Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ukraine. I break radio silence.

There is a great deal of misinformation about the Ukrainian situation on many North American news sites and even on the BBC.

Putin is trying to rebuild the Russian/Soviet/Russian Empire of which Ukraine is seen as a significant part.  Russia has Ukraine by the short and curlies and has been applying pressure for a long time to pull Ukraine away from the West and back into the Russian fold.  Anyone with even a small amount of knowledge of history will understand why Ukrainians resist that.

Most of Ukraine’s trade is with Russia.  Russia has used that leverage to warn Ukraine they will destroy the country simply by closing the borders to Ukrainian goods.  There have been “disputes” and slowdowns and last summer the border was shut for five days and created a panic in Ukraine.  Ukraine owes Russia billions in unpaid gas debts.  The official story is that Ukraine doesn't charge enough to cover the cost.  That may be partially true.  Unofficially, a great deal of gas money disappears between home and factory owner and the national account to pay the bill.

At the same time, Ukraine has huge debts for other stuff too.  Like Hyundai trains and Euro 2012 football matches (mini-Sochi) and so forth.  I am not sure if the debts of the country would match dollar for dollar the fortunes of the rich and powerful but close enough.

So when Putin told Yanukovych what would happen to Ukraine and to him if he signed any deal with the EU, he was between a rock and a hard place and went into survival mode.  The EU made it easy for him by demanding that Ukraine meet certain standards of honest and civilized behaviour on the part of the country’s government, which of course he could never agree to.

The original demonstration, mostly young people, students, was about closer ties with the EU.  If Ukraine has a future it is with the EU and they knew it.  Then the Burkut (bear-COOT) savagely attacked the demonstrators and Ukrainians surged to the Maidan.  The Berkut are the riot police.  (You know the kind.  In other countries, they shoot 14 year olds and old men and beat homeless people to death).

With no change in Yanukovych’s stance on EU and more acts of violence by his police, the demonstration changed from EU vs. Russia to get rid of Yanukovych.  To the everlasting shame of Ukraine, this guy and his parliamentary “majority” had been elected in what may prove to be the last fair and free election in Ukraine.  They knew what he was like but were so disillusioned by the total failure of Yushchenko and Timoshenko after the Orange Revolution that they actually voted for this thug.  Yushchenko and Timoshenko bear most of the responsibility for what is happening today, in my opinion.  And of course, other criminals have been freely elected to high leadership positions in other countries in the past, once in 1933 even.

Then to add insult to injury, the Rada (parliament) illegally passed a series of Putinesque laws designed to turn Ukraine into a total locked down police state.  The Communists and the Party of Regions huddled together and did a quick one-reading, show-of-hands straw vote and had it “passed” before the opposition who were meeting to discuss strategy even knew it was happening.  That was the last straw and the country exploded.  People who do not live here have no idea how corrupt this government is and how it impacts people’s day to day lives. 

People are fed up and they know that getting pulled into the Russian orb will only make it worse with NO hope of it ever improving.  The demonstrations were not organized nor were/are they controlled by the opposition political parties (Ukraine as 180 banks and 190 political parties).  The leaders of the two main moderate opposition parties tried to show leadership and negotiated with Yanukovych to the extent that they could.  

Resignation of Yanukovych and his government with early presidential elections, repeal of the draconian laws, amnesty for all arrested in the course of events and a return to the 2004 constitution were the demands.  A sort of amnesty law was passed and the Prime Minister resigned.  The cabinet ministers all resigned but continue to serve.  The “anti-protest” laws were more or less repealed.  But there was no real change in the situation and as time progressed, people were growing frustrated.

As always happens when moderates fail, the extremists take over because they have the drive and the will.  Ukraine has a couple of very “not-nice” parties, nationalists, extreme right wing, borderline neo-Nazis who refused to accept anything other than Yanukovych’s resignation and gradually their leaders gained ascension because they were willing to fight and to die. This does not mean that Ukrainians agree with them in any way but they are fed up to the teeth and will take leadership where they can get it.  And nothing pushes people to radical positions like desperation.

The neo-Nazis to my understanding are leading the fight now.  They held the line Tuesday night, pushed it back Wednesday and are holding it now.  They are armed with a few small arms and hunting rifles mostly to keep Berkut snipers off the roofs of surrounding buildings but there is no doubt they have shot directly at police.  I saw pictures of some of the dead militsia (police) and they are just kids, reportedly with little or no training.  Sent to die as PR.  The number of demonstrators dead is close to 50 I think last count.

The government have declared the ALL the demonstrators to be Fascist terrorist extremists and have begun anti-terrorist actions against them.  TV news is hard come by.  As of Tuesday, pro-opposition Ukrainian channels are showing old movies.  As Hugo Chavez said, “The revolution will not be televised”.  The only place you can get any news is the Russian channels which is like watching Fox News to get an idea of how things are going in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia or Central America.  The Russians are milking the Fascist thing to death.  Fascists are to Russians what Socialists and Communists are to Americans – great labels for everyone you don’t like.  And of course they are all terrorists.

All the TV coverage is of dead police and armed “terrorists”.  All the interviews are with government supporters.  It is hilarious until you realize that is ALL that Russian people get to see unless they are smart enough to go to the internet.

It is the fascist stuff that seems to be surfacing in North American news and of course drawing comments from those to whom anything Russia does against America is good.  Russia wants to expand her empire like the old days; America wants to block it.  That is fair.  In many cases in the past America supported the Yanukovyches of the world against those who were fighting for freedom and a future. For once they can support the good guys.

For those that question who the good guys are, it is the demonstrators, the people of Ukraine fighting against an extremely criminal government, fighting for freedom and a future for themselves and their families. It is NOT Eastern Ukraine vs. Western Ukraine.  People all over Ukraine are fed up and the demonstration/uprising/revolution has supporters in every oblast.  No one wants to see the country split.  It is just that the supporters of Yanukovych are stronger in the eastern parts of the country and have violently suppressed anything that even smells of a demonstration.

If Yanukovych wins this war (and it is a war he cannot afford to lose as he and all his “Family” and cronies will go to jail for life if they survive.  CeauČ™escu didn’t.) Western Ukraine will separate or keep on fighting.  They will never go back.  They have had some experience with Partisan (guerrilla) warfare in the past and I expect if necessary it will again be “War even to the knife”, though I doubt it will come to that.

I have been terrified of Russian intervention (Hungary 1956, Poland 1968) but I think it is not likely to happen.  If even one Russian is identified here, Putin will lose face after all his harping about “Western Interference”.  (Makes me smile; like America bitching because Iran was interfering in Iraq).  This is up to Yanukovych to make or break.  Putin has his own means of interfering, depending on the outcome. On the other hand, if he were "invited" to assist against these terrorists...

Living in the countryside has its advantages.  We are reasonably safe from violence unless the entire country is up in flames.

Tanya just told me that there are 30 charters waiting a the airport to take officials out of the country.  Also internet may be cut off and mobile phone service too.  Gas stations may be shutting down according to one source and stores are only taking cash as banks are shutting down ATMs etc.  We had problems with ATMs for a while this afternoon but then they worked again  but...


  1. The banks shut down for two hours this afternoon because the rich and powerful were pulling cash to take with them as they flee the country. Yanukovych's son has gone to UK. Deputies are fleeing to what ever countries they have residences. In Ukraine you can buy a diplomatic passport so don't need visas and these rats are fleeing the sinking ship.

  2. As soon as the riots started I was wishing you would continue your blog. I have been concerned about your safety. Please keep us posted as long as possible. I will try and spread your post.
    stay safe
    the Ol'Buzzard

  3. Finally, an explanation about what's happening in that country that I can understand and one that is partisan-free. Hope you have alternative plans in place in case things get even worse, but I guess Tanya isn't likely to want to go anywhere given all her family and other ties there.

  4. I've been watching the news here and worrying about you and your family. It feels like a ridiculous understatement to say I hope you'll be safe. For what it's worth, I'm sending good thoughts your way.

  5. Thanks for not forgetting me after a five month absence. Appreciate your concern. We are far enough from the cities to be safe unless the whole country goes up in flames. The government cannot be trusted. If everyone went home believing any promises, it would be very dangerous.
    For reasonable coverage in English, the Kyiv Post is good.
    There are a couple sites in Ukrainian that are better if you use Google Translate. is very good and also. Reading Google Translate takes some practice as it is not exact.

  6. Stay safe, glad to hear a voice from Ukraine.

  7. The latest news reports (BBC) are saying the opposition and the president have come to their senses and agreed on something that should halt the violence. Good news, if it's true. Stay safe.

  8. Pretty much as I expected, Al. No easy solutions at all.

    Question: Is Poland likely to open its borders in the same way as Austria did in 1956, to let in those who were fleeing the Hungarian terror?

    Blessings and Bear hugs!

  9. Brilliantly written, Pops. Sad and poignant and heartbreaking.

    Safety for all the people in Ukraine.

    1. Thanks, Bron. I can write. Just not least I hope it isn't fiction. Too much of an academic to make (important) stuff up.

  10. As Chartreuse said, this is the clearest explanation I have read. Thank you and I wish you safety. I was in Kyiv many years ago and it was a beautiful city.

  11. Thank you all for your comments. War has been avoided for now at least and possibly forever. But those in positions of power through out the country are not going to give up easily and sometimes revolutions simply replace one set of ruling autocratic nobility with another. And benni, if you ever get a chance come back to Kyiv. It is still a lovely city

  12. Thank you sir, I am sort of French, but I am an American and have a blog that is read in America. I saw this on Ol' Buzzards blog and I am going to republish it on my blog! Thak you so much for you insight. Bon Courage, mon brave!

  13. Thanks. I'm collecting Ukrainian posts and blogs and will post them on my own blog when I have more together.

    Meantime, here, have Greg Afinogenov's, “Russia under Putin.” It's scary.


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