29 October 2014
As results of Sunday’s election are confirmed (deadline: 30 October), it appears that – with over 90% of the votes counted – the parties of the president and prime minister, respectively, will need to enter a coalition with only one other party to form an absolute majority of 226 seats or more in the new parliament. The Petro Poroshenko Bloc and Popular Front evidently have 214 seats between them, and in coalition with Self-Help (another pro-European party that did much better than expected), that majority increases to 248 – more than enough to withstand opposition votes if the parties vote as parties. The issue of the veto-proof or “constitutional” majority of 300 is now moot for the current authorities, since the situation whereby the parliamentary majority opposes the president (as witnessed during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, for example) is not relevant today.
This is good news for those who feared a scenario in which the deeply mistrusted Oleh Lyashko (leader of the Radical Party) would emerge as a “kingmaker” in the new legislature. Lyashko’s actual source of support and patronage are still unclear. It also means that the two leading parties are not compelled to ally with Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party, which is also seen as unpredictable due to the prominence of its high-profile leader. However, for votes on constitutional amendments, the ruling coalition will be forced to obtain the support of other MPs, and the still-unclear affiliation of 97 majoritarian candidates who won election to the new Verkhovna Rada may prove crucial.
(BPP) Petro Poroshenko Bloc – 131
Popular Front – 83
Samopomіch (Self-Help) – 34
Opposition Bloc – 29
Radical Party – 20
Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) – 18
Svoboda (Freedom) – 6
Right Sector – 3
Strong Ukraine – 1
Spade – 1
Self-Nominated (mostly of uncertain affiliation) – 97
27 October 2014
As this article from The Jerusalem Post suggests, the possible failure of the “Svoboda” (Freedom) Party to retain its presence in the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) after elections on 26 October may be attributable to its anti-Semitic overtones at various times, both in and out of the Verkhovna Rada, over the past couple of years. But as matters stand, whatever one thinks of Svoboda, its projected percentage (somewhere around 4.7%) seems suspiciously close to the barrier for a party with such a high profile (not all ballots have been counted, but so far the party appears not to have crossed the 5% threshold). Svoboda has consistently shown an ability to rally a big crowd in the capital, Kyiv, and one must suppose that its support in western Ukraine is still high. With anti-Russian sentiments running much higher than usual in Ukraine at the moment in light of the annexation of Crimea and Russian-backed proxy war in eastern Ukraine, it seems odd that the most vocally anti-Kremlin, established Ukrainian party would fail to do well. The party’s leader, Oleh Tyahnibok, has already cried foul. However, some Jewish groups both in Ukraine and abroad are apparently relieved…
Svoboda party unlikely to enter parliament – election exposes rift between Jewish oligarchs
The Jerusalem Post ~ 27 October 2014
Russian propaganda describing the Ukrainian government as fascist took a hit on Monday when the far-right Svoboda party apparently failed to maintain its place in national politics by receiving less than the five percent threshold required to enter the legislature. Senior figures among the various Jewish communities and organizations there expressed pleasure at the widespread support for the pro-western blocs of President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, which together took just over 43 percent of the vote as of Monday evening, with 63 percent of the ballots counted.
Svoboda came in seventh, following the Self Help and other nationalist and pro-European factions riding the wave of discontent with the corruption and tilt toward Moscow that characterized the regime of ousted President Vladimir Yanukovich. While corruption remains a major problem and the role of oligarchs and business interests in politics remains, Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate magnate, has staked his fortunes on increasing transparency and accountability in government.
The only outlier among the top performing parties is the Opposition Bloc, a coalition of holdovers from the Yankovich administration who generally maintain a much more favorable attitude towards Moscow than their political rivals.
Svoboda, known as the Social-National Party of Ukraine until 2004, has been accused of being a neo-Nazi party by Ukrainian Jews and while party leaders have a history of making anti-Semitic remarks, their rhetoric has toned down considerably over the past years as they attempted to go mainstream.
Svoboda is “back where it should have been,” Ukraine’s American born Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich told the Jerusalem Post on Monday, alleging that it had succeeded in the 2012 parliamentary elections because Yanukovich “wanted the opposition to look bad so he boosted their popularity.”
Svoboda and the small militant Pravy Sektor organization have been favorite subjects in the Russian media, which has portrayed Ukraine as a state taken over by fascists and anti-Semites.
Svoboda is “back in its natural place now,” Bleich stated.
Reuven Stamov, the leader of Kiev’s Conservative community, agreed, telling the Post that “they don’t have so much support as they say in Russia. Its simply not like that.”
According to Eduard Dolinksy, the executive director of the Kiev based Ukrainian Jewish Committee, the election results are good for the Jewish community.
“I think these elections will be good for the country because there will be a pro-European coalition and therefore it will be good for the country and this will be good for the Jews,” he asserted, pointing to Jews in among both the reformers and the opposition.
Among the Jews in parliament is MP Oleksandr Feldman, an oligarch and the founder of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. Parliamentary seats are apportioned through both a proportional representative system and by direct election of candidates by region. Feldman has long represented his native Kharkov and while an independent, was politically associated with the Yankovich regime.
During the height of the Maidan revolution in January, when a series of attacks against Jews created worries about antisemitism, Feldman accused the pro-western protest movement of being taken over by Svoboda and retired his call for a negotiated solution to the political crisis. Feldman has been consistent in his calls for Jewish non-involvement in both the protests and the civil war gripping eastern Ukraine.
Another Jewish oligarch, Vadim Rabinovich, the head of the All Ukrainian Jewish Congress and a former Presidential candidate, was elected to parliament as part of the Opposition Bloc.
Initially a supporter of Jewish non-involvement like Feldman, Rabinovich’s decision to join the opposition was a shock to Ukrainian Jews, said a source familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous.
This turnaround led to a split with his longtime collaborator Igor Kolomoisky, the regional governor of Dnepropetrovsk and the benefactor of the local Jewish community. Kolomoisky, who also runs the United Jewish Communities of Ukraine organization, had previously worked closely with Rabinovich, jointly founding the European Jewish Parliament and collaborating on various projects.
As Dnepropetrosvk regional governor, Kolomoisky has outfitted and equipped volunteer military units out of his own money to prosecute the war against Russian-backed rebels in Donbas and has emerged as a leading nationalist figure, representing the increase in Ukrainian patriotism evinced in both his community and others throughout the country.
Last week the opposition bloc called on the government to can Kolomoisky, stating that “Open attacks have been arranged on opposition leaders,” according to the Kiev Post.
Both Rabinovich and Kolomoisky’s organizations were closely linked, with the source describing the two as really constituting one body, but recent management changes serve as proof that this no longer holds true.
Asked about the split, Shmuel Kaminezki, the Rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk said that while Rabinovich is free to follow his political beliefs as an individual, “we hope that he will not make the Jewish community look like we are in opposition.”
The general consensus among community figures seems to be that many Jews voted for the reformists candidates in the election.
According to Bleich, the split between the two oligarchs came during 2013 due to disagreements over projects that the two were running together and that there is no cause to worry about possible resentment by reform minded voters that such a prominent Jew as Rabinovich decided to cast his lot with the opposition Bloc.
Ukrainian voters, the rabbi explained, can see that there are Jews in many of the factions, including Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman and many others.
Joel Rubinfeld, who ran the European Jewish Parliament for the oligarchs until resigning in June, said the organization had been plagued by funding issues since November 2013, the same month that the Maidan protests began in Kiev.
“I don’t know what is the link between this and that but it didn’t help at all,” he said, explaining that he stayed on until it was clear that he could not get the necessary funding to continue operating as before.
Neither Bleich nor Jossef Zissels, the Vaad Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, believe that there will be any significant ramifications for Ukrainian Jewish life because of the split.
“For 25 years, the process of transformation of Soviet Jews to another identity – Ukrainian Jews” has taken place slowly, Zissels said. “The events of the last year on the Maidan, the Crimea and the Donbas slightly sped up the process and it is well illustrated by the results of elections in which the majority of Jews, in my opinion, have voted for pro-European parties.”
Such developments, he continued, are more significant than any internal political maneuvering within the community.
Whatever representation of the far right remains in parliament, he continued, will direct their attention “exclusively against Russian aggression in the coming years, and in this regard will not be distracted by the migrants, black, yellow, and even more so – the Jews.”
26 October 2014
My impression from the exit polls now being announced all over Ukrainian media is a mixture of shock and relief. It is still too early to know how matters will pan out, as the majoritarian vote result is still unknown and may result in substantial changes. But as things stand, I find it strange that the electoral bloc of the president received about 2% more than the party of the prime minister, the Popular Front.
Since before the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych in February, it has been evident that Washington entertained a preference for Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who then was only another opposition party leader in parliament. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was recorded by Russian intelligence confiding on the phone to the US ambassador to Ukraine that “Yats” seemed the best choice to lead economic reform, etc. Yet Mr. Poroshenko since his election in May has been by far the most visible and (by most accounts) “popular” figure in the current leadership. People in any country tend to have a liking for wealthy and successful businessmen, and in countries such as Chile, billionaires have won convincingly. Mr. Yatsenyuk has been very straight-faced and solemn about the need to press ahead with reforms to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union, but this sort of talk is alien to much of the electorate. Still, Yatsenyuk has to be acknowledged as someone who has run a very visible campaign and has not wavered from his “bitter pill” economic line. He has been the grim face at a desk in the Cabinet of Ministers building, while Mr. Poroshenko has traveled around meeting the troops and speaking to Western parliaments, etc.
The other shock is the performance of the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, widely predicted to take second place and as much as 13% of the vote. In the run-up to the election, media outlets owned by Ihor Kolomoysky, Ukraine’s second richest man (after Rinat Akhmetov) and the current governor of the eastern district of Dnipropetrovsk, ran exposes of Lyashko, ridiculing him and raising suspicion that he was a fifth columnist. If the exit poll data coincides with the actual vote, Lyashko will have received about half of what was expected.
26 October 2014
According to exit polls, 7 parties will enter the new Verkhovna Rada
Two minutes after polls closed on election day in Ukraine, the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper released the following data from exit polls conducted around the country. It appears that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc has not performed as well as expected, as opinion polls prior to the election had given the party as much as 40%. As matters stand, it appears that – combined – the parties of the president and prime minister will have an absolute majority of seats, and would thus not be compelled to form a coalition with potentially unreliable blocs and politicians. At the same time, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of Ukraine will apparently not enter parliament. This is probably a function of the fact that millions of Ukrainians (up to 4 million, by some estimates) in Crimea and areas of the Donbas under the control of pro-Russian separatists were unable to vote, and have traditionally supported the leftist and pro-Moscow political forces in Ukraine.
These exit poll numbers reflect only the result from the proportional representation (party list) half of the ballot. Members of other parties may enter parliament from single-mandate constituencies in numbers great enough to form factions and alliances that would function as de facto parties.
At a press conference at the Ukrinform information agency, the National Exit Poll conducted by the Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIC) and the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Research announced the following results:
Petro Poroshenko Bloc – 23%
Popular Front – 21.3%
Self-Help – 13.2%
Opposition Bloc – 7.6%
Radical Party – 6.4%
Svoboda – 6.3%
Fatherland – 5.6%
Civil Position – 3.5%
Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) – 2.9%
Strong Ukraine 2.6%
Right Sector – 2.4%
Spade – 1.8
Others – Less than 1%
The “Ukraine – Parliamentary Elections 2014” exit poll was conducted by the Yeryomenko “Social Monitoring” Center and the Ukrainian Institute for Social Research released the following:
Petro Poroshenko Bloc – 23.1%
Popular Front – 19.7%
Self-Help – 11%
Opposition Bloc – 9.9%
Radical Party – 6.6%
Svoboda – 5.8%
Fatherland – 5.7%
At a press conference at the UNIAN press agency, the International Exit Poll reported as follows:
Petro Poroshenko Bloc – 22.2%.
Popular Front – 21.8%
Self-Help – 14.2%
Opposition Bloc – 7.8%
Radical Party – 6.4%
Svoboda – 5.8%
Fatherland – 5.6%
Civil Position – 3.2%
CPU – 2.9%
Strong Ukraine – 2.7%
The data of the Savik Shuster Studio Exit Poll conducted by the Ukraina TV channel was as follows:
Petro Poroshenko Bloc – 23.2%
Popular Front – 20.7%
Self-Help – 13%
Opposition Bloc – 8%
Radical Party – 6.8%
Svoboda – 5.8%
Fatherland – 5.5%
Civil Position – 3.1%
CPU – 2.9%
Strong Ukraine – 2.8%
The Television Exit Poll of ICTV conducted by TNS reported:
Petro Poroshenko Bloc – 24.63%
Popular Front – 22.32%
Self-Help – 11.7%
Radical Party – 7.4%
Opposition Bloc – 6.8%
Fatherland – 6.07%
Svoboda – 6.03%
Civil Position – 2.8%
CPU – 2.79%
25 October 2014
[email protected]: Russia brings in new batches of volunteer-mercenaries to die at Donetsk airport
“With the inability of the Russian mercenary proxies to capture Donetsk Airport for 154 days in a row now, and causing hundreds of casualties among them, Russia has decided to send Russian Army specialists together with the new batches of men and armor that have to give it another try.”
23 October 2014
The headline in the newspaper “Crimean Pravda” yesterday (as I learned first thing this morning) is: “City council says Poroshenko could make Hitler’s birthday a state holiday.”
The beginning of the article quotes the press service of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea (annexed by Russia in March) as saying that they are following “with pain and indignation” the process of Ukraine’s “slide into the ‘abyss of brown noise’, which is taking on increasingly freakish forms.”
It makes one desperate to go to Crimea and sample the parallel universe, and apparently this is easier than I previously thought. To get to Crimea, as an American, one needs only obtain a Russian visa and cross into the occupied peninsula from Ukrainian territory (entering Crimea from any other country, including Russia, is a violation of Ukrainian law). So all I need is a visa, train ticket and reservation. But I’m told it’s very rainy there this time of year, so I may wait.
22 October 2014
Financial Times: “Café encounter exposes reality of Russian soldiers in Ukraine”
20 October 2014
President Poroshenko considers the Verkhovna Rada’s refusal to change the electoral law to allow military personnel to vote in the area of Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) “immoral.”
He said this to reporters during a visit to the Training Center for training junior specialists of the State Border Service of Ukraine in Orshanka, Cherkassy district, according to “Ukrainskiye Novosti.”
“I believe that it is immoral to deprive military personnel in the area of ATO of voting privileges,” said the president.
Poroshenko also added that all measures be taken to ensure the holding of elections and allowing the military to vote.
He believes it is necessary to publish a list of MPs who did not support such bill.
Poroshenko based his decision on the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada of the seventh convocation.
As you know, on October 20th, the Verkhovna Rada refused to include in the agenda of the meeting bills № 5157 and 5157-1 amending the electoral law for the organization of early parliamentary elections.
The latter law would permit the military to vote outside their places of permanent deployment, i.e., in the area of the Anti-Terrorist Operation.
19 October 2014
Human rights activist Lyudmila Bogatenkova has been arrested in Russia for investigating the deaths of a soldiers in the Donbas. As reported on the Facebook page “Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg,” the 73-year-old was placed in jail.
Bohatenkova chairs the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Budyonnovsk and Budyonnovsky region. The woman was searched and detained on charges of fraud. She has been prohibited from contacting a lawyer until Monday. Human rights activists believe such police action to be an act of intimidation.
Lyudmila Bogatenkova has actively protected the rights of military personnel for many years. For the past month she has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Russian troops this summer.
19 October 2014
The unhealthy obsession with Putin continues.
Lately, the Russian leader has seen fit to “remind” the West that Russia has a nuclear arsenal, and issued vague threats of “nuclear consequences” if the West does this or that.
Earlier this year I concluded that Putin was an emotional adolescent, and these statements only reinforce the conviction. Yet it is unsettling to say the least to live in Kyiv during a period of conflict with Russian-backed forces while the Russian head of state boasts about his ability to turn entire countries into radioactive ash.
Putin does not look normal either. He often has an expression of demented glee on his face at high-level meetings, and I believe he may have lost his mind.
But of course the madness may have started much earlier, back when Putin was pals with Tony Blair…
17 October 2014
The potential flashpoint of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine became the site of another shooting today, as gunmen attacked a Ukrainian convoy carrying technical equipment. Eyewitnesses say that mercenaries shot at a car. However, there were no injuries because the vehicle was empty of people at the time. The headquarters of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) confirmed that the attack had taken place, and said militants were trying to destroy Ukrainian military-technical equipment using explosives. It was also reported that the ATO forces yesterday repelled a terrorist assault on a checkpoint near Maloorlivky in Donetsk District.
17 October 2014
This morning I awoke to a link shared with me by my Kyivan friend on Facebook. Someone has cleverly taken photo portraits of Russian leaders and juxtaposed them with stills from the famous Soviet miniseries “Seventeen Moments of Spring,” about a Soviet master spy who poses as an SS officer during World War II in order to bring down the Third Reich.
16 October 2014
As reported by ЛИГА.новости website, President Poroshenko has signed a law on the “special status” of territories in Lugansk and Donetsk districts controlled by separatists. The law concerns:
Management in cities, villages and towns by the local communities through local self-government in accordance with the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. The powers of local councils and officers are to be elected by special election, designated by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Law № 1680-VII, and are not to be terminated before the end of their terms. Extraordinary elections of deputies of the district, city, city district, town and village councils, village, town and city mayors in some areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions have been scheduled for December 7, 2014.
However, this law is apparently conditional on Ukraine’s reestablishment of control of the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia, and this will require Russia’s cooperation.
16 October 2014
Right Sector confronts Kyiv court in murder case
A meeting of Shevchenkyvskyi Court in the case of Vyacheslav Veremiy has held in closed session, barring members of the media and public. Representatives of the “Right Sector” arrived at the office of the presiding judge to demand an explanation. The judge promised to do everything possible to open the proceedings, but at the request of the prosecutor, the media was led out of the courtroom.
Vyacheslav Veremiy was a journalist for the Vesti newspaper. As he was returning home in a taxi at approximately 4 am on February 19th, near the Intercontinental Hotel on Bolshaya Zhitomirska, he saw a crowd armed “titushki” (pro-government thugs) in camouflage and began to photograph them. They noticed and shouted at him: “Who are you photographing?! Why are you taking pictures?!” He was then brutally beaten in the street and shot in the chest at close range. A few hours later, Veremiy died in hospital of his wounds.
The man accused of murdering Veremiy was released from house arrest and now moves around freely in Kyiv. Katerina Veremiy, the mother of the deceased, is pleading for proper punishment.
14 October 2014
A series of laws came into force on the same day today, and another proposed law did not gain enough votes to enter force, sparking protests and demonstrations.
Yesterday, President Poroshenko issued a decree canceling the February 23rd Soviet-era holiday known as “Defense of the Fatherland Day,” celebrating the Soviet Army. He replaced it with the “Day of Ukrainian Cossacks,” to be celebrated on October 14th and commemorating those who had fought to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including those involved in the current conflict with Russia. October 14th is also the anniversary of the formation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Poroshenko announced the change in the Verkhovna Rada today.
Also passed was a law creating a National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which will operate outside existing law enforcement organs, but which will be authorized to investigate crimes perpetrated by officials and to prevent criminal activity. The law passed by 278 votes.
A law on reform of the Office of the General Prosecutor was passed by 316 votes, and stripped the body of its supervision function. The law will remove the supervisory power that the office has enjoyed over investigations and the preparation of legal cases since the time of Stalin.
But another law did not pass, receiving only 198 votes. It was a bill to recognize the members of the WWII-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) as heroes. When the law failed to pass, protests began outside the Verkhovna Rada, although the two main ultra-nationalist parties – Svoboda (Freedom) and the Right Sector – issues statements that the violence was not of their doing.
Both Svoboda and Right Sector held large demonstrations later in the day. The Svoboda meeting served as a campaign event, with prominent party leaders including Oleh Tyahnibok giving speeches, and an elderly veteran of the UPA also making statements. Right Sector marched from Shevchenko Park to Mykhailivska Square and held a large demonstration estimated to be as big as 5,000. Both parties expressed their dissatisfaction with the leadership of President Petro Poroshenko, with Right Sector warning that the president would meet the same fate as his predecessor if he betrayed the people.
14 October 2014
Yesterday a protest occurred outside the Presidential Administration on Bankova Street. The participants were a few hundred conscripts of the Interior Ministry Troops (now the National Guard). They were protesting against the fact that, as conscripts, they were only supposed to serve for one year, but they had been serving for a year and a half and now wanted to be sent home. Some said they had already been sent to the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) zone several times.
They were confronted by a Ukrainian journalist with a microphone and a camera, who told them they should be appealing to the military procurator’s office, not the president, but these youngsters appeared to have no idea. They looked to be teenagers, most of them.
It is amazing to me that, at the time of this protest, members of volunteer battalions were defending Donetsk Airport in and other parts of the east, daily facing the threat of death by shelling, bombing and shooting. This kind of event highlights the problem facing Ukraine as it pushes for independence from Moscow: many soldiers simply have no idea what they are fighting for, and probably still see Putin and Russia as brothers. As always, a volunteer army proves to be the most effective.
12 October 2014
The impetus for creating this blog was Russia’s victimization of Ukraine from March 2014 onward, in reaction to the “Euromaidan” popular uprising that took place from November 2013 to February 2014. As a year approached since ousted President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an Association Agreement with the European Union, sparking mass protests that led to Euromaidan and his overthrow, I decided to chronicle my experiences.
Long before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime decided to “correct” what it called a “historical mistake” by seizing Ukrainian territory in 2014 and fomenting a highly destructive war in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, the country had often seemed hopelessly divided, both politically and socially. In the center and northwest, people spoke Ukrainian daily, and their land had only been part of the Soviet Union since the end of World War II. In the east and south lived those whose first language was Russian, and whose homelands had been part of the Soviet Union since its formation (and of the Russian Empire long before that). Post-Soviet Ukrainian political parties and factions reflected this history, and cynical Ukrainian leaders exploited social divisions to perpetuate a corrupt oligarchy, encouraged and aided from Moscow. Ukrainian state officials with small salaries became obscenely wealthy, while ordinary people scrambled around daily to scrape together a few dollars. Decent, law-abiding people became accustomed to bribery as a necessary price of basic services. Within a few years, corruption was no longer an aberration in Ukraine. It was the system.
Worse, post-Soviet Ukraine suffered from chronic economic dependence on another country: Russia. The interdependence between republics inherent to the Soviet system appeared particularly acute in Ukraine, with heavy-industrial and agricultural sectors representing a key link in the chain of production for much of the Russian economy. The two countries looked inseparably intertwined, and Ukraine appeared no less corrupt than its larger neighbor to the north. This made it difficult to sympathize with mass demonstrations of democracy and “people power.” The Orange Revolution at the end of 2004 fizzled out only a couple of years after installing its pro-Western leader, Viktor Yushchenko. Since it always felt that Moscow could tear Ukraine apart at will, with all the violence and pain that would result, it was not difficult to resign oneself to the belief that Ukraine could only exist as a united, sovereign state under an authoritarian regime. It was easy to give up hope in a democratic Ukraine. Between authoritarianism and war, the former seemed the lesser evil.
Before March 2014, when the Russian Federation annexed Crimea, the last time the world had become aware of a country unilaterally annexing the territory of another state by force was in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and declared it to be the “19th Province” of Iraq. The American president declared that this action by the Baathist autocracy in Baghdad would “not stand,” and even the Soviet Union consented to a US-led military operation to reverse the aggression. The Iraqi dictatorship’s bullying had shocked consciences everywhere.
Nearly a quarter century later, the world would watch a peaceful east European country lose a large piece of its territory at the hands of a revanchist regime in Moscow. But this time, as Russian troops left their barracks and drove the vastly outnumbered Ukrainian forces out of the Crimean peninsula at gunpoint, neither the United States nor any other country would do anything to stop it. The Russian regime perpetrated theft on a grand scale and thumbed its nose at the Western economic sanctions that followed. An internationally recognized border in Europe had been unilaterally redrawn, and the world order many of us had taken for granted all our lives lay in tatters. Western countries condemned Russia with words, but the ordeals of other European countries would consist of minor sacrifices in trade and commerce with Russia. For Ukraine itself, the ordeal was only beginning.
As I launch this web log, Ukraine is at war. Russian-backed separatist rebels routinely violate a ceasefire agreement signed on September 5th after months of fighting and thousands killed. Ukrainian soldiers I have spoken with exhibit controlled rage, as they and their comrades struggle daily to obey an order not to return fire. Since the ceasefire, Russian-backed forces have repeatedly tried to capture the airport in Donetsk – the largest city in the Donetsk district – even though Ukrainian forces controlled this target when the agreement was signed. The West, they say, does nothing to help them defend themselves against terrorists, who receive arms, equipment and training from across the eastern border. Refugees have left the area by the tens of thousands, fleeing the death and destruction.
Ukraine is waging a defensive war to enforce its sovereignty, and it is a just war. Young soldiers of the regular Ukrainian army, special battalions, National Guard units, volunteers – all risk their lives daily to prevent the Russian proxy forces from advancing further into Ukrainian territory. As of October, about a thousand Ukrainian troops have been killed since fighting broke out in April. These facts are undeniable, and they demand sympathy for Ukraine.
The aspirations of ordinary people for a fairer society and a more decent life everywhere will continue, regardless of what cynics think. Ukraine’s citizens are not perfect. Its institutions of state are flawed. Its challenges are immense. But Ukraine is a 21st-century David fighting a retrograde imperial Goliath. Under these circumstances, people of conscience everywhere must stand with Ukraine.