An Interesting Choice of Leaders

Alex K. has posted a graphic account of the treatment of a woman suspected of being pro-Ukrainian in the city of Donetsk recently.

I made a comment under the post which I’ve decided to turn into a post of my own, because I am genuinely baffled here.  From what I have seen thus far, and the account above can only serve to reinforce this view, the separatists in east Ukraine are a bunch of violent, armed thugs accountable to nobody (anybody remember MH17?) who have taken it upon themselves to dish out arbitrary punishments to anyone suspected of being against them, operating with impunity and the full support of the Russian government.  And these people claim to represent the ethnic Russians who wish to secede from Kiev’s rule.

Is this seriously what Ukraine’s Russians want, these guys in charge?  I can understand why the thugs want it, but where are the middle classes, the educated Russians, in all this?  Do they honestly believe these roaming gangs of bandits, looking like extras from Mad Max 2, have their best interests in mind?  Or are they as horrified by what is going on as everyone else, but too scared to speak out?

I know a lot will turn a blind eye to the separatists’ methods because they will genuinely see the Ukrainian government as bringing war to their neighbourhoods, but I find it hard to believe that all ethnic Russians will apportion the blame in this manner.  And there is not enough of an ethnic, religious, historical, or cultural divide to generate the hatred that would cause thousands of educated, otherwise decent people to support marauding bands of armed thugs shooting their erstwhile friends and neighbours.

I find the whole thing bewildering.  Personally I think the idea of Scottish independence as presented is laughable (but good luck to them, if that’s what they want), but at least they have leaders who appear to be politicians.  What the east Ukrainians are doing is the equivalent of the Scottish independence movement being led by armed gangs of Glasgow football hooligans on a giant rampage.  Was Kievan rule really so bad that the Ukraine’s Russians see this as an improvement?

The closest parallel I can think of is the Catholics/Republicans in Northern Ireland.  Their independence movement was to a large extent led by murderous thugs (albeit better presented than Ukraine’s equivalents), and their lower ranks enjoyed beating the shit out of anyone they suspected of disloyalty along with running protection rackets and other criminal enterprises.  Yet despite their thuggish violence they still enjoyed the support of much of the ordinary Catholic population.

So perhaps it is the same with Ukraine’s Russians, and they are hopeful that these men will secure them a place in the Russian Federation after which Moscow will take over and the local headcases and Ossetian mercenaries will quietly pack up and go home.  But I’m interested to know where are the educated, semi-respectable (at least on camera) leaders of the separatist movement, the Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness?  Waiting in the wings in Russia?  Who knows?

But for now, I guess they’re happy with a bunch of shitfaced hooligans who 6 months ago were drinking beer in the local park at 10am.

Share

11 thoughts on “An Interesting Choice of Leaders

  1. >Or are they as horrified by what is going on as everyone else,
    >but too scared to speak out?

    As a guess, they are mostly keeping their heads down while they make their plans to move to Kiev or Moscow. Or possibly they are there already. Just like a lot of sensible middle-class people from Belfast have moved to Dublin or London long ago.

    The USSR was involved in stirring up trouble in Northern Ireland, and in turning the Basques to violence in Spain. A great deal of what is going on is the KGB doing the same things it did in the Cold War.

  2. “Is this seriously what Ukraine’s Russians want, these guys in charge?”

    The people leading the DNR and LNR do not represent anybody except their backers in Moscow. They were never elected or appointed by properly elected bodies. Their legitimacy is that of field commanders. The totally sham “independence referendums” in DNR and LNR were no gauge of popular support. We can’t even tell if the majority in Donbas has ever wished to secede from Ukraine and/or join Russia.

    I have seen anecdotal evidence that young, educated people from Donetsk and Lugansk tend to support Ukraine in the conflict. The famous Ukrainian volunteer commander Semen Semenchenko is a small businessman from Donetsk.

    I risk seeming a bore repeating this, but I use every opportunity to stress that this is not a conflict between ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians. It’s what Putin wants the world to believe, but I don’t see convincing evidence of a genuine ethnic conflict. The cities of Ukraine’s steppes are largely Russian speaking and nominally Eastern Orthodox. There is nothing like the Catholic vs Protestant, native Irish vs Scots-Irish opposition. Donbas’ grievances with Kyiv are non-existent compared with Irish grievances with British rule. Russian speakers from Dnepropetrovsk, Donetsk (in Ukraine), and Rostov (in Russia) aren’t that different ethnically because these areas were settled at about the same time – as recently as Oklahoma and Kansas – by about the same people from Ukraine and Russia.

    Yet Dnepropetrovsk fighters have been at the forefront of Ukraine’s war against Donetsk separatists. BTW Yulia Timoshenko was born in Dnepropetrovsk to a Russian mother and a Latvian-Jewish father, both Russophones, and learned Ukrainian in her 30s but no one is questioning her Ukraine-ness.

    My impression is that the conflict is between those who want to live in a Europeanized Ukraine and those who would rather live in the Soviet Union, Second Edition. Worse, it’s a class war of the nastiest kind: the underclass vs the rest. One Russian commentator has suggested that Putin is thinking about bringing it home, pitting Russia’s poor and disadvantaged against the middle class and especially the entrepreneurs. I can easily imagine Putin’s rhetoric: “These businessmen are the reason you’re poor, but to make things worse, they are opposing me – they are the reason the West imposed these horrible sanctions that are driving you to hunger and despair! Go take from them what rightfully belongs to you!”

  3. I risk seeming a bore repeating this, but I use every opportunity to stress that this is not a conflict between ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians. It’s what Putin wants the world to believe, but I don’t see convincing evidence of a genuine ethnic conflict.

    No, you’re right to repeat it.

    Donbas’ grievances with Kyiv are non-existent compared with Irish grievances with British rule.

    I am sure that is true, I was scrabbling for an analogy and that was the closest I could come up with.

    My impression is that the conflict is between those who want to live in a Europeanized Ukraine and those who would rather live in the Soviet Union, Second Edition.

    Yes, that was my impression too. The better informed commentators suggested right from the beginning that the closer ties with the EU and the subsequent revolution was due to people being utterly fed up with being ruled by gangsters in leather jackets, something closer ties to Moscow would only perpetuate.

    I can easily imagine Putin’s rhetoric: “These businessmen are the reason you’re poor, but to make things worse, they are opposing me – they are the reason the West imposed these horrible sanctions that are driving you to hunger and despair! Go take from them what rightfully belongs to you!”

    I could imagine that happening. Like Khrushchev, Putin imagines himself a man of the people and frequently reverts to using gutter language to demonstrate his earthly credentials.

  4. I’ve thought of Irish parallels, too, but could only come up with a silly hypothetical: a UK-backed Protestant independence movement in a united Ireland. But as I’ve said, there’s no confessional division and Donbas has a very different history. Its countryside was settled by fugitive serfs and Cossacks. Donetsk started as a settlement next to John Hughes’ new metal works in 1869. At first, it looked like an American West or Great Plains story more than anything from European history. A product of early Russian capitalism, which was pretty wild but delivered impressive growth.

    Still, Hughes’ovka had just 70,000 people in 1917. It became a real big town – a typical Soviet industrial city – by 1940, when it already had 500,000 residents. A product of Bolshevik industrialization. Mines and steel.

  5. There was a brief but interesting report from one of the Baltic states on Radio4 this morning. They interviewed, or perhaps ‘chatted with’ is a better description, a couple of Russian ethnics who lived in a town right on the border and they seemed perfectly happy to remain inside their little country especially as the frontier is open and they can cross to and fro. The reporter indicated that there appeared to be little appetite on their part to be, er, ‘rescued’ by Mr. Putin. But, heh!, when did he last ask anyone for their opinion?!

  6. This is a bigger problem in that it’s a serious geostrategic, whatever, problem in Europe which will involve redrawing borders, and has rather scary parallels to the German aggression under Hitler, only this time with nukes rendering any (overt) western armed intervention impossible. The parallels in Scotland and Northern Ireland would only see, respectively, an existing border take on more meaning, and another existing border disappear. No one is actually seriously fighting over territory there.

    And while educated, presentable people can make respectable arguments either way about the Scotland/NI situation, if you want to redraw a border you need thugs (pace Czechoslovakia). Whether those thugs are a chucked-together militia of failures or a more disciplined set of national armed forces, you still need those thugs.

    I don’t share your view that these thugs have no support amongst the middle classes. I know one middle class Crimean Russian who admits bearing considerable enmity towards Ukrainians until he moved to Kiev and found out that they were normal. A lack of integration as always is the problem here, and while to my knowledge there is no great hatred between Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine, the current situation will have amplified hatred and distrust on both sides and created such where there previously was none.

    Even in former Yugoslavia, we haven’t actually seen any significant redrawing of those borders. The ethnic cleansing, which would be ridiculous if it weren’t so tragic is incomplete, reversing course, and already fading into history. Every now and again a slight change in the course of the Danube results in some farmer waking up to find his fields in a different country to the one he went to bed in, and other than the usual diplomatic posturing over a few acres, it comes to nothing.

    Unfortunately, thanks to the dissolution of the USSR we still seem to have some borders in the wrong places in Europe (poster child: Georgia). As anathema it is to say that, we have to accept it and see if we can’t solve it amicably. Beyond significant Russian populations on the eastern fringes of most former republics there is the insane oddity of Kaliningrad. Among the more outlandish proposals there is that Germany simply buys it back. That would doubtless be a far better deal for Russia and the citizens of Kaliningrad than Germany. (Tangential factoid: Germany has the only NATO armed forces ever to have operated Mig fighters, inherited from the eastern armed forces).

    Back to those Russians in Europe. A lot of them were shipped in to shore up Russianism in the European fringe republics, but they are there now. We either have to ensure they are treated (and seen to be treated) with scrupulous fairness or face their being instrumentalised by Putin for the glory of the Russian empire. No sane Russian leader would stir up rebellion on NATO territory, let alone invade, but that is to assume that Putin is sane.

    Wouldn’t it be far simpler if Putin turned his expansionism back towards Afghanistan?

  7. “We either have to ensure they are treated (and seen to be treated) with scrupulous fairness or face their being instrumentalised by Putin for the glory of the Russian empire.” – Bloke from Germany

    This issue is limited to two small countries, Estonia and Latvia. Lithuania’s principal beef is with its Polish minority and all its resident “Russians” (i.e. Russian speakers) received citizenship at independence. The other two Baltic countries were less happy with having a large citizen Russophone minority by default. They instituted a naturalization system, which hundreds of thousands of resident Russophones have used to obtain citizenship.

    From the point of view of a young or middle-aged naturalized Latvian Russophone, there is simply nothing of value that Putin can offer. Enjoying a decent quality of life, having access to the EU education system and job market and Latvia’s not-so-bad institutions (compared with Russia), why would one act as an agent for a corrupt megalomaniac on the shaky basis of a shared mother tongue? One can grumble about having to learn Latvian, a language of great interest to linguists only, or get allergic to Latvian peasant nationalists extolling the virtues of their culture – which owes its very existence to Baltic Germans – but these are all minor points compared with the benefits of holding an EU passport, a present-day equivalent of Roman citizenship.

  8. @ Bloke in Germany,

    Many thanks for your comment, it is most welcome.

    I don’t share your view that these thugs have no support amongst the middle classes.

    Sorry, I might not have been very clear. It is hard to know what support they enjoy, but Putin’s Kim Jong-Il-esque approval levels would point to a significant section of Russian, and also east Ukrainian, middle classes supporting the rebels. It’s not like middle-class support of thuggish behaviour is unknown in this part of the world (with the caveat that the thuggish behaviour is directed towards somebody else). My surprise was more that there appears to be no normal, educated, articulate, well-dressed representative of the middle classes in the rebel leadership. Even in the Balkan wars you had people like Arkan coming to the fore, dressed in combats or designer suits depending on the audience.

    Among the more outlandish proposals there is that Germany simply buys it back. That would doubtless be a far better deal for Russia and the citizens of Kaliningrad than Germany.

    I have often wondered if eventually the Russians in the Kaliningrad enclave will not get fed up with the disparity in opportunities and living standards between them and their Lithuanian and Polish neighbours and start peering enviously over the border. But according to Wikipedia:

    In 1996, Kaliningrad was designated a Special Economic Zone. Manufacturers based there get tax and customs duty breaks on the goods they send to other parts of Russia. Although corruption was an early deterrent, that policy means the region is now a manufacturing hub.

    The European Commission provides funds for business projects under its special programme for Kaliningrad. The region has begun to see increasing trade with the countries of the EU as well as increasing economic growth and rising industrial output. With an average GDP growth of more than 10% per year for three years to 2007, Kaliningrad is growing faster than any other region in Russia, even outstripping the success of its EU neighbours.

    I’ll bet that’s not something Putin and his mates advertise too loudly, especially now. Would be interesting to see the current day statistics, and speak to somebody from there.

  9. @ Alex. K,

    This issue is limited to two small countries, Estonia and Latvia. Lithuania’s principal beef is with its Polish minority

    Funny, I never once detected that when I was there.

    One can grumble about having to learn Latvian, a language of great interest to linguists only

    Ditto Lithuanian and Estonian. Bizarre languages, even to listen to, all three of them. Lithuanian is somewhat related to Latvian – they cannot understand each other or read each others’ languages, but somebody who speaks both will tell you there are a lot of commonalities. Estonian is more like Finnish, which is in turn a distant relative of Hungarian (I’m sure you already know this!). I’d hate to have to learn any of them: the motivation required to learn a widespread, globally useful language is hard enough to find, but an obscure language with a handful of speakers clustered in a very small area…well, she’d need to be pretty. 🙂

  10. Yeah, Lithuanian and Latvian are the only surviving Baltic languages. Linguists today classify them as being part of the larger Balto-Slavic family, although that upsets some nationalists. Slavic languages are tough enough anyway but, from what I’ve seen, their Baltic cousins take it to a whole new level.

    Estonian and Finnish are part of the Uralic family of non-Indo-European languages. As well as Hungarian, they’re related to a bunch of languages spoken by peoples across the north of the Russian Federation, e.g. Udmurt, Nenets, Moksha and a lot of others.

  11. I’m quite proud that by looking at her name – Dalia Grybauskaitė – I was able to see that the Lithuanian president was not married. Girls have a different ending of their family name from their mothers, as the former are not married. Men have a different name ending again, but I believe it is the same for both father and son. The -aite ending signifies an unmarried woman.

Comments are closed.