Items of interest

Other matters – including the need to complete an article for an academic journal – have kept me from blogging for most of this week. In lieu of a new post, here are links to, and brief comments on, some articles published in the past few days which I found interesting.

  • Canada ready to re-engage with Russia, Iran, despite differences, Dion says. Canada’s new foreign minister, Stéphane Dion, gave an interview to the Ottawa Citizen. According to the newspaper, ‘The foreign minister also indicated a new approach to Russia is coming. Dion said [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau is “certainly not happy” with Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the new government will reiterate that point with Moscow. But he added: “We also need to think about our national interests because Russia is our neighbour in the Arctic.”’ I am not expecting a massive change in policy, but this interview does at least suggest that Canada will finally be willing to talk to the Russians about matters of mutual interest, and that is a step forward.
  • Heritage minister promises ‘prompt decision’ on victims of communism memorial. Another new Canadian minister, Mélanie Joly, now in charge of Canadian heritage, met Ottawa’s mayor Jim Watson this week, and discussed the controversial proposal to erect a monument to the victims of communism next to Canada’s Supreme Court building. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the proposal is very unpopular in the capital. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Mme Joly promised Mayor Watson that she would consult further before making a decision and ‘Watson said he and Joly had a “very good discussion” on the victims of communism monument. “I expressed our city’s position that there has to be greater accountability and that the site that was chosen by the previous government is not appropriate and is out of scale”.’ I am mildly optimistic that this project may not now go ahead in its current form.
  • The economics of rebellion in Eastern Ukraine. Yuri M. Zhukov, assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan, has analyzed which municipalities in Eastern Ukraine experienced uprisings in the spring of 2014 and compared that information with data concerning language and industrial employment. He concludes that there is little evidence of … a “Russian language effect” on violence’, but that there was a clear correlation between uprisings and large-scale employment in machine-building, metals industries, and mining. In other words, economics were more important than language in determining whether people joined the rebellion. What I found more interesting, though, was what Zhukov left unsaid. For his research rests on an assumption that local factors were the key variables, and his conclusion likewise suggests that local economics were the driving factor in the rebellion. In short, the roots of the rebellion lay in Ukraine, not in Russia.
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3 thoughts on “Items of interest”

  1. I think Ukrainian language is a better predictor for Nationalist violence then Russian is for separatist violence.

    For me, given how much economics in the South East depend on Russia, given the antics of the Maidan government and given the presence of a supportive great power next door, the surprising thing is how small the rebellion was.

    Let us just summarize the completely legitimate grievances of the separatists:

    Lets start with the EU association agreement:

    1: First, it is important to note that EU association agreement are trade off. A state outsources parts of its sovereignty to Brussel, and then gets something in return. Full EU membership is basically more of the same. If you now look at the de jure association agreement, and at the de facto degree of sovereignty Maidan gave away, and compare this with the real EU investment/loans/promises by the EU in return, it becomes clear that Ukraine got a uniquely raw deal. Despite giving away more sovereignty then actual EU members (as evidenced by Abramovicius et al. being directly Brussels appointed), Ukraine basically receives nothing in return. One could even make a case that the EU agreement is detrimental to actually joining the EU, since the EUrocrats in Brussel currently get to call the shots in Kiev (the shots not called by the USA), without having to open their actual purses.
    Getting Ukraine into the EU would, from the Eurocrats perspective, means additional expenses because Ukraine could bargain at the subvention table with no accompanied increase of influence.

    In a related way, one could look at the mechanics of Visa free travel with the EU. It is perhaps the only thing on which Separatist and Maidan Ukraine agree, Maidan because it gets to travel to Europe, and Donbass because Visa free travel would make great parts of Maidans manpower “disappear into Polish toilets”.
    The thing is of course, the EU knows this, and currently sees the refugee streams to Russia as a way of imposing additional costs on Russia, and also is not too hot on taking in additional refugees right now.

    Concerning Ukraine´s great “EU orientation”, for some separatists, the repel of the language law was actually quite important. Few know that the language law has been drafted in close consultations with the EU (Venice commission etc.) and was actually a thing that made EU association minimally more likely. It was, without a doubt, the most “EUropean” law in Ukraine´s corpus. Its attempted abolition as the very first thing the Maidan government did was, for those people, proof that Maidan is not “For Europe” but rather “Against us”

    Lastly, if one indeed looks at the forecasts for the effects of EU association over west, central and Eastern Ukraine, my take home is that Western and Central Ukraine would also suffer, but not to the same degree the South East would. This appears to be shared by some Western/Central Oligarch higher-ups, and their reasoning is “cutting of my own nose to behead my opponent is a pretty good deal”.
    Given that the Russian association agreement contained nothing that would directly hurt the Western and Central economies (well, indirectly it would damage some firms that invested into an agreement with the EU, because these investments would be lost, but that´s it), a boundary has been breached that makes some people in the Southeast no longer believe that they have any duty to keep living in one country with these higher ups.

    This is related to part 2 of completely legitimate grievances, related to conceptions of state and constitutionality.

    As a rule of thumb, Russians have a pretty high tolerance for bullshit before they actually go out and rebel/make a revolution. Donbass in particular had absolutely no messianic zeal to remake anyone in its image, and mostly wanted to be left alone. Unfortunately, the overcentralization in Ukraine means that, in order to be left alone by Kiev you actually have to run Kiev. The degree of political polarization (which Donbass did increase but not initiate) meant that any western victory in Kiev meant that these westernizers would appoint “their people” to run, but mostly to loot, Donbass. This looting could get pretty intense, and since the looters knew that they only relied on Kiev for their power, they had no interest in less damaging “long term looting” (which is more akin to seizing firms and then keeping them operate at a profit for the looter) and basically just asset stripped (so you seize a firm and then sell its components at low prices).
    The party of regions was the only available countermeasure for most. In theory, one could also bribe and appease the looters, but since the Kiev appointed looters have no political power base on their own, bribing them was ineffective, and if one wanted to go the “appeasement” route one would have to bribe the actual decision makers in Kiev. Of course, bribing Kiev is prohobitively expensive, so the Party of Regions looked to be very attractive.

    The problem with the Party of Regions was that, after it won, it found the overcentralized structure of Kiev to be very very rewarding financially. In particular, it allowed the POR/Yanukovich to parachute their own “looters” (mostly political allies who wanted a payoff for their part in winning the elections) into f.e. Lviv or Rivne and give the western looters a taste of their own medicine. Naturally, this resulted in Lviv and Rivne (and other places) seeing Eurointegration/Nationalism as the only way to combat this. The POR did some cultural decentralization, but the economics were unchanged.

    For many in the Southeast, the pre Maidan looting appeared to be somewhat legally bound. Whoever wins elections gets to loot, whoever loses elections gets looted. It sucks but there were rules. Maidan means that the West either gets a round of looting out of turn or, in another interpretation, it means that the Southeast gets looted by the West even if they win elections. The Southeast could live with alternating rounds of looting and getting looted, but Maidan means that they will get looted forever. This just is not to be tolerated.

    In addition, Ukraine avoided a civil war in the 90s because Kuchma and Kravchuk were on paths of compromise and Kravchuk enshrined Ukrainian neutrality in its founding documents (article 19 of Ukraine declaration of state sovereignty). Maidan effectively broke this compromise by force of arms, and in breach of Ukraines constitution. If such a brazen grip for power is left unanswered, it means that the South Easts interests are not protected by either the law (Maidan broke that) or the constitution (dito), so Donbass will have no protections at all.
    Even for someone from Donbass whose endgame is not independence but a mutually livable Ukraine, this has to be answered by force lest Donbass becomes a colony. Colony being a place which gets looted by the center, but has no means to actually influence the center or nonviolently limit the looting. Even if the Southeast would win an election in post Maidan Ukraine, it would, without establishing that Maidans carry a cost for the Maidanites, mean nothing because that Southeastern government would just get Maidaned again.

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  2. Exactly. When Western Ukraine wins, the East grumbles a bit then goes back to work being Ukraine’s main foreign exchange earner.

    When Eastern Ukraine wins, Maidan inevitably follows.

    No Eastern victory is ever legitimate. No Eastern initiative is ever legitimate.

    I’d go to war against that too.

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