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February 1, 2023

Ukraine: The struggle for Europe III

For several months, before the episode that sparked the present mass protests, experts in the political evolutions of Eastern Europe, also in Ukraine predicted a tough clash between the two camps, with the possibility of a civil war. Several arguments seemed to support the hypothesis.
First, it was obvious that these experts were sharing the acute feeling that Russia, on full international geopolitical offensive – will use the first favourable moment to act in Ukraine and realign this country under its sphere of influence. Especially after the success achieved by Russia in the Syrian dossier in September 2013 – when the performance of President V. Putin enjoyed a large recognition and was followed by his proposal addressed to the USA for a common action aimed at solving the big problems of the present – and after Armenia dropped the EU opting for the Eurasian Union, this feeling became more acute.

And the Ukrainian experts felt this amplitude of an imminent Russian action. The author of this column talked, in October 2013, with an eminent Ukrainian expert, who knows very well the situation of this country and who did not hesitate to describe the atmosphere in his country as close to civil war. His demonstration pointed to the certitude of the inevitability of an action staged by Russia, whose geopolitical offensive was seen as being of a large perspective targeting the entire former communist Eastern Europe, along with the acute feeling that the pro-western forces will not yield to such interference by Moscow that would liquidate the independence of Ukraine. As a matter of fact, such a geopolitical orientation of Moscow had been detected by American officials since 2012, when Hillary Clinton did not hesitate to publicly warn with this regard. In a press statement delivered in Dublin, in December 2012, just before a meeting with her Russian counterpart S. Lavrov, H. Clinton affirmed that “there is a move to re-Sovietise the region. It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called a customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that”.
But other elements, too, pleaded for taking into consideration such a scenario: the Russian military exercise held in 2013 under the name ‘Zapad-2013’, with a worrying scale, the pressures put by Moscow on other states committed to the Eastern Partnership of the EU, different accords on the construction of nuclear power plants in Hungary and Finland; the passing of certain laws in Bulgaria etc. As a reader commented on the site of a British newspaper: “ And I’m afraid Ukraine is just the beginning. Neighbouring Moldova is in the same situation Ukraine was before it refused to sign the treaty with the EU in Vilnius./…/ Hungary just signed an agreement with Russia for its nuclear plant (basically the one providing most of its electricity), Belarus is under total Russian influence, Cyprus was bought, Bulgaria just passed a law according to which NGOs protesting against the government will face sanctions, Serbia got 400 million euros from Russia/…/. The problem is therefore more complex /…/ and it has to do with Russia flexing its muscles and trying to get the entire region under its influence again. With the noncombat attitude of the current American administration everything that was once gained at the falling of the Iron Curtain will be lost soon.”
So far, Russia only gave signs of discontentment with the so-called interference of western powers in Ukraine’s home affairs, admonishing the Kiev authorities for its weakness to the so-called illegalities committed by protesters, hence an advice to repression and implicit a threat with suspending the economic support it had pledged. There were also more or less veiled threats about Russia possibly intervening and even causing a splitting of Ukraine if the West amplifies its destabilising action. With regard to this last matter, Moscow officials, even of very high rank (V. Putin, S. Lavrov) criticised the presence of western politicians in the middle of the EuroMaidan protesters, saying that the international climate would only worsen if Kremlin did the same way in Greece or elsewhere in the EU. A clear expression of the Kremlin ‘hawks’ with regard to Ukraine was provided (this is not the first time that this ‘voice’ is heard and has a specific weight in defining the future actions of Russia) one week ago (on February 6) by Sergey Glazyev, aide to the president Vladimir Putin in charge with the relations with the countries of proximity. First, he said that the ‘interference’ of western states in Ukraine is an infringement of the treaty signed by Russia with the USA in 1994, through which both states guaranteed the security and sovereignty of Ukraine after it renounced its nuclear potential inherited after the collapse of the USSR. Answering the questions of the newspaper ‘Kommersant’ he said: “Under the document, Russia and the USA are guarantors of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and … are obliged to intervene when conflict situations of this nature arise/…/And what the Americans are getting up to now, unilaterally and crudely interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, is a clear breach of that treaty. The agreement is for collective guarantees and collective action.” This perspective suggested by Glazyev can be understood in at least two essential ways: Russia is legally entitled to intervene in Ukraine once the security and sovereignty of the country are in danger; second, that Russia and USA are legally entitled to consult over the future of Ukraine, also on the anti-government, anti-Russian and pro-Europe protests going on since November 2013 in Kiev.
At a second reading, Glazyev’s statement raises an interesting hypothesis about the USA’s recent activism in Kiev and, in the context, relative to the insulting remark made against the EU by the assistant to the US secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, in a private phone conversation with the US ambassador in Kiev, on February 6.
The discussion, allegedly tapped by the Russian intelligence and transformed into a youtube viral, this remark determined the strong protest of Germany and other EU states. Glazyev also mentioned that the USA spends some USD 20 M daily to fuel the Kiev protest and even the premises of the US embassy is used to train protesters in guerrilla warfare tactics, that the weakness of the Yanukovich government which delays a strong intervention pushes the country to anarchy and separation. According to Glazyev, Ukraine is experiencing a real coup d’etat and the government (which resigned meanwhile) should take the necessary measures to prevent the chaos. “The authorities are not fulfilling their duty to defend the state, negotiating with putschists as if they are law-abiding citizens/…/”As for starting to use force, in a situation where the authorities face an attempted coup d’etat, they simply have no other course of action./…/Otherwise, the country will be plunged into chaos.”
The option of Kremlin hawks is clear: immediate repression and tough repression of the Kiev revolt by authorities, in order to terminate the intervention of the West which, in fact, protects a coup against the democratically elected leadership. And this must be done even at the price of a deterioration of Russia’s relations with the USA and EU. Is there also another ‘school of thinking’ in Moscow?

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