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 Post subject: Ukraine (and Russia)
PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 6:43 pm 
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I am sure many of you have followed the events in the Ukraine during the last weeks and especially during the second week of the Sotchi Olympics.

Immediatly after the departure of president Yanoukovitch, the question what would become of the Ukraine, if it would be parted in two and how Russia would react.

Now, the Russian parliament has allowed military action in the eastern part of the Ukraine, Crimea.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/ ... E820140301

And apparently, they take action quickly.

What are your thoughts about the present and the future of Ukraine and Russia? The role of the EU? The risk of another war in Europe?

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Last edited by Nin on Sun Mar 02, 2014 9:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 6:52 pm 
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Thanks for starting this thread, Nin. I have been watching the events from afar with increasing concern.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 9:15 pm 
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My take? The US has too many problems domestically to worry about it, and even if everything was just peachy here it isn't our fight.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 9:26 pm 
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Just as a bit of clarification, now that Ukraine is not a part of the Soviet Union, it is no longer referred to as "the Ukraine." Just "Ukraine."

The US and the EU (and other nations with some global influence) need to do as much as possible, short of a military confrontation with Russia (which cannot happen) to advance punitive measures against Russia. We cannot allow Russia to behave in this way in Europe without it at least being hit with economic and political damage.

Cenedril's advice sounds like it comes from a world that never included Nazi Germany or The Soviet Union. Doing absolutely nothing is absolutely unacceptable, IMO, though I understand the head in the sand impulse.

Though in the end, all feasible actions are not likely to work. Russia can do it, they will not be stopped militarily (because a nuclear exchange cannot be tolerated), and Crimea and possibly a large chunk of eastern Ukraine will be dominated by a Russian troop presence.

It's a replay of Georgia, basically. In the end, Russia is willing to take a political hit abroad, and an economic hit at home, to defend core Russian strategic interests.

IMO, the Russian government is undoubtedly one of the least admirable governments on the planet.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 10:54 pm 
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My sympathies are with the pro-Western, pro-EU protestors and provisional government, but I can still understand the problem with Crimea. Crimea was historically never part of Ukraine, and its population is mostly Russian. I can understand why they would feel the need to hit back following the government of Ukraine being overthrown as a result of violent protests.

I wouldn’t want to take a guess yet if Russia will intervene, and if so, what the best response should be. The example of Georgia in 2008 shows that Putin will not hesitate to invade if he feels the circumstances demand it. Last I heard there were 150,000 Russian troops on alert on the border.

(As a side note, I've learned a huge amount about Ukrainian geography, history and demography from following this whole episode).


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 11:16 pm 
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I'm not sure I like the implication you're making Passdagas the Brown. But given the way the US is behaving since 2002, I fell like someone saying "Um, Hitler, you might not want to invade Poland."

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 11:41 pm 
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The older I get, the test for me on foreign involvement is a simple one: would I have gone and fought this war - or (if older) would I want my son or daughter to go fight this war - and now with a 12 year old grandson - I ask if I would want him to go and fight this war. My father joined the service in 1944 and spent large parts of two years in a German prison camp after being shot down over Eastern Europe. To this day he regrets not one day of his service and is happy he went to help save the word from fascism. I would hope I would have the courage to do the same thing and my kids and grandsons would do the same.

But aside from WW2 - I can think of no war in the last century that merits that personal test for me.

In 2008, I worked several months for free to elect Obama. I passed on 2012. I think it was terrific, and I am proud of my fellow Americans that they pretty much stood up and stopped the American Syrian involvement before it could get rolling last year. Maybe Phil Ochs had the right idea. Maybe people simply have to say "I'm not marching anymore". People the world over need to make that their normal position. And when a Hitler and fascism comes along, I respect the good sense of people enough to expect they will recognize it and act accordingly.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 7:03 am 
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Lord_Morningstar wrote:
My sympathies are with the pro-Western, pro-EU protestors and provisional government, but I can still understand the problem with Crimea. Crimea was historically never part of Ukraine, and its population is mostly Russian. I can understand why they would feel the need to hit back following the government of Ukraine being overthrown as a result of violent protests.

I wouldn’t want to take a guess yet if Russia will intervene, and if so, what the best response should be. The example of Georgia in 2008 shows that Putin will not hesitate to invade if he feels the circumstances demand it. Last I heard there were 150,000 Russian troops on alert on the border.

(As a side note, I've learned a huge amount about Ukrainian geography, history and demography from following this whole episode).

The Russian parliament has approved military action.

The situation is a mess. Ukrainian take is that the Yanukovych regime was corrupt and abandoning the EU proceedings was the last straw. The Russian take on the matter is that the overthrow of the Ukrainian government is a coup staged by neo-Nazis and nationalists. It's very hard to get through the propaganda on both sides. As for Crimea, historically it was Russian territory but it was given to Ukraine in the 60's, back when it was still proper to call it the Ukraine. However, the Russian navy has always maintained a base there. It is their access to the Black Sea and so the Russians have reason to be nervous about a Ukrainian government with nationalistic tendencies. Thing is, there is a sizeable ethnic Russian population outside Crimea, so if Putin's invading on the pretext of protecting Russians he could just dismember the place.

What's bothering me, though, is, AFAIK, no one in Ukraine has actually threatened any Russians or Russian interests. In fact, as far as I can tell, the new Ukrainian government is in total disarray and is more of a threat to itself than to Putin. Not only does this throw a wrench in the coup idea (usually, in a coup, one government gets swapped for another; here one government has been swapped for ???) but it de-legitimizes Putin's claim that Russians are under threat and he must save his people. One could argue that he's simply being proactive, but this really looks like a power grab.

As for how the West will respond, I don't think anyone wants to get into a shooting war with a nuclear power. Freezing Russian assets might do the trick. I imagine Putin will get mighty uncomfortable if his oligarchs can't spend their money. On the other hand, Russia's been of great help in dealing with Iran and Syria. It is a mess.

I bet the Baltic states are glad they joined NATO before Russia started sending dismemberment squads into nations that have an appreciable ethnic Russian minority and an interest in allying with the West.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 7:21 am 
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It's all over the news now that the Russian Army is in control of Crimea. I can't quite figure out what is going on - some outlets are reporting that 15,000 Russian troops seized the entire region without a shot being fired, others that armed, uniformed men bearing no insignia are in control of Crimea's airports and seaports and that they may or may not be actual Russian soldiers.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 10:04 am 
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First, I changed the title. As most of you know, I am not a native speaker of English and in German as well as in French - the languages I practice most - Ukraine has an article, which is in fact rare in German.

Anyway, my chief concern is what will happen to the people of Ukraine. It is, from a strategic point of view, a far more important country than Georgia and of course, far huger. Not being American, the question of an American intervention is secondary to me.

An intervention of the EU is yet another question, and then, of course if German troops were te be involved, furthermore because of obvious historical reasons.

Beside this, River's analysis of the situaion is spot on.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 12:02 pm 
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(I didn't know it wasn't proper to refer to Ukraine as the Ukraine anymore either. I'm not sure I'll be able to delete that out of my vocabulary, but I can try.)

River, I appreciate your analysis. That helps me quite a bit. I've been following the protests and the overall situation, and I'm quite concerned.

Putin seems like a de facto dictator to me, but, perhaps, I am wrong in that.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 3:56 pm 
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The perception that the forces behind the coup are Ukranian nationalists--the same folks who sided with the Germans in WW II--is very, very strong in the mind of a friend of mine from Odessa (she lives in the States now). Not surprisingly, she views them as neo-Nazis. But she's also not a fan of Putin and the neo-Soviets. As she put it, she's looking for door number three and not finding it.

I do not feel inclined to risk American lives when there's no good option here. The sad fact of the matter is--and has been for a very long time--that the enemy of my enemy can, in fact, be my enemy too, and helping them swap places in the absence of compelling stratetgic reasons (see: WW II) is not worth it.

The closest thing we can hope for to a "door number three" solution may be one no one finds satisfiying: a government where both unhappy factions are represented, and curb each other's worse excesses. The parliamentary system is not well suited to this, alas, but it's something the US government does exceeding well. As much as I growse about gridlock, it's better than the prospect of The Other Side ever having the chance to do Everything They Want. I would hope the more sensible folk on The Other Side think the same way. Door number three is, I believe, an ugly, ad hoc hole we have to cut in the damn wall ourselves.

Simply put, while some people can be trusted with unfettered free will, as the size of a group (and its power) increases, the chance of something going horribly wrong with a decision it makes increases as well, until it reaches the level where it cannot be allowed to happen. The best we can hope for is agreeing to set up systems where our current selves hobble the potential for destruction our future selves may possess. Like the Constitution.

This pretty much dooms us to incremental and haphazard progress, but the alternative is removing the control rods and letting the chain reaction fly. If it's a chain reaction with a positive direction, it's all well and good, but nothing lasts forever, and eventually events will conspire to flip things around. When war was merely genocidal, that was dangerous enough. Once war became an extinction-level event, it became morally untenable. The sine qua non of all large-scale moral decisions has to be: is there a chance this could end up with everyone dead? And if the answer is anything other than an unqualified No, you don't do it. When it comes to self-presevation of the species, a bit of conservative outlook is called for.

There's doubtless some fancy philosophical name for this, like the Principle of the Least Worst Outcome or something. :P I'd look it up but I need to do some real writing now. ;)

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 5:18 pm 
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LM, I've been seeing conflicting reports about who's doing what in Crimea as well. I have also heard that communications in Crimea have been cut off. That would certainly thicken the fog of war.

axordil wrote:
The perception that the forces behind the coup are Ukranian nationalists--the same folks who sided with the Germans in WW II--is very, very strong in the mind of a friend of mine from Odessa (she lives in the States now). Not surprisingly, she views them as neo-Nazis. But she's also not a fan of Putin and the neo-Soviets.

My husband echoed that, so I suspect your friend's sentiments aren't limited to Ukrainians. This is one of those moments when I really wish I could read Serbian and take in the news he's getting.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 6:11 pm 
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New head of Ukraine's navy 'defects' in Crimea
Quote:
Admiral Berezovsky appeared in Sevastopol before cameras alongside Sergiy Aksyonov, the pro-Russian politician elected by Crimea's regional parliament as local prime minister.

Mr Aksyonov announced he had given orders to Ukrainian naval forces on the peninsula to disregard any orders from the "self-proclaimed" authorities in Kiev.

Sunday, he said, would go down in history as the birthday of the "navy of the autonomous republic of Crimea".

The admiral then pledged to "strictly obey the orders of the supreme commander of the autonomous republic of Crimea" and "defend the lives and freedom" of Crimea's people.


Is this a third player or is an independent but pro-Russian Crimea the goal?

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 6:18 pm 
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Nin wrote:
First, I changed the title. As most of you know, I am not a native speaker of English and in German as well as in French - the languages I practice most - Ukraine has an article, which is in fact rare in German.


It's actually fairly rare in American English, as well. Someday, one of y'all needs to explain to me why it's "THE" Bronx. I've always wondered.



Meanwhile:
"Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to send troops to Ukraine drew mass support on the streets of Moscow. Small anti-war protests were broken up with 361 arrests."

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2 ... in-Ukraine


With that kind of support at home, no wonder he feels emboldened.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 7:03 pm 
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It really helps support at home when you break up opposing demonstrations with arrests. Also when you control most of the broadcast networks, censor newspapers, and murder reporters.

This'll go just as far as Putin wants it to go. No one is any position to oppose him.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 7:08 pm 
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Frelga wrote:
It really helps support at home when you break up opposing demonstrations with arrests. Also when you control most of the broadcast networks, censor newspapers, and murder reporters.



Well, you know, good point. I had read this as there were LOTS more people rallying to support the troops in Ukraine than opposing it. But this could be smoke and mirrors, I suppose. Plus there could be a disincentive to be on the opposing side. A big disincentive.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 7:22 pm 
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1. There is absolutely no factual basis to the claims that the new Ukrainian government is led by "neo-Nazis." If history has not taught us to reject Russian propaganda of that sort...The New Ukrainian government is led by western-leaning, EU-leaning, plural democracy-leaning Ukrainians. That's the truth. Russia has a right to be concerned about Russian speakers in the east and in Crimea, but there is zero evidence thus far to support their claim that Ukrainian fascists are killing Russian speakers in the east. It's a lie designed to justify Russian involvement. That's what's happening.

2. As someone who has spent time among the Russian policy class, believe me: they laugh when international commentators give credence to their propaganda (or give it equivalence to the propaganda of their opponents). They cannot understand how anyone can be fooled by their rather bald-faced moves. They are asserting their orb of influence, and that's all. The Ukrainian "propaganda" is not propaganda at all. They are attempting to create a functioning EU-friendly democracy, and Russia is invading to prevent the success of such a venture. Russia has domestic pressures for "protecting Russians in Ukraine," but if this were a real objective, why did Russia refuse calls from the UN and EU to investigate the claims? Simple: it's a pretense. And frankly, Putin doesn't care if we see through the pretense. He will assert his power over eastern Ukraine and there's nothing concrete the world can do about it. The invasion of Georgia, over the objections of the Bush Administration, showed that quite clearly.

3. No one should question their assessment of Putin as a de facto dictator. He is. I have two former journalist colleagues in jail that can attest to this from their own personal experiences, but there's plenty of other evidence to implicate him.

4. To sauron'sfinger: I don't see a huge difference, in terms of willingness to commit massacre, between al-Assad of Syria and the fascist leaders of the 20th century. The main difference is that the former began massacring people primarily within his borders, while the latter obviously went far beyond that. But as a liberal, I believe we should have intervened early on when there was a coherent and moderate Syrian opposition to support. For such an action, in opposition to mass atrocities and in defense of liberalism, I would have offered my services.

I believe we need to extend liberalism beyond the "state sovereignty is inviolable" ethic and into the "responsibility to protect." IMO, liberalism in America has lost its nerve, and it's capacity to defend and promote itself. I prefer the robust liberalism of FDR and Reinhold Neibuhr to the risk-averse kind of the anti-war stripe. There are still atrocities and genocide happening in the world today, and we should be a standard-bearer for a solution.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 7:35 pm 
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River wrote:
LM, I've been seeing conflicting reports about who's doing what in Crimea as well. I have also heard that communications in Crimea have been cut off. That would certainly thicken the fog of war.

axordil wrote:
The perception that the forces behind the coup are Ukranian nationalists--the same folks who sided with the Germans in WW II--is very, very strong in the mind of a friend of mine from Odessa (she lives in the States now). Not surprisingly, she views them as neo-Nazis. But she's also not a fan of Putin and the neo-Soviets.

My husband echoed that, so I suspect your friend's sentiments aren't limited to Ukrainians. This is one of those moments when I really wish I could read Serbian and take in the news he's getting.


I'm sorry to say this, but the Serbian news on the subject is highly propaganda-laden and pro-Russian. Within many parts of Serbia, civil society that leans toward the west in Eastern Europe (esp. in Croatia) but also in Ukraine, etc are routinely labeled as neo-Nazi or fascist. It's as common as pie.

In such situations, the best way to get an objective sense of what's happening is to read the reports of objective professional observers, such as the International Crisis Group.

Reading the on the ground news, or news from either strongly pro-Russian or anti-Russian sources, will not enhance understanding.

And without meaning any disrespect, your husband is wrong to come to that conclusion about the new Ukrainian government. There are no neo-Nazis in the leadership. Frankly, it's a slap in the face to people (some of whom I know) that languished in jail under the pro-Russian government of Ukraine that just fell. If Russia helps topple the new government, a number of democrats in the country (a few of whom are friends) will either die or rot in jail. That I am sure of.

Russia under Putin is a threat to free people in the region. We can't ignore that.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 8:02 pm 
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PTB: It doesn't matter what the "true" identity of the coup leaders are to the ethnic/linguistic Russians in and from Ukraine. The formation of identity is long complete in their minds and facts won't overturn it.

There's no doubt that Yanukovych was both a crook *and* Putin's thug-in-chief. But to people who have been born and raised in a world view that makes Russia the victim in WWII, as opposed to the slightly less opportunistic co-conspirator who got backstabbed by Hitler before they could do it to him, a crook who protects you is better than a democratically elected government who will at best treat you as a second class citizen, and at worst bring back pogroms.

I do not see a set of circumstances that leaves Ukraine intact. The south and east are going to be Russian (whether in name matters less than de facto conditions), but if Putin has any brains at all he'll leave it at that, as they did when they called Georgia's bluff in 2008 and went into Ossetia--roughly south and east of the Dnieper/Psel.

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