20 February 2014

Ukraine again

I wrote a few words late last year on the Eurocrisis in Ukraine. In the last day or so, that crisis has blown up into something resembling urban warfare. Right now, from here, it's hard to think of much else.

Today I'm no closer to finding an easy formula for description of what is going on there--or for prescription of what should happen now--than I was last year.

Anyone who attempts an honest and comprehensive analysis deserves honor, but I defy anyone to produce a coherent and non-controversial description of Ukraine's history and its incredibly conflicted relationship with Russia. However, I found one intriguing thread in an otherwise shamelessly tendentious article by George F. Will in the Washington Post. His words about Putin ("a little, strutting Mussolini" whose "contempt for Barack Obama is palpable"), Europe ("political vanilla"), Obama ("fixated" on his totally unfruitful "reset"), and Putin again ("Ukrainians, whose hard history has immunized them against the folly of wishful thinking, see in Putin’s ferret face the cold eyes of a prison warden"), drip with lazy derision.

"Divided country?" BBC asks before explaining it's not that
simple. (Screen capture from this evening.)
Today, in Lugansk, Sergei Toptun describes measures
to defend Euromaidan participants. (Channel 5, Kiev.)
From the photo feature, "Ukraine's priests take an active role
in protests," published in the Washington Post.
But I think these words have the ring of truth: "The Soviet Union — 'one of modern history's pivotal experiments,' in the weasel words of NBC's Olympics coverage — existed for seven miserable decades. Ukraine’s agony is a reverberation of the protracted process of cleaning up after the 'experiment.' So, this is perhaps the final episode of the Cold War."

This does not require interpreting current events literally as a Cold War struggle. As Greg Satell says, "The battle in Ukraine is not a battle between East and West." The "cleaning up" involves the very complex legacy of Soviet and post-Soviet nepotism, corruption, Iron-Curtain isolation, authoritarian policing, and much more.

George Will followed up his useful insight with a sentimental but incorrect and irrelevant tribute to Reagan: "Does America’s unusually loquacious 44th president remember how the words of the 40th — 'Tear down this wall!' — helped to win it?" Today, however, the important walls to be torn down are within Ukraine.

But in any case, the post-1917 civil war and border wars, the formation of the USSR, and the changing priorities of its rulers over those seven decades (including Stalin's near-genocidal blockade), helped set up some of today's Ukraine's internal contradictions.

And its complicated relationship with Russia, of course, goes back much farther. For every sweet and glowing claim that Russia might make concerning Ukrainian-Russian unity, Ukrainian patriots can point to examples of ruthless Russian imperialism. And ... of course the violence also went the other way!

Now Ukraine, confronted with internal stresses and its legacy of Soviet-era political practices that trap some politicians and irritate others, also has to contend with crossfire from both Russia and the "West." These external actors have abandoned all pretense of disinterested assistance to all in need, in favor of pandering to their hoped-for proxies within Ukraine. The USA informs Ukraine that it would not be acceptable to use the military to restore order, when we know perfectly well that, given a similar situation, the National Guard would be called in short order. And, just offstage, American politicians and columnists are savagely goading the government to do more more more for the Euromaidan fighters and give Putin a black eye. (Senator McCain says Obama "is the most naive president in history.")

Given that prayer seems to be the most powerful response that most of us can draw upon, the most striking images that I've seen coming out of Ukraine have been the priests and believers who have taken their stand for mercy and reconciliation in the very midst of confrontation. I pray for their witness and their safety.

(February 27: "The zombies are coming out.")

(March 2: To all Friends, a statement on Ukraine.)

"What the neocons want from Ukraine." And "Russians Eye Ukrainian Turmoil with Hope, Fear."

I appreciated seeing this ... "Russian media reacts to beating of Pussy Riot" in Sochi.

Stephen F. Cohen, "How U.S. Media Misrepresent Sochi and Kiev."

Patton Dodd on "New Life after the Fall of Ted Haggard."

"Russians return to religion but not to church" and "Who's Godless Now? Russia says it's U.S."

Evangelists of a different kind ... Sister Megan Rice and her co-defendants are sentenced to prison.

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