? Yes. Have the rebels access to weapons following occupation of some areas? Yes. Has ISIL access to chemical weapons? Yes.
Under these conditions, it could be true that Damascus used prohibited substances, as well as it is likely that rebels bombarded the wrong area or ISIL used them against civilians. International Law and diplomacy have for decades worked on the same assumption of civil and penal justice: innocence until proven in court. A golden rule, followed most of the time, to avoid bloodshed and major conflicts, a necessity to give peace and mediation a chance. However, history teaches us that “incidents” have been used to justify military actions, incidents that could be see and proven: Tonkin incident, the Afghan “communist” conversion to open soviet invasion, etc.
The problem is that in recent years too many “incidents” have been unproven action by belligerents, and used to justify quick military solutions that proved disastrous in their consequences. One of the main pillars has been the “emotional diplomacy”, where after a deplorable action by warring parts, another country acts moved by sentiments, by “humanitarian” scopes. Like a child with a tantrum, bombs dropped as apples from a tree shaken by a storm, causing more death, destruction, and especially no solution. Or at least not a lasting solution, but a piloted result to benefit the Samaritan intervening.
This is the calculation made in Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Ankara when they continuously switch their policies and alliances, not in the interest of Syrian people, nor for global peace, but for geopolitical equilibrium (Moscow) and change of regime policy (US) to destabilize Russia, China, Iran.
Therefore, can we even try to make some sense in all this? The US accuses Assad of war crimes, probably true but still unproven, for a simple reason: change the regime. This was the pillar of American policy with Bush and with Obama found in the so-called Arab Spring the lever to tilt regimes in Middle East that were unfriendly, historically. They instigated revolution in Egypt for then backtracking and supporting General Al Sisi in the repressions and coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Democracy has its strange ways of work. In Libya they accomplished the ousting of Gaddafi (thanks to a Russian/Chinese diplomatic suicide at the UN), while in Iran failed from the start. Syria was to be their final step, but the Russian strong opposition and support denied the change. It is not surprising that any attack made by Syrian forces receives wider coverage on Western medias than the thousands of people killed by terrorist groups and rebels armed with American weapons in Syria and Iraq. Nor is news the silent and censored war in Yemen, where not only chemical weapons have been used and thousands have been killed by Saudi’s aerial bombardment on civilians. Skepticism is the least, then grows when you read that 59 tomahawk missiles have been fired against a military base and that just 2 days later was again ready to use! Either all those missile failed the objectives or they bomb the wrong place.
Russia is defending Assad and his regime, under a status quo paradigm: losing Syria, will wipe out Russian presence from eastern Mediterranean, closing the Black Sea Fleet in a prison with the key held by the erratic Turkish President Erdogan. Russia support Syria to strengthen border control against terrorism, as many foreign fighters are from the Caucasus, and Russia already experienced first hand the change of regime policy with the “coloured revolutions” that engulfed Eastern Europe. However, Russia is not the sparring partner anymore, Yeltsin’s years have been forgotten like a day after being drunk. Russia, regretted the Libyan error, and since then responded tit for tat: Ukraine and Crimea are just a warning. Russia accuses the US of fabricating news and arming rebel and terrorist groups (whether directly or not, it is still not proven), and closing an eye or two when they make their massacres. Russia accused the US of interfering in the peace process that Moscow was silently building with Turkey and Iran.
A key to understand the Syrian puzzle is Turkey, and the actions of the two powers is a reflection of Ankara unpredictable policies. Erdogan at first was a fierce critic of Assad, threatening invasion to support Turkmen (covertly to wipe out Kurds and PKK), and conducting a strong anti-Russian campaign. Unfortunately for the US, Turkey made a big mistake by shooting down a Russian fighter jet, plunging its economy into disaster and becoming soon a central stage for terror attacks: ISIS ones following the western sponsored policy of open frontiers, and PKK ones taking advantage of Turkish foolishness in lowering their security. Timely and precise came the attempted coup against Erdogan, again with multifaceted interpretations: a US sponsored coup (Gulen supporters) to block a Russian rapprochement or a backfired coup that was used by Erdogan to increase his control, cut the ties with the US and change the foreign policy into a Russian backed solution of the Syrian crisis? Now this chemical incident once again saw Turkey siding with the US, but on the other they still seat at the table with Russian and Iranians to try in solving the conflict.
Many say Trump could be too impetuous on decisions, or even dangerous for world peace, but looking closely he has just reconditioned a well used machine that in the last two decades has made of the Read the rest of this entry »
Politics is a science and often is described as an art, but generally cannot escape the harsh and crude judgement that reality and history, through facts, expose in front of us.
We can debate on how we arrive to certain conclusions and how a fact unfolded, but that will not change the fact itself in being established. Exactly like maths, the result is not under question and two plus two is four, no question about.
The equation Ob stays to Ne as Pu stays to Ua is a scientific proof that politics can run along double standards and even hypocrisy but also that will not change the crude reality of the actual situation, whether we like or not. We can still refuse to accept the result but that does not change the fact.
What the equation stands for? It stands for the actual international scenario, where in face of the double standards, censorship and propaganda from the west and the east, there is a convergence of result and responsibilities. Obama stays at Netanyahu as Putin stays at Ukraine. This is a crude and real fact, both part of the equation explain the same result: power, nationalism, strategic interest. In one word forget humanitarian concerns.
Gaza and Ukraine are the face of the same medal but Western and Russian propaganda are trying to demonstrate the contrary. Everything has been said about the Ukrainian crisis, but the latest developments following the Malaysian plane disaster are the example of how to use a tragedy for strategic interests. No one really is thinking of the victims, but only how to exploit this to further escalate a tension with Russia. The whole archetype of the western democracy and judicial system is the presumption of innocence until a free trial and evidence is found. But what about the Ukrainian disaster? Official accusations to Russia are moved everyday by US and UK governments based on supposition, ideas, satellite images never shown, telephone interception never verified. On the other side, Russia is playing the same game, claiming Ukrainian responsibility but also without bringing a shred of proof. Although, it is legitimate to speculate and even advance hypothesis to the causes of the disaster and, based on facts, hazard an explanation, from speculation to actually build sanctions and international condemnation is a big jump ahead.
Going back to our initial question then, what makes different Ukraine from Israel? Where are the same indignation and disgust for the civilians killed in indiscriminate Israeli raids? If the same amount or even a 1/3 of all victims were caused by Putin or Yanukovich, we were probably already sending troops to fight in Ukraine. What makes this unhappy child, that is Israel, being continually immune from criticism and repercussions?
The support that Israel receives, not only militarily but also on a diplomatic level is such that if Netanyahu is responsible of war crimes, then are also his sponsors such US and UK. Exactly like they consider Putin the mastermind behind Ukraine, then you cannot deny Obama and US administration responsibility for the total impunity on how Israel conducts its criminal war in Palestine, Gaza, including past wars.
So, an objective analysis is still possible? Can we escape the brainwashing of our media, like the BBC putting Ukraine plane disaster on top of the news whilst Gaza is discussed like an appendix, an unfortunate situation to try to play down, to ignore the civilian dead by their fault because being there and not because of a military attack from Israel?
Israel has the right to defend itself. How many times we heard this sentence, and it has been as long as the dispute itself. Of course we know that every country has a right to defence but Israel is a state that signed international conventions, including for human rights, and cannot use this as a pretext to bombard indiscriminately all the Gaza strip. The IDF is now fighting these endless wars for over 50 years, and still they pretend to tell us that they do not know that due to Gaza’s high population density civilian victims are likely to happen. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, although now trying to transform itself in a political group, and its launch of missiles indiscriminately against innocent Israeli civilians is a crime, but this does not justify Israel to kill in the same way innocent people. Hospitals, schools, UN buildings, houses are these all Hamas nests? Even if Hamas is using human shields as Israel claims, and they are aware of, does this legitimate you to kill innocents anyway? Hamas is a terrorist group, but for a state to be classed as terrorist is ten times worst and this what Israel has become.
The unhappy child, like North Korea is for China with its tantrums, is the best way to expose the western double standards.
What about the Ukrainian plane disaster? Let’s start from the basics assumptions.
Ukrainian responsibility can be considered in two ways: a fighter jet shoot down the plane or a surface to air missile hit MH17. An objective analysis will says: If a fighter jet shoots down a civilian plane by mistake, then it means that it was trying to hit another plane, but rebels for what we know do not have an air force. Same apply to the missile theory, if they shot down the plane than the target could only have been another fighter jet, but rebel do not have an air force. Therefore this opens a further speculation: was it in response of a violation of the Ukrainian air space by Russian planes?
Rebels responsibility, once established that they do not have an air force, can only be considered under the use of surface to air missiles such the famous BUK. This also means that they were likely trying to shoot down a Ukrainian fighter jet, and clearly making a huge mistake.
Thus this opens other questions? How the rebels managed to obtain such sophisticated system, was from Russia or was stolen from Ukrainian hardware? If a Ukrainian fighter jet was flying nearer MH17, why this was happening? Why civilian flights have been allowed over Eastern Ukraine air space and over a conflict zone? It has been said that above 10,000 km flights would have been considered safe, but nobody was aware of any BUK missile deployed in the area? Where was the intelligence from US when they were able to spot three tanks entering from the Russian border but failed to spot a BUK missile system being deployed or supplied by Russia?
At last Russia, can it be held responsible? Obviously, but first should be established whether a BUK missile system has been supplied to rebels, or a fighter jest crossed over Ukraine airspace or they have fired themselves against the civilian plane.
Nevertheless, all the above are only speculations and may be total rubbish, unless actual proof is given, but from speculation to actually start officially accusing someone is again a big jump into the unknown.
To go back to our equation then Putin still stays at Ukraine, because exactly like the US, Russia uses strategic interest and goals to weaken the enemy presence and the plane incident, like the Gaza war, are at the eyes of the masters unfortunate episodes that they try to cover as much as they can or to explain differences. Their luck is that media are biased in Washington and London as in Moscow and they brainwash easily their audience; their misfortune is that where media freedom is blinded by nationalistic views, everyone using their own judgement can escape the mainstream media and search for the truth or the fact independently.
Unfortunately for all of us, and especially for the Gaza and the plane victims, big powers do not have long memory and focus, exactly like a child they have a short time span focus and so they easily change their attention as soon as a new front is open: that happened to Mali, Iraq and Isis, North Korea, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Boko Haram, Kenya, Al Shabab, etc.
Maths is not an opinion is a fact, war crimes are also facts, but justice unfortunately is becoming a mere opinion.
The Ukrainian crisis, as we have seen already, has a domestic and an international dimension, both being the reason of the unrest and probably of its solution. While western and eastern Ukraine uses nationalism and ethnic factors to justify their struggle, the West and Russia act in a common ground of a “fake paternalism” that in reality covers the strategic and geopolitical interests behind their actions.
Especially Russia has been a sort of a puzzle recently towards the Ukrainian crisis: from triumphant action in securing a deal with Yanukovich in December 2013, to his demise in February this year; from the military action and annexation to Crimea to the stall and sometimes undecipherable position towards eastern Ukraine.
What really Russia wants from Ukraine? Is it real the threat of military intervention or it is a bluff, a sort of soviet-era blackmailing?
Moscow intervention is due to western historic blindness
The reasons of the Russian involvement in Ukraine are deeply rooted in history and especially in the last twenty years of international politics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia assisted to the downfall of every single partner or satellite country, assisted to the failing of the state and its institutions, and especially was subjected to the West “revenge and punishment”. Russia in the 90s was a derelict state, anarchy was widespread, internationally was the “pet” of Washington, who used all its economic might to keep Russia under the leash. The US were free to move in the world scenario without any control, and if Russia was less concerned about the Iraqi invasion, the Balkans wars and Somalia turmoil, everything started to change for the bad to worse very soon. Washington’s plan to build a missile shield, officially against Iran and North Korea but in reality against Russia, increased nationalism in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Czech Republic, all countries that happily offered to assist the US. Russia started to realize that behind the friendly and paternalistic face there was a design to put Russia in a cage from where it will not be able to resurface again, a revival of the cordon sanitaire used against bolshevism in the last century.
But many can argue, if Russia was is such derelict conditions, then why the Americans were so keen to waste time and resources in this strategy? The reason is because the US knew that Yeltsin would not have been able to hold power for long and the strategy was to keep weak an adversary already wounded, before it was too late. Unfortunately for the US, the Chechen terrorism helped Russia in finding the key man to turn around its destiny: Vladimir Putin.
His ruthless conduct in the Chechen War was his business card to the West, that surely understood that the new Kremlin course would be a bumpy one, but at the same time underestimated Putin’s capacity to hold power for long and especially to rebuild Russia’s self esteem. During the ‘war on terror years’ and the Bush preventive war strategy, Russia still played a submissive role: western sponsored UN resolutions were voted in favor or abstained, a criticism was shout but not too loud. The US continued to look at Russia as an ex superpower, something to keep an eye on but not to be worried too much.
This therefore started to build in the West that sort of over confidence that any action against Russia, even the sensible ones, will not generate greater consequences. In this project aimed at destroying Russia’s vital space in the east, were used the “revolutions” or change of regime piloted to overthrow pro-Russian governments and replace them with pro-western ones. The main pillars of this strategy were: the missiles shield in Poland and Romania, the Ukrainian revolutions and Georgia.
In reality while the US and its allies continued to see Russia as a “pet”, they did not realize that Putin was already rebuilding its military might, the economy was growing at faster rate and the country was in the verge of an economic boom. Russia had to digest some hard situations but the turning point was in 2008, not for Obama election but instead for two important events that changed Russian politics for ever: Kosovo independence and Georgia action in Abkhazia and Ossetia.
2008: Back to the future, when soviet praxis meet Putin’s modernism.
The unilateral independence of Kosovo from Serbia enraged the Kremlin, denouncing a violation of international law and designed to split countries with ethnic or religious differences, like Russia. Russia for the first time appeared not only angry by words but took decisive steps blocking any recognition to the new state. However, we were far from any real action. This to Washington seemed the “ usual dog that barks but never bites” and therefore came the next step: Georgia.
The imprudent and suicidal action of president Saakashvili to retake Abkhazia and Ossetia by force, with the benediction of the West, changed the course. The Russian blitzkrieg, not only destroyed the Georgian army, but even put at risk the existence of the country itself as the Russian troops were marching on Tbilisi. The shock for Georgia and the West was unprecedented: Russia was at war and no one knew how to stop, suddenly the pet became again the big bear of soviet times, irascible, intractable, and aggressive.
The Georgian war, that took as a pretext the defense of Russian citizens in the two breakaway regions recognized by Moscow, was a clear response to the US for Kosovo. From then the relations between the two countries has deteriorated further: Russia cut the opposition out of power; paid its financial debts and expelled USAID, deemed useless for a rich nation like Russia; rebuilt the military power which display every year in the Victory Day parade in soviet style; restored nationalism and pride; internationally ended the appeasement to Washington. If Russia committed the fatal error to let the US act in Libya, Putin did not thought twice in blocking any attempt to intervention in Syria or fomenting unrest in Iran.
So why the Ukrainian crisis unfolded? The West after the debacle in Syria, where for two years was trying to build a case against Assad to legitimate an armed intervention, i.e. the chemical weapons, saw Russia not only blocking any UN resolution but even reaching successfully a deal, that it is still in place, to control and destroy these dangerous weapons. Russia’s move, is seen as the first major diplomatic success since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and for the first time we saw emerging what in Putin’s mind is the resetting of the world relations under a ‘Yalta restore system’ to superpowers balance.
But everyone knew that the tit for tat politics, used by both countries in the Cold War, was only starting and how to strike at Russia’s very heart of interests? Appeasing the Ukrainian protests was for the West a return to the policy of piloted change of regime and at the same time this would have enraged Russia. However, Washington was wrong in the calculation that Russian reaction could not led to a Georgian style intervention even though, this time, was a surgical intervention. Russia intervened to take what was needed and keep the rest in standby, while the West does not have a case either for intervention of for blocking Russian interference.
Nevertheless, we would be wrong to think of Russia’s actions in a straight line and without the double standards of which Moscow accuse the West. Crimea is not eastern Ukraine and Putin knows that.
Russian double standards: Crimea and the Donbas
Crimea,that was already an autonomous region within Ukraine, since the start of the unrest, voiced preoccupation and signals of a shift towards Russia. Its major Russian population and especially the naval base that Russia kept from soviet times, were all reasons for the Kremlin to do not waste a lifetime opportunity. Putin considered Crimea under a strategic and geopolitical factor masked by nationalism and rhetoric to facilitate a return to the mother land.
Putin used nationalism to obtain internal approval, but the reality is that Russia could not afford to lose the Black Sea fleet: it is needed to access and control the eastern Mediterranean (Syria), keep under control NATO states. If under a military point of view there was nothing that Kiev could have done to prevent a takeover, and a war that Russia probably would have fought for real, even on historical side there were few reasons to oppose a change. Crimea has always been Russian since 1783, although Tartar population lived in the peninsula until 1944. The Czars fight to control the peninsula and the access to the sea was vital. Even under the Soviet Union, Crimea was until 1954 a region depending from Russia SSR, although being an autonomous region. The main change occurred in the WWII when, following the Nazis invasion, some Ukrainians assisted the Germans, and in Crimea some Tartars fought against the Russians. At war over, Stalin revenge was devastating: he deported the entire population of Tartars in Siberia, and the peninsula was reshaped under Russian predominance and held with an iron grip. However, in 1954, the soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Ukrainian, in the prologue to the famous de-stalinisation transferred Crimea to the Ukraine SSR, seen by many in the Soviet Union as a sort of compensation, justified under administrative advantages represented by geographical and common economic structure with Ukraine. Russia always maintained its naval base, and the situation remained unchanged until our times. The Tartars were allowed to return in Crimea only in 1991.
Ukraine and the West, although ventilated anger and still do not recognize Russian annexation, know that in fact this is now a fait accompli and regard Crimea as something non defendable; even ex US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and ex Soviet president Mikhail Gorbacev, who are far from being considered Putin’s supporters, condemned US negation of history and Russia’s right to Crimea. Nevertheless, this exposes also Moscow hypocrisy: what about Kosovo then? Six years ago they furiously denounced a violation of international law by allowing a unilateral referendum, and now the same happened in Crimea but with sides switched. Has Moscow changed line? Not really, the Kremlin still regards any unilateral action as dangerous to a country national unity, especially in a country like Russia, but the gain from Crimea and the potential loss of a strategic base were far more important than this pillar of Russian policy and for one time have been overlooked. This can be demonstrated by the total different approach towards eastern Ukraine.
When the eastern regions declared unilaterally an independence referendum, Moscow was silent and on more than one occasion even invited the rebels to refrain as there were no suitable conditions to hold a poll due to military engagement, although in reality the situation was not that dissimilar from Crimea. Moscow, following Crimea annexation, threatened military intervention in the east, as did in Georgia, to defend Russian citizens, but in reality nothing happened, although we have had already many episodes that could have been taken as a pretext: the Odessa fire, an assassination attempt of pro Russian mayor in Kharkhiv, the recent assault to the Russian embassy in Kiev. Nonetheless the Russian tanks are still on the other side of the border, except for old fashion ones that supposedly crossed and joined the rebels. This demonstrates that Russia is playing a different game in Ukraine: is doing exactly what Washington has been doing is Syria by arming rebels, fomenting unrest in the population, giving logistic support. In other words, no direct intervention, but a low intensity conflict by creating a situation where the rebels are strong enough to resist government forces and at the same time not that strong to alter the balance leading to an armed intervention from the west.
Russia in other words is keeping Ukraine at a leash as the US have done with Russia in the 90s. Economic sanctions towards Kiev will bite hard, gas supply halted recently will damage even further an economy at collapse. Russia also know that the government in Kiev is helpless, does not have a clear policy and an intervention will be considered only if a reckless action will happen: the recent embassy incident was a demonstration of how dangerous is the game Kiev is playing and led even the US to angrily criticize the government for inaction in protecting Russian diplomats.
Russia is not willing to go to war, due to economic consequences, on a military side although Russian forces are superior, it will not be easy against the Ukrainian army that has hardware from Russian industry, nationalism will increase the risk of an all out war with the possibility of a repetition of the afghan campaign. Russia at the same time does not want to take control of an economy in tatters, although the Donbas is the industrial powerhouse of Ukraine. Moscow still hope that will be able to settle with Ukraine for a federation with eastern regions obtaining a large form of autonomy, and a country that may join NATO and the EU, but keeping the east neutral or free from NATO bases.
How likely is this succeed will depend on many factors, but surely not from western sanctions as Russia is not concerned about that, at least until the West will not start to open the eyes and see Russia for what it is, a superpower back in business. While the West thought to have closed the front door to Russian expansionism, on the other simply forgot the back garden door, where Russian new czars take their afternoon tea with their Chinese partners, who also are US antagonists in the Pacific. The result is old ideological enemies signing multibillion dollars deals that dwarf western sanctions and give to Russia a long term investment in an area now cut off completely to western businesses.
Ukraine is fighting for its unity, and most likely survival, but whether the current military action is an anti-terror operation or a war, a fact is clear: Ukraine is heading towards disaster unless a diplomatic and peaceful solution will be found. The problem for Ukraine is that the new Kiev government and the Eastern rebellious regions are not alone in this dispute and their “external sponsors” are to be considered the main reason for the bitter turning of events. While the West, namely the EU and US, and Russia at a different time, and for different reasons, intervened in Ukraine politics for their own geo-political interests, on the other they simply got stuck in front of their stubbornness and hypocrisy by reaching a point of no return.
The Ukraine crisis unfolded few months ago when protests against former president Viktor Yanukovich culminated in what Moscow called a “western sponsored coup” and the Western powers a “democratic change”. The Maidan protests, aimed against Yanukovich’s decision to withdraw from an association agreement with the EU and signing instead a deal with Russia, were soon taken as a pretext from the West to fuel a change of regime as already seen in other areas: Iraq, Libya and the failed attempt in Syria. Nevertheless, this reckless action did not take into account Russia’s vital space and a likely reaction that culminated with the Crimean annexation.
Yanukovich’s government, elected and legitimate, was overthrown by mass protests made mostly by common citizens although no one can deny the presence of armed groups linked to the far right movements with clear xenophobic tendencies such Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) or the Maidan Self Defence Forces. While the West stepped up its anti-Russian propaganda, it did not realise the danger in fuelling an already fertile ground for hatred between the two souls of Ukraine, West and East. By denigrating and openly taking side against the legitimate government in Kiev and supporting what was increasingly becoming an armed insurrection and not a peaceful democratic rally, western interference reinforced the extremist groups providing them with a sort of legitimacy. In few words, the same script adopted in Syria where for long time they supported an armed insurrection refusing to admit that the only taking advantage were terrorist groups linked to Al Qaida or of other Islamist tendencies. While the West ignored this warning (to be honest not that far in the past to be forgotten), it may be worth to mention that even in the 2012 Football Euro Cup for example many in the EU expressed concerns at hooliganism and racist behaviour in Ukraine, especially in UK.
Russia on the other side took this careless action as a pretext and reason to express its concerns for Russian citizens and the Russian speaker population in Eastern Ukraine. While Russia started to build up its war machine, the West and many Ukrainians simply decided to turn blind in front of the evidence: the Maidan protest were not a simple democratic movement , but a clear rebellion and an armed insurrection that many countries, including Russia and the democratic crusaders in Washington and London would not have hesitated to crush at the first sight of weapons within civilians. This led to a brutal repression by Yanukovich, where the (in)famous Berkut and snipers fired against protesters, but also to a response where policemen and security forces were shot dead. Nevertheless amid all this turmoil Yanukovich avoided making that step that would have plunged Ukraine into civil war: call in the army to quell the unrest.
Negotiations were made and even some opposition parties agreed to sit at a table to pave the way for new elections, with Yanukovic granting any sort of concession such amnesty, freeing all arrested and promising greater autonomy for regions. But the deal was sunk by the West pushing the more extreme souls of the Maidan protests to take the lead and provoking further unrest that could have been only resolved by either an army coup or Yanukovich departure. When he decided to leave, at that point it seemed to everyone that the Maidan protests would have been able to close the game and the release of Yulia Timoshenko as the final act of a victorius anti Russian “revolution” in 90s style. It was exactly at this point that the “phase two” of the Ukrainian crisis developed and started with the Kremlin involvement: Yanukovich finds refuge in Russia, Crimea is flooded by special Russian troops, a 40,000 strong army gathered at the border.
Nevertheless, while Crimea was a price willing to be paid in Kiev, and even in the West although the apparent outrage, it was also clear that the Kremlin’s gamble of threatening military invasion in the East played exactly the same side effects generated by western influence in Kiev: exacerbated rather than ease the already irreparable situation in the country. Kiev’s government at this point found itself not struggling for survival but to keep a country united. Attempts to reduce far right movements presence and promise of a new presidential elections were clearly futile in front of a domino effect that, exactly similar to the Maidan protests, saw people rebelling against central government and declaring autonomy, independence or asking Russian annexation.
While the West this time promptly called these rebels “terrorist and agents of Russia”, Russia vested the rebellions as “popular will and democratic expression of an under siege population of Russians from fascists in Kiev”. These words, as mere propaganda may be, had a strong effect in Russia and Ukraine as they were used only during what is known as The Great Patriotic War against the Nazis.
Kiev: new government, new president same confusion on the ground
The new government appeared for many as inept and incapable to deal with the unrest. While it was without any chance and counterproductive oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it was the initial inertia showed during the start of the Eastern rebellion that fuelled a sort of excessive optimism, a thought that a swift solution could be found. While the East was proclaiming itself free with a People’s Republic in Donetsk and hold a referendum not recognised by the international community, in Kiev whilst condemning the fact that an electoral consultation was taking place in a deteriorated security situation, they found nothing better than to do the same by organising presidential election in a country on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the point of no return was the decision to call in the army, thus increasing the danger of a civil war, with soldiers refusing to fight and switching sides, military difficulties and an expensive human price to pay that is already showing its bill.
But if the Kiev government decided to do what Yanukovich refused to do, and thus applying the same role of the army as saw in Syria, Libya and Egypt against their own population, it also appear that the government born from the Maidan protests is not followed by the same population strata as demonstrated by the recent presidential elections. If at first Yulia Timoshenko’s freedom was seen by many as the first step for a return to power, the election saw the victory of a man not new in Ukrainian politics, as having cooperated with both Yushenko and Yanukovich, with the West and Russia. Entrepreneur Petro Poroshenko, won an outright victory in Ukraine’s presidential poll of May 2014 with 54% of the votes, he was the only oligarch to have supported the pro-European opposition from the start, though unaffiliated to any of the country’s political parties. He is known as “the chocolate king” for his ownership of Ukraine’s largest confectionery manufacturer, Roshen. Poroshenko was supported by the former boxer Vitaly Klitschko, who gave up his own presidential ambitions to throw his weight behind him, and by fellow tycoon Dmitry Firtash, who has long been on cordial terms with Russia. Ukrainian media interpreted the great support for Poroshenko as a reaction to the opposition’s inability to find common ground during and after the anti-government protests that overthrow former President Viktor Yanukovych and as a signal that the new establishment was distancing itself from extremists.
Poroshenko comes from the mainly Russian-speaking Odessa region in southern Ukraine, although his political stronghold is believed to be in the central Vinnytsya region, where he started his business and political career. He has been elected to parliament several times and has worked with both the pro-European and pro-Russian political camps in Ukraine. He was foreign minister in Ms Tymoshenko’s government from 2009 to 2010, and briefly an economic development and trade minister in 2012 under Yanukovich. He was one of the founders of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, in 2001. However, later that year he left to lead Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine electoral bloc. He was also one of the main figures of the Orange Revolution that brought Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko to power in 2004. This chameleon political careerist, or to be more frankly an interest piloted one, is at the top of a stubbornness government refusing to deal with a fundamental request of autonomy from the East, where the clear anti-Russian stance of some of its supporters and the Western backing are bogging down the country in a fratricidal confrontation with unpredictable consequences. The government is avoiding any discussions on constitutional reforms or for a federation, and its obstinate centralism is favouring paradoxically the disintegration of a united country. On the other, after his victory, Mr Poroshenko promised to forge closer links with the EU and restore peace in restive eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists had severely disrupted voting. He has also pledged to improve relations with Russia. But his first act was an all out military assault on Donetsk and consequent bloodshed.
So the last question is: taking aside the fact that it is without doubt the influence from Washington and the EU, what were the internal reasons for overthrowing Yanukovich?
It has been claimed by many the corruption, but in a country were each president from Kuchma to Yushenko, from Timoshenko to Yanukovich has been accused of stealing or being corrupt, it is very difficult to believe that. Even the claim that Ukraine was a dictatorship is an exaggeration as Yanukovich won legally an election and no constitution or power was suppressed, people were free to move. A powerful element is without any doubt the economy and the silence over this is the reason why both the West and Russia push on nationalist propaganda to mask their responsibilities.
Ukraine is an economy near to collapse, even though has a strong agriculture in the western part, known as the granary of Europe, and a powerful industrial sector in the East. Nevertheless extreme dependence from Russian import / export, gas and energy supply combined with western liberist economy exploiting cheap labor and reduced taxes made Ukraine not a sustainable and independent economy. Ukrainians were frustrated by this rather than the stories created and inflated by the medias. The first protests, when Yanukovich refused to sign with the EU, were genuine only to be then hijacked for strategic and political interests. What Ukrainians also believed, and probably still believe, is that the EU will welcome them in a further enlargement. Whilst Ukrainians are continuously brainwashed by western propaganda of an easy EU access and an economy ready to get back on its feet, a debt is piling up, bankruptcy is just behind the corner; Russia counter measures are already starting with gas payment demands.
The reality is that no one is ready to bail out Ukraine, like Greece, especially after a landslide victory of the anti-EU parties in the recent European parliament elections that put a clear slogan out: no more EU, no more enlargement, no immigration. After the shameful anti Romanian and anti Bulgarian propaganda in the EU of last year, now the new xenophobic and racist parties across Europe are ready to target Ukrainians as the Eldorado that will cash in at next the electoral polls.
Eastern Ukraine: A new symphony in Donbas?
This area the powerhouse of Ukraine, and of the former Soviet Union, is in majority Russian speaker and nevertheless they lived peacefully within Ukraine since the independence.
However, it has never been an easy coexistence between the two areas, and this was reflected in history during the WWII and the constant push and back between presidents towards Russia and the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Eastern Ukraine always supported filo Russian presidents and when Yanukovich won the election, the Party of Regions had in the Donbas region its stronghold. The delicate equilibrium that maintained united a fragile architecture was broken suddenly with the Maidan protests, although some cities in the East at first even participated in the change of power, like Kharkiv or Dnepropetrovsk. Eastern Ukraine at first, even though with less enthusiasm, joined protests against Yanukovich, but in the Donbas region everything started to move in the opposite direction with the raising fear of a new power unbalanced towards the West and hostile to Russia, from which this region heavily depends.
When the Maidan protests were increasingly becoming anti Russian and xenophobic, with raising extreme right movements taking the lead with armed groups, Eastern Ukrainians felt the same sense of need for defence and even paranoia that Russia has about an incoming encirclement. This is especially true for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions where Russian speakers are over 50% and it is known as Donbas or Donetsk basin. Carpe diem was the word following Crimea annexation by Russia and, feeling the moment, they truly believed in an insurrection supported by Russia, arriving to overthrow the local governments and declaring a People’s Republic, followed by a non recognised independence referendum. But, exactly as it happened for the Kiev government, the Donbas region at the crucial moment saw its external sponsor vacillating, being unsure how to step back from this mess. As in western Ukraine believe to EU propaganda, in the Donbas people believed too much in Russia’s involvement and soon found themselves alone. After Crimea annexation it seemed that Russia was ready to take on Ukraine, and thunder words from Putin made the Donbas greater confident, as well as Kiev government inaction. But to repeat Crimea was a dream, as it was Russia going to war against Ukraine, at least for now. The Odessa fire, that was for many the possible signal of all out war with Moscow, in reality was the turning point were both Washington and the Kremlin understood that they push too far and began slowly to settle down. The problem is that the Kiev government and the Donbas region instead raised their stakes and a military confrontation is now on the ground, with a clear risk of degenerating into civil war.
There is a movie by a famous soviet director, Dziga Vertov, called Enthusiasm Symphony of the Donbas that in its Stalinist propaganda was aimed at demonstrating the development and the importance of this region as a centre stage for the construction of socialism. If the movie portrayed a happy and hardworking place with a triumphant soundtrack, today the symphony coming from Donbas is very different and sounds more like the thunder of war.
The Ukrainian protests against government’s decision to not sign an EU agreement melted in just few days, but was it really only an internal matter or was just another episode of the saga Putin vs West?
It is now clear that was never at stake the interest of the Ukrainian people but political gains and economic benefits behind the interests of such powers. Ukraine, as Georgia in the past, is a fertile ground to gauge the pressure of the tensions between Russia and the West, and once again, to the dismay of the latter, Putin won.
Ukraine economy is a mess, near to collapse, needed a bail out regardless on whoever will grant it, so why there was this attention to pull Ukraine on either sides? The answer is simply European hypocrisy and Russia’s vital space paranoia.
The EU jumped on the protests claiming that Ukrainian people were behind a popular protest to join the EU, that their will was betrayed and Yanukovich change mind after Russia’s blackmailing. All this may be true, and it is no surprise for a poor country to see people cherishing the idea of free travel to countries better off, as also it is no surprise that Russia used all its weight to sink the agreement. However, what is wrong is that not all Ukraine was behind the protest and that all the country supports an EU access. While the western regions, rich in agriculture in what was the granary of Soviet Union, support strong links with the West, on the other the Eastern areas and the Donbass, the powerhouse of heavy industry always had strong ties with Russia. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions has its stronghold in eastern Ukraine and it is no surprise that he also had to put an ear on that side.
The problem for Ukraine and the EU is that Russia will never allow in such proximity to lose its control either politically and economically. Russia at the end triumphed, with Kiev’s government accepting a $15 billion bailout, with cheaper gas prices and the promise to accelerate the accession to the Russian version of the EEA, a custom union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Has Ukraine therefore lost? Not really, as said either ways Ukraine was going to receive a bailout, but the problem connected with this is that nothing comes for free and whether EU or Russia, Kiev has now linked itself to a strong dependence, by chosing to do not irritate the strongest side.
Nevertheless, if Ukraine calculations were based on purely economic data and immediate needs, what moved EU, Russia and even US was totally different: balance of power.
The EU jumped into this dispute denouncing Russia’s interference and “acting” with its fake paternalism in a time where the Union has its lowest approval index by the population of state members and where crescent nationalism is advancing in many countries requests for an exit referendum. Nevertheless, the EU cannot be trusted, it uses bail outs to control governments’ policies, it is the most undemocratic organisation and what benefits really could have from Ukraine’s accession? The benefit was to bail out another government and impose IMF/BCE controlling policies to gain the most from a no competitive market which would have been a “colony” for western economies in crisis. Cheap labor would have offered the chance to struggling companies to cut workforce in their home countries to reopen across the borders, and while they present Bruxelles in such pan-European dream on the other we can see Cameron’s UK trying to introduce changes to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria in an attempt to please nationalists of the UK Independence Party. Another reason that would have well suited Bruxelles was to introduce another bigger country which would have altered balance in the EU Parliament, a message to the fellow British partners.
But while on one side the EU showed its hypocrisy, on the other the US got involved only to pinpoint Russia’s rediscovered power and any plan that undermine or limit Putin’s influence it is always welcomed in Washington. Plan for a missile shield are back on the table, Russia’s involvement in Middle East has irritated many governments and after the Snowden affair, US-Russia relations are getting sour quickly enough to foresee a 2014 rich in similar tit for tat actions. Russia, for history, ethnic-religious ties and economic reasons pursued and will always pursue a politic of self-defence and retake control of its vital space. Russia, and the USSR before, always lived in the paranoia of the constant threat of an invasion or isolation to starve the country, and today this is still visible in Putin relentless new strategy to keep at bay any intruder in the eastern side. Whether blackmailing the fragile Ukrainian government, or supporting eastern region ties (basically threatening a dangerous rift), by placing missiles in Kaliningrad, by intervening in Syria and Iran issues turning the table against western plans, Putin is achieving slowly the task of rebuilding a stronger Russia and defend its autonomy of action. But is it all roses for Russia in bailing out such an economy in crisis? Obviously not, but Russia’s strategy has always been to achieve the task with whatever methods and at the end by extending control over economy in Ukraine, Putin reasserted its political control over the area, demonstrating once again the weightless spirit of the EU as international power. Russia nevertheless, by taking on its side Kiev’s fragile economy and offering to cover debts may be pushed into a finance black hole, and Moscow’s economy will have to be strong enough in the next years to make sure that this agreement will not backfire.
The reality is that Ukraine is one of those countries that will always struggle to balance itself, but until you will have a Russia this powerful, inevitably it will fall under a particular sphere of influence. The Russian achievement in Ukraine is the defeat of EU hypocrisy, but it is not a total victory as Western powers will find another way to limit Putin’s attempts to a system restore to Yalta’s configuration. Nevertheless, there is enough in Moscow to cheer and Putin can celebrate by even allowing himself to show total control and confidence in his absolute power by freeing Mikhail Kodorkovsly and granting amnesty to the Pussy Riot members. A lesson to learn, another missed opportunity for the West to understand Russia’s new path with an old map.