Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Is Ukraine really the victim? 

Why is Russia always assumed to be the villain? The problem with Ukraine goes back to the huge earthquake that reverberated through the Communist world back in 1989. It began with a little known event in April of that year.

I will never forget it. I was washing dishes or something in my apartment, and the news was on in the background. I heard a brief news item that Hungary was dismantling the wall that separated Hungary from Austria. I was stunned. I thought, "That isn't going to work. Now people from all over Eastern Europe will just take a vacation to Hungary and walk into Austria." And that, is of course, what happened. Two years earlier, in June of 1987, Reagan had stood at the Brandenburg Gate and issued that famous line, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The State Department told him that he could in no way say something so provocative. They took the line out of his speech. Reagan put it back in. The State Department was insistant that he must not say that. But Reagan was more insistent. He said it, and CNN played that line over and over and over again. Gorbachev did not tear down the wall, but when people began pulling it apart in the end of 1989, he looked the other way.

In China, the 1989 revolution manifested itself in the Tiananmen protests which resulted in the party leaders bringing in the army to clear the Square. It was a disaster and a tragedy for the students, but not a defeat. I have often said that the students "lost the battle but won the war." But the significant thing about the "earthquake" as far as China was concerned was that there was radical change, but the Party stayed in power. Not so in Russia. The pre-1989 "Russia" was actually more than Russia, but mostly Russia. We always called it "Soviet Union," but the full name was Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Russia was only one of those republics, but by far the largest one. I don't remember the exact chain of events, but basically what happened is that Boris Yelsin became president of the Russian Republic, which at that time was just one of the Soviet republics (although by far the largest one). Boris Yeltsin is sometimes now viewed and regarded as a bumbling idiot, but in fact, he showed extraordinary leadership in several key decisions/events which brought an end to the Soviet Union. The first was that the Russian Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party, which made him the effective leader of the Soviet Union. But what is the Soviet Union without Russia? It was completely ridiculous, but it worked. Boris Yeltsin resigned from the Communist Party (of the Soviet Union) and outlawed Communist activity on Russian soil.

Without going into all the details of how the Soviet Union fell, suffice it to say that it happened very fast, and so one by one, the former republics became independent countries. But as you can imagine, because of having been a part of the Soviet Union for many years, several of them, especially Ukraine, had lots of Russians in them. Also, if you look at a map, you can see that Ukraine is strategically important. I heard once where Putin said that if Ukraine became a part of NATO, Russia would be indefensible. So Putin obviously had a strong motive to keep Ukraine as a tributary of Russia.

Flash forward to the events on the Maidan in 2014. Ukraine was ruled by Viktor Yanukovych, who was viewed both as corrupt and as a stooge of Putin. Should the protesters have been satisfied with the calling of a new election? Perhaps. But that wasn't good enough. They were determined to overthrow his government. That presented a problem for the Americans. Americans tend to be sympathetic with the overthrow of repressive regimes. But they are queasy about supporting the overthrow of a democratically elected government. Anyway, it happened. At the time I was told that the first act of the Parliament was to downgrade the Russian language. This was done to emphasize that Ukraine was not going to be dominated by Russia. But it was a stupid thing to do, because eastern Ukraine is largely populated with ethnic Russians, and they were more worried about being dominated by Ukraine than by Russia. So civil war (strongly aided by Russians from Russia with or without official sanction) errupted, and Ukraine has not been the same since.

So where does Putin fit in all of this? When Crimea separated from Ukraine and became a part of Russia (an event I do not have time to go into right here), I went to YouTube and watched Putin's address to the Kremlin. He stressed that Russia had no designs on Ukraine, but that Crimea was actually part of Russia, so it's return was appropriate and normal. Subsequent events have caused me (and others) to question his sincerity on that point. He had quite clearly given his assent to support for rebels in Eastern Ukraine which obviously comes from Russia.

So now we have another incident between Russia and Ukraine. Given the history, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Putin is up to his old tricks. But we should not be so hasty. If we examine this event by itself without burdening it with the history, does the evidence really show that this is an unprovoked attack? Watch the discussion, and see what you think.


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