On the Ukraine: Three awkward questions for Western liberals and a comment on the EU’s role

Let us accept (as I do) the principle that national minorities have the right to self-determination within lopsided multi-ethnic states; e.g. Croats and Kosovars seceding from Yugoslavia, Scots from the UK, Georgians from the Soviet Union etc.

Awkward question no. 1: On what principle can we deny, once Croatia, Kosovo, Scotland and Georgia have come into being, the right of Krajina Serbs, of Mitrovica Serbs, of Shetland Islanders and of Abkhazians to carve out, if they so wish, their own nation-states within the newly independent nation-states in the areas where they constitute a clear majority?

Awkward question no. 2: On what principle does a western liberal deny the right of Chechens to independence from Russia, but is prepared to defend to the hilt the Georgians’ or the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination?

Awkward question no. 3: On what principle is it justifiable that the West acquiesced to the raising to the ground of Grozny (Chechnya’s capital), not to mention the tens of thousands of civilian deaths, but responded fiercely, threatened with global sanctions, and raised the spectre of a major Cold War-like confrontation over the (so far) bloodless deployment of undercover Russian troops in Crimea?

The above three questions are being asked not because I want to challenge the notion that Mr Putin is a dangerous despot. I have no doubt that he is. Indeed, I wear as a badge of honour the fact that I was in a minority of one in the Faculty Board meeting of the University of Athens in 2003, where I voted against the award of an honourary doctoral degree to Mr Putin by the University of Athens (denying the University the opportunity to state that the award had been unanimous, and thus incurring the wrath of most colleagues who had been ‘requested’ politely by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to honour Mr Putin during his visit to Athens).

My three awkward questions have two aims: To remind readers of the West’s unprincipled attitude toward ‘other’ people’s struggles and tragedies. And to explain, in part, why such unprincipled behavior by the proponents of democratic principles ends up denigrating not only these very principles but greatly reinforcing the power and influence of the Putins of this world as well.

Europe and the Ukraine

Ukrainians fought pitched battles against the security forces in Kiev’s main square to protest against the former President Yanukovic’s decision to back out of a deal that would seal the country’s partnership with the European Union. Why? Are they blind to the incongruities of the European Union?

No, they are not. However, Ukrainians are facing a different type of problem compared to those we Europeans do. Whatever bone we have to pick with Brussels, with the ECB etc. (and we have many!), the people of Kiev had other priorities. E.g. how to rid themselves of security forces that felt at liberty to torture and to kill; how to travel freely; how to live in a country where courts were not completely run by the same mafia that run the state apparatus. To them, the fact that democracy is on the wane in the Eurozone and Europe’s principles are becoming increasingly hollow, matters little: The EU, however fast it may be descending into democratic illegitimacy, still looks like Heaven through many Ukrainian eyes.

Having said that, the greatest tragedy for Ukrainians is that their highest hopes are resting on weak shoulders: the European Union’s!

‘Europe’s Foreign Policy’ are three words that only need to be stated to cause hilarity. For there is no such thing, in truth. Even the Franco-German axis has been shuttered by Libya, let alone the ambitious idea of a common foreign policy for a United Europe that can act as a bulwark helpful to the Ukraine.

While Libya was of minimal importance to Europe’s security, even if of crucial importance to the Libyans, Ukraine is crucial and Europe ought to tread very carefully. What worries me the most is that the seriousness of the Ukrainian crisis is in inverse proportion to Europe’s competence in the field of foreign policy. Brussels may be keen to expand its ‘authority’ Eastward but it is treading into dangerous territory, ill equipped to deal with the repercussions.

The United States, the IMF, Germany and the Ukraine

The Ukraine is, and was always going to be, the battleground between Russia’s industrial neo-feudalism, the US State Department’s ambitions, and Germany’s neo-Lebensraum policies. Various ‘Eurasianists’ see the crisis in Kiev as a great opportunity to promote a program of full confrontation with Russia, one that is reminiscent of Z. Brzezinski’s 1970s anti-Soviet strategy. Importantly, they also see the Ukraine as an excellent excuse to torpedo America’s role in normalising relations with Iran and minimising the human cost in Syria. At the same time, the IMF cannot wait to enter Russia’s underbelly with a view to imposing another ‘stabilization-and-structural-adjustment program’ that will bring that whole part of the former Soviet Union under its purview. As for Germany, it has its own agenda which pulls its in two different directions at once: securing as much of the former Soviet Union as part of its neo-Lebensraum strategy of expanding its market/industrial space Eastwards; while, at the same time, preserving its privileged access to gas supplies from Gazprom.

As for the White House itself, there is little doubt that both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry understand the limits of Western power and the danger that too much of a hawkish reaction to the events in the Ukraine will undermine their efforts vis-à-vis Syria and Iran, at a time when Iraq is being increasingly destabilised

Epilogue: The European Union should stop meddling in the Ukraine

In this geopolitical context, Brussels’ ambitions ought to be curtailed. The European Commission is clueless, regarding the goings on in the Ukraine, and the less involved they get the better for everyone. Indeed, the EU apparatchiks resemble Rome’s last emperors who, foolishly, thought that extending the Empire’s borders was all that mattered, when in reality the problem was that the Empire’s core was rotting.

67 thoughts on “On the Ukraine: Three awkward questions for Western liberals and a comment on the EU’s role

  1. “neo-lebensraum strategy” seems a litte overdone. It seems to impossible to talk about Germany without the constant Nazi comparison. Another instance of Godwin’s law …

    • “neo-lebensraum strategy” seems a litte overdone. It seems to impossible to talk about Germany without the constant Nazi comparison. Another instance of Godwin’s law …”

      While I agree with you on the merits of this particular case, in other words, I don’t think Germany and the EU’s interest in wooing Ukraine is driven by neo-lebensraum motives, were I Greek, I’d be generally unhappy with Germany to the point that constant Nazi comparisons would start to seem reasonable to me too.

      Prior to the past few weeks, I thought Angela Merkel was the Worst Person in Europe. But as of now, Vlad is doing a much better Hitler impression…

      (The reason Vlad is a more convincing Hitler than Angela is that Greece actually has a way to escape the non-benevolent hegemony of Germany through the ballot box and the sovereignty of its Parliament. If I were the Greek PM, I’d drop the Euro over a nice little bank holiday, demand my rights to stay in the EU, endure the pain, and go Argentina. Voila! The Zloty works for Poland! But if you’re Ukrainian, the ballot box and national sovereignty don’t let you escape a non-benevolent hegemon.)

    • @petey: I absolutely agree with you that the German policies towards southern Europe, not only Greece, and the way it uses its de facto hegemony in the EU are a shame. To me it seems all right if f.e. Syriza uses the Nazi comparison in her election campaign. But this here is the blog of an economist explaining economics to the broader public. And in this context the lebensraum metaphor is overdone, not sorely, but still. Would the author call the actions of US-corporations in Latin America a “lebensraum” strategy? Probably not. But the German “backyard” policies towards Eastern Europe are comparable to US policies to its own “backyard”, but for one aspect: American policies in Latin America do much more damage to the people there than (today’s) German policies in Eastern Europe.

  2. ” if you advocate throwing principles like “national sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” aside, and replacing it with the 1930′s German principles of militarily intervening to annex those who share a language or ethnicity without regard to national sovereignty and territorial integrity, well, you’re back to echoing those Alexander Dugin fascist talking points pretty much word for word.”

    I am advocating nothing of the sort. I am “advocating” cynical realism. I detest the selective use of “principles” in an ad hoc manner. That you believe Putin’s B.S. about patriotism, etc. is, to me, not indicative of realism. This is not irredentism, it’s not akin to a revival of “German principles of militarily intervening to annex those share a language or ethnicity without regard to national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The notion that there is “rule of law” in inter-state relations in general, and not sheer calculation is, to me, naive.

    My nature and my personal behavior are not “cynically realistic”. I am a ‘nomo-archist’. Still, the day I will mistake the pronouncements of parties to a conflict for their true motives will be a cold day in hell.

    • “I am advocating nothing of the sort. I am “advocating” cynical realism.”

      IMHO, the most effective cynical realism is Westphalian nationalism in Europe, specifically by respecting the post-WWII settlement and Helsinki Accords. It’s worked pretty damn well so far.

      “The notion that there is “rule of law” in inter-state relations in general, and not sheer calculation is, to me, naive.”

      Exactly, which is why such abstract notions as “territorial integrity” are so damn important. Since the post-WWII settlement, prior to the Crimean annexation, we’ve had no attempts to redraw the borders of neighbors by force, with some minor exceptions by minor powers, AKA the Greek junta’s attempted Enosis, and Milošević’s reign of shenanigans. And both were repelled, to the good of international norms. (Of course, Putin has done a few more minor shenanigans like this before, but no actually annexations.)

      The Crimean annexation is really something unseen in Europe since the 1930’s, and for those who worry about not being naive, should seem worrisome at the very least.

      “This is not irredentism”

      Now you’re just abusing words…

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  4. Ukraine is a semi-artificial state, since there was almost never independent, with minor exceptions during the Communist Revolution and the Nazi puppet state. Ukrainian National consciousness has also not entirely shaped, while the Ukrainians would rather prefer and be happy with Russians neighbours, except a minority nationalists. The EU and U.S. policies are completely opportunistic and short-sighted, if not part of a game to press Russia for Syria and Iran. Correctly described by Mr. Varoufakis. Kosovo is an example of violent splitting, so West can not have any argument. In the case of Cyprus also, where the West turned a deaf ear to decisions of the United Nations. The only possible solution I see is an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations with sole purpose of holding free elections in the country. But I afraid that they opened the Pandora’s box.

    • “Ukraine is a semi-artificial state, since there was almost never independent, with minor exceptions during the Communist Revolution and the Nazi puppet state. Ukrainian National consciousness has also not entirely shaped, while the Ukrainians would rather prefer and be happy with Russians neighbours, except a minority nationalists.”

      Recycling Alexander Dugin pretty much word for word, are we? He’s a self-described fascist.

    • The day the Russian Federation accepts ‘faits accomplis’ that affect its vital interests without armed forces backing them up will be the day it will cease to exist in its current form.

      Those who are pointing to principles like “national sovereignty” and “territorial integrity”, should remember other principles like bilateral treaties, etc.

    • “Those who are pointing to principles like “national sovereignty” and “territorial integrity”, should remember other principles like bilateral treaties, etc.”

      Other principles like The Budapest Memorandum, for example?

      But Russia breaking its written agreements aside, if you advocate throwing principles like “national sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” aside, and replacing it with the 1930’s German principles of militarily intervening to annex those who share a language or ethnicity without regard to national sovereignty and territorial integrity, well, you’re back to echoing those Alexander Dugin fascist talking points pretty much word for word.

      The last Anschluss didn’t work out too well last time for either the nation that forced it, or the whole world. Borders are invariably arbitrary, but the way you advocate of dealing with that arbitrariness leads to bad outcomes all around.

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  8. Isn’t the issue primarily that the US/EU want to eliminate Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, it’s only warm-water port and only real way of projecting power into the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe?

    The proper analogy would be if Okinawa seceded from Japan. Then, thanks to Chinese interference, rebels ousted the democratically elected (but corrupt) government and installed a pro-Chinese one, and one of their first acts of office was to eliminate Japanese and English as official languages. The United States would FREAK OUT at the prospect of losing their base there, and their only means of projecting power into the South China Sea. The US would likely even activate their nuclear arsenal if such a thing happened.

    I pray to the gods and goddesses that the 90 minute Obama-Putin phone call was reassuring each other about no nuclear attack.

  9. In response to the response of “european” to me, since we can’t go 3 deep in threads:

    “The author says “Croatia and Georgia were nominally independent Republics under the post-WWII settlement”. I say this is pie in the sky! a utopia ! At the beginning of the 19th century…”

    Do you see the contradiction here? You’re talking about the beginning of the 19th century, and I’m talking about the post-WWII settlement.

    The post-WWII settlement imposed massive border changes (and forced population shifts) throughout Eastern Europe. Germany got dramatically shrunk. Ukraine’s Western border moved West. Poland’s Western border moved West. The Kaliningrad enclave exists. And more and more. All these changes were accepted by the UNSC at the time, and reaffirmed by subsequent treaties, including the Helsinki Accords in the 1970’s, not to mention by various post-Cold War treaties. The principle of inviolate borders and lack of unilateral secession and annexation were also accepted by these international entities.

    The importance of these principles of the post-WWII settlement was to prevent such shenanigans of 1930’s Germany deciding to militarily ‘defend German speakers and peoples of German ethnicity’ by military force wherever they lived, a playbook Putin has used several times over the past few years in Moldova, Georgia, and now Ukraine. Take away that principle of inviolate borders and lack of unilateral secession and annexation, and all hell starts to break loose. I don’t think anyone wants to repeat the military history of Europe from 1800 to 1945, which is where that all starts to lead.

    And yes, the nominally independent status of the Republics of Croatia and Georgia in the post-WWII settlement really do matter to these principles. It’s why the outcry to Russia’s internal crimes in Chechnya were muted and without consequence, while the cross-border aggression of Putin and Milošević have prompted principled outrage and consequences. Borders matter, and for good reason.

    The folks who drew up the post-WWII settlement may never have imagined the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the USSR, but once those entities did disintegrate, that nominal independent status of Croatia and Georgia really did come into force, no matter what things looked like in 1800 or 1913 or 1919 or 1944.

    (One could try to make the argument that the non-unilateral transfer of Crimea 60 years ago takes Crimea out of the post-WWII settlement. I think that argument would fail on its own, given the non-unilateral nature of the transfer, but the Budapest Agreement 20 years ago in which the Russian Federation guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons should put that such arguments definitively to bed.)

    • You have to decide when borders matter

      Zeman: Crisis in the Crimea is so deep because of Kosovo (Czech president – translation)
      Novinky ^

      Posted on Thu Mar 6 23:13:44 2014 by kronos77

      According to the President Milos Zeman what would solve the economic crisis in the Crimea was the federalization of Ukraine and strengthening the autonomy of the peninsula. The head of state on Thursday during a visit to Olomouc Region also said that everything would be much easier if there was not a precedent of Kosovo.

      “We believe that the solution would be generally the federalization of Ukraine, and in this federalization strengthen the autonomy of Crimea, which already exists because of Crimea has its own parliament and its own government. This crisis would have been far less severe if there was not a precedent, and it is the precedent of Kosovo, “the president’s words conveyed his spokesman George Ovčáček.

      Zeman reiterated that the current difficulties the crisis has its origins in the decision Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, which gave Crimea, to Ukraine.

      The decision to annex the territory may, in the opinion of the President call escalation, and therefore better considered just federalization of the Eastern European countries.

      http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3130410/posts

  10. There is barely any similarities between Yougoslav situation and Ukraine.
    Even the geopolitics are different, With YUgoslavia, it was the work of EU and USA to destroy the best alternative to capitalism and open and direct state money printing. In Ukraine it is more USA working to produce EU-Russia conflict since their cooperation threatens USA as dominant world policeman. EU was lured into this by promising them financial control of Ukraine and its land.

    Crimea is like Kosovo within Serbia, it is autonomous but with no legal way of separation, While Croatia and Georgia and other republics had legal ways to independence.
    There is no question about separating Croatian Krajina from Croatia, since there was never any legal way for it nor there is pure ethnic serbians there. There was only about 50% majority Serb and they attempted to clean others by ethnic cleansing in order to claim theirs and independence.
    So, Crimea is autonomus teritory with no legal option to leave Ukraine even tough everything else is as independent legal teritory.

    Another look should be at reasons for separating from one entity to join another one. Small entities seek big brother due to colonial mentality and if they had not suffered such mentality these entities would be successfull under any big brother, but it is easy to blame “others” when you have colonial mentality, that is the first refuge of such mentality.

    Croatia went to war due to outside influence it was not up to Croatia not to seek independence because there was ethnic cleansing going on, all preparations for it were done even before first democratic elections. There was no option, and claiming that outside forces supported the Croatian independence is false since EU supported single country of Yugoslavia, and they showed it by enforcing arm embargo and not believing the reports of ethnic cleansing all up untill Bosnia war. Most EU officials still believed Millošević and supported him untill the peace agreement and untill bosnia massacre.

    Ukraine situation has completely different geopolitical environment then any other previous one.

  11. Regarding your first awkward question, and the Krajna Serbs (I assume you are talking about “RS” that tries to argue for independence), the answer is simple: “RS” is an artificial territorial unit, created on 1995, based on genocide and on mass extinction (either mass killings evident by numerous mass graves spreaded all over eastern Bosnia, or mass movement of the local population) of the non-Serb population (mostly Bosnians/Croats).
    Neither Croatia , or Crimea or Catalonia, Scotland etc are states based on mass genocide. This is a simple principle that separates this cases from the other ones. Hope it helps.
    Regards

    • Bosnia and Herzegovina is also created as an artificial administrative unit within the Former Yugoslavia. Had it not been for Yugoslavia, the Serbs and Croats in B&H would have chosen to be part of Serbia or Croatia.

      The West has a double standard when it comes to Eastern Europe and the Russian sphere of influence.

    • in response to Sotris:

      “Bosnia and Herzegovina is also created as an artificial administrative unit within the Former Yugoslavia. Had it not been for Yugoslavia, the Serbs and Croats in B&H would have chosen to be part of Serbia or Croatia.”

      All borders are artificial. The more important point is that the European borders of the post-WWII settlement were agreed to by UNSC after the war, and reaffirmed by all European nations in the 1970’s Helsinki Accords, including Yugoslavia, with the lone exception of Albania. Everyone had a desire going forward to avoid the wars of conquest and annexation that had plagued Europe for centuries.

      (And it’s very worth noting that the Helsinki Accords were pressed most aggressively by the USSR in order to re-legimitimize the massive European border changes of the post-WWII settlement that heavily advantaged the Soviet bloc. That intense desire to re-legimitimize post-WWII settlement borders is the why the USSR was willing to accept the Human Rights section of the Helsinki Accords that played a not insignificant part in the eventual fall of the Soviet bloc.)

      “The West has a double standard when it comes to Eastern Europe and the Russian sphere of influence.”

      The West (and until the past few years, the East), have perfectly respected the European borders of the post-WWII settlement, with the lone exception of Kosovo, which had some quite legitimate arguments behind it, though it is legitimately debatable on the other side as well. However, in the past few years, in Moldova, Georgia, and now Ukraine, Russia has decided that borders are subject to Russian military power, with no legitimate arguments considered to be necessary, and no treaties needed to be respected.

  12. „As for Germany, it has its own agenda which pulls its in two different directions at once: securing as much of the former Soviet Union as part of its neo-Lebensraum strategy of expanding its market/industrial space Eastwards; while, at the same time, preserving its privileged access to gas supplies from Gazprom.“
    A really cheap shot. If your comparison was a joke I miss it, than its remain a cheap shot, unworthy for a reasonable teacher like I know your writings. For your benefit I guess you never read Hitlers infamous „Mein Kampf”, in witch he describe his version from Lebensraum. Meaning he was ready to exterminated all Slavonic nations to the Ural Mountains, and clear this area for Aryan tribes, foremost Germans. I don|t believe to sell gods or making business is on its own is pestilent for any nation, not even for the Germans.

    • Hear hear. I’m glad someone has already made this comment. Questions at the beginning were awkward, but author lost my respect in the second half with sweeping accusations such as these.

    • Trust me the German populatin has no interest whatsoever in this space. It would be difficult for any politician to get more than 3% of th evotes with such an agneda. And hence i strongly doubt that what you say has a vague allegation to base conspirity theories upon.

    • Oh cmon now

      On what basis a German Foreign minister goes to the central square of a capital and demonstrates against the elected government of that country?

      The stupid ex president Yanukovich was elected through fair elections and that is something that is widely recognised in the west.

  13. Part B:
    Based on the information coming our of Ukraine so far, I am still uncertain about “The Ukrainians” fighting those pitched battles. It seems that two opposing fractions of the Ukrainian oligarchy, with geographically opposed affiliations, have orchestrated most of the fighting, with “The Ukrainian” people (who were actively opposing Yanukovic’s regime before the violence) being quite reserved and withdrawn from the strife for power–not the least because of the spectre of division between the two main ethnicities of the country. Certainly, the hasty call to the IMF by the new government must not (it definitely should not!) have spread enthusiasm among the population.

    So, while I am waiting for the evidence on people’s attitudes to roll in, I am reserving opinion as to what hopes and aspirations “The Ukrainians” are resting on the shoulders of the EU.

    But I find your position against EU involvement staggeringly contradictory; how can you call for Brussels to stay out, instead of urging it to be more involved, while at the same time you are a staunch supporter of deeper EU integration (e.g. by calling for a hegemonic Germany) and also admitting the German Lebensraum interest in the region? Or is there a flair of irony in the last paragraph that I missed?

  14. This is a strange two-part article, starting with a discussion of principles and their partial application by the west, and then moving into a geopolitical analysis completely unrelated (except by the tenouous tie that the propagandistic invocation of “principles” in the case of Ukraine is a factor in the public dialog in Europe and the US). So, I have two disjoint sets of comments, stated in two separate replies.

    Part A:
    I doubt the appropriateness of “despot” for Mr. Putin (I do not doubt the “dangerous” part, but this is ex-officio; e.g. so is Mr. Obama and his predecessors “dangerous”, though definitely not despots). Heterogeneous empires–multinational states if you prefer—like modern Russia are fated to be ruled authoritatively, because their constituent populations are incapable of forming a concerted politic body with cohesion-of the kind nationality provides-enough to avert authoritarianism. The brilliant success of the US-empire in forming a national identity should not misguide one to think that “it is a matter of having the right principles”; it is a matter of identity [most often national, but sometimes other, eg. religious, cultural etc]
    Thus, _any_ leadership of modern Russia would act in substance similarly to Mr. Putin. Calling it “despotism” seems to miss the point.

    Which of course begs the question: what kind of a future is in store for a EU-empire? Is there enough common identity among European populations to avoid a slide towards authoritarianism? Or, is what we are observing in the EU, an expression of authoritarianism marching unopposed by a disparate populus?

  15. Totally suicidal for the Ukraine to get mixed up with the EU. There is no way that the Ukraine can survive economically without ongoing relatians with Russia. The EU along with the US organized a coup d’ etat that has no democratic legitimacy. The Ukraine does not have a homogeneous population and those who favor the EU are likely only a very small minority.

    On the other hand, where is the democratic legitimacy for the EU to make deals and take in the Ukraine or make huge aid packages when the EU has put most of its periphery in deep recession and millions of EU nationals are unemployed and marginalized economically.

    OK – Varoufakis is a person of the Left and accepts German hegemony and authoritarian government so long as it is leftist in nature. He is not a libertarian or believer in small government or limitations on the power of politicians…..

    • He most certainly does not accept German hegemony and authoritarian government so long as it is leftist in nature. That is a figment of your, apparently, very fertile imagination.

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  18. Dear Prof. Varoufakis,

    The contraddictions in the foreign policy of the “great powers” is obvious. However, being the great powers they are, they have molded international law, in a way that can be interpreted to their liking, on a per case scenario.

    One of the basic principles of the UN Chart (and international law), is the principle of “territorial integrity”. This principle served the superpowers well for decades. With the collapse of USSR, another principle was brought forth, mainly by the american side, that of the “self-determination”, to justify “humanitarian” or “democratic” interventions. Now, we are at the point, where Russia sends back the ball to the inventor and invokes the “self-determination” principle.

    You can google for more topics as “territorial integrity vs self-determination”. It’s a neverending dispute, it’s the proverbial cat out of the bag, as now whoever has sufficient force, may invoke one or the other and being “legally right” or “legally wront”, according to the interests of the country. You could say that now “the legality is in the eyes of the beholder”.

    Regards.

    • The “self determination” argument (in the way it suits the great powers) has produced countlss blodsheds. The Westfalia agreement (it ended the 100year war which was a bloody sacrifice in tha altar of “self determination”) ensured that no one would mess with other countries based on that ecxuse.
      The Westafalia agreement was abandoned when NATO bombed Yugoslavia in 1999.

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  20. Those are awkward questions for persons with a conscience, but the Western leaders, to whom the questions are posed, have no sense of shame. They won’t even bat an eye as they recite their talking points in response.

    I don’t know much about Putin, but he seems to be the right leader for Russia at the right time. Imagine a kindly, guileless leader of Russia. The West would have eaten him for breakfast and would have gobbled up the former Soviet states. The West will do anything to get another country’s resources for cheap. At least Putin’s Russia has a big “Do Not Enter” sign across it and its allies.

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  22. Aren’t you a professor?! How could you possibly forgot Slovenia, Montenegro, MACEDONIA? LOL
    They didn’t break from Yugoslavia?! What a joke.

  23. “On what principle can we deny, once Croatia, Kosovo, Scotland and Georgia have come into being, the right of Krajina Serbs, of Mitrovica Serbs, of Shetland Islanders and of Abkhazians to carve out, if they so wish, their own nation-states “

    Croatia and Georgia were nominally independent Republics under the post-WWII settlement. Thus, they had every right to proclaim independence. Scotland gets to hold a referendum because the UK Parliament voted to allow it. All those are within accepted norms.

    Kosovo is a “special case” that does not fit within accepted norms, and the principle on which it was able to separate is quite debatable, with decent cases to be made on both sides.

    “On what principle does a western liberal deny the right of Chechens to independence from Russia”

    Under the post-WWII settlement, Chechnya was part of the Russian Republic, and thus denying its right to independence without Russian approval fits within accepted norms.

    “On what principle is it justifiable that the West acquiesced to the raising to the ground of Grozny … but responded fiercely, threatened with global sanctions, and raised the spectre of a major Cold War-like confrontation over the (so far) bloodless deployment of undercover Russian troops in Crimea?”

    Same as above. Westphalian national boundaries are the principle. Same reason Catalonia will have problems separating without the acceptance of the Spanish Parliament.

    —–

    These principles are obviously problematic, as Chechnya shows. But a breakdown in the norms of Westphalian national boundaries along the lines of Russian behavior in the past few years seems, IMHO, far more problematic going forward.

    Crimea and Eastern Ukraine don’t have a legitimate right to annex themselves to Russia without the approval of the Ukrainian government. This would be true even in the absence of the militarily forced annexation currently underway.

    (FWIW, I’ve long read and shared your distaste for the bad actors in the EU. What has been done to Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy is criminal. But I don’t think there is any real linkage between the rot at the heart of the Eurozone and a desire to expand EU boundaries to countries that meet EU standards. Kill the Euro. Keep the EU.)

    • 1) The author says “Croatia and Georgia were nominally independent Republics under the post-WWII settlement”. I say this is pie in the sky! a utopia !

      At the beginning of the 19th century, Georgia belonged to the Russian Empire.After a brief period of independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia was occupied by Soviet Russia in 1921, becoming the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia. This makes Georgia part of the Soviet Union both before and after WWII.

      Ossetia (since 18th century) and Abkhazia (since 19th) have been part of Russia. Stalin, a Georgian himself, gave them away to the Soviet Republic of Georgia as a sign of recognition of his origins, popular with many soviet despots at the time.

      2) Crimea belonged to Russia since the 18th century. It was occupied by the Germans in the WWII as many other parts of the Soviet Union. The local Tatars sided with the Germans and distinguished themselves, among other feats, in the fight for Sevastopol which was savagely destroyed. They were commended by Herr Himmler himself among other similar appreciations. At the end of WWII they got what they truly deserved: deportation from Crimea. Forgiven 40 years later they were allowed to return in 1980. Nikita Khrushchev, another soviet despot , of Ukrainian origin, followed Stalin’s example and made Crimea a present to Ukraine in 1954.

      3) These territories have been despotically (without asking their inhabitants) passed from one soviet republic to another within the framework of the Soviet Union. This framework collapsed and a normal course of action would have been to reverse the arbitrariness of these acts however Russia’s weakness at the time and the US / western interests made it possible to perpetuate these injustices to the local peoples. Now we see what those interests were and I believe the time has come for Russia to put the record straight.

  24. Pingback: On the Ukraine: Three awkward questions for Western liberals and a comment on the EU’s role | gold is money

  25. There is a proverb, “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”. Your questions point out the western hypocrisy : democracy a battering ram when it suits us, a deluded populace when it suits us, respect of law when it suits us.

    answers:

    1) on the principle if it is for the good of our exports and imports and power base secession is good( yugoslavia), Othewise law and order should be followed, particularly if we have nothing to lose or gain.

    2) Nobody asks us.

    3) Where is Chechnya? Ukraine is EU’s back yard ( Russia’s too).

    In general, principles are the whitewash to camouflage the immorality of most political decisions κατα το δοκούν.

  26. Yanni, you will understand my position concerning the EU from my comments above. I wrote at length here – though not addressing you directly – because while I ‘understand’ that this is a situation that ‘dare not speak its name’ politically right now, it will nevertheless quickly come to the fore. Basically I note here that any party that does not show recognition of these ‘fears’ or ‘realities’ – take your pick – will lose support. Except for ASE, KKE & Plan B in Greece, all parties are “for” the euro and this is already causing alarm amongst my wider acquaintanceship – Ukraine has changed everything. There is much (and extremely serious) talk of switching their vote. Indication of full comprehension & position is therefore needed. A warning.

  27. I don’t quite follow what you are trying to say about the US. As I understand it, the coup was encouraged/sponsored by the US.. If so, then what do you mean when you suggest that “the US is aware of its limitations”? Are you purely talking about their response to the (entirely foreseeable) escalation? I mean, certainly a lot of blame goes to the EU/IMF, for setting the terms that they did, and Yanukovich’s outright venality and nepotism is undoubtedly a huge problem, but I don’t see “Yats” and his merry band of plutocrats and fascists are all that much better. So why should we think of the US as one of the less-worse actors in this play?

    • One thing I have learned over the years about the US is that is foreign policy is multi polar. It is perfectly capable of having a State Department policy that is at odds to the Pentagon wick is at odds with the a White House.

  28. My input to this debate revolves around the one fact that has not been discussed herein; the quiet strength of purpose of the Ukrainian military and thus the underlying leadership of the nation.

    My hope is that “the people” will have the courage to see through to where THEY want to go; regardless of the external pressures that everyone outside of Ukraine wants to impose for their own purposes.

  29. Pingback: DRUGI DOM | Ukrajina – povezave 3.

  30. Pingback: On the Ukraine: Three awkward questions for Western liberals and a comment on the EU’s role | Arjen polku

  31. Pingback: Yanis Varoufakis: Ukraine – Three Awkward Questions for Western Liberals and a Comment on the EU’s Role | naked capitalism

  32. If the US military bases of San Diego were in Tijuana for some historical reason, and Mexico had an anti-US revolution, the US troops would come out of their bases and annex that region. Similarly I don’t think you could convince the Russians to let go of Sevastopol, but probably they could let the rest of Ukraine go westwards.

  33. I couldn’t agree more. The analogy to the dying roman empire is spot on.

    It is painful to watch american, european and especially german officials struggle to keep up a united front against what they have decided to be an enemy of freedom and democracy, while they don’t seem to have a clue about what is really going on.

    At the same time, without much hesitation, the german media more or less in unison have embarked on a campaign to reanimate the language of cold war propaganda, turning the issue into a question of ‘us against them’ and paint a distorted caricature of Vladimir Putin as Josef Stalin’s reincarnation.

    The Merkel administration usually has no trouble at all with such paragons of freedom and democracy like – let’s say, for example – saudi-arabia, as long as those buy their means of distruction from german corporations. But they seem to have thrown all diplomatic reasoning out the window by immediately taking sides against Russia and showing complete disregard for the Russians’ positions, mainly based on the fact that Mr Putin does not agree with the massive meddling of the EU in the internal affairs of it’s largest western neighbour during the uprising against Yanukovich’s corrupt government. (There is an eerie resemblance to the beginning of the conflict in former Yugoslavia, when german foreign minister Genscher was the first to acknowledge Croatia’s and Slovenia’s independence, seemingly without any consideration for the consequences, presenting serbian nationalists with another reason to feel offended enough to go to war.)

    Meanwhile another Troika-like entity seems to be formed out of Brussels aiming to present the Ukrainian people with a high dosage of ‘structural reforms’ in order to ‘save’ the country from defaulting on its sovereign debt, and to effectively turn yet another part of eastern Europe into a cheap labour camp for the core’s exporting industries.

    • The Merkel administration usually has no trouble at all with such paragons of freedom and democracy like – let’s say, for example – saudi-arabia, as long as those buy their means of distruction from german corporations”.

      Der Spiegel called this a few weeks ago, with a straight face, The Merkel Doctrine🙂

      Hubert have you noticed articles on DeGaulle’s old ‘Europe to the Urals’ policy creeping into circulation? It has been suggested that this is Germany’s adopted aim now (EU + Russia) to counterbalance US power.

      Ukraine of course is the ultimate lebensraum for Germany because 2/3 of this huge country is one big wheat field. Of course under IMF Monsanto will get there first.

      Meanwhile IMF has published a report “Whither the EU?” that concludes that either the EU becomes a federalist state of regions or it gives up the euro. The EU has not hidden the fact (though not expounded it either) that it is moving towards ‘regions’. For anyone who thinks this statement is paranoia, a reading of the various euro-parties platforms will disabuse them. From a greek point of view historically this is akin to the re-emergence of the Ottoman Empire with a capital in Brussels overseeing administrative areas (millets). The question is how small will these regions be? Will they honour the boundaries of today’s nation states? Or will it be ‘easier’ ‘more efficient’ to break these into ‘self determining’ parts, such as, in the greek case Stereo Ellada (mainland) versus Peleponessos versus Aegean versus Crete?

      The EU has played for many years on this theme of self-determination, first in Belgium (a country holding together by a thread), in ex-Yugoslavia, in Catalunya, Basque country. This is not difficult because where does one stop slicing the cake of identity? Provinces see themselves as distinct from each other, and within that, cities and villages see themselves as distinct, and within the villages there are factions, and even families are split between themselves: this is human nature, easy to exploit.

      It is worth contemplating a UK without Scotland. Within the EU as a minor state like Slovenia or Lithuania, and without the umbrella protection of the UK, Scotland would find its newly won sovereignty effectively neutered since, immediately, 40-50% or so would be taken over by nonScottish EU bureaucrats and this percentage administered for the benefit of the EU and not necessarily in Scotland’s real interests.

      Meanwhile, more to the point, the UK is effectively destroyed, since Wales and Northern Ireland are too small (I don’t like to use the word insignificant out of politeness) to provide the necessary weight that made the UK powerful in Europe. This is very good for Europe and very good for Germany as the big power in Europe.

      Of course Germany itself would have to agree to break itself up, or it wouldn’t agree yet would agree to others’ breakup…
      I note here that the recent announcement of Germany’s shift in foreign policy to seek a position in the world commensurate with its economic power was received with anxiety in the EU’s older states.

      I know these are nightmare scenarios but they must be faced. There is very little understanding among european populations that this is where the EU is leading, let alone the implications of this.

      Ironically DeGaulle was an ultra-nationalist in that he believed wholly in the nation state.
      Yet with EU progression to federalism we face the undoing of the Treaty of Westphalia.

      As for Ukraine, it is not our business but ‘we’ have made it our business through irresponsible cackhanded and extremely dangerous and damaging intervention. In my view (and Kissinger’s! I never thought I would be ‘one’ with Kissinger -) Crimea is solely Russia and Ukraine’s business to decide.

      I am afraid Yanis will dismiss these fears. I submit that as an economist he has a deformation professionelle which focuses too strongly on the economic damage of euro breakup but misses the wider implications. The Modest Proposal of course provides for non-integration, but this excellent economic solution (and others) have been firmly ignored by the European politicians and the ECB, and not for lack of awareness.

    • “I couldn’t agree more. The analogy to the dying roman empire is spot on.”

      Except that the analogy is a colossal failure.

      What is meant is: “The EU is trying to expand without attending to its rotting core”.
      Fine.

      However, the so-called ‘analogy’ to the Roman Empire falls flat as the Empire ceased expanding about 300 years before its (the Western Empire’s) fall. Furthermore, it actually retreated from areas in Scotland, Switzerland and Romania during those 300 years…

      Either find an analogy that works or just make the statement as it stands.

    • @Elenits

      I am not so sure about what you or our host mean by “Lebensraum”. It literally means ‘space to live’ and it was a nazi term used to somehow justify the rapid and violent expansion of the third reich into eastern Europe.
      As much as I despise Ms Merkel’s politics, I don’t really think that she is thinking along those lines. Through various speeches (and even more through many hot-air producing non-speeches), she has shown her very limited personal understanding of economics, while her actions point to her being under the influence of a highly ideological economic doctrine that is being forged very much outside the german government or any other democratically legitimized body of politics.
      At the same time, the chancelor is often quite hesitant to take up any kind of clearly defined position concerning matters of ‘realpolitk’. Her declaring the crimean russians’ vote for independence as ‘illegal’ was actually quite unusual and propably only voiced that strongly because she felt safe to go along with what could be heard out of the US.

      I also don’t think that the EU with it’s highly subsidized argrarian sector is looking for more wheat fields in the east.
      Ukraine is a large country with a lot of potential to build up its industrial sector and that seems to be of much more interest, especially to the german export industries seeking to maintain the customer base for their capital goods and the cheap labour force they need to keep up the german trade balance surplus.

      German foreign minister Steinmeier’s speech at the annual nato summit in munich made it quite clear that he sees germany’s economic strength as an obligation to expand german geo-strategic influence in the world. It certainly is german hubris all right, but it is firmly based on economic interests rather than following some kind of neo-imperialist agenda.
      The german arms deals with all kinds of crooks and dictators around the world are also clearly a result of the government’s devotion to an economistic ideology and a concession to the corporate lobbyists whispering it into their ears, rather than an expression of long-term foreign policy goals. What Der Spiegel identifies as the “Merkel doctrine” is just a lame excuse to justify the government’s green-lighting of weapons deliveries into crisis regions, which – in theory – it has a legal obligation to prohibit.

      I am quite convinced that german government officials from both parties do not consciously follow any kind of doctrine or geo-political strategy. The certainly wish they were, but they simply lack the necessary knowledge and understanding (I dare not say intelligence) – not to mention the legitimacy – to seriously pursue it.
      Which would pretty much explain to me their half-baked, ill-advised actions concerning Russia and the Ukraine and, of course, the euro-crisis.

    • Why would be breaking up Germany be a nightmare scenario? The difference between North Germans and Bavarians is bigger than between Bavarians and Austrians. Merkel can keep the crap in the North and North-East and look for someone else who pays for her mistakes.

  34. Re: so-called minorities seceding from a country. In the US, we fought a war over that and since the secessionists lost the war, we take a dim view of secession — unless it is some other country and fits our geo-political goals.

    Realistically, if everyone has a moral and legal right to secede, then can I form my own country? Isn’t that anarchy by any other name?

    I don’t agree that there is a right to secede. I think there is a right to true democracy (not the fake democracy where you vote for a lesser evil). I think there is a right to basic legal rights such as the US Bill of Rights. I think there should be a right to basic economic rights like education, a job, health care, and an old age pension. But I don’t think there is a right to live in segregated countries. I don’t think there is a right to have a “homeland” for every religion or race, contrary to what Israel may claim. I think people need to learn to co-exist.

    If the problem is that minorities are being treated shabbily by the majority, then the answer may be constitutional guarantees for basic legal and economic rights. Of course that only works with a halfway honest and halfway competent government to enforce those rights. It sounds like part of the problem in Ukraine is that competence and integrity in government are lacking?

    The US is meddling in Ukraine for political and economic reasons, not for humanitarian reasons. It’s about oil and gas and ruling the world. America’s psychopathic rulers could care less about the suffering of people in Ukraine.

    • Dan, a headline appeared yesterday which caused me to erupt into tears of laughter “US against Self Determination”. Though I thoroughly agree with your comments, you must see this announcement from an English point of view to ‘get’ the humour, or rather, irony.

      Concerning Crimea it can be argued that this is a special case since it was ‘gifted’ to Ukraine when Ukraine was a soviet within the USSR. A glance at the map will show that it is not part of the Ukraine landmass but a conjunct peninsula, so this gift was rather ceremonious. When the USSR dissolved the special status of Crimea was acknowledged by Russia and Ukraine and today’s solution – belonging to Ukraine but with Russian bases and rights – was acknowledged. Yes, this ignores the earlier rights of the Tatars, who through internal USSR politics were ‘Siberianised’ (like the USSR greeks and other minority populations). Unfortunately the Tatars today, like the Greeks inside both Ukraine and Russia today, have insufficient numbers to make a claim for self-determination on their own.

      You are safe living in the USA. But we in Europe now face threats against our national sovereignties (and self-determination) in the form of the progressed logic of the EU, brought to the fore, as predicted by EU’s founders, by the crisis of an incompletely designed currency,ie ‘saving the euro’.

      Sovereignty for most european nations was hard won over centuries and culminated in the Treaty of Westphalia which honoured the idea of nation states and nationalism. Nation states inside the EU sacrificed some of their sovereignty to the EU when it was EEC, a trade bloc. Those countries who later joined the Eurozone effectively sacrificed control of their currency and economies. Therefore the crisis of the euro was a gift to euro-federalists, as succintly put yesterday by the IMF paper “Whither the Euro”, which states that EU has a choice of moving to full federalism (in which nation states become effectively regions administered from Brussels) or abandons the euro altogether.

      Meanwhile inside the EU commission there has been much propagandising about the right to self-determination re Belgium (Flanders, Wallonie), Spain (Catalunya, Basque), the ex-soviet bloc countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania etc. brought in by Poland and Germany to guard their eastern front, the successful break-up of former Yugoslavia into mini-states, the long-term German & US backed plan to cede Serbia’s Kosovo province to Albania (which wisely doesn’t want it since Kosovo is Serbia’s ‘Rus”), the hoped for separation of Scotland which would effectively destroy the UK, etc. And much propagandising against ‘nationalism’ which is presented as the sole territory of uneducated nazi underclass ‘populists’.

      Stuart Holland and Yanis’ Modest Proposal demonstrates that this is a false choice and that there is a 3rd way. However these economic solutions (which would solve the ‘crisis’) have been firmly, totally ignored by the politicians. I say ‘politicians’ because the eurogroup of weak & strong countries always speaks as one voice and there has been no dissent. However only a few countries have benefitted from the present catastrophic ‘solution’ so we can conclude that the strong ‘creditors’ held sway and the representatives of the weak, instead of defending the weak, have individually been brought into line. Somehow. Therefore the crisis is clearly at heart political and based in old fashioned ‘realpolitick’ power politics.

    • ” Isn’t that anarchy by any other name?”
      No it is called freedom. Who the hell needs governments and politicians?

  35. Sensible analysis indeed.
    However I would require here that Prof. Varoufakis defines “Western liberals” because the positions he is basically critzicing seem to me the ones held by Western governments, which are anything but what I would consider “liberal”.
    Then again, Krimea has all the right to decide on its future democratically, but a referendum called by a rogue regional government (not loyal to the present Kiev parliament, neither claiming to act in the name of the deposed previous national cabinet) in connivence with an army taking onto the streets (of whatever nationaltiy it were!) doesn’t feel like a situation of normality where the result can be trusted to represent the will of the people.

    In all this, what I find fascinating is some Western’s left siding with Putin, as if he represented anything to do with comunism, or in the apparent belief that anybody who opposes NATO, no matter how bloody dictator, deserves respect.

    • It’s not a question a supporting anyone despot. “Do no harm”, means no harm not – it’s okay as long as… and so on. Organized conflict is never the answer despite what has happened through history. The problem is once the freedom to choose is institutionalized, most people don’t choose between one or two choices on purpose except those who see things as a large group voice (and we are right back where we started “Egypt anyone”). We need stability in the basics food clothing shelter, than a kangaroo can sit in office as it should be.

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