Dr. Robert Moynihan on Ukraine

Dr. Robert Moynihan, of Inside the Vatican, sends out periodic email letters to which I subscribe. He sent out (so far) two letters on the situation in Ukraine. Since neither is posted yet on his web site, I am posting part of the most recent one here. (Copyright is not an issue, I believe, as he has no copyright notice on the emails.) This is the essential part of what he has to say after the events of President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster.

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Letter #5, 2014: Ukraine, continued

By Dr. Robert Moynihan

Sunday has come and gone. The Olympic Games have ended. Now the eyes of the world are turned toward Kiev — but also toward Washington and Moscow — hoping that a just peace can follow the turmoil and deaths of last week, but fearing that Ukraine may fall — or be pushed — into a civil conflict bringing tragic new suffering and wider war.

The first priority: to mourn and bury the recent dead — policemen (dozens were reportedly shot and killed, seemingly making clear that the protesters were not unarmed) and protesters alike.

But then, a peaceful way forward must be found, in extremely difficult circumstances. Ukraine’s military and Russian President Vladimir Putin haven’t made a move yet. However, the rhetoric coming from all sides, both within Ukraine and from Russia and from the United States, in this context, is cause for deep concern.

Here are three brief examples: from eastern Ukraine, from Moscow, and from Washington.

Within Ukraine, many in the eastern, Russian-speaking part of the country are opposed to breaking with Russia and moving toward the European Union (EU).

One video, widely circulated on the internet, depicts a political rally yesterday (February 22) in Kerch, in the eastern part of the Crimean peninsula (the most southerly and easterly part of Ukraine, formerly part of Russia, and where Russia has leased a Black Sea naval base). The rally degenerates into a brawl. A woman speaking in favor of the Kiev protests is hit by an egg, then her podium is overturned. Her assistants handling her microphone and loudspeaker are then punched, thrown to the ground and kicked. It is only one scene, and in other parts of eastern Ukraine there has been support for the developments in Kiev, but this video suggests the intensity of the opposition to the Kiev protests in eastern Ukraine. At the very end of the video, a US flag is set on fire. (Link: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ad2_1393083985)

Likewise, some leaders in mainly Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine loyal to deposed President Viktor Yanukovych have challenged the legitimacy of the new national parliament and said they were taking control of their territories. Mikhaylo Dobkin, Governor of Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine, told regional leaders meeting in the city: “We’re not preparing to break up the country. We want to preserve it.” (Link: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101437265) But the very language suggests that people realize that their actions appear to pave the way for the break-up of Ukraine.

In Russia, the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, yesterday (February 22) expressed his “most serious concern” regarding what he termed the “failure” of the new opposition government “to fulfill a single one of its obligations.” He made his remarks in a phone conversation with European diplomats in Berlin, Warsaw and Paris. The new government “is presenting new demands all the time, following the lead of armed extremists and pogromists whose actions pose a direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and constitutional order,” Lavrov said. A statement posted on the Russian government’s web site added: “It’s time to stop misleading the international public opinion and pretending that the Maidan represents the interests of the Ukrainian nation” (the Maidan refers to the central Kiev square that became the cradle of the protest movement).

In America, the US state department today posted a note on Secretary of State John Kerry’s telephone call this morning with Lavrov. Kerry “underscored the United States’ expectation that Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic freedom of choice will be respected by all states.” (Link: http://blogs.state.gov/stories/2014/02/23/secretary-kerry-speaks-russian-foreign-minister-lavrov-about-situation-ukraine)

And also today, US National Security Advisor, Susan E. Rice, warned in no uncertain terms that putting Russian troops on Ukrainian soil — though the eastern, richer half of the country is predominantly Russian-speaking and might look toward Russia for help — would not be acceptable.

Rice said that Russian troop intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake.”

But for her to make that statement shows that it is an option that diplomats do not exclude. And this makes clear how explosive this situation has become.

“This is not about the US and Russia,” Rice went on to say, during an interview on “Meet the Press,” a program of the American television network NBC. “This is about whether the people of Ukraine have the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations and be democratic and be part of Europe, which they choose to be.”
(Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/susan-rice-says-russia-should-not-involve-troops-in-ukraine/2014/02/23/374dc380-9cab-11e3-9080-5d1d87a6d793_story.html)

But this is precisely what is not clear. Do all Ukrainians really wish to be “part of Europe”?

Even the Washington Post, in reporting Rice’s remarks today, notes the deep divisions among the Ukrainians: “Ukraine has been bitterly divided [emphasis mine] since last year when [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych allied his government with Russia instead of the European Union in a trade and political partnership. The Kremlin sweetened the deal with $15 billion in loans and discounts on natural gas.”

And the Post itself says in its piece today that “recent developments in Ukraine, including a peace agreement signed Friday, reflect the interests of the United States and Europe.”

Rice today spoke as if she and the US government are going to decide the outcome in Ukraine: “We are going to have a unity government,” she said. “We are going to have near-term elections. We are going to have constitutional reform.”

So the US’s stance seems to be that Ukrainians must accept a government run by protesters, funded in part by the US, who have overthrown a democratically elected government (the Yanukovych election was certified by the European Union as free, open and fair).

The role of the US

That the protesters were funded in part from the US was acknowledged in a talk in December by Victoria Nuland, the American Assistant Secretary of State.

On December 13, in a nine-minute speech at the National Press Club sponsored by the US-Ukraine Foundation, Chevron, and Ukraine-in-Washington Lobby Group, Nuland said Washington has spent $5 billion since 1991 to support initiatives aimed at bringing Ukraine into the European Union.

Here is a link to that speech; her mention of the $5 billion comes at around the 7:45-minute mark of the talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSXBoqVOjFc.

That the US government was also deeply involved in the planning for the post-Yanukovych regime was also made clear by the leak February 4 of a telephone conversation between Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt. The two discuss who will be “in” and “out” of the new government, and speak about the main opposition leaders as if they are chess pieces to be moved around a political chessboard.

The conversation, at the 3-minute mark, also has a damaging swear word used by Nuland in reference to the inaction of the European Union in Ukraine, and this remark was widely publicized in Russia.

This is important: many Russians believe the Ukraine revolution was in large measure organized and funded by the Americans, and it is leaks like this which have fueled that conviction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QxZ8t3V_bk

The authenticity of this conversation (which some questioned when it was first released) has not been contested by the US State Department, and Nuland is even said to have apologized for her remark to her European Union counterparts. Therefore, it seems clear that the recording, evidently made by “hacking” an unsecured telephone line, is authentic. (Commentators have said they think Russian intelligence is behind the recording and leak of the call, seeking to drive a wedge between the US and the EU. Other commentators have said that it was an egregious oversight of the two American diplomats to speak in this way on an unsecured line.) Here is a link to a State Department briefing the day after the release of this call: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ndaiD-IcnE. And here is a link to a Radio Free Europe report on the entire matter: http://www.rferl.org/content/nuland-russia-eu-ukraine-reaction/25256828.html)

So, this is what has happened thus far:

1. The West, led by the US, has supported, trained, and perhaps armed, protesters who, against early expectations, have succeeded in overthrowing an elected government.

2. Kiev has now announced that the new government has absolute power and “anti-revolutionary districts” must submit to Kiev.

3. Kiev, and the Americans, have announced that “no break-up” of Ukraine is possible.

4. Public statements have been made that Russia must not put troops onto Ukrainian soil at the risk of a US response. This is a warning against any Russian military support for East and South Ukrainians who oppose closer relations with Europe. (This is where we are today.)

5. The West is announcing huge financial bailouts of Kiev, and then may very well announce a request from Kiev’s new government for a mutual defense treaty [NATO] protection against Russia. NATO will absorb Ukraine.

But Russia has announced, after a top national security meeting, that it will go to war over Crimea. “If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” an unnamed official attending the meeting told the Financial Times two days ago. “They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia [where there was a brief Russia-Georgia war in 2008],” the official said. (Link: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ukraine-crisis-russia-ready-go-war-over-crimea-1437398)