May 28, 2016

The Shortest Story About Ukrainian Crisis

Photo: Roman Lozyn
Beginning with the end of 2013 Ukraine has experienced unprecedented events since its independence, mass violent unrests that led to annexation of Crimea by Russia and armed conflict in the eastern part. The authority of Ukraine was supposed to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU), economic integration of Ukraine into the EU as a supranational entity.

The president of Ukraine of that time Viktor Janukovych after prolong declaration of Ukrainian political direction aside to the EU did not sign the agreement. As a result dissatisfied groups of people predominantly of young age, went to the main squire of the capital of Ukraine Kyiv, Maidan, for a peaceful protest. It was brutally overclocked by use of riot police, and that event was a turning point when the small protest transformed into huge unrest, known as Euromaidan.

As a result of clashes between civilians and riot police and unknown shooters in the capital city Kyiv, when 148 people were killed, president Janukovych ran away from the country to Russia (Shaun, Stack and Salem 2014). The events in Ukraine were known firstly as Euromaidan and later as the Revolution of Dignity as protesters were fighting not only for joining Ukraine with the EU, but largely against corruption, enforcement of the laws, equal opportunities and for changing of authority.

The events in Ukraine are called a revolution, however if to refer to the definition of revolution - the event that lead to changes in “the system of government as well as existing leadership and policies” (Glassner and Fahrer 2004), in Ukrainian case it was not revolution. Although the president and his power relations in the government were changed in a relatively short time, the new authority just represents opposite camp of politicians, the way of “doing politics” is almost the same. The new president of Ukraine is an oligarch and currently he still owns one of the biggest confectionery corporations in world (BBC 2014).

During the Euromaidan revolution and after the creation of new government the pro-Russian unrest occurred in eastern and southern part of Ukraine, where protesters were paid for support or local authority and entrepreneurs used its administrative power in order to get people to the street, (KyivPost 2013). When the reelection of the president was announced by new government, in the autonomic republic Crimea, juridically a part of Ukraine, referendum about independents and union with Russia was carried out with the help of soldiers in green uniform without force marks, later recognized as Russian military (Yekelchyk 2015). That event is an example of new ways to “capture territory” without direct invasion and proclamation of war, but with use of uncertain situation in the country to support group of people, in the case it is Russians that are majority in Crimea, and help them to carry out a referendum and proclaim independence from Ukraine and join Russia.

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, in the eastern part of Ukraine pro-Russian rebels that disagree with Ukrainian political direction aside to the EU, proclaimed own insurgent states with the help of military force from Russia (Shaun, Grytsenko and Ragozin 2014; Finnin and Grant 2015). As a result of the conflict in eastern part of Ukraine Donbas (the name refers to Donetsk and Luhansk region) more than 9000 people were killed from both sides (Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine 16 November 2015 to 15 February 2016, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right) and forced movement of at least 1.4 million people that were registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of August 2015 according to Internal Displacement Monitor Center (The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre 2015).

To what extent the conflict in Ukraine could be considered as a civil war, if not, could it be considered as a proxy war? According to the international monitoring the presence of Russian military in east Ukraine is evident (Shaun, Grytsenko and Ragozin 2014; Finnin and Grant 2015). Although the rebels in east Ukraine have the support of the local population, without the help of Russia, conflict in Ukraine will be not happened. If to consider proxy war as “a conflict instigated by opposing powers who do not fight against each other directly, instead, they uses third parties to do the fighting for them” (The Vietnam War 2014), the conflict in Ukraine has some elements of proxy war as the USA and some western countries supply with nonlethal aid to Ukraine’s military, in the same time Russia supplies rebels by weapon and by military personnel (Baker 2015). What is sure that the tensions between West and Russia rose and in media there are even statements about new Cold War. However, as Max Fisher (2014) explained the Cold War had global perspective with two almost co-equal powers with division of Europe between west and east and divided large part of world with aggressive proxy wars where the risk thermonuclear war was significant (Fisher 2014). As author stresses none of that is true in current event.

Conflict in Ukraine is an example of new kinds of war, without direct intervention and proclamation of war per se. It is also known as “hybrid,” “full-spectrum,” “non-linear,” “next-generation,” or “ambiguous” war (Pomerantsev 2014). Peter Pomerantsev (2014) explains in his article New Brave War that all these names of the war show the multi-dimension of conflicts with combination of “psychological, media, economic, cyber, and military operations” (Pomerantsev 2014). The author stresses that Russian propaganda put a lot of effort in order to destabilize Ukraine from inside not only by military force, but with use of information to create unrest and to confuse the West. As Pomerantsev (2014) stresses Russia’s aim is not to occupy territory, what it could do early, but create image of Ukraine as “failed state” in the same time “destroying the will and support inside Ukraine and internationally for reforms that would make Kiev more independent from Moscow and might, in the longer term, create hope for democratic reform inside Russia” (Pomerantsev 2014).

Conflict in Ukraine is also an example how superpower countries could explain events in the own way in order to turn it into more beneficial way for own geopolitics.The media and information is crucial in “hybrid” war in all stages, especially in pre-war period. In local news in eastern and southern Ukraine and some nation wide TV channels that are owned by pro-Russian oligarchs (Dresen 2011) unrest was presented as rightwing and compared with fascism movement, but in fact participants’ political views in Euromaidan were very various. It was beneficially for Russia to show that in Maidan there are only right wing people that fight for dominance of Ukrainian language, with negative attitude to the Soviet past and Great Patriotic War (the name of WWII in Soviet Union and current Russia). By this Russia could create negative image of Ukraine in the eyes of liberal and democratic EU, and in the same time to create tensions inside Ukraine.

Meanwhile some media even in the EU represented conflict in Ukraine as a civil war and explained it by division of Ukraine into West and East (Finnin and Grant 2015). The West-East devision of Ukraine is dominant in all media, western as well as pro-Russian, with support of elections vote maps (Fisher 2014; Taub 2015). As Serhy Yekelchyk, Professor of History and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria, stresses that it is “a convenient simplification” and “there is no clear line dividing Ukraine” (2015, 18). He adds, “although regional differences do exist and could be mobilized for political ends, it is important to understand that there is no ethnic “Russians” half of Ukraine” (Yekelchyk 2015, 18). According to the last census (2001), almost 78 percent of people identified that they are Ukrainians while in Russia, ethnic Russians comprise about 81 percent (Clem 2014). In addition, ethnic Ukrainians were majority of the population in all Ukraine’s 24 current provinces and the capital city of Kyiv, except autonomic republic of Crimea (Clem 2014). Yekelchyk explains that regional voting patterns and cultural variances exist in other countries, including the United States and in Ukraine “they are not usually expressed in terms of a simple dichotomy of pro-Russian versus pro-Western” (2015, 18). In Crimea and Donbas separatism is related to regional Soviet nostalgia, when industrial region Donbas and touristic resort Crimea thrived, with reference to Russian cultural identity and establishing especial local identity (Yakelchyk 2015). In all other part of country, as with Sunni-Shia conflict where the religion is politicized (Fisher 2014), the language and cultural differences in Ukraine are also politicized since the first election in independent Ukraine. Most recently Party of Regions, that make link to Soviet nostalgia and Russian language, in order to get definitive votes from electorate, use language and contested topics of Ukrainian past. Yakelchyk (2015, 19) conclude that “transitional, fluid cultural identity became mobilized for political ends, making political identification with Putin’s Russia possible”. The problem of majority people in Ukraine is not a language, but lack of work places, equal opportunities, enforcement of laws and total corruption in the country. Thus, the crucial weapon is not military force, but information, as media that is watched by mass of people creates and/or supports stereotypes and shape political views.


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