Ukrainian Soldiers: Fighting against a Fantasy Army. And the Yankee Warmonger

There can be few wars in history where one side really didn’t know who they were fighting against. You would almost, ironically, have to go 1854, the Crimean war, and the Charge of the Light brigade who charged …. against the wrong target.

But, Kiev has reported that 77% of Ukrainian soldiers believe they are fighting against the actual Russian army. The actual Russian army. For almost 4 years. A figure which suggests a quite staggering level of brainwashing amongst those fighting for Ukraine – incidentally it was revealed by Kiev last week that over 500 of their number have committed suicide since Kiev declared the ‘ATO’ in 2014, and that just the official figure.

For lest we look at recent examples of actual Russian military involvement: Crimea, 2014. Russian army went in, on the clear will of the Crimean people it must be added (I was there), swiftly took control of the peninsula, without any casualties. Ukraine, despite being positioned right at the border, didn’t even dare to take them on. It was a no war. It was all over in days, in March of 2014.

Going back further. 2008. Then Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, with the backing of the US, used global attention on the Olympics in Beijing to launch all-out war on the breakaway region of South Ossetia (Georgian tanks advancing, here), on the night of August 7th, 8th. By mid-afternoon on August 8th, then Russian president Dmitiy Medvedev had sent the Russian army in. The war ended on August 12th, with comprehensive Georgian defeat, and retreat.

On August 13th, a peace plan was agreed between Georgia and South Ossetia, which has held since. Yet in Donbass, there’s no peace. And the Ukrainian soldiers think they’re fighting a Russian army, much stronger than it was in 2008, yet for some reason for four years, unable to effect the victory they achieved in five days of fighting in South Ossetia 2008, and without any fighting in Crimea 2014…

Actually the Ukrainian army are clearly far ‘braver’ than in 2014, when they didn’t even fire a shot in anger against the Russian army, as they’ve been shelling Donbass almost every day, for months now. And of course, they ‘can’ do this, because whatever happens, the US envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, will only report that ‘Russia is violating Minsk’.

This is the same Kurt Volker, ostensibly tasked with achieving peace in Donbass, who recently called for the ‘elimination’ of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics.  Fighting talk. Warmongering talk, to be precise. Interesting what those Ukrainian troops believing they are fighting against Russia must think, to hear Volker speaking this way. That the Russian army which just last week announced a host of super-weapons fit to protect the largest country in the world against any country in the world, could be defeated in territory of just 17,000 sq km2 (DNR and LNR) against Ukrainian forces, albeit US-backed, but still comprised for the large part in Donbass of battalions of radicals, ultra-nationals, and the far-right… (pictured, Azov battalion)

Of course, Volker knows full well there’s no Russian army there, allowing him to pull off a double-act of ‘US diplomacy’, provocative statements designed to fuel the continuation of war, in the knowledge there is no ‘Russian army’ there, so Kiev is safe. But the idea of ‘Russia’ there, oft-repeated enough, and entrenched enough, that they can still be blamed at will.

Interestingly, while smiling at a recent conference, Volker referred to the war in Donbass as still ‘hot’. And in his capacity, he’ll be sure to keep it that way, fanning the flames, adding the fuel of fantasy of Russian involvement, on Twitter, in the trenches, to make sure that war in Donbass continues without any current end in sight.

As for the Ukrainian forces, they clearly can’t see who’s in front of them, but the question is what percent can see who’s behind them, pulling the strings, running the show, using them for their own ends…

The current war that suits the US in Donbass is low-intensity war. But, if that changes, if the US creates a situation, as in Georgia, where Russia has to send the army in, to prevent a genocide, those 77% of Ukrainian soldiers may only find out the real difference when it’s too late.

Ukraine and the New Saakashvili Maidan the West is Staying Silent about

When Euromaidan kicked off almost exactly 4 years ago in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, you could hardly move for western correspondents there covering it, telling us all about the heroic protesters wishing to overthrow the awful regime of Yanukovych and his government (both, democratically elected, btw) –

What happened next? Maidan and the west got their way, Yanukovych and his government were booted out, the west’s people were installed. What happened after Poroshenko Ukrainethat? Well, going on 4 years of chaos, inflation, unemployment, in Ukraine, and war in Donbass, of course. All of which the west have been a bit shy in telling you about, given it’s their guys at the wheel….

All of this has contributed to 80% of Ukrainians now being against president Poroshenko, again, something the western press are strangely reticent to report on. Actually, there’s a long list of things the west would rather you didn’t know about their new Ukraine. Such as this, on October 14th, that open neo-Nazis now brazenly march through Kiev in their thousands –

And that shortly after that, the new Maidan kicked off in Kiev, spearheaded by former Saakashvili UkraineGeorgian president (now wanted on high-level charges there), recently of a disastrous reign as governor of Odessa, even more recently, September, simply barging over the Ukrainian border. Since that September border-barge, Saakashvili has been on a trouble-making tour of Ukraine, as he attempts to topple incumbent president Poroshenko.

All of which has left the western press in a bit of  dilemma. Who to support – the western installed uber pro-west Poroshenko, or the darling of the west, wanting-to-be-western-installed Saakashvili, who has even gone to far as to be sleeping in the tents on the new Maidan. All of which would surely be screaming for sympathetic western media coverage. Yet, Saakashvili is going up against their man. So he’s out of luck. No fawning western coverage this time, no glorious new Maidan for him. Almost no western press coverage at all.

Saakashvili PoroshenkoThis has left Saakashvili rather pathetically pleading with the Ukrainian people to protect him against Poroshenko’s apparent wish to deport him back to Georgia. Meanwhile, Ukrainian ultra-nationalists storming and attempting to occupy a court in Kiev similarly find themselves out of luck – the west only supported that in Ukraine in 2013, guys. Now, the west supports Poroshenko, who seemingly entirely without irony, or memory, is attempting to deport the tent-dwelling Saakashvili for his attempt in an ‘illegal overthrow of government’. 

Post-Euromaidan Ukraine is certainly never boring. Not so much a car crash, as a neverending demolition derby.

Ukraine’s Kiev Falls into World’s Least Liveable Cities… and the Diplomatic Reaction…

What was Kiev like pre-Euromaidan? I lived there myself for 2 years, worked at a magazine in the city, knew the city well:

It was a good place to live, had cleaned its act up in the run up to Euro 2012, along with all the new infrastructure that had gone with that. Fancy hotels were opening, I even reviewed one on a gig, investment was rising. Things were fine.

What’s happened to Ukraine, post-Euromaidan? Economic collapse, national debt is rising, corruption is rising, corruption is institutionalisedUkraine has become kind of a dumping-ground for ex-jihadists, can’t even get Ryanair to fly into it, economy run by ‘economic hitmen‘, has become either one of, or even the poorest country in Europehealth system in crisis, an unreformed penal system, a tuberculosis epidemic

There are things like the ongoing farce with Saakashvili. He’s the governor of Odessa Poroshenko ally, then he’s not. Then he’s an opposition leader. Then he’s had his Ukrainian passport revoked. Then he’s in the USA telling everyone about how awful Ukraine is (but, Russia is ‘worse’, of course). Then he’s in Poland saying he’ll come and rescue Ukraine… it goes on, and on ….

And to add to that, Ukraine’s capital Kiev has now plunged into one of the 10 Least Liveable Cities in the World – Economist Intelligence Unit finds –

10. Kiev, Ukraine47.8/100 points. The capital of Kiev saw the biggest decline in terms of liveability — 21.4 points — of all 140 cities surveyed. It is the also the only European city in the 12 that scored below 50 points. The city is still in a recovery that remains under threat from unrest, economic instability, and the ongoing civil war taking place in the Donbass region.

Occupying the next places, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe. What does the UK’s LGBT-obsessed ambassador Judith Gough have to say to this? It’s hard to agree – I see that Kiev is getting better, not worse! 

In diplomatic world, as ever, bad = good where Ukraine is concerned….

Saakashvili – Lost at Sea in Odessa

Graham Phillips

As he stood by Odessa’s port on Monday, readying to deliver a resignation speech, as governor of Odessa, which would launch a broadside against Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili looked considerably older than his 48 years. He looked a very long way indeed from the once dashing figure, electrifying the global political scene with pledges to bring Georgia into the sphere of modern Europe.

In fact, he bore more than a passing resemblance to Michael Henchard, the main character saakashvili-odessa-1in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Mayor of Casterbridge‘, worn down by successive failures, as he issues a weary ‘I am to suffer, I perceive’.

Saakashvili prides himself on being an educated man, speaking five languages – but it’s unknown if he’s a fan of the work of titan of English literature, Thomas Hardy. If he were, he’dve recognised his 18 month tenure as the governor of Odessa beset by the kind of foreboding background Hardy used to set the mood for tragedy to come. In October of 2015, coming on for six months of his reign, a civilian passenger boat capsized in Odessa, with the loss of at least 12 lives, the worst maritime disaster of its kind in post-Soviet Ukraine. Saakashvili rushed back from his trip to the western Ukrainian city of Lvov to be there, but there were already comments at that time that it would be better if he hadn’t bothered. 

Almost exactly a year later, in October of 2016, Odessa was lashed by extreme storms, leaving at least three dead, again, the worst of its kind in post-Soviet Ukraine. Meanwhile, Saakashvili’s own time at the helm of Odessa lurched from crisis to disaster to catastrophe, before on Monday he walked the gangplank.

saakashvili-tieThere may be not be an image quite as iconic as Saakashvili eating his tie upon realising he’d misjudged his South Ossettia military action of 2008, but his ill-fated time in Odessa leaves a legacy of embarrassments, memes, unfulfilled pledges, and the feeling that almost everything he touched there turned to failure.

His appointment on May 30th 2015, came somewhat out of the blue. Saakashvili had been an enthusiastic cheerdleader for Euromaidan, but in the aftermath of that, had actually moved to the USA, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. February of 2015 saw him called to Ukraine, initially sitting on a fairly inconsequential advisory panel for a couple of months at the start of the year, in April he turned down the chance to become First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, stating his unwillingness to rescind his Georgian passport to take up Ukrainian. But then May, suddenly everything had changed. The former close ally of George W. Bush jr was hurriedly rolled out a Ukrainian passport on May 29th, appointed porohenko-saakashviligovernor of Odessa.

Tbilisi native Saakashvili was the first non-Ukrainian by birth to be named to head of what is in effect a provincial government. The post was made vacant largely because previous incumbent, Igor Palytsia, was an ally of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, with whom Poroshenko had had a very public falling out, before effecting a purge of those loyal to him.

According to Poroshenko, his old friend (from university days) Saakashvili “has proven with deeds, not words that he can not only give birth to creative ideas, but also put them into practice.” He added Georgia’s ex-president had changed his country “in the direction of transparency, effectiveness, anti-corruption, appeal for foreign investors, fair justice, protection of citizen’s rights, democracy,” something Poroshenko “would like to see very much” in Odessa.

And so it was, the man who made a venomous hatred for Russia one of his calling cards, saakashvili-putinfrequently calling Russians ‘barbarians’, and personal vendetta against Putin ‘I hate Putin’, was appointed governor of a city in which pro-Russia demonstrations would easily outnumber pro-Ukrainian, before the brutal events of May 2nd 2014, the burning of Trade Union House with mass loss of life on side of pro-Russian protesters, and subsequent campaign of repression against them.

Saakashvili’s appointment saw him posting an ‘I heart Odessa’ status on his Facebook, and indeed the US were so happy with the appointment they promptly offered to foot the bill for the salaries of Saakashvili and his team. In the city which was once considered the fourth city of the Russian empire, Saakashvili started out by making the obligatory big noises about plans to make Odessa the most powerful port in the Black Sea, and so forth.

Yet, the man known as ‘Misha”s professed love was never reciprocated by locals – he met with a decidedly choppy response from Odessites, from the start, with the mishiko-go-homeblack sea residents, famous for their laconic sense of humour, taking to hanging ties on landmarks around the city. July of 2015 saw anti-Maidan activists marching a goat through the city with placards declaring ‘Saakashvili Go Home’, and acvitists stating:’ Activists continued their protest campaign a few days later, this time launching a giant red balloon featuring his image and the phrase ‘Mishiko Go Home!’, complete with a large red necktie dangling from his mouth. Then in August of 2015, an actual statue of Saakashvili, taking the role of dog to Obama’s master, appeared on the city’s iconic Primorsky Boulevard.

saakashvili

Meanwhile, on the more serious side, reports emerged of Saakashvili, along with being wanted by his own country’s prosecutors for embezzlement, abuse of power and politically-motivated attacks, also wanted for murder in Georgia.  Things only got worse with the appointment of his team, a self-consciously ‘star-studded’ line-up looking more akin to the judging panel on a tv talent show than those capable of managing a port-and-resort city of 1 million which had derived much of its former prosperity from hundreds of thousands of yearly Russian visitors.

The appointment of Maria Gaidar as deputy governor, a glamorous, young Russian opposition maria-gaidar-odessafigure, was one Saakashvili likely thought would be a hit. He even stated she was ready to rescind her Russian citizenship, and apply for Ukrainian. However she fell at the first hurdle, when refusing to say that Ukraine was at war with Russia in interview, attracting the ire of Ukraine’s media, and Euromaidan supporters who had trumpeted Saakashvili’s appointment as a triumph. Ukrainian parliament member and former deputy governor of Dnepropetrovsk Borys Filatov, famous for his “we will hang the scum” line regarding Crimeans seeking independence from Ukraine, responded harshly to Gaidar’s stance

They simply don’t give a **** about our country. They are making money here. Or are fulfilling their sick ambitions. Or are training themselves ‘on cats.’ Choose the option for their motivation yourself,” Filatov posted on Facebook.

Then there was Saakashvili’s obsession with Yulia Marushevska- activist and aspiring actress best known for her part in Euromaidan promotional video ‘I am a Ukrainian‘ in Saakashvili OdessaFebruary of 2014. She spent most of her time after that appearing on chat shows speaking about that, until Saakashvili seemingly spotted her political potential, making her third in command in his team. It’s unclear what she did in her months in this job, but in any case, in October of 2015, Saakashvili promoted her to Customs Chief for Odessa, in charge of the biggest port insert.

Saakashvili’s other appointment to deputy,  Afghan war hero Vladimir Zhmak, also had no experience in civil service, something an enthusiastic Saakashvili saw as a plus, posting on his Facebook that their lack of experience was a good thing because my goal is to bring new, fresh, uncorrupted, competent people.”

Yulia Marushevska Odessa 1What happened? Gaidar’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster, alienating even those who had supported Saakashvili, with her backing out of taking Ukrainian citizenship, resigning in a hail of protest in May of 2016.  Zhmak signed off in July of 2016 with a cheerful ‘Goodbye Odessa’ message on his Facebook. Marushevska has proved incompetent spilling into inept in her role as customs chief, embroiled in endless internecine conflict, with Odessa’s port practices stuck in the past, and revenues actually decreasing by 30 percent, while in Ukraine as a whole, revenues were reported as up 21 percent. Marushevska is now reported to be considering her own position. 

What were Saakashvili’s other big ideas for reform? Fire everyone, call them all ‘useless’, employ new and untested people. Unfortunately for Saakashvili, his new people turned out to be just as, if not more ‘useless’ than their predecessors, and he failed in making any headway in his ‘war against corruption’. 

saakashvili-odessa-busInitial, PR-winning stunts, such as his taking public transport to ‘touch base with locals’, petered out. By October of 2015, locals who’d opened precious wine in honour of his appointment were beating a path to his door to berate him. And after his candidate for mayor, Alexander Borovyk, was defeated, by Gennadiy Trukhanov (who Saakashvili had frequently, publicly slated), in October of 2015, Saakashvili largely withdrew from the Odessa scene.

Meanwhile things had quickly unravelled for Saakashvili with other government figures. In December of 2015, at a government meeting, he got into a heated argument with interior minister Arsen Avakov, that ended with Avakov throwing a glass of water at Saakashvili, who retorted that Avakov was a “thief” who would go to prison. Avakov later described Saakashvili as a “bonkers populist”

Even a western media inclined to be more than benevolent to Saakashvili had long changed their tune on him, by the time of his resignation. Polish press were writing in February of 2016, that ‘His work so far has failed to bring any spectacular successes in any of the priority areas of activity.’ This article in Foreign Policy, from October 2016, painted a prophetic pictured of a man defeated. The Ukrainian press were stronger still, a Ukrainian saakashvili-odessa-2journalist writing in October of 2015 that Saakashvili was ‘dull’ and ‘stank’. 

The writing was on the line in May of this year, when Saakashvili gave an interview to Shaun Walker of the Guardian, calling Ukraine’s government a ‘bunch of mediocre people’, with ‘no vision for reform’, and openly criticising his former ally, Poroshenko. The article predictably made waves, causing Saakashvili to issue a statement that Walker, his ‘longtime friend’, had ‘clearly perverted’ their conversation. Walker, however, stuck by his article, with dictaphone recording to back it up.

Much of what Saakashvili said in his resignation, blasting the Kiev government, singling out President Petro Poroshenko, saying he had been complicit in obstructing various reforms, had clearly well fomented when he spoke with Walker in May. But the vitriol had only increased with the passing of months, as he blasted: ‘“What difference for Ukrainians does it make who will treat them like dirt: Poroshenko or Yanukovych; what difference who will steal from them?”’

Having made some effort to speak Ukrainian during his tenure, Saakashvili reverted to the Russian he knows better for his signing-off salvo –

Saakashvili’s taking on the role in Odessa was largely motivated by his desire to escalate his personal (somewhat one-sided) battle with Putin. He leaves the post, with harsher words about the man who employed him, Poroshenko. He leaves with almost all of his much-vaunted reforms, and project, having ignominiously failed. As Walker wrote ‘The sad demise of Saakashvili and his bold new vision‘. He wrote that in 2008. Time moves on, but Saakashvili’s ‘bold new visions’ always seem to end the same way.

And so it is, like Michael Henchard, after another failure, Saakashvili sets off again.