Putin, Kerry, EU, Mess!

Appologies: This is long. You might want to skip it.

Nobody is behaving well here:

  • ·         (Ex)-President Yanukovich – the use of the ex depends on who you are – was so corrupt his people couldn’t stand it any longer. And anyway he had changed the constitution 8 months after he was last elected in February 2010, to reinstate presidential powers that in 2004 had been curbed in favour of the parliament.
  • ·         Nonetheless he was all set to sign an association agreement with the EU – no guarantee of membership, but a signal that he was not about to sign the Customs Union with Russia and Kazakhstan that Putin had wanted. But at the last minute he changed his mind. The EU had not offered sufficient inducements and Russia was offering more.
  • ·         People who wanted to be closer to Europe came out onto the streets crying foul. Some of them were thugs, a few of them were extreme right-wingers, but most were just people, a majority young, or young-ish.
  • ·         A lot of them were shot dead by snipers – it’s not absolutely certain whose.
  • ·         The crowds were incensed and increased. Yanukovich panicked and caved in: he agreed to hold elections in December 2014, a few months ahead of time; and he agreed to revert to the earlier, 2004 constitutional arrangements.
  • ·         But it didn’t work. The crowds stayed put, and on the same day Yanukovich disappeared, only to show up in Russia, saying he feared for his life. Again, we have no way of knowing if that is true, nor who exactly he feared.
  • ·         A new government was quickly formed with, it seems, US help. Not a clever move by the USA.
  • ·         Russia declared the new interim government (elections due in May) was illegal: this was a coup, it said, run by the US, facilitating a Fascist administration. Not a clever use of language.
  • ·         Since then the Russian media and government spokespeople generally, have attached the word Fascist to everything Ukrainian.
  • ·         (Digression: Calling the Ukrainians Fascists is like the Hutus calling Tutsis cockroaches in Rwanda, or Nazis referring to Jews a vermin or Serbs referring to Bosnians as Turks: in each case it is hate speech that winds up the willing and usually ignorant crowds. For the Russians using ‘Fascist’ as a button to press is convenient for them as there were indeed Nazi sympathisers among the Ukrainians during WWII. To begin with, at any rate. In 1941 anyone who could get rid of the Soviet occupier was welcome to the Ukrainians who had suffered the Holodomor at Stalin’s hands only a few years earlier. The trouble is there were Ukrainians who were also enthusiastic among the Nazi camp guards. But other Ukrainians, in large numbers, also formed a major part of the Red Army that fought with the Allies against Germany. So nothing is simple Digression ends.).
  • ·      Once that new (illegal) and pro-Western government swore itself in in Kiev/ Kyiv Putin decided to move in on Crimea.
  • ·      This was Russia’s holiday camp since Catherine the Great expanded into it in the 18th century, much loved by Russians every summer holidays. It had been a largely Tatar region before but Russians colonised it. The entire Tatar population was deported by Stalin at the end of WWII, as he claimed they had been Nazi sympathisers. They had not, and subsequently they were rehabilitated and apologised to. This did not mean getting their lands back, though. Once the USSR imploded the Tatars began making their way back from Uzbekistan where they had been sent…to find Russians living in their houses. Ominously there are now graffiti on walls saying things like, All Tatars Out!
  • ·         Oddly, Nikita Khrushchev handed Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. I have no idea why. He may have been drunk, but thereafter, in law, the peninsula was Ukrainian. But it was also the site of Russia’s only warm water port, and consequently the home of its Black Sea Fleet. (Tartus in Syria is another warm water facility that Russia has used for a long time.)
  • ·         Tit for tat. You (the West) muscle in on Kiev. I (Putin) will take Crimea, using soldiers I will call local defence forces even if they themselves acknowledge that they are Russians.
  • ·         Here comes a problem.
  • ·         In 1994 the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine all signed the Budapest Memorandum, presumably in Budapest, which guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial and economic integrity in return for Kiev’s agreeing to give up the huge nuclear arsenal that remained on Ukrainian soil - a leftover of the Soviet nuclear weapons industry. How valid or binding is that agreement? Here is a view on that.
  • ·         Now we have Secretary of State John Kerry self-righteous and pompous: “You just dont in the 21st century behave in the 19th century fashion by invading another country on a compeltely trumped-up pretext." Hoots of derision all round - and not only in Russia. Astonishingly the US administration seems unaware of the irony.
  • ·      Economic sanctions are announced, that nobody actually wants enforced. For the Balts and Poland, they are not enough. For Italy and Britain too much (you can almost hear Cameron pleading with Obama: Please leave our high-spending Oligarchs out of it.)
  • Nobody is mentioning the Budapest Memorandum.
  • ·        Putin is now talking about how he feels duty-bound to help his compatriots, or at least co-linguists, if they feel their human rights are under threat.
  • Example: In Estonia and Latvia (possibly in Lithuania too, although the Russian minority there is smaller than in the other two) Russians have been told they must learn the local language in order to be allowed to take citizenship and/or work in public institutions. They think this is a cheek and are boycotting the requirement, then compaining that they are being treated as second class citizens. The language requirement is waived for the over 65s, although I think that is setting the bar a tad high: it's hard learning a new language after the age of about 30...unless you are hard-wired for languages. On the other hand these Russians have lived for decades in Estonia etc, and you might have thought they would have learned the lingo by now...a bit.
  • ·        Why is this scary: Because it reminds me of something. In April 1987 a group of people who had been used to being in charge but now found they no longer were complained to their leader that they had been under attack. He came storming down and promsied them that no one in future would be allowed to beat them again. His name was Slobodan Milosevic. The place was Kosovo. The ethnic cleansing began the following January.
  • ·     On the other hand, you might just read this instead. I never thought I would agree with Kissinger!
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Posted on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 04:45PM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | Comments1 Comment | References1 Reference

Messing About in Ukraine

We used to call it THE Ukraine. But that definite article has the odd effect of belittling a place, or seeming to. The Lebanon, The Argentine, The Levant...in each case the definite article implies that the place we're talking about is just a section of another place, rather than a country in its own right.  These days, with the exception of the Levant - which really is a region rather than a country - we've dropped that definite article. But I remember how when I was still at the BBC a Ukrainian colleague used to get very cross if anyone said, in English, THE Ukraine. Weird when you consider that in UKrainian, just as in Russian, there are no articles, definite or otherwise, at all.

Never mind all that. Ukraine as a country has existed sometimes and sometimes not. It has been subsumed into other countires/empires, and it has had its borders continually fiddled about with.

In the earliest days, the 10th century, Kiev was where a certain Prince Vladimir founded what would one day be called Russian Orthodoxy. Prince of a pagan region he had sent out emissaries to hunt for a unifying religion for his lands because for some reason I cannot fathom he thought they ought to have one. The emissaries gave judaism a try, but it was no fun; they looked at Islam, but you can't drink in Islam; then they stumbled on a Greek Orthodox liturgy in the Aya Sophia in Constantinople, and came rushing back to tell their prince about its unforgettable  beauty. And so it was.

In later times Ukraine has been at the centre of (Russian or Soviet) agriculture and nuclear strength. Dniepropetrovsk (now called Dnipropetrovsk) was at one time a closed city, housing (if that's the word) the Soviet nuclear weapons industry in hangar factories the size of small towns. But after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, when Ukraine became an independent country (no more THE), it agreed to divest itself of that nuclear stockpile. 

In 1994 as part of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Ukraine agreed to give up its simply enormous arsenal of the things that had been Soviet but were now on Ukrainian soil. In return the USA, the UK and Russia signed an agreement called the Budapest Memorandum, under which Ukraine's territorial integrity would be guaranteed by those three signing powers.

Erm...

Posted on Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 01:20PM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References

Across the Wall

Britain's culture secretary, Maria Miller, has said that if the Scots vote Yes in their independence referendum they must by definition lose the right to make use of what have to date been British institutions....like the BBC. What did she think East Berliners watched on their TVs? Did building a wall ensure east Germans couldn't watch west German productions?

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 04:47PM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Exact Ingredients

A friend has just come back from, erm, Brussels, bringing with him a bag of petits financiers, little cakes likemadeleines. So I had one for breakfast. Now it's true I didn't didn't dip it in my tisane because I don't like soggy cakes, don't like crumbs in my tea and wasn't drinking tisane anyway but builders' brew. All the same, nothing happened - or hasn't so far. Should I retire to bed for twenty years, surrounded by pillows and ashtrays? What have I missed out? Advice, anyone?

Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 04:08AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

What's in a Vase

Now let me get this straight. An artist in Florida has been charged with criminal mischief for dropping/breaking a vase by Ai Weiwei in an exhibition at a local museum. It was a protest at the museum's failure to exhibit local artists.

Ai Weiwei was understandably not pleased. He said he disapproved of artists destroying other artists' work. But in 1995 he made a triptych of photos showing him dropping/breaking a Han dynasty vase. Apparently the difference is that he owned the vase he dropped while the Florida artist did not. I think I find this a jesuitical piece of nit-picking. In both cases an artist was destroying another artist's work. No?

Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 05:59AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | Comments1 Comment