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?