Gwynne Dyer: Standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine

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      Just before he sat down to a traditional Bavarian meal of sausages and beer with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of the G7 summit on Sunday (June 7), U.S. President Barack Obama told the media that one of the meeting’s priorities would be discussing ways of “standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

      Which begs the question: what kind of aggression are we talking about here?

      There are unquestionably Russian troops in the rebel provinces of eastern Ukraine, and that is certainly an act of aggression under international law. (The Russian troops there are definitely not just volunteers lending the rebels a hand while they are on leave, as Moscow maintains. How can we be sure? Because soldiers on leave do not take their tanks and artillery with them.)

      But is this a prelude to a Russian invasion that would take over all of Ukraine, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently alleged? If it is, it would require a whole different level of response, and the result could easily be a new Cold War.

      Is it also the first step in a Russian campaign to take back everything that used to be part of the Soviet Union, and before that of the Russian empire, as many in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Georgia, and other former “Soviet Republics” fear? If so, “standing up to Russian aggression” would be an even bigger task, involving a major NATO troop build-up in Europe and probably a new nuclear arms race.

      Might Russian President Vladimir Putin actually be the next would-be world conqueror, out of the same mould as Napoleon and Hitler? In that case, get ready for the Third World War, because it’s unlikely that anything less would stop him. So exactly what kind of aggressor Putin is matters quite a lot.

      Here’s a clue: Putin was first elected president of Russia in 1999, and for his first 15 years in power he didn’t attack anybody. (He responded very toughly to the cretinous Georgian attack on Russian peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia in 2008, but he didn’t start that war.)

      On the whole, would-be world conquerors don’t wait 15 years before making their first move. They get started as soon as possible, because it’s a big job.

      After three months of non-violent demonstrations against Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in the winter of 2013-14, and after a day of shooting on Independence Square (the Maidan) in Kyiv that killed at least 50 protesters and three policemen, Putin agreed to a deal on February 21 that promised new elections in Ukraine within a month.

      It was always puzzling why the demonstrators went out onto the square and spent three bitterly cold months there demanding that Yanukovych quit right away, given that elections were due in Ukraine within a year. Why not stay warm at home and vote him out next year?  He couldn’t do anything irrevocable in the meantime.

      Never mind that. The representatives of the protesters definitely did agree to the deal hammered out by Russian and EU negotiators on the evening of February 21, 2014. Yanukovych was to resign and there would be new elections in one month. Yet only hours later the demonstrators attacked the presidential administration buildings and Yanukovych had to flee. Why couldn’t they wait even one month?

      Maybe because they were afraid that they would lose the election. Kyiv is in western Ukraine, where most people are strongly pro-Western and would like to join the European Union, even NATO if possible. It certainly looked to people watching it on television as if all Ukrainians wanted Yanukovych out.

      But Yanukovych had won the 2010 election fair and square with a 52 percent majority, thanks to the votes of eastern Ukrainians. Their ancestors had lived in the Russian empire for more than three centuries, unlike those of western Ukrainians. Most eastern Ukrainians speak Russian, share the Orthodox religion of Russians, are actually pro-Russian in general.

      What’s more, eastern Ukraine is the home of almost all of the country’s heavy industry, and it was Russia that bought most of the coal, steel and industrial goods produced by eastern Ukrainians. It was their votes that elected Yanukovych in 2010, and there was no reason to believe that they would vote differently in 2014. There really was a coup in Kyiv in 2014, and Putin was quite right to feel deceived and betrayed.

      He was wrong to respond as he did, taking back the province of Crimea (which had an overwhelmingly Russian population but had been bundled into Ukraine in a Communist-era decision in 1954). He was very wrong to back the rebellion in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk. If he actually encouraged them to rebel (which is not clear) he is even more in the wrong. It is all being done in defiance of international law.

      But he is not setting out down the path of world conquest. He is not even planning to take over Ukraine. “Standing up to Putin” is an invigorating moral exercise, but it is not strictly speaking necessary.




      Jun 8, 2015 at 11:57am

      It should not be about standing up to Putin. It should be about standing up for the international order that have stood since the end of World War II, that you don't annex and invade your neighbors.

      Some countries have gotten away with it for a time. East Timor and Kuwait regained their independence. Palestine and Tibet are still working toward gaining their independence. If we don't stand up to Putin there may be others who actually do want to go down the path of world conquest.

      I'm not clear what Dyer is implying about the protesters. They weren't like the Thailand protesters who wanted to curtail democracy.

      I guess P.Peto is going to have to consult his supervisors because of the surprisingly pro-Russia column. I suspect trying to discredit an honest broker like Gwynne Dyer will remain a priority for the Russian government.

      Pierre C yr

      Jun 8, 2015 at 1:10pm

      I think the question as to why no one wanted to wait a year or a month for the election is pretty obvious. 20 years of endemic corruption severely impoverishing the country and past electoral frauds of which the last one was one of the only relatively clean ones. I also find it strange that a neighboring country has to agree to letting an election take place in another country. As if there had to be a deal with Putin before it could take place. No one in Canada or Mexico would allow the US to say anything on such an issue. Especially after a mass movement that came out to deal with such widespread corruption. Had there been proper mechanisms in place to remove Yanukovich it wouldnt have been necessary for the mass movement to be so aggressive. By any western standard Yanukovich would have been criminally charged and removed from office years ago.


      Jun 8, 2015 at 2:25pm

      Really? Gwen, where is the admission the good ole USA via V Nuland orchestrated the coup? Is this international law? Ever since the US 'won' the cold war, they have basically run roughshod over international law, bombing and invading countries as they deem fit. Obama "wins" the noble peace prize and since then has bombed what, 7 countries-- or is it 8? The tide is turning for this most recent empire and they are fighting tooth and nail to get Russia and China alongside the other vassal countries of Europe, Canada etc bending to their will. Having the mainstream media in their pocket certainly helps. Too bad Gwen is I that group as well it seems.

      Uncle Jack

      Jun 8, 2015 at 4:22pm

      Is there any bloody and corrupt dictator Mr. Dyer does not like??

      Strangely, he did not mention the ONE billion dollars (with a "B") Yanukovych had stolen in ONLY two years, or the majestic palace,(worth over 100 millions) he had build in Ukraine.

      One can see it on line!!

      Of course, compared to the $500,000,000 palace Putin has in Sochi, Yanukovych's place is small potatoes!!

      Just awaiting for the "usual suspects" to start screaming HARPER!!


      Jun 8, 2015 at 4:40pm

      A thoughtful, nuanced analysis of events. Too bad nuance has so little relevance in war.


      Jun 8, 2015 at 5:07pm

      I was a bit slow of the mark today,Boys. No need to consult my advisors on this one. Some of you appear to be a bit slow on the uptake of Gwynne's main point which is to debunk the MSM hysteria on the "threat" Putin and Russia pose to Ukraine and Europe. It's all a bunch of baseless fear mongering on the part of the G7 and NATO. Russia is not going to attack anybody nor does it aspire to conquer the rest of the Ukraine or the Baltics,etc. So why do we have all this posturing by the West against Russia? War games, new front line western military bases, anti-ballistic missiles placed near Russia's border, tactical nukes moved into Europe, a call for more military spending by NATO members by the US, it sure looks like the shoe is on the other foot, the West is threatening Russia, not the other way round!
      As for the Ukraine, on the way to becoming a failed state, bankrupt, indebted, run by a clan of corrupt oligarcks, right wing [neo-nazi] fanatics, engaged in ethnic cleansing of the eastern pro-russian provinces. The Kiev regime is a puppet government taking it's orders from Washington, it refuses to negotiate with the separatists, ignores the cease fires call for in Minsk1 and 2 and is going on a full frontal offensive knowing full well that if they break through the lines they will be thrown back with great losses by covert Russian military support as on two previous occaisions. Russia will not allow Novorussiya to fall to Kiev. It wants a unified Ukraine with Novorussyia given special status and the whole neutral to Russia, not a hostile member of NATO. I don't know why I go to the trouble to clean up your misconceptions and prejudices. Many of Dyer's readership are hopelessly co-opted by western propaganda; he sometimes tries clear up the muddle.


      Jun 8, 2015 at 5:47pm

      P Peto ... I must say, you covered a lot, much with which I must concur. I would ask the thinking amongst the masses to consider 2 visuals, and then decide who needs to worry about whom. One, a world map with pins outlying the American & Russian military bases OUTSIDE their own countries. Second, a bar graph showing military expenditures over say the last 10 yrs by each of the two countries... what the heck, throw in a bar for the total spent by NATO member countries as well. Notice anything?


      Jun 8, 2015 at 8:52pm

      Tiptoeing down the middle and finding some good in intrinsic evil seems to be the 'modern way' to look at situations and issues. Some people still see in black and white - Putin's one of them. He's right.

      The Maidan gives no guarantee that Ukraine will be any different than it has been for the past 20 years. the 'revolutionaries' have all fed from the old trough.

      Well actually it is as lot different from the former Ukraine. It now has a patina of malice and a thick layer of right-wing intolerance covering the institutionalized kleptomania.

      It's too bad, retrospectively, they didn't wait for that election, for Ukraine may not recover from the instant gratification.

      I Chandler

      Jun 8, 2015 at 10:15pm

      DYER:" Is it the first step in a Russian campaign to take back the Soviet Union?..."

      Yes - How can we be sure? Because Obama said so, just yesterday: "Putin is trying to recreate glories of Soviet empire"

      John Mearsheimer has a theory about how the US doesn't like regional hegymons and he wrote a book "Why Leaders Lie". He also wrote Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault:

      "McCain participated in antigovernment demon-strations, and Georey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,proclaimed after Yanukovych’s toppling that it was “a day for the his-tory books.” As a leaked telephone recording revealed, Nuland hadadvocated regime change and wanted the Ukrainian politician Ar-seniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister in the new government,which he did."- Dyer forgot a few $billion and a few actors:

      DYER:" the cretinous Georgian attack "

      Poroshenko made that cretinous Georgian president a Governor.

      DYER: "The Russian troops there are definitely not just volunteers lending the rebels a hand while they are on leave, as Moscow maintains."

      But then those British school girls fighting in Syria are definitely volunteers. How can we be sure? Because they take their tanks with them:

      DYER:"is this a prelude to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as Poroshenko recently alleged?"

      Poroshenko? How often has NATO alleged invasion?

      Dyer:"It was always puzzling why the demonstrators went out onto the square and spent three bitterly cold months there demanding that Yanukovych quit right away, given that elections"

      It's also puzzling why they cary torches... They help to keep warm at night?... Only three countries, US, Canada and the Ukraine, voted against a UN Resolution condemning Nazism:

      Dyer:"After three months of Non-violent demonstrations against president Yanukovych"

      Why did they turn violent? Was it the Nuland cookies?