Friday, 11 April 2014

Cupcakes, Fruitcakes and Fascism. How to Get a Career by Writing Complete Bollocks.

Tom Whyman asks questions. He interrogates life, nay the lebenswelt. He is an academic at Essex University and he might even get paid to write of the connection between cupcakes and a process of 'infantilisation' that drives the consumer towards fascism.

He is profound. He sets out his case brilliantly with precision. But he raises questions,
'The cupcake is barely a cake. When we think about what "the cake-​like" ideally should be, it is something spongy, moist, characterised by excess, collapsing under its own weight of gooey jam, meringue, and cream. It is something sickly and wet that makes your fingers sticky. The cupcake is none of these things; that is, it possesses none of the ideal essence of cakiness. The cupcake is neat, precise, and uniform'.
Does that apply to a muffin ? A scone ? Maybe a tea cake is also sinister, invoking images of 'a past that never was, Miss Marple, Tea at the Vicarage and other insidious forces and cultural process and manufactured tropes geared towards subtle mechanisms of indoctrination and mind control.

Hence,
'The cupcake is largely aimed at the sort of flat-​stomached people who think consuming sweet things is "a bit naughty" and who won't even permit themselves to go overboard on their binges. The cupcake is vintagey and twee. It invokes a sense of wholesomeness and nostalgia, albeit for a past never experienced, a more perfect past, just as vintage-​style clothing harks back to an idealised image of the 1920s through 60s that never existed. The cupcake appears as a cultural trope alongside the drinking of tea and gin and the lisped strumming of ukuleles.The constellation of cultural tropes that most paradigmatically manifest in the form of the cupcake are associated in particular with infantilisation. Of course, looking back to a perfect past that never existed is nothing if not the pained howl of a child who never wanted to be forced to grow up, and the cupcake and its associates market themselves by catering to these never-​never-​land adults' tastes.

These products, which treat their audience as children, and more specifically the children of the middle classes – perfect special snowflakes full of wide-​eyed wonder and possibility – succeed as expressions of a desire on behalf of consumers to always and forever be children'.
Indeed, that Santa Claus has fascist potentiality is certainly a contemporary issue that needs to be explored in depth. Moreover, 
'...you could get a huge mass of people to participate in a reactionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cupcakey imagery, and persuaded everyone that the brutality of your ideology was in fact a form of niceness. If a fascist reich was to be established anywhere today, I believe it would necessarily have to exchange iron eagles for fluffy kittens, swap jackboots for Converse, and the epic drama of Wagnerian horns for mumbled ditties on ukuleles'.
Yes. and swap tanks and dive bombers, conscript armies and concentration camps with barbed wire for cupcakes, shopping malls and detention centres which serve cupcakes, a sort of sinister Portmeirion-let them eat cupcake. Not real fruitcakes with their overtones of real work and substance.
'Fascism is, properly understood, a certain sort of response to a crisis. It is the reactionary response, as opposed to the radical one. The radical response is to embrace the new possibilities thrown up by the crisis; the reactionary one is to shut these possibilities down'.
Now I know what fascism really means-the closure of possibility. The fact that did not seem evident to rampaging psychopaths liberated from 'bourgeois values' and things like 'ethics' in Eastern Europe is a curious. Also the fact that communism was a radical response to a crisis ( hence good ).

Grab those texts in 'history books' and throw them in the bin with the cupcakes. Because they often contain reactionary tropes about how fascism was radical and revolutionary in its way and could only have originated out of the crisis after World War One.

Sinister. Reactionary. Badthink. Indeed,
 'If we see the paradigmatic mechanisms of social oppression operative today in the form of a cupcake, then the clue to the overthrowing of these mechanisms exists also in cake, albeit of an entirely different kind. It is precisely in the truly cake-​like, the spongy and the moist and the excessive and the unhealthy'
The revolutionary way out of the crisis is fruitcake and to be as one with it and its process of becoming.

Can I get a philosophy PhD now ?

Tom Whyman is working on one right now. He has a cosy position from which to warble on about cupcakes. I could sit on my buns and right about how various forms of food are connected to politics in some largely made up way. Here's my idea.

The baked  potato is a symbol of austerity and back to the soil. It stands in relation to the consumer of the King Edward potato as a symbol of warmth, of hearth and home after 'honest toil', it's metallic full tin jacket reassuring it it's quasi-militarist, quasi-imperialist connotations of 'protection'. 

To be 'half baked' is to imply not being a full or 'real potato' , that is a person in the full sense just as 'fruitcake' occupies part of our discourse in relation to madness is the same but opposite manner as the cupcake is indicative of prim 'nomality'

Great stuff isn't it?

Meanwhile, larger numbers of British people are so poor they have resorted to using foodbanks.Austerity means they don't have enough to eat-even, presumably, cupcakes with their 'middle class' connotations or the 'bourgeois values' they transmit by stealth.

But, alas, I'm not as qualified as Whyman. I might even be resistant to the idea cupcakes have anything remotely to do with fascism even though I can resist cupcakes and cream buns and muffins because not that keen on any of them.

My reaction is most likely a sad symptom of the mechanisms of infantalisation I have been subjected to as a child in helping my mother make cupcakes, even though I have not eaten one for over 30 years. I was conditioned to incorrect thinking at an early stage.

Monday, 7 April 2014

France's Creeping Mission in the Central African Republic.

'Raising awareness of a tiny African country today as she trudges around Whitehall is Oxfam's humanitarian policy adviser, Emma Fanning, who has recently returned from the Central African Republic. The UK has a vital role to play in the face of massive human suffering, she says' ( Twenty years after the genocide, we have learnt nothing from Rwanda. Linda Melver, The Guardian, Friday 4 April 2014 )
'Humanitarian intervention' again. EU troops have already been sent to CAR, mostly France the ex-colonial power until 1960, in order to try to stabilise the country and thus procure control over its copious resources of gold, oil uranium ( important for France's nuclear power plants ) and diamonds.

The idea that European powers such as Britain have a missionary role to play in Africa, one which has a moral duty to bring peace and prosperity to benighted lands and, of course, benefit itself economically, has been advocated consistently by liberal internationalists once more since the end of the 1990s.

In the first decade of the 21st century, both Britain and France saw the emergence of the 'military-humanitarian complex', wherby groups such as Oxfam and Save the Children have been coopted by government and politicians to advance European power interests and alleviate humanitarian distress.

The question that has remained unresolved in other mineral rich lands such as Afghanistan, where western troops mission to defeat the Taliban and ensure the construction of the geopolitically vital TAPI pipeline, is whether decisive political intervention to remove a bad regime has made things better or worse.

France's foreign policy has continued to use the humanitarian imperative as a way of giving a means to legitimise its pursuit of access to resources. Sarkozy and Hollande were particularly keen on a military strike on Syria to remove Assad so as to advance its oil and gas interests in Qatar and weapons sales.

With regards CAR, the African Union already has peacekeepers on the ground. The reason France was so keen to muscle in December 2013, as it had repeatedly attempted to meddle in CAR and get a regime that would be more useful in securing its resource interests.

This is in continuity with attempts as recent as 2006-2007 to use Dassault Mirage jets to bombard insurgent positions opposed to President Bozize who won the elections in 2005 ( after staging a coup in 2003 ) but has always ruled in order to benefit only his own cronies.

Britain is unlikely to want to get involved in CAR unless it were to have greater mining interests. The main interest France has is in continuing to preserve its uranium mining concessions and in diamonds, one reason it bankrolled the regime of Emperor Bokassa I in the 1970s.

In 1979 French paratroopers removed Bokassa in Operation Barracuda when his regime started slaughtering students and schoolchildren in the poorer areas of Bangui. The difference this time is that the Seleka rebels are not the only insurgents and, as in Syria, many are vying with one another over resources.

Civil war and ethnic cleansing, chaos and near genocide are hardly conditions under which Britain would contribute troops while France has made it clear that it's troops are not there to save Bozize's regime so much as protect its biggest uranium mining investment at Bakouma from anti-Bozize insurgents.

Compare and contrast what Hollande was saying as regards the CAR with France's outrage at Assad's inhumanity in Syria and the duty to intervene, one paralleled in Britain by William Hague following Assad's alleged CW attack in Ghouta, and it's clear humanitarianism is not much of a consideration,
“If we are present, it is not to protect a regime, it is to protect our nationals and our interests, and in no way to intervene in the internal affairs of a country...Those days are gone.”
The problem now is that with Bozize having been deposed, the conflict in CAR over who grabs what is set to intensify as the country descends into sectarian warfare between Christian militias and Islamists. As with Afghanistan, there is already talk of 'mission creep' and being sucked into a deepening war.

Rwanda, Tony Blair and the Missionary Position on Africa.

'For the last five years, my foundation – the Africa Governance Initiative – which provides countries with the capacity to deliver practical change, has been operating in Rwanda. Though there have been criticisms of the government over several issues, not least in respect of the fighting in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the progress has been extraordinary'. ( 20 years after the genocide, Rwanda is a beacon of hope, Guardian, Sunday 6 2014 )
So pines Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of Britain and now a man on a mission to save Syria through advocating intervention there as well as using the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide of 800,000 Tutsis to renew his duty to help developing lands overcome their demons.

The true aim of foreign aid being is to use aid to tie the African governments closer to Britain and so allow UK based companies such as Pella Resources Ltd to extract casselite ( tin ) and tungsten from the Musha and Ntunga mining concessions in Rwamagana District in the east of Rwanda.

UK Development secretary Justine Greening also showed renewed concern for Rwanda in 2013 and putting its development on the right track. That followed on from controversy in 2012 that Kagame's regime was stoking up the war in neighbouring Congo by backing the M23 militia group.

Clearly, between 2012 and 2013 British policy took a decisive swing towards favouring the current President Paul Kagame. Apart from the careers in the beneficent humanitarian development and 'soft power' sector of the British economy, clearly there is a certain interest Britain has in Rwanda.

As for Tony Blair's interest in Rwanda, it gives him a chance to outline what might have been done in Africa back in the 1990s in promoting development and 'good governance' had there been enough 'goodwill'. Hence Blair's 'Africa Governance Initiative'.

The problem is that his close friendship with Kagame was criticised after the Rwandan president was accused of war crimes and authoritarianism in a UN Report, by Human Rights Watch and even the White House. It is said Blair defends Kagame because he believes he can persuade him to reform Rwanda.

But though Rwanda itself is not one of the largest exporter of minerals, neighbouring Congo is-via Rwanda and the process of resource smuggling.Indeed, the M23 rebels are paid for via the revenue accrued from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled in from Congolese mines.

Much of the backing given to Kagame from the US and emissaries such as Blair is connected to controlling the resources of war torn Congo in a New Great Game against its main rival in China which seeks to dominate supplies of precious rare earths used in flat-screen televisions, smart phones and laptop batteries.

The idea that cynical realpolitik can co-exist with humanitarian principles on the basis that western involvement for political reason has higher motives in mind and, in any case, the west is better-it gives aid promotes good governance-is both self serving and can only make Africa's condition worse.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Bleak Future of Conflict for Egypt.

'General Abdul Fattah al Sisi, who last week announced his candidacy for president and will almost certainly get the job. And I can't help comparing the behaviour of the institutions around Mubarak with the current behaviour of the state institutions'. ( Khaled al-Berry ,Why Egypt is in a spiral of despair The Guardian 2 April 2014 )
One reason for the militancy of the Muslim Brotherhood is the fact that it is seen to represent poorer sections of Egyptian society. It appeals especially those migrated into Egypt's burgeoning and overpopulated cities, especially Cairo, from rural areas for work and a university education to improve their life chances.

Unfortunately, Egypt's economy has struggled to keep pace with the population growth. The 'Arab Spring' was as much a revolt of the hungry due to the high price of bread as there is not enough land within Egypt to grow enough wheat and the global crop was affected by the 2010 fires in Russia.

Moreover, oil revenue has declined as peak production rates were reached in 1996 and have been declining since. That has led to a balance of payments crisis and the IMF demand to cut subsidies on fuel and bread, measures that the MB's President Morsi agreed to and that failed to stem popular anger.

The return of a Mubarak era strongman in the form of Sisi was always highly probable given the combination of economic collapse, political instability and the consequent fear that the MB's attempt to 'Islamise' Egypt would drive up militancy and drive off tourists and hence a much needed source of income.

The problem is that the reimposition of an effective secular military leader, after the way the MB was crushed and its leaders jailed or purged from administrative positions, is that it has led to militants seeing Sisi as Sisi's supporters also see Islamists; as tools of US imperialism.

Sisi's military regime continues to be supported by the USA as part of its geopolitical strategy of protecting Israel as well as the Suez Canal and the oil and gas pipelines running through Egypt. Militants from the poorer underclass and bedouins have sought to threaten the security of North Sinai.

Since August 2013 an effective civil war has been raging on the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian military's ruthless counter-terrorist measures against the Bedouins having the opposite effect of pushing even more from these poorer regions of Egypt towards belonging to Islamist guerilla groups.

One reason the British government is considering a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain is the fear of 'blowback' from those angry at the way the west allowed Sisi to crush what was considered by many in Egypt a democratically elected government in order to preserve its interests such as the BG group's stake in Egyptian gas production.

Egypt's economic crisis is not going to abate unless it attains political stability but if that comes at the cost of an election in which the Muslim Brotherhood is banned, it is hard to see how deep divisions and the threat to Egypt's tourist revenue from jihadist attacks can be prevented.

Moreover, pipelines pumping oil and gas within and through Egypt have been targeted as they have in Algeria and Libya in the past. The pipeline to Israel was attacked in 2012. Fears of an attack on the Suez Canal's container traffic of oil and gas persists. The prospect for peace in Egypt looks extremely bleak.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Transnistria as the 'Next Flashpoint' of Crisis.

Last week Nato's commander in Europe named Transnistria the next flashpoint between Putin and the west. It is home to 2,000 Russian troops and an arms dump that could, if called for, resupply an entire army of Russian troops, should it make the journey across neighbouring Ukraine. That's what the generals are worried about.

the enclave has been named a major centre for organised crime, with tobacco- and alcohol-smuggling top of the list, and money laundering alleged. But – and here's what the geo-politicians tend to ignore – it is tangibly better-off.

Yes, there are monuments to Lenin. Yes, the supreme soviet is dominated by a political party aligned to a football club. But what's important to the women in headscarves in the estate I visited, once you get to -30C on a winter's night, is the gas price. Thanks to Vladimir  Putin, it is negligible. Pensions are higher than in Moldova. And there is employment: the army pays $300 (£180) a month and sustains a military-related economy. ( Paul Mason, If Transnistria is the next flashpoint between Putin and the west, how should Europe react? Guardian April 1 2014 )
The EU politicians and dignitaries of western political and economic institutions do not care about the ordinary citizens of the ex-Soviet lands and only about extending their markets in both goods and, through NATO expansion , the lucrative sale of state-of-the-art sophisticated weaponry.

Transnistria and its capital Tiraspol have never been part of Moldova but only the Moldovan SSR created by Stalin in 1940 as a means to 'Russify' it. the western controlled OSCE has constantly rejected calls for a referendum in the land to determine its sovereignty while advancing that in places such as Kosovo.

NATO belligerence and threats of training exercises in former Soviet states serve only to consolidate Putin's agenda about the need to gather in the Russian populations of the ex-USSR back into Mother Russia because Russians feel they have been treated as second rate in ex-Soviet states.

Worse, the EU and US have both contrived to turn a blind eye to revanchist anti-Russian nationalists who want to absorb Transnistria as part of 'Greater Moldova', an entity that would be closely aligned to Romania and politicians who laud the wartime dictator Antonescu.

Such politicians were a prominent force in Moldova the now forgotten 2008 'Twitter Revolution" when a social media flashmob sought to forcibly oust the democratically elected Vladimir Voronin. The fake choreographed "revolution" was led and financed by USAID and shady oil rich oligarchs.

As Anatoly Karlin points out the Twitter Revolution was led by unsavoury characters posing as thrustinng, dynamic, idealistic and youthful democrats. The reality was very different, just as it has been in a significant way duting the uprising in Kiev this year.
'Oleg Brega is a proud member of the.. Hyde Park organization, which is headed by Gheorghe Brega, a Romanian citizen and member of Ghimpu’s Liberal Party. The front page of its website features a diatribe against “Bolshevik tyranny” by the historian Iacob Golovca who is “President of the Civic Association for the Abolition of the Consequences of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”. Dr. Golovca is a Romanian ultra-nationalist – he refers to Moldova by its old regional name of Bessarabia and calls for its return into “Romania’s bosom”, without the “gangrenous germ” of Transnistria which is to be “amputated”. Antonescu is a “martyr and hero of all Romanians!”, Russians are the tyrannous, perennial enemies of the Romanian people and he hates Ukraine too.'
With the Crimea rejoining Russia, the fear is that the ultimate gameplan of rolling NATO forward into the Caucasus and Central Asia is being checked. The geopolitical game being played out in ex-Soviet lands has less to do with 'democracy promotion' and more with control over oil and gas supplies.

Essentially, what is happening is that western taxpayer's money is being used through various means to advance rigged 'democratic' governments or else to encourage semi-democracies and even dictatorships Central Asia to draw nearer to NATO, an organisation increasingly resembling Orwell's Oceania.

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.