March 09, 2014

Ukraine and Imperial Designs – II

R Arun Kumar

IN the past few days, tensions in Ukraine have escalated, with Russia moving its troops for military exercises along the border with Ukraine. It vowed to protect the interests of Russian citizens living in the East and Southern regions of the country and naval forces stationed in Crimea. Reports indicate that Ukrainian naval chief had expressed his support to Russia, while Ukraine had called for 'popular mobilisation'. Though, President Putin had withdrawn all the troops to their stations on March 4, Russia had unhesitatingly stated that it would not let developments in Ukraine adversely affect its strategic interests.

Russian moves had evoked strong protests from the US and the EU. Countries like Poland demanded the intervention of NATO in Ukraine. US President Obama had threatened Russia that it would have to face the “costs” for military attacks on Ukraine. They have threatened to impose sanctions on Russia and reports suggest that US is moving towards freezing the accounts of Russians in US banks. Hawks in the US are bringing pressure on Obama to spell out the 'costs' though they too are aware of the futility of sending troops to counter Russia. To counter Russia, the US immediately announced one billion dollars as aid to Ukraine, along with the $600 million announced by the EU. $15 billion IMF loan was also ‘arranged’ by both the EU and the US to compensate for the holding back of Russian aid of similar amount. The exasperation of the US with the EU and its desperation to intervene, or rather move the developments in the direction it desires, was evident in the derisive and abusive conversation the US State department official had with their ambassador stationed in Kiev.

Latest news reports quoting from leaked telephonic conversation between Estonian foreign affairs minister, Urmas Paet and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton shows to what extent the EU and the US can go to impose a regime change. The conversation between them is about the 94 people who were killed and hundreds who were injured during the violent clashes when the opposition laid siege to the government. The Estonian minister quotes Dr Olga Bogomolets who treated the injured and now health minister in the interim cabinet. “She then also showed me some photos she said that as a medical doctor she can say that it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”  The EU foreign policy chief suggested that the entire ‘scandal’ be “kept under wraps” as the Estonian minister stated that “it already discredits from the very beginning the new US backed Ukrainian government”. The Estonian government had vouched for the authenticity of the tape. So much about the US and the EU who do not let go an opportunity to sermonize about human rights violations and democracy. In this background, we have to understand why the US is so interested in Ukraine.




In 2004, in a Congressional sub-committee hearing on Ukraine's Future and US interests, it was stated: “United States policy must remain focused on promoting and strengthening a stable, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine, more closely integrated into European and Euro-Atlantic structures”, and “We should also seek ways to assist Kiev as it pursues NATO membership”. What are the reasons for this benevolence? The answer is given in the same Congressional hearing: “Such a Ukraine will contribute to a more stable and secure Europe. It will be a partner with us in meeting new challenges, such as the war on terrorism, and countering proliferation, and it has great potential for mutually beneficial economic, trade, and investment relations”. It should be remembered here that Ukraine had sent 1600 soldiers to Iraq in solidarity with the US invasion of that country, which as the hearing notes is “one of the largest contingents on the ground in Iraq”. The US also recognizes Ukraine for its “valuable assistance in Afghanistan, providing thousands of over-flight clearances for American aircraft and donating weapons and equipment to the Afghan National Army”.

It is to coax Ukraine into its stranglehold, the US is pumping billions of dollars under the Freedom Support Act for the transformation of Ukraine. “The Ukrainians themselves are going to have to make the decisions to transform, but the United States Government can help, and our assistance programs over the last 12 years have contributed importantly to denuclearization, consolidation of democratic institutions, economic change, health programs, and exchange programs which have brought some 20,000 Ukrainians over the last decade to the United States”. And the reasons are spelt explicitly: “We pursue these programs because they advance United States interests by advancing our vision for a future Ukraine” and “We also use assistance programs to try to maximise our leverage by targeting ways that we can help plant the seeds for internal change, for bottom-up change”. So, the US 'trains' media, legal professionals, gives monetary 'aid' for election process (which includes funding NGO's like the Committee of Ukrainian Voters) in order to 'transform' Ukraine into a modern market economy and 'consolidate' its democratic structures. And it was unashamedly stated: “The US needs to help build up a cadre of well-educated Ukrainians who understand Western economies and politics. For this purpose, a larger number of scholarships need to be given for doctoral degrees at US universities”.

Through these efforts by the US, which took the EU along with it, Ukraine was wooed to move closer to the Western bloc, both politically and economically. The US ambassador in Ukraine was actively involved during the protests openly siding with the opposition groups. In fact, the leaked conversation mentioned above, also contains details spelling out the names of opposition leaders whom the US prefers to take over the government of Ukraine. Russia, which has huge economic investments in the country was worried of all these developments and wanted to ensure that Ukraine remains with the Eastern bloc, i.e., with Russia.

With Putin's announcement of troop withdrawal, tensions might ease temporarily, but the fault lines still remain.