The Guardian ‘explains’ what is happening in Ukraine

When I see an “Explainer” in the Western media I know I am in for a full dose of propaganda. This example is replete with unscrupulous lies.

The headline sets the tone: “What is the background to the separatist attack in east Ukraine?”. This of course makes it look like an unprovoked and spontaneously initiated attack. In fact what took place was an exchange of fire across the ceasefire line. Both Kiev and the forces of the LNR and DNR violated the ceasefire. While the OSCE monitoring mission never ascribes violations to one side or the other, simply recording observed facts e.g “an explosion occurred 5 km NW of such and such a village”, we can still work out in most cases who did the firing. The report for 16 February shows violations by both sides. So – it was not an “attack” by the separatists. That is a crude lie.

Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are Russian proxy states and could supply pretext for invasion

No they are not ‘Russian proxy states’. They are self-declared republics within Ukraine. The 4 million inhabitants are much more likely to be Russian speaking than those in the centre and West of Ukraine. A 2014 Gallup poll [1] showed that in contrast to the genuinely popular support for NATO and EU membership in the West of Ukraine (but nothing like as overwhelming as the Western media claims) in the East of Ukraine support is much lower; less than 20% for EU membership and 13% for NATO membership. The one big lie which Andrew Roth is promulgating here is that the problem in Donbass is entirely caused by ‘Russian interference’. This is the line that comes out of Kiev and he simply repeats it. Russia no doubt does have a military intelligence operation in Donbass and they are supporting them financially and with humanitarian aid. But the aim of the line that the states are “Russian proxies” is to deny / suppress the fact that non-integration into the EU and NATO is overwhelmingly the popular choice of people in the East. These people were disenfranchised by the 2014 Western backed coup in Kiev which enabled the country to sign a partnership agreement with the EU. To deny these people, in the East, their agency and voice is, if not genocide itself, to enable genocide.

Firstly, they provide Moscow with important leverage in its battle with Kyiv. Russia wants the territories reinserted into Ukraine, but with their leaders having a veto on major foreign policy decisions, such as entry into Nato. If Russia recognises their independence or annexes the territories, then that plan, along with the Minsk ceasefire deal signed in 2015, will collapse.

Andrew Roth is doing the kind of journalism he usually does. When he writes on Navalny he simply repeats the lines issued by Navalny’s press office. Now it seems when he writes on Ukraine he simply repeats what Kiev is saying. This line about Donbass having a veto on Ukrainian Foreign Policy is something which the Ukrainian side has been saying recently. This is lazy journalism. This claim does not appear to be true. As far as I can see there is nothing in the Minsk agreements anywhere at all that says anything whatsoever about a future autonomous Donbass having a veto on Ukrainian Foreign Policy. (This can be checked). I think what Kiev is saying is they can’t face the prospect of having elected representatives from Donbass in their State Duma which is what will happen if the conflict is resolved. Such deputies would have a vote like deputies from any other region of Ukraine. It seems this is what the voices in Kiev cannot stomach. Interestingly Roth here presents an argument the logic of which is that Russia will not invade Ukraine and annex Donbass – which seems to contradict all the shrill voices promising an invasion tomorrow. The actual situation with regard to Minsk is that Kiev is refusing to talk to the ‘separatists’ as required by point 4 of Minsk 2 and thus the project is stalled. In fact recently Kiev is more or less openly repudiating Minsk 2.

Secondly, many Russians don’t feel a strong affinity for the region. While ordinary Russians view Crimea as an important part of their cultural history and the Russian Black Sea fleet is based there, there is little that ties ordinary Russians to east Ukraine.

I’m afraid this made my blood boil. It is a nasty cynical untruth. I live in Russia (where I teach English). Recently I have been asking my students (aged 14-19) what they think about Donbass. All of them expressed very strong support for Donbass which they clearly understood as a region which ‘belongs’ to Russia – either spiritually or, in some cases, legally and physically. All. None of them sounded like they have been brainwashed. When I had the conversation in depth with two of them I found them articulating well-informed reasons why these regions actually belong to Russia. Support for Donbass in Russia (most of my collocutors are in Siberia but I also spoke to people in Moscow and Kazan) is just as strong as support for Crimea. Roth is (let’s be kind) misinformed.

Leaked documents suggest there are just under 3 million people remaining in the territories, 38% of whom are pensioners. That’s less than half of the pre-war population. Anecdotal evidence has shown that many of the people who remain are those who strongly opposed the 2014 revolution that toppled the former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych (his hometown is in the separatist-controlled regions) and those who are too poor or were unable to leave when fighting broke out. Public opposition in the territories is virtually non-existent.

I don’t know what these leaked documents are. As usual we are not given a reference where we can check. [2] Nor are we given any kind of source for the “anecdotal” claims. However; it is probably true that due to departures for Russia by the more able the population is now more weighted more towards pensioners than it was. At least Roth now admits that there are people in Donbass who “who strongly opposed the 2014 revolution that toppled the former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych”. In other words these people were disenfranchised by this “revolution”, (in fact a coup). Nonetheless he manages to downplay this, suggesting that this is some kind of pensioner and/or hardliner rump. (Anecdotally, I met one ‘refuge’ from Donbass in Moscow. She was in favour of Donbass joining Russia. At least some of those who left are ‘pro Russia’). Shouldn’t a democratic newspaper be championing the cause of these people who are no longer represented by their own government?

Notes

  1. https://www.usagm.gov/wp-content/media/2014/06/Ukraine-slide-deck.pdf
  2. This German think tank says just 2 million and the 3.7 million official figure is a false doctored figure. https://www.swp-berlin.org/10.18449/2020C41/

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer