Are you looking for a clear, concise explanation of recent events in Ukraine, for yourself or your kids? You can’t do any better than today’s post in the New York Review blog, “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda” by Timothy Snyder. From which:
From Moscow to London to New York, the Ukrainian revolution has been seen through a haze of propaganda. Russian leaders and the Russian press have insisted that Ukrainian protesters were right-wing extremists and then that their victory was a coup. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, used the same clichés after a visit with the Russian president at Sochi. After his regime was overturned, he maintained he had been ousted by “right-wing thugs,” a claim echoed by the armed men who seized control of airports and government buildings in the southern Ukrainian district of Crimea on Friday[.]
Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter through The Nation and The Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.
In fact, it was a classic popular revolution. It began with an unmistakably reactionary regime. A leader sought to gather all power, political as well as financial, in his own hands. This leader came to power in democratic elections, to be sure, but then altered the system from within. For example, the leader had been a common criminal: a rapist and a thief. He found a judge who was willing to misplace documents related to his case. That judge then became the chief justice of the Supreme Court. There were no constitutional objections, subsequently, when the leader asserted ever more power for his presidency.
It is hard to have all of the power and all of the money at the same time, because power comes from the state, and the state has to have a budget. If a leader steals so much from the people that the state goes bankrupt, then his power is diminished. Yanukovych actually faced this problem last year. And so, despite everything, he became vulnerable, in a very curious way. He needed someone to finance the immediate debts of the Ukrainian state so that his regime would not fall along with it.
Struggling to pay his debts last year, the Ukrainian leader had two options. The first was to begin trade cooperation with the European Union. No doubt an association agreement with the EU would have opened the way for loans. But it also would have meant the risk of the application of the rule of law within Ukraine. The other alternative was to take money from another authoritarian regime, the great neighbor to the east, the Russian Federation.
In December of last year, the leader of this neighboring authoritarian regime, Vladimir Putin, offered a deal. From Russia’s hard currency reserves accumulated by the sale of hydrocarbons he was willing to offer a loan of $15 billion, and lower the price of natural gas from Russia. Putin had a couple of little preoccupations, however.
Read the rest here.
Also by Dr. Snyder, The New York Review of Books article (available online now) from the upcoming March 20th issue, “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine”.
And there’s more — a prescient (February 26th) article in Foreign Policy by Dr. Snyder, well worth reading: “Dear Kremlin: Careful with Crimea: Why a Russian intervention in southern Ukraine could rebound against Moscow”.
Dr. Snyder is Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in modern East European political history. For the 2013-14 academic year, he is the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. Dr. Snyder authored The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (Yale Press, 2003), and helped the late Tony Judt with his posthumous Thinking the Twentieth Century (Penguin, 2012). More of Dr. Snyder’s writing at the NYRB, on Ukraine and other subjects, here.