Beyond the Cusp

February 24, 2014

Ukraine Gets New Face Overnight

Yesterday the world awoke to find a new parliament and new Parliament Speaker attempting to straighten out the tangled disarray resulting from months of violence between government forces and demonstrators. Oleksander Tuchynov is the new Ukrainian Parliament Speaker and will hold the position until elections which are scheduled for May 25. The parliament will not have an easy task especially in the first initial weeks as they try and put the Ukraine back on a normal footing and return the society to a normal routine which has been impossible during the months of demonstrations. This will be even more difficult as the demonstrations melded together some disparate groups which each have their own agendas with some of them being so opposite as to be impossible to satisfy simultaneously. Some of the initial changes were the foreign minister Leonid Kozhara and the education minister Dykmitro Tabachnyk have been relieved of their posts, sixty-four protestors have been released from jail, and the president’s estate at Mezhyhirya has been nationalized. They have also declared that Ukrainian will be the sole official language of the Ukraine thus removing recognition of Russian usage in official circles. It will remain to be seen if there will be any place for the Russian language going forward though such is highly doubtful.

 

While it will very probably be many weeks before normalcy will have returned to Kiev, the rest of the Ukraine should have somewhat easier task of returning to normal as outside of the capital the demonstrations were less disruptive for much of the period only gaining power in the final weeks. The real question will be over the eastern and southern provinces where the population includes many Russians. There is a chance that these provinces may decide to split from the Ukraine and might even petition to become a part of Putin’s Russia or an autonomous state aligned more closely to Russia than to the Ukraine. It has been reported that there were some in these areas who had requested Russian protection should the protests break out in their regions. The reactions from the eastern and southern regions will require delicacy; something that could easily turn ugly if not handled deftly and with some degree of understanding. Making such tasks even more difficult will be the fact that the demonstrators do not come from one viewpoint and some of the groups who had banded together consisted of far right nationalists with a separate vision than many of the other parties and groups. The three main political parties, UDAR, Fatherland and Svoboda, which had claimed to have been working jointly during the demonstrations to oust President Yanukovych, will now be in direct competition in order to field and win the most seats they can in the upcoming elections.

 

The initial problem of removing the thuggish and dictatorial Presidency of Yanukovych and his cronies has now been realized may eventually prove to be of great benefit for the future of the Ukraine but right now it simply leaves a plethora of unanswered questions and a tangled web of new problems. Those tasked with putting the Ukraine in general and Kiev particularly back together and operating for the mutual benefit of all the people will be an uphill slog challenging those who are assuming power. The election in May is a mere quarter of a year, three months, into the future but the people will be expecting progress from their newly emplaced leaders before then and they will not be given much of a grace period. The real peril right now is the potential for a strong populist leader offering to solve all the problems if the people will simply trust them and give them the tools with the power to wield them effectively taking the elections and becoming an even worse problem than they just removed. This will become even more pressing of a possibility should the new government elected in May result in an ineffectual problematic governance that is basically a failure both economically and in keeping order. Should inflation become an even larger problem and start to run rampant, then there will be the situation which is susceptible to favor such a solution being adopted. It was just such a scenario with rampant hyperinflation and ineffectual governance of the German Weimar Republic after World War I that led to the rise of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. The Ukraine currently has an enormous debt and a very weak economy that has suffered greatly from the disorder of the months of demonstrations. Their situation was partially due to the economic downturn which struck much of the world just over five years ago and the Ukraine still has not fully recovered. The economic recovery should be the first order of business once a newly elected government is in place. The only advice that they should receive is that government is more likely to be the problem than it is to be the solution. The best track for the government to take would be to make themselves as unobtrusive as possible, reduce regulations to a bare minimum, lower taxes on both the people and businesses and rely on free trade and unburdened free enterprise to lift the entire nation and people providing the best opportunity for a healthy economy. They should try to take a path which allows them to maximize their abilities to trade with the entire world and take steps to increase foreign trade relations as much as possible. This will require tactful handling of Ukrainian relations with Russia but they need to tell Putin that the Ukraine expects to continue to do business with Russia but also expects to be free to trade with the rest of the world as well. Europe also may need to step up and take steps to assure that the Ukraine will be accepted and thus allow them an alternative to survive any pressures from Putin and Russia. The one thing I am sure of is I am glad I will not be elected to any position in the next Ukrainian government and I wish those who are the best of luck.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

Update: The Russian government, which means Vladimir Putin, has recalled their Ambassador to the Ukraine to Moscow for consultations on the “deteriorating situation” in Kiev. In the United States National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, issued a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin against attacking Ukraine in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” where she was quoted stating, “the United States is on the side of the Ukrainian people” having democratic elections with “the opportunity for the people of Ukraine to come together in a coalition unity government” representing them honestly after former President Yanukovych was removed ending his questionable Administration.

 

January 22, 2014

Ukraine Violence Expanding and Intensifying

As the violence in the Ukraine, especially in their capital of Kiev where demonstrators are estimated to exceed one-hundred-thousand almost daily, and as the legislature and President Yanukovych are granting the police with harsher laws which are due to take effect today, the confrontations show little sign of abating in the immediate future. President Yanukovych posted on his official website, “I ask you not to join those who seek violence, who are trying to create a division between the state and society and who want to hurl the Ukrainian people into a pit of mass disorder. Now, when peaceful actions are turning into mass unrest, accompanied by riots and arson attacks, the use of violence, I am convinced that such phenomena are a threat not only to Kiev but to the whole of Ukraine.” The stimulus for the violence comes mostly from the Ukraine government, mostly simply backing the decision of the President, chose to bow before Russian President Putin’s threats and hardball tactics where he gave the Ukrainian leadership a choice of continuing to open up and sign an agreement already negotiated with the European Union to normalize preferred trading agreements which could have led to admission of the Ukraine to the European Union and lose all trading ties with Russia and the possibility of an energy embargo by Russia cutting all flow of petroleum and natural gas in or out of the Ukraine along the Russian border. President Yanukovych folded almost immediately which will only serve to entice Putin to press his newly won advantage even further if the Ukrainian leadership should decide to placate the protesters, or should we call them rioters, and reopen talks with the European Union. The show of weakness before President Putin is raw meat placed in front of a starving wolf and could lead to the wolf taking your arm with the meat.

 

The demonstrations have escalated with the police using water cannons despite sub-zero temperatures as well as rubber bullets, tear gas and full riot gear. The use of truncheons has only served to enrage more citizens and the unrest grew as more citizens decided to join the demonstrations to protest the overt violence by police which many have believed was completely uncalled for and the main reason for the escalation by the demonstrators. There have been numerous government buildings and vehicles put to the torch and some of the front line demonstrators have taken to wearing helmets and other sports equipment as makeshift riot gear including makeshift shields and bats along with other blunt instruments making these demonstrators equally armed to the frontline police units. A British news outlet noted that the violence is confined to one central square, though it has raged out of control and the local authorities have been unable to keep the outrage contained. Reports claim that over a hundred demonstrators have been injured needing medical attention while three were reported to have been blinded and one lost an arm. So far, more than eighty police staff have required hospitalization; thirty-two protestors have been arrested; and thirteen face serious criminal charges including some who face sentences of up to fifteen years for “disturbing the peace.”

 

Meanwhile, laws were reportedly rushed through Parliament at the last minute that prescribe jail terms for anyone blockading public buildings, ban wearing masks or helmets at demonstrations, and making statements against the government a criminal act. These are the laws that are set to come into effect today according to the local news.

 

This harsh reaction made hastily is very likely to inflame the people further as they will see such laws as a return to Soviet style enforcement and suppression of the citizenry. The people of the Ukraine have properly recognized that their government sacrificed their future by surrendering to President Putin’s open threats. The Ukrainian people see their President as not having the backbone to stand up to Putin and this was just the last straw as they have also become fed up with his quasi-criminal activities which have included overt nepotism and the channeling of contracts to close friends without seeking bids. Add to this the arrest and imprisonment of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko whose popularity made her the greatest threat to President Yanukovych in future elections. The demonstration leadership has posted evidence of numerous crimes and other misdeeds committed by President Yanukovych and his administration on the internet requesting that Western Leaders freeze his illegal funds in foreign banks but thus far the United States, European Union members and other western leaders have ignored their pleas. There have also been posts by the demonstrators asking for the people of the world, especially those in free and democratic nations, to demand that the governments and other international institutions take a stand on the crisis in the Ukraine. These demonstrations and rioting is unlikely to end soon as the demonstrators are simply trying to claim the right to control their destiny and are going to continue to fight and anything the government does to suppress the voices of the people using violence and new criminal legislation passed targeting the demonstrators will only serve to fuel these demonstrations with the violence actually proving to be extremely counterproductive. This could probably be called the Ukrainian Spring and this revolution is all about freedom, liberty and the fight against corruption and Russian bullying tactics.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

December 4, 2013

What is Behind the Ukrainian Violent Protests?

The news reports all agree that the entire protests are solely about the Ukrainian leadership’s decision not to sign an agreement which would have aligned the nation to ties favoring the European Union and further from Russia. What makes this violence a possible first incidence of more troubles to come spreading across the former Soviet Republics is the background behind the results. Russian President Putin is playing hardball in forcing these former satellite nations to make a cold and hard choice of either trade with Russia, which makes out the majority of their current trade, or choose to place their nations economic health in a future with the European Union, a future that in the current state of the European Union’s financial problems is less than a promising guarantee. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich initially turned down the offer from the European Union under the duress of threats made by Russian President Putin which made the decision an all or nothing choice but the question still persists of whether this is the whole story or is there more.

 

Reasons for doubts that the increasing unrest is solely over trade policies is worth investigating as it is doubtful that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators would virtually control the entire central city area of the Ukrainian Capital City of Kiev over simply a trade deal. This could be more about the people’s desires to break once and for all from their Soviet past and they see this decision by President Viktor Yanukovich as a sign that their fears that he was simply a puppet of the Russians was valid. Suspicions and anger surrounded his imprisoning of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko soon after taking office as she had many supporters and was a political rival of President Yanukovich. There were also suspicions that President Yanukovich might have ties with Russia that would affect his decisions and thus making this decision to cause even greater doubts and anger than many might have expected. The main problem will be if the decision to side with retaining close ties with Russia will cause the same difficulties for other former Soviet nations resulting in a spreading wave of discontent similar to the uprisings which spread across many Arab nations in the recent past and is still causing massive unrest in the majority, if not all, of those nations. If this proves to be the case it makes the world just that much more unstable and dangerous.  Any spreading of the kind of unrest ongoing now in the Ukraine will simply add to the economic woes in the world and that is something nobody needs as the entire world is only slowly working its way out of difficulties.

 

What cannot be argued is that the unrest in the Ukraine is a cause for concern and the decision by Russian President Putin to force former Soviet nations to choose their future as an all of nothing venture will only make for more disruptions and problems going forward. Where the reasons for President Putin making any move to increase trade and ties with the European Union are obviously his response to try to prevent the loss of any trade to the Europeans as Russia needs to retain these nations favored trade relations for their economy. President Putin may be overreacting or he may simply be grasping to hold on to the former Soviet nations and keep them directly tied to Russia in as many ways as possible and trade is simply one more tie he is making his stand upon. Putin does not ever take conciliatory positions nor does he play anything other than a hard game which often appears to be forcing an all or nothing choice. Until one of the former Soviet countries decides to test Putin’s ultimatums and signs an agreement with the European Union we will not know for sure if his threats to end trade relations is a bluff or an actual consequence these nations will need to include in their decision processes going forward. Should one rely on logic, that when push comes to shove, that President Putin would not give up on whatever trade benefits and good trade relations would still exist after one of the former satellites decide to ally closer to the European Union or that President Putin would cut off trade relations even at Russia’s own detriment just to punish those who challenged him. This cannot be an easy choice for the leadership of these nations and even more so for President Yanukovich as he was suspected of having too close of ties with Russia which was part of the campaign used against him.

 

Part of the problem also rests with the European Union who are also making the deal more difficult than is necessary. They are driving a bargain that favors the current European Union members over the new applicant nations which also makes the decision more complicated. Will the future with the European Union pay off sufficiently in the future to compensate for the lost trade with Russia. There are also numerous other concerns that breaking away from Russia could possibly entail which simply serves to muddy the waters further and there may exist some concerns which we in the West either are insensitive to simply completely unaware of as relations with the former Soviet Union was likely far different than the relations in the West. All in all, the situation in the Ukraine should be watched carefully and what we learn from their difficulties should temper decisions going forward. Unfortunate that this is occurring during a period when the United States has basically gone into hibernation as far as taking an up front and active role in international affairs. This leading from behind attitude has basically left American allies out on their own without the cover of her usual influence and protection. Let us hope that America returns to fulfill her role, as had been considered historically normal, in the near future as her steadying influences are sorely needed in a world quickly spinning out of control and sprouting fiery hot spots with an increasing rapidity.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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