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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Ukrainian Crisis Shows The Complexities Of Life

I have a great deal of respect for the Ukraine because of the ties that some of the people whom I have either read or known have with that country. I could start with one of my most memorable students who was in one of my computer science classes. That class met 3 times a week for lectures and recitation and then the class was divided into two 2-hour lab periods with students being required to attend only one of those labs. My Ukrainian student attended both so that she could do her work in one lab and help her classmates in the other.

Then Noam Chomsky's father came from the Ukraine as did Anna Politkovskaya's parents. In addition Kseniya Simonova is from the Ukraine. All of these people have painted a pleasant picture of the Ukrainian people for me.

But obviously, Ukrainians are a diverse people as the recent unrest has shown. The unrest revolves around economic ties and performance. The Ukraine's economic performance has suffered so much since 2004 that the its economy is in dire straights and thus a decision had to be made. Should the Ukraine reestablish closer economic ties with Russia or should it reach out to the West with its neoliberal austerity cuts? Of course there were other options but it is unclear if they were considered. The Ukraine was choosing between hanging with a bully who could beat up anyone in the region or trusting a hachet-happy, austerity accountant who skims profits off the top while deciding who in the country will and won't get an allowance. 

Those who opposed closer ties with Russia, which is a wise choice, wanted the Ukraine to look to Europe. Those who opposed dependence on the EU, which is another wise choice, wanted the Ukraine to get into bed with Russia. One might be the loneliest number but the number two all too often leads people into making regrettable decisions.

But a further complication comes into play when one considers that some of the anti-government protesters were ultra-nationalists. One of these ultra-nationalist groups, Svoboda, had historical ties with the Nazis because of associations with past groups that had anti-communist and anti-Semitic sentiments. In addition, it has current ties with far-right, nationalist groups in Europe. Far-right groups, like Svoboda, are looking to cut the cord with Russia and thus their asking for help from the EU is considered to be more of a means than an ends (click here).

We should also add some context to Russia's involvement here. Russia's losses in WWII were horrific: 20 to 25 million people. In fact, it has suffered devastating invasions from the West twice last century and once during the century before that. And while the deal which Gorbachev negotiated for the reunification of Germany specified that there would be no eastward expansion for NATO, eastward expansion is exactly what Russia saw. In fact, during the 2008 Presidential election when candidate McCain was supporting the deployment of Ballistic Missile Defense Systems (BMDS) in former Warsaw Pact countries, Russia was threatening to use tactical nuclear weapons on the bases in Eastern Europe should the bases be built. That is because such bases, though proposed to offer a defense shield against future Iranian missiles, could actually have been used to lower Russia's nuclear deterrent. 

So in essence, we really don't know who we are helping, why we are helping, and what ends we are working toward by supporting the revolution. At the same time, we know the devil we would dance with if we support Russia. All we can do is to note that neither of the first two choices for an economic alliance and rescue are preferable. That is because help from either Russia or the EU comes with a parasitically debilitating price tag for the Ukraine.

Certainly there are good revolutionaries in the Ukraine, but what we are witnessing with the political unrest is proof that we have not learned from WWII. For while some think that WWII taught us not to resort to war to solve our conflicts, which is partially true; in reality, WWII should have taught us that the price of continued expansion and empire is too high for anybody to pay. For expansion and empire eventually bring conflict and then destruction. 

And it matters not whether that expansion and empire does not involve armed conflict. In fact, most expansions today are done invisibly through economic means. But expansion and empire are what is being pursued nevertheless. And the rewards go only to a select few. So what peace groups in and out of the affected areas should be working for is obvious. Not only should they work to oppose any planned armed conflict, they should also act as barricades to all attempts at expansion whether it comes from Russia or the EU. In other words, the Ukraine needs no strings attached economic help along with fuller democratic controls. To not oppose those who would take advantage of the Ukraine's vulnerability and unrest is to fail to understand the Ukraine's crisis.

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