Insane Ukraine

Originally published on February 25th, 2014 on http://www.grahamwphillips.com

Since ousting Yanukovych on Saturday, swathes of laws and appointments have been passed through Ukraine’s Verkhovna ArbuzovRada in a giddy frenzy, all while Ukraine’s official Prime Minister – Sergey Arbuzov – is reported as being more or less on the run, in Moscow. That didn’t stop the photo of him to the left being shared online, with description of him as a gangster, rather than a questionable 90s fashion sense.

Anyway, no one really cares about a Prime Minister anymore in new Ukraine. Even new President – and Speaker – Oleksandr Turchynov is struggling to get a look in as the 3 opposition leaders, now quasi-government, drive the show. As international observers, notably Russia, have questioned the legitimacy of the parliament, admist talk of old practices such as voting for ‘absent friends’, with around 100 (pro-Yanukovych) deputies absent Batkivyshina’s Arseniy Yatsenyuk has stated: “The legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government is not the number of votes in parliament, it is the trust of millions of Ukrainians who seek change.”

Russian language‘Trust of millions’ of course a little harder to measure than actual votes, though in a Euromaidan where rhetoric has been of the fore, it certainly sounds better. Notable laws passed included the reversing of the 2012 language bill giving regions the ability to make minority languages official, though secondary to state language Ukrainian. The legislation made Hungarian, Moldovan and Romanian official languages in several towns in Ukraine’s west. Of course, the main beneficiary was Russian.

In any case Russian is hardly a minority in much of Ukraine – the above photo asking that the Russian language be respected, protected, was taken in an Odessa where 85% speak Russian, Crimea 97%. After the 2012 law, Russian was duly declared the second official language in Odessa, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhya, Sevastopol, Dnipropetrovsk, Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

That law, referred to as the Kivalov / Kolesnichenko law after its authors, had been widely supported – 232 out of 334 parliamentary votes. Yet at the time it also saw protests in Kiev involving Svoboda in tear-gas attacks on the police which can now be viewed as a precursor to Euromaidan. TyagnibokAt that time, Svoboda was an extreme minority party – 0.76% of the 2007 election vote. October of 2012 saw them take that to more than 10%, as December saw even stronger militant actions, against a gay parade in Kiev. With no new elections held since, the party still sit on 10.5% of the democratic vote, but with the charsima and force of leader Oleg Tyagnibok, have been Ukraine’s defacto new governing power.

Boasting on their Twitter account and official site about all the laws ‘they’ have passed, and plan to, bills have been ratified on freeing ‘political prisoners‘, a bill proposed to disband Ukraine’s Berkut police force (who had to go on their knees when returning to Lviv, but were greeted as heroes in Crimea), but the big one is ‘lustration‘. This term technically applies to the regulating of Communists, particularly the secret police. Now, what it’s being taken to mean (see Maidan spelling out ‘lustration’ below right) is the breaking up of entire political parties, not stopping at Ukraine’s Communist Party. Despite what goes with the name, Ukraine’s communist party is a popular, democratically elected organ which achieved over 13% of the vote in the 2012 electionLustrationNear 2.7 million people voted for them, versus under 2.2 million for Svoboda. Yet Svoboda are the ones now poised to make the Communist Party illegal.

Actually, senior Svoboda member Iryna Farion has previously stated her desire to see the Russian language itself made a criminal offence, and that people who speak it are ‘degenerates’, who should be imprisoned. Ironic considering she used to be in the Communist Party herself (something she hotly denies), so real application of lustration would actually put her out of the picture. Writing on the Svoboda official forum in 2010 is a man alleged to be Tyagnibok himself, posting under a pseudonym –

“To create a truly Ukrainian Ukraine in the cities of the East and South, only one lustration will not be enough, we will need to cancel parliamentarism, ban all political parties, nationalize the entire industry, all media, prohibit the importation of any literature to Ukraine from Russia…. completely replace the leaders of the civil service, education management, military (especially in the East), physically liquidate all Russian-speaking intellectuals and all Ukrainophobes (fast, without a trial shot. Registering Ukrainophobes can be done here by any member of Svoboda), execute all members of the anti-Ukrainian political parties…”

Lustration doesn’t stop at the Communist party either. It goes on to include the Party of Regions, until Saturday’s coup, the country’s ruling party – taking 30% of the vote in 2012, compared to Batkivshchyna‘s 25.5%. Klitschko’s UDAR, meanwhile, Oleg Lyashkoless than 14%, a little more than the Communist Party Klitschko is also now backing to ‘lustrate’.

But then this is the ‘new Ukraine’, when governors of regions can be beaten, handcuffed to a stage, family threatened with their lives and forced to resign by threat to his own life for resisting activists entering police premises. Where ‘heroes’ are suddenly men like Oleg Lyashko, of 1-seat party Oleg Lyashko’s Radical Party, who stormed the dias in the Verkhovna Rada demanding that Party of Regions leader Oleksandr Yefremov apologise to the people of Ukraine. Where the Party of Regions has been clamouring to apologise for all they stand accused of for fear of violent reprisals should they not. Head of Ukraine’s Presidential Administration Andriy Kliuyev resigned on February 23rd. His house near Kiev was then attacked, with him shot and hospitalised.

Heroes of MaidanOf course the ‘heroes’ of the moment are those who died on Maidan. The activists that is, not the 16 police killed. The exact number is a little unclear, some sources reporting 77others 88, in any case, referred to as the ‘Heavenly Hundred‘, with respect to the dead, who went into fight bearing far-right, fascist symbols, and looted, high-octane munitions. Suddenly, pro-Euromaidan activists from around the country are renaming squares ‘Heroes of Maidan’ square. And the man with their blood on his hands, supposedly, deposed president Yanukovych now hunted, wanted for mass murder – parliament having passed a warrant for his arrest. Meanwhile his home is raked over and every single thing of a negative nature published immediately. There’s even a website for that now.

Yanukovych

The man who said in January that the activists should march into battle and ‘if it’s a bullet in the head, so be it‘, Batkyvshyna leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, meanwhile, running the Ukrainian parliament with Tyagnibok and Klitschko while an attempt to form a coalition government was made. As of today that failed, now put off till Thursday. A ‘legitimate parliament’, supposedly, operates for now – guarded by armed Euromaidan guards. Yatsenyuk has frequently expressed his gratitude, and made calls for them to be given a role in Ukraine’s new government.

Euromaidan guards

On Saturday’s Maidan stage, former Interior Minister cum prominent opposition figure Yuri Lutsenko fulsomely praised far-right Pravy Sector whose leader Oleksandr Muzychko said back in 2007 that he would be ‘fighting Russians and Jews till I die‘. So empowered have they been by Euromaidan, with co-leader Dmytro Yarosh being reported to have met with Yanukovych on February 20th, they have stated their intention to claim deputy prime minister in charge of the country’s security services, as well as deputy posts in all security agencies, and post of commander of the Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, in this ‘new Ukraine’. A Ukraine which is wiping out all traces of Russia by the second, as fellow right-wing party Svoboda boast their involvement in the destroying of Lenin statues across the country.

Svoboda Lenin

Only 18% of Ukrainians stated in a survey this month they supported smashing the Lenins. Yet, Carl Bildt, leading Carl BildtEU figure, thinks it’s all very funny to destroy icons 82% of a country would rather were not. They feel that way for a reason, not because it’s Lenin, but because of what he represents, Russia. His destruction is a perceived direct attack on Russian culture in a country where over 17% (near 8.5 million) are ethnic Russians, many more with family connections to Russia.

In any case, the Lenin destroying soon moved onto anything Soviet, with symbols being smashed across the country, photos enthusiastically shared online by far-right groups –

Euromaidan destroy

As an ethnic Russian in Crimea stated ‘It’s our land. It’s in our blood. Ukraine doesn’t let us breathe‘. Of Crimea’s 2 million, 60% are ethnic Russians, even the 25% Ukrainians there are perhaps the most pro-Russian Ukrainians you’ll find. The only opposition there is the 12% Tatar population, pro-Euromaidan from the start. In a situation which some have described as ‘Kiev in reverse’ though, they are heavily outnumbered and the Russian flag has flown over the city of Kerch. And now, Russia has indicated its willingness to issue passports to its citizens, with its Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov aiming an extraordinary series of tweets at Ukraine –

Russia tweets

Yanukovych, meanwhile, is reportedly in Crimea himself, apparently being protected at a military base. His ally, Kharkiv Governor Mikhail Dobkin has indicated he will be entering the race to be president, as well as that he would federalise Ukraine, and move its capital to Kharkiv. A document was leaked from the Verkhovna Rada which stated plans to dismiss Dobkin from his post. At the moment he’s not dismissed, but with the Right Sector now in Kharkiv and occupying his office, he can’t get to work either, as reported by the BBC’s Daniel Sandford –

Daniel Sandford

Dobkin himself has stated of Kharkiv: “If our city follows Kiev, 1.5 million people will be left without services.” Kharkiv, where of course Tymoshenko left prison on Saturday to travel to Maidan. Having indicated before her intention to stand for president, she then went onto a Maidan stage and it was immediately clear she was not the Yulia of old.

Tymoshenko

Gone that charisma, that driven but winning rhetoric. In its place an angry, ranting, sometimes barely cogent tirade. And rather than the returning heroine, she was greeted with a mixed response on Maidan, a slew of newspaper articles trashing hergroups on social networking sites convened against her, and then thousands of anti-Tymoshenko Tymosupporters on Maidan. She then declared herself ‘surprised‘ at being in the running for Prime Minister, seems to have now shelved political ambitions and is going to Germany for medical treatment.

She has been warned by investigative journalist Sergey Leshenko that if she runs for president, he’ll dig up more dirt on her. And then the question of when does Euromaidan end. Not foreseeing its turning into an anti-her movement, Tymoshenko had called on protesters to stay there. Then Klitschko echoed that (as he tends to).

And now they’ve said they’re not leaving until Yanukovych has been arrested, and there’s a new president. But, all of that hides the fact that many simply don’t want to go home. Of course some have already left, but in their place have been calls for more, as the BBC reports –

“Now is not the time to stop,” says Nelli, from Ivano-Frankivsk. “If we don’t get more volunteers here, who will put pressure on the MPs?”

For those hardcore there long-term, doctors have warned that they need ‘serious psychological help‘, as the campaign has exacted a severe mental toll. ‘Opposition’ PR Kateryna Kruk tweeted this over the weekend –

Kateryna Kruk

There are people who want them very much to stay – such as the Pravy Sektor, calling on them to be part of an armed revolution. Convenient for them to have their troops barricaded right in central Kiev, ready to be moblised at any moment. The EU meanwhile offer 20 billion Euros to Ukraine, but only after the formation of a government it regards as acceptable. And it’s unclear what terms come with this, it’s in any case far less than Ukraine needs – reports on that sum start at $35 billion just for now – and if it came at the expense of compromising Ukraine’s favourable existing debt repayment deals with Russia it would be the most expensive gift Ukraine was ever given.

Ukraine’s GDP is $335 billion per year, trade with Russia accounting for over 20% of that. Put in factors such as Russia’s gas supply – Ukraine has issued a statement ‘hoping’ Russia will not change the reduced deal Yanukovych had negotiated – and Russian tourists accounting for around half of Ukraine’s annual 20 million, Ukraine-Russia relations are easily a $100 billion per year deal. Russians like spending money in Ukraine too – $835 million in 2012, and that only from card transactions, merely the tip. But no tourists are coming to Kiev now, apart from journalists, occupancy for hotels in Kiev is reported at less than 15%, a friend in Lviv tells me of shops closed and tourists scarce there too. And now, under the new regime, Russia can’t give its money to Ukraine.

Standard and Poor’s reported on February 21 –

As a result of the intensifying political turmoil in Ukraine, we consider that continued Russian support up to the Hryvniacommitted $15 billion is increasingly uncertain. Should Russian financial support fall short of Russia’s commitments, we expect the government of Ukraine to default on its foreign-currency obligations.

Speculation on default has already sent the Ukrainian hryvnia tumbling to a record low, withdrawals strictly limited, 1000 UAH a day (worth less by the minute today) and huge queues at ATMs. As for EU aid, Standard and Poor’s sent a cautious note –

We expect that alternative financial assistance from the U.S., EU, or IMF to be tied to likely conditions associated with a formal IMF lending program, including increased exchange rate flexibility, policies to strengthen the financial sector, fiscal consolidation, increases in domestic energy tariffs, and comprehensive structural reforms to improve the business climate and support growth. 

It’s also unclear how the EU will sell that deal to struggling member states like Greece, wondering why it would fund a country not an EU-member, which has just violently overthrown a democratically-elected president for Yanukovychsomething many regard as a vanity project. Peter Hitchens has written –

Most Western politicians and commentators seem to assume that the Kiev mob are democrats. Are they? In what way?

They demanded the resignation of the Ukrainian government, because they said so. They wouldn’t go home until they got their way.

How is that democratic? President Yanukovych is certainly no saint. But he came to power legitimately.

Then comes ‘new Ukraine’s’ next act. Trying to impose a ‘Kiev government’, because of the influence of Svoboda really an extreme ‘Lviv government’ (worth noting the Lviv intelligensia have spoken out in favour of a ‘balanced’ new system which would not divide Ukrainians, and respect Russian, and other, cultures) on the east of the country which its policies seem a direct attack on. Trying to get into the EU with a government comprising far-right, fascist factions. There have been pleas by them not to call them ‘Nazis’ or ‘fascists’, then they go up on the Maidan stage brandishing the Wolfsangel, a fascist logo, while the red and black flag commonly associated with fascism flies outside Ukraine’s parliament –

Wolfsangel

Nazi Ukraine1

Crimea, fast becoming the hot-point of action in the country, elects a Russian citizen as mayor of Sevastopol, he immediately declared the city would stop sending taxes to Kiev, while Russian armed vehicles ringed the city in protection, and mass rallies decrying ‘fascism’ were held, accompanied by high-volume sign ups of those willing to fight to defend Crimea –

Ukraine Nazism

Svoboda Crimea

Burning the Ukrainian flag – flying the Russian one –

Ukraine flag burned

Crimea Russian flag

Sevatsopol

It’s certainly not hard to find photos of Ukrainians giving Nazi salutes, as they spread and are shared online. Yet, not all are as they seem – this one, posted by a Russian man, as Ukraine, ironically actually shows a Nazi (or neo, seems interchangable these days) rally in St Petersburg in 2008 –

Nazi Ukraine2

Yet for the fakes, there are disturbing genuine photos, such as Kiev’s Communist Party HQ raided, with swastika symbols painted –

UkraineNazi

Euromaidan Nazi

‘Russian troop’ movements are filmed on a video which is then deleted, while its media ponders invasion and senior Russian figures are reportedly in Crimea to discuss secession. Its Foreign Ministy releases a statement  –

We are deeply concerned about the actions in the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada in terms of their legitimacy. Actually referring to the “revolutionary appropriateness” only, they are stamping “decisions” and “laws”, including those aimed at deprivation of humanitarian rights of Russians and other national minorities living in Ukraine.

Interim President Turchynov threatens punishment on anyone engaged in ‘seperatist activity’, while Crimea pledges it is ‘not like Kiev, and will not give in‘, and journalist Platon Besedin writes an open letter is he does not want ‘your Ukraine’, of Screenshot 2014-02-25 at 22.59.46the new Ukraine. All of which make Turchynov’s statement that relations with Russia must be on a “new, equal and good-neighbourly footing” look positively deluded. His presiding over Ukraine’s new parliament, only its third day, has already seen growing unrest among MPs at the non-consultative methods of passing laws, of the Baptist Pastor, no less.

He himself, from the eastern Dnipropetrovsk as Tymoshenko (as Ukraine’s notorious former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko too), speaking Russian as a first language as Tymoshenko (incidentally I took a taxi in Odessa last summer with a driver who told me about giving Oleg Tyagnibok a lift and his fluent Russian speaking), is unenthustically regarded by Ukrainians – heavily hyped by Tymoshenko to take the 2008 Kiev mayoral election, he ended up with half the votes of winner, Leonid Chernovetskyi, a sitting duck at the time due to widespread corruption allegations.

As for the Berkut, they may soon be liquidated, but a Vkontakte group on them now has near 90,000 members. They post a video which they say was blocked from YouTube, of Euromaidan protesters, with guns, engaged in violent conflict against them. While photos showing the Berkut as heroes, even angels, gathering thousands of ‘likes’ –

BerkutBerkut2

And Euromaidan is set to pass 100 days, the anti-Euromaidan Vkontakte group passes 100,000 members on Vkontakte. But, as for numbers, no one has put a figure on how much it will cost to restore the Euromaidan damage to Kiev. And as for clearing the barricades, there’s the sensitive issue that many now serve as shrines to the dead. On the business side, with central Kiev reduced to a wasteland, major companies have left the city, Ukraine even.

Kiev shrine

Kiev shrine1

Ukraine Euromaidan

20 months ago, Queen and Elton John played in a square now reduced to a blackened bomb-site. In new Kiev, Depeche Mode won’t even come to the city to do a concert.

Depeche Mode

On a musical-theme, Ukraine’s leading band and pro-Euromaidan supporters, Okean Elzy, are the subject of viral campaigns warning fans that buying tickets for their concerts is supporting a band who branded Russian a ‘bitch language’.

OkeanElziA Russian MP then calls for the band to be banned from performing in St Petersburg for Russophobia. In response, prominent Euromaidan activist, frontman Slava Vakarchuk, who famously opposed the Russian language being made official in Ukraine, was noted for his anti-Russian stance during Euromaidan, has issued a statement claiming he’s not really a nationalist, and loves St Petersburg as his ‘hometown’.

Nor does the glory of ‘winning’ Maidan go to Vakarchuk, never shy of receiving glory. It goes to a camouflaged protester from Lviv, who said the new authorities must understand that the Maidan is the real power, not the 450 parliamentary deputies. Meaning a precedent is now set in Ukraine – don’t like the government, get a few thousands down on Maidan with guns and PR, and Ukraine can be yours.

Lviv meanwhile, seems pretty happy, having now ‘their’ government in charge of the country. Their Vkontakte group posts this –

Ukraine2

The East isn’t so sure –

Ukraine1

Then there’s that video reportedly to emerge of a sniper firing at both protesters and Berkut.

As one Ukraine seems to rush towards Europe, albeit questionably European as it goes, the other seems to run to Russia. Who can make predictions anymore? All the Soviet monuments felled to be erected in Crimea? Nazi-collaborator Stepan Bandera erected on the vacant Lenin plinths, resentment spilling over with the new administration into Yanomaidan – demanding Yanukovych released from prison and back in power.

In 2005 Ukraine had Eurovision. 2012 Euro 2012. 2013/14 Euromaidan. 2015/16 – Europe? Or will there not even be a Ukraine tomorrow?

None of that is impossible. This is insane Ukraine.

Originally published as per here – couple of changes for grammar – 

Fullscreen capture 06032015 183341.bmp

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