Frank Babb

Author & Adventurer

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Ukraine, a Cesspool to Avoid

I was about to release a nostalgic story about my father’s final baseball game on a golden October Sunday afternoon in 1941 before Pearl Harbor when Ukraine claimed center stage. I couldn’t ignore the comments from Washington and the Kremlin, the kind of posturing that could lead to war if mistakes were made on the ground.

I sympathize with and support the desires expressed in the February Euromaiden riots in Kiev’s Independence Square by ordinary Ukrainians for a rules-based democracy and an end to the corrupt, abusive, and autocratic governments they’ve suffered from since World War II. I also support our commitment of a billion dollars, topping off the fifteen billion the European Union is offering, to beat the previous offer of President Putin to the kleptomaniac Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych to keep Ukraine from joining the EU.

Our unsuccessful efforts since the 1960s to export democracy to other countries have come at a horrendous expense, both financial and in lives lost by us and the people we were trying to aid or invade in our Quixotic quests. What is happening in Kiev is similar to the Arab Spring: protestors using the internet and twenty-first century media organize, throw out the bums, and are then frustrated in establishing a functioning democratic government by the existing institutions of the autocracy such as the military, religion, and ubiquitous oligarchs, ready to exploit the opportunity and replace the oligarchs from the previous regimes. Sadly for the people we’d like to help, this is what is happening in Ukraine.

In August 2008 during the five-day war when Russia attacked Georgia, I happened to be on the Black Sea and in the Crimea, Sevastopol, and Odessa. Except for a small minority of Tartars, the people in the Crimea are, or think of themselves as, Russian. They speak Russian. Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian languages are so similar that people sometimes speak all three during their conversations. On the eastern side of Ukraine the Orthodox church is the predominant religion. In western Ukraine a majority are Roman Catholic. Ukraines, Poles, and Russians have lived together, and occasionally fought each other, for a very long time.

Remember the Orange Revolution that followed the Ukrainian election in November 2004?  Then President Kuchma, known for his corruption and thought to have ordered the murder of a journalist critic, chose his Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as a successor. Viktor Yuschenko was his principal opponent. Yanukovych won in an election in which fraud was so pervasive that the Supreme Court called for a new election. This time Yuschenko, who had been mysteriously poisoned during the campaign, won and appointed Yulia Tymoshenko as Prime Minister. She was the leader of a political party and a prominent and popular participant in the Orange Revolution. By the time of the 2010 presidential election, corruption and illegalities in the Yuschenko administration had reached the point that his opponent Yanukovych, supported by Russian campaign money, won in an election deemed honest by outside observers. Unfortunately, the popular Tymoshenko landed in prison for her illegal activities but was released as a result of the February riots. This history is why I’m pessimistic about the ultimate outcome of the present revolt. I can’t get the recent results of the Egyptian uprising out of my mind.

Eighty percent of Russian petroleum is sold to Western Europe through pipelines transiting Ukraine. This represents forty percent of Western Europe’s needs and most of Ukraine’s requirements. This is really a Russian/Western European problem, not our problem. After the politicians finish their flagellations and move on to the next crisis, and if soldiers or armed civilians from either side don’t start a war, I’m hopeful the situation will resolve itself through diplomacy and economic necessity. Warmongering on both sides doesn’t help.

Isn’t it ironic, though, that Putin reportedly dislikes Yanukovych, who is taller than Putin, but has to support him to frustrate the U. S. and Western Europe?



7 Responses to Ukraine, a Cesspool to Avoid

  • howard crise says:

    Who is more hypocritical: Putin or Obama? Thanks for your incisive comments on this Gordian knot in geopolitik.

    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!” ~ Sir Walter Scott, 1808p

  • caren holtby says:

    Thank you Frank for helping me understand the historical significance of where the Ukraine, Russia and the EU are today. Let’s hope the politicians get this one right!

  • Rafael Colo'n says:

    Frank , I am in complete agreement with the description of the situation. What worries me is the the danger of so called exporting of democracy to other nations. Democracy or any other political philosophy in today’s world can only be adopted successfully if understood and accepted by a majority;
    otherwise the only result is throwing enormous amounts of money to benefit a small group of political hacks.
    I do see a great danger in having a country start a disastrous event and then allowing the U.S. to be brought in to solve the problem; clearly we must remember the last two world wars. We must be aware that Russia has been trying to bring Crimea into the fold for a long time. The Crimean war and the last two world wars are the big ones.

  • Jack Barriger says:

    Frank, Thank you for helping me understand the Ukrainian situation. On the general subject of exporting democracy, I don’t think we have implemented democracy completely here so it is difficult to tell others how it should be done. The Chech Republic president points this out in an e-mail I am sending separately. Jack

  • Monika says:

    I agree that this is not our problem. I resent President Obama sending cautionary messages to other countries in crisis. We don’t have the funds or resources to get into another war anyways. It is insulting and arrogant for the United States to butt in and presume they can solve the complex problems of other countries, especially when they can’t seem to solve their own!

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I'm Frank Babb, author, traveler, and adventurer. I look forward to connecting with you!

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