Sunday has come and gone. The Olympic Games have ended. Now the eyes of the world are turned toward Kiev — but also toward Washington and Moscow — hoping that a just peace can follow the turmoil and deaths of last week, but fearing that Ukraine may fall — or be pushed — into a civil conflict bringing tragic new suffering and wider war.
The first priority: to mourn and bury the recent dead — policemen (dozens were reportedly shot and killed, seemingly making clear that the protesters were not unarmed) and protesters alike.
But then, a peaceful way forward must be found, in extremely difficult circumstances. Ukraine’s military and Russian President Vladimir Putin haven’t made a move yet. However, the rhetoric coming from all sides, both within Ukraine and from Russia and from the United States, in this context, is cause for deep concern.
Here are three brief examples: from eastern Ukraine, from Moscow, and from Washington.
Within Ukraine, many in the eastern, Russian-speaking part of the country are opposed to breaking with Russia and moving toward the European Union (EU).
One video, widely circulated on the internet, depicts a political rally yesterday (February 22) in Kerch, in the eastern part of the Crimean peninsula (the most southerly and easterly part of Ukraine, formerly part of Russia, and where Russia has leased a Black Sea naval base). The rally degenerates into a brawl. A woman speaking in favor of the Kiev protests is hit by an egg, then her podium is overturned. Her assistants handling her microphone and loudspeaker are then punched, thrown to the ground and kicked. It is only one scene, and in other parts of eastern Ukraine there has been support for the developments in Kiev, but this video suggests the intensity of the opposition to the Kiev protests in eastern Ukraine. At the very end of the video, a US flag is set on fire.
Likewise, some leaders in mainly Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine loyal to deposed President Viktor Yanukovych have challenged the legitimacy of the new national parliament and said they were taking control of their territories. Mikhaylo Dobkin, Governor of Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine, told regional leaders meeting in the city: “We’re not preparing to break up the country. We want to preserve it.” But the very language suggests that people realize that their actions appear to pave the way for the break-up of Ukraine.
In Russia, the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, yesterday (February 22) expressed his “most serious concern” regarding what he termed the “failure” of the new opposition government “to fulfill a single one of its obligations.” He made his remarks in a phone conversation with European diplomats in Berlin, Warsaw and Paris. The new government “is presenting new demands all the time, following the lead of armed extremists and pogromists whose actions pose a direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and constitutional order,” Lavrov said. A statement posted on the Russian government’s web site added: “It’s time to stop misleading the international public opinion and pretending that the Maidan represents the interests of the Ukrainian nation” (the Maidan refers to the central Kiev square that became the cradle of the protest movement).
In America, the US state department today posted a note on Secretary of State John Kerry’s telephone call this morning with Lavrov. Kerry “underscored the United States’ expectation that Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic freedom of choice will be respected by all states.”
And also today, US National Security Advisor, Susan E. Rice, warned in no uncertain terms that putting Russian troops on Ukrainian soil — though the eastern, richer half of the country is predominantly Russian-speaking and might look toward Russia for help — would not be acceptable.
Rice said that Russian troop intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake.”
But for her to make that statement shows that it is an option that diplomats do not exclude. And this makes clear how explosive this situation has become.
“This is not about the US and Russia,” Rice went on to say, during an interview on “Meet the Press,” a program of the American television network NBC. “This is about whether the people of Ukraine have the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations and be democratic and be part of Europe, which they choose to be.”
But this is precisely what is not clear. Do all Ukrainians really wish to be “part of Europe”?
Even the Washington Post, in reporting Rice’s remarks today, notes the deep divisions among the Ukrainians: “Ukraine has been bitterly divided [emphasis mine] since last year when [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych allied his government with Russia instead of the European Union in a trade and political partnership. The Kremlin sweetened the deal with $15 billion in loans and discounts on natural gas.”
And the Post itself says in its piece today that “recent developments in Ukraine, including a peace agreement signed Friday, reflect the interests of the United States and Europe.”
Rice today spoke as if she and the US government are going to decide the outcome in Ukraine: “We are going to have a unity government,” she said. “We are going to have near-term elections. We are going to have constitutional reform.”
So the US’s stance seems to be that Ukrainians must accept a government run by protesters, funded in part by the US, who have overthrown a democratically elected government (the Yanukovych election was certified by the European Union as free, open and fair).
The role of the US
That the protesters were funded in part from the US was acknowledged in a talk in December by Victoria Nuland, the American Assistant Secretary of State.
On December 13, in a nine-minute speech at the National Press Club sponsored by the US-Ukraine Foundation, Chevron, and Ukraine-in-Washington Lobby Group, Nuland said Washington has spent $5 billion since 1991 to support initiatives aimed at bringing Ukraine into the European Union.
Here is a link to that speech; her mention of the $5 billion comes at around the7:45-minute mark of the talk.
That the US government was also deeply involved in the planning for the post-Yanukovych regime was also made clear by the leak February 4 of a telephone conversation between Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt. The two discuss who will be “in” and “out” of the new government, and speak about the main opposition leaders as if they are chess pieces to be moved around a political chessboard.
The conversation, at the 3-minute mark, also has a damaging swear word used by Nuland in reference to the inaction of the European Union in Ukraine, and this remark was widely publicized in Russia.
This is important. Many Russians believe the Ukraine revolution was in large measure organized and funded by the Americans, and it is leaks like this which have fueled that conviction. The authenticity of this conversation (which some questioned when it was first released) has not been contested by the US State Department, and Nuland is even said to have apologized for her remark to her European Union counterparts. Therefore, it seems clear that the recording, evidently made by “hacking” an unsecured telephone line, is authentic. (Commentators have said they think Russian intelligence is behind the recording and leak of the call, seeking to drive a wedge between the US and the EU. Other commentators have said that it was an egregious oversight of the two American diplomats to speak in this way on an unsecured line.) Here is a link to a State Department briefing the day after the release of this call. And here is a link to a Radio Free Europe report on the entire matter.
So, this is what has happened thus far:
- The West, led by the US, has supported, trained, and perhaps armed, protesters who, against early expectations, have succeeded in overthrowing an elected government.
- Kiev has now announced that the new government has absolute power and “anti-revolutionary districts” must submit to Kiev.
- Kiev, and the Americans, have announced that “no break-up” of Ukraine is possible.
- Public statements have been made that Russia must not put troops onto Ukrainian soil at the risk of a US response. This is a warning against any Russian military support for East and South Ukrainians who oppose closer relations with Europe. (This is where we are today.)
- The West is announcing huge financial bailouts of Kiev, and then may very well announce a request from Kiev’s new government for a mutual defense treaty [NATO] protection against Russia. NATO will absorb Ukraine.
But Russia has announced, after a top national security meeting, that it will go to war over Crimea. “If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” an unnamed official attending the meeting told the Financial Times two days ago. “They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia [where there was a brief Russia-Georgia war in 2008],” the official said.
I posted a few days ago, that the tragic deaths in the Kiev protests last week were part of an “end game” that might also, in the end, affect Russia as powerful forces in the world move toward the implementation of a “new world order.”
I received a number of letters which suggested that I had come out against Russia and in support of Europe. This made clear to me that what I had sent was partial and far from giving the needed more nuanced and complete picture of the situation.
One person wrote: “So you have taken sides against Putin and Russia? It will be seen this way.”
Another wrote: “Thank you. This is most interesting. However, I understood that the EU is trying to force Ukraine to adopt Gender and homosexuality, whereas the pro-Russian side was pro-life. Is this not the case?”
A third wrote: “What is happening in the Ukraine is heart-breaking. Probably because my family on my mother’s side is from the Ukraine (Russian Jews), I have had, most of my life, a special love for Russia and particularly for the Ukraine. May Our Lady of Fatima and of Kazan protect and shower upon them the graces of her Son. I would vote for ‘Our Lady of the Ukraine’ to appear in the midst of their sufferings and bring them to their true end — to worship the God who made them for Himself and to let no earthly considerations compromise such faith.”
It is true that the European Union is pushing a “gender agenda” and approval of homosexual marriage which is being opposed publicly by Putin in Russia, and also by the Catholic bishops in Poland, and by hundreds of thousands of citizens in France and other places in Europe. And it is true that this agenda is one of the reasons that some Ukrainians do not wish to enter Europe.
I have a feeling of deep respect for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, as also for Russia and the Russian people, in great measure because of their profound Christian faith, which I have learned much from. Both the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholics of the East, have been heroic, passing through enormous suffering in the past century.
When my sons traveled in those regions last summer, and then came down to Rome, they brought eyewitness news of the warm hospitality they had personally experienced everywhere on their journey directly to Pope Francis. I began with that praise of both countries.
I then wrote that there needed to be a solution found to the violence of the Kiev protests, which had just started to lead to numerous tragic injuries and deaths.
And I concluded with the remark that Russia’s return to faith, her “conversion” from an atheist society to a society of belief in the transcendent, an unfolding process which we are all witnesses to since the fall of the Soviet Union, is — also in the perspective of the mysterious apparition at Fatima — a key to future peace in the world.
In that brief letter, I never said that I favored a forced “inclusion” of Russia into a new global order which would require the Russians to give up those traditional religious values which have been increasingly, and dramatically, embraced by their president — though to bring about that “inclusion” may be the desire of some who are attempting to bring about that result first in Ukraine.
In this context, I might add:
In the present confusion and uncertainty, and of danger of further violence, it might be helpful if all of Ukraine’s religious leaders, joined by Pope Francis in Rome and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Moscow, would issue a common statement, setting forth a vision for the country, and the region, not focused on economic deals with either the European Union or with Russia (as needed as these may be in Ukraine’s present disastrous fiscal predicament), but on fundamental religious values as the basis for the construction of a just, peaceful and prosperous society.
Four other articles may be helpful to understand what is happening in Ukraine. And this is just a sampling of the enormous number of article snow being written about these events, all of which are helpful in providing insight into waht is happening.
The first article makes the little-known point that the offer Yanukovych accepted from Russia was financially a better offer (at least in the near term) than the one the European Union made.
The second, by Pat Buchanan, a Catholic writer in America who ran for president in the Republican Party a quarter of a century ago, argues that the US absolutely should not become militarily involved in Ukraine.
The third talks about investments made in Ukraine by a leading western firm.
The fourth talks about Russian military doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons.
“You live in a deranged age, more deranged that usual, because, in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.” —Walker Percy (1916-1990), American Catholic convert and writer, author of The Message in the Bottle and Lost in the Cosmos