Debating the War in Ukraine

A number of very interesting papers were presented at the recent Danyliw seminar on Ukraine here at the University of Ottawa. These have now been posted online. Here I would like to highlight three which provide a different interpretation of the causes of the war in Ukraine from that current in the West.

Volodymyr Ishchenko of Mohyla University in Kiev discussed the role of the far right in the Maidan protests in Kiev and the pro-Maidan demonstrations which took place in other Ukrainian cities. According to the data collected by Ischenko:

The far right’s participation in Maidan was anything but insignificant. …  The far right groups were the most frequently mentioned collective actors at all stages of Maidan. Despite the decline in Svoboda’s participation in the last days of the armed insurrection, Right Sector took first position. … Our data indicates that significant far right involvement in Maidan protests were hardly an invention of hostile Russian media.

Ishchenko says that the prominent role played by the far right in Maidan was ‘a natural and inevitable continuation’ of a coalition which the more moderate opposition parties had formed with the nationalist Svoboda Party even before the Maidan protests began. This ‘legitimized the far right as a part of “normal” Ukrainian politics without any serious challenge to their reactionary and anti-democratic ideology.’

In contrast, according to another speaker, Lucan Way of the University of Toronto,  the Orange Revolution of 2004 had always been very careful with its use of symbols, avoiding anything which might antagonize the people of Eastern Ukraine. Also in 2004, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko rejected overthrowing the government by force as he understood that such an act would lead to civil war. In 2014 this caution was abandoned. This was not the 2014 revolutionaries’ only misjudgment. According to Way, ‘There was a mistaken belief that Euromaidan represented the whole of Ukraine’. This arrogant attitude meant that upon taking power the revolutionaries refused to come to any sort of accommodation with their political opponents. Instead, says Way, ‘what happened was victor’s justice’.

The result was counter-revolution in the east of Ukraine. According to a third speaker, Serhiy Kudelia of Baylor University,  the collapse of the previous governing party, the Party of Regions, following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich, left the people of Eastern Ukraine without representation. Consequently, they took matters into their own hands. The subsequent insurgency, says Kudelia, was ‘organized horizontally not vertically’, in other words it was not directed from above by Russia but was local in origin, being organized by ‘local strongmen’.

Subsequently, the new Ukrainian government’s reliance on paramilitary forces who ‘engaged in massive human rights abuses’ stoked the insurgency, as did ‘indiscriminate violence’ by the Ukrainian Army. ‘Ukrainians underestimated local support for insurgents’, Kudelia claims.

It is commonplace to blame the war in Ukraine entirely on Russia, and certainly Russia must bear a fair share of the responsibility for what has happened, as all the speakers at the Danilyw seminar acknowledged. But as their papers show, those now in power in Kiev are responsible too.

6 thoughts on “Debating the War in Ukraine”

    1. Hi Alfredo,
      Click on the green links, and if that doesn’t work, go to: Then click on ‘program’ at the top, then ‘participants’, and then on the face of the participant whose paper you want to read. You can either listen to the presentation on the video which appears or read the paper, which will be below. The two aren’t exactly the same.


  1. Interesting that the three papers, whose content and arguments are briefly described above, do not wholly accord with that narrative which has been relentlessly pushed by the USA, the EU and the “International Community”, wherein the very idea that right wing extremists played an essential and leading role in the Maidan “peaceful protests” that resulted in the eventual overthrow of Yanukovich is not only continuously ridiculed as simply being lies and propaganda emanating from the “fascist” Kremlin, but that the Kremlin is also constantly being portrayed by the West as the source of the root cause of dissent in East Ukraine, in that it is maintained that Kremlin agents and Russian military personnel have played and continue to play a leading role in the Donbas and Lugansk province insurgencies.

    They’ve still not let up on that narrative and it doesn’t look like they are going to do so in the near future.


  2. To my mind, this suggests a groundswell – of whatever debatable strength – of support for the plight of the east Ukrainians, rather than the tiresome rote salute to the great leadership of Poroshenko and the legitimization of rump Ukraine’s drive to European accession. Very refreshing, although of course the time for this was during the ramp-up to Maidan rather than during the inevitable death-spiral down before Ukraine crashes altogether.

    Very interesting post, Paul; thanks for it.


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