Ukraine - What Would You Like to Know About It?

By Jan Oberg, Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research, Sweden,


28 February 2014

(Reprinted with the kind permission of the author)

I'm no expert on Ukraine, haven't even visited it. Like millions of other citizens, I rely on media reports to understand at least some of what looks like potentially very serious developments.
 
Why do I feel so frustrated at what I get? Why do I have so many questions still after weeks of coverage? And how much will fellow-citizens who have just a few minutes per day to acquaint themselves with issues such as this understand (except that Putin is a bad guy)?
 
It's a conflict, isn't it?

I would like to know what are the internal Ukrainian dimensions, the regional East-West European and EU/NATO aspects and what has all this to do with global developments e.g. U.S. foreign policy, NATO's expansion since the end of the Cold War, strategic interests of Russia and Russia-NATO relations. And where is China and BRICS countries in all this?
Internally, I'd like to learn about the ethnic composition and geography, the role of Russians and - not the least the Jews - and the historic relations between Russia and Ukraine. 
 
In a shorter perspective, when did the West begin to see Ukraine as an interesting country? Why did George Bush Sr. and James Baker promise Mikhail Gorbachev that the West would never expand up to Russia's border - and anyhow NATO began being an issue in Ukraine in 1995. 
 
It would be great to learn from media about how - as everywhere else - economic mismanagement and overall crisis caused both neo-Nazism, rampant anti-Semitism and general dissatisfaction? And why is it that anti-Semitism is covered so little anywhere in the Western press.
 
How come that important background aspects like these so easily translate into simplifying anti- versus pro-Russian attitudes?
 
Security - what is legitimate?
 
I would think that a U.S. dominated media world that shows every understanding for the U.S.'s security needs, bases and worldwide interventionism in the name of national security - would have some little understanding that Ukraine is important, indeed essential, to Russia both strategically, historically and culturally and that there is a limit, a border at which Western interests would have to be given up? After all, Ukraine means 'border' for some reason.
 
I don't get it why U.S. Secretary of State Kerry talks about how strongly the American people stand behind the Ukrainian opposition (oh my, it includes boxers, hooligans, nationalists, Russophobes, neo-Nazis and anti-semitists) and also talks threatening to Russia about not intervening militarily in sovereign states - as if the U.S. itself never did that, particularly very far away from itself. Strangely, journalists don't ask him what he means?
 
Fuck Putin: Regime change?
 
One narrative is absent in all Western mainstream reports: that of Washington-financed regime change. Throughout the Internet you can find reports on covert action, informal dimplomacy and massive funding from U.S. institution aiming to achieve what has just happened. Here is a former U.S. secretary (under Reagan), Paul Craig Roberts, on this, stating that the U.S. has spent US$ 5 billion on interference and undermining of the government in Ukraine.
 
Elsewhere I see how exceptionally influential US Vice President Joe Biden has been and we know how Assistant Sec of State Vctoria Nuland - a neo-conservative - interacted over the phone with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. embassador in Kiev - the famous "Fuck EU" tape (transcript).
 
What is obvious from this transcript is that the U.S. has been involved all the time at the highest level in brokering a regime change deal. And it hardly broker deals that is not in its own interests. So the conversation is much more important as a clue to regime change than the four-letter word. It looks to me like someone in Washington may have thought Fuck Putin the last 2-3 months...
 
Crimea
 
It would certainly be helpful if media with an ambition to contribute to public education would have focussed on Crimea, its history, special status and military importance - now it's parliament building and airports have been occupied.
 
Crimea is filled with layers upon layers of history and has status of an important autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine, governed by Ukraine's constitution and hosting Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Wow, that sounds complicated? Who'll explain to us what that means? No one, it seems.
 
Such an angle would require both research and pedagogical talent; it's much easier to point out instead that bad-guy Putin is "flexing Russia's muscles" (formulation repeated in thousands of headlines if you Google). That requires no knowledge about anything and no empathy - I mean what would Mr. Kerry do if something threatened the U.S. border area or a hugely important U.S. naval facility?  
 
Solutions?
 
Next, I guess I would have liked to see somebody doing what is an essential task, in my view, of media coverage: Looking for possible solutions as expressed by parties to the conflict.
 
The underlying assumption seems to be that Ukraine must either belong to the Russian sphere of influence or be torn away and belong to the EU/US/NATO world.
 
But it doesn't require much creativity to see that the two could be combined peacefully and that the issue is not what outside forces want or demand but what the 45 million people in Ukraine may want for their future.
 
It should not be so difficult for journalists to take their eyes away from Western telegram boards and surf the net a bit, do a little research and check sources. Actually all that is more easy than ever before. 
 
Are the Ukrainians enthusiastic about NATO and the EU?
 
Wikipedia - for whatever it is worth - is one source used by many and it tells you that there have been various opinion polls over time but it seems that Ukrainians being against NATO membership have doubled over the last good 10 years and is now around 70%. When it comes to the enthusiasm for EU membership, Wikipedia informs us that it is maximum around 50% and around one-third against integration into the EU.
 
I for one do not see that translate into a great enthusiasm among the Ukrainians for deep integration into the West and cutting ties to Russia.
 
Media implicitely convey the impression that the opposition and most others strongly dislike Russia. It simply isn't so. During the last 5 years positive attitudes in Ukraine to Russia varies between 70% and 96%. Whereas the positive attitudes to Ukraine among Russians varies between 34% and 68%.
 
So if these polls are worth anything and if we respect democracy why has the West - US/NATO/EU - been pushing for Ukraine to come over to "us" instead?
 
Are we really able to take on one more hugely problematic country in an already crisis-ridden EU and does anyone think we can still convince Russia that all NATO does is in Russia's best interest - even this? Even the Ballistic Missile Defence? Yugoslavia's dissolution?
 
Connect the dots!
 
You know what - I think it is time to connect the dots. If dots are fast bits of information, I want more knowledge and education in the media - connection of dots into images.
 
And I have a nagging feeling: It's all so much more complicated than we are told and it isn't so black and white! Pressures since 1989 causes counterpressures, right? Expanding Western dominance and NATO all the way from the Baltic Republics to Georgia, keeping NATO alive and Russia down was, in hindsight, perhaps a very short-sighted idea?
 
There are not two parties to the Ukraine conflict - not only a government and its oppositional people, there is a mosaic of complexities that can only be untied and stabilised through dialogues and attempts to understand and - well, stop power games inclding undermining of democratically elected governments.
 
You and I deserve better
 
OK, I admit I don't know much about it. I am speaking as a citizen here, not as an expert. I just can't get it out of my head that simplifications and propaganda rule over research-based, pluralist media coverage. Also in the case of Ukraine.
 
Democracy deserves better. Free media should not mean freedom to merely repeat Western news bureaus and drop research or to stop asking critical questions! The people of Ukraine somehow deserve better too.

So when do you think you'll adopt a new way of doing things and finally put the Cold War behind you, dear editors?