By William Dunkerley, published on Eurasia Review, June 27, 2015
Why did Kyiv invade the Donbass region? To that question you might respond quizzically: who did WHAT? Everyone knows it was Russia that invaded Ukraine, right?
Not only that, but Russia isn’t going to stop in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. We all know of Putin’s aggressive territorial ambitions. He wants to recreate the Soviet Union, right?
If you have no personal knowledge of these facts, you can take it from President Barack Obama. Recently he issued a warning at the June 7 summit of the G7. He admonished the world to “stay vigilant and stay focused on the importance of upholding the principles of territorial integrity” regarding Ukraine.
Obama explained that Putin is “in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”
However, the president failed to disclose how he knows that Putin has territorial conquest on the agenda. Putin denies it. How do we know who’s right?
The rhetoric of Obama about Ukraine reminds me of the commonly-accepted version of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Reportage then was replete with unsubstantiated allegations, too. Typical headlines exclaimed “Russia Invades Georgia.” Territorial expansion was in the news. President Mikheil Saakashvili was out in front bemoaning the tragedy that was inflicted upon his country.
That’s what set me comparing the ongoing Ukrainian crisis with what happened in Georgia. Despite the assertive headlines, Georgia was another case where reliable facts were hard to find. There were a lot of confident allegations, but few hard facts on the Georgian side of the story.
It came down to a question of who shot first. The Russian counter-version of the story claimed the Georgians started the conflict and that Russia was merely being reactive. The Russian argument was greeted with quite a lot of disbelief.
Later, however, a multinational EU fact-finding mission issued a report that blamed Georgia for the war. A Spiegel Online headline proclaimed, “EU Investigators Debunk Saakashvili’s Lies.” The Russia-Invades-Georgia story was a highly successful fabrication.
Now in Ukraine the question is not who shot first. It’s who invaded who. If we take Obama’s word for it, the headline would be “Russia Invades Eastern Ukraine.”
But I think there’s another side to the story. What is it? It is that maybe Kyiv invaded Donbass, the area in which thousands of Ukrainians have died in horrific battles.
You see, if you think about it, there are two Ukraines. To justify that statement let me paraphrase a Clintonism: it depends on what the meaning of the word Ukraine is. There is a “former Ukraine.” That’s the country that existed before the Maidan uprisings. It was territorially whole, constitutional, and not beset by bloody internal war.
Now there is the new Ukraine, the Ukraine created by the Maidanists. Many observers, like Obama, automatically equate the borders of the new Ukraine with those of the former Ukraine. But that equivalence does not seem to be rooted in reality.
The notion that the new Ukraine is entitled to all the territory of the former Ukraine is quite tenuous. There was no constitutional transfer from the former to the new. Instead, an armed junta took over in Kyiv by force. It chased the democratically-elected president Yanukovych out of the country under threats of death. And it nullified the democratically-instituted constitution.
A so-called interim government was put in place by the junta. It ruled from February 27, 2014 until June 7, 2014 when President Petro Poroshenko assumed office following a democratic election. In the meantime, however, two areas of former Ukraine, Donbass and Crimea, declined to become parts of the new Ukraine. The new Ukraine never had controlled those territories, and the majority of the inhabitants wanted no part of the new Ukraine.
I find it is hard for many people to wrap their minds around the foregoing explanation. The media drumbeat has constantly sounded out the Kyiv-centric version of things. Most casual observers have accepted it as gospel. Passions run high among those immersed in the news reports.
So it might be helpful to strip away the polarized positions that many have taken regarding Ukraine. To sidestep those entrenched views, let’s explore the relevant issues with a hypothetical parallel:
Just say that in Spain there is a revolution whereby people who feel antagonistically toward Catalonians take over by force in Madrid. They throw out the Spanish constitution. There is no legal continuity of government. The junta immediately advances threats that diminish the cultural and linguistic heritage and practices of Catalonians.
In response the Catalonians take charge of their own territory. That region was never under control of the junta. What in the world would broadly legitimize a junta’s claim of a right to control Catalonia?
And what just person would not condemn the junta if it invaded Catalonia, causing thousands of deaths and much economic destruction?
Of course the situation in Ukraine is much more complicated due to the Soviet background, differing World War II related sentiments and legends, and a long-running and well-crafted demonization of Putin in the press. But the principle seems the same to me. The hypothetical Catalonian scenario is the reality of Ukraine today. All of it. Donbass is the real Catalonia.
What this adds up to is that Kyiv indeed invaded Donbass.
All the flap about Russia sending troops and weapons into Eastern Ukraine has things backwards. What’s being called Eastern Ukraine in the press is in reality Donbass. Russia actively denies that it has supported Donbass with military personnel and equipment. I don’t know whether it has or not.
But isn’t whatever Russia might be doing really a moot point? The real issue is that Kyiv invaded Donbass. That’s the source of all the death and destruction. Once again, Russia didn’t shoot first. It was just made the villain by a skillful campaign based on fabrications.
Unfortunately, world attention has been diverted from Kyiv’s transgressions and the horror they have wreaked. It’s been redirected to the reported Russian aggression. I’ve documented in my book Ukraine in the Crosshairs (www.UkraineInTheCrosshairs.com) how those allegations are not fact based.
I think it is very important to question why the press, the US, NATO, and the EU have so contorted their depiction of the Ukrainian crisis. Their actions have worked to the detriment of the Ukrainian people.
Ostensibly, the Maidanists claimed from the start to be seeking greater democracy and closer ties to Europe. The junta argued that a proposed EU association agreement was the key. Not everyone agreed. And that divisive issue spawned the internal conflict that precipitated the great Ukrainian crisis.
Look at what’s happened in the junta’s wake:
–Before the escalation of the Maidan protests, there was no threat of a Russian invasion, there were no fighting “separatists,” there was no war in Donbass. Ukraine was whole.
–Sanctions were not causing ruinous economic damage to many countries. Relations between the US and Russia were not in dangerous disarray.
–There were no war-torn Donbass cities, towns, and villages. Thousands of now deceased Ukrainians were still alive.
–And the opportunity for replacing the unpopular leader Yanukovych through a democratic election was on the immediate horizon. Change was in the offing without any need for war.
Take a good look at what’s transpired and tell me what tangible benefit has accrued to the Ukrainian people. The Maidanists set out to improve the population’s lot. But things have gotten worse. Much worse.
It is difficult to imagine why anyone would believe that association with the EU will undo all the damage that conflict has caused. Claims it will help seem illusory. In the end, the horrors inflicted upon Ukrainians by the junta were totally unnecessary, ineffectual, and counterproductive.
What on earth are the motives of the people and governments that promoted and supported all this needless death and destruction?
William Dunkerley is author of Ukraine in the Crosshairs. He is a media business analyst, principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, and a Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow.
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