It’s not very often, now the daily blog has migrated to twitter, when I simply point to someone else’s work. Tim Snyder Professor of History at Yale, and currently occupying Philippe Roman Chair of International History at the London School of Economics, who specialises in the history of Central and Eastern Europe, has written some excellent pieces for the New York Review of Books, and he’s rather better qualified than most to offer an opinion on Ukraine and the Maidan. These sum up why, how and by whom the Maidan was attacked and defended, and what the players hope to gain. How did it start?
“When the riot police came and beat the students in late November, a new group, the Afghan veterans, came to the Maidan. These men of middle age, former soldiers and officers of the Red Army, many of them bearing the scars of battlefield wounds, came to protect “their children,” as they put it. They didn’t mean their own sons and daughters: they meant the best of the youth, the pride and future of the country. After the Afghan veterans came many others, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, now not so much in favor of Europe but in defense of decency”
“Has it ever before happened that people associated with Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, Polish, and Jewish culture have died in a revolution that was started by a Muslim? Can we who pride ourselves in our diversity and tolerance think of anything remotely similar in our own histories?”
“One petition from Russian speakers and Russians in Ukraine asks Putin to leave Ukrainian citizens alone to solve their own problems. It has been signed by 140,000 people. This might seem remarkable, since everyone signing it knows that he or she will be in the bad graces of the Russian authorities if Russia completes its invasion. But it makes perfect sense. Russians in Ukraine enjoy basic political rights, whereas Russians in the Russian Federation do not.”
There is no doubt an elected government was overthrown by street protests. But the regime of Yanukovych was not democratic – elections are necessary, but not sufficient for democracy. Indeed it is the looting by the regime, pure extractive government which is behind Ukraine’s economic problems. Democracy without the rule of law, is worthless. Something too many people seem to forget when discussing “democratic” leaders like Chavez/Maduro, Putin or Yanukovych.
Secondly, why are so many people happy to repeat Putin’s propaganda at face value? Ukraine isn’t split along ethnic lines. It wasn’t a “far-right coup”. Russians don’t need “protection” from “fascist gangs”.
Russsia simply annexed part of a neighbouring country’s territory in clear and dangerous violation of international law, and Putin has lost full contact with reality. He hasn’t “won”. He’s miscalculated, and I suspect this is more ‘Argentinian Junta invades to take pressure off the economic situation at home’ than ‘Hitler annexing the Sudetenland’.
Putin needs our money even more than we need his gas, though the Russian regime has a little more ability to weather his people’s financial pain than does Merkel – Germany being the European country most in need of Russian Gas.
Dictators have underestimated democracies many, many times; usually mistaking slowness to resort to violence with weakness. He will find his rotten regime squeezed slowly, but relentlessly. And having secured Crimea, he loses Ukraine.
Russia with Ukraine is an Empire. Russia without Ukraine is a country. It’s about time Russians finally realised their days of Empire are over.