The situation in Ukraine is very serious but I don’t think we’re in the run-up to World War III or even a full-blown return to the Cold War. 

Russia today is but a shadow of the Soviet Union and the West will not go to war over Ukraine. Expect to see some sort of compromise resolving the tensions here, at least for now.

All the same, it is important to understand the crisis and its context.

Due to accidents of history, there are fault-lines between western and eastern Ukraine, partly ethno-linguistic, partly historical orientations and partly in terms of industry. Ukrainian speakers are dominant in the west, and the western half of Ukraine has historically been orientated towards central and western Europe; indeed, much of western Ukraine was historically part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its economy orientated accordingly. The east was orientated towards Russia as part of the Russian Empire.  After World War II the Soviets concentrated industry in the south-east and military fortifications in the west, well aware of the Nazi blitzkrieg that decimated Ukraine in the opening days of WWII.

All of the above is pertinent — as is the fact that Ukrainian fascists, based in western Ukraine, collaborated with the Nazis and sought to establish a fascist republic in the west, one where they proceeded to ethnically cleanse away non-Ukrainians (Poles, in particular, were the focus).

However, it is the post-Soviet history of Ukraine, where the Western ‘shock therapy’ saw massive theft (the West called it ‘privatization’) of public property resulting in the rise of the Ukrainian oligarchy, that is most relevant.  A similar oligarchy emerged in Russia itself but in Ukraine the oligarchy was split between the west and the east.  The eastern oligarchs’ wealth depends on continued relations with Russia, while those in the west have interests in greater EU relations.

This tension was maintained for years by the office of the presidency, which acted as the final decider on policy, making concessions to both sides in an attempt to appease all.  This all changed with the US-facilitated (through funding and training of the western opposition) 2004 Orange Revolution, which broke the hitherto equilibrium.  Since then tensions have increased, with the eastern oligarchs subsequently winning the 2010 elections and  installing Viktor Yanukuvitch in office.

Last year the EU offered a trade deal with the Ukraine (see Briefing, above). But Russia offered a ‘better’ deal, and this infuriated the West and led to protests originating in western Ukraine.  Initially these protests were more about corruption, the EU deal just being a catalyst, and received support from both west and east.  However, they came to be dominated by western Ukrainian forces, notably the far-right fascist Svoboda (Freedom) Party and the neo-nazi Pravii Sektor (Right Sector).

Far right symbols, from Nazi SS and white supremacist celtic-crosses, were prominent in the protests, although curiously, Western media was silent on their omnipresence.  Similarly, far-right slogans, associated with the fascist collaborators with the Nazis, dominated the Kiev protests. This alienated the east, as well as many others. 

The new government, dominated by fascists, only has support largely in the west, and has installed six fascists to ministerial posts. It is this that has led to anti-coup demonstrators in the south and east. We have the bizarre situation of the West having aided and abetted the overthrow of a democratically elected government and its replacement with an illegitimate and far-right ‘government’. 

Ukraine is a tragedy today of both Western and Russian rivalry, with its people facing fascism on the one hand and Russian domination on the other.

 

This article is based on various news articles, journal articles and personal communication I have read/had over the last few months.
Jonathan Starling was an Independent candidate in the 2012 General Election for Constituency 20, Pembroke South West.