It’s not often I write political pieces, but the scenes on the television news coming out of Kiev are terrible. Not so long ago, Kiev hosted international football tournaments and was fast becoming a city-break destination for western Europeans rather like Prague or Krakow.
Ukraine was moving along the path towards European Union membership which everyone hoped would lead to prosperity and safeguard individual freedoms. Sadly Ukraine has been plagued by corruption and political problems all of which are quietly encouraged by Russia who have a tendency to use their gas and oil supplies to buy influence. Last year, Ukraine was about to sign up to a process that would formally result in membership of the European Union when at the last moment and totally inexplicably President Viktor Yanukovich decided to shun Europe and sign up with Russia due to massive cash inducements and against the wishes of the Ukrainian people.
Close ties to Europe would have meant access to a large and wealthy open market and would have modernised a terribly backwards country.
Kiev was perhaps the original Russian city and was one of the leading world cities back in the 9th Century but over the centuries, power shifted to Moscow and the Russian Tsars gradually conquered everything all the way down to the Middle-East and across to the Pacific.
The era of Glasnost and Perestrokia died in Russia not long after President Putin. President being his official title but in effect he is simply a dictator. I remember 13 years ago being one of the few who thought this even then as he oversaw a war that murdered hundreds of thousands in Chechnya who had recently gained some level of independence having previously beaten off Russia in a war. Sadly for Chechnya it is in an oil rich area and will likely never get its freedom until oil runs out or the Russian style dictatorship end which may well possibly be at the same time.
It can’t be a co-incidence that the two countries that Russia is strongly supporting are both suffering terrible violence, namely Ukraine and Syria. Both have people who want their freedom. The Syrians no longer want to live under a dictatorship and the Ukrainians want to join a democratic Europe and not revert back to the Soviet Union and really could blame them for that?
The situation in Ukraine is particularly difficult as during its time under Soviet occupation, Stalin deliberately fiddled with its borders, taking land from neighbouring Soviet block states. Well aware that most Ukrainians even then wanted nothing to do with Soviet Russia, Stalin relocated millions of Russians into Ukraine to hamper any chances of Ukraine ever-moving to a western sphere of influence. Today the western half of Ukraine desperately wants to join with Europe. The Eastern half is heavily populated by ethnic Russians but whilst at Independence many wanted Russian influence, over 20 years later many older Russians have died and their children though proud of their Russian roots despise the corruption of the current Ukrainian leadership and have no desire to go back to the bad old days.
Putin has gone on record as stating the fall of the Soviet Union was the biggest disaster of the 20th Century, something precisely the opposite of what most people would say, certainly those in Eastern Europe who love their freedoms. Poland for example once had the same level of GDP and economy as Ukraine but free from Russian meddling and corruption, its GDP is now 3 times greater and is in every way a prosperous and happy state as anyone who has visited can attest.
This isn’t the first time Putin has fiddled with Ukraine, who else remembers the Orange Revolution and the poisoning of Ukrainian President with his terrible facial disfigurement. So many Russian journalists have been murdered, NGO’s closed down, dissidents in London poisoned, independent media closed down. The first American journalist has now been banned from Russia and just this week, the freed members of Pussy Riot were horse-whipped on the streets for daring to protest near the Winter Olympics.
So far, only the awful dictatorship of Belarus and Kazakhstan have joined in Putins new Soviet style EU club which probably says all you need to know. What possible benefits could Ukraine get from such membership except for untold wealth and bribes for the key officials?
It is natural for like-minded people to want their freedom. Much of Europe has secessionist movements in Britain, France, Spain, Italy. There are some in the USA too and plenty of others around the democratic world. Since the appearance of Putin however, how many areas of Russia have gained or had votes for Independence. Precisely none which is rather unbelievable considering how huge Russia is. What can people in the Pacific possibly have in common with those bordering Europe?
Seeing as Putin is such a great leader we can now take some time to see just what a great place Russia is with military expenditure now set at 20% of the national budget whilst education lingers at about 3%. Lets take a brief look at the United Kingdom and Russia and remember that Russia is 70 times bigger in land mass and has almost limitless natural resources including the oil that it bribes Ukraine with. It also has well over twice as many people.
In Russia you are likely to die 13 years sooner (more if you are a protester), are more than twice as likely to die in infancy, 5.5 times more likely to die from HIV, be paid almost 60% less than in Britain whilst working 25% longer hours and have 75% less spent on healthcare, suffer huge discrimination if you are not an ethnic white Russian heterosexual. Despite its huge size and population advantage and Putins great governance, its GDP is almost a fifth less and it is suffering from such a low birth rate that its population is doomed to shrink drastically (something that might be good in Britain but not in Russia). It is amazing what freedom, democracy, law and trade can do.
The only thing Putins Russia has going for it is gas and oil and one day these will run out except unlike some states in the Middle-East they aren’t planning for this. Where are all the great modern Russian contributions to life and culture? How many countries or people in the world appeal to Russia for help when they want their freedom? Not since 1939 when Russia sided with Nazi Germany and invaded Poland, only changing sides when it too was invaded. In fact much of Ukraine welcomed Nazi invaders as liberators due to how much they hated Soviet life so now, 70 years later they surely deserve our support even if it is only moral.
Putin is desperate to rebuild something similar to the Soviet Union and Ukraine not only has a large naval base but many industrial areas that he could well use in the future. Ukraine is a very large country, only dwarfed by Russia itself. Opposition to President Viktor Yanukovich is led my amongst others the former Heavyweight boxer Vladimir Klitschko with peaceful protesters braving the cold winter weather to generally protest peacefully for several months now. Recently though things have turned for the worst, even more draconian laws have been brought in place and with the government not listening, protesters are beginning to up the ante especially with government snipers now taking shots from the roof-tops.
Some members of the Ukranian government have resigned but the President remains even though it is his removal that the protesters are fighting against. With them are the quiet support of Europe and the USA and against them Putin and his oppressive regime who insist the whole situation is due to western interference. The real situation is of course that Europe is democratic and the Ukranian people having tasted freedom would rather target the EU rather than be drawn into Russian dictatorship for the 3rd time in 100 years and if there is one thing that any dictator doesn’t like is freedom. If the people of Ukraine win theirs then Putin may worry something similar might happen at home.
A truce has been temporarily agreed between the two sides but there are reports of anti-government protests spreading around the country and massive sanctions being drawn up by Europe and the USA to encourage the Ukrainian government into transitional talks.