Here’s another response to Ian’s article, Cold War Rematch: How the U.S. Can Win in Ukraine. This time, we hear from Artyom Kushnarov, a freshman in the Liberal Studies Program at NYU, looking to major in International Relations and Economics. His favorite areas of study are the Roman Empire, especially the later Roman Empire and the transition to the barbarian kingdoms of the early middle ages, the twentieth century, and the Soviet collapse and consequent conflicts that arose throughout the CIS. In addition to English, he speaks Russian (his native language,) German, and Spanish, and has travelled extensively throughout Europe and the post-soviet sphere.
It seems to me that most Americans in general are woefully uninformed of both Ukrainian demographics, history, and the recent events of the Euromaidan. First off, Ukraine is a fault-line civilization, split between the western-oriented West, dominated by the unionist church and the Ukrainian language, and the Russian-oriented East and South, dominated by the Orthodox church and the Russian language. As such, the recently toppled president, Victor Yanukovych, had his support base among the Russian-speaking east, and the usurpation of power that took place in Kiev led to a government ENTIRELY composed of western Ukrainian sympathizers. The Russian-speaking East and South have been left completely bereft of any voice in the government, since all of their politicians have been either forced to resign, or lost their position due to their association with the ousted president. Now, how can anybody claim that Russia’s act is one of aggression if the current Ukrainian government only represents half of its own people, and entirely ignores the will of the other half? Not only was the democratically elected president chased out of the country, but the new government—entirely illegitimate since it did not come into effect through any sort of election whatsoever— claims authority over all of Ukraine while ignoring the desires of its eastern half to maintain close ties to Russia.
The Russian occupation of the Crimea region cannot conceivably be “a thinly veiled act of aggression” if the people of Crimea themselves cheered on the Russian troops en masse! Not only that, but the majority of the Ukrainian military stationed in Crimea, including the rear admiral of the Ukrainian navy, actually refused to defend Ukraine’s illegitimate government and defected to the Russian side. What this article does is wrongly favor some abstract and uninformed notion of national sovereignty over the will of the people residing in that very nation. Russia has a right to defend the interests of Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians from the potential policy of a hostile government, one which, according to President Putin, is completely uninterested in any ties to their former compatriots, or to the right of pro-Russian Ukrainians to maintain their close and economically beneficial relationship with the Russian Federation—the country to which a majority of the people in cities such as Kharkiv, Donetsk, Sevastopol, and Dnepropetrovsk claim allegiance.
Regarding the events leading up to the ousting of President Yanukovych, one must take into consideration the political leanings of those who protested in Independence Square against his government, and their radical ideologies. The flags that many of them waved, marked with a black and red stripe, represents the Ukrainian Insurgent Army—which were held proudly by a recognized neo-fascist group called “Svoboda.” I exhort everyone reading this to do reading on the UIA, because these guerrillas—more Nazi than the Nazis themselves—fought against the Soviet government. Not only did they ethnically cleanse western Ukraine from Russians and Poles (the original dominant ethnic group in many parts of western Ukraine, such as the city of Lviv,) but they completely extirpated the Jewish population living there as well. This is historical fact, not open to dispute. Now, if the protesters who formed the basis of the new government are flying these flags, is it not entirely reasonable to assume that the new government must have appealed to these fringe groups, and so has no interest in the desires and rights of the eastern half of Ukraine?
The organization, led by notorious nationalist Stepan Bandera, fought the peoples of eastern Ukraine with unbridled zeal and brutality from the 1920s to 1950s. As such, half of the country would and does refuse the jurisdiction of a government that actively draws support from their supporters and apologists, and that is why in cities from Sevastopol to Kharkiv to Donetsk to Dnepropetrovsk, even before the Russian intervention, hordes of angry men and women broke into regional governmental buildings and hoisted up the Russian flag in place of that of Ukraine. Clearly, Russia is defending its interests, as well as the Ukrainians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
If this WERE an act of aggression, the Russian army would have taken the whole country. As it turns out, they have completely left the west alone. Not a single soldier has set foot there. Aggression? I think not. Protecting the interests of the pro-Russian population of Ukraine, who lost their representation following the ousting of a democratically elected president and his replacement by a usurping western bloc, undeniably linked to quasi-fascist and nationalist groups? Yes.