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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 10, March 1, 2014

Armed Rebellion in Ukraine and its Implications

Monday 3 March 2014, by Arun Mohanty

Ukraine, with a troubled history, particularly during the past two decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution, has witnessed yet another coup engineered by armed ultra-nationalists and fascists. The Supreme Rada, the parliament of the country, in violation of the Constitution and established procedures, has declared early elections to be held on May 25, and has appointed the parliament’s Speaker, Olexander Torchinov, as the Acting President. The country’s legitimate President, Victor Yanukovich, has fled the national capital abandoning his electorate, Army, political party and the people who had voted for him, and his whereabouts are not known. Ukraine, with its unique history, can barely remain as a peaceful and united state that it was during the past two decades.

The latest round of street battles in Kiev began in November 2013 when Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovich and Prime Minister Nikolai Ozarov, after weighing the pros and cons, decided not to sign the agreement on associated membership with the European Union during the Eastern Partnership summit held at the Lithunian capital, Vilnius, as the proposed agreement did not promise anything substantial except foreign trade deficit, strengthening of external control over the country and worsening of relations with Russia, its most important trading as well as strategic partner. Ukraine’s pro-Western Opposition, arguing that life in Europe would be more comfortable, flooded the capital’s streets with militant protesters who looked determined to physically fight with the government militia. The government’s attempt to clean the streets of the militant protesters fuelled anger among the people and led to even bigger protest marches in Kiev. The Opposition used the people’s anger to take their fight with the government to a new pitch.

Western powers sympathising with the Opposition, taking advantage of the evolving situation, started playing their geopolitical game against Russia. European leaders, forgetting that Ukraine is a sovereign country, delivered provocative speeches in Kiev’s Euro-Maidan saying the future of European democracy was being decided in Kiev. Slowly Ukraine turned into a battleground of geopolitical interests of the West and Russia. Moscow, under President Putin, has launched a serious initiative to integrate the post-Soviet space. The Customs Union—consisting of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan—is planning to kick-start the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015 and would like to have Ukraine in its fold. Moreover, Russia can hardly restore its global power status without Ukraine being part of its geopolitical space; after all, the history of the Russian state began with Kiev as its ancient capital in the 10th century and half of Ukraine’s population are native Russian speakers. Russia has been making huge concessions to the fraternal people of Ukraine ever since Yeltsin’s rule with the hope of keeping it on its geopolitical orbit. While Russia has been giving serious concessions to Ukraine, the West is leaving no stone unturned to exclude Ukraine from Russia’s geopolitical space. The West-engineered Orange Revolution in Ukraine, that installed a pro-Western government in Kiev, launched an alliance called GUUAM, consisting of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova, and headed by Kiev, to checkmate Russia. However, the alliance did not take off. Subsequently, the West launched a new geopolitical project called Eastern Partnership so as to move the former Soviet republics away from Moscow’s geopolitical orbit.

Ukraine has been vacillating between the Moscow-led Eurasian integration project and the EU-led Eastern Partnership over the years. Realising that integration with the European Union would bring disaster to its economy, the economic loss amounting to billions of dollars, Ukranian President Yanukovich finally decided not to sign the agreement for associated membership with the EU. That peeved the West, which had since then been orchestrating the campaign to oust the legitimate President from power. Yanukovich was the good guy for the West as long as he was promising to join the European Union as an associate member. But he became an authoritarian dictator the moment he chose to remain as Russia’s strategic partner. While Russia promised to provide Ukraine 15 billion dollars worth of credit and supply gas with 60 per cent discount in prices that would provide a new lease of life to the Ukrainian economy, reforms dictated by the European Union would have dealt a heavy blow to its ailing industry and agriculture. So, Yanukovich’s choice to remain with Russia was rational and pragmatic but turned out to be a serious blow to the West’s geopolitical ambition, which is why they started extending all assistance to the street protests in Kiev. Washington and Brussels interpreted Ukraine’s move as the beginning of its transition to the Eurasian integration process led by Russia.

That is why the US and EU worked out a plan to get rid of Yanukovich as Ukraine’s President, and that is being executed by the radical nationalist Opposition. According to the Russian media sources, thousands of fascist youth have been trained in the NATO camps to confront the militia and create havoc in Kiev’s streets. Slowly the militant nationalists prevailed over the peaceful demonstrations in Euro-Maidan—the place of militant demonstrations in Kiev. According to President Putin’s advisor, Sergei Glaziyev, US sources spent 20 million dollars a day in order to help sustain the demonstrations on Kiev’s streets. Apparently, arming and providing instructions to militants took place in the US embassy premises in Kiev.

Media reports suggest that a few hundred terrorists fighting in Syria against the Assad Government have joined the ranks of the militant fascists in the Kiev demonstrations. TV footages clearly demonstrate how ferocious and well-equipped these militants are and how they were launching attacks on the police forces. These fascist forces occupied government buildings not only in some district headquarters but also in the capital itself. A large number of police personnel have been killed and injured in the clashes with the militants.

Finally, the fascist forces have been able to exercise control over the capital, Kiev, bringing about a coup in the country and forcing President Yanukovich to flee the capital. Though Yanukovich has refused to resign and claims to be the legitimate President of the country, the Supreme Rada—the country’s parliament—has appointed its Speaker, Olexander Torchinov, as the Acting President.

The developments of the last few days in Ukraine suggest that the country is on the verge of disintegration or civil war. The southern and eastern parts of the country along with Crimea owe allegiance to the constitutional authority and the people there are in no mood to recognise the new authority in Kiev. However, it is not clear how long the local authorities can keep the situation under their control. A Congress of deputies of all levels, held in Ukraine’s old capital Kharkov on February 22, has declared in its resolution its loyalty to the constitutional authority denouncing the coup. The elected councils in the south and east are exercising the real power at the moment. It is not clear how long they can continue to do so as the new authority has started replacing the administrators at all levels by using force. The people in the southern and eastern parts of the country are determined to fight against the fascist forces that have captured power by force. People in several regions like Danetsk, Kharkov, Lugansk etc. are building anti-fascist brigades for self-defence. A similar situation is prevailing in Crimea where power is being exercised by elected councils, and the entire population of the region is determined to fight the anti-constitutional authority that has usurped power in Kiev.

The new authority in Kiev has started taking anti-Russian steps including cancelling the status of the Russian language as the second official language in the country. The Russian Government has expressed serious concern over the developments in Ukraine and conveyed doubts about the legitimacy of the new government . Moscow, which has lost this round of the geopolitical battle, but not the war as a whole, is carefully watching the situation.

Russian experts, comparing the situation in Ukraine with that of Libya and Syria, believe that if the neo-fascist forces that have captured power in Kiev go ahead with their plans, disintegration of the country is inevitable . One has to remember that Ukraine, with no history of independent statehood, started existing within its present boundary only under Soviet rule. And that too Crimea, an integral part of Russia for hundreds of years, was gifted to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, himself an Ukrainian, in the year 1954 while commemorating 300 years of re-unification of Ukraine with Russia. Historically, Ukraine was never an independent state and its different regions constituted parts of several empires. While the western part of Ukraine, known as Galicia, was a part of Austro-Hungary and Poland for long periods, the more populated and developed southern and eastern regions were integral parts of the Russian empire all through. That is why if the neo-fascists would be permitted to realise their game-plan in connivance with the West, disintegration of the country is almost inevitable.

Experts believe that the situation in Ukraine is very fluid and the last word about its future is yet to be pronounced. In the meanwhile, a fresh presidential poll has been announced to be held on May 25 and the election campaign would start in March. The outcome of the presidential poll would most likely shape the chain of events in the troubled nation.

Prof Arun Mohanty is the Chairperson, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Director of the Delhi-based Eurasian Foundation.