On Ukraine, Russia, revolution, and nukes
20 May 2014, Safe Energy
One of the most disappointing aspects of the Ukrainian crisis has been the failure of many, especially on the left, to understand the nature of the revolution that took place there over the winter that led to the literal departure of former President Victor Yanukovich from the country, established an interim–and rather weak–transitional government, and set the stage for new elections later this month.
It as if some on the left have become as reflexively dismissive of the Obama Administration as the Tea Party and simply reject whatever stand the Administration takes. In this case, however, the Administration has chosen the correct side. And that has led some on the left to parrot the worst of Putin’s propaganda machine, leading too many to believe that somehow fascists have taken over Ukraine and are trying to undermine the people of eastern Ukraine.
In fact, the opposite is the case. As we have pointed out in these pages, the Ukrainian revolution was led by people like us: anti-nukers and environmentalists generally played a major role in its success; so did other ordinary people fed up with the chronic corruption that has ruled Ukraine since its independence and that reached its peak under Yanukovich, who with his family and allies essentially looted the entire nation’s bank accounts.
Now you don’t have to take our word for it. In a sweeping article in the New Republic (not usually one of our favorite publications), Yale history professor Timothy Snyder takes a piercing look at the current situation in Ukraine while providing ample historical perspective.
People who criticize only the Ukrainian right often fail to notice two very important things. The first is that the revolution in Ukraine came from the left. It was a mass movement of the kind Europeans and Americans now know only from the history books. Its enemy was an authoritarian kleptocrat, and its central program was social justice and the rule of law. It was initiated by a journalist of Afghan background, its first two mortal casualties were an Armenian and a Belarusian, and it was supported by the Muslim Crimean Tatar community as well as many Ukrainian Jews. A Jewish Red Army veteran was among those killed in the sniper massacre. Multiple Israel Defense Forces veterans fought for freedom in Ukraine.
Snyder also points out:
Of course, there is some basis for concern about the far right in Ukraine. Svoboda, which was Yanukovych’s house opposition, now holds three of 20 ministerial portfolios in the current government. This overstates its electoral support, which is down to about 2 percent. Some of the people who fought the police during the revolution, although by no means a majority, were from a new group called Right Sector, some of whose members are radical nationalists. Its presidential candidate is polling at below 1 percent, and the group itself has something like 300 members. There is support for the far right in Ukraine, although less than in most members of the European Union.
This is the second thing that goes unnoticed: The authoritarian right in Russia is infinitely more dangerous than the authoritarian right in Ukraine. It is in power, for one thing. It has no meaningful rivals, for another. It does not have to accommodate itself to domestic elections or international expectations, for a third. And it is now pursuing a foreign policy that is based openly upon the ethnicization of the world. It does not matter who an individual is according to law or his own preferences: The fact that he speaks Russian makes him a Volksgenosse requiring Russian protection, which is to say invasion. The Russian parliament granted Putin the authority to invade the entirety of Ukraine and to transform its social and political structure, which is an extraordinarily radical goal. The Russian parliament also sent a missive to the Polish foreign ministry proposing a partition of Ukraine. On popular Russian television, Jews are blamed for the Holocaust; in the major newspaper Izvestiia, Hitler is rehabilitated as a reasonable statesman responding to unfair Western pressure; on May Day, Russian neo-Nazis march.
As we posted in these pages April 14, our NIRS/WISE colleague at Russia’s Ecodefense Vladimir Sliviak has been writing–at some personal peril we might add–on the quickly-changing nature of Russian society, especially efforts to quash civil society. Now Sliviak has expanded on his original post with an essay in The Lithuanian Tribune titled The “Russian Spring” and the politics of fear.
Since there is no freedom of press in Russia, we treat articles in main national newspapers as the point of view of authorities. One of main Russian newspapers – Izvestia – recently published an expert’s comment suggesting that Hitler was good politician before 1939 and the only problem was that he made many mistakes later.
You may wonder how it could be possible that Putin is criticizing Ukrainian authorities as ultra-right, almost fascists, at the same time [while an article like this is published]. I can tell you why. What is happening now in Russia is aimed to scare Russians, to make them afraid of protesting against government. To patriots, Putin is promoted as some sort of dictator who protects Russia’s national interests in confrontation with the West. This is almost war and there is no time for democracy, patriots must unite and help their Duce. To the opposition, Putin is portrayed as a very dangerous man, like Hitler, who will never stop. In both cases, the key word is “dictator” and key emotion is fear….
The atmosphere of fear is the goal of Putin. Russians must fear repression, Ukrainians must fear a war, Europeans must fear the supply of gas stopped, Americans must fear Russian nuclear weapons. Putin spreads the fear everywhere because he fears for himself. He is afraid of surrounding world, afraid that world will cheat him, degrade and leave in oblivion, unless he strikes in advance. He thought a lot of money and nuclear bomb will buy him respect and a seat at the world government forever. Somehow, it didn’t work. So he builds another Chinese Great Wall around Russia and spread as much fear as possible. Annexation of Crimea is just another act of this policy of fear.
Don’t be foolish, Putin is not savior for Russia or Slavic world. This is all just a mask and its propaganda rhetoric.
Driving force for Putin is the fear to lose everything, including money and influence. He was calm as long as there was no mass protest in Russia. This is not the case anymore. Around 50.000 protesters marched through Moscow demanding peace for Ukraine and saying to Putin “hands off”. Not afraid of repression. Putin bought the loyalty of patriots with a war against the country that historically was the closest in spirit to Russians. But for how long? Russian markets have paid hundreds of billions of Euro for this small war and will pay more. While Russian economy is too fragile to finance the world war. Patriotic war spirit will vanish away soon and Russia will finally face the consequences of economic fall.
It will be very hard time for Russian civil society. Many organizations will not survive, regardless of their status and resources. Civil groups are what Putin fears a lot, in his paranoid mind we are “foreign agents” who will help Americans to defeat him when Russia becomes weak. But what else could we expect from old KGB colonel? There is the thing that can help Russian civil society – international solidarity at the time of repression. This may help to save not only some civil organizations but even lives.
“Russian Spring” is the sign of weak Putin who cannot achieve economic and political stabilization in the country without war and wide-spread repression. And he may well be close to a fall.
None of this means that everything in Ukraine is moving ahead swimmingly, in any sector. Nor is there any guarantee that the May 25 elections will end the endemic corruption in the country–but it is probably the only means of making a serious attempt at doing so.
Today, our colleagues at BankWatch and Ukraine’s National Ecological Union issued a statement pointing out that the longstanding and ongoing lack of transparency by the Ukrainian government on nuclear power issues is at the same time threatening a 300 Billion Euro loan for necessary safety improvements of the country’s Soviet-era reactors from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and perhaps pushing EBRD to issue the loan anyway because of its dire need despite the lack of transparency in how it would be used. Wrote Bankwatch, “These project uncertainties come on top of the long-held contention by Ukrainian environment groups that this EBRD ‘safety’ loan will enable implementation of the country’s heavily-criticized long-term energy strategy that is dominated by nuclear and coal power….At the same time, some of the conditions attached to the safety loan (as set by the EBRD) are welcome ones – for example, the establishment of a national policy and framework for spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management, and the setting up of an independent body to ensure sufficient funding for a decommissioning fund.”
In Ukraine, nothing is easy, especially progress. But at least there is some headway going on–if Russia does not succeed in its attempt to split the country apart and return to Putin’s dream of a new, far-right Soviet Union.