In Media critique, Roger Annis, Ukraine

May 27, 2014

Hello CBC As It Happens,

I was disappointed with your interview yesterday on Ukraine with journalist Dan Peleschuk of Global Post.

Blood surrounds a bullet-ridden truck that was carrying self-defense forces near the Donetsk airport on May 27, 2014, photo Flikr Commons

Blood surrounds a bullet-ridden truck that was carrying self-defense forces near the Donetsk airport on May 27, 2014, photo Flikr Commons

At the outset of the interview, your host referred to the situation in eastern Ukraine as a “guerilla warfare going on”. Your host and Peleschuk each made repeated references to the “pro-Russia separatist” movement in the east. This is an incorrect and misleading description of the political situation.

What has happened in eastern Ukraine is complex, but at its heart is a political demand of the majority of the population for some form of autonomy, or ‘federalization’. This demand is so eminently reasonable that the Kyiv regime has voiced acknowledgement of its legitimacy, though it has not acted accordingly and it has refused to engage in dialogue with a pro-autonomy movement it labels “terrorist”.

The autonomy movement in the east arose in reaction to the coming to power in late February of a right-wing governing regime in Kyiv that is committed to an austerity economic and social policy dictated by the governments and financiers of Europe, the U.S. and Canada. That policy will particularly devastate the industries and economy of eastern Ukraine.

The Kyiv regime has become captive to far-right political forces that occupy ministerial posts, are organizing militias and are playing an increasing role in directing the Ukraine army.

The response of the regime to the anti-austerity and pro-autonomy movements in the east has been to launch violence and a civil war. The Ukraine army and the rightist and fascist militias have been bombarding and conducting shooting forays in towns and cities throughout the east. In the south, rightists carried out a massacre in Odessa on May 2 that saw more than 40 citizens killed.

Autonomy demands are being voiced by other regional or national groups in Ukraine as well, including the Hungarians and Rusyns in the southwest and, evidently, residents of the Crimea Peninsula. There is nothing evidently ‘radical’ about these demands. Their implementation would see regions of Ukraine acquire something resembling the status of Quebec within Canada. Except, there is fierce resistance to autonomy by Kyiv and by its right-wing backers.

Your host asked Peleschuk about the role of extreme right wing forces in Ukraine. He said, more or less, they are a negligible force. That is inaccurate. His claim is belied by the prominent role of the Svoboda Party in the government and by the role of the murderous, rightist militias in the east.

As well, the election results do not at all dispel concerns about the rightists, as Peleschuk would have us believe. According to early reports (overall results are not yet available), each of the candidates of Svoboda and the Right Sector received around one per cent of the vote. But another rightist, Oleh Lyashko, is reported to have won eight per cent. He is a more violent version of the right-wing, Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Lyashko has organized militias and gone on a violent spree in the east. Back in March, he achieved notoriety when he and some associates kidnapped a local member of Parliament in Luhansk and threatened him repeatedly with violence if he did not made a public call on residents to end their occupation of a government building in the city.

Then in early May, Lyashko proudly posted to Facebook a video of himself interrogating two handcuffed prisoners in the Black Sea coastal city of Mariupol. One of them was Igor Khakimzyanov, a former minister of defense of the Donetsk Peoples Republic. He was near-naked in the filmed interrogation. The two prisoners had been illegally detained by a unit of the Ukraine army the day before.

Lyashko’s presidential campaign plastered Ukraine with posters screaming ‘Death to the occupiers!’, referring to the fictional claims that Russians are occupying eastern Ukraine.

Peleschuk said in the interview that the political influence of the rightists and fascists is minimal because they have few “constructive” policies to offer. That leaves the listener to wonder what sort of “constructive” policies that fascist movements could be expected to offer.

A companion program to yours on CBC Radio, the morning newsmagazine The Current, also broadcast a story on Ukraine yesterday. Guest Marta Dyczok led off the story with a fawning assessment of the tycoon Petro Poroshenko who won Ukraine’s presidential election. Dyczok is a Professor of History and Political Science at Western University in London, Ontario. She says the new president is deeply committed to “stop the violence” in Ukraine. That claim will come as a surprise to residents of the city of Donetsk who awoke the morning after the election to the sound of jet fighters and helicopter gunships attacking the city’s airport after local self-defense forces took control of it. News reports say several dozen people have died in fighting around the airport.

Poroshenko says he intends to continue the “anti-terrorism” operation launched by his predecessor regime and the rightist militias backing it.

His government is also committed to deep cuts to social spending and to eliminate subsidies in industry and agriculture. The economic consequences for ordinary Ukrainians, say some analysts, will make Greece’s austerity-ravaged economy look like a picnic.

The harsh economic measures that Poroshenko’s government intends to impose will likely narrow the political gap in Ukraine between citizens in the east and west. Hopefully, the people across that political divide can find common ground in fighting against tycoons like Poroshenko and their western backers, for a federated Ukraine of social justice and equality.

From a distance, it appears there is much dependence by leaders of the autonomy movement on military action to defend the population in the east. More political engagement and mobilization of the citizenry would strengthen their cause. But whatever the shortcomings, the autonomy cause is just and fair. Postmedia’s Douglas Fisher, who has been reporting from eastern Ukraine for the past three months and has little sympathy for the autonomy movement, put it this way in his column published today: “Support for the revolt has been far thinner across the east than it has appeared on TV. Having said that, the distrust of Kyiv is profound and nearly universal in the east of the country.”

* * * * *

May 27, 2014–An excellent commentary on Ukraine, which also includes valuable information on the situation in Poland, has been published today in The Bullet. It is written by Gavin Rae, who is resident in Poland. It is titled, ‘Rather the useful idiot: Ukraine in turmoil’. The title refers to Polish intellectual Sławomir Sierakowski who supported the Maidan movement and who refers to critics of the governing regime in Kyiv as ‘Putin’s idiots’. You can read the article here:


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