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Ukraine Splits Over East-West Economic Rivalry

The battle over Ukraine. The reach of the West. Russia’s sphere of influence. Ukrainians in the streets.

People rally outside of the presidential administration building in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. Ukraine's opposition failed to force out the government with a parliamentary no-confidence vote Tuesday, leaving political tensions unresolved and a potential standoff between protesters and the country's leaders looming. (AP)

People rally outside of the presidential administration building in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. Ukraine’s opposition failed to force out the government with a parliamentary no-confidence vote Tuesday, leaving political tensions unresolved and a potential standoff between protesters and the country’s leaders looming. (AP)

In a flash, Ukraine’s capital looked like old Orange Revolution or even Berlin Wall-toppling days last weekend.  Massive crowds, brutal police, an East-West tug-of-war.  A certain Cold War cast and a touch of Soviet power play.  But this was completely up to date.  Ukraine’s government turned away from a European Union tie.  Toward Russia.  And a whole lot of Ukrainians took to the streets to say no.  No to Moscow.  Yes to Western European values.  But it’s complicated.  Ukraine is right in the middle.  This hour On Point:  old ties, new ties, and the fate of Ukraine.

– Tom Ashbrook


Sergei Loiko, Moscow correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, covering the protests in Kiev.

Serhii Plokhii, professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University. Author of “Ukraine And Russia; Representations of the Past” and “The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”

Gwendolyn Sasse, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford. Author of “The Crimea Question: Identity, Transition And Conflict,” “Europeanization and Reorganization in the EU’s Enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe: The Myth of Conditionality” and “Ethnicity and Territory in the Former Soviet Union: Regions in Conflict.”

Alisa Ruban, organizer in the Ukrainian protests. International secretary for the Democratic Alliance, a Ukrainian opposition party.

From Tom’s Reading List

Los Angeles Times: Ukrainian opposition fails to pass no-confidence vote in parliament — “After several days of of mass protests over President Viktor Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the trade and association agreement with Europe, the opposition leaders counted on support from communist lawmakers and defectors from the ruling Party of Regions faction to pass the measure. A vote of no confidence was seen as a first step in bringing down the government.”

Reuters: Ukraine government survives in parliament while rage boils outside — “The government’s November 21 decision to reject a deal on closer trade ties and integration with the EU has laid bare once more a split in world view between Ukraine’s Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West.Protesters see the rejection of the EU trade deal as a fundamental shift in the future outlook of their country, away from the European mainstream and back into the orbit of their former Soviet masters in Moscow.”

The Economist: Battle for Ukraine – “Ukraine is not Belarus. It has a vibrant middle class, television is controlled by oligarchs (many of whom are extremely angry with Mr Yanukovych) and, most importantly, a diverse population. Although Mr Yanukovych, whose popularity rating is less than 20%, is still backed by his native Russian-speaking industrial region of Donetsk, he has never had much legitimacy in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country. His latest actions could lead to a split in the country, with its western part and Kiev simply refusing to recognise the government’s authority.”

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  • Shag_Wevera

    Russia is historically so hard to read. It always seems like they should be more than they are. I’ve heard it suggested that it has to do with the psychology of numerous invasions and a lack of natural defensive barriers.

    • brettearle

      Point fairly well-taken.

      But I’m not an historian.

      Nevertheless, it seems to me that geography and terrain can influence political destiny. Just as, with regard to combat and air support, weather can influence short-term Martial destiny.

    • Ray in VT

      I think that there is some sort of ingrained defensiveness, or perhaps even paranoia, in the Russian political character, but, given the history of invasions, is perhaps not altogether unjustified. I think that they have some fear that they are being either isolated or excluded from the European sphere, although, given the ways in which some in the West have looked down on Russia as not being European either geographically or culturally historically, I wonder if there is not also some aspect of the Russian political consciousness that just wants to say sort of “screw you” to Europe.

      • brettearle


      • northeaster17

        Given the petro riches they’ve uncovered in the last generation or so I wonder if certain powerful oligarghs might want to accent that divide for economic leverage. I’m no expert but the way they will cut off entire regions from fuel in the winter months makes it seem that as much as they want to protect their pot of gold, they will also use it to bring others in line with their interests.

        • Ray in VT

          Perhaps. By turning outsiders away that opens up internal routes for consolidation and control. The Kremlin has certainly sought to reign in those whom it does not like via various methods, and it has shown that it is willing to turn off the gas in winter when they get crossed. One wonders, though, if such heavy handed tactics are counter-productive, as they could potentially alienate those who might be inclined towards cooperation or those who are at worst neutral.

          • northeaster17

            It’s an old society. Simply put, it’s as though the more things change, the more they remain the same

          • Ray in VT

            It’s funny how that works sometimes.

          • Don_B1

            The days of serfdom for the majority of Russians is only a few generations ago and life under Communism was not that much different.

            The initial exposure to Western life was contaminated by “Shock Therapy” from Harvard economists led by Jeffrey D. Sacks, which led to millions of peasants being separated from their stock shares by the oligarchs that effectively swindled them.

      • hennorama

        Ray in VT — the Soviet Union had 1 out of every 7 or 8 of its prewar population killed during World War II, about 20 to 28 million people. They suffered about one-third of the total worldwide deaths that occurred as a result of that war.

        For comparison purposes, the US lost about one of every 313 of its population, which is about 418,500 people.

        These Soviet losses color everything that has come to pass since that time.

        • Ray in VT

          The military might that the Third Reich threw at the Soviet Union was impressive, and their policies towards the peoples in those lands in the East that they occupied were horrific. Those scars of the Great Patriotic War certainly must still weigh upon considerations down to the present day. I think that the number that I read put about 6 German, or possibly Axis, troops on the Eastern Front for everyone that they deployed to face the threat from the West, even after Overlord.

          • Bluejay2fly

            One thing about the post WW2 Soviet Union that has always made me wonder. Is it possible that once the common enemy was defeated that Stalin and the Politburo used anti-western fear to maintain control of their power with another enemy? Perhaps the entire Cold War provided a desperately needed jobs program for the poor and a created a military based ruling class. It also makes sense that the longer it dragged on the more people realized the US was not going to invade their nation like Germany and France had done. Eventually, even the most traumatized and paranoid began to tire of having no consumer economy because of the industrial footprint of the military. With that in mind have we fallen into the same mindset? Unfortunately, we are closer to 1946 than 1990 in our reliving of their system.

          • Ray in VT

            That is an interesting question. That is sort of the conception of the state described in 1984. The use of the outside enemy was used, and was necessary, for the perpetuation of the system that was justified by the existence and the threat of the enemy.

            Maybe it would have been different with a leader other than Stalin, with his known brutality and paranoia, but, again, I think that the fact that such a brutal invasion had been perpetrated upon the Russian people would have rather necessarily provoked some sort of protection seeking system, which was sort of the conception of Eastern Europe as a Soviet sphere of influence, although other motives existed as well (spreading the revolution).

            There was certainly much work to do in the Soviet Union after the war, so rebuilding could have provided many jobs for a while, but they eschewed the sort of consumer culture that we, for better and worse, that we embraced in the post war era. Without that sort of job sector in the economy, the military was a way to employ people.

            Perhaps, like many things in history, the evolution of such a system was more the result of the sort of “happy accidents” of history that produce results that were really in no way envisioned near the outset, and the leadership class, which, despite the sort of claims of a classless society, did exist in one way or another, perhaps just rode it out as a matter of convenience. Then again, that may not be the case. It would take someone with far more knowledge of the Soviet Union’s internal politics of the era to make a proper judgement.

          • Bluejay2fly

            Domestically we have given up liberty to Social Services, local law enforcement, DEA, NSA, FBI, ATF, Homeland Security, TSA, etc. Internationally, we step all over national sovereignty, kill thousands with drones, maintain secret Gulags like GITMO and rendering places. We continue to interfere in many nations internal politics often selling weapons or using our military to achieve our political ends. Worse yet we idolize the military and never question its usefulness nor its outlandish budget. To speak ill of the military makes you a pariah both politically and socially. I never would have imagined I would see the day hippies and leftists support foreign wars which result in the death of thousands. We have decimated manufacturing to the extent that to now shut down our military would wreak economic ruin for many people. My question is what have we learned from the Soviet example? We use war as a foreign policy tool, we have irrational hates and fears, we cannot imagine a world where we are not running the entire show. In essence we get more like are despised former enemy everyday. What happened??

  • Ray in VT

    Does anyone else find it a bit ironic that the historic capital of the Rus is not in Russia, and that it could even fall away, potentially, from the political orbit and sphere of influence of the nation that derives its name from that kingdom and people?

    • Mykhaylo and Yulia

      The idea that Russia is directly descended from Rus is a common fallacy.
      The Kyivan Rus was at its height a thousand years ago, long before Ukraine or Russia were modern nation states.
      Rus was quite a large empire. It included much of modern day Ukraine and parts of Belarus and Russia.
      Moscow was a small trading post at the time, and it was not part of Rus. After Rus fell,it was over a century until Moscovy (and Moscow) began to emerge as a center or power.
      The term Ukrainian is a modern term. It was established in the nineteenth century. It replaced Rusyn–a descendant of Rus. Some Ukrainians still refer to themselves as Rusyns.
      The best (though not perfect) analogy to Russia and Rus is perhaps France (once known as Gaul) and the Roman Empire. Modern day France was part of the Roman Empire, but the modern day French do not consider themselves Italian. They share similar languages and common ancient history, but they are not synonymous. Neither would one consider Charlemagne’s empire or the Holy Roman Empire to be direct continuations of the Roman Empire.

      • Ray in VT

        I wasn’t really attempting to equate modern Russia directly with the medieval Rus. Part of my point was that I was trying to make was that the area, or at least a part of it, that might have the best claim to the Rus name is not in what we now think of or call Russia.

        To work with your analogy, I suppose that it would be like modern France calling itself Italy, based upon its past association with the Roman Empire, while the ancient province of Italia ended up calling it something else. I think that your example of the Holy Roman Empire, which I recall one historian saying was neither holy, Roman nor an empire, is a pretty good one for this case.

  • Government_Banking_Serf

    Good for the people. As we turn to more of a China/Soviet style Crony State Capitalism, Technocratic, All-powerful Executive, Big Brother State, the Ukrainians are having their Libertarian moment. I mean in the best sense, like a Progressive personal values, Libertarian economic/governance values moment. We could use that here.

  • spiral007

    I believe Russia has reason to be paranoid about the west. Look at the facts, 1) in spite of promises to Gorbachev to not extend the borders of the west, the west did just the opposite. 2) This Ukrainian activity is a continuation of that policy. 3) Russia was denied membership of WTO for a long time on one pretext or the other.

    It is clear the west’s strategy is to isolate and neutralize Russia so that the world can go back to being bipolar (west and China)!

    • Government_Banking_Serf

      Russia is a quasi totalitarian State headed by Putin. If Russians were given the chance to self-govern in a transparent way, I’m sure they could get in the WTO.

      I admit the hypocrisy is growing richer every day given our deteriorating Constitutional Self-Governance, Surveillance State and Manipulated Markets. Not to mention I’m sure the WTO is just a tool of the global technocrats who would love to run the world, and not deal with sovereign, self-govering nations.

      • spiral007

        BTW, russia is now in WTO (i am quite sure)….this business of quasi totalitarian state is innuendo and demonizing. After the snowden revelations can we really say who is totalitarian and who is not? I agree with the rampant hypocrisy of the west.

  • adks12020

    Just tuned in so maybe this was addressed. One of Russia’s most important naval bases is in Ukraine. Guess they never thought the people there would fight for their own country. Now I think they lease the land from Ukraine. I’m sure that’s a big part of their desire to maintain strong relations with Ukraine.

  • revlimid

    I have been listening to your totally one sided biased reporting on the crisis in the Ukraine and I find it outrageous. Listening to you we would never know that there are two sides to this question.

  • Regular_Listener

    I have never been to Eastern Europe, but I know that Ukrainian-Americans (a group to which I belong) have a deep fear and suspicion of Russia (but even more so of communism and the Soviet state) based on a number of things, but most of all the holodomor – the murder by starvation of millions of Ukrainians during the 1930s by the USSR. Ukrainian-Americans, particularly those from Galicia, have long dreamed not just of independence but of closer ties to the West. A lot has changed, but once again Ukraine finds itself being pulled both east and west.

  • Don_B1

    For some, other than its citizens, there is a financial stake in the outcome:


  • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

    Kiev: Big question is when and how this government will crack down- maybe not with police (which might provoke sanctions by the West), but with paid thugs- amazing picture from a few days ago of maybe 400 of these “sportsman”. (wearing cheap Soviet-style tracksuits) in Marinsky Park who roughed up some journalists. The guy who almost drove a bulldozer into the Presidential fence was also alleged to be a gov. provocateur, after which the Berkut riot police savagely attacked, targeting 40 journalists and destroying their equipment.

    I’ve written for every paper here over 5 years- you can read a full analysis on the genesis of this eruption: http://hammernews.com/COUNTDOWNUkraine.htm

    COUNTDOWN: LAST CHANCE FOR UKRAINE – Scoop (pics) KIEV: Ukraine at crossroads between East and West: join the Russian Eurasian Customs Union or sign the EU Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) in Lithuania Nov 28-9. Incredibly, after 15 years of negotiation, Pres. Yanukovich scotched the deal a week before. The choice is stark: whether Ukraine will be locked in a neo-Soviet ghetto of dependency and corruption, or join the Western world in greater transparency,
    freedom, and rule of law. – Nov 29

    Yanu’s meeting w Putin turned out to be nothing, but he was going to offer him nothing without joining the Customs Union, after he lost the bargaining position of the EU alt. With the protests, Yanu is even weaker- and afraid of a massive eruption now if he did that.
    Putin doesn’t like or respect Yanu- it’s the attitude of a DoJackel assassin towards a street thug- and the craven desperation of Azarov in begging Europe for help to control the demos and offer them another deal illustrates their weakness. If they do the Customs deal when (if) the protests die down Ukraine will only get half of what was planned- a package of $5-10 billion, though there’s been talk of up to $20 bil.

    In a delicious irony the blockade of government bldgs is being led by Lutsenko, the former Justice Minister, cruelly imprisoned and abused for 2 years by Yanukovich for supposedly giving his chauffeur a $15,000 job, actually for being a fearless Orange firebrand. As if you put the head of the FBI in prison over a parking ticket. The confidence move in the government was rushed through because it would fail Monday (and can’t be done again for 2-3 months) – with more resignations, foreign travel bans and investigations into their Western piles of stashed loot, it would succeed. But the fish rots from the head, and the head was always rotten from youth (Yanu did 3 1/2 years in prison for assault+robbery). It’s simple-
    if you elect a criminal to government, you get a criminal government.

    Michael Hammerschlag Kiev

    hammerschlag AT hotmail DOT com (Kyiv)

  • hennorama

    Censorship test numero 3:

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