Battle of the Comments in the Media - Crisis in Ukraine
Left, right and the middle
I always enjoy reading articles on Foreign Affairs and Al Jazeera websites. In my opinion, they are very informative, objective and are not influenced by any type of propaganda. However, I'm not going to be reviewing articles and giving good marks to their journalists for doing their job. In this hub I will be focusing on the comments that we can find below those articles. Comments that often turn into great debates. Some of those comments are offensive, some of the debates are just a waste of energy. But here and there these "battles" can become really informative and worth having. If not for the sake of expressing your opinion and trying to influence the other one's view, then just for the sake of gathering new information and learning how people with different opinion think and what drives the two sides to have a completely different judgement of the situation in Ukraine. While most comments are extremely pro-East or pro-West, there are also those who are moderate in their views and are trying to comprehend both extremities and find a solution that would please both sides. As Black Eyed Peas would say: Meet me halfway.
What I'm going to do here is present to you with some of the arguments that supporters of Putin's regime present in those comments (and probably in real life) and give my own counter-arguments (which you are invited to discuss, whether you agree with them or not) that would hopefully make more sense than the examples used to criticize NATO's and EU's actions in Eastern Europe. First I will discuss some of the more defiant comments while later I will present those that are more diplomatic. Some of the comments will be quoted, while for other ones I will give myself the liberty to paraphrase them.
Ukrainian Nazis and US puppets
There is a divided opinion on whether Russia's annexation of Ukraine should be considered an occupation of a sovereign country's territory or people's free will. Now, my interest is not to question the validity of the elections held in Crimea in March this year, but to bring out the double standard that Russia has been having. Let's say that Crimea's population decision to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, as well as Donbas' decision to gain independence, was legitimate. It leaves us with a question: Wasn't there a similar scenario with Chechnya back in 1994 and 1999? Chechnya was trying to gain independence from Russia, which she succeeded in 1991 but it wasn't long before a bloody war led by Yeltsin in 1994 followed this action. Yeltsin lost this war in 1996, only to give it another try in 1999. In one of the comments on Foreign Affairs by a supporter of Putin, Yeltsin was "a US puppet, pretty much like today's Ukrainian leaders", who are often labeled simply as "Nazis". While it is true that Clinton supported Yeltsin in conducting democratic reforms, that hardly made him a US puppet. But it is also true that Clinton opposed Yeltsin's decision to attack Chechnya. Another break away from good US-Russia relations in the early nineties was when Yeltsin didn't support NATO's intervention in Bosnia in 1992, where ethnic cleansing had been committed by Serbian troops and paratroops. And no matter how much this Putin's advocate commenting on Foreign Affairs despised Yeltsin, he seems to be forgetting that the old lover of vodka and Putin led the same war in 1999.
There is also quite of a misunderstanding of who supports the far right wing parties' views, that is, who are those allegedly called "Nazis". Russian propaganda will go as far as labeling all of the protesters of the Euromaidan revolution as neo-Nazi, as well as their supporters the EU and NATO. It is, however, important to distinguish the far right wing from the pro-EU protesters. The far right, nationalist political parties on the current political scene in Ukraine are Svoboda and Right Sector. While Svoboda represents extreme right, it is not against EU, and it is explicitly for accession to NATO. On the other hand, Right Sector is fighting the war against separatists so that Ukraine can be fully independent (not an EU member). And Euromaidan revolution was primarily an expression of dissatisfaction with Yanukovych's politics by pro-EU protesters, not nationalist ones (these ones merely seized the opportunity). Also, currently in the Ukrainian Parliament Svoboda holds 6 seats, while Right Sector only 1 (out of a total of 450).
What should Ukraine do?
Crimea was always Russian
This is one of my favorite ones that gets me very excited when I read it. The statement that Crimea has always been Russian, but that it was given to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 "illegally and against the will of Crimean population". What a deadly sin that was, even though it was all Soviet Union back then. However, if we take a look at some history books, even the Complete Idiot's Guide to European History, and especially if we take a look at the maps from different periods of time, we can see how this argument presented by Putinites is entirely based on - bluffing. For before Crimea was Russian, it was under the Ottoman rule. Before the Ottomans, it was in the hands of Mongols. Before it was Mongolian, it was Genovese. And before that it was Greek. It might be hard to believe, but it's a part of our long greedy history. Many emperors, khans and sultans were attracted to the coasts of the Black Sea and just had to have it. However, try to imagine this scenario. If Russia's main excuse (or one of the main ones) for annexing Crimea is because it used to be Russian before 1954, what if we were to hear the same thing from Turks, Mongols, Italians and Greeks? Don't they have as much right to claim the ownership over this small peninsula on the Black Sea?
No Russian troops in Donbas
When talking about Russia's involvement in the Ukrainian Crisis, those who defend it and recognize it as a legitimate move only admit that there are Russian troops in annexed Crimea, but not in "independent" Donbas. It's true about Crimea, Russian troops are there to "preserve order". Some commentators will go as far as stating that Russian troops "have been deployed in Crimea back in 1772 and stayed there ever since", even though Putin himself admitted that it was him who deployed those troops in March this year. The question never arises, though, about the paramilitary troops in Donbas who are trained in and supplied by Russia, aided by neo-Nazi volunteers from other countries (such as Chetnicks from Serbia). What is their purpose there? The answers are different, from the repetitive "there are no Russian troops there, those are volunteers", to the simple "I do not know what you mean by paramilitary troops”. Another question on my part emerges from this: Are they all volunteers? The wife of Zahar Timin, a Russian Army officer killed in Donbas this summer, claims differently, confirming that he was a Russian officer and assuring that he did not go to Donbas voluntarily, but that he had no choice.
Some of these Putinophiles claim that it doesn't matter what "the wives, husbands, kids and babysitters" say, but what the "official representatives of Russian government" have to say. Because these personal stories are only a product of "propaganda by Ukrainian media that is controlled by Ukrainian oligarchs in the government". Pointless is to waste any energy in trying to explain that tragic stories like the one of the late Zahar Timin are actually brought to light by media such as Novaya Gazeta and Yezhednevny Zhurnal that are based in Moscow (not Kiev), and which articles are written mostly by Russian journalists, in Russian language.
As for requiring from Kremlin officials to admit that there are segments of Russian military in Donbas; there's really no need to. Zakharchenko, the Prime Minister of the self proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, already did it for them, repeatedly stating that between 3000 and 4000 Russian soldiers have been fighting in Eastern Ukraine (only to deny it afterwards). As Britney Spears once said: Oops, I did it again.
If Kosovo did it, so can Crimea
Some of the more moderate commentators claim that the referendum in Crimea that led to its separation from Ukraine was "as lawful as the one that separated Kosovo from Serbia with the loud approval from the EU and US". The two cases cannot be compared for the simple fact that prior to the Ukrainian Crisis there was no reason for Crimea to secede from Ukraine, while there were plenty of reasons for Kosovo to secede from Serbia. In Ukraine, the government prior to the Crimean referendum did not oppress the Russian minority in any way (Yanukovych himself was a Russophile) or led any kind of campaign against the ethnic Russians in Ukraine. In Kosovo, on the other hand, Serbian government had conducted the policy of ethnic cleansing, and being aware of what had happened in Bosnia and Croatia in the nineties, and the continuation of the centralized power in Belgrade afterwards, the Kosovo Albanians decided to secede.
But what bothers me even more than this is the fact that the Russians (as well as its supporters worldwide) are constantly referring to the case of Kosovo, even though neither officials from Serbia or Russia has recognized its independence. Russia claims to be a Serbian ally, but by using Kosovo as a precedent it almost openly admits its independence, which can also be considered as a slap in face to her "sister-in-Orthodox Christianity" in the Balkans. Another argument that is very contradictory is the excuse that is being used as often, and it goes "if NATO could intervene in Kosovo and Serbia, so can Russia intervene in Ukraine". But more about that in the next hub where we discuss the role of the US in Ukraine.