The growing mess in Ukraine

Once the US and western powers accepted that it was ok for the elected government of Ukraine to be overthrown by unrest (either spontaneous or secretly instigated by the US) caused ostensibly by what were essentially policy differences over whether the county should move closer to the west or Russia, things that are normally decided by elections, it seems that it has now become the norm in that country for people in various parts of it to take things into their own hands.

Having given the green light to the first overthrow, the new government of Ukraine and the western powers are now grappling with what seems like an overflowing of popular unrest. So we had the referendum in Crimea to leave Ukraine and join Russia and now the eastern part of Ukraine has people demanding the right to a similar referendum. It is not clear where this will all end.

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report both weighed in on the issue.

(The first two clips aired on April 9, 2014 while the Colbert on ran on April 8, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. rq says

    … Except for all those alleged imported protesters.
    What’s interesting – if you get any real footage of these various protests and counter-protests – is looking at the demographics of the pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian sides.
    I suppose it doesn’t mean much, but the pro-Russian side tends to be male, military-looking and middle-aged and female seniors, while the pro-Ukrainian side seems to be an even mix of ages and genders. Take from that what you will.

  2. NitricAcid says

    Thanks, Pravda. Most of the popular unrest was in the west, against a corrupt and kleptocratic president (democratically elected, true, but they decided they couldn’t wait for the next election). While the eastern part of the country is very pro-Russian, one would be hard-pressed to actually believe that the Crimean referendum (organized practically overnight, with a Russian army overseeing the ballots) was legitimate.

  3. raven says

    By all accounts, the old one, Yanukovych was incompetent and a kleptocrat. Stealing huge amounts of money while the country went broke.

    1. It’s arguable whether the Ukrainians should have run him out, which they did, or waited for the next election.

    2. Speaking of elections, in this part of the world, elections seem to be mostly theater.

    3. Meaning that there was no guarantee that Yanukovych wouldn’t fix the next election. He isn’t exactly a democratic ideal and elections do get pre-determined.

  4. says

    elections seem to be mostly theater.

    Elections are mostly always theater. Are there any democracies that aren’t fake stealth oligarchies? Perhaps some of the scandinavian countries. But the US certainly is no more democratic than Russia or China and – while they’re better than North Korea – the intent of the people is, as usual, utterly ignored.

  5. raven says

    So we had the referendum in Crimea to leave Ukraine and join Russia and now the eastern part of Ukraine has people demanding the right to a similar referendum. It is not clear where this will all end.

    Some informed observers consider Ukraine to be…toast. Finished.

    1. It’s a failed nation. Economic basket case, owes lots of money to everyone, moribund military, highly factionalized, and not much in the way of a government. And going nowhere.

    2. IMO, it is like Afghanistan or Iraq. So many problems that it really isn’t worth conquering. Or like Greece only worse.

    3. I suspect Russia will peel off the eastern part, which has lots of Russians, and unfortunately for Ukraine, most of their heavy industry.

    Leaving the western, agrarian part to twist in the wind and try to get a nation together.

    4. In hindsight, this shouldn’t be surprising. Ukraine was part of the USSR for most of the 20th century. They had no experience with capitalism or democracy. To suddenly send them out into the world and expect them to be good at either was sort of naive.

    5. One commenter who seemed to be in Ukraine, said that they had a right to govern themselves, no matter how badly. In principle they are right. In practice, it isn’t working. They are a wobbly sheep and Russia/Putin are wolves. This hasn’t ended well for them.

  6. Who Cares says

    What has being going on is roughly this:
    US & EU want to box in Russia (seems people are still thinking it is the cold war), been replacing pro Russia governments with neutral/antagonistic ones.
    The Ukraine has been cooking along nicely (even though the US & EU have their differences, see the Nulands leak).
    Yanukovych caves to Russia, US & EU lose control of the forces in the Ukraine which flip out and perform a coup.
    The US & EU try to salvage what they can by supporting the people who performed the coup.
    The Crimean peninsula say goodbye but we like Russia better then the neo-nazis, fascists, other rightwingers, corrupt politicians & oligarchs now fighting for control.
    The US & EU flip out since one of the reasons to pull the Ukraine from Russia is that Crimea houses the only warm water port the Russians have. Another one is that the parts of the Ukraine that can have something of economic viability left harbor the same sentiments.

    For the people who comment on how corrupt that Yanukovych and cronies were. Keep in mind he replaced people who were considered just as bad. Quite a few who are back in the government now he’s been kicked out. So there will be no reduction in the corruption that is going on.

    @Nitric Acid(#2):
    Why is the referendum not legitimate? Because Russia didn’t bomb the crap out of the place before partitioning it of like the west did with Kosovo? At least here the people did a vote on it instead of starting with terrorism then escalating it to war, in which they ran to the west when they were being crushed by the opposition.

    @Raven(#4, 6):
    You forget one reason why Yanukovych would stay in power. He’s pro-Russia while anyone running against him would be anti-Russia. That alone would get him 50%+ of the votes.

    Don’t forget that the Ukraine is between 2 wolves. One one side is Russia which considers the east part the birth place of Russia and have that very important base in Crimea. On the other side you have the US & EU who have been pushing hard to to get the Ukraine under their own control.
    It is not all that likely that Russia will want anything more then Crimea, especially since they recognize the economic basket case that is the Ukraine. Before all this happened they’ve been pushing for a federalized Ukraine. A solution that has been pointedly ignored by the US & EU

  7. Mano Singham says

    Who Cares,

    That is about as clear and succinct a summary of the recent history of Ukraine that I have read anywhere. Thanks!

  8. MNb says

    “So we had the referendum in Crimea to leave Ukraine and join Russia ”
    Not really. The choice in the referendum was between leaving the Ukraine and joining Russia.
    It’s obvious that especially European political leaders failed to notice that about half of the Ukrainian population – mainly living east of the Dnjepr – prefers political ties with Russia. It looks like it becomes harder and harder to formulate a workable compromise between the Russophile and the Europhile Ukrainians and that’s a recipe for disaster. Given similar problems in Moldavia and the Baltic states we have a serious, though still pretty local threat.
    We dearly miss this guy:

    He convincingly dealt with a comparable problem in Macedonia, averting another civil war in an unstable region.

    Raven is way too superficial. Western Ukraine is far from just agricultural and industry is not as important anymore for the country as it used to be.

    The second link shows the industrial centra of the Ukraine.
    A split will solve some problems and create several others. The border will likely be the Dnjepr. That means Kiev has to be split as well. Moreover the river is an important source of hydroelectricity. Good luck deciding which part will control it.

  9. kraut says

    The situation developed because NATO’s goal = US goal to encircle and bottle up Russia in order to influence to their political/economic/military benefit – as formulated and advanced by Zbigniew Brzezinski – the surrounding Eastern European/Asian area.

    The Ukraine is the ball in the power-game between Russia and Nato, and any move by Putin is to prevent Nato from achieving this goal. Anybody labeling Putin as irrational clearly has no idea what he/she is talking about.

    The same was tried with utter fail years before in Georgia, where political influence and incompetence in that country also lead to a loss of part of that nation.

    One also has to keep in mind that the transfer of Crimea in 1954 by the Soviet Union under leadership of Chrustchew was done without any plebiscite and was not considered legal by a few after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and during negotiations with Ukraine in 1992 as to the fate of Crimea in an independent Ukraine.

  10. Who Cares says

    Bit more analysis on the reaction by Russia.
    For Russia the coup put them with their back to the wall. Losing control of the birthplace of the Cossacks, Sevastopol and control of what is they consider their backyard. Further Putin is the strongman of Russia, he can’t be perceived weak on this. So when the referendum was (going to be) held he moved with the same swiftness he showed when Georgia thought they could get Ossetia back under control while the world was occupied with the Olympic games. So Crimea was annexed by Russia because Russia/Putin didn’t see any other options.
    The scaremongering about a Russian invasion of the rest of the Ukraine is just that. At the moment the goals set have been achieved, the US & EU can’t, or won’t in parts of the EU. do anything about it other then symbolic actions, for Russia there is nothing more to gain by further aggression (just like they pulled back from South Ossetia after demolishing the Georgian army).
    Note that the last is contingent on what the US/EU do but Russia will play hardball in this case.

    That is a good summation of what was happening at the time.
    Things have changed during that time though.
    Point 1. The uprising was a success now the leaders are fighting it out amongst themselves, and they are playing for keeps even more then the examples he showed in point 3 (the leader of Svoboda getting killed in a shoot out with the police is the most extreme what has happened so far, link).
    Point 2. There is just 1 minor thing he probably didn’t know at the time. The snipers were shooting everyone, link.
    Point 4. And as long as the oligarchs fight amongst themselves whatever the IMF throws at the Ukraine will be wasted. One of their top people said: “it’s a game of musical chairs, at least some of the people at the top must lose before what measures we say are needed will have a chance of working, the longer that game takes the worse the situation on the ground gets and it is always very bad when we are finally called in.” (no link, paraphrased from memory).

  11. says

    I think you’d get a better insight by reading Sofi Oksanens piece linked below. She is a writer who has written a lot about history in Stalinist fear empire and analysing the Russian mentality which places the interest of the Empire before interests of people.
    Sofi Oksanen: don’t deceive us again

    There is a long tradition of crazy and paranoid tsars in Russia, Putin is just another addition to that list. He thinks that everyboby in the West is after him (how self-centered one can be?), people and their free will is nothing compared to needs of a might. Kill the journalists who dig too deep, make the people fear everybody and everything – gays, West, “others”, god – and you get the grip. Enemy is you need to make people forget about their own life hardnesses and line up to fight for what ever crazyness the twisted brain of a tsar comes up with.

    Russia already has invaded into other parts of Ukraine, so there is no scaremongering.

    Someone said here that EU and US are replacing governemets at their will. Well… you forget the will and pride of the people living in those places. You are willing to accept that the so-called referendum in Crimea was legitimate even if this was performed before guns pointed at people, but at the same time question the will of the Ukrainian people to get rid of Yanukovich and calling this an EU and US plot… I smell shill…

  12. Who Cares says

    Martin that is your own smell. You know unfounded assertion that the vote in Crimea was forced by Russia, unfounded assertion that that vote was rigged, unfounded assertion that Russia invaded other parts of the Ukraine, unfounded assertion that Putin is paranoid, unfounded assertion that the west is not trying to prevent Russia from becoming a regional power, linking to an opinion piece.

    There is a difference between a vote and a coup. There is a difference between 78% of the people in Crimea voting to not just go independent but rejoin Russia and a minority of the people performing a coup (how else do you explain that the east part of the Ukraine is trying to follow Crimea if they’d agree with the coup). You also have the problem of the 5 billion dollars that the US/EU have invested in replacing the pro-Russia politicians with ones that favor the EU. The US/EU didn’t want the coup anymore then Russia, if they could have used the democratic process Russia could not have intervened and then in 2017 there would have been a good chance that they’d lose the lease on the naval base.

    About the only thing that is true about what you wrote is that Putin is an autocrat who is using scapegoats and traditional institutions to strengthen his rule.

  13. kraut says

    So much for a “deranged” Russian president:

    President Vladimir Putin’s letter to leaders of European countries. Full text
    ITAR-TASS reports:

    President Vladimir Putin’s letter to leaders of European countries. Full text

    Ukraine’s economy in the past several months has been plummeting. Its industrial and construction sectors have also been declining sharply. Its budget deficit is mounting. The condition of its currency system is becoming more and more deplorable. The negative trade balance is accompanied by the flight of capital from the country. Ukraine’s economy is steadfastly heading towards a default, a halt in production and skyrocketing unemployment.

    Russia and the EU member states are Ukraine’s major trading partners. Proceeding from this, at the Russia-EU Summit at the end of January, we came to an agreement with our European partners to hold consultations on the subject of developing Ukraine’s economy, bearing in mind the interests of Ukraine and our countries while forming integration alliances with Ukraine’s participation. However, all attempts on Russia’s part to begin real consultations failed to produce any results.

    Instead of consultations, we hear appeals to lower contractual prices on Russian natural gas – prices which are allegedly of a “political” nature. One gets the impression that the European partners want to unilaterally blame Russia for the consequences of Ukraine’s economic crisis.

    Right from day one of Ukraine’s existence as an independent state, Russia has supported the stability of the Ukrainian economy by supplying it with natural gas at cut-rate prices. In January 2009, with the participation of the then-premier Yulia Tymoshenko, a purchase-and-sale contract on supplying natural gas for the period of 2009-2019 was signed. The contract regulated questions concerning the delivery of and payment for the product, and it also provided guarantees for its uninterrupted transit through the territory of Ukraine. What is more, Russia has been fulfilling the contract according to the letter and spirit of the document. Incidentally, Ukrainian Minister of Fuel and Energy at that time was Yuriy Prodan, who today holds a similar post in Kiev’s government.

    The total volume of natural gas delivered to Ukraine, as stipulated in the contract during the period of 2009-2014 (first quarter), stands at 147.2 billion cubic meters. Here, I would like to emphasize that the price formula that had been set down in the contract had NOT been altered since that moment. And Ukraine, right up till August 2013, made regular payments for the natural gas in accordance with that formula.

    However, the fact that after signing that contract, Russia granted Ukraine a whole string of unprecedented privileges and discounts on the price of natural gas, is quite another matter. This applies to the discount stemming from the 2010 Kharkiv Agreement, which was provided as advance payment for the future lease payments for the presence of the (Russian) Black Sea Fleet after 2017. This also refers to discounts on the prices for natural gas purchased by Ukraine’s chemical companies. This also concerns the discount granted in December 2013 for the duration of three months due to the critical state of Ukraine’s economy. Beginning with 2009, the total sum of these discounts stands at 17 billion US dollars. To this, we should add another 18.4 billion US dollars incurred by the Ukrainian side as a minimal take-or-pay fine.

    In this manner, during the past four years, Russia has been subsidizing Ukraine’s economy by offering slashed natural gas prices worth 35.4 billion US dollars. In addition, in December 2013, Russia granted Ukraine a loan of 3 billion US dollars. These very significant sums were directed towards maintaining the stability and creditability of the Ukrainian economy and preservation of jobs. No other country provided such support except Russia.

    What about the European partners? Instead of offering Ukraine real support, there is talk about a declaration of intent. There are only promises that are not backed by any real actions. The European Union is using Ukraine’s economy as a source of raw foodstuffs, metal and mineral resources, and at the same time, as a market for selling its highly-processed ready-made commodities (machine engineering and chemicals), thereby creating a deficit in Ukraine’s trade balance amounting to more than 10 billion US dollars. This comes to almost two-thirds of Ukraine’s overall deficit for 2013.

    To a large extent, the crisis in Ukraine’s economy has been precipitated by the unbalanced trade with the EU member states, and this, in turn has had a sharply negative impact on Ukraine’s fulfillment of its contractual obligations to pay for deliveries of natural gas supplied by Russia. Gazprom neither has intentions except for those stipulated in the 2009 contract nor plans to set any additional conditions. This also concerns the contractual price for natural gas, which is calculated in strict accordance with the agreed formula. However, Russia cannot and should not unilaterally bear the burden of supporting Ukraine’s economy by way of providing discounts and forgiving debts, and in fact, using these subsidies to cover Ukraine’s deficit in its trade with the EU member states.

    The debt of NAK Naftogaz Ukraine for delivered gas has been growing monthly this year. In November-December 2013 this debt stood at 1.451,5 billion US dollars; in February 2014 it increased by a further 260.3 million and in March by another 526.1 million US dollars. Here I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in March there was still a discount price applied, i.e., 268.5 US dollars per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. And even at that price, Ukraine did not pay a single dollar.

    In such conditions, in accordance with Articles 5.15, 5.8 and 5.3 of the contract, Gazprom is compelled to switch over to advance payment for gas delivery, and in the event of further violation of the conditions of payment, will completely or partially cease gas deliveries. In other words, only the volume of natural gas will be delivered to Ukraine as was paid for one month in advance of delivery.

    Undoubtedly, this is an extreme measure. We fully realize that this increases the risk of siphoning off natural gas passing through Ukraine’s territory and heading to European consumers. We also realize that this may make it difficult for Ukraine to accumulate sufficient gas reserves for use in the autumn and winter period. In order to guarantee uninterrupted transit, it will be necessary, in the nearest future, to supply 11.5 billion cubic meters of gas that will be pumped into Ukraine’s underground storage facilities, and this will require a payment of about 5 billion US dollars.

    However, the fact that our European partners have unilaterally withdrawn from the concerted efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, and even from holding consultations with the Russian side, leaves Russia no alternative.

    There can be only one way out of the situation that has developed. We believe it is vital to hold, without delay, consultations at the level of ministers of economics, finances and energy in order to work out concerted actions to stabilize Ukraine’s economy and to ensure delivery and transit of Russian natural gas in accordance with the terms and conditions set down in the contract. We must lose no time in beginning to coordinate concrete steps. It is towards this end that we appeal to our European partners.

    It goes without saying that Russia is prepared to participate in the effort to stabilize and restore Ukraine’s economy. However, not in a unilateral way, but on equal conditions with our European partners. It is also essential to take into account the actual investments, contributions and expenditures that Russia has shouldered by itself alone for such a long time in supporting Ukraine. As we see it, only such an approach would be fair and balanced, and only such an approach can lead to success.

    click on CC for subtitles

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