The discontent of a great number of Ukrainian citizens is rooted in social devastations which derive out of fundamental economic problems. Conversely one may argue that the economic crisis itself has an international dimension and a peripheral state like Ukraine is not able to counter the negative impacts of the great recession the world faces since 2007/2008. And this is partly true. But social inequalities and injustice are widely spread within Ukraine. Although this is not a phenomenon which only exists since the recent government under Viktor Yanukovych took power in 2010, on the contrary, the social gap exploded during the orange period, the ousted president failed to close this gap. His politics did not aim at overwhelming the divide between the poor and the rich. When school teachers and industrial workers earn 250 to 400 US-Dollars a month and oligarchs buy whole football-clubs and build stadiums for themselves at the same time, society is not balanced. The lacking middle class is the drawback of todays’ Ukraine. This cannot be hidden by the fact that the so-called “Gini”-index of inequality shows the country in a relatively better condition (28,3 out of possible 100 points which constitute total inequality) than the European Union (30,7 point).
Social discontent easily turns towards national, religious, or regional unrest. The youngest history of the break-down of multinational states like the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia shows many examples of turning social problems into ethnic ones. Today Ukraine finds itself in the middle of this bloody process.
At such a stage of turmoil Western politics use to intervene. The first step is to transform concrete social unrest into a demand for nebulous freedom and national or religious self-determination. The protests on Maidan square started when Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement with Brussels in Vilnius in November 2013. Seen from a social perspective the flashpoint of Maidan protests is more than strange. It was clear for everyone who followed the EU-enlargement plans, that the partnership between Kyiv and the European Union would bring hard social measures for the majority of the Ukrainian population, such as higher prices for energy and living costs, cuts of state-subsidies for food and social benefits, closing down of industries with a substantially higher rate of joblessness etc. From the very beginning of the Western-backed protests on Maidan, the slogans on the square sounded nationalist. Yes, Yanukovich stood under big pressure from Russia not only concerning the question of energy and industry, but also the geopolitical orientation as a whole. But his decision not to sign the Association Agreement was economically and socially reasonable. His plea to negotiate agreements with Brussels and Moscow at the same time was rejected by Brussels.
Instead of caring for social and economic balance in Ukraine, dozens of Western politicians flew to Maidan square to support the Ukrainian nationalists. Their slogans “Glory to Ukraine! To heroes glory!” were constant appeals. The state chancelleries in Western Europe and Northern America in the meanwhile revived the strategy they had already successfully applied in the Yugoslav conflict during the 1990s. Back then, the NATO-aggression took place under the motto of “humanitarian intervention to safeguard human rights”. The strife for human rights already had turned out to be a perfect instrument and pretext for transporting Western interests to different places in the world. The advantage of this instrument is that human rights cannot be precisely codified due to their wide range from political to economic, social, and cultural rights. (By the way: the UN-Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights from 1976 has not been ratified by the USA since almost 40 years.) And therefore human rights-activism opens a broad room for interpretations. So the call for human rights and self-determination became the driving belt for Western-backed protests in different parts of the world.
During the last two decades NATO-soldiers fought for women’s rights in Afghanistan, national self-determination of Kurds and religious self-determination of Shiites in Iraq, ethnic self-determination of Albanians and Moslems in Yugoslavia, human rights in Libya etc. The pretext to use noble human rights to intervene in foreign regions on behalf of own geopolitical and/or economic interests is evident. After years of “humanitarian interventions” the situation of women in Afghanistan did not ameliorate substantially, nor did the first and most important human right on earth, to simply survive in peace, in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. And in Kosovo the insecurities just changed sides, today Serbian and lives of Roma people are threatened and the Albanian community lives under the burden of a Mafia-like “state”, which is not recognized by half of the world.
Neither the NATO-intervention in Yugoslavia 1999, nor the bellicose “coalition of the willing” in Iraq (2003) or the attacks on Libya (2011) followed the way of international law. In the cases of Yugoslavia and Iraq international law was violated openly, war was declared without any backing by a UN-security council resolution. In the case of Libya, five abstentions in the UN-security council by Russia, China and others were interpreted as affirmation for a military intervention although article 27 (3) of the UN-Charter states clearly that all permanent members of the UN-security council have to “agree on all decisions”. To abstain is not a sign of agreement.
In addition to military intervention, Western allies since two decades operate by means of soft power. So-called “colored revolutions” are playing the “civil card” for Western interests. Thereby often honest concerns of civil society-members being dissatisfied with local politics are transformed into instruments for external geopolitical or economic interests. This happened in a paradigmatic form in the years 1999 und 2000, when members of Serbian “Otpor” – “Resistance” – campaigned against the elected Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. With foreign financial and logistic help his government was overthrown. And “Otpor”-members tried to export the Western-backed soft power to Eastern Europe. The orange Ukraine, the rose Georgia, the Bison-Belarus, “Enough” in Albania, the “Tulip” in Kyrgyzstan ... some of the attempts failed, some were successful. The aim always was clear, regime change.
Moscow learned its lesson. And Putin somehow started to copy the Western concept of using local soft power for geopolitical interests. In the year 2005 he created a proper youth organization named “Nashi” (Ours). It was a Russian-styled NGO to occupy the social space Western-oriented NGO’s would possibly take over. In the “Prednjestrovskaja Moldavskaja Respublika” (PMR) a similar organization was introduced under the label “Proriv” (Break-through). In September 2005 young activists of “Proriv” attacked the bureau of the only international organization located in Tiraspol, OSCE, because the OSCE refused to recognize the results of local elections. In Western Europe and Northern America organizations like “Nashi” and “Proriv” are systematically defamed as fifth column of Russian government and civil forefront of Moscow’s interest. This evaluation may be true in the same way as it is true for the Western-backed “colored” activists in Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and other places.
For Ukraine the period of “soft power”-intervention ended with the appeal of right-wing nationalists to arm activists on the 19th of February 2014. At the latest this provocation should have been the moment for Western politicians and media to dissociate themselves from the “Right sector” and other fascist groups under the umbrella of the joint opposition. But Brussels and Washington accelerated the pressure on the Ukraine government and the president. Their motto was, regime change by all means. Its aim, bringing Ukraine under a new, non-elected government to its knees to accept the Association Agreement. And dissolving the economic and cultural ties between Moscow and Kiev. Right-wing nationalists were not considered as an obstacle to obtain these ambitious goals.
The Russian reaction was foreseeable. One could see that Putin not only had learned his lesson in the field of using soft power, but also on the military front. Russian arguments for military action in Crimea equal Western ones. Putin’s press-officers and his whole government speak of “protecting human rights and national self-determination” like their Western opponents did and do…
The European model for breaking standards of international laws happened exactly 15 years ago, on the 24th of March 1999. On the very morning of this day US-president William Clinton gave the command to bomb Yugoslavia. No UN-mandate was given. After two generations of peace, military intervention came back into the very heart of Europe. The arguments for the attack were already mentioned above, to avoid violations of human rights and guarantee national self-determination for ethnic Albanians.
Today the world is in a way watching the Russian answer to Western acts of “humanitarian interventions”. The factual take-over of Crimean authorities and territory takes place in a mixture of civil “soft power”-elements of so-called self-defense-groups and Russian troops. The difference compared with the events in Kosovo, in spring 1999 there was a war of two and a half months with daily air raids and the killing of thousands of civilians. In early spring 2014 the Russian side did not need to use any weapon, and hopefully it will stay like this.
And there is another important difference between the NATO-attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 and the Russian take-over of the Crimea, NATO acted offensively, it conquered new territory and enlarged its sphere of interest, whereas the Russian army is defensive, trying not to lose influence in a region where it held power since almost two centuries ago and now is guaranteed military deployment by an international treaty. But this does not necessarily mean good news. Being in a defensive position hardly leads to military advantages. In the case of Crimea the Russian army together with the so-called local self-defense-groups may fulfill the self-imposed task to protect human rights and national (Russian) self-determination; but across the Eastern and Southern Ukraine, from Kharkov to Odessa, such demands for intervention could easily be neglected. This would lead to a deep deception of the local Russian population vis-à-vis Moscow. Western strategists could exactly calculate with this scenario... and shamelessly continue to pretend outrage on the Russian activities in Crimea.
By Hannes Hofbauer
This article has originally appeared on the 'Strategic Culture Foundation'.
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