My article in Warscapes, “Ukraine’s Economy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place“:
Note: Due to rapidly developing events on the ground in Ukraine, some of the information in this article may be outdated at time of publication.
Kyiv is on fire. Violence between Ukraine’s internal security and protestors has left one hundred people dead and over one thousand injured. How far Ukraine will tumble down the rabbit hole is anyone’s guess. Already there is a chorus warning of civil war, its break up, and regional separatism. Viktor Yanukovych, in the meantime, had been holding firm, but signs suggest he’s ready to reach a compromise that would end the immediate crisis. In an address to the nation, the Ukrainian president blamed “radical elements who seek bloodshed and conflict” for the violence and charged the opposition with staging a coup. “Without any mandate from the people, illegally and in breach of the constitution of Ukraine, these politicians – if I may use that term – have resorted to pogroms, arson and murder to try to seize power,” he declared. Amid all of this smoke, fire, and vitriol is Ukraine’s reeling economy. The country is on the verge of collapse and, even if Yanukovych were to step down, nobody in Ukraine seems to have any answers for what comes next.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
As we all well know, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev did the deed and recognized the independence South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A chorus of condemnation, disappointment, and warning immediately followed.
US Secretary Rice: “I want to be very clear, since the United States is a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council, this simply will be dead on arrival.”
US President Bush: “This decision is inconsistent with numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions that Russia has voted for in the past, and is also inconsistent with the French-brokered six-point ceasefire agreement which President Medvedev signed. Russia’s action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations.”
German PM Angela Merkel: “This contradicts the basic principles of territorial integrity and is therefore absolutely unacceptable.”
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: “This is a test for the entire world and a test for our collective solidarity . . . Today the fate of Europe and the free world is unfortunately being played out in my small country.”
British Foreign Minister David Miliband: “Russia must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis. There can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law.”
It’s open season on Russia as verbal pellets rain on Medvedev’s head. Dima’s response? Bring it on baby.
“Nothing frightens us,” he said in an interview on Russian television. “Including the prospect of a cold war, but we do not want this, and in this situation all depends on the position of our partners”.
Dima talked tough. He held his ground. He threw the ball back in the West’s court and said, “Do something about it.” Nothing is going to sway him. Not a slipping stock market, not investment flight, not a tarnished international image.
But talking tough was only part of the game. Medvedev seemed to be everywhere today in a press junket blitz. An interview with BBC, an editorial in the Financial Times, a talk with Al-Jazeera, with CNN, Russia Today, and France’s TFI Television. I’m wondering if he’ll make it on Oprah or the View. “Hey world! Meet Dimitry Anatolevich Medvedev the President of Russia! Here’s a memo for you. We’re going to do what we want and you can’t do a damn thing about it.” Funny, no one seems to be calling him a “liberal” now.
The crux of Medvedev’s response focuses on quite predictable points: Russia’s duty to protect its citizens, saving Ossetian victims, Western hypocrisy and their flippant disregard for Russia, and, of course, the K-word: Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo. Russians said Kosovo was a precedent and everyone dismissed it. Well, here’s what Dima says now:
Ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.
Now others are asking: Is Abkhazia and Ossetia like Kosovo or not? Well, there is no doubt in my mind that the situations will be compared, laws will be examined, victims will be counted, treaties, resolutions, and agreements will be consulted. All the diplomats and politicians will posture in the front of the cameras, using all the predictable code words and phrases. The bones of the dead will be exhumed to construct just the right historical parallel. A pillory of pundits, editorials, and “experts” will swoon at questions that make them and their views relevant. Ah, international crisis, it’s just so good for business.
But there is something missing in all of this. There is a silence or should we call it a deafness pervading all the chatter and pontificating. Do you hear it? Can you feel its vibrations amid the declarations and denials of recognition?
What is this sound? It’s the voice of the Abkhaz and Ossetian.
Well, I sure as hell can’t hear it. It seems that amid the geopolitical spit swapping and tit for tat maneuvers, few have bothered to ask the lowly Abkhaz and Ossetian how they feel about being catapulted into the club of nations. Most articles detail the reactions from the the US, Europe, Georgia and Russia.
Sure, sure the Abkhaz and Ossetians don’t have official recognition by laws they didn’t write or politicans they didn’t elect, but still there must be something said for the act of creation that “recognition” brings. After all, three weeks ago Abkhazia and South Ossetia only mattered to those who gave a rat’s ass. Now all eyes are transfixed. They’re suddenly that little corner of the real life Risk board where, in the words of Mikheil Saakashvili in FT, Moscow is unfolding a plan “prepared over years” to “rebuild its empire, seize greater control of Europe’s energy supplies and punish those who believed democracy could flourish on its borders. Europe has reason to worry.” Little South Ossetia and Abkhazia are the pen from which Russia “redraw[ing] the map of Europe.” Who knew that the utterance of “recognition” could spark such discursive fury.
Saakashvili’s editorial is interesting on another level. It is a veritable denial of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s actual existence. His words are an act of discursive erasure. This is already clear in his statement “This war was never about South Ossetia or Georgia.” He goes farther than this. “Over the past five years [Russia] cynically laid the groundwork for this pretense,” he writes, “by illegally distributing passports in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, “manufacturing” Russian citizens to protect” [Emphasis mine]. The Ossetians are essential phantasmagorias concocted in some Moscow OVIR office.
Real people? Nah . . . unless . . . Unless they are positioned as perpetrators. But even here, the Ossetians silence in favor of the Russians. Saak writes,
Since Russia’s invasion, its forces have been “cleansing” Georgian villages in both regions – including outside the conflict zone – using arson, rape and execution. Human rights groups have documented these actions.
But Mikheil, it was the Ossetian militias extracting some revenge that did these acts. Why deny them the little agency anyone is willing to afford them?
It is only through the agency of violence, retribution, and revenge that the Ossetian is now able to speak. Even from the Russian side the Ossetians are relegated to a passive position of “victims.” The Ossetian as the figure of the perpetrator or victim is his only existence. The Abkhaz too only speak the language of perpetrator. Saakashvili tells us,
Moscow also counts on historical amnesia. It hopes the west will forget ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia drove out more than three-quarters of the local population – ethnic Georgians, Greeks, Jews and others – leaving the minority Abkhaz in control. Russia also wants us to forget that South Ossetia was run not by its residents (almost half were Georgian before this month’s ethnic cleansing) but by Russian officials. When the war started, South Ossetia’s de facto prime minister, defence minister and security minister were ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.
This paragraph is quite revealing. The Abkhaz exist only as ethnic cleansers and the Ossetians, well they don’t even govern themselves. Their cause is merely a plot by “ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.”
Surely the Ossetian and Abkhaz reaction amounts to something? After all, they are fighting and dying, right?
As much as Saakashvili and others try to argue that Russia has “manufactured” the Ossetians or that this crisis is all part of Russia’s larger designs, someone must account for the fact that the Ossetians and Abkhazians are celebrating. Sure the laws, politicos, nations, and others needed for “legitimate” independence are silent, but there is something to be said the act of creation recognition brings.Post Views: 181
By Sean — 9 years ago
Josh Kucera was kind enough to email me about my post yesterday about the aid bill to Georgia. According to Josh, the bill that passed was not HR 6911 or the STAND for Georgia Act. What passed was HR 2638, the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009. HR 2638 is an interesting piece of legislation indeed. A quick glance at the bill’s Table of Contents you will find appropriations for the FDA, FBI, the Department of Labor, US embassies, Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs. But tucked away under the heading Bilateral Economic Assistance, there is this paragraph:
For an additional amount for ‘Economic Support Fund’, $465,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2010, of which up to $5,000,000 may be made available for administrative expenses of the United States Agency for International Development, in addition to amounts otherwise made available for such purposes: Provided, That of the funds appropriated under this heading, $365,000,000 shall be made available for assistance for Georgia and the region for humanitarian and economic relief, reconstruction, energy-related programs and democracy activities, and may be transferred to, and merged with, funds appropriated under the headings ‘Assistance for the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union’ and ‘International Disaster Assistance’, of which up to $8,000,000 may be transferred to, and merged with, funds made available for ‘International Broadcasting Operations’ for broadcasting activities to Georgia, Russia and the region.
up to$8,000,000 may be transferred
As Kucera originally reported, the bill passed the House (268 to 150), the Senate (89 to 4), and signed by President Bush. Now the majority of congressmen can pat themselves on the back for paying off Saakashvili, er protecting democracy, for his little war.
So I was wrong on another point. The US Congress is perverse enough to give the Georgians $365 million as the American economy tanks. Nice. Real nice.
My sincerest apologies to Josh for the misunderstanding. I thank him for clearing it up.Post Views: 106
By Sean — 4 years ago
By William Risch
Last night, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, told his nation that they were at war. The Ukrainian government, after attempting peace talks for several days, was ending its unilateral ceasefire with pro-Russian forces in the Donbass region, which it has been fighting for over two months. “They have publicly declared their unwillingness to support the peace plan as a whole and particularly the ceasefire,” he said. “Militants violated the truce for more than a hundred times.” Thus Ukrainian forces, including the army, National Guard, Ministry of Interior forces, and paramilitary battalions have officially renewed the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO).
This time, the ATO promises to be an all-out war. Since the ceasefire took effect June 20, both Ukrainian and rebel forces have reinforced their positions. More tanks, rockets, personnel, and supplies from across the Russian border have reached pro-Russian forces. The Ukrainian online news source Inforesist reported June 30 that separatist Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Strelkov), after complaining for weeks about a lack of support from Russia, had assembled a force capable of seizing Izium, the headquarters of Ukraine’s ATO: 5,000 armed men in Sloviansk and dozens of armored equipment, tanks, and multiple rocket launchers. Fresh reinforcements have arrived in nearby Krasnyi Liman and Kramatorsk. Inforesist stressed that Strelkov not only could take Izium, but also advance toward major industrial city of Kharkiv, due to the Ministry of Internal Affairs forces lacking heavy armament.
Facing forces like Strelkov’s, Ukraine’s ATO will cost many lives. It will make worse a refugee crisis that has already led to at least 27,200 internally displaced persons from eastern Ukraine as of June 27, according to a recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report. The hundreds of military and civilians killed could reach the thousands if air strikes and artillery assaults become even deadlier.
Despite the nightmarish scenario, all-out war looks inevitable. There is not even one hint that the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) or the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) even took President Poroshenko’s ceasefire seriously. During it, their forces killed a total of 27 Ukrainian security forces personnel and wounded 69. DNR and LNR leaders have suggested plans for creating a larger entity, New Russia (Novorossiia), which would incorporate other regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. On June 26, one of their key supporters – Oleh Tsarev, one of their representatives in peace talks with the Ukrainian government – announced competitions for designing national symbols for Novorossiia and a history textbook for the start of the new school year.
In the face of war, neither the United States nor the European Union can afford to let Ukraine lose the Donbass. The Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which led to Ukraine giving up its stockpiles of Soviet nuclear weapons, guaranteed that the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America would refrain from using force “against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” Over the past few weeks, Russia’s lending separatists advanced weaponry and armed volunteers from across the border has seriously threatened Ukraine’s territorial integrity. What looked like a local conflict lacking popular support at the beginning of June has turned into a full-scale invasion at the beginning of July. This invasion and Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea have made a total mockery of the Budapest Memorandum.
Supporting Ukraine’s war for the Donbass does not mean sacrificing the blood and treasure of U.S. or E.U. member forces. Western countries could send military advisors to train a more effective army (one badly undermined by corruption over the past quarter century). They could send ammunition. They could help finance the construction of a more secure border between Russia and Ukraine. Most importantly, they could support more vigorous economic sanctions against Russia. The West either must do what it can to support Ukraine’s military effort, or it may have to admit that international borders need to be redrawn and that international guarantees like the Budapest Memorandum are mere scraps of paper.
William Risch is a contributing journalist at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Associate Professor of History at Georgia College. He is author of The Ukrainian West: Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Harvard University Press, 2011).Post Views: 214