WASHINGTON, February 28, 2014 – For several weeks TV viewers were flooded with reports about an uprising in Kiev against the now deposed president of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych. While most of these reports were noticeably one-sided, the ones from FOX-news and the rest of Rupert Murdoch’s Media Empire were uniformly hysterical. The struggle in Ukraine was supposedly between “the West,” understood as those who agree with George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and John Bolton, and the evil enemies of democracy who were accused of groveling to Vladimir Putin. Those who complained about our failure to take action in Ukraine have been aiming their shafts at Putin for years.
Whether the fight was about the Russian leader’s unwillingness to allow gays to preach their lifestyle among the young, his arrest of the Pussy Riot vocalists after they had desecrated the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, the discovery of yellow drinking water in hotels at the Sochi Olympics, or Putin’s siding with Yanukovych in Kiev, the Russian president is now depicted as a menacing thug.
The civil unrest in Kiev was just one more club with which to go after him.
Without going into the reasons for this unquenchable hatred that has led some into viewing Putin as the newest stand-in for Hitler, it may be useful to put the Ukrainian situation into perspective. The Eastern and Western parts of the country are different lands, historically, culturally and religiously. While the Eastern regions contain large Russian minorities and, like the Russians, belong to the Orthodox Church, Western Ukraine is mostly Roman Catholic. Moreover, until after the Second World War, most Western Ukrainians lived outside of a Ukrainian state. Western Ukrainians, who continue to be fiercely nationalistic, were the interwar subjects of Romania and Poland and had been under the Austro-Hungarian Empire before that. The two parts were fully united under Stalin after the Second World War, when Poland was moved west, at the expense of Germans who were expelled from their homes. At that point most of the present Ukraine fell under Soviet control.
The Ukrainians who suffered most grievously under Stalin’s tyranny were living in what is now the eastern part of their country. But the inhabitants of this area also seem, paradoxically, to have become the most thoroughly Russianized. That is because large numbers of Russians were encouraged under the Soviets to move into Ukraine. Further, the indigenous population is culturally more like Russians than like Western Ukrainians. It would have been a good idea to create two countries out of what was artificially joined together as one. And there may still be an opportunity to arrange an amicable separation between the two parts, as took place with the Czechs and the Slovaks, who broke up peacefully after the fall of the Soviet Empire.
Instead there has been continuing strife between the regions, and the fall of Yanukovych and his replacement by a government installed by the opposition will not likely solve the sectional bitterness.
The attempt to present the struggle, as the mainstream media have done, as a confrontation between a ruthless dictatorship and the forces of humanity, ignores certain historic realities. Neither the pro-Russian regime that just fell in Kiev nor the opposition one still identified with Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, has been above corruption.
Tymoshenko was brought down partly for her gas energy deals, such as one that she arranged in 2009 through a Ukrainian gas company Naftagaz. The prime minister strong-armed Naftagaz into doing business with the Russians. Tymoshenko and her husband, who heads the Ukrainian Fatherland Party, were among the richest people in Europe when they entered politics, and they acquired their fortune as brokers in multiple gas deals. As prime minister it seems that Timoshenko continued these practices. And though we may certainly question the fairness of the trial on charges of embezzlement Yanokvych had brought against her, Tymoshenko’s financial deals reeked with impropriety.
The anti-Russian, Ukrainian nationalist party which took over and which is associated with such organizations as the Right Sector and the Fatherland Party is not exactly an ingathering of the saints. These “democrats” plan to punish leaders of the former government as war criminals and will be doing so to the cheers of the Western press. The rhetoric emanating from some of these nationalists, particularly against Russians and Jews, also suggests that the change in government may not end pleasantly.
It is not that the victorious opposition, which is seeking to make a financial deal with the EU, is morally or politically worse than its opponents. But it is simplistic to view the Ukrainian confrontation, as the Obama administration and even more foolishly, the Republicans have done, as a battle between good and evil. There’s no reason to believe the successful demonstrators will be nicer in exercising power than those they have ousted with massive, violent demonstrations.