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Montana Politics

Answering Leftist Questions about Ukraine

Quick disclaimer – no leftists that frequent this blog have actually asked questions about Ukraine. The most prominent of them already know the answer to every question of foreign affairs – the US is in the wrong. But there are legitimate questions to be asked about the situation from a progressive or leftist point of view. They are questions I asked, and did my best to find the answers to.

Aren’t the protestors in Ukraine Nazis or neo-Nazis? It seems quite likely that some of them adhere to radical right-wing ideologies. It’s also clear that the deaths of protestors during the Euromaiden protests have greatly strengthened the hand of the most radical elements. However, even groups like Pravy Sektor or Svoboda, I would hesitate to describe as ‘neo-nazis’, if only because I know some very rational, cosmopolitan Ukrainians who believe that these parties are their best chance to gain national sovereignty. In the several months of peaceful protests before the first protestor deaths, a great many parties from across the political spectrum took part. No radical right wing party currently hold a majority of seats in the Ukrainian parliament or the cabinet. If history is any guide, violent actions by Russia, or financial collapse as the US and EU dither about replacing Russian loans, will strengthen these parties; effective economic development will weaken them.

But the new government will certainly lead to the expansion of neo-liberalism, which is bad, right? This is also a common criticism – that somehow integrating Ukraine in the EU will bring about powerful pressure for ‘neo-liberalism’, which is poorly defined but generally associated with privatization and the creation or tolerance of extreme wealth inequality. Interestingly, this line of argument is also used by Svoboda, one of those nasty right wing parties, to encourage Ukrainian nationalism. Fortunately, both Svoboda and the US left wing are wrong on this point. If by neo-liberalism we mean the weakening of the welfare state and expansion of inequality, then neo-liberalism cannot be reasonably associated with the EU, as four of the five most egalitarian nations in the world are members of the EU, and every EU state has a lower level of inequality than Russia.

Doesn’t the Greek experience show the dangers of joining the EU, though? Greece is indeed in a bad situation. They made a major mistake in lying about their finances in order to get accepted in the Eurozone, a group not synonymous with the EU. However, if one observes the entire arc of the Greek economy from 1981, when they joined the European Economic community, to now, the trend is upward, well in excess of of their neighbors. GDP per capita PPP has more than doubled in that time – and that’s including the recent drop post crisis. but austerity is really bad, and isn’t that enforced by the EU? No country likes austerity, and the EU has subjected Greece to more than is prudent. UPDATE: and continues to do so to an absurd degree. But Greek government spending for several years still depended for some time on a deficit as they adjusted to the new budget. If Greece were any country outside of the EU, with their current debt/GDP ratio and credit rating, they would have had little choice but to default on their debt, which would have lead to even more drastic austerity. The fact that they choose to remain, even now that they are running a primary surplus, shows the appeal of being attached to the Euro banking system, even for politicians that could not be remotely described as neo-liberal.

Crimea, on the other hand, should definitely belong to Russia. I mean, those folks are Russian! That’s a difficult question. Yes, a majority of Crimeans are Russian, as a result of Russian colonialism and ethnic cleansing, for which it is unfair to hold the current residents responsible. And there is certainly a long precedent for allowing such regions self-determination. However, it is generally considered important that referendums of that nature not be in direct contravention of agreements, particularly not those associated with the Nuclear non-Proliferation Agreement. It is also generally considered necessary to allow in international observers for such a referendum, include the option of the ‘the status quo‘ on the ballot, and to not occupy the territory with foreign troops while the voting is going on. It is also against international law for your troops to lack identifying insignia, and rare indeed for the international community to recognize a referendum not on independence, but on joining a different, occupying nation (that’s why Kosovo voted for independence, no to join Albania, even though most Kosovars are Albanian). For all of those reasons, the proposed referendum in Crimea has no validity; Russia has a responsibility to condemn it, and the US and UK have treaty obligations to prevent it from going into force.

Isn’t Russia just looking out for its people? They aren’t even allowed to speak their language! The language question is a good one. No language is banned in Ukraine, nor is that option on the table. The official language of Ukraine is and since independence has been Ukrainian. This hasn’t prevented Russian from remaining widely spoken throughout the country, as most Ukrainians are bilingual, while most Russians, with whom they have extensive contacts, are not. In 2012, a law was passed by Yanukovych, who previously stated he had no interest in the language question, that any region (oblast) where 10% of the population speaks a language other than Ukrainian can make that language official in that oblast. Many oblsasts did exactly that with Russian; others did that with Hungarian, Polish, Tatar, or Romanian. Crimea, as an autonomous region and not an oblast, has always had its own language system. The Ukrainian parliament voted to repeal this law in February; the move was widely condemned both inside out and outside Ukraine, and the president chose not to sign it. Interestingly, Russia Today, which breathlessly reported the passage of the revocation, has failed to report on the fact that it was never signed.

In Crimea, which Russia is occupying, Russian nationals and Russophones are hardly at risk – the constitute a majority, and were in the presence of an enormous Russian military force even before the current intervention. In cities near Russia, Russian speakers are if anything at far greater risk, because conflict with Russia cannot help but intensify any anti-Russian sentiment that exists.

But Kosovo, and Georgia.. Let me stop you right there. Georgia is not relevant here – Saakashvili made an enormous error in invading South Ossetia, because he doesn’t have a seat on the security council and so can’t get away with invading South Ossetia the way Russia can kill people in Chechnya with impunity; Ukraine, conversely, has shown remarkable restraint in refusing to give Russia a reason to go to war. Kosovo is excellent for context here. It provides a very good model for Russia to follow, which it is not. If Russia would like to follow the precedent of Kosovo, they first need permission from Ukraine to violate the Budapest Memorandum. They will never get that. They should, by rights, give Ukraine its nukes back. But even if we accept that Russia is going to violate its explicit guarantee of Ukrainian territorial integrity, there is a lot between this and Kosovo. Russian troops need to evacuate Crimea, allow in UN observers, and have the UN run a referendum that includes the option to maintain the status quo, and removes the option for union with Russia.

All in all, though, wouldn’t you say this is NATO’s fault, for provoking Russia? The question of whether NATO expansion caused the current animosity with Russia is a good one. All I can say is that we’ve trusted Russia to respect the sovereignty of its neighbors before, and been mightily disappointed. There was no reason to believe this time would be different. However, it is worth noting that where NATO did expand – Poland and the Baltic republics – there has been no such trouble, even as NATO borders Russia itself. Where NATO was tardy in expanding, the Balkan peninsula, there was great instability and human suffering, until the expansion of NATO into Romania and Bulgaria. Where NATO has not expanded, Ukraine and the Caucasus, instability and Russian intrusion into national sovereignty have been the rule. This would suggest that the problem is not the extent of NATO, but the lack thereof.

Isn’t it best to just leave Ukraine alone and respect their sovereignty? In the current situation, if ‘respecting Ukrainian sovereignty’ means remaining aloof from the conflict, it also means accepting that only Russia gets to invade Ukrainian sovereignty, with all manner of economic coercion that leftists in the US condemn the US using. All Ukraine really needs right now is us to fulfill our treaty obligations to them, and to step in to replace Russia and stabilize Ukrainian finances. It is also a real concern for Europe – there is a real movement building in Ukraine to unilaterally block transhipment of Russian natural gas.

Why can’t we just agree to disagree on this issue, since most leftist objections are actually unfounded? Because Ukraine has a population of over 40 million people who deserve better. Because not just Russia, but the US and UK swore to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Because if Ukraine could reach Polish levels of infant mortality alone, through admission to the EU and the subsequent economic development, that would mean hundreds of babies not dying every year, to say nothing of all the other impacts that would have on the prosperity and freedom of the Ukrainian people. I’m not going to agree to disagree when the peace and prosperity of a people I’ve come to personally know and care about is at risk.

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    • You could have stopped there and made an equivalent contribution to the discussion, for all the facts and insight you’re about to bring to the table.

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  • You are such a fool, and I am not going to waste time with youother than to cover the basics:

    1. You use the expression “the US is wrong.” Right off the bat you’re disqualified form further discussion because you don’t understand the nature of global politics. There is no “right” or “wrong.” There is only power. A rising Russia creates a balance of power, and that is a safer situation than having one powered unfettered. Any surviving Iraqi will testify tho this – had Russia been vibrant at that time, the US would have been unable to mount that terrorist attack.

    Your tone throughout is that Russia is evil. I watch enough TV (not news) to know that this line is being pushed very hard now. Russia has twice now stood in the way of Wall Street/London ambitions, in Syria and now Crimea. The propaganda system kicks into gear to demonize them.

    2. You don’t have good information.You can’t. It doesn’t exist. Even now are we learning of the events and fallout of the Libyan massacre in 2011. I am still surprised at new information on Vietnam that I run across. Your instant expertise eon this subject is based on cursory browsing in selected places where information satisfactory to those who control the filters in this country have allowed it to seep through. Consequentially, you have the proper frame of mind, that ot the circus dog. But you don’t know anything.

    3. You’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve met the test of skeptical inquiry with detachment. The key is that you’re satisfied. Self-satisfied. But you’ve only gone out and brought back enough information to say “possibly” so as to allow yourself haughty casual dismissal. You’ve not done your homework. I know this because I know of all the other information that is out there that you’ve not seen, and will not see. You’re the trained circus dog, and know to avoid that information without the crack of the whip.

    So you’re young. I have nothing to learn from you. I am no genius. I’m merely absorbed things over the past few decades and constructed a world view. I did not set out to do this, but rather backed into it. So many surprises await you if you only take off the blinders. But I’ve seen no indicating that you intend to do so. This makes you both ill-informed and boring. I don’t understand the events that unfolded in Ukraine, but have enough background to know that one, we’re being lied to, and two, we’re being lied to.
    Years ago I came across a book on propaganda that affected my outlook. I did not set out to have my outlook affected. I was surprised at the information I found. I won’t link you, as you have to do these things on your own initiative, and so far you’ve not shown any. But the question at hand was the value of education in overcoming propaganda, and the role of the intellectual. Here’s Konrad Kellen: <blockquote cite ="…modern propaganda cannot work without “education”; [the author] thus reverses the widespread notion that education is the best prophylactic against propaganda. On the contrary, he says, education , or what usually goes by that word in the modern world, is the absolute prerequisite for propaganda. In fact, education is largely identical with what[teh author] calls “pre-propaganda” – the conditioning of minds with vast amounts of incoherent information, already dispensed for ulterior purposes and posing as “facts” and as “education”. [The author] Ellul follows through by designating intellectuals as virtually the most vulnerable of all to modern propaganda, for three reasons: 1) they absorb the largest amount of secondhand, unverifiable information; 2) they feel a compelling need to have an opinion on every important question of our time, and thus easily succumb to opinions offered to them by propaganda on all such indigestible pieces of information; 3) they consider themselves capable of “judging for themselves”. They literally need propaganda."

    There. I’ve wasted enough of a Saturday on you.

    • Are you relying on someone else’s interpretation of Jacques Ellul to make your argument? My 17 year students handled reading him last week just fine. Maybe someday you can, too.

    • The best part is that Mark, tired of being constantly wrong, has emancipated himself from slavery to facts. Facts are only there to propagandize him! As a free thinker, he’s above all that. So what if the US didn’t actually nuke Iran last spring! That’s just a ‘fact’ designed to distract us from a deeper TRUTH! So what if facts indicate that violent deaths worldwide have fallen dramatically since the late 1980’s, the TRUTH states that a bipolar world is more stable!

      I’ve confirmed all of the above facts, by the way, speaking to Ukrainians about what’s happening in their country. But hey, Mark knows better than those facts, too! The fact that the EU and NAFTA have dramatically increased consumption in Eastern Europe and Mexico cannot be allowed to get in the way of the TRUTH that they are neo-malthusian conspiracies to drive down consumption! The mere fact that Ukraine actually didn’t change its language laws, and isn’t actually run by fascists, cannot stop the march of the TRUTH that transcends facts that the CIA, NED, and EU are all in league with fascists, with only God-like Putin standing in their way! The fact that those parties themselves call for the violent separation of Ukraine from the neoliberal system can only momentarily distract from the TRUTH that the fascists are also in a grand neo-liberal conspiracy with the Federal reserve and IMF!

      It’s actually not as hilarious as it is frightening, though. Because it is this post-factual thinking that leads to seemingly inexplicable violence. Those who believe there is a truth behind facts are capable of horrific things. Fortunately, the search for a ‘truth’ unencumbered by facts in the field of accounting, while lucrative (ask Arthur Anderson), is not particularly dangerous. But the mindset is dangerous when held by people with actual power and influence.

  • if this doesn’t turn into an outright military confrontation with Russia, then the question will become who is going to pay up. Ukraine is going to take tens of billions just to stabilize. any money from the US will be a hard sell considering millions of Americans are struggling with our own austerity cuts. the arrogance of American exceptionalism also has a price tag. of course when countries like Libya are left smoldering, humanitarian interventionists just get back on their white horses ready to gallop into the next crisis to save the masses from the new demon that must be conjured to justify meddling in the affairs of other nations.

    • We’re ALL Ukis now!, er, wait, I mean fascists, er, wait, I mean Crimeans, er, wait, I mean Muslims!

      Oh what the hell. Kill’em all! And let God sort it out! Long as we piss off the Ruskies and get the oil, we win!

      Young dudes, always ichin’ to go to war! Can’t we find a more peaceful rite of passage?

      The John McCain sarah palin block will NOT be appeased until we start some kinda war! Bizarre.

      • I don’t think anyone is calling for war – but we ought to be totally clear with ourselves that we are shirking an explicit duty we agreed to. A more peaceful right of passage might be to cough up the money to keep Ukraine from utterly collapsing. That might, incidentally, actually help stop the spread of fascism.

    • Who will pay is indeed the problem. The EU has the most to gain from stability in Ukraine, and the most to lose from its collapse, so I hope they contribute. However, the US also has an obligation to Ukraine, and since we have little choice but to duck our military obligation, the least we can do is offer financial assistance. But I surely understand you point about America short-shortsightedly galloping into the next conflict; if we do not help Ukraine rebuild at the cost of one percent of the Iraq war, we’re truly awful at foreign policy.

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  • Good write up PW. I think it you have made good points about what ACTUALLY reduces poverty, and suffering within nations around the world. I do think though, that the involvement of The NED in the destabilization of Ukraine’s government has to be figured in to the integrity of supposed intentions. It certainly has to be figured into how we are perceived as a nation.

    It isn’t very controversial to say that it looks like organizations with connections to our government purposefully influenced (manipulated?) The situation in Ukraine to spark this whole situation. It is because of this that it is hard to accept any arguments criticizing Russia. We F&@!d with them, and now our high horse looks like a broom with a cardboard head.

    • ” It is because of this that it is hard to accept any arguments criticizing Russia. ”

      There’s where I disagree: Russia’s overt intrusion into Ukrainian affairs started long ago and far surpasses anything the US has done covertly, and I doubt NED was paying hundreds of thousands of protestors to sit out in Kiev in the winter; it merely ignited a dissatisfaction that was already there. If NED was involved in what happened 2/22, they took far too great a risk with Ukrainian lives to justify, but that only increases in my mind our obligation; as we cannot protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity,the least we can do is contribute to protecting their financial integrity.

  • Why is Ukraine unique? Isn’t this just part of the ongoing pattern of regime change after regime change? I’m thinking specifically of Somalia, Honduras, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan.

    In South America there are several countries which are being weakened for the next covert regime-change operation. Venezuela is racked by CIA-financed riots to benefit bourgeois-kleptocrats who want to return to the old economic caste system.

    The evidence reveals a pattern. The U.S. systematically uses its military and “soft” power to ruin countries, not to stabilize them.
    In each instance, survival becomes a best case scenario for all but a few oligarchs. Which country listed above are you considering for your next family vacation?

    • Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, Honduras, Syria and Pakistan all had deep problems well before the US got involved. I notice you didn’t mention Morocco, Mexico, Panama, South Korea, Poland, or Italy, where US influence during and after the Cold War, though certainly not always justified and not universally helpful, has created far more stable and prosperous nations than existed before.

  • The US doesn’t have any money, and while all you Baby Boomers could care less – you’ll be living in the home off the government’s teet here in a few more years anyway – that means your kids have got to pay for this.

    What are the opportunity costs for them with that? Maybe homes, weddings, children? Hell, maybe just a car, right? But you guys have all those things – a life – so why do your kids need one? They can just come over and visit yours!

    Hell, they’re probably already living with you now anyways because, let’s face it, your advice and tactics on the economy are working wonders – how could you possibly be wrong about foreign policy as well?

    • Greg, you might want to check out the ‘who are we’ section here – I’m hardly a boomer. Also, retiring all of Ukraine’s external debt, which is both unnecessary and inadvisable, would cost the average American an iPhone, not a car. And a word on Opportunity costs – they include not just what you pay now, but your losses at a later date. For example, the cost of the Marshal plan, adjusted for inflation, was 115 billion dollars. In 2012, our transatlantic trade with Europe was 1.5 trillion dollars – so the opportunity cost of NOT rebuilding Europe would have been much larger than the actual cost of doing so.

      You also have to ask yourself how much money we actually lose if we lend billions of dollars to Ukraine. Our potential losses are whatever we lend – but that’s highly unlikely. Sovereign debt is rarely defaulted on, especially not by countries attempting to join the EU. Even if somewhere down the line we have to take a haircut on that loan, what we’re likely to lose is far less than the total amount, and the potential geopolitical gain is enormous.

      • Thank you. Especially lately, it seems some bizarre quirk in the human brain leads otherwise rational people believing macroeconomics is like your checkbook! You did a very good job illustratingopporunity costs, PW. It really would be so helpful to these discussions if people understood how economics actually worked.

  • “The US doesn’t have any money, and while all you Baby Boomers could care less – you’ll be living in the home off the government’s teet here in a few more years anyway – that means your kids have got to pay for this”

    Huh? Geez, that’s about that dumbest statement I’ve read in a long time. Could you please translate for me? And YOU are serious about running for the Lege? Better rethink that endeavor. Better yet, run as a Pubbie. They LIKE gobblygook!

    • Alright, let me try to dumb-it-down for you:

      The US is in debt.

      Baby Boomers do not care about this.

      You will be collecting government money at 67.

      Your kids will pay taxes into the system, and if we spend money on Ukraine, they’ll have to pay for that.

      Golly, gramps – maybe we should cart you off right now. My grandma’s in a place called April’s up in Havre, maybe there’s a spot for you there.

      For the life of me, I don’t know what other use you have for the state of Montana than paying into a nursing home. I certainly haven’t seen any in the few months I’ve been reading your comments here.

      As to the legislature, I’m sorry if what I say and think offends you. I wish more people running for office would say what they think and not what they’re fed.

      • As noted, Greg, there are opportunity costs to NOT acting in this case. America was in debt when we passed the Marshal plan, as well. Would you have passed on that as well?

        This is something businesspeople understand well – when interest rates are low (and they don’t get much lower than they are now), you borrow and invest. Now, we should be investing in our own country, of course, but Republicans and people like you who misunderstand debt won’t let that happen. However, investing in Ukraine serves many purposes – it’s money we will probably get back, its money that helps a potential ally, and its money that stabilizes the international economy.

          • Not to put too fine a point on it, but your arguments are vapid and underwhelming. I suggest that if you’re serious about running for office, do what the Pubbies do. Ask someone for a few good talking points, and repeat them endlessly, for you really don’t have much original to say. ie. “baby boomers don’t care.” Now THERE’S a great selling point! Sorry to be so blunt. You generation has done so much, I must admit!

  • URGENT: Warning to Crimera, Urkaine.

    Vladimir Putin’s socialist government is planning to nationalize your health care, institute a national communist core curriculum in your schools, divide your country by ethnic, racial, gender, and socio-economic classes, circumvent your legislative branch of government in order to dictate new laws to your citizens and destroy your economy under the mantra of hope and change.

    • Oooooooo! I’m just SO worried! bwhahaha!
      Geez, craig. Do you REALLY think that even jonny mcsenile, the dick, cheney, and caribou Barbie, (ALL your peeps btw) are really gonna blow up the world over a Russian state???? Wow. Interesting foreign policy you tighty righties have!

      Put’er back on the rails, mr. McCarthy! The cold war’s dead and gone! Stick with what you dudes do best, attacking the darky in the white house! At LEAST racism still gets some traction from your base! Commies not so much! Validimir Putin, put back up that wall! Too funny. Get it? Put back up that wall! The Pubes need sumthin’ to run on! Hey, maybe the kockh brothers could BUILD it for’em! The Keystone Cops Wall!

  • Let’s face it – the Soviet Union made a huge mistake breaking up. Many countries want to get back in, and have already joined the economic union with Russia. Those ‘stan’ countries? How are they helping anyone by not being part of Russia?

    A lot of peoples’ quality of life went down big time after the USSR broke up. Of course for America it was a big morale victory, one we’ve been paying for ever since. It’s costly being on top of the hill by yourself.

    It’s real hard for a lot of those poor people in those former Soviet countries to look at Russia right now and not want to go back. Lots of old folks over there are waxing nostalgic right now.

    I wish all those countries luck – the US can’t help them right now; we’ve got too many problems of our own and not enough money to go around for the things we need here.

    • Greg, I don’t want to jump down your throat on this, but it’d do you well to do more research before you make broad generalizations. Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are all doing better than under the Soviet system. The Central Asian countries, it’s hard to say. But saying that Tajikstan would be better off as part of Russia is like saying the Philippines would be better off back in the US or Jamaica with Britain – sure, it seems to make sense economically, but the cultural, linguistic and religious differences are so great that being in the same country would add a whole new set of problems. Also, much of Russia’s new found wealth is based on fossil fuels, which means that adding more people or land to Russia just dilutes a significant source of prosperity.

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