By Robert van Voren
The past few days I have been increasingly frustrated by the news coming in from Ukraine. Not because of the covert operations of the Russian special forces, who are there but pretend not to be there. Neither am I that much upset by the fact that Western media continues to talk about “pro-Russian separatists” or “pro-Russian forces”, while the evidence is mounting that we are looking at a carefully planned operation with Russian spetsnaz officers commanding groups of “useful locals” who for a relatively small sum (500 Ukrainian Hrivnya for demonstrating, 500 dollars for occupying a building) are destroying the future for themselves and their families. Short-term thinking is a common good in this part of the world, where only survivalism reigns.
But what frustrates me and keeps me awake at night are several other issues to which I cannot find the appropriate answer. And maybe putting them in public will help me solving the riddle.
What I don’t understand how a government can issue one ultimatum after the other without ever following up on them. Any student of political science, and even any well-thinking citizen, understands that ultimatums have absolutely no value if they are not followed by action. In other words, when an ultimatum was issued to the occupants of the buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk, unseating them would have still been a rather limited operation. Instead, nothing happened, except that when armed green-clothed military (that is; Russian special troops) took hold of Slaviansk the Minister of the Interior a few days ago again an ultimatum was issued by the Minister of the Interior, this time calling the occupants in Slaviansk “terrorists” and those in Donetsk and Luhansk “demonstrators”. Here I lost track – in my perception the occupants in these two cities were also not of the regular demonstrator type, and also there one had ample evidence of Russian involvement. So why suddenly this distinction between the two?
All would have been OK if action had followed. But no: again only silence followed. Until the third ultimatum was issued, this time by President Turchynov, who gave the “terrorists” until 6.00 AM this morning. And of course, again nothing happened, apart from more occupations organized by Russian commandos and more brazen behavior by a paid crowd of hooligans and a following of useful idiots.
The frustration culminated when instead of sending in his troops, Turchynov suggested that UN peacekeepers could be involved in the “anti-terrorist operation.” My apologies, but that is downright stupid. First of all, UN Peacekeepers don’t become involved in “anti-terrorist operations.” Secondly, it takes months before any UN troops are in place, and it will immediately be blocked by Russia who has veto power in the Security Council and definitely does not need extra eyes on the ground watching the unfolding of their imperialist plans. And mind you, the same UN could not (or did not want to) prevent the killing of 800,000 Rwandese 20 years ago; so why would they be bothered by a bunch of Ukrainians who let themselves be bought into slavery?
I don’t understand this. What I also don’t understand is why Western Ukraine is not sending reinforcements to the East. Where are the people, who several months ago rushed to Kyiv to defend Maidan against the Yanukovych gang? Why is there no self-defense organized in Western and Central Ukraine to keep the country united? Why did the country react with such apathy when Crimea was stolen and annexed, and why is it almost impossible to find a Crimean Tatar flag at Maidan in Kyiv?
Questions to which I have no answer. I have fears. I have the fear that part of Ukraine has actually no problem if Eastern Ukraine goes. They watch the same images as me, television or computer screens filled with uneducated, uncivilized, half-drunken losers who are shouting they want to be slaves of Russia. They are disgusted, and think – please, maybe this glass with poison pass? And I also fear there are people in the government who think the same way, a sort of attitude of “let’s get rid of that mess and concentrate on the West and the center, then we have a chance.”
I actually understand those feelings, but I think they are wrong. They are wrong because first of all Putin will not stop here. He is like an infectious disease, he will keep on coming, he is a gargantuan – he never has enough. He set on a course that will only end with his own demise, when he himself will be thrown out of power.
Secondly, there are millions out there who do not want to be ruled by this bunch of crooks and idiots. I agree: it is upsetting that most of them stay home, and instead watch in horror what happens yet prefer to hide. But what to do after 75 years of Soviet Union and twenty years of a sequence of corrupt and stealing self-centered governments? They have learned to lie low and see if better times are ahead. Most of them have come to the realization, actually, that better times will never come and that the biggest happiness they can reach is some coziness in their own private kitchens.
But still, even if this is so, one has the moral duty to defend them, to defend their freedom. Because they too are Ukrainian citizens, they too deserve a life outside the madness that Putin has brought about.
Robert van Voren is Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (Lithuania) and Ilia State University in Tbilisi (Georgia).