May 6, 2014

An unwilling Ukraine being taught its role in a Slavic tragedy

The end game for Russia and President Vladimir Putin is not one that subsumes the Ukraine, but makes it more sympathetic to the Russian cause. It's a deadly game of chess.

Professor Damien Kingsbury

Crikey international affairs commentator

As eastern Ukraine spirals out of control, the interim government in Kiev is desperately seeking to renegotiate the Geneva agreement, aimed at restoring a semblance of unity in the now deeply divided state. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, appears happy adjusting levers of strategic power to apply pressure, in turn in Donetsk, Sloviansk and now in Odessa. It is not yet clear whether the eastern Russian-speaking region will actually separate from Ukraine, whether Russia will invade or if regional destabilisation is just being used to achieve other ends. At least as likely as invasion, this destablisation is just a bloody game to achieve Russia’s regional economic and strategic goals. There is no doubt that Russia is providing most of the impetus for separatism in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking regions. First Crimea separated from Ukraine, with the direct intervention of what Putin first denied and then later admitted were Russian troops without insignia. Now "paramilitaries" with identical unmarked uniforms and weapons are active in eastern Ukraine. These paramilitaries are providing both direction and reinforcement to separatist Ukrainian Russian-speakers. There is fear within the Kiev government that pushing back against the pro-Russian occupation of key towns and installations in the east will provoke a direct Russian invasion. This will, many believe, be rationalised by the deaths of Russian speakers. However, short of mass casualties among Russian speakers, which would spark an artificially constructed Russian variation of the "responsibility to protect" paradigm, such an overt intervention is unlikely. The intention of the Russian government appears to be to pressure the Kiev interim government into reversing its position on embracing the European Union and NATO to one of returning to mother Russia. To achieve this outcome, Russia is balancing its role in eastern Ukraine. Should Russia overtly invade, it would be politically difficult to withdraw and leave Russian speakers living within a Ukrainian state. Such an intervention would almost certainly require absorption of Russian-speaking areas into Russia proper. More usefully, Russia will exert maximum pressure on the government in Kiev without invading. Russia does not wish to lose the leverage that would come from leaving Ukraine nominally intact but internally divided. In this, Crimea was useful as an object of lesson to the Kiev government for what could happen in eastern Ukraine. It was not necessarily a precursor to what will happen. In the meantime, what amounts to a deadly theatre is being played out in Odessa, Donetsk, Sloviansk, Konstantinovka, Slavyansk, Andreyevka and Kramatorsk. Dozens have now died, and Ukraine’s security forces are demoralised and, in part, divided. Since invading Georgia in 2008, Russia has been much more prepared to directly intervene in the affairs of its neighbors. Regional control is much more important to Moscow than international rule of law. But Moscow does not wish to reincorporate Ukraine entirely, as it did once within the former Soviet Union. Ukraine serves a more convenient purpose if it remains nominally independent but performs to a classically pessimistic script drafted by the Kremlin. Such a script, by default, portrays Moscow as the powerful yet torn protagonist. In this, Russia’s dramas, vanities and intemperances are writ large. By way of contrast, the minor, peripheral characters are increasingly being rehearsed in their role to be one of subservience and supplication in this Slavic tragedy. *Professor Damien Kingsbury is director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University

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12 thoughts on “An unwilling Ukraine being taught its role in a Slavic tragedy

  1. petroff nik

    I would hate to live in Russia and have a political opinion, but please Crikey, get a second opinion on the Ukraine situation.

  2. Limited News

    Kingsbury totally omits the role of NATO in backing a neonazi coup in Kiev. After the blood-soaked NATO “triumphs” in Libya and Syria, and the decision to remove Russian as an official language in Ukraine, ethnic Russians have no trust in Kiev and know sooner or later NATO will turn Ukraine in rubble and its people into refugees for the purpose of destabilising and encircling Russia. Better to join Russia ASAP.

    Can Australia at least declare neutrality if/when WWIII starts? Pine Gap would be nuked in short order anyhow, probably why it is out in the desert away from cities.

  3. Grumpy Old Sod

    If this is the best that Crikey can up with about a conflict started by the West, funded by the West and abetted by the West then I must really rethink my position re Crikey.

    Just what evidence does Kingsbury offer? None, absolutely none. Four fifths of five eighths of SFA to be precise. So what am I meant to think? Either that the evidence on the net is a Russian counter intelligence masterstroke or that Kingsbury is a sock puppet for the Western forces behind this bloodshed. From what I have seen over a lifetime of 66 years I can only come to the conclusion that once again the US is playing its normal divide and conquer games and that Kingsbury is indeed the sock puppet as stated. And how in heaven’s name can he justify the armed aggression by Kiev against its own citizenry when such actions are explictly banned by conventions signed by all the players in this drama, except of course the non elected rulers of Ukraine but maybe that’s his escape clause.

    In fact, given the sheer amount of video footage flooding the net showing the right wing thugs of Kiev creating murder and mayhem at 1000 euros a week thanks to the US and EU, it’s a wonder that Kingsbury doesn’t mention this or has he succumbed to the myth that all this evidence is manufactured by the Russians? If that is the case then how does he explain the report from the CIA aligned New York Times that demonstrates that the Russian speaking majority in Eastern Ukraine want a plebiscite that they hope will give them greater autonomy within Ukraine. Hardly ‘pro Russian’ one would think. However, given the blood thirsty response of Kiev to Eastern and Southern Ukraine as the latest outrage in Odessa demonstrates, many of those previously for remaining in Ukraine are now turning solidly to Russia for support.

    Some ex military intelligence types in the US wonder when Russia will arm these people with portable anti tank and anti aircraft weapons and then watch the fun begin. The Ukraine army is wobbly to say the least with desperately divided loyalties so much so that Kiev is now training and arming the right wing thugs who were instrumental in the overthrow of legally elected government in the hope that they will show enough bottle to fight the ex-servicemen now manning the barricades of Western Ukraine. My bet is that within a year Ukraine will end at the Dnieper with the Southern provinces of Odessa, Crimea and Mykolaivska being partially or wholly subsumed into a new sphere of influence that will not include either the US, NATO or the EU. What remains of Ukraine will be financially crippled with little Russian gas and an overwhelming IMF debt.

    In addition the emergence of the BRICS nations will in all probability mean the end of the petro dollar and the hastening of the bankruptcy of the USA and with that 90% of the wars, insurrections and outrages on this planet will in all probability cease.

  4. Iskandar

    Honestly Crikey, if you are going to dip into international affairs you could do much better than Kingsbury’s opinionising which seems to come from the Greg Sheridan school of blinkered commentary. The internet is full of better informed and less biased opinion, and it is not hard to find.

    One could write an essay in response to Kingsbury’s nonsense, but a couple of points will do:

    “Eastern Ukraine is spiralling out of control”. Whose control? The Kiev neo-fascist junta’s maybe, but the fact is that Eastern Ukraine has a mainly ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking population who resent having been incorporated into this hybrid polity called “Ukraina” whose western regions have been hostile to them for centuries. “Eastern Ukraine” took the initiative to declare independence from Kiev, and far from “spiralling out of control” is very much in control and setting up a home guard and defensive perimeters to resist the Kiev junta troops.

    As for the intentions of Russia, of course Russia is deeply concerned about the hostile regimes that have been set up along her western borders. This after a broken promise to Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastwards if the Soviet Union withdrew from those regions it occupied in the course of driving NAZI Germany back to its lair. Now a threat from the west has been reconstituted in the form of NATO Europe; a difference it seems of only two letters, but the same objective.

    Finally, in all his pontificating about Russia, Kingsbury makes no mention of the role the US and its English and European poodles have played in supporting the high-jacking of arguably legimate anti-government protests, and playing into the hands of virulently nationalist and Russo-phobic neo-fascists. Do you need names? Well, what about John McCain, Joe Biden, William Hague, Victoria Nuland, all of whom attended the Maidan rallies before the shooting started.

    But then,the US has been doing this sort of things for decades; infiltrating into other countries, exploiting existing ethnic and cultural faultlines in the cause of some greater geopolitical agenda. Korea, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq come immediately to mind. This is the real story that needs telling.

  5. Chris Nyland

    It’s not Russia that’s pushed Ukraine to the brink of war

    The attempt to lever Kiev into the western camp by ousting an elected leader made conflict certain. It could be a threat to us all
    Share 17656


    Seumas Milne

    Seumas Milne

    The Guardian, Thursday 1 May 2014 06.01 AEST

    Jump to comments (3232)

    Illustration by Matt Kenyon
    ‘The reality is that after two decades of Nato expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west’s attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit … ‘ Illustration: Matt Kenyon

    The threat of war in Ukraine is growing. As the unelected government in Kiev declares itself unable to control the rebellion in the country’s east, John Kerry brands Russia a rogue state. The US and the European Union step up sanctions against the Kremlin, accusing it of destabilising Ukraine. The White House is reported to be set on a new cold war policy with the aim of turning Russia into a “pariah state”.

    That might be more explicable if what is going on in eastern Ukraine now were not the mirror image of what took place in Kiev a couple of months ago. Then, it was armed protesters in Maidan Square seizing government buildings and demanding a change of government and constitution. US and European leaders championed the “masked militants” and denounced the elected government for its crackdown, just as they now back the unelected government’s use of force against rebels occupying police stations and town halls in cities such as Slavyansk and Donetsk.

    “America is with you,” Senator John McCain told demonstrators then, standing shoulder to shoulder with the leader of the far-right Svoboda party as the US ambassador haggled with the state department over who would make up the new Ukrainian government.

    When the Ukrainian president was replaced by a US-selected administration, in an entirely unconstitutional takeover, politicians such as William Hague brazenly misled parliament about the legality of what had taken place: the imposition of a pro-western government on Russia’s most neuralgic and politically divided neighbour.

    Putin bit back, taking a leaf out of the US street-protest playbook – even though, as in Kiev, the protests that spread from Crimea to eastern Ukraine evidently have mass support. But what had been a glorious cry for freedom in Kiev became infiltration and insatiable aggression in Sevastopol and Luhansk.

    After Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the bulk of the western media abandoned any hint of even-handed coverage. So Putin is now routinely compared to Hitler, while the role of the fascistic right on the streets and in the new Ukrainian regime has been airbrushed out of most reporting as Putinist propaganda.

    So you don’t hear much about the Ukrainian government’s veneration of wartime Nazi collaborators and pogromists, or the arson attacks on the homes and offices of elected communist leaders, or the integration of the extreme Right Sector into the national guard, while the anti-semitism and white supremacism of the government’s ultra-nationalists is assiduously played down, and false identifications of Russian special forces are relayed as fact.

    The reality is that, after two decades of eastward Nato expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west’s attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defence structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement. Its rejection led to the Maidan protests and the installation of an anti-Russian administration – rejected by half the country – that went on to sign the EU and International Monetary Fund agreements regardless.

    No Russian government could have acquiesced in such a threat from territory that was at the heart of both Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin’s absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive, and the red line now drawn: the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by Nato or the EU.

    But the dangers are also multiplying. Ukraine has shown itself to be barely a functioning state: the former government was unable to clear Maidan, and the western-backed regime is “helpless” against the protests in the Soviet-nostalgic industrial east. For all the talk about the paramilitary “green men” (who turn out to be overwhelmingly Ukrainian), the rebellion also has strong social and democratic demands: who would argue against a referendum on autonomy and elected governors?

    Meanwhile, the US and its European allies impose sanctions and dictate terms to Russia and its proteges in Kiev, encouraging the military crackdown on protesters after visits from Joe Biden and the CIA director, John Brennan. But by what right is the US involved at all, incorporating under its strategic umbrella a state that has never been a member of Nato, and whose last elected government came to power on a platform of explicit neutrality? It has none, of course – which is why the Ukraine crisis is seen in such a different light across most of the world. There may be few global takers for Putin’s oligarchic conservatism and nationalism, but Russia’s counterweight to US imperial expansion is welcomed, from China to Brazil.

    In fact, one outcome of the crisis is likely to be a closer alliance between China and Russia, as the US continues its anti-Chinese “pivot” to Asia. And despite growing violence, the cost in lives of Russia’s arms-length involvement in Ukraine has so far been minimal compared with any significant western intervention you care to think of for decades.

    The risk of civil war is nevertheless growing, and with it the chances of outside powers being drawn into the conflict. Barack Obama has already sent token forces to eastern Europe and is under pressure, both from Republicans and Nato hawks such as Poland, to send many more. Both US and British troops are due to take part in Nato military exercises in Ukraine this summer.

    The US and EU have already overplayed their hand in Ukraine. Neither Russia nor the western powers may want to intervene directly, and the Ukrainian prime minister’s conjuring up of a third world war presumably isn’t authorised by his Washington sponsors. But a century after 1914, the risk of unintended consequences should be obvious enough – as the threat of a return of big-power conflict grows. Pressure for a negotiated end to the crisis is essential.

  6. Tom Mullin

    Yawn, yet another ‘it is all Russia’s fault’ article as per the entire MSM and written by the US State Dept. Surprised Damien hasn’t blamed them (as some have) for the neo-nazis too or is that for a later article?

    Everyone who has followed this in any detail has so far moved beyond this propaganda and uses real sources. Sad that Crikey is in the ‘print the press release’ business too.

  7. prodigy

    Thank you CN. Your 1914 analogy reminds me of Germany’s fear of encirclement, no different to Russia today perhaps?

  8. Ian

    Why is it generally reputable news outlets like Crikey are unable or unwilling to report on geopolitical matters in anything remotely like an unbiased way? It is because of this sort of inaccurate, biased reporting by the mainstream media that we have a world divided into we the good guys and them the baddies.

    If this sort of reporting is allowed to continue the US will lead us into WWIII.

    For all those interested in what is happening in the Ukraine there are a number of programs on RT that cover it including Crosstalk and Worlds Apart. RT is obsessed with the Ukraine situation and I don’t blame them for being so.

  9. AR

    Instead of this ‘useless idiot’, why not just get Tanveer Ahmed to do his speciality “cut’n’paste” from the Langley telex?

  10. Liamj

    I only click on Kingsbury articles for the and derision i know will be in the comments.

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