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MH17: backgrounder on the situation in Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine is not merely a border skirmish, it is a full-on war. Ukrainian journalist in the city of Odessa Mikhail Golubev reports on the situation on the ground today.

This airplane crash, which according to the evidence appears to be the result of an attack by pro-Putin forces, has really shocked us Ukrainians. It would have shocked us even more if not for all these victims of the situation between Russia and the Ukraine, every day. It is known that people from many countries, including Australia, have died in this crash. I feel obliged to apologise for our government, which probably could and should do more in order to avoid such a situation.

After all, the terrorists (as they are rightfully called on our Ukrainian TV), using the Russian weapons, had already shot down several Ukrainian military planes before. Our side, military leaders and experts, could have anticipated that pro-Putin forces might, even by mistake, attack a civilian airplane from the third country. We did manage to stop them on that occasion. We did not manage to prevent a disaster. I feel deeply sorry for that.

A brief history of the situation involving Ukraine may help readers understand the geopolitical realities.

Ukraine had not seen any wars on our territory since the country obtained independence in 1991. Most Ukrainians hardly even thought seriously about such matters. “Who the hell could attack us? Well, maybe Russia can, but … it’s just impossible.” That was what people thought — until the so-called “Russian Spring” in March 2014.

Four-and-a-half months have passed since Russia’s strong intentions about Crimea became obvious. The Crimean peninsula was eventually ceded by Ukraine without armed resistance. The unprovoked aggression, backed by lies, was a shock for us. Russia, which had a permanent military base in Crimea, was prepared. It is very possible, though we will never have known, that the majority of Crimeans would have voted to stay with Russia even in the fairest of referendums.

One way or another, the control of Crimea was de facto taken over by Russia, which now considers the peninsula to be part of its country. However, Ukraine also officially claims Crimea as part of Ukrainian territory, which is temporarily occupied. These days, even the craziest pro-Ukrainian activists usually do not clam that it would have been wise to resist in Crimea militarily. We were not ready, from all viewpoints.

But  it was also clear for everyone on the Ukrainian side that after Crimea the “red line” begins, and no other Ukrainian territory will be given to Russia or pro-Russian separatists without a full-contact fight. The pro-Putin side (both in Ukraine and Russia) announced their plans to annex seven other regions in southern and eastern Ukraine, in addition to Crimea.

But expectations that Russian-speaking Ukraine hoped to return to Russia turned to be unrealistic. In these regions opinions are, to a greater or lesser extent, divided. This division has led to outbursts of violence, most notably the battle between the pro-Putin and anti-Putin activists in my hometown Odessa on May 2, when more than 40 people died. No one will be surprised to hear the tension still remains here.

What is going on these these days is a real war, and in Ukraine it is unofficially but widely considered to be a war between Ukraine and Russia.”

Eventually the pro-Russian rebels managed to take control only in parts of two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk — and it is Donetsk where MH17 crashed. What is going on these these days is a real war, and in Ukraine it is unofficially but widely considered to be a war between Ukraine and Russia. (Officially it is an anti-terror operation for Ukraine, while Russia, oddly, denies its systematic involvement.)

Our Ukrainian side tends to overestimate the role of Russia and Russians in the conflict, but surely many of the rebel leaders and most prepared troops are Russian citizens. They use Russian weapons and all kinds of support in Russia except for a massive direct intervention. But as new groups of fighters come from Russia all the time, the size of the Russian support to “rebels” increase constantly.

In the last months Ukraine had consolidated politically and started to have a kind of real army, but there are no signs that Russia will terminate its support to self-proclaimed republics ”DNR” and “LNR”. The opposite seems to be true: the dominant mood in Russia, inspired by propaganda, is for intervention or at least, massive help to separatists. The dominant mood in Ukraine is to regain control over our territory (except for Crimea, for the time being) and to get rid of separatists one way or another. So there is no end in sight to this war.

The truth is that Ukraine badly needs funds for humanitarian, PR and military purposes in this war against Russia, whose anti-Ukrainian PR campaign is mad. We would be happy to surprise the world by defeating Russia by acting alone, but let’s be realistic. It’s not easy. We will try our best, no doubt about that. Russia does not have rights to do what they are doing to us.

These days it is customary for Ukrainians to hear every day that more people have died in many local battles on our east. There are countless thousands of refugees from Donetsk and Luhansk in towns like Odessa. People and organisations are donating money for the army, medicine, and for helping those who escaped from the east. This is in our media all the time.

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  • 1
    krissd6
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    This is not a backgrounder on the situation in the Ukraine. It is a propganda piece for the unelected regieme which overthrew the democratically elected government with the aid and funding of extreme right wing thinktanks from the US. The fact that many of thoise who supported the orerthrown government are now responing in a similar way with russian aid is not a surprise. How about getting some balance in backgrounder pices and leave out the blantant propganda.

  • 2
    Ian Rogers
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Astonishing how fast Putin-bots get to work nowadays!
    I could have sworn Ukraine had a change of government through an election not long ago but krissd6 knows better.

  • 3
    Dom Odessa
    Posted Friday, 18 July 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    So, krissd6, the brave Russian forces can now do in Ukraine anything what they want? Guys like Strelkov or Boroday. Because their beloved President Yanukovych ordered the killing of protesters in Kiev and then quickly escaped to Putin? And is it OK that Putin says that Russia is not involved, when in fact they are involved in all ways possible, and initiated the war as such? Isn’t simpler to confess that Yanykovych and Putin are two shameful dictators?

  • 4
    Chris Nyland
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    It is possible that the dissidents in the East of Ukraine fired the missile that brouught down the plane as your correspondent suggests. It is also possible the missile was fired by the Kiev authorities to increase European enthusiasm for their regime. At this time we do not have the evidence either way. First year politics students are asked to question who benefits when addressing an issue and they are also urged to be particularly sceptical of the claims of the side we with which they feel sympathy. As a new service that promclaims some independence Crikey might also consider this advise.

    Chris Nyland

  • 5
    Adrian Niculae
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    You are right Chris.

    But the second option - Kiev authorities fired the missile may take us all to a war.
    As the below article reads: Wars have bloomed from far, far less.

    http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/Talk-of-War-in-Europe-2014-07-18

  • 6
    stuart richardson
    Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Yes, krissd6 do does know best.A well written (very brief) synopsis of the situation in the region. What is astonishing,Ian Rogers, is the ability of the press to deliberately ignore the Victoria Nulands recording, the billions of US dollars and US mercenaries directed to Ukrainian west (read US) leaning politicos.
    Your two sentences contain nothing of substance, just like crikeys entire coverage of this event to date.

  • 7
    c83ef626bbb01dd333b9122793bda440
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t Crikey advertise spin free journalism.
    This guy incorrectly refers to the separatists as terrorists then discusses the tragedy in Odessa where 40 people were killed by a much more accurately meets the definition of terrorist action because the building was purposely set on fire to kill civilians. Just to be clear, it was Ukraine “protestors” that killed those Russian Protestors.
    Also, there was no mention of the Ukraine possessing the 3rd largest natural gas reserve in Europe or the deals struck with Chevron prior to the ousting.
    And specifically to the MH17 issue, he also neglected to mention that the Ukraine government had been carrying out intense airstrikes on separatist controlled cities. If Malaysia airlines had known that, would they still have chosen that flight path. I doubt it.
    Anyway. My sympathies lie with the civilian populations in Ukraine, both Russian and Ukraine. Their constitutional rights, their suffering and their lives have no meaning for Billionaires on both sides who regard human rights as impediments to profit. That is the only issue that matters at the decision making level.
    Good Luck to you too my Propaganda spreading friend. If you’re not a billionaire, you’ll need it.

    Comments is where opinion belongs

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