Monday, 31 March 2014

Anatol Lieven on the Ukrainian Crisis.

Far and away the best, lucid, sane and most sensible assessment of the causes and consequences of the Ukrainian Crisis has come from Professor Anatol Lieven. It is worth posting in full as it is one balanced interpretation backed up with a real knowledge of global power politics and history in contrast to the thickets of propaganda coming from west and east over Ukraine.

Ukraine Should Be a Bridge, Not a Battleground

'In recent weeks, rational argument concerning Ukraine in both Russia and the West has been overwhelmed by a flood of hysteria, lies and self-deceptions. Russia has engaged in openly mendacious propaganda. Western governments and too much of the media have responded with lying counter-propaganda of their own. 

There is no space in this essay to dissect all the competing propaganda claims of both sides. Instead, I would direct readers to an excellent article on the subject by the Israeli journalist Ariel Danieli (“From Washington to Moscow, Everyone is Lying About What is happening in Ukraine”, March 6th 2014, at www.haaretz.com). 

Among other important points, Danieli writes correctly that while Moscow is lying in describing the overthrow of Yanukovych as a “neo-fascist coup” rather than a popular uprising (albeit against a democratically elected president), Washington is no less mendacious in claiming that “far-right ultranationalist groups are not represented in the Rada [the Ukrainian parliament]” and have no influence over the new government.

This is a grotesque claim, given that the ultra-nationalist and savagely Russophobe Svoboda (“Freedom” party) in fact has 38 seats in parliament and four ministers in the government including Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister. Svoboda’s founder, Andriy Parubiy, has become secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, with his ally Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector group, as his deputy. 


In a resolution of December 13th 2012, the European Parliament declared of Svoboda that:
“MEPs voice concerns about the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine which led to the election of the “Svoboda” Party to the Parliament of Ukraine. The EP recalls that racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles and it appeals to pro-democratic parties in the Ukrainian Parliament not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party.” (“Elections failed to Bring Ukraine Closer to EU, Say MEPs”, at www.europarl.europa.eu) 


It should be clear therefore that while Moscow has grossly exaggerated the immediate physical threat to Russians in Ukraine as justification for its military moves in Crimea, Russians and Russian-speakers do have good reasons to fear for their rights under the new Ukrainian government; and the EU and its member states were premature in recognizing that government and promising it massive aid without first insisting on changes in its composition and firm guarantees of minority rights. Russia has violated international law. The West has violated its own principles and interests. 

The real danger in Ukraine does not lie in Crimea. One way or another, Crimea is almost certainly now lost to Ukraine, even if no-one but Russia recognises this formally. The danger comes from the possibility of clashes between the Ukrainian nationalist and neo-fascist volunteers who led the overthrow of the previous government in Kiev and opposing Moscow-backed pro-Russian volunteers in the east of the country. If they get out of hand, such clashes could lead to Russian invasion, war and the partition of Ukraine. It is therefore urgently necessary to recreate in Ukraine an agreed and legitimate democratic process that will safeguard minority rights. 

The stakes here are high for all sides. If war begins, Russia would almost certainly win it (since the USA and Britain, despite their attempts to bring Ukraine into Nato, have no intention of fighting to defend the country), but would suffer colossal damage in the process. In the short term there would be a shattering economic crisis. In the longer term, Russia would face a collapse of economic and cultural ties with the west that would drive it inexorably towards the status of a satellite of China—a prospect, by the way, that terrifies liberal and nationalist Russians alike. The result would be a stagnant, closed and increasingly authoritarian Russian system. 

The damage to the west would also be considerable. If the west introduced economic sanctions and Russia responded with a massive rise in its gas prices (or if gas supplies to western Europe across Ukraine were cut off by conflict), the result could very easily be a new European and global recession. China would benefit greatly from the acquisition of Russia as an unconditional ally, and from the sheer distraction of US attention that war would bring. Propping up the remains of Ukraine economically would be a massive financial burden for the EU. And the sight of the USA and Nato again standing impotently by while a quasi-ally is defeated in a war for which western policy was partly responsible would be a humiliation that would embolden America’s global rivals. 

It is important to remember that Ukraine is a deeply divided society that cannot make a categorical choice between the west and Russia without tearing itself apart. Since independence, a sense of common identity and loyalty has certainly developed, but it remains fragile and ambiguous. 

The reasons for this lie not in recent policies but in the historic division from the 13th century onwards of the ancient lands of Rus between the Tsardom of Muscovy, the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom and, to the south, the steppe, disputed between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian Cossacks, and largely uninhabited until it was conquered by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century. 

From the 17th century on, the Ukrainian-speaking parts of Poland-Lithuania were progressively conquered by the Russian Empire, leading many Orthodox Ukrainians to strongly identify with Russia. This process was completed by Stalin’s annexation of Polish Galicia and Volhynia in 1939—a region that had never been under Russian imperial rule and which remains the most strongly nationalist and anti-Russian part of Ukraine today. 

One way of explaining the resulting Ukrainian identities and relationship to Russia to a British audience would be to say that they include elements of both the Scottish and the Irish historical experience in Britain. On the one hand, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union severely repressed Ukrainian nationalism (beyond purely symbolic forms), and persecuted Ukrainians belonging to the “apostate” religious tradition of the Uniates (Orthodox who, under Polish rule, had acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope). On the other hand, both in Russia and in the Soviet Union, “loyal” Ukrainians permeated the state system and rose to its highest echelons. 

In the field of literature, the distinction is symbolised by Ukraine’s two greatest 19th-century writers. Nikolai Gogol (“Mykola Hohol” in Ukrainian) could be seen as analogous to writers such as Walter Scott and John Buchan, conscious of their Scottish identity and often writing on Scottish themes, but loyal to Britain and the British Empire. The Ukrainian nationalist poet Taras Shevchenko, in contrast, more closely resembles 19th-century Irish nationalist writers such as James Clarence Mangan or Arthur Geoghegan—though since Britain had been able to crush the Irish language much more effectively than the Russian Empire had crushed Ukrainian, these Irish writers also wrote in English. 

In a pattern familiar from the British Empire, Russian and Soviet rule also brought about huge and complex patterns of migration. Large parts of southern Ukraine were settled by Russians (and by Germans invited in by Catherine, until Stalin deported them to Central Asia). More Russians moved later to work in the mines and factories. At the same time, however, millions of Ukrainians migrated to Siberia and the Russian Far East, where (the last time I checked) a majority of senior officials and local deputies had Ukrainian surnames. The difference was that under rule from St Petersburg and Moscow, Ukrainians who moved to what is now Russia soon gave up the Ukrainian language and merged into the Russian population; whereas Russians who moved to Ukraine not only kept their language but through intermarriage helped the state extend the Russian language to much of the neighbouring Ukrainian population. 

As a result of Ukraine’s history, some 17 percent of Ukrainians consider themselves ethnic Russians, while around a third of Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language. These figures, however, mask a more complex reality. For instance, in Dnipropetrovsk I met one Russian-speaking man with a Russian surname who spoke Russian at home, but who considered himself ethnic Ukrainian because he was brought up by his Ukrainian stepfather after his Russian father walked out. I also met an “ethnic Russian” with a Ukrainian surname who considered himself Russian because he was brought up as such by his Russian-speaking Armenian mother. Both said that their political identity was Ukrainian, and both strongly believed in Ukraine seeking close relations with both Russia and the west. 

The result of this history is that a great majority of western (and increasingly, central) Ukrainians find it intolerable that Ukraine should form part of a Russian-dominated economic and political bloc. A majority of eastern and southern Ukrainians, for their part, find it intolerable that they should be separated from Russia by a hard international frontier (including a tight, EU-mandated visa regime) and that the Ukrainian state should insist on a version of Ukrainian identity and culture that they do not share and which is, in part, deeply hostile to them. These two identities have dominated Ukrainian politics since independence, with elections decided by small shifts in the middle ground between them, represented by people like my two acquaintances from Dnipropetrovsk. 

The problem for the west is that while many of the pro-western Ukrainian forces are genuinely committed to western-style reforms, others are traditional nationalists who look to Nato and the EU for protection against Russia, without sharing mainstream liberal values. This may either make Ukraine’s integration into the west impossible or (as has already occurred in the case of Hungary) import into the EU forces which will ally with western European neo-fascist parties. 

The problem for Russia in eastern and southern Ukraine is that a desire to keep the Russian language and close ties with Russia can co-exist with a desire for closer ties with the EU (though not with Nato). It is not at all the same thing as a desire simply to become part of Russia or even a subordinate member of a Russian alliance. 

An analogy here might be drawn with the “Anglosphere” tendency in English-speaking countries. A large majority of British, Australian and Canadian citizens desire (to varying degrees) close relations with the United States, and would reject the idea of joining an anti-American alliance. But this does not indicate a desire for unconditional subordination to the US. 

Similarly, to judge by my own travels in eastern and southern Ukraine, outside Crimea, even many people there who are strongly hostile to the new government in Kiev would also be deeply hostile to Russian military intervention and the partition of the country. Russian threats of intervention may well be frightening more Russian-speakers in Ukraine than they reassure.

Ever since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, both the Yeltsin and the Putin administrations have made assiduous attempts to keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit. This has been very costly for Russia—just as from now on, a serious attempt to draw Ukraine into the west’s orbit is going to be costly for the west. 

Until 2005, Russia supplied Ukraine with gas at well below world market prices, amounting to aid to Ukraine of between $3bn and $5bn a year, at a time when Russia itself was undergoing a terrible economic crisis. This was several times the average annual aid from the west during those years. 

Indeed, all EU aid put together from 1991 to 2013 came to a mere $4.6bn. Ukraine’s failure to pay its gas bill even at subsidised prices led to repeated disputes and interruptions of Russian supplies—to which Ukrainian governments responded by diverting gas from supplies heading for the EU.
In 2010, Russia agreed to reduce the price of its gas to 30 percent below world market levels (but rising to those levels gradually over several years), as part of a deal by which the newly-elected government of President Yanukovych agreed to extend the Russian lease of the naval base of Sevastopol in Crimea to 2042. 

In December 2013, as part of the bidding war with the EU over whether to join the Eurasian Union or sign an association agreement with the EU, Russia signed a deal with Yanukovych reducing the price of its gas by a third. It also gave $15bn to help Ukraine meet its international debt repayments. This, too, was vastly greater than anything on offer from the EU as part of the association agreement, and equally importantly came with no conditions for reform.

Following the revolution, the EU is also now discussing a $15bn aid package for Ukraine (which has asked for $35bn)—something that, had it been presented to European governments before the revolution, would have been rejected out of hand. What the EU cannot match—because western European countries will not tolerate it—is something that Russia has allowed Ukraine ever since independence, namely free labour movement. As a result, the three million or more Ukrainian citizens working legally in Russia today outnumber those allowed to work legally in the EU at least 10 times over.

What this history illustrates is that until a few weeks ago, Ukraine was of very minor importance for the EU, whereas for Russia it was always a priority. It would have been well if EU leaders had understood this before devising their policies—but then the EU has always been poor at thinking strategically. 

The Russians, however, have made a mistake of equal magnitude. Russian officials have been exasperated by the way in which their generosity to Ukraine has repeatedly led to few benefits for Russia, while a growing number of Ukrainians have supported closer relations with the EU despite the much smaller short-term advantages on offer. What Russian officials have failed to recognise is that Ukrainians have become increasingly disgusted with their own oligarchical elites, and see entry into a bloc dominated by a corrupt and semi-authoritarian Russia as permanently consolidating an already rotten system.

The EU has made what is in some respects the opposite mistake where the latest Ukrainian uprising is concerned. Most western analysts have explained the desire of central European populations to join the EU in terms of a wish to westernise their polities, economies and cultures. But they have underestimated the degree to which this was driven by a nationalist yearning to escape the hated Soviet-Russian yoke. 

As a consequence, they have not understood to what extent it was this nationalism that allowed the acceptance by populations of the extremely painful economic and cultural changes necessary to join the EU. If they rejected these changes, even conservative and populist central Europeans who opposed westernisation feared that they would find themselves once again under the domination of Moscow. But as we have seen in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, once safely in Nato and the EU, strong chauvinist tendencies re-emerged, encouraged by deep popular anger at the corruption and social inequality which accompanied the economic revolutions of the 1990s.

Due to the drawing of new frontiers after the First World War, and ethnic cleansing after the Second, most of the central European states are at least ethnically homogenous with united national identities (the chief exception being the former Yugoslavia). Ukrainian identity, as we have seen, is deeply divided, albeit in complex and ambiguous ways. 

This leaves the EU after the recent Ukrainian revolution in a situation which may well prove horribly expensive, extremely dangerous and deeply unpopular. Until February 2014, the EU’s position (quite rightly) was that to qualify for closer European ties and greater EU aid, Ukraine had to implement a set of deep and very painful reforms. Now, this pressure will have to be largely abandoned for fear that any such changes would drive the populations of eastern and southern Ukraine into the arms of Moscow. On the contrary, the west is contemplating enormous aid packages to Ukraine with no real strings attached. 

This in turn means that—unless the EU is prepared simply to tear up the acquis communautaire for the sake of Ukrainian entry, and infuriate western European populations in the process—Ukraine will not in the foreseeable future be able to join the EU, at which point much of the promise behind the Ukrainian revolution collapses. 

It was a highly symbolic move, therefore, for the new Ukrainian government to appoint a number of Russian-speaking oligarchs to governorships in eastern Ukraine. This is a wise political move intended to reassure the local populations and win over the eastern Ukrainian elites. It is not, however, obviously compatible with the government’s commitment to economic reform. 

The result of all this is likely to be Ukraine stuck in a permanent and miserable halfway-house to the EU, like Turkey but without Turkey’s independent economic dynamism. In these circumstances, it may not be too long before many Ukrainians hold the EU responsible for betraying them, while the new state oligarchs steal western aid as their predecessors stole Russian aid. Remember: the majorities in Ukrainian opinion polls have been for membership of the EU, with all its benefits—not for an endless accession process. 

So far, however, it is Russia that has suffered a crushing defeat, compared to which anything suffered so far by the west is minor, and Crimea is a very small consolation prize. Putin’s plans for the consolidation of Russia’s economic and political influence in the former Soviet region and economic role on the world stage centred on the creation of the Eurasian Union including Ukraine. Without Ukraine, this bloc cannot possibly emerge as a significant international grouping. The demonstrators in Kiev have killed forever the plan for Ukraine to enter the Eurasian Union. On the other hand, as we have seen, Ukraine’s path towards the EU is also strewn with obstacles, and can also easily be blocked by Russia through its influence over parts of Ukraine. 

In these circumstances, it seems to me sensible and a recognition of reality if, as part of a Ukrainian settlement, Russia, Nato and the EU help to reduce the tension in Ukraine, and between Russia and the west, by declaring a lengthy moratorium on any new offer of accession or partnership. They should also propose an amendment to the Ukrainian constitution stipulating that Ukraine’s accession to any international organisation needs a majority of at least 70 percent in a referendum.
Above all, it is necessary to reduce tension within Ukraine and prevent possible clashes between Ukrainian nationalist and Russian-backed militias, which could lead to full-scale Russian invasion. 

The Russian annexation of Crimea is both a very serious crime under international law and a dreadful mistake from Russia’s own point of view. This does not however diminish the necessity to prevent conflict in the rest of Ukraine. This requires above all agreement between the west and Russia, and between the new government in Kiev and former supporters of President Yanukovych from the east and south, on how to hold new elections, and on the shape of a new Ukrainian constitution. As part of this agreement, anti-government groups in eastern Ukraine would call off their attempts to storm government buildings and oust officials appointed from Kiev (though of course from their point of view, they are only following the model set by the groups which ousted President Yanukovych).

The west should make greatly increased aid to Ukraine conditional on the following moves by the government in Kiev: the ministers and deputy ministers of the interior, defence and justice, and the secretary and deputy secretary of the National Security Council, should be neutral professional officers until after the next elections; an agreement that these elections should take place under close United Nations supervision, to prevent rigging and intimidation by either Ukrainian nationalist or pro-Russian militias. As it has in other deeply divided countries, the international community should constrain Ukraine to adopt a new federal constitution, restoring the election of governors and granting real local power to the different regions. 

It is both dangerous and wrong in principle that a state as diverse as Ukraine should have a highly centralised constitution under which, for example, the new Ukrainian parliament could pass a law (subsequently blocked by the president under discreet western pressure) abolishing the official status of Russian and other minority languages, not only at the national level but in provinces where a large majority of the population speaks Russian as its first language. These proposals are not “concessions” to Russia; they are in accordance with the west’s own interests and values. 

Henry Kissinger, one of the very few senior American figures to have kept their heads in this crisis, wrote earlier this year: “Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the east or the west. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other—it should function as a bridge between them.” 

It has been demonstrated beyond doubt that neither Russia nor the west can achieve their maximal goals in Ukraine. What they can do, however, is to work endlessly to block each other’s goals—and to destroy Ukraine in the process.

Being Hard on Britain's "Soft Power".

Here we go again. More on how Britain must advance its 'soft power' role. Indra Adnan writes this in the Guardian today( Soft power: Britain is losing its grip on this key asset ? )
Britain is weakening rather than bolstering its soft power institutions. Twenty-five countries have launched English-speaking world-affairs news outlets: we have cut funding to the BBC World Service, closing 22 bureaus (including the Ukraine) since 2011.Instead of harnessing institutions such as these, which reliably attract goodwill and trust, David Cameron has placed a commerce-oriented advertising campaign proclaiming "Britain is great" at the heart of its operations at No 10

Perhaps, it might be better to get a grasp on reality and realise that Britain isn't actually at all that great. It is valued by immigrants only as a fast track cash machine as opposed to some wonderful land of opportunity as it was re-presented under the Blair regime with "Cool Britannia" and all that mind numbing upbeat boosterism.

Reality is more important than mere image and enough people know enough now to know Britain is actually increasingly a worse place to live in relative to other nations than at any time in modern history. Outside London's globalised super economy there is nothing much to impress any more.

Town centres are either full of tawdry clone stores of half the shops boarded up.There is no sense of living in a community and hence the repeated incantation of the word "community" as a buzzword and copious drivel about a 'society fundamentally at ease with itself'.

London itself is only a city that attracts either the super rich, oil sheihks and kleptocrats or else the huddled masses from poorer nations to work in its low wage service sector jobs. The reality is one of cut throat competition and fear between groups of immigrants who economically undercut one another.

The reality is is a fragmented United Kingdom on the cusp of disintegration. Britain's foreign policy is a disgrace, an entirely self serving one of grovelling to states such as Qatar so that we can get its gas and its petrodollars can be invested in British made military hardware and London's property market.

The property market alone seems to drive the economy .Belief and trust in decayed institutions has waned and dwindled as the sovereign consumer works harder and harder to merit the right to own a banal legostyle brick box and spend on goods that help stave off despair and loneliness.

People living in Britain are increasingly miserable, liable to divorce, binge drinking and drug taking because they have no other form of overcoming their atomised status. This is known by those in Britain and those who come to witness the place from outside and are shocked to see whole swathes of British cities where few even speak English

It is just as well money is not being spent on 'soft power' because it is the hard realities that are those that now have meaning within and beyond Britain's shores. As it has become a global entrepot, it has also become a centre for global terror plots and plans so that foreign and domestic policies merge.

The consequence is an increasingly authoritarian security state monitoring its citizens because of the brutal power games the British government is playing in regions where there is oil and gas at stake. Naturally, these realities are seldom explicitly mentioned but outsiders realise Britain's essentially cynical global role.

No amount of investment in spin and soft corporate propaganda is going to be able to acheive anything other than create a hallucinatory view of Britain as an kleptocrat investor's paradise of prestige property and sports amenities, one that's a vision of a future dystopian hell for those who view and see the reality from below.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Prediction on the Ukrainian Crisis 11 Dec 2013


The division over Ukraine's destiny has been one made not only by Russia's policy towards it but by the cynical position of Western power interests from the EU to the IMF who continue to back those such as Tymoshenko who are corrupt oligarchs who were so unpopular they were voted out in 2010 in favour of Yanukovych.
The EU has not been that keen on Ukraine moving closer towards it and eventual entry but with extracting the maximum of economic benefit for it at the expense of whole swathes of Ukrainian industry to the east in Kharkiv and Donetsk where EU trade policies could cause unemployment and economic misery.
The Western Ukraine focused on Lviv is the poorest part of the nation and has nowhere to go other than towards integration with the West. The Carpathian regions are poor. A lot of the support for the uprising branded as 'the Orange revolution" 0f 2004 came from these areas.
Kampfner's rhetoric is all about Russia, as if it only was a cynical participant in the wrangle for influence in Ukraine. But the trope about Putin's Russia being 'a Slav version of Pinochet's Chile' ignores the fact that it was under Yeltsin in the 1990s that similar neoliberal policies to Chile were pursued.
Yeltsin's Russia and the catastrophic collapse in living standards caused by the imposition, via the IMF, of the policies that were forced on Chile is precisely what led to Putin becoming so popular afrer 1999 in reasserting control over the Russian economy and asserting sovereignty.
Likewise, in Ukraine the disastrous economic legacy created by the Orange Revolutionaries-as well as the continuity in corruption-led Ukrainians into the streets against it with protests called 'enough' that called for a 'clean sweep' of all politicians from the Ukrainian system.
The unfortunate tragedy in Ukraine is that popular response to the continued failure of the political elites to preside over reforms that benefit the ordinary citizens-as opposed to post-communist kleptocrats and pro-Western oligarchs courted by Washington and Brussels, is apathy and pessimism.
More ominously, the EU's interest in Ukraine being pushed closer towards it, such as it is, is one promoted most assiduously by those who are foremost in the the idea that the West is embroiled in a "New Cold War" with Russia such as Radek Sikorski. a forthrigh 'neoconservative' ideologue
Once put forth as a potential leader of NATO, Sikorski tends to view by slightly too obsessive in putting one over on the Kremlin and winning the Ukraine to the West as part of an ongoing global game for hegemony over the gas and oil pipeline routes and, ultimately, control of Eurasia.
Ukraine happens to be one of what Brzezinski calls the five key geopolitical pivots on which control of the Eurasian Heartland shall depend. The danger is that in pushing for Ukraine to move towards the EU and thence NATO serious divisions between the ethnic Ukrainians and Russians would blow up.
Despite Timothy Snyder's contention that Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is playing on the 'fantasy' of Ukraine's 'geopolitical significance' to play off Russia and the West against each other to wrest concessions, these considerations have long been at the heart of Sikorski's and others geopolitical thinking.
Both Carl Bildt and Sikorski view getting Ukraine to be a test of the EU having clout in foreign policy terms. Sikorski , in particular, views getting Ukraine to be victory for the historical aberration of Poland not having been the dominant empire in Eastern Europe instead of Russia.
None of this has much to offer the average citizen of Ukraine who would like better living standards and governments that are not corrupt. If the EU could offer something better than it offered the Central European states in the 1990s and 2000s, more might be persuaded of it benefits.
However, Western sponsored reforms have meant the IMF enforcing shock therapy responsible for causing immiseration, enrichment for a well positioned elite and those with the 'right connections' , as well as mass migration and cultural repudiation or else a reversion to far right nationalism.
Even in Ukraine that process is at work. The tendency for higher support for the EU amongst the young is, no doubt, due to a desire to emigrate West. Meanwhile a significant number of protesters in Kiev are from Svoboda, a neo-fascist movement, those who have been 'left behind'.
It is paradoxical that the presence of Svoboda in the protests in Kiev is omitted by Western journalists such as Kampfner. Or, indeed the fact, that in the West of Ukraine in places such as Lviv, these neo fascists won 40% in the last elections.Clearly, their presence is not news and not deemed worthy of comment.

On North Korea.

Maybe in the light of North Korea being compared to the Nazi regime due to UN reports revealing the extent of its concentration camps and mass executions some in Britain might have cause for reflection that one prominent figures in the Stop the War Coalition actually look upon this totalitarian model state with sympathy.
The leader of the Communist Party of Great Britain called Andrew Murray, a sometime contributor to the Morning Star and Reader's Digest magazine, stressed this in 2003,
"Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples Korea clear".
He wrote this with reference to 'the Party' because the US under the Bush administration had referred to North Korea as part of an "Axis of Evil" and was preparing to invade Iraq in that year. Those journalists who supported that invasion have been rightly criticised.
Yet those such as Murray are still allowed to shield behind their ostensibly good work in the Stop the War Coalition as something that is less important than their pronouncements in sympathy with mass murdering totalitarian regimes such as North Korea.
It is about time those truly concerned with being against senseless wars and militarism also were consistent in holding such vile individuals to account and refusing to countenance their position as leading voices in protest against intervention in Syria.
It is impossible to have a sane opposition to the growing trend towards militarism if those allowed to be leading voices in the 'official anti-war' groups in Britain are those who sympathise with a North Korean regime that starves and murders so many of its people.

But, then again, North Korea is a Lodestar for all those obsessed with the idea that it is uniquely, always and everywhere the US Empire that is the 'root cause' of every global ill and who remainn indifferent to the reality on the ground in North Korea.

There is little chance of any form of intervention to try and remove the regime of Kim Jong-un because none of the regional and global powers has any real ability to put pressure on North Korea let alone the willpower to intervene. The comparison with Middle Eastern regimes is also not a good one.
Unlike Iraq and Syria, there have not even been any attempts at internal revolt or rebellion so deeply entrenched and powerful is the hold of the Juche totalitarian state. The DPRK, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, functions as though it took Orwell's 1984 as a model of good governance.
Even China has failed to restrain Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The entire purpose of King Jong Il's nuclear programme and satellite missile launches was to impress upon the world not only that the leadership was erratic and dangerous but also the message to the people that nobody can liberate them.
The execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle in December 2013 was in continuity with the strategy of keeping those within and without North Korea in fear of the sheer unpredictability of the regime and not to be able to predict its next move and keep the world guessing.
The December purges meant that the opening up of free trade with China, a policy which Jang Song Taek was responsible for, would not lead to alien ideas that might disturb what the repellent British apologist for North Korea, George Galloway, called its 'coherent, pristine and innocent culture' .
The US and South Korea have no way of removing the North Korean dictatorship and both the latter and China and Russia fear the destabilising consequences of what would happen if the regime was to collapse or feel threatened enough with its nuclear weapons.
In addition, neither Russia not China has any geopolitical interest in a re-unified Korea that would be pro-US right on their eastern borders, so the DPRK acts as a sort of militarised buffer state in which no power has any real interest in destabilizing it.
China has its trade links and a policy across the globe of non interference with the internal policies of the dictatorships it deals with on a 'no strings attached' basis. Even increased trade has been incapable of any thawing of North Korea's stance towards the rest of the world.
Without any resources the world could be interested in, the North Korean regime seems set to last indefinitely .It is ethnically homogeneous. There are no sectarian divides. It uses its nuclear missiles and sabre rattling to intimidate the rest of the world into accepting it as a fact lest it do something crazy.
As Orwell put it in 1984-“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.” 

Early Predictions on the Ukrainian Crisis

Having been following the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, I thought it best to put up some of my immediate posts reacting to events at the time This was first written February 2014 after violence broke out in Kiev between the police and anti-Yanukovych insurgents.

20th February 2014

Ukraine's geopolitical significance is in that it occupies a vital transit zone for oil and gas entering the EU. By supporting regime change in Ukraine, a clear aim now, the Western powers want to push through a more 'fast track' process of accession to the EU and NATO.
Unfortunately, momentum has passed to the more staunch neoconservative diplomats in Europe such as Radek Sikorski in Poland. His ardent hope has always been to yoke the protection of Ukraine towards Western military and economic institutions that are to reorder it.
For Sikorski this would be the culmination of a historic struggle for hegemony over Ukraine with Russia that goes back to the seventeenth century, one that ensured Russian influence would exercise an influence over Central Europe until the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union.
Evidently, the west of Ukraine is more closely tied culturally and historically to 'the west' and Poland. To force through a change that would break the power of the Party of the Regions, popular in the Russian speaking east of Ukraine, has been the ultimate game plan for over a decade.
The problem is that the EU and US has seen a historical opportunity and has thrown decisive weight behind an insurrection against the Yanukovych government. But in doing so it has pledged itself to condoning violence and the effective overthrow of a government that was democratically elected.
No matter the corruption of the Ukrainian government, the previous one supported by the West had become very unpopular for its oligarchical venality too. But few even bother to invoke the names of Yushchenko or Tymoshenko now. So new political formations backed by the West are vying for power.
The danger is that the gloves are now off in Ukraine. Democratic elections and due process has been cast aside by a more aggressive form of 'People Power' that has made the success of violence seem the key to determining Ukraine's future. Klitchko's party is called Punch.
Smarting over the humiliation that the US suffered after Putin bestrode the world stage as the cautious diplomat preventing military intervention in Syria last summer, Obama has seen an opportunity to try and win back the 'soft power', battle for world opinion.
Unfortunately, Ukraine is seen as an arena of conflict in which Western actors can regain the upper hand over Russia. The problem is that Putin is not going to blink over what is clearly a direct and obvious attempt by the west to get regime change and extend its economic and military power right up the Russian border.
The situation is extremely dangerous. As yet we do not know what the reaction could be from Russian speaking regions as they see a government popular with large sections of the electorate potentially thrown out of power by violent actions in Kiev led mostly by right wing nationalists from the west.
It needs to be remembered that Ukrainian nationalism of the sort represented by Svoboda is not insignificant. They got 70% of the vote in Lviv where nationalists are known to beat up those speaking Russian in public. What if Russian speaking Ukrainians start to mobilise ?
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The prospect of Ukraine descending into a situation similar to that of Yugoslavia in the 1990s proceeds apace. The knock on effects of this could be tragic and terrifying. EU statesmen have blundered on this by forcing a weak Yanukovych to effectively choose between Russia and 'Europe'.

Those that know their history such as Poland's Radek Sikorski and Carl Bildt have staked too much on pushing 'regime change' as some sort of end game now that events seem to point towards a decisive chance to break the power of the Party of the Regions.
There are protesters in Kiev and Lviv and there are insurrectionists determined to use violence as much as the Ukrainian police which itself is now fragmenting into those against the government and those determined to defend it. This is the sign of potential impending civil war.
In Kiev a significant number of protesters remain those committed to liberal democracy but it seems those committed to the language of violence and overthrowing the 'regime' are in the vanguard as those such as Klitschko have conjured up a force beyond their control.
It seems that Klitschko and his Punch Party and others such as Svoboda can hardly now draw back given their role in having stoked up the aggression and comparing Yanukovych to dictators such as Gaddafi, a simplistic populist strategy that has ramped up tensions and made compromise less rather than more likely.
The EU has failed to agree on sanctions preventing any weapons entering Ukraine. Little they can do is going to be effective where there is the will to contend power by force and in a state descending towards fragmentation and lawlessness unless they offer a realistic get out strategy for both sides.
The momentum could have passed away from those now scrambling for a diplomatic solution. And if that happens and the violence intensifies and spreads, as looks likely, then Ukraine and the wider world could have reached the point of no return as regards a peaceful solution to the crisis.
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"While the authorities blocked trains coming to Kiev from the anti-Yanukovych west, protesters in the east lay down on railway tracks to prevent the government transporting military reinforcements to the capital. Crimea, ardently pro-Russian if part of Ukraine, issued threats of secession should the country go into freefall"
The prospect of Ukraine descending into a situation similar to that of Yugoslavia in the 1990s proceeds apace. The knock on effects of this could be tragic and terrifying. EU statesmen have blundered on this by forcing a weak Yanukovych to effectively choose between Russia and 'Europe'
Those that know their history such as Poland's Radek Sikorski and Carl Bildt have staked too much on pushing 'regime change' as some sort of end game now that events seem to point towards a decisive chance to break the power of the Party of the Regions.
There are peaceful protesters in Kiev and Lviv and there are insurrectionists determined to use violence as much as the Ukrainian police which itself is now fragmenting into those against the government and those determined to defend it. This is the sign of potential impending civil war.
In Kiev a significant number of protesters remain those committed to liberal democracy but it seems those committed to the language of violence and overthrowing the 'regime' are in the vanguard as those such as Klitschko have conjured up a nationalistic forcs that are now  beyond their control.
It seems that Klitschko and his Punch Party and others can hardly now draw back given their role in having stoked up the aggression and comparing Yanukovych to dictators such as Gaddafi, a simplistic populist strategy that has ramped up tensions and made compromise less rather than more likely.
The EU has failed to agree on sanctions preventing any weapons entering Ukraine. Little they can do is going to be effective where there is the will to contend power by force and in a state descending towards fragmentation and lawlessness unless they offer a realistic get out strategy for both sides.
The momentum could have passed away from those now scrambling for a diplomatic solution. And if that happens and the violence intensifies and spreads, as looks likely, then Ukraine and the wider world could have reached the point of no return as regards a peaceful solution to the crisis.



Monday, 24 March 2014

Mark Almond on the Ukrainian Crisis 2014

By Mark Almond On the Ukrainian Crisis.

'Maybe Ukraine is as foreign to the British people today as it was when an obscure crisis on its southern coast in Queen Victoria’s reign became the Crimean War.But not since the 1850s has this country come so close to colliding with Russia.Ukraine sits on the fault line dividing Eastern Europe between pro-Western and pro-Russian views.  

Her people are split over attitudes to the old imperial capital, Moscow. That divide is now opening up as pro-Russian districts in the East such as Kharkov and Crimea refuse to accept the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych celebrated in Kiev.

Civil war would be a tragedy for Ukraine’s people. But what makes the crisis so dangerous is the international dimension.Since the collapse of Communism in 1991, the US and its European allies have seen keeping Ukraine independent of Russia as a key result of victory in the Cold War.



For Russians, losing Ukraine was a huge blow. Ironically, Russian culture and its Orthodox Church were born in Kiev 1,000 years ago.Moscow is a new capital. The Kremlin has always regarded bases in Ukraine, like its naval hub at Sevastopol, as key to security.


Now Russia’s military presence could be questioned by the revolutionaries swarming through the abandoned government buildings in Kiev.Nato has never wanted Russia’s forces in the Crimea, but nor does Washington want to see any violent effort to force them out.


Bill Clinton famously declared that keeping Crimea in Ukraine and away from Russia was in America’s national interest. But he hoped that over time Russia would accept an independent Ukraine and withdraw its fleet. 

Today, when ethnic Russians are rallying in Crimea and other parts of Eastern Ukraine, the risk of a clash between radicals on both sides is rising. IF Ukrainian nationalists, for instance, shoot at Russian soldiers in the south, local civil disorder could drag the Kremlin in as it did five years ago across the Black Sea in Georgia.

Already the West has been sparring with Putin’s Russia over everything from energy prices to gay rights, but a good old-fashioned tug of war over territory is now under way.This crisis began when Yanukovych backed out of a deal to associate his country with the EU last November. Putin saw this as a back door to getting Ukraine into Nato and turning a neutral neighbour into a US ally. 


Pro-Western Ukrainians hoped that would be the case, confirming the Kremlin’s worst fears. Given Ukraine’s desperate economic mess, meeting the EU’s requirements was not really an option.
Worse still, Kiev needed billions of dollars to service its huge debt to Western banks. But the West wasn’t willing, or able, to lend any more.


Putin’s huge oil and gas revenues seemed to give Russia the trump card. The Kremlin offered Ukraine a soft loan but on condition it stopped associating with the EU. This was a red rag to the pro-Western Ukrainians.
But what complicates matters and makes them so dangerous now is that the most militant pro-Western protesters are violently anti-Russian.


Many Ukrainians want to join the EU and Nato – not for reconciliation but to recruit allies against their old enemy.This combination of a looming Ukrainian default threatening West European banks and a potential conflict with the EU’s major energy supplier, Russia, means that Ukraine’s troubles are not only on our doorstep but threatening to flow across it.

The violence in Kiev and inflammatory rhetoric of the hard core of the Ukrainian demonstrators now met by pro-Russian groups in the East shows that no one has things under control.Putin had hoped to manipulate events through backing the ousted president, but the West has a problem with its vocal supporters too. The paramilitaries who toppled Yanukovych pay lip-service to the new European values of integration but they mask loyalty to the older European demons of nationalism and anti-Semitism.

Sadly, Ukraine’s peaceful protesters are being marginalised by the reality that in a revolution, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.When Klitschko tried to persuade them to accept the EU-brokered compromise deal, he was booed off the stage in Kiev.


The West might have hopes that the release of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko will restore her status as the people’s darling that she enjoyed during the Orange Revolution a decade ago. Her dramatic re-appearance in a wheelchair in front of the crowds fresh from prison recalled her firebrand role back then. She lashed Yanukovich’s record but also tried to reach out to Ukrainians who feel that the heroes of 2004 wasted their opportunity then. Timoshenko’s apology for the political class’s poor performance since then might gain her support.

But it was painfully obvious that none of her potential rivals for the presidency from the opposition were on the platform with her.Worse still her former ally, Viktor Yushchenko who defeated Yanukovich in 2005, is now a bitter enemy. After all, he was the star witness against her at her trial in 2011. Uniting the opposition will be a tricky task. 


The capacity of Ukrainians to flout their Western well-wishers was shown when the protesters ignored that EU-sponsored deal to seize control of Kiev.The radicals might ignore the West, but the West cannot ignore the consequences of letting them run riot into a conflict with local Russians or the Kremlin itself.

If political and economic chaos leads to civil war in the country lying between Nato and Russia, Yugoslavia’s break-up would seem like a vicarage tea party.But as disaster looms, there is a glimmer of hope. Russia and the West have a common interest in avoiding a geo-political fight. 


Both Moscow and Washington should make it clear they will not tolerate either side causing more violence. Nor will they stand by their self-proclaimed friends if they do.Otherwise, East and West could find themselves dragged on to the slippery slope of confrontation for causes that are not their own'

Trans Dniester and the Crimean Precedent.

'Nato's most senior military commander ( General Philip Breedlove ) has said that Russia had amassed a large military force on Ukraine's eastern border, and warned that Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region could be the Kremlin's next target'
Trans-Dniester has been autonomous since the civil war between it an Moldova ended in 1992. If it is a part of NATO thinking that Putin intends to use it as a springboard for rolling troops into what was once called 'New Russia' ( especially Odessa ), then strategists are getting slightly paranoid.

The next historical fact is that Trans-Dniester has never been part of an independent Moldova but only Stalin's Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. One reason was to try to 'Russify' Moldova and detach it from the Greater Romanian designs that had been attempted by fascist dictator Antonescu.

Trans-Dniester acts as a sort of 'para state' ( in that sense it is not so dissimilar to Kosovo, a land of large military installations, money laundering and mafia activity- see Misha Glenny's McMafia ). Even so, most in Trans-Dniester are Russophone and do not want union with Moldova.

The capital Tiraspol was founded by Catherine the Great in 1792 as a fortress town against the Ottoman Empire as part of the plan to create a Novorossiya stretching around the Black Sea and Odessa. The real fear is if secessionist demands start to emerge in that Black Sea port.

The danger in 2014 is that dormant nationalist passions could be stoked up by those in the US and EU who had been quite content to recognise the break up of Yugoslavia into smaler states in accordance with national self determination but fanatical about the idea tha Trans Dniester could follow Crimea.

Trapped between Moldova, and a far more anti-Russian government in Chisinau than before the 'Twitter Revolution' of 2008 in which the plodding Vladimir Volonin was ousted, and an increasingly insecure interim government in Kiev to the east, the capacity for conflict being sparked off cannot be discounted.

Conflict could be intensified if Ukraine attempts to cut off economic supplies to Trans Dniester or attempt sealing off the 600,000 people by Ukraine and Moldova in aiming to ramp up tensions the better to draw in decisive western support to crush its seperatist status and contain Russian power.

Throughout the 2000's EU and US officials and other international worthies continually ignored the recurrent elections in Trans Dniester. One reason for that is that no matter the request for national self determination. Trans Dniester as a state does not fit in with tthe strategy of controlling the Black Sea region.

Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia have populations who have willingly adopted dual citizenship with the Russian Federation. It was always possible after the Kosovo intervention and recognition of Kosovo as a state in 2008 that Russian would seek to exploit Western double standards

Any conflict breaking out between Moldovans and Transdinistrians would be bound to draw in Putin's Russia as theie 'protector' of ethnic Russians. There seems to be be one standard for Russian Slavonic populations and those in lands such as Kosovo whose paramilitary elites were far more aggressive.

The actions of pro-Russian militias in Crimea have been limited and contained compared to the Kosovan Liberation militias who ethnically cleansed some 2000,000 from Kosovo, including Serbs and sinti, and then went into the business of the flesh trade, drugs and organ trafficking.

Trans Dniester has been independent for 22 years since the Soviet Union dissolved. It has problems with crime. But union with neighbouring Moldova offers nothing, not least since the neoliberal shock therapy apparachniks have been at work. If it votes to join with Russia, that is it's business.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Russia has the Upper Hand: Sanctions over Crimea are 'Toothless"

The 'smart sanctions' are toothless and Russia is able to exploit the fact that it has the only reliable supplies of oil and gas that can be provided to EU states. The decision to switch to Qatar LNG is one alternative but Libya is in a state of political anarchy and Egypt, another gas producer, is reeling from the 2013 coup
The US supply of gas is far more secure but control over gas is as much about geopolitics and global power stakes as ensuring gas and oil shall be forthcoming. The proxy battle over Syria is about backing rival gas pipeline schemes to bring gas to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Secretary of State Kerry's oblique warnings about scuppering US Russian cooperation over Syria and its CW programme is about reviving the plan to support those Islamist forces aiming to remove Assad and facilitate the Qatari gas pipeline as opposed to the Iranian scheme backed by Tehran and Assad.
Added to this New Great Game is the discovery of deposits of oil and gas in both the Black Sea ( hence the strategic value of Crimea ) and , of course, in the Eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Syria and Cyprus, one reason Russia maintains a naval base in Tarsous and is dterminrd to shore up Assad
EU responses have been weak and pusillanimous. Their schope for dealing with Russia by trying to impose punitive sanctions is simply treated with contempt by the Kremlin. A more realistic policy, one that had not made backing far right Ukrainian nationalists a way of trying to 'fast track' revolution, has backfired.
Far from being some 'new Stalin or Hitler, the sort of shoddy and threadbare historical cliches always trotted out by those with a limited understanding of history, Putin's style of diplomacy is more akin to that of a nineteenth century statesman as Otto con Bismarck.
The usual, somewhat infantile, complaints about Putin not realising that the 21st century has no room for 'spheres of interest' is simple liberal propaganda. All the major states , whether in the EU post modern imperium or not, regard Ukraine as their backyard and a land they should have dominance over.
Across the globe there is a New Great Game and this very much depends on classic geopolitical contests in which the US and EU, as well as Russia and China, are competing for control and influence over resource rich regions. European liberals have failed to wake up to these realities.

Moldova and Trans-Dniester: The Next Geopolitical Flashpoint.


Following on from Russia's effective annexation of Crimea, NATO fears that Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region is yet another Russian speaking region to be incorporated into Russia is one that ignores the fact it has never been actually part of the modern Romania that Moldovans want closer ties with.

Trans-Dniester ,or the part of Eastern Bessarabia that borders Ukraine, has been a Russian outpost since 1792 when Tiraspol was founded and forms part of Russia's late eighteenth century expansion against the decaying Ottoman Empire and  of Catherine the Great's idea of creating 'Novorossiya' on the Black Sea.

The appeal by Trans-Dniester's political elites to follow the example of Crimea, however, has its own origins in the fear of the Greater Romanian nationalism and revanchist idea of those who were behind the 2008 'Twitter Revolution', another botched fast track attempt to foist Euro-Atlantic elites on Moldova.

Previous to the Twitter Revolution, which saw the plodding Communist Vladimir Voronin forced out, despite having won a free and fair election, relations between Moldova and Trans-Dniester had been placid following the civil war back in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Moldova, opposition parties like the 'Liberal Democrats' and 'Our Moldova', funded by USAID and backed by opponents of Putin such as Yegor Gaidar's daughter Maria through organisations such as "DA !" were fighting a proxy competition against Putin for having had their power curtailed in Moscow after Yeltsyn's fall in 1999.

As with Ukraine in 2014, the protests rapidly descended into violence. The darker side of 'Democracy Promotion' is that Western liberals have continually failed to grasp that those wishing to appropriate funds for çivil societ activism' have a a murky association with the far right.

The politics of the Moldovan opposition to the incumbent government in 2008 demonstrates how murky the past of those complaining about the Moldovan 'puppet' government could be. Brega's Hyde Park NGO movement is aligned with Romanian nationalists such as The Unionist Movement from Moldova (UMM).

When Brega's Hyde Park Group'' had their radio broadcasting rights taken away in 2003 it was "a proof of Bolshevik tyranny against the freedom of expression" but then their website thundered about the need for the removal of removal of the Russian yoke'' and reunification with Russia.

This view received the benediction and express support of Dr Iacob Golovca, the president of the Association for the Liquidation of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact's Consequence and who is secretary general of the UMM.But what was not stressed is the favouritism towards Hitler's main Romanian ally.

There is, of course, no mention of the support given by the Romanian dictator Antonescu to Hitler, the fact Bessarabia had only been part of Greater Romania for the years between 1918 and 1940 or that Moldovan supporters of it laud Antonescu for his removal of ''the caste' i.e 'Kremlinoid Jews'.

In order to enthuse Moldovan Romanians,the Romanian courts on 20th February 2007 rehabilitated the wartime dictator on the grounds that his joint invasion of the USSR did not constitute a "crime against peace" because Moldova belonged to it.

In fact both the Young Liberals and the the Youth Organisation of the Liberal Party (PL) are pretty good at organising mass demonstrations supporting Greater Romanian ideology, calling for commemorations to remember Soviet occupation of Besserabia

The Liberal Party was led by Mihai Ghimpu in 2008, one of the key founders of the Moldovan Popular Front which after the dissolution of the Moldovan SSR in March 1990 called for immediate reunification with Romania, purging all non-Moldovans from government and cultural institutions.

Mirai Ghimpu is also no less than the uncle of Dirin Chirtoaca who has accused the Communists of fomenting riots amidst an otherwise peaceful protest. But the Liberal Party bears as much relation to liberalism as the Moldovan Communist party does to Communism.

The Liberal Party ( PL) is closer to Zhirinovsky's Russian party of the same name and the rebranding methods encouraged by supposedly independent NGO's like The Moldova Foundation have failed to dampen the underlying atavistic ethnic nationalism that motivates hatred of all things Russian.

The Greater Romanian ideology common in the political circles is one that resents Trans-Dniester and the political figures standing in continuity with Antonescu would like to turn the screw on this bizarre pro-Russian enclave through a variety of economic and political means.

In fact, as with Crimea, Trans-Dniester is not regarded as a 'real state' and it is a thorn in NATO planned to transform the Black Sea into a NATO lake. The loss of Crimea could well see far more pressure being put on this bizarre enclave connected with Russia and more 'New Cold War' tension.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Turning a Convenient Blind Eye to the Ukrainian Ultra-Nationalist Right.

One of the most lamentable parts of British coverage of events in the Ukraine has been the way those such as Timothy Garton Ash have indulged in the very 'whataboutery' they accuse hard line defenders of Putin's Russia of doing in order to deflect any short comings in western foreign policy

In The focus is on Crimea, but next is the fight for Ukraine.( Guardian Tuesday 19 2014 ), Ash concedes that Crimea is lost to Ukraine. He then proceeds to see the Russian takeover of Crimea by 'special troops' and the referendum to join Mother Russia as a sign of Putin's pseudo-democratic use of 'political technology' to provide a specious version of democracy.

Yet criticisms of Putin aside, the simple fact is that Putin is a practitioner of realpolitik in the manner more of Bismarck and not with Hitler of Stain ( as many foolishly do ). Putin is an expert at using western double standards as a means to legitimise his own 'reactive' strategies to 'western imperial projects'

The one problem is Ash fixates on Putin and Russian nationalism. The one vital question that Ash evades is the rise of the Ukrainian far right whose influence has surged western Ukraine and, through Svoboda and Right Sector, gained positions in the interim government.

Not once in this article does Ash even draw attention to them or their rhetoric. Drawing attention to the very real prominence of the west Ukrainian ultra-nationalists ( streets in Lviv are named after wartime fascists such as Stepan Bandera ) seems to spoil the idealistic notion this must be a 'People Power' uprising.

Instead he refers , in weaselly language, of tensions 'exacerbated by some foolish words and gestures from victorious revolutionaries in Kiev'. No mention of the undoubted prominence of Svoboda once in this article which glosses over that the better to focus only what Putin has been doing.

There is evidence of Svoboda members intimidating and beating journalists and TV bosses in Kiev.
Members of Svoboda barged their way into the offices of Aleksandr Panteleymonov, the acting president of the National Television Company of Ukraine on Tuesday night.They were angry that public broadcaster, First National Channel, had broadcast the Russian Parliament signing a treaty with Crimea on Tuesday. Yelling and beating Panteleymonov around the head, the men accused him of serving Putin, while there were Ukrainians “dying at the hands of Russian occupiers” and called him “Moscow trash.”They then forced him to sign a letter of resignation.Ironically, one of the men involved in the assault was the deputy head of Ukraine’s committee on freedom of speech.Members of the Svoboda party filmed the attack and then posted it online. Ukraine’s prime minister has condemned the incident calling it “unacceptable for a democratic society.”
Putin was only able to exploit pro-Russian nationalist sentiment because the new government banned Russian as an official language. The danger is that the elections could well see in emboldened far right make gains should the oligarchs in Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party fail to rein in the Svoboda ideologues and Right Sector thugs.

Ash should be calling for the EU to formally distance itself from Svoboda. Crimea is lost to Ukraine. The question is now what will happen in the southern and eastern areas of Ukraine and if the interim government botches up and tries to play a Ukrainian nationalist card to win votes in the May elections things could go badly wrong.

If economic conditions deteriorate, the far right could be posed to take advantage as Euromaidan liberals are week and lack prominence. Svoboda have been able to exploit the anger of rural Galicians at far off Kiev and Russian influence as being under the influence of Russian-Mafia-Jews. As Svoboda has ready made 'answers to why Ukraine is degenerating.

As Business Insider reports,the leader of Svoboda,
Tyahnybok has also claimed that “organized Jewry” dominate Ukrainian media and government, have enriched themselves through criminal activities and plan to engineer a “genocide” upon the Christian Ukrainian population. Another top Svoboda member, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a deputy in parliament, often quotes Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, as well as other Third Reich luminaries like Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser.
There is more,
'Svoboda seeks to end all immigration and ensure that all civil service jobs are filled by ethnic Ukrainians. ....Svoboda also seeks to ban abortions, abolish gun control, “ban the Communist ideology,” and prohibit the adoption of Ukrainian children by foreigners. In addition, Svoboda reportedly supports nuclear power (in the homeland of Chernobyl) and reinstatement of the death penalty.

Limiting its membership to ethnic Ukrainians, Svoboda also had links to a paramilitary organization called Patriots of Ukraine, which has also stepped into the current imbroglio, leading charges against anti-riot police and shouting nationalist slogans like “Glory to the nation! Death to enemies!” and “Ukraine above all!”
Svoboda glorifies fascist figures and related slogans from Ukraine’s past – on New Year’s Day, 15,000 Svoboda members and their followers marched in honor of controversial Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, who fought against the Soviets during the Second World War and had ties to Nazi Germany. His Ukrainian Insurgent Army allegedly took part in the massacre of thousands of Ukrainian Jews and Poles. Tyahnybok has repeatedly sought inspiration from Ukrainian insurgents who fought in World War II. “They did not fear, but took up their automatic rifles, going into the woods to fight Muscovites, Germans, Jewry and other filth which wanted to take away our Ukrainian nationhood. It’s time to give Ukraine to the Ukrainians,
It would be more refreshing if Ash could, at least, be a bit more intellectually honest about the failings of the EU and West in turning a blind eye to the very real power and influence of ultra-nationalists in the west in power bases such as Lvov and Ivan Frankivsk

Since the beginning of the 2000s, Russian speakers have been attacked and beaten in the streets. During 2012 they cave captured up to 40% of votes in the Lviv oblast. It at present occupies 36 seats in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament, granting it status as the fourth-largest party in the country.

Ash, though, seems intent on self peddling over the existence of the Ukrainian far right as much as the Kremlin is exploiting it in its simplistic 'fascist coup' propaganda to an absurd extreme to deny that Euromaidan was made of various groups not of all whom were fascists. May were not.

The Reassertion of Russian Power.


Crimea is of March 2014 part of Russia. Putin is not that interested in having to get embroiled elsewhere in southern and eastern Ukraine unless Russian minorities in such regions as Donetsk, Odessa and Kharkviv were to be under threat should May 25th elections see an ultra-nationalist regime in Kiev.

The more moderate part of the interim Kiev regime, infuriated as they are at Crimea being detached in the way Moscow was able to do that, seem to have recognised reality and are to withdraw Ukrainian forces from Crimea. The danger is whether the rest of Ukraine can hold together.

The west of Ukraine has clearly no direction other than to try and integrate more into EU structures and emphasise trade ties.The poorest parts are in the Carpathians ( 'Hutsul country' ). The east is closer to Russia has industries and is far richer and more Russophone if not ethnic Russian.

Should the EU and US offer a generous aid package and not one based on IMF 'shock therapy' it is possible Ukraine could recover and potential atavistic nationalisms between west and east abate. But that means making it clear that a government dominated by Svoboda would not receive aid.

The danger is that the continued economic deterioration and Russian annexation of Crimea, as well as fears from Russian influence being extended over the industrial areas of the East, could exacerbate the the nationalist rhetoric coming from those opposed to Russia and Ukrainian oligarchs.

The Western Ukrainian ultra-nationalists are far more organised during Euromaidan and decent liberal civil society groups were shunted aside as they are a challenge to the oligarch power of Tymoshenko's Fatherland Part which had failed miserably through corruption and incompetence by 2010.

Between March and May 2014 'events' could take Ukraine in dark new directions. Using the chaos as a pretext to ram through US-IMF 'shock therapy' in the context would only immiserate more Ukrainians and give vent to an ethnocentric nationalism from politicians that would prove divisive.

After 1991, many Serbs and Croats were intermarried, friend, had a shared history. Under the impact of economic dislocation, demagogic politicians and mutual fears, that modicum of tolerance broke down into internecine conflict and there is no guarantee Ukraine could not become another Balkans.

The problem is that the co-operation between the west and Russia has broken down, the EU is weary after having bailed out Greece, Italy and Spain. Both the EU powers and US, having initiated week sanctions, are now potential going to be responded to by Russian counter measures over their gas supplies.

Russia is potentially in the driving seat due to global energy trends. Greater reliance on Qatar means gas being piped through unstable areas such as the Sinai peninsula in Egypt which is unstable after the 2013 coup and LNG must round the Straits of Hormuz and go past terrorist menaced Somalia.

Russia may act ruthlessly but it's foreign policy is not irrational or based on a lack of appreciation of geopolitical configurations working in its favour. There was no way it was going to allow a large western backed and financed ( via 'democracy promotion training) to install a new government in Kiev.

The irony, is that the main geopolitical ambition of the EU and US in Ukraine was to get Ukraine and hence the strategic isthmus of the Crimea into NATO as the naval lease negotiated by the Russians with the Ukrainians was due to run out. Putin, however, was never prepared to see Sebastopol as a NATO base.

As in Syria, where Russia retains a base at Tarsous, the geostrategy is to retain a sphere of interest in areas from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean where newly discovered oil and gas deposits are at state. The proposed Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline would head to that area too.

Conflicts over access to oil and gas and pipeline routes are the essential realities behind 21st century power politics. When Kerry reacted to Putin's annexation of Crimea, he started to hint about renegotiating over the deal over Syria's chemical weapons.

That statement by Kerry proves the issue in the Syria civil war in summer 2013 was never about humanitarian concern ( use of CW's ) but the lethal pathological rivalry over competing gas pipeline routes between either Iran through to Syria or else from Qatar ( a major western energy all and investor ).

Russia is reasserting its regional role down from the Black Sea through to the Eastern Mediterranean as has been a policy since Catherine the Great in the 1770's to 1790's. It has become a major player again in the pursuit of access to wealth and riches, meaning in 2014 control over oil and gas.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Geopolitics of the Eastern Partnership.

History and geopolitics matter. These brutal realities are often concealed by idealistic rhetoric about the seamless unfurling of Liberty eastwards and phrases harking back to the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism. Polish elites seem stuck in an obsolete timewarp in which Putin represents some 'Neo-Soviet' threat.

That Polish politicians have been able to act 'in solidarity' with those standing in direct continuity to one side in the Nazi-Soviet struggle over Eastern Europe,that is the far right western nationalists  in the pro-Nazi tradition ) is no less cynical than the idea all the Euromaidan Protesters are fascists or have led a 'fascist coup'

Euro elites such as Barroso and van Rompuy remained unaware of the visceral passions inflamed in this brutal geopolitical contest both on the ground and with those keen of playing a power game over the heads of protesters in the streets.

But a good number have simply ignored the presence of the Ukrainian far right because ( objectively ) they are on 'our side' against Russia.From the outset of the Ukrainian crisis both Sikorski and Bildt have been obsessively trying to pre-empt the outcome by upping the stakes in a way that would outflank the plodding and ineffective techocrats.

As early as December 1, the Joint Statement by Sikorski and Bildt anticipated the fact that Yanukovych would most likely reject the Association Agreement with the EU and were positioning themselves for the reaction that would come.

The “Eastern Partnership” represents an initiative that wants to pull EU states towards aligning the emphasis on improved trade relationships with accession to NATO in the wake of the Russo-Georgian conflict of 2008.

Increased trade ties with those states are in the interests of all states, including Russia. However, the constant push towards having them as part of NATO is part of a design for military expansion to outflank and defeat Russia from control over Syria and the Eastern Mediterannean ( to the south of Gree and Bulgaria )

Ukraine is the key part of a wider geopolitical competition to have dominance and control over the Black Sea and oil and gas supplies from Central Asia. This key fact is omitted from most current accounts of the power struggle over Ukraine or else hidden beneath sententious rhetoric about heroic western democracy needing to unfurl forever eastward.

Whether it is liked or not, Russia is not going to cede control over energy supplies nor give up its stake in potential oil and gas reserves from the Eastern Meditteranean to the Back Sea any more than western powers are going to stop intervening in foreign lands such as Libya, Iraq and Syria where supplies of oil and gas are at stake.

It is in the mutual interests of both Russia and the west to cooperate. Those wishing to 'win' some conclusive historical victory over the Russian imperium and avenge the outcome of the Battle of Poltava in 1703 are playing a dangerous and messianic power game in which Russia's emergence as a Power is the one bulwark to European global dominance

That battle,which confirmed Russian control over the Baltic and spelt the end of Sweden's hegemony in Northern Europe, as well as confirming Poland's decline is a historical verdict to be reversed 300 years later with NATO expansion.

By pursuing a foreign policy which clearly has as its aim the destruction of Russia's status as a Great Power, Bildt and Sikorski are necessarily going to antagonise Putin in a way that is going to make the Kremlin ultra defensive.

Sikorski is too intelligent not to realise this, one reason he resorted to projection in condemning Putin for his dangerous game. . After all, Ukraine without Crimea represents  a major loss of all that for which the New Great Game over Ukraine had been fought.

Poland the Crisis in Ukraine.

Neoconservative thinking is deeply entrenched in certain intellectual circles in Poland and is best regarded with trepidation. Ukraine is seen as being in Poland's backyard and where it has the right to determine its internal affairs in a way that has so far backfired catastrophically.

One problem from the outset of the Ukrainian Crisis has been the way it has come under irresponsible forms of Polish meddling, where mainstream politicians such as Jaroslaw Kaczynski have publicly marched alongside far right Oleg Tyahnybok of Svoboda.

This is one of the most bizarre forms of 'solidarity' given the hero worship of Stepan Bandera common in far right nationalist circles in Lviv, the key figure of the OUN and UPA responsible for ethnically cleansing 200,000 Poles from Volhynia and East Galicia in the Second World War.

EU statesmen ceded too much initiative to Polish politicians who regard Ukraine as the geopolitical site for some messianic battle against the remnants of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire, a shrill New Cold War mentality that runs throughout a Warsaw think tanker Sławomir Sierakowski's supposed 'analysis'.

Sierakowski, though supposedly left wing, offers the usual bad historical analogies with Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Crimea in 2014. No less than other leftist Polish intellectuals of a messianic bent, Putin represents some amalgam of Hitler and Stalin and Germany is critisised for being too economically tied to Russia.

Sikorski shared with those such as old Solidarity leftistscas Michnik some 'anti-totalitarian' stance in foreign policy based on regarding Putin as a 'dictator' or 'neo-Soviet threat'. Sikorski even described the Nordstream pipeline deal between Russia and Germany as a new Nazi Soviet Pact as in 1939.

TVN in Poland has been sensationally ramping up the atmosphere of impending global conflict by showing maps of NATO troop strength and tanks versus Russia's military capacity. This sable rattling in Poland and the Baltics is both neurotic and based on a simple moralistic view of global politics.

As the crisis deepened in January 2014, public momentum passed to the more staunch neoconservative diplomats in Europe such as Radek Sikorski in Poland. His ardent hope has always been to yoke the protection of Ukraine towards Western military and economic institutions that are to reorder it.

By attaching any movement towards democratic reform in Ukraine so obviously to NATO expansion since the 2008 Bucharest Summit Sikorski has contributed to the current crisis and Putin's counter measure to 'secure' the Crimea against the threat of far right nationalists in Kiev.

For Sikorski destroying the Party of the Regions was to be the culmination of a historic struggle for hegemony over Ukraine with Russia that goes back to the seventeenth century, one that ensured Russian influence would exercise an influence over Central Europe until the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union.

From the outset of the Ukrainian crisis both Sikorski and Bildt have been obsessively trying to pre-empt the outcome by upping the stakes in a way that would outflank the plodding and ineffective techocrats such an the EU's Cathy Ashton or the hopless nonentity Van Rompuy.

As early as December 1, the Joint Statement by Sikorski and Bildt anticipated the fact that Yanukovych would most likely reject the Association Agreement with the EU and were positioning themselves for the reaction that would come. That a revolution would decisely win Ukraine for the west.

The “Eastern Partnership” represents an initiative that wants to pull EU states towards aligning the emphasis on improved trade relationships with accession to NATO in the wake of the Russo-Georgian conflict of 2008, somthing in iself a result of the foolish pushing of NATO in a land divided between east and west.

One can understand the anxiety of Poland due to the terrible history it suffered at the hands of the Soviet Union in the Second World War. But it is high time that ideologigocally fuelled politics and obsessisive competitive power gaming with Russia was replaced with more subtle diplomacy.

Sikorski's geostrategy has only helped to divide Ukrainian opinion on the ground and ignored the fact there is no overwhelming consensus in favour of NATO entrance. It wasvacdiplomatic blunder to push this too far and Putin has exploited this flawed strategy.

As Anatol Lieven stated,
If there is one absolutely undeniable fact about Ukraine, which screams from every election and every opinion poll since its independence two decades ago. It is that the country's population is deeply divided between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments. Every election victory for one side or another has been by a narrow margin, and has subsequently been reversed by an electoral victory for an opposing coalition.
What has saved the country until recently has been the existence of a certain middle ground of Ukrainians sharing elements of both positions; that the division in consequence was not clear cut; and that the West and Russia generally refrained from forcing Ukrainians to make a clear choice between these positions.
During George W. Bush's second term as president, the U.S., Britain, and other NATO countries made a morally criminal attempt to force this choice by the offer of a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine (despite the fact that repeated opinion polls had shown around two-thirds of Ukrainians opposed to NATO membership). French and German opposition delayed this ill-advised gambit, and after August 2008, it was quietly abandoned. The Georgian-Russian war in that month had made clear both the extreme dangers of further NATO expansion, and that the United States would not in fact fight to defend its allies in the former Soviet Union.
Increased trade ties with those states are in the interests of all states, including Russia. However, the constant push towards having them as part of NATO is part of a design for military expansion to outflank and defeat Russia by turning the Black Sea into a NATO lake and winning control over pipelines from the Caspian

Ukraine is the key part of a wider geopolitical competition to have dominance and control over the Black Sea and oil and gas supplies from Central Asia. This key fact is omitted from most current accounts of the power struggle over Ukraine.

Whether it is liked or not, Russia is not going to cede control over energy supplies any more than western powers are going to stop intervening in foreign lands such as Libya, Iraq and Syria where supplies of oil and gas are at stake. Energy geopoliticand resource conflicts define 21st century global power politics.

It is in the mutual interests of both Russia and the west to cooperate. Those wishing to 'win' some conclusive historical victory over the Russian imperium and avenge the outcome of the Battle of Poltava in 1703 are playing a dangerous game based on atavistic fears about Russia and the Russians.

That battle,which confirmed Russian control over the Baltic and spelt the end of Sweden's hegemony in Northern Europe, as well as confirming Poland's decline is a historical verdict to be reversed 300 years later with NATO expansion with the final victory of those vanquished by Russia's emergence as a Great Power under Peter the Great.

By pursuing a foreign policy which clearly has as its aim the destruction of Russia's status as a Great Power, Bildt and Sikorski are necessarily going to antagonise Putin in a way that was always going to make the Kremlin ultra defensive and determined to reassert Russian power.

Sikorski is too intelligent not to realise this, one reason he resorted to projection in condemning Putin for his dangerous game. . After all, Ukraine without Crimea is a loss of that for which the New Great Game was being fought in Ukraine. With imminent annexation, Sikorski can fulminate about it but he shares the blame for it

The fruits of the Eastern Partnership have been Putin's counter measure, the use of 'special troops' to secure Crimea and now the referendum for reunification with Russia. Essentially, Polands strategy of extending its influence towards the Black Sea lies in ruins.