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Thread: Ukraine

  1. #1

    Default Ukraine

    So I'm sure you've all been following the drama in Kiev in recent months; I'm sure we all have a roughly similar analysis re: Russia's involvement. But I thought it might be interesting to discuss the EU and US role in this, and how we might best move forward to defusing a rapidly escalating situation.

    I just listened to the leaked phone call between the US ambassador to Ukraine, Pyatt, and an Assistant Sec'y of State, Nuland. It appears to have been posted by Russian intelligence (?); certainly they're pushing it as some sort of propaganda coup. The actual content of the call, however, is less than embarrassing - similar to the leaked State Department cables a while back, the conversation seems to be fairly intelligent and reasonable, with little of controversy. Nuland and Pyatt discuss the opposition 'leadership' (if there really is any leadership to the protests) and strategize on how to get them to work together, potentially with an eye to forming a new government if and when the current one falls. Fairly staid stuff, though Russian sources are taking it to mean that there's a massive American conspiracy behind the opposition protests to Yanukovych's rule.

    The one interesting bit seems to be where they imply that they're going to try to get the UN involved and sidestep the EU in dealing with the situation. Memorably, Nuland said, "Fuck the EU" in this context (without much rancor). I think this move - and the mood in the State Department - is likely a result of the fairly tepid response of the EU to rapidly escalating violence with the protests. The US has responded with fairly strong rhetoric and sanctions against individuals in the regime; the EU has conspicuously refrained from doing so. Is this because the EU still harbors hope of bringing Ukraine into an association agreement, even after they were brusquely turned down in favor of Russian aid? Perhaps a good cop, bad cop routine? Certainly the context of the conversation suggests the US is frustrated with EU inaction on the issue, and is happy to bypass them and go straight to the UN and the Ukrainian opposition.

    What do you think should be the US' next move? What about the EU? Is there a relatively 'good' ending possible here without significant bloodshed or repression?

  2. #2
    Let sleeping tigers lie Khendraja'aro's Avatar
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    I'm not quite sure why "The EU" is expected to mount a stronger response - it's, after all, neither a country nor a monolithic entity.
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  3. #3
    Okay, then member countries of the EU. Regardless, the EU has its own foreign policy, and Ukraine has been dealt with largely by the EU as a whole due to talks (until recently) to form some sort of association agreement.

    I'd be happy if France, Germany, the UK, and Italy all enacted sanctions, too. To my knowledge they haven't - there's been talk in the EP and in Germany (probably elsewhere as well) but so far it's gone nowhere.

  4. #4
    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Let's be honest here: Yanykovych is a thug, the last parliamentary under him was probably fraudulent, and the guy signed the agreement with Russia despite strong public opposition. But has he really done anything particularly bad in the current crisis? Sure, some people got tortured, but you might even see those kind of actions in a Western country. The amount of violence used against protesters is probably less than what you'd see in the US. Yanukovych's rhetoric is also not particularly hostile. It seems to me that the Ukrainian people (at least the ones in the central parts of the country) got buyer's remorse from stupidly voting for Yanukovych a few years ago and now they seized on the European association agreement as an excuse to "fix" their mistake; the Ukrainians in the western part of the country never needed an excuse to go against him.
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    I don't really see how the EU, in whichever form, could become more involved than it already is without making things worse. As things are the country is close to tearing apart and I only see that draw closer if the EU starts to make overtures towards the western oriented Ukrainians. I think the US overestimates the leverage it has. I also doubt that getting involved is going to be worth the bother long-term.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    Let's be honest here: Yanykovych is a thug, the last parliamentary under him was probably fraudulent, and the guy signed the agreement with Russia despite strong public opposition. But has he really done anything particularly bad in the current crisis? Sure, some people got tortured, but you might even see those kind of actions in a Western country. The amount of violence used against protesters is probably less than what you'd see in the US. Yanukovych's rhetoric is also not particularly hostile. It seems to me that the Ukrainian people (at least the ones in the central parts of the country) got buyer's remorse from stupidly voting for Yanukovych a few years ago and now they seized on the European association agreement as an excuse to "fix" their mistake; the Ukrainians in the western part of the country never needed an excuse to go against him.
    Hmm. I question whether he 'hasn't done anything particularly bad', but maybe that's my naivete. Yes, only a relatively small number of people have been killed or disappeared, and the torture/violence/etc. hasn't been on anything like the scale of, say, Syria (though far more than what you'd see in the US - please, let's not resort to hyperbole). But it's far beyond the pale for how a government should act. I think the real damage here isn't the specific reaction of police to protesters - it's more the undermining of the democratic process. Yanukovych has shown little regard for using normal channels to sort things out, and is clearly willing to flout norms on free speech, human rights, etc. if it will give him an upper hand. Furthermore, I'm very troubled by the use of thugs ostensibly not part of the police to do some of the 'policing' here - it smacks of the unaccountable natures of secret police and party-affiliated militias we see in places like Egypt or Iran.

    I know that Ukraine has never been a bastion of freedom and democracy, and that the transition after the collapse of the USSR has been anything but smooth. But Yanukovych appears to be turning his back entirely on a narrative based on a transition to democracy in favor of a kleptocratic sham of a government supported by fear and intimidation. That's simply unacceptable, and I think a robust (diplomatic and economic) response by Western powers is called for.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazir View Post
    I don't really see how the EU, in whichever form, could become more involved than it already is without making things worse. As things are the country is close to tearing apart and I only see that draw closer if the EU starts to make overtures towards the western oriented Ukrainians. I think the US overestimates the leverage it has. I also doubt that getting involved is going to be worth the bother long-term.
    I don't disagree that the US' leverage is limited, but I do think the EU (*or member states, Khendra*) could be a bit more forceful in their rhetoric. It's easy enough to maintain a separation between the aims and actions of the opposition and protestors compared with the goals of the West - certainly some of the protests have been less than savory in their execution, and as Loki pointed out it's not like their motives are as pure as suggested in the media. That doesn't mean we can't very publicly deplore the bumbling response by Yanukovych, the outright bribery by Russia, and the violence and repression being directed against the protesters. I think travel/etc. sanctions against regime officials is the least they could do to show disapproval, but even this low bar has not (to my knowledge) been met.

    I think the EU is still afraid of losing Ukraine to Russia, so they want to soft-pedal any criticism and limit any actions they take against Yanukovych. IMO, that ship has already sailed, and it makes more sense for the West to take a principled stand.

  7. #7
    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    You think if we had a sustained protest involving a few hundred thousand "disliked minorities", with a few thousand of them regularly resorting to violence, there wouldn't be half a dozen cases of police brutality and torture? Who's being naive here? New York City gets at least one case a year under far less extreme conditions. Furthermore, the police have shown tremendous restraint in Ukraine; in 90% of the countries in the world, there would be at least some incidents of the police using live bullets by now. I'll grant you the part about hired thugs being concerning, but it's not really outside the norm of Ukrainian politics and certainly not unexpected. I also agree with you that Yanukovych isn't much of a democrat, but the current protests have little to do with democratic shortfalls. I'd be happy if the guy was kicked out of power, but let's call a spade a spade here; this is an attempted popular coup.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    You think if we had a sustained protest involving a few hundred thousand "disliked minorities", with a few thousand of them regularly resorting to violence, there wouldn't be half a dozen cases of police brutality and torture? Who's being naive here? New York City gets at least one case a year under far less extreme conditions. Furthermore, the police have shown tremendous restraint in Ukraine; in 90% of the countries in the world, there would be at least some incidents of the police using live bullets by now. I'll grant you the part about hired thugs being concerning, but it's not really outside the norm of Ukrainian politics and certainly not unexpected. I also agree with you that Yanukovych isn't much of a democrat, but the current protests have little to do with democratic shortfalls. I'd be happy if the guy was kicked out of power, but let's call a spade a spade here; this is an attempted popular coup.
    People falling down the stairs on the way to the courthouse, yes - though only on a local, rather than institutional level. People getting injured in clashes with cops? Sure, though definitely not 600 hospitalized and 10+ deaths. The last time the US had widespread protests was probably associated with the Vietnam war (and, concurrent with and earlier, civil rights). Yet events like the Kent State shootings and the '68 DNC police brutality made the protests of the minority far more mainstream and eventually led to significant changes in US policy. If the same thing happened today (say, deaths and widespread beatings of OWS types from police or government thugs) it wouldn't be sanctioned from on high, and would likely lead to significant and immediate government action against the offending parties (led alone a massive PR headache). It's just not the same as Ukraine.

    I don't disagree with you entirely that the protesters are protesting because they can't win at the ballot box; but I also think they see Russia's outright bribery as a perversion of the democratic process.... and Yanukovych's ham-handed attempts to stifle protest as absolutely unacceptable. Is it tied up in a bunch of other issues - identity politics, history, etc? Absolutely. But what really made these protests swell in magnitude was Yanukovych's response. I'm not sure that counts as a popular coup.

  9. #9
    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wiggin View Post
    People falling down the stairs on the way to the courthouse, yes - though only on a local, rather than institutional level. People getting injured in clashes with cops? Sure, though definitely not 600 hospitalized and 10+ deaths. The last time the US had widespread protests was probably associated with the Vietnam war (and, concurrent with and earlier, civil rights). Yet events like the Kent State shootings and the '68 DNC police brutality made the protests of the minority far more mainstream and eventually led to significant changes in US policy. If the same thing happened today (say, deaths and widespread beatings of OWS types from police or government thugs) it wouldn't be sanctioned from on high, and would likely lead to significant and immediate government action against the offending parties (led alone a massive PR headache). It's just not the same as Ukraine.

    I don't disagree with you entirely that the protesters are protesting because they can't win at the ballot box; but I also think they see Russia's outright bribery as a perversion of the democratic process.... and Yanukovych's ham-handed attempts to stifle protest as absolutely unacceptable. Is it tied up in a bunch of other issues - identity politics, history, etc? Absolutely. But what really made these protests swell in magnitude was Yanukovych's response. I'm not sure that counts as a popular coup.
    You're assuming Yanukovych is giving explicit orders to torture people in Ukraine. That's not how things work. There's plenty of room for deniability all around. Certain people respond to certain claims from government officials, and government officials turn a blind eye when the former do naughty things. There are rarely actual orders involved. And you really think the amount of dead and injured protesters warrants an international response given the behavior of the protesters?

    What does "bribery" mean at the international level? You mean there's something illegal about a country giving money to another country in exchange for policy concessions? As for Yanukovych's response: how's a foreign policy about-turn undemocratic?
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  10. #10
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    I have not followed the whole Ukraine situation that closely but it seems to me that the EU/memberstates have been getting pretty deep into it so far. If I wouldn't know better I could have thought they were dealing with a candidate member. During the protests there were bunches of high level officials showing their faces at Maidan on the side of the anti-government demonstrators. If it would have been any other countries they'd be howling 'interference in internal affairs'.

    The game the Ukrainian government seems to be playing is one where they try to get Russia and the EU into a bidding war for its charms. On the EU side the willingness to pay up for the temporary loyalty of Ukraine is obviously very limited. They can afford this because, clearly, a big proportion of Ukranians are not pro-Russian at any price.

    It would be ridiculous to assume now that the Ukranians can only solve this situation under foreign tutelage; there appearantly are serious problems with abuse of power on the side of the government and resorting to violence on the anti-government side, but the country is not a failed state and is not in a state of civil war. I also don't think it will get there just like that.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    You're assuming Yanukovych is giving explicit orders to torture people in Ukraine. That's not how things work. There's plenty of room for deniability all around. Certain people respond to certain claims from government officials, and government officials turn a blind eye when the former do naughty things. There are rarely actual orders involved. And you really think the amount of dead and injured protesters warrants an international response given the behavior of the protesters?
    Fair enough re: orders. And I think an international reaction is certainly justified - obviously not something as drastic as comprehensive trade sanctions or whatever, but diplomatic pressure, public censure, and targeted sanctions (e.g. travel) against the leadership? Certainly.

    What does "bribery" mean at the international level? You mean there's something illegal about a country giving money to another country in exchange for policy concessions? As for Yanukovych's response: how's a foreign policy about-turn undemocratic?
    Actually, it's hardly giving money to another 'country', but to a specific rent-seeking elite that owns the country. Most of the money involved is not benefiting Ukraine so much as it's lining the pockets of Yanukovych and his cronies. That wouldn't be cool domestically, and it sure as hell isn't cool coming from a foreign country.

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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Without more details, this isn't very meaningful. The US already put travel bans on a bunch of Ukrainian officials.
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  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    Without more details, this isn't very meaningful. The US already put travel bans on a bunch of Ukrainian officials.
    I'm sure it will have little functional effect; but that's not the point. I think it's important to take a stand on principle here, and at least this is something concrete to point to rather than endless blathering and meetings.

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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Well that ended quickly. Yanukovych fled to the Russian-speaking part of the country and briefly considered forming a separatist administration there. Couldn't find enough support even in that part of the country. Reportedly tried to flee to Russia but was stopped. Some of the most vocal pro-Yanukovych governors and defense officials have fled to Russia.

    There's a possibility of conflict in the Crimea between the pro and anti-Yanukovych factions, but I think it's clear who'd win at this point, making the conflict unnecessary.
    Last edited by Loki; 02-22-2014 at 06:19 PM.
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    I guess mr Yanukovic soon will be booked on a flight to The Hague.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    He's lost any leverage he might have had by not resigning a week ago. The protesters have no reason to do him any favors at this point. I'm guessing he withdraw his resignation to give himself some extra leverage, but I can't see it helping now. If he's lucky, someone will smuggle him out to Russia. If not, the Hague would be the least of his worries.
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    I understood he had failed in his attempt to flee. I also understood his dismissal was with a larger than 2/3 majority which appearantly also is enough to change the constitution.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

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    It was unanimous. He has no friends left in Ukraine (except perhaps some Russian secessionists in the Crimea).
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    Senior Member Flixy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    It was unanimous. He has no friends left in Ukraine (except perhaps some Russian secessionists in the Crimea).
    Who are now supported by Russian military (or at least, armed men in Russian uniforms) that occupied airport and local parliament Add the readiness exercises of 150.000 troops in Western Russia, I think it's safe to say Russia is not against escalating the conflict further.

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  22. #22
    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    The general Russian tactic is to prod domestic opponents of the regime they don't like into making secessionist statements and actions while pretending that Russia is not behind it. Russia then uses that as leverage to get concessions from the other country. It might very well work in this case, but I think Putin is really underestimating Ukrainian nationalism and the hatred of Russia on the street. The more Russia pushes this issue, the more even Russian Ukrainians are going to rally around the Ukrainian leadership.

    Incidentally, Russia has perhaps 20k combat-ready troops. If they tried to occupy the Crimea, they'd face a guerrilla war that they probably wouldn't win. I'm going to guess that an overt military intervention in the Crimea would lead to sanctions from the EU and US.

    Edit: just read an interesting argument in the NY Times. If Russia supports violence in the Crimea, which is going to involve fighting between ethnic Russians and Muslim Crimean Tatars, Russia is risking further inflaming the situation in its own Muslim territories. I doubt seeing images of Russian-speaking Tatars killed on TV would play well in Tatarstan or the Russian Caucasus.
    Last edited by Loki; 02-28-2014 at 03:58 PM.
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  23. #23
    Well, things are certainly escalating a lot in the last couple days. I honestly don't see how the West can do much now that Russian troops are moving into the Crimea. I don't doubt that Russia is trying to avoid an all-out invasion a la Georgia in 2008, but even a limited intervention is likely to be messy in the extreme.

    I can't see us doing anything other than largely symbolic measures - things like visa bans and asset freezes might work at least some against the Ukrainian leadership, but it's likely to have a much more muted effect on Russia, and there's no way we'll risk a military confrontation over this. Very frustrating, I'm afraid to say.

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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Perhaps if we took a stronger stand about Georgia in 2008, this wouldn't be happening now. I recall saying as much back then. Regardless, there are plenty of steps we can take short of direct military confrontation. We can expel Russia from the G8, submit a UN SC resolution for a vote even if Russia vetoes it, freeze assets of anyone involved in this conflict, block Russia from entering OECD, and publicly reaffirm our military commitments to Latvia and Estonia.
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    Administrator Dreadnaught's Avatar
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    Agreed -- Bush dropped the ball on that. He dropped it in the same way that Obama would have (Read: Syria), but this is what we get for for endlessly and toothlessly condemning stuff.

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    Perhaps if we took a stronger stand about Georgia in 2008, this wouldn't be happening now. I recall saying as much back then. Regardless, there are plenty of steps we can take short of direct military confrontation. We can expel Russia from the G8, submit a UN SC resolution for a vote even if Russia vetoes it, freeze assets of anyone involved in this conflict, block Russia from entering OECD, and publicly reaffirm our military commitments to Latvia and Estonia.
    I don't disagree that we can and should do all of those things, especially if things escalate further. Yet I question that any of those will substantially change Russia's calculations.

  27. #27
    Senior Member RandBlade's Avatar
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    How about inviting Ukraine to join NATO?
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  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by RandBlade View Post
    How about inviting Ukraine to join NATO?
    Oh that would definitely piss them off. Only problem is that they're light years away from being good candidates for NATO membership. We could start fixing to get ready to consider starting membership talks with them... But I don't know if that would have as dramatic of an effect.

  29. #29
    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wiggin View Post
    I don't disagree that we can and should do all of those things, especially if things escalate further. Yet I question that any of those will substantially change Russia's calculations.
    The proper time do it would was in 2008. But hell, who knows who Russia will attack next if it pays no cost again?
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  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    The proper time do it would was in 2008. But hell, who knows who Russia will attack next if it pays no cost again?
    I actually question the wisdom of a really harsh reaction to the invasion of Georgia in 2008; there the issue of culpability for the war is rather muddied. I don't doubt that Russia's actions were grossly exaggerated responses, and that they'd been building up to a war with Georgia through tit-for-tat actions for months, but Georgia was hardly blameless in the conflict. Here, it's a power grab with much less pseudo-legitimacy to disguise the real intent.

    I do wonder, though, if NATO membership talks would really change Russian policy. Georgia was well on its way towards membership in NATO in 2008, yet it didn't faze Russia in the slightest when they decided to invade. Will Russia be unhappy with a large NATO member in what it considers its traditional sphere of influence? Of course not! But given the time lag between the beginning of membership talks and a fantasyland future where Ukraine is actually ready to join NATO, I don't think it would really change their immediate policy calculus - hell, it might give Putin a reason to be more aggressive, to make sure a friendly government takes control in Kiev and nixes further talks with NATO.

    No, I really think that while we should use all of our pressure points at our disposal, it's unlikely that anything is likely to change the strategic calculus in Moscow. They should be shamed in the international community, ostracized from important clubs, and subject to punishing trade sanctions, but realistically we know that we're going to have to continue to engage with Russia in the future - and they know we know that. So in the end, it's mostly making a stink just to make a stink, with relatively little bite behind it.

    I would love it if we could do something that would really hurt Russia, short of a military intervention, but I really haven't a clue what it should be.

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