Thursday, November 25, 2004

Ukraine crisis continued - detente?

For a chronology of events and a by-the-minute look at the boom in global coverage over the last week: one, two, three , four, five - between them these provide a chronology of events and coverage from 7pm on Monday 22nd November until 11pm on Wednesday 24th (London time), as well as an almost insane number of links to other blogs covering events, articles, news sources and the like.

If you've liked my coverage, please consider bunking a vote my way in The Deutche-Welle International Weblog Awards, where this blog has been nominated in the category Best Journalistic Blog (English) - it'd be much appreciated.

Now that the situation seems to have reached an impasse, both sides are preparing for talks to try to end the crisis, and the international press and diplomatic community have woken up to the risk of civil war, such intensive blog coverage may not be necessary, although I'll continue to provide updates as they occur.

It may now be useful to get some background on Ukrainian internal politics, to understand just how different this situation is from the rather simplistic Yushchenko = good, pro-Western, Yanukovych = bad, pro-Russian take which it is so easy to fall in to.

TulipGirl's transcript of an article by Ukranian novelist Oksana Zabuzhko's article "Ukraine's Solidarity" is a very good starting point:

"A widespread cliche used by many Western journalists to describe the major collision of our dramatic elections is that the establishment candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, is "pro-Russian," and that opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, is "pro-Western." This version has as little to do with the feelings of an average Ukrainian voter as with those of the belligerents of the Trojan war. Mr. Yanukovych is perceived not so much as being "pro-Russian," but as, first and foremost, being "pro-criminal" -- a Ukrainian Al Capone, who has under his belt two prison sentences for robbery and assault, and publicly uses criminal argot compared to which even the boorish tongue of retiring President Leonid Kuchma sounds as innocuous as a school textbook."

There's more from Zabuzhko here:

"With no change of the political elite, with just the very small beginnings of civil society, with no real revolution, Ukraine has started sliding back into the dark shadow of Sovietization. In the current election campaign, the whole strategy of the presidential "candidate of power," Viktor Yanukovich, is the brainchild of Moscow professionals and spin doctors. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has in such short order turned his own country into a place browbeaten by the fear of terrorism, has turned up in Kiev to offer support for the Ukrainian thugs active in this election. Small wonder: Criminals and KGB officers have worked together since the good old days of the Gulag.

"We know how eagerly the Western press buys the made-in-Russia political analysis of the current Ukrainian situation - the version that says Ukraine is "split" into East and West, "pro-Russian" and "pro-Western" factions. As George Orwell knew, the old totalitarian dragon feeds on artificially constructed illusions. So I just want to let you know how things look and feel from here. And to say that this is not a farewell letter. It is a letter of hope."


Le Sabot Post-Moderne - a Ukranian blog in English - is beginning an overview of Ukranian politics, which looks promising:

"The country is run by a series of oligarchic clans that actually found their beginnings in the Soviet Union, and then grew fabulously rich during the early days of 'privatization'...

"Yanukovych isn't just another unscrupulous candidate, he's the main man of Akhmetov -- the duke of Donetsk and the richest man in Ukraine. The current president, Kuchma, is the head of a different clan, Dnepropetrovsk. The presidential administrator is Medvedchuk, who happens to run the Kiev-based Medvedchuk-Surkis clan. He also owns the two biggest Ukrainian TV stations, which is awfully convenient.

"While there is jockeying for control among these clans, the overall effect is for them to sustain one another in power. They all depend on the same system for survival, and actively collaborate to keep it in place."


LoboWalk also has some good insights, and has taken me to task for providing too simplistic an analysis:

"[Yanukovych's] intended use is to be nothing more than a hand-puppet for Putin and Kuchma. The only reason Yanukovych is even in this situation is because Kuchma was unable to carry his thug-mafioso government practices far enough to finagle yet another term of his own...

"to most Ukrainians this is not only a matter of national pride but it's about
freedom as well. They recognize their own identity and it's not with Russia, Belarus, or any other country. Ukraine already suffered under Russia; think of the 7 million who starved to death under a Stalin imposed famine. Ukraine has always been used, exploited and raped by Russia. Ukriane's culture doesn't originate from Russia, all Slavic cultures, in many ways, owe their origination to Ukraine. Ukraine was an identity long before Russia existed."

12:45pm update: All About Latvia has found an alternate take on Yushchenko, which just goes to show how complex the situation is. Whether these allegations are true or not, I have no idea:

"Why everyone here is so delighted about Yushchenko? The Ukrainians remember his abysmal term as a prime-minister and all those corruption scandals he was involved in. I work at the huge enterprise belonging to the son-in-law of President Kuchma which was obtained by underhand means. It's remarkable that Kuchma's son-in-law is the main sponsor of Yushchenko's presidential campaign. I'm afraid that if Yushchenko wins, the corruption will only grow...

"The crisis demonstrates that there is no such country as Ukraine. There is one country of which Kiev and Lviv are the main centres, where they speak one language and look primarily to the West. And there is completely different country of which the main centres are Kharkiv and Odessa where they speak another language and look to Moscow for support. The latter country is larger in population and more industrially advanced. So the pro-Western candidate has no chance of winning the Ukrainian elections abiding by law. The Western powers would help him to get power by enciting civil unrest, that's the only way."


There's not going to be an easy solution to this.

1:20pm: Victor keeps up his coverage at The Periscope - lots of conflicting reports, and rumours of scuffles, but no serious incidents as of yet. The Ukrainian media seems to be either not operating or in support of Yushchenko, so a balanced view of the situation is practically impossible.

Nonetheless, there are some signs of hope (albeit with a worrying postscript):

"Crowds of Yanukovich supporters peacefully mix with Yushchenko supporters. They still wear white and blue, but this doesn't bar them from finding common language with the 'orange' protesters. However, there are also 'blue' crowds of aggressive youngsters that don't look willing to mix with the others."

Show your support: sign the letter of freedom and solidarity"

LoboWalk has more updates including ways for Americans to lobby Washington to support Ukraine.

Italian coverage of the crisis.

Swedish coverage.

Yet more background information and a new discussion forum.

5:30pm: Fistful has a good round-up of today's developments. It's all still very confused, but the threat of violence seems to have died down - for now.

Europhobia's Ukraine coverage continues here.

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