Monday, March 3, 2014
"Russia's Most Powerful Weapon"
Under a headline, “Russia's Most Powerful Weapon Isn't What You'd Expect” Huffington post informs us that Russia’s most powerful weapon is natural gas.
Here’s an excerpt:
Given the agreement on Russian gas supplies to Ukraine, the two companies are bound to sign a new contract each quarter. When diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia are good, so are prices.
The last agreement, signed in December, set the rate at $268.5 for 1,000 meters cubed. This was a competitive price, given the market rate at the time of negotiations was $400.
As of today, Ukraine owes about $4 billion to Russia. The country also needs to find $35 billion to pay its debts over the next two years. These are reasons to fear a third “gas war”.
So basically Russia’s “most powerful weapon” in Ukraine is the fact that Russia has been subsidizing Ukraine’s economy to the tune of billions of dollars. Not only in below market gas prices but also in allowing Ukraine to delay payment for that gas (a de facto interest-free loan) AND the 15 billion Russia agreed to give Ukraine in exchange for scrapping the trade pact with Europe, the cancellation of which sparked this revolution. With the new government, Ukraine is unlikely to see all 15 billion but –from what I understand- around two billion has already been paid.
Neither the European Union nor Washington have come close to offering anything close to that as of yet. The latest offer of help from America amounted to one billion. Of course, if Russia decides to sell gas to the new, freedom-loving Ukraine at market prices it would be accused of waging a “gas war.”
The first act of the new, revolutionary government in Ukraine was for the parliament to cancel the law that made Russian Ukraine’s second official language, basically sending a big “Fuck You” to all Russian speaking parts of the country and the evil motherland (aka natural gas Santa Claus) as well. The new president then said that he will veto the law but the cat was already out of the bag.
The current protesters still occupying the streets of Kiev have set conditions the government must meet before they disband. These include changing the constitution to include the right to bare arms, tax reform, arrest of the former president, and lustration.
Lustration refers to purging all state offices of all people who were closely associated with the previous regime. Since the last president has been democratically elected with his base of support in the Russian-friendly east and south, lustration –if enacted- would basically end up transferring all the state power into the hands of Western Ukrainians and their supporters in the central parts of the country.
The Kremlin has been eager to portray the whole of the protest movement as Russia-hating brown shirts. This is hyperbolic propaganda. But it is true that far-right groups have played a central role in this conflict, especially after it turned violent. Today Kiev is patrolled by members of the “right sector” many of whom openly wear Nazi era insignia and a member of which told a BBC reporter that he admires National Socialism and says that the society he wants to built is a clean one “not like Hitler but a little bit like that.” One of the popular marching slogans for the right wing parties in Western Ukraine is a ditty that goes, “Death to the Ruskies, Death to the Kikes.”
The far-right party that gained a few seats in the current government is called Svoboda though back in 2004 it went by Social-National Party. They openly celebrate the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. But it’s all good, they’re not National Socialists they are… Socialist Nationalists? Whatever. Maybe they should be banned from the new government on account of their lack of originality. And so what if their spiritual leader dabbled in the Holocaust and fought alongside German troops for a while and they continue to make anti-Semitic statements to this day- since they are against Russia- it is all good.
The Soviet Union lost over 20 million people in the Second World War and that victor holds a religious significance to people in Russia, Eastern Ukraine and other former parts of the Soviet Union. I’m sure most American WW2 veterans and their families would be fine with being ruled by an unelected government with parties in it that celebrate a man who fought against them in a genocidal war… as long as it was in the name of democracy.
One of the party platforms of the Social-National Party… I mean Svoboda… was to strip Crimea of its autonomous status in the country and to work on getting the Russian fleet stationed there to leave. Basically to divorce a Russian-majority region from Russia completely; hence the Russian military intervention.
There is a lot of talk about the ambiguity of Crimean ownership, how it was a contested territory between various empires. Fact is that the Russian Empire absorbed it in 1783, a territory held continuously by Russians longer than then the period much of territory that today composes the Unites States was held by the American government.
If Nikita Khrushchev didn’t impulsively decided to transfer Crimea to Ukraine 50 years ago would any Western power clamor for that peninsula to be transferred to Ukraine? How much is the West willing to sacrifice to maintain borders drawn by the impulsive hand of a Soviet leader who was famous for banging his shoe on the table during a United Nation’s assembly, screaming “We will bury you!” to the pro-Western speaker?
The near-bankrupt Ukrainian government has said that it will impose harsh austerity measures to qualify for Western assistance, they openly said that they are ready for unpopular “kamikaze” measures.
So here is how this whole revolt may end up looking to many –if not most- Ukrainians. The pro-western forces have overthrown a corrupt democratically-elected president. Economic misery follows, along with horrible relations with Russia, collapse of law and order with right-wing militias patrolling the capital, devaluation of the currency and a crowd in the center of Kiev as the supreme governing authority.
Unless the West is willing to subsidize Ukraine to the tune of tens of billions of dollars (with uncertain outcomes) it is likely that this revolution could result in vast Russian gains in Ukraine.
I am not a Putin supporter or fan but there has been a clear pattern in the West to completely disregard the pro-Russian populations in former Soviet republics. The reason Putin can capitalize on the current unrest -his source of leverage- stems from the fact that around a half of the population has strong Russian sympathies.
It is acceptable for the Western powers to talk about placing Ukraine into the western sphere of influence yet Russians saying the very same thing is forcefully condemned as sinister imperialism. But when the two forces meet in Ukraine, Russia has much more at stake and is willing to shell out billions in subsidies and even initiate military action.
I don’t know what the real opinions of Ukrainians are but I know that they have been stuck in loop where being in the middle of East and West has led to economic stagnation followed by repeated cycles of revolution.
If people in the East genuinely want to join Russia they should have that option; they have a total right not to be governed by people with an alien value system and a radically different view of history. It will allow the western and central parts of Ukraine to proceed with European integration and end this tragic spectacle that the country has become.