An untimely solution to the tragedy of Ukraine

By Peter Baofu, Ph.D.

The current crisis in Ukraine requires a long-term solution. If I were the president of Ukraine, I would propose a two-pronged solution which the opposing forces both inside and outside Ukraine have so far been unwilling to accept, as the crisis has continued and worsened to the present tragedy of insurgency and counter-insurgency. 

As a starting point of analysis, it is important to realize that the current crisis of Ukraine has two fronts, namely, (a) the domestic (internal) front and (b) the foreign (external) front. These two fronts, however, are closely intertwined together, as explained below.

(a) The 1st Half of the Solution: On the Domestic Front

The first half of the solution has to do with bridging the gap between the two opposing forces inside Ukraine.

In regard to the domestic front, the current crisis of Ukraine is its internal division "between its western, European-tilted provinces and its eastern and southern portions, which long favored close ties with the Soviet Union and continue to lean toward Russia," as Patrick Smith well put it for The Fiscal Times on February 24, 2014.

This then means that its capital, Kiev, "where the anti-Yanukovych protests have been centered, lies in Ukraine's west. In effect, what the world has watched on television for the past...months has been a revolt of half the country. It is good to recall that the Soviets never trusted Kiev. Lenin made Kharkiv, the Russian-speaking city in the east...; Stalin kept it that way until 1934," as Smith reported.

A logical solution, so it seems, is to strike a middle ground between the two divides, but it has not worked, because the tragedy of Ukraine on the domestic front is that it has not developed a civic culture for a "win-win" mindset to integrate opposing forces in society, Instead, "the nation has succumbed to the either-or temptation of self-definition according to the surrounding geopolitical divide" (in Smith's parlance), such that each side is only interested in crushing the other side in a "zero-sum" game.

One should remember that those in Kiev who determined to overthrow Yanukovych by force a few months ago did not represent the entire population of Ukraine but only the "segment" of the Western part, especially those "nationalist fanatics who display little interest in democracy and its institutions" (in Smith's parlance) and exploit violence to achieve their goals, that is, by any means necessary.

And the recent presidential election in May 25, 2014 (after the coup to oust Yanukovych from power in February) is a "farce" for two main reasons, because it was boycotted in many parts of its eastern and southern provinces and because the main political party in power before the coup has been outlawed ever since, so this guarantees that only those in support of the coup are to be elected. So this was exactly what happened, as Petro Poroshenko, right after he got elected, "vowed to punish pro-Russian rebels" and to eliminate "the insurgency" in the eastern and southern provinces of the country, as reported by AFP on May 30, 2014.

The forceful language used by Poroshenko is clear enough: "We have to do everything we can to ensure no more Ukrainians die at the hands of terrorists and bandits. These criminal acts by the enemies of the Ukrainian people will not go unpunished," as reported by AFP on May 30, 2014. In other words, many of those in the eastern and southern provinces who fight for their autonomy from Kiev are now considered as "terrorists and bandits." But those in the eastern and southern provinces also spoke their minds clearly in the referendums held on May 11, 2014, when "almost 90 percent of voters in Donetsk Region have endorsed political independence from Kiev" and "in Lugansk Region 96.2 percent of voters supported the region's self-rule, according to the final figures announced by the local election commission," as reported by RT on May 11, 2014. Surely, those who voted yes for self-rule from Kiev do not consider themselves as "terrorists and bandits" as Poroshenko portrayed them to be.

So the current President of Ukraine, Poroshenko, brings us back to square one, the same "zero-sum" mentality of "we win; they die" so often seen before the coup. But this "zero-sum" mentality is inherently unstable and unsustainable, because it celebrates the voice of one side (for the western, European-tilted provinces) at the expense of the other side (for the eastern and southern, Russian-tilted provinces).    

Therefore, more than ever before, an effective president of Ukraine needs someone to bridge the gap between the two divides. So, if I were the president of Ukraine, I would do what the current president after the coup (Poroshenko) is not willing to do and what the previous one (Yanukovych) did not, namely, to seek a middle ground between the two divides without treating one side as "freedom fighters" and the other side as "terrorists and pundits." The interests of both sides must be integrated in the first half of my proposed solution.

(b) The 2nd Half of the Solution: On the Foreign Front

And the second half of my proposed solution has to do with bridging the gap between the two opposing forces outside Ukraine.

The current crisis of Ukraine has another front, namely, the foreign (external) front. In regard to the foreign front, the current crisis of Ukraine is its external competition between two major forces, the Western force led by the U.S. and the EU, and the Eastern one led by Russia, with each trying to divide and conquer Ukraine, all in the intoxicating name of serving the interests of the Ukrainian people.

On the Eastern side, Russia considers Ukraine as its own "backyard," a vital buffer zone for its own empire from Western expansion -- just as the U.S. has long regarded Latin American countries as its own "backyard" with countless military interventions since the 19th century, due to the Monroe Doctrine (and in the process notoriously earned the angry expression "Yankee go home" among the natives). As a result, "President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea in March shows Russia has ditched the post-Cold War rulebook, redrawing borders," to send the message that "the Ukraine crisis is a one-off in which Russia's legitimate interests must be dealt with to avoid a lasting confrontation," as reported by AFP on June 04, 2014. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated the Russian position that "Ukraine must immediately move to stop violence" against those seeking self-rule in the pro-Russian southern and eastern provinces, in a report by RIA on May 30, 2014.

However, on the Western side, the U.S. and the EU have done what they could to change Ukraine from a pro-Russian regime to a pro-Western one, while double-speaking the rhetoric of "freedom" and "national sovereignty." For instance, right at the beginning, "President Obama and many administration officials insisted that Washington desired only that Ukrainians be permitted to determine their fate for themselves. 'Our approach as the United States is not to see this as some Cold War chessboard in which we're in competition with Russia, Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future'" - and the U.S. mainstream media reinforced the impression of "the ouster of Yanukovych as an expression of popular will. 'The good news is the fact that this happened from the bottom up,' Tom Friedman said on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. 'The West didn't do this. The United States didn't do this. The EU didn't do this. The Ukrainian people did this,'" as Smith wrote.

Of course, this is Western propaganda, since the reality is that the coup in Ukraine was much orchestrated by the U.S. and the EU, as Smith wrote: "President Obama was simply disingenuous....The U.S. and the European Union have done plenty in Ukraine since protests erupted last November; this is a matter of record" - and "the infamously profane YouTube recording of two [American] diplomats plotting to manipulate prominent opposition figures, said it all. The three oppositionists -- Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatseniuk, and Oleh Tyahnybok -- were those who signed a short-lived compromise with Yanukovych," before they simply took advantage of the concessions and then breaking the agreement later. As Paul Craig Roberts concisely summarized it on May 26, 2014, "Western propaganda about events in Ukraine has two main purposes. One is to cover up, or to distract from, Washington's role in overthrowing the elected democratic government of Ukraine. The other is to demonize Russia."

In other words, the U.S. and the EU have tried hard to keep Russia out of Ukraine, and it is not surprising that NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu repeated the Western stand on June 02, 2014 that Russia must "stop the flow of arms and weapons across the border" and "supporting armed separatists in Ukraine," and that "Russian troops meanwhile should be withdrawn in a 'full and verifiable manner,'" in a report by AFP on June 02, 2014.

But these divergent views by the two opposing forces on the foreign front only show all the more clearly that "there are fundamentally different views [between the two forces] on this crisis, on its origins, on what is happening now and on how it should be resolved," as Lungescu herself admitted, in a report by AFP on June 02, 2014.

Therefore, more than ever before, an effective president of Ukraine needs someone to bridge the gap between the two forces. So, if I were the president of Ukraine, I would do what the current president after the coup (Poroshenko) is not willing to do and what the previous one (Yanukovych) did not, that is, making peace and cooperating with both East and West without explicitly favoring one side over the other, that is, siding neither with the West (as the current President, Poroshenko, is doing) nor with the East (as the previous President, Yanukovych, did). In other words, I would not let Ukraine join the EU (or alternatively, the economic union with Russia) without also joining the economic union with Russia (or alternatively, the EU), nor would I allow Ukraine to join NATO (or alternatively, a military alliance with Russia) without also forming a military alliance with Russia (or alternatively, NATO). In short, I would do business with both sides, but without favoring one against the other


Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how one looks at the situation), I am "not" the president of Ukraine and shall "never" be, so my two-pronged solution remains untimely. This then means that the current crisis of Ukraine will continue, as it has for a long time in its history, sandwiched as it is between East and West, in what I called an "ambivalent region" in global politics in my book titled "Beyond the World of Titans, and the Remaking of World Order" (2007).

Thus is the tragedy of Ukraine in our time (narrowly speaking), or in history (broadly speaking).

Author`s name Peter Baofu