One thing that everyone has seen a lot of in the news recently is the Ukraine. For all the wrong reasons. And then there is the unbelievable level of media bias that, depending on the origin of the report and the political leanings of who is writing, the same events can have almost a contradictory interpretation.
A good example of this is to go back to the protests in Maidan at the start of the year. Ostensibly it was to protest the Moscow leaning Yanukovych, but scratch a bit deeper and even the public record admitted to by both sides of the debate there is something a lot more murky going on.
The Ukraine has been the border between west and east for centuries (the name “Ukraine” is interpretted as “Border” or “Border-land”). Up until recently, it has been strongly in the Russian sphere of influence, as it sits on Russia’s back doorstep, and a large minority of Ukrainians have ethnic roots in Russia, especially so in the eastern part of the Ukraine. But there are also very strong Ukrainian nationalistic sentiments, and these are predominantly shown on the western side of the country. The nationalists are far more interested in dealing with Europe and the US than the Ukraine’s traditional partner of Russia. Here is where start of the trouble is – and it didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It has been brewing for many years. If you then add in a dangerously corrupt and incompetent government (The US estimated, and Yanukovych himself said that around 10-15% of the state budget is siphoned off by corrupt officials), and there are a lot of triggers for change present.
Russia does not help in this regard, it is not interested in a strong Ukraine unless it was completely certain that it would be a loyal Ukraine, and loyalties change over time, so Russia has been turning a blind eye to the corruption there all along (and Russia is just as bad at home as well. Corruption in Russia is like ice in Greenland, so it seems). Russia wants an allied but weak buffer between it and Europe, and Ukraine seems to fit this role pretty well.
So going back to the triggers for change and how this is tied into recent events. There are extreme nationalist parties in the Ukraine, the main one among them being Svoboda (Ukr: “Freedom”), an essentially Neo-Nazi party – hates Russians, hates Jews (more on that later) and is based in Lviv, on the western edge of the Ukraine. This party has not been particularly successful in politics up until recently, when it began placing well in local elections. Its leader, Oleh Tyanhybok, is one nasty piece of work. He is openly anti-semetic, and appears to be at odds with European values as much as he hates Russians (two of his policies are banning abortion and banning gun control. Yeehaw) but he has been one of the leaders in the struggle to get the Ukraine out of Russia’s grasp. He is violently anti-Russian. And this is where things get interesting, because he has been in meetings and on stage with none other than John McCain, who appears to be something of a fan. Why the US republican movement is mingling with a group so openly anti-semite suggests either ignorance (unlikely), hypocrisy (we’ll take that as a yes), or alterior motive (this is what this post is about) – and as a consquence, the US not really being too worried about who it deals with. If you can help the agenda then you’re in the game. Evil warlords and other filth weclome.
Going back to the central point – the move of the Ukraine away from Russia and into the western world, and back to the main players, Russia, the EU, the US, the IMF, and the Ukraine itself, Russia wants the Ukraine just where it is now – weak and pliable, and not out of its sphere of influence. It holds some major levers in which to keep this setup in place. The east of the country is dangerously destabilised at the moment, and one of the conditions of the IMF loaning money to Kiev is that the east must be brought back under control. This could make it quite easy for the Russians to keep the situation favourable to their purposes. They will quietly funnel weapons across the border, and cost the Ukrainians whatever money it has left to try and pacify the east. If the Ukranians get the upper hand, it can quietly up the ante by using the same fighters it used to keep hold of Chechnya to this time split the Ukraine. The Chechens are only 700km away, very battle hardened and would pose significant problems to any Ukrainian force trying to sort the east out. This is one possible scenario. There are others – As long as it is not done in the name of Russia, it is hard to imagine the situation spiralling into major conflict. Militants piling over porous borders seems to be getting very common these days. The west could only impose stronger sanctions, it would be unlikely to trigger a military response. The pressure on the Ukraine to re-take the east is intense. The country faces collapse if the IMF loan doesn’t get to Kiev, and the conditions around the loan make the price it will pay to move towards Europe almost unbearable. They are on the brink of default at the moment, so the longer the east stays outside of Kiev’s control, the more it costs Kiev, at a time when it has no money. $17 billion is only the tip of the iceberg as well when it comes to refinancing and stablising the country. Sergei Kulik, Director for International Development at the Institute of Contemporary Development estimates somewhere between $100 – 300 billion is required. No one has that amount of money. To compound the problem, the Ukraine is years away from being able to integrate into the EU. Food safety standards, EU compatible manufacturing processes, changing from a Russian-centric production model into a European one all take time to implement and certify, and in between times the Ukraine is stuck. Russia will want to conduct as little trade as possible, and on its terms. The Ukraine’s refusal to pay its gas bill is another problem again. And its doubtful when winter comes that Europe will be in a position to assist if Russia turns the tap off. Thats another matter.
So where are we going with all of this? The IMF has stepped in and promised loans, contingent on the Ukraine remaining intact. That is very hard to say whether it will or wont. The conditions of the loan are pretty bad: a sharp currency devaluation, which will increase the cost of all imported goods, a government-funded bailout for domestic banks, government spending cuts, measures to regulate money laundering and a sharp increase in energy prices. Not to mention that the IMF picks and chooses who does what in the process of recovery, and that usually favours their own favoured companies: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/20/who-will-benefit-from-imf-ukraine-bailout-not-its-people
The timing of this move to the west is terrible. The conditions are equally as bad, the potential fallout is uncertain, and covers a big range, and the one loser in all of this seems to be the Ukraine. Both Russia and the IMF will see to that.