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US/NATO: Calm down, back off, compromise

The NATO Flag

A Guardian editorial offers a rare note of caution against NATO intervention.

Jonathan Steele offers some very rare, very sound advice on Ukraine in his latest Guardian column: The Ukraine crisis: John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off. In essence, Steele finds the roots of the crisis in US and NATO imperialism:

Nato should refrain from interfering in Ukraine by word or deed. The fact that it insists on getting engaged reveals the elephant in the room: underlying the crisis in Crimea and Russia’s fierce resistance to potential changes is Nato’s undisguised ambition to continue two decades of expansion into what used to be called “post-Soviet space”, led by Bill Clinton and taken up by successive administrations in Washington. At the back of Pentagon minds, no doubt, is the dream that a US navy will one day replace the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Balaclava.

Since independence, every poll in Ukraine has shown a majority against Nato membership, yet one after another the elites who ran the country until 2010 and who are now back in charge ignored the popular will.

I was surprised, however, by one sentence in Steele’s piece:

Eastern Ukrainians fear similar tactics of storming public buildings could be used against their elected officials.

Perhaps Steele is unaware because he only reads the Guardian, but neo-Nazis storming public buildings and attempting to ‘overthrow’ elected mayors and city council, is already happening in Eastern Ukraine. In the region’s biggest city, Kharkiv, here is some of the story:

… the Self-Defense Maidan security brigade occupied the regional administration on February 22 and blockaded the office of Kharkiv Oblast Governor Mykhaylo Dobkin with a black sofa.

They have pledged that the building will not be looted or vandalized on their vigil, but refuse to leave until Dobkin and Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, both allies of Yanukovych, leave their posts.

While Dobkin can be dismissed by authorities in Kyiv under the 2004 constitution, Kernes is an elected mayor — and is in power until 2015.

Steele rightly mentions the revoking of Russian language rights as one of the keys to understanding how legitimate the fears of eastern and southern Ukraine are. The other key is the storming of regional and city government buildings and replacement of elected leaders, but it is real and widespread, and not just a potential problem.

The real tragedy is that the preceding motivations, the two main reasons Russian-speaking Ukrainians have asked for Russian intervention, have barely been reported in the Western media. This represents hysteria and war mongering by the Western media, which is attempting to demonize Russians and their elected leader Vladimir Putin. It doesn’t want readers to know Russia’s reasonable motivations: the revoking of language rights and the mini-coups the unelected central government is attempting to impose on elected regional and city governments.

(For intervening in Crimea, no doubt Russia has at least one additional motivation: see the first blockquote above, about US lust to replace the Russian fleet in Crimea’s ports.)

Here’s anna1971, who appears to be on the ground in Ukraine and is one of the contributors to the comments section at the Guardian (I fixed some of the grammar):

… It is not reported anywhere but the new regime … has asked every civil and public service official in all major cities to resign if they belong to the party of the run-away president. If they refuse to resign, they are forced to do so under threat of harm to them personally and/or their families. The same happens to every police and military official. … There was no court or proper legal action taken against anybody, it is simply dismissal by force.

What’s the compromise that will resolve the crisis in Ukraine? Two words: economic autonomy. As I said in the following Guardian comment:

Before the neo-Nazi coup, Yanukovych and the Russians were already floating the regional autonomy idea, with eastern/southern Ukraine forging stronger economic links with Russia, and western Ukraine forging a (certain to be catastrophic) stronger economic relationship with the IMF.

But Right Sector, Svoboda and their paramilitaries didn’t want that, and they controlled and still control the guns and molotov cocktails. Reading their ‘constittution’, they have big plans for ‘Ukrainisation’ of the entire country, including Crimea. Russian and other minority language speakers have good reason to resist them.

As they have been since the beginning, the key stumbling blocks to reasonable compromise are the Right Sector and Svoboda armed militias. And I’m sure John Kerry and Victoria Nuland know that. The neo-conservative war game is a hard one to play, especially when we all know the US has nothing more than words, its media, and money to offer the illegitimate rulers of Ukraine. See how that worked out for Georgia. No troops for you!

Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

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