Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Commentary On the Latest In the Ukraine Saga

Let me start off by saying that anyone sensationalizing this conflict as unprecedented or catastrophic is blowing smoke. It is violent, it is serious for the people there; but it is still par for the course and highly unlikely to escalate into any prolonged global war.

One thing that seems to specifically make westerners uncomfortable about this situation is the difficulty of telling the good guys from the bad guys. Few people in western Europe are old enough to remember a war on their own soil, and no one born in the US is; creating in the majority of us the deeply flawed impression that war is a clear cut us-vs-them environment. The reality, however, is that civil unrest and armed conflict are usually multi-sided and messy. The #1 reason our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan failed miserably was that the people we were there to 'liberate' and the various ones trying to blow up our service members looked indistinguishable from each other until the IEDs went off; hare-brained politicians contorting to form a narrative on identifying a clear enemy notwithstanding. The same multi-sided chaos is evident in modern conflicts we've MOSTLY stayed out of such as Syria, Libya, and Egypt; although you couldn't tell from the hogwash pouring out of the mouths of washed up Neocon pundits like Hannity and Limbaugh. These conditions are perhaps more normal for Ukraine than even for Arab Countries.

'Just Another Crisis' For Ukraine

In the WWI era, there were the Russian Imperial Army, the armies of the Central Powers, and a slew of independent militias with all kinds of regional and historical ties. In the Russian Civil War that evolved from it, the Russian Imperial Army became the several, loosely allied White Armies, the regional militias morphed into 2 major factions in the Nationalist Green Army and the Anarchist Black Army, and of course there was the new player in the Bolshevik Red Army that eventually won. Put together, that's roughly 7 years of armed conflict with 5+ major players, countless minor ones, and the frequent re-drawing of maps and territorial claims - all less than 100 years ago.

In the WWII era, the USSR was originally an Axis Power that forcibly took today's West Ukraine from Poland. Then Nazi Germany turned on the USSR and invaded the same territory, culminating in 5 years of Ukraine being a brutal battleground between 2 of the most murderous regimes in recent history. Needless to say, there were again countless partisans and independent militias; the most notable of these the separatist Bandera Army that put a Ukrainian Nationalist spin on Nazism. That was ANOTHER major armed conflict with 3+ players, side-switching, frequent regime and boundary changes, and so forth - and that was only 70 years ago.

Broadening our perspective with history rather than accepting the narrow, politically-motivated generalizations of government and media, suddenly the situation in Ukraine doesn't look so extra-ordinarily scary.

The Interim Government Is Actually Quite Impressive

My worst enemy wouldn't accuse me of giving any government undeserved credit, and I have to acknowledge that considering the factors on the ground - the Interim government has performed colossal feats. The most important of these is keeping the various elements of its coalition unified in spite of massive economic problems and the breakdown of infrastructure. There are, of course, nationalist militias that have taken up arms and called for ethnic cleansing; but the leadership of non-extreme nationalist politicians has kept these marginalized as idiots undeserving of serious attention from nationalist-minded Ukrainians. On the other hand, the left of the coalition has managed a reasonable truce with the people in Eastern Ukraine that were once supporters of Yanukovich; involving politicians once affiliated with his party in the political process and cutting deals to insure adequate participation for this minority. This, in turn, marginalizes the idiot extremists on that side of the spectrum, although I still have a very difficult time believing that more than a handful of people there want to be annexed by Russia. What the Interim Government is demonstrating, for the first time in Ukrainian history, is that the various sides in the equation CAN in fact resolve their differences using the democratic process and not violent conflict. This is highly problematic for Putin, who is merely the latest in a centuries-long dynasty of Moscow dictators to exploit internal rivalries in Ukraine in subjugating to Russia. Some Russian citizens buy into his propaganda precisely because Russia itself is decades away from anything resembling representative democracy; decades of cleansing, repressing, and exiling dissidents have seen to that.

Russia IS Meddling In Ukraine, A LOT

The idea that any of the organizations that have taken over buildings in Eastern Ukraine are civilian "separatist" or "Pro-Russia protesters" is complete bullshit. The evidence for this is very simple; these supposed civilian militias are heavily armed and equipped, just as the supposed Crimea Defense Forces were. We just witnessed a violent and bloody overthrow of the Ukrainian government that involved a populist movement of 5 million people, and they took on riot police with sticks, Molotov cocktails, and the occasional hunting rifle. I'm sorry if my logic is disrupting Mr. Putin's propaganda stream; but I think if Ukrainian civilians had access to combat armor, fully automatic rifles, sub-machine guns, and grenades - they would have brought them to the fight against Yanukovich. These supposed "separatist militias" are Russian Special Forces without their uniforms; Putin's para-military KGB consists of about 400,000 such trained brutes, and they are the only Federal agency actually loyal to him.

If you need more evidence these impostors draw 0 support from Ukraine, I direct your attention to the events in East Ukrainian cities Sloviansk and Odessa this weekend. In the former, the Ukrainian military marched into the town and violently crushed the so-called "civilian uprising", with actual civilians mostly sitting in their houses avoiding the gunfire. That civilian uprising, BTW, apparently had missiles that could down helicopters; I don't think that's a standard household item in Eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin. In Odessa - an actual civilian uprising favoring the Kiev government came and violently destroyed the pretend pro-Russia occupying a trade union building, culminating in a fire that killed 40 of them. Not one actual civilian came to the pro-Russian side's aid, and even the police mostly sat by and watched the KGB plants get burned alive. Prime Minister Yatseniuk has shown political prowess by condemning the action as lawless in an effort to keep peace with potential sympathizers. I am under no such political bond, and I say when you burn 40 meddling KGB agents alive, you make your country a better place.

(Post-publication update: According to a Russian-speaking Ukrainian source, the "civilian uprising" had large volumes of temporary-paralytic gas grenades stored inside the building. When the building was torched, these detonated; immobilizing them inside and leading to the high death toll. Where does a civilian uprising get large volumes of riot control weapons?)

Putin's endgame, of course, is to create in his own citizens' eyes an excuse for invading Ukraine. This is driven by nothing more than desperation. The economic situation and interdependence are such that unless he can bring Ukraine back under Moscow's control in the next few months; his regime will collapse and the Russian Federation likely disintegrate into smaller countries just like the USSR did. I have covered the details of this in several previous posts.

This Will STILL Invariably End With Putin's Demise

As the details of the violence this weekend demonstrate, Putin has 0 support in Ukraine; and Ukrainian civilians are taking up makeshift arms in what he claims are pro-Russian parts of Ukraine to lynch his meddling agents. An actual military invasion would be met with a bloody, populist mass resistance backed by the entire world and reinforced at the very least by Polish and Lithuanian volunteers who have already flooded to Ukraine in droves offering to defend it from their ancient common enemy. Such a conflict would bring the already struggling Russian economy to the point of famine, and result in lots and lots of hapless Russian soldiers being shipped home in boxes. Unlike the thug-for-hire KGB, these are involuntary conscripts whose families are not likely to think it a worthwhile sacrifice. No amount of propaganda can stand up to mobs driven by famine and grief, and despite all the faith many westerners put in Putin's misinformation machine; his regime would unravel, violently, in a matter of weeks.

As much as I despise Putin, I don't think he is genuinely stupid enough to take this route over a relatively bloodless economic disintegration. He is a crook, not an ideological tyrant, and prefers exile into Zine-like retirement to a brutal Ghadhaffi-like lynching to the fervent cheers of the entire world. Hence, I still don't think a full-fledged armed conflict is happening. He is posturing in a desperate effort of self-preservation, and various elements in Ukraine and the West are exploiting this situation for their own gain; but in terms of actual forceful confrontation everyone in positions of power realizes Putin does not stand a chance.

Meanwhile, actual Ukrainian civilians are simply caught in the middle of global conflict yet again, especially the Russian-speaking ones in the East who are predominantly not fond of any major player involved. They are stocking up on food and hiding in their basements waiting for the gunfire to cease, listening to their elders compare this to their 1940s experiences. THESE are the only good guys, in any conflict.


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