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Simmering Clash of the Titans Obtaining situation in Ukraine Part – 2 by Brig.Gen (Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

Simmering Clash of the Titans

Obtaining situation in Ukraine

Part – 2

Asif Haroon Raja

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass

Obtaining Situation in Ukraine

Biden has announced a $ I billion military aid package and decided to send long range anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine. NATO has increased its forces on the eastern flank of Russia in the Baltic States, but has no plans to send troops into Ukraine. Physical clashes and battle of minds are raging and both sides are slapping sanctions. Much against the expectations of Putin of a short and swift outcome, the war is dragging on and President Zelensky is not giving up. Moscow-Kiev parleys are going on, but Zelensky has not agreed to the Russian demand of making Ukraine a neutral country. He is egging on the US and NATO to send forces and is equating the situation to Pearl Harbor.     

Third World Wooed

The USA and Russia are trying to win over as many countries of the third world to their side to swing the diplomatic balance on their side.

Russia and China stand on a higher moral ground to win the support of the countries of Asia, Middle East and Africa since they were not harmed by the two. China in particular has been helping the debt ridden and low income countries by providing easy loans for social programs, developing infrastructure and improving their economies.

Russia helped Iran in its missile/ nuclear programs and in easing sanctions, and had a key role in saving the Assad regime in Syria.

Both Russia and China are against the fascist and racist policies of the US and Israel, apartheid, the capitalist system and the monopoly of petrodollars.

On the other hand, prejudice, malice and discrimination against the non-whites have been the guiding principles of the western world. The only exception is India, or their close allies like Japan and South Korea. Putin has called the west an empire of lies.

Today the West has no reason and justification to cry foul and dub Russia as a war monger and an aggressor since Russia didn’t for once step into the backyard of USA, nor meddled into the internal affairs of other countries, or brought about regime changes through proxy wars and clandestine operations, or imposed sanctions on any country.

USA’s Policy of Sanctions

“Remember when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have given, a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.” – St. Francis of Assisi

To compel Russia to pull out its troops, the US and EU took no time to impose a series of tough sanctions on Russia, and have closed airspaces for the Russian air movement. Anything Russian has been boycotted. The US has told Europe not to buy oil and gas from Russia. Russia’s $ 300 billion have been frozen. Purpose is to isolate Russia, crash its economy and bleed it to death through sanctions. Fifth columnists in Russia have been activated by the CIA to create trouble. Consequently, Russia has become the most sanctioned country after Iran.

Bugles of Pax-Americana sounded by George Bush after 9/11 have now been blown by Joe Biden. He has made it clear to the allies to submit to the US dictates or get perished. Neutrality is not an exercisable option.         

Moscow-China’s Foreplaning

Russia is not wilting since in collusion with its strategic partner China, it had foreplaned how to deal with the hardships of sanctions.

Russia has amassed some $600 billion, yuan and gold in reserves, stored huge stacks of grain and other commodity items, and reduced its trade in dollars by 50%. Russia has replaced visa and master cards with Chinese cards.

China and Russia are trying to build an alternative monetary system in order to overcome the dilemma of sanctions imposed on Russian banks.

China’s central bank operationalized its digital yuan CBCD in 2015 to break the monopoly of petrodollars in trade of oil and gas through US controlled SWIFT. China’s System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) is equivalent to the SWIFT financial transfer system developed in 2014. SPFS is likely to be integrated with China based Cross Border InterBank Payment System (CIPS).

 

 

 

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and China have agreed to design the mechanism for an independent international monetary system. China’s forex reserves are $3222.4.

Gas supply to Germany from Gazprom has been cut off by Russia.

In case Russia and China succeed in importing and exporting oil and gas in ruble, yuan and gold, it will cause a deadly blow to the power of the dollar.

Sanctions are painful but have never been productive. They proved ineffective against Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Venezuela and wouldn’t bend Putin.

USA’s Relations with Arabs & Iran

Some cracks have appeared in the US relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE. The two princes didn’t answer the phone calls made by Biden and have declined the US desire to increase production of oil so as to lower oil prices in the international market that have touched $ 140 a barrel. They are going by the policy of OPEC in which Russia is a key member. Saudis and UAE, the two largest oil producing countries are considering trading oil in yuan. Boris Johnson air dashed to Riyadh on 16 March on a one-day visit to convince MBS to enhance the oil production but couldn’t get a commitment. UAE, which has put the F-35 jets deal on hold has been put in the grey list by the FATF.

Iran has made the renewal of the nuclear deal with the US subject to clearance from Moscow. Iran doesn’t want its oil and gas trade with Russia to get affected by the 2015 deal to which Russia is one of the signatory. Russia is among the largest oil producing countries and is the largest producer of gas.  

Contrasting Foreign Policies

Although Russia’s past is as sinful as of the west, with Stalin presiding over the massacre of 20 million people in the 1930s, however, after the USSR’s dismemberment in 1991, Russia has not embarked upon any external military adventure, nor has meddled into internal affairs of other countries, or ridiculed Islam. By and large it has pursued a peaceful foreign policy.

Likewise, China also adopted a defensive policy of peace and friendship after 1978, although it is accused of persecuting the Uighur Muslims. Xingjian is being developed at a fast rate so as to curb extremism and separatist movements.   

Russia and China increased their spheres of influence in the developing world through peaceful means. Putin adopted friendly policies towards the Muslims in Russia and made Chechnya a close ally.

Conversely, the US used its military might, financial power and diplomatic clout to enlarge its presence all around the globe. War on terror was used as a ploy to rob the resources of the Muslim world and to neo colonize it.

Tools of US Blackmails Against Nations

Sanctions, embargoes, human rights, World Bank, IMF, FATF and proxy wars are other tools of coercion. The UN, ICJ and other world institutions are the US handmaidens.

Islam was ridiculed and demonized by the Western media under a calculated agenda. Caricatures of the Holy Prophet Muhammad PBUH were repeatedly published to injure the feelings of the Muslims and to undermine Islam.

The US has the biggest stockpile of nuclear missiles and well knowing that Russia has the second largest nuclear arsenal with 4497 nukes, the US has constantly been provoking Russia by militarily encircling it and breaching it’s perimeter of security.

The US administration under the hegemony of Military Industrial Complex is anti-peace and pro-war and has established over 800 military bases all over the globe. Since WW 11, the US indulged in 19 wars causing deaths to over 21 million people. It has striven to control the sea lanes in all the oceans, and Eurasia. Domination of global supply chains by the emerging superpower China is one of the major reasons for the US antagonism against China.

The US is a Bully

The US has never directly locked horns with a big power and always chose a weak country to fight and yet never won. The two glaring examples are its humiliating defeats in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

The US has behaved like a bully. It has warned China to stay out of the conflict and not to provide a lifeline to Russia. The US has also made it clear to its allies to cut off relations with Russia.

For the first time the US is provoking the two titans, Russia in Ukraine, and China in South & East China Sea and Taiwan Strait.

Biden declared that the US will defend every inch of NATO territory with full might of a united and galvanized NATO, but will not fight war against Russia since he cannot risk a 3rd WW.

The US-Russia showdown has commenced and the US-China showdown is in the making. Both Pakistan and India will get sucked into the fight of the big elephants.    

NATO’s Prestige Smeared

Although the Ukraine crisis has given a new lease of life to the west and has helped in uniting the divided EU and NATO, and both the US and EU are taking punitive steps to pressurize Russia to step back, they have yet to prove whether they can stand up to the challenge and turn the tide.

Russia has exposed the impotence of NATO which has already tarnished its reputation in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Paranoia in India

India has got hedged between the USA, Russia and China and is finding itself caught between the devil and deep sea. On one side is Russia with which it has had a strategic relationship since the late 1940s. 60-65% of India’s defence equipment is Russian origin and Russia never blackmailed India.

On the other side is the glowering USA to which it had got married in 1990 out of expediency and has been drawing huge economic and military benefits and has been helping it to become a global power. China is closely aligned with Russia and nuclear Pakistan is breathing over its neck in the Himalayas.

Today the US is demanding that India should pay back by severing ties with Russia and also become an effective member of QUAD to counter China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. For India, joining China-specific QUAD is getting highly risky. 

Coming weeks will see whether India bends down to the dictates of the US, or makes another volte face, quits QUAD and reverts to nonalignment and extends a hand of friendship to China and Pakistan.

Reinvigoration of Cold War

The Cold War has reemerged with a big bang and the two belligerent camps are forming up. President Erdogan is eagerly awaiting the revival of the caliphate in 2023 that was terminated in 1924 by the European powers. War mongers and spoilers are pitched against peacemakers. The Ukraine crisis, if not defused, could lead to the worst global economic crisis which will have a catastrophic impact upon the unprivileged classes.  

With so many flash points, and the climate crisis due to global warming morphing into an existential threat to humanity, the world has become a powder keg and needs a matchstick in the wrong hands to ignite. Standoff in Ukraine has revived fears of a nuclear clash and possibly a third world war.

Ground Realities

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

The realities that cannot be ignored are that dwarfed Russia has bounced back on the global central stage, China is the emerging superpower and the US is a declining power, and its global hegemony is unsustainable.

Unipolarism has been replaced by multipolarism.

The Zionists and extremist Jews wishing to rule the world, after pitching Christianity against Islam have now pitched USA against Russia, and will soon pitch USA against China. Depopulation of the world is also the Zionist game.  

Democracy has waned and Far Right and Far Left have become stronger.

Arms industries of the big powers are contracting huge defence deals with the needy weaker countries, which is adding to the suffering of the deprived classes.

Wars, conflicts, civil strife, intrigues, deceit and lies have become a norm.

Piety, tolerance and forbearance have been replaced by immorality, intolerance and egotism. The world as a whole has become turbulent and insecure.   

May Allah guide the megalomaniac powers to follow the path of righteousness, tolerance and co-existence!  

Concluded

The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, and 6th book under publication, takes part in TV talk shows and delivers talks on current issues. asifharoonraja@gmail.com  

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Ukraine, Russia and the West to Rethink of Dialogue for Peace, Not War Mahboob A. Khawaja, PhD.

Ukraine, Russia and the West to Rethink of Dialogue for Peace, Not War

Mahboob A. Khawaja, PhD.

 

 

Rational Leaders Think of People, not Egoism

 

In an age of Reason, the cause of humanity calls for peace, freedom and respect for human dignity. In a hybrid geo-political culture – part human and part vulture, we are witnessing a forgotten wisdom of human courage and foresight to stand for the protection of human rights, state sovereignty and national freedom as we continue to see a catastrophic evolving war in Ukraine. The man-made emerging war against the innocent people has no place in an inexplicable antiquity and immense scale of irrational purpose for individualistic glory – all appear to be  covered in mystery and unfolding irrational policy behavior in global affairs. To ensure and safeguard the vital geo-political interests of global mankind, this unwarranted war must stop on all sides. Leaders on both sides need to acquire an enlightened understanding that in crisis management, effective leaders do not rush to hasty reactionary judgments and naïve conclusions of belligerency and warmongering.

A reflective snap shot  of a critical moment in time pulse and movement of history reveals absence of reasoned dialogue for the prevention of the on –going conflict causing massive human casualties, displacement of millions of Ukrainian civilian refugees across  Europe, destruction of essential civic infrastructures and furious competitive edge for success in an ugly war between Ukraine and Russia. The latest being an attack on the European biggest nuclear establishment in Ukraine. Its consequences could lead to catastrophic disruption and wipe out an entire population and progress of human civilization simply to satisfy the few sadistic political minds. To glance ahead of the emerging horrifying events coming out of Ukraine, We, The People of global humanity must call for immediate halt to all war machines and lingering suspicion of one-sided peace and triumph. The sudden and inexplicable plunge into insanity of war will not produce any military or psychological gains for violent assumptions plagues with hatred, bias and false claims and counter claims of military superiority, defeats and occupation.

 

 

 

Reference: Image Courtesy NY Post

 

 

 

 

There are wild and inhuman sciences of Ukrainian people’s suffering and forced displacement to neighboring Poland, Hungary, Moldova and other locations. WE, the People of the globe enjoin immense bonds of understanding for equal rights, friendship and freedom and respect for national integrity of all people and states within the world systems of political affairs. Regardless of geography and history, we are One Humanity and pain inflicted on any parts of the human body gives pain and anguish to the whole body. We, the People cannot be detached from what is happening between Russia, Ukraine NATO and Europe. We must emphasize and enhance our moral and spiritual bonds to remain contacted in solidarity of the suffering masses and refocus on peace and ending the conflict through reason and dialogue. There is no reason to opt for ruthless purging of a democratically elected leader or political governance in Ukraine or Russia or elsewhere in Europe.  We, the People of global consciousness must reject politically indoctrinated cynicism becoming an endemic to change the political governance in Ukraine by violent actions of military actions and unwanted war.  If Ukraine and Russian political elite could face each at a table and pursue the urgent need for a reasoned dialogue to cure the sickness of military triumph, it will be a welcomed evolutionary development to foresee the end of the current conflict.

America, Russia and NATO Failed to Learn from History

 

Human progress and future-making are jeopardized when lessons of history are deliberately misinterpreted and ignored by the so called intelligent people. If war is the only avenue to seek peace, we are on the wrong side of history and thinking of our future. There are fearsome and ferocious flows of blame game as often used in conflict-making and conflict -keeping situations.  NATO and America are implying extensive financial and other sanctions against Russia to halt the on-going war in Ukraine.  The action and reaction gamble will result in unthinkable economic, social and political consequences for Russia and America and the EU and others on this planet. Most rational analysts would agree that sanctions would not deter Russia from its stated aims and priorities of the current conflict. Russia appears to be as competent and viable militarily and politically as is America or the EU and NATO in their pursuit of political strategies and goals. The conflict envisages mutual suspicion and distrust in official policies and behavior across the board.  To a perceptive eye, this is the real reasoning for the emerging war in Ukraine. It reflects a treacherous mindset to imagine that any one country is powerful enough to dominate another sovereign entity.

Is NATO being managed by people who lived in the distant past and perhaps post WW2 historic culture is still alive and flourishing? Is there any glimpse of hope for change and new reasoned relationships between America, Russia and West Europeans? The future of violence and nationalistic resentment looks embedded into the distorted strategic necessities of the current affairs, be it the argument of Russia or American-led NATO and or the EU on its own. NATO is run by the wrong people, glued to wrong thinking and doing the wrong things without any rational sense of time, people’s interest and history. The waking consciousness and wisdom would demand that Russia, America and NATO and the EU  – all active actors in this perplexed game should critically analyze their strength and weaknesses, their aims for freedom and respect for state’s sovereignty, should know who they are and where they are and that global humanity is watching them if they will act wisely for peace or demonstrate abhorrent and ruthless behavior in ensuring a  peaceful resolution of the current naive  aims of disastrous  consequences for all the living mankind.

Global news media represents the pains and sufferings of Ukrainian masses forcibly evicted from their homes and towns moving to take asylum across Eastern Europe.  There could be few millions on the move without knowing any safe place or destination or hope for safety.  It is self-evident unambiguous experience of human aggressive connotation by the few against the many and all – as it happened during the 2nd World War.  Should America, Russia and the EU not learn lesson from the formative and living history?  The unreal embodiment of good intentions and piety showed by all in this war, reminds us all that we are not inhabitants of a rational and 21st century knowledge-based civilized world. Perhaps, we are living in a dangerous world of our own making – not differentiating between evil and virtue in human thoughts and behavior. It is fast becoming clear that NATO and the EU failed to grasp the reality of the current conflict and appears unable to help Ukraine for its rights to a be free member of global political systems of states.

 Russia and its leaders must realize the humane urgency to agree for an immediate ceasefire and try to resolve the issues through peaceful dialogue and certainly not by conquest of Ukraine. Any violations of mutual relationship will have volcanic consequences to dehumanize the civic Russian principles and values. When noble ideals are misinterpreted,  it could drain out all the good qualities of people and leaders. Political reasoning is a shared enterprise within the global systems of governance to which America, Russia and NATO failed to observe.  The sanctity of peace and values of human life will encompass open-mindedness and readiness to listen and learn from each other concerns and experience for peace, harmony and viable neighborly relationships.  What if President Putin, President Biden and the EU leaders would meet in person and hold dialogue for peace-making and conflict resolution?  The violent assumptions of NATO outreach to Eastern Europe and outrageous hypothesis of military confrontations will lead nowhere – certainly not to peace-making or conflict resolution. Who could gain in these mindless and extravagant ideas of power and military warfare?  Certainly None.  Rationality dictates objective reasons for the good of people, societies and nations. The sudden plunge to cataclysmic destruction of human societies and civilizations by the few is a misleading notion and aims, no matter how powerful they claim to be.

The equality of human beings and states sovereignty synthesizes an equal consideration and treatment of all involved in this warfare. The global awakening of human soul and consciousness demands an immediate ceasefire and return to face to face negation between Russia, Ukraine, NATO and the EU. If they reject, surely, a debacle could swept unthinkable catastrophic consequences and ends for all on this planet.

 Isn’t true that intelligent leaders and people always readily accept reasoned advice?

 

 

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Ukranian Whistleblower Reveals MH-17 Tragedy Was Orchestrated By Poroshenko And British Secret Service by Tyler Durden

Ukrainian Whistleblower Reveals MH-17 Tragedy Was Orchestrated By Poroshenko And British Secret Service

 

Inline image

Tyler Durden

Wed, 01/08/2020 

 

Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH-17), that was shot down on July 17, 2014 in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine, killed all passengers onboard and was immediately blamed on pro-Russia Donbass volunteer militias fighting against henchmen of the Maidan civil unrest, the Neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and the Ukrainian military. The blame was assigned against the Donbass militias with no investigation occurring and many questions remaining unanswered.

These questions were answered by Former Lieutenant Colonel Vasily Prozorov of the Ukrainian Security Services, who fled to Russia, in a damning new documentary titled “MH-17: In Search Of Truth.”
MH-17: In Search of Truth

The whistleblower in the 39-minute documentary completely delegitimizes the findings found by the Dutch investigators and world leaders by drawing on classified documents he attained through his own high-ranking position and those close to him, as well as eye witness accounts including from the Donbass volunteers.

The responsibility for investigating the tragedy was given to a Dutch-led joint investigation team with the Dutch Safety Board, who claimed that MH-17 was downed by the Donbass volunteers with a Buk surface-to-missile. Prozorov challenges this assertion and questioned why Malaysia, which owned MH-17, was pushed to the periphery of the investigation and priority was given to the Dutch side. This in itself is not damning and does not disprove that the Donbass volunteers were not responsible, but it does demonstrate that there is a clear agenda when a country with direct interest in this tragedy is cast aside.

Interestingly, the Dutch investigators completely disregarded declassified Russian Ministry of Defense information that the missile used to down MH-17 was sent to the Lviv region in Western Ukraine near the Polish border during the Soviet era, the opposite end of the country to Donbass. Prozorov was able to even reveal the serial number of the missile (8-8-6-8-7-2-0). This revelation is complemented by the fact that the Ukrainian military 156 Anti-Aircraft Regiment were operating in Donbass and had BUK vehicles in service in the region, as corroborated by two interviewees who served in the regiment, bringing into question why Dutch investigators ignored such critical information. This comes as it has now been proven, as explained in the documentary, that the alleged Russian Buk movement in Ukraine was faked, with a single still photo being used with a picture of a tractor, a trailer and a Buk vehicle being inserted into the picture.

However, the Ukrainian Security Service using the 156 Anti-Aircraft Regiment had not acted alone, and there were significant joint efforts with external states, primarily Britain, but also Australia. The documentary reveals that Ukrainian Major General Valery Kondratyuk and Lieutenant Colonel Vasily Burba, in which Prozorov knew the latter, was with two British secret service agents on June 22, 2014 in the battle zone some weeks before the MH-17 tragedy. Prozorov claims that Burba remained with the British agents in the region and plotted together with Ukrainian Security Services to bring down MH-17. As this was spearheaded by the British intelligence, there was no surprise that Englishman Elliot Higgins, a former lingerie retailer, who has not studied politics or journalism, had his obscure blogging elevated into the Bellingcat website, with monetary backing from George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, just days before the tragedy. Higgins was promoted to such an extent that he began to closely collaborate with the Atlantic Council, which Edward Curtins describes as “a think-tank with deep ties to the U.S. government, NATO, war manufacturers, and their allies, and the National Endowment for Democracy, another infamous U.S. front organization heavily involved in so-called color revolution regime change operations all around the world.” Higgins has also spearheaded disinformation campaigns on chemical weapon allegations against the Syrian government.

The MH-17 tragedy also strangely involved Australia, according to Prozorov, with Australian intelligence agent Peter Kalver, likely belonging to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation if Prozorov’s allegations are correct, having a British phone number beginning with +44 and ending with 575, despite operating in Ukraine and being Australian, in which the national phone code of his home country is +61.

With these revelations, Prozorov explains that “we collected enough information and documents that allow us to draw a firm conclusion. The Boeing crash was a provocation that had been planned and realized by the Ukrainian top leadership and the Western intelligence agencies.”

Prozorov lists the main culprits in this tragedy:

  • Petr Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine at the time;
  • Alexander Turchinov, the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine;
  • Viktor Muzhenko, the chief of the General Staff;
  • Valentin Nalivaychenko, the Chief of the Security Service of Ukraine;
  • Vasiliy Gritsak, the Chief of the Anti-Terrorist Center;
  • Valeriy Kondratiuk, the Chief of the Counterintelligence Department of the Security Service;
  • Vasiliy Burba, the Security Service officer;
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Lyshchenko, the commander of the second division of 156 anti-aircraft regiment;
  • The British intelligence agents who supervised this covert operation.

It is highly recommended that the documentary is viewed as all the information, in which all of it is relevant, cannot be confined into a single article. The insights and information provided by Prozorov thoroughly examines and concludes that MH-17 flight downing was an aggressive action taken by Ukraine with the backing of foreign intelligence agencies, particularly British, to discredit the Donbass militias.

I would argue this was also done to legitimize a Western intervention in Ukraine. Just as Bellingcat’s disinformation campaign against Syria has failed, Higgins and other peoples campaign to blame the Donbass volunteers for MH-17 tragedy is also crumbling apart.

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Ukraine: On the Edge of Empires

Ukraine: On the Edge of Empires

Geopolitical Weekly

By George Friedman

 

Selection Editor: Maj(Retd) KI Bajwa

 

 

 

 

The name “Ukraine” literally translates as “on the edge.” It is a country on the edge of other countries, sometimes part of one, sometimes part of another and more frequently divided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided between Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, it was divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary. And in the 20th century, save for a short period of independence after World War I, it became part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been on the edge of empires for centuries.

 

My father was born in Ukraine in 1912, in a town in the Carpathians now called Uzhgorod. It was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born, and by the time he was 10 the border had moved a few miles east, so his family moved a few miles west. My father claimed to speak seven languages (Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish). As a child, I was deeply impressed by his learning. It was only later that I discovered that his linguistic skills extended only to such phrases as “What do you want for that scrawny chicken?” and “Please don’t shoot.”

He could indeed make himself understood in such non-trivial matters in all these languages. Consider the reason: Uzhgorod today is on the Slovakian border, about 30 miles from Poland, 15 miles from Hungary and 50 miles from Romania. When my father was growing up, the borders moved constantly, and knowing these languages mattered. You were never sure what you’d be a citizen or subject of next or who would be aiming a rifle at you.

My father lived on the edge until the Germans came in 1941 and swept everything before them, and then until the Soviets returned in 1944 and swept everything before them. He was one of tens of millions who lived or died on the edge, and perhaps nowhere was there as much suffering from living on the edge than in Ukraine. Ukraine was caught between Stalin and Hitler, between planned famines and outright slaughter, to be relieved only by the grinding misery of post-Stalin communism. No European country suffered as much in the 20th century as Ukraine. From 1914 until 1945, Ukraine was as close to hell as one can reach in this life.

Asking to be Ruled

Ukraine was, oddly enough, shaped by Norsemen, who swept down and set up trading posts, eventually ruling over some local populations. According to early histories, the native tribes made the following invitation: “Our land is great and rich, but there is no law in it. Come to rule and reign over us.” This is debated, as Anne Reid, author of the excellent “Borderland: Journey through the History of Ukraine,” points out. But it really doesn’t matter, since they came as merchants rather than conquerors, creating a city, Kiev, at the point where the extraordinarily wide Dnieper River narrows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still, few historians doubt that some offer of this type was made. I can imagine inhabitants of what became Ukraine making such an offer in ways I can’t imagine in other places. The flat country is made for internal conflict and dissension, and the hunger for a foreigner to come and stabilize a rich land is not always far from Ukrainians’ thoughts. Out of this grew the Kievan Rus, the precursor of modern Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. There are endless arguments over whether Ukraine created Russia or vice versa. Suffice it to say, they developed together. That is more important than who did what to whom.

Consider the way they are said to have chosen their religion. Volodymyr, a pagan ruler, decided that he needed a modern religion. He considered Islam and rejected it because he wanted to drink. He considered Catholicism and rejected it because he had lots of concubines he didn’t want to give up. He finally decided on Orthodox Christianity, which struck him as both beautiful and flexible. As Reid points out, there were profound consequences: “By choosing Christianity rather than Islam, Volodymyr cast Rus’ ambitions forever in Europe rather than Asia, and by taking Christianity from Byzantium rather than Rome he bound the future Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians together in Orthodoxy, fatally dividing them from their Catholic neighbors the Poles.” I suspect that while Volodymyr liked his drink and his women, he was most concerned with finding a balance between powers and chose Byzantium to create space for Ukraine.

Ukraine, Europe and Russia

Ukraine is on the edge again today, trying to find space. It is on the edge of Russia and on the edge of Europe, its old position. What makes this position unique is that Ukraine is independent and has been so for 18 years. This is the longest period of Ukrainian independence in centuries. What is most striking about the Ukrainians is that, while they appear to value their independence, the internal debate seems to focus in part on what foreign entity they should be aligned with. People in the west want to be part of the European Union. People in the east want to be closer to the Russians. The Ukrainians want to remain independent but not simply independent.

It makes for an asymmetric relationship. Many Ukrainians want to join the European Union, which as a whole is ambivalent at best about Ukraine. On the other hand, Ukraine matters as much to the Russians as it does to Ukrainians, just as it always has. Ukraine is as important to Russian national security as Scotland is to England or Texas is to the United States. In the hands of an enemy, these places would pose an existential threat to all three countries. Therefore, rumors to the contrary, neither Scotland nor Texas is going anywhere. Nor is Ukraine, if Russia has anything to do with it. And this reality shapes the core of Ukrainian life. In a fundamental sense, geography has imposed limits on Ukrainian national sovereignty and therefore on the lives of Ukrainians.

From a purely strategic standpoint, Ukraine is Russia’s soft underbelly. Dominated by Russia, Ukraine anchors Russian power in the Carpathians. These mountains are not impossible to penetrate, but they can’t be penetrated easily. If Ukraine is under the influence or control of a Western power, Russia’s (and Belarus’) southern flank is wide open along an arc running from the Polish border east almost to Volgograd then south to the Sea of Azov, a distance of more than 1,000 miles, more than 700 of which lie along Russia proper. There are few natural barriers.

For Russia, Ukraine is a matter of fundamental national security. For a Western power, Ukraine is of value only if that power is planning to engage and defeat Russia, as the Germans tried to do in World War II. At the moment, given that no one in Europe or in the United States is thinking of engaging Russia militarily, Ukraine is not an essential asset. But from the Russian point of view it is fundamental, regardless of what anyone is thinking of at the moment. In 1932, Germany was a basket case; by 1941, it had conquered the European continent and was deep into Russia. One thing the Russians have learned in a long and painful history is to never plan based on what others are capable of doing or thinking at the moment. And given that, the future of Ukraine is never a casual matter for them.

It goes beyond this, of course. Ukraine controls Russia’s access to the Black Sea and therefore to the Mediterranean. The ports of Odessa and Sevastopol provide both military and commercial access for exports, particularly from southern Russia. It is also a critical pipeline route for sending energy to Europe, a commercial and a strategic requirement for Russia, since energy has become a primary lever for influencing and controlling other countries, including Ukraine.

This is why the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 was critical in transforming Russia’s view of the West and its relationship to Ukraine. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had a series of governments that remained aligned with Russia. In the 2004 presidential election, the seemingly pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, emerged the winner in an election that many claimed was fraudulent. Crowds took to the streets and forced Yanukovich’s resignation, and he was replaced by a pro-Western coalition.

The Russians charged that the peaceful uprising was engineered by Western intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA and MI6, which funneled money into pro-Western NGOs and political parties. Whether this was an intelligence operation or a fairly open activity, there is no question that American and European money poured into Ukraine. And whether it came from warm-hearted reformers or steely eyed CIA operatives didn’t matter in the least to Vladimir Putin. He saw it as an attempt to encircle and crush the Russian Federation.

Putin spent the next six years working to reverse the outcome, operating both openly and covertly to split the coalition and to create a pro-Russian governmentIn the 2010 elections, Yanukovich returned to power, and from the Russian point of view, the danger was averted. A lot of things went into this reversal. The United States was absorbed in Iraq and Afghanistan and couldn’t engage Russia in a battle for Ukraine. The Germans drew close to the Russians after the 2008 crisis. Russian oligarchs had close financial and political ties with Ukrainian oligarchs who influenced the election. There is a large pro-Russian faction in Ukraine that genuinely wants the country to be linked to Russia. And there was deep disappointment in the West’s unwillingness to help Ukraine substantially.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Orange Revolution

On the day we arrived in Kiev, two things were going on. First there were demonstrations under way protesting government tax policy. Second, Yanukovich was in Belgium for a summit with the European Union. Both of these things animated the pro-Western faction in Ukraine, a faction that remains fixated on the possibility that the Orange Revolution can be recreated and that Ukraine must enter the European Union. These two things are linked.

The demonstrations were linked to a shift in tax law that increased taxes on small-business owners. The main demonstration took place in a large square well-stocked with national flags and other banners. The sound systems in place were quite good. It was possible to hear the speeches clearly. When I pointed out to a pro-Western journalist that it seemed to be a well-funded and organized demonstration, I was assured that it wasn’t well-organized at all. I have not been to other Ukrainian demonstrations but have been present at various other demonstrations around the world, and most of those were what some people in Texas call a “goat rodeo.” I have never seen one of those, either, but I gather they aren’t well-organized. This demonstration did not strike me as a goat rodeo.

This actually matters. There was some excitement among politically aware pro-Westerners that this demonstration could evolve into another Orange Revolution. Some demonstrators were camping out overnight, and there were some excited rumors that police were blocking buses filled with demonstrators and preventing them from getting to the demonstration. That would mean that the demonstration would have been bigger without police interference and that the government was worried about another uprising.

It just didn’t seem that way to me. There were ample police in the side streets, but they were relaxed and not in riot gear. I was told that the police with riot gear were hidden in courtyards and elsewhere. I couldn’t prove otherwise. But the demonstration struck me as too well-organized. Passionate and near-spontaneous demonstrations are more ragged, the crowds more restless and growing, and the police more tense. To me, as an outsider, it seemed more an attempt by organization leaders and politicians to generate a sense of political tension than a spontaneous event. But there was a modicum of hope among anti-government factions that this could be the start of something big. When pressed on the probabilities, I was told by one journalist that there was a 5 percent chance it could grow into an uprising.

My perception was that it was a tempest in a teapot. My perception was not completely correct. Yanukovich announced later in the week that the new tax law might not go into effect. He said that it would depend on parliamentary action that would not come for another week but he gave every indication that he would find a way to at least postpone it if not cancel it. Clearly, he did not regard the demonstrations as trivial. Regardless of whether he would finally bend to the demonstrators’ wishes, he felt he needed to respond.

European Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the same day the demonstrations began, Yanukovich left for Brussels for talks about Ukraine entering the European Union. I had an opportunity to meet with an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before he departed for Brussels as well. The official had also been with the ministry during the previous administration. He was a member of the group that had been part of the numerous programs run by the United States and Europe for turning Eastern Europeans into proponents of the West, and he was certainly that. My meeting with the official taught me one of two things: Either Yanukovich was not purging people ideologically or he wanted to keep a foot in the pro-EU camp.

From where I sat, as an American, the European Union appeared at best tarnished and at worst tottering. I had met in Istanbul with some European financial leaders who had in past discussions dismissed my negativism on the European Union as a lack of sophistication on my part. This time they were far less assured than ever before and were talking about the possibilities of the euro failing and other extreme outcomes. They had traveled quite a road in the past few years to have arrived at this point. But what was fascinating to me was that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official was not only unshaken by the Irish situation but also saw no connection between that and the EU appetite for Ukraine becoming a member. For him, one had nothing to do with the other.

The troubles the European Union was facing did not strike pro-EU Ukrainians as changing the basic game. There was no question in their mind that they wanted Ukraine in the European Union, nor was there any question in their mind that the barriers to entry were in the failure of the Ukrainians to measure up. The idea that EU expansion had suffered a fatal blow due to the Irish or Greek crises was genuinely inconceivable to them. The European Union was not going to undergo any structural changes. Nothing that was happening in the European Union impacted its attractiveness or its openness. It was all about Ukraine measuring up.

In many countries we have visited there has been a class difference for EU membership. The political and economic elites are enthusiastic, the lower classes much more restrained. In Ukraine, there is also a regional distinction. The eastern third of the country is heavily oriented toward Russia and not to the West. The western third is heavily oriented toward the West. The center of the country tilts toward the west but is divided. Linguistic division also falls along these lines, with the highest concentrations of native Ukrainian speakers living in the west and of Russian speakers in the east. This can be seen in the election returns in 2010 and before. Yanukovich dominated the east, Timoshenko the west, and the contested center tilted toward Timoshenko. But the support in the east for the Party of Regions and Yanukovich was overwhelming.

This division defines Ukrainian politics and foreign policy. Yanukovich is seen as having been elected to repudiate the Orange Revolution. Supporters of the Orange Revolution are vehement in their dislike of Yanukovich and believe that he is a Russian tool. Interestingly, this wasn’t the view in Poland, where government officials and journalists suggested that Yanukovich was playing a more complex game and trying to balance Ukraine between Europe and the Russians.

Whatever Yanukovich intends, it is hard to see how you split the difference. Either you join the European Union or you don’t. I suspect the view is that Yanukovich will try to join but will be rejected. He will therefore balance between the two groups. That is the only way he could split the difference. Certainly, NATO membership is off the table for him. But the European Union is a possibility.

I met with a group of young Ukrainian financial analysts and traders. They suggested that Ukraine be split into two countries, east and west. This is an idea with some currency inside and outside Ukraine. It certainly fits in with the Ukrainian tradition of being on the edge, of being split between Europe and Russia. The problem is that there is no clear geographical boundary that can be defined between the two parts, and the center of the country is itself divided.

Far more interesting than their geopolitical speculation was their fixation on Warsaw. Sitting in Kiev, the young analysts and traders knew everything imaginable about the IPO market, privatization and retirement system in Poland, the various plans and amounts available from those plans for private investment. It became clear that they were more interested in making money in Poland’s markets than they were in the European Union, Ukrainian politics or what the Russians are thinking. They were young and they were traders and they knew who Gordon Gekko was, so this is not a sampling of Ukrainian life. But what was most interesting was how little talk there was of Ukrainian oligarchs compared to Warsaw markets. The oligarchs might have been way beyond them and therefore irrelevant, but it was Warsaw, not the European Union or the power structure, that got their juices flowing.

Many of these young financiers dreamed of leaving Ukraine. So did many of the students I met at a university. There were three themes they repeated. First, they wanted an independent Ukraine. Second, they wanted it to become part of the European Union. Third, they wanted to leave Ukraine and live their lives elsewhere. It struck me how little connection there was between their national hopes and their personal hopes. They were running on two different tracks. In the end, it boiled down to this: It takes generations to build a nation, and the early generations toil and suffer for what comes later. That is a bitter pill to swallow when you have the option of going elsewhere and living well for yourself now. The tension in Ukraine, at least among the European-oriented, appears to be between building Ukraine and building their own lives.

Sovereign in Spite of Itself

But these were members of Ukraine’s Western-oriented class, which was created by the universities. The other part of Ukraine is in the industrial cities of the east. These people don’t expect to leave Ukraine, but they do understand that their industries can’t compete with Europe’s. They know the Russians will buy what they produce, and they fear that European factories in western Ukraine would cost them their jobs. There is nostalgia for the Soviet Union here, not because they don’t remember the horrors of Stalin but simply because the decadence of Leonid Brezhnev was so attractive to them compared to what came before or after.

 

 

 

 

 

Add to them the oligarchs. Not only do they permeate the Ukrainian economy and Ukrainian society but they also link Ukraine closely with the Russians. This is because the major Ukrainian oligarchs are tied to the Russians through complex economic and political arrangements. They are the frame of Ukraine. When I walked down a street with a journalist, he pointed to a beautiful but derelict building. He said that the super-wealthy buy these buildings for little money and hold them, since they pay no tax, retarding development. For the oligarchs, the European Union, with its rules and transparency, is a direct challenge, whereas their relation to Russia is part of their daily work.

The Russians are not, I think, trying to recreate the Russian empire. They want a sphere of influence, which is a very different thing. They do not want responsibility for Ukraine or other countries. They see that responsibility as having sapped Russian power. What they want is a sufficient degree of control over Ukraine to guarantee that potentially hostile forces don’t gain control, particularly NATO or any follow-on entities. The Russians are content to allow Ukraine its internal sovereignty, so long as Ukraine does not become a threat to Russia and so long as gas pipelines running through Ukraine are under Russian control.

That is quite a lot to ask of a sovereign country. But Ukraine doesn’t seem to be primarily concerned with maintaining more than the formal outlines of its sovereignty. What it is most concerned about is the choice between Europe and Russia. What is odd is that it is not clear that the European Union or Russia want Ukraine. The European Union is not about to take on another weakling. It has enough already. And Russia doesn’t want the burden of governing Ukraine. It just doesn’t want anyone controlling Ukraine to threaten Russia. Ukrainian sovereignty doesn’t threaten anyone, so long as the borderland remains neutral.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is what I found most interesting. Ukraine is independent, and I think it will stay independent. Its deepest problem is what to do with that independence, a plan it can formulate only in terms of someone else, in this case Europe or Russia. The great internal fight in Ukraine is not over how Ukraine will manage itself but whether it will be aligned with Europe or Russia. Unlike the 20th century, when the answer to the question of Ukrainian alignment caused wars to be fought, none will be fought now. Russia has what it wants from Ukraine, and Europe will not challenge that.

Ukraine has dreamed of sovereignty without ever truly confronting what it means. I mentioned to the financial analysts and traders that some of my children had served in the military. They were appalled at the idea. Why would someone choose to go into the military? I tried to explain their reasons, which did not have to do with wanting a good job. The gulf was too vast. They could not understand that national sovereignty and personal service cannot be divided. But then, as I said, most of them hoped to leave Ukraine.

Ukraine has its sovereignty. In some ways, I got the sense that it wants to give that sovereignty away, to find someone to take away the burden. It isn’t clear, for once, that anyone is eager to take responsibility for Ukraine. I also did not get the sense that the Ukrainians had come to terms with what it meant to be sovereign. To many, Moscow and Warsaw are more real than Kiev.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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