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1 October 2014 Edition

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What is really going on in Ukraine?

It’s clear from current politics that there are at least two Ukraines

IRISH PEOPLE, particular those of a nationalist persuasion (that is the majority of us), tend naturally to look favourably on the struggles of other small nations for independence, be it Scotland, Catalonia or wherever.
And when the Ukrainian crisis burst upon the scene it was a natural response to assume that the anti-Russian forces in that country were the same as ourselves in our fight against British rule and colonial domination.
But things aren’t so simple, and the patterns of our history do not sit easily at all in Ukraine.
First of all, all the East Slavic peoples (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarussians) are closely related linguistically, culturally and historically. Indeed, Russian civilisation was born in what is now Ukraine, with Kiev Rus the first Russian state.
Mongol invasions in the 13th century (at that period some 20,000 people were taken into slavery annually) forced the Russians north into the forest lands near Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and other city states.
It was only with the weakening of Mongol power that Russians (or East Slavic-speaking people) began to infiltrate back into the border country, which is the most usually accepted meaning of Ukraine.
These areas, to the east and south of modern Ukraine, were called New Russia at that period.
Further west, other East Slavic speakers lived under Polish and then Austro-Hungarian rule. Indeed, modern western Ukraine (Galicia) was never part of the Tsarist Russian empire, and their language is more distinct from standard Russian than the language spoken in the east.
And Ukraine itself never was an independent state until 1991.
Equally, it is clear from current politics that there are at least two Ukraines.
In the south and east, are people who feel themselves closely aligned with Russians and whose language is either standard Russian or a Ukrainised version of it quite intelligible to Russians. These people voted consistently for people like the deposed President Yanukovich and the pro-Russian Party of the Regions.
In the west, the language is more distinctly different, and the people have tended to look westward. In fact, Galicia, which only became part of the Soviet Union with the collapse of Poland after the Nazi invasion, collaborated widely with the Nazis when they invaded the USSR itself. And even today western Ukraine openly commemorates and glorifies the Ukrainian SS units that the Nazis used to slaughter Jews in Ukraine.
In between, there is Kiev, which has cultural affinities to both areas.
Ukraine can only survive as a state if both communities feel secure within it, but the fascist gangs who were so prominent in the overthrow of Yanukovich do not inspire any confidence in the east.
That problem can only be resolved by dialogue, not by the war which the Western-supported government has unleashed.
But the bigger context is the role of the United States in provoking a conflict with Russia just as that country is building closer economic relationships, especially with Germany.
Everyone knew that Russia would not accept NATO establishing itself right on its Ukrainian border, and the people of that border area in Ukraine have made it clear that they don’t accept it either.
But the US pushed this policy, not just to discommode the Russians but to create problems for any Russo-German rapprochement.
So, while the new Ukrainian President Poroshenko makes tentative moves to find a peaceful resolution of the problems, US-aligned politicians like Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk work to fan the flames of conflict and division.
Given this complex situation, where the easterners’ rights and security are very much under threat, it is a serious mistake to equate the situation in Ukraine with our own struggle for freedom.
And it is equally a mistake not to see that the broader picture is one where the United States is fighting to preserve the international role of the dollar as the currency of global exchange and to keep Europe dependent on the US.
What passes for an Irish Government just dutifully toes the line, but already we can see that the retaliatory sanctions the Russians are introducing will have a very negative impact on us while Germany is given the space to further consider its options.
Leaving aside the moral desirability of reaching a non-violent conclusion (one perhaps, as the Russians propose, that will see a unified but federal Ukrainian state, trading both west and east and non-aligned with NATO), it is not in Ireland’s interests or the interests of democracy in Europe that our continent should be returned to Cold War tensions with their divisiveness and potential for war.
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