Opinion: Ukraine again

Four years into a stalemated war, it takes something very big or very bizarre to get Ukraine back into the headlines. Even the news in April that the United States has started delivering lethal weapons (Javelin anti-tank missiles) to Ukraine didn’t do the trick, but the non-assassination of Arkady Babchenko last week did just fine.

Babchenko is a Russian journalist, turned into a critic of the Putin regime by his service in the Russian army in two wars in Chechnya, who took refuge in Ukraine last year after receiving death threats in Moscow.

Last week, it was reported that he had been gunned down outside his apartment in Kiev, and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Groysman immediately blamed Russia.

There was footage of Babchenko’s lifeless body lying in a pool of blood and being borne away in an ambulance. But the following day he walked on stage at a press conference to reveal that the assassination had been faked with the help of the Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU.

It was allegedly part of a clever plan to trap a real Russian operative who was plotting Babchenko’s murder, but that doesn’t even make sense. Was the SBU expecting the ‘real Russian operative’ to break down in tears of frustration when he heard that somebody else had got to Babchenko first? This is really just more evidence of how dysfunctional the whole Ukrainian state is.

The three-month confrontation on the Euromaidan in Kiev in the winter of 2013-14, ending in a bloodbath that left 130 demonstrators dead, was supposed to be the revolution that finally freed Ukraine from rule by corrupt oligarchs backed by Moscow. It wasn’t.

The previous revolution had manifestly failed, with the pro-Moscow leader who had been rejected in the ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, back in power through a free election in 2010. The 2014 revolution drove him out of the country entirely – but by overthrowing Moscow’s man in Kiev again, Ukrainians greatly alarmed Moscow.

Vladimir Putin feared that Russia’s big southern neighbour would end up joining both the European Union and the main Western military alliance, NATO. In the spring of 2014 he therefore incited a rebellion in two Russian-speaking provinces of eastern Ukraine, backed the revolt with Russian troops, and annexed the Crimean peninsula outright.

These illegal acts began a war that still rumbles on in the east, with 10,000 dead (mostly civilians) in four years. However, Putin is clearly not out to conquer all of Ukraine (which he could do quite easily). He just wants to paralyze the government in Kiev and make the situation in the country so problematic that NATO would never consider taking it aboard.

That’s not hard. In the presidential election of May 2014 the Ukrainians elected another oligarch, Petro Poroshenko. He’s just as corrupt as his predecessor, and there have been no reforms in the system that keeps him and his fellow oligarchs rich and the rest of the country poor. (Ukrainian GDP per capita is less than a third of Russia’s.)

The opposition has done no better at staying united since 2014 than it did after 2004. The war in the east is largely a charade (although real people get killed in it), and it’s widely known that Poroshenko and Putin frequently have amiable late-night telephone conversations. Presumably they are discussing business deals, since there’s no money in talking about politics.

So what are the odds that the two men might one day cut a deal that ends the war? It’s possible. Putin wants an end to sanctions, and given certain guarantees he’d be happy to see the two rebel provinces rejoin Ukraine.

“Russia wants the regions (controlled by pro-Russian militants) re-integrated as a blocking share in the Ukrainian political system,” explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council, in 2016. “The aim is to guarantee that Ukraine does not join NATO or move too far from Russia.”

The real obstacle to a deal now is probably Crimea. Russian nationalism won’t let Putin give it back, and Ukrainian nationalism won’t allow Poroshenko to let it go. But if the United States wants to ensure that there is no deal, it might try giving Kiev enough modern weapons to get things moving again on the military front.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

Just Posted

Central Alberta school divisions to support rural students through agreement

Wolf Creek to bring Enhanced Learning Model courses to Clearview schools

WATCH: Red Deer Catholic students re-envision a local wetland for school project

Father Henri Voisin Grade 3 teacher introduces ‘real-life’-based education

Manslaughter charge stayed against Maskwacis man

Man was accused of manslaughter in connection with the death of his mother in 2015

Red Deer Mounties make numerous arrests over the past two weeks

Over the past two weeks, Red Deer RCMP have made a number… Continue reading

Leslieville Elks’ new hall rising from the ashes

Leslieville Elks Lodge grateful for outpouring of support

WATCH: Red Deer Catholic students re-envision a local wetland for school project

Father Henri Voisin Grade 3 teacher introduces ‘real-life’-based education

Charges dropped against Alberta property owner in rural shooting

OKOTOKS, Alta. — All charges have been dropped against a man accused… Continue reading

China blocks John Oliver on social media after scathing show

BEIJING — A popular Chinese social media site is censoring discussion of… Continue reading

Most Red Deer Advocate readers would call police when witnessing a crime

An overwhelming number of Advocate readers would call the police if they… Continue reading

So much TV, so little summer: Amy Adams, Kevin Hart, Dr. Pol

LOS ANGELES — The fall television season is months away but that’s… Continue reading

BlackBerry Q1 revenue, adjusted earnings beat estimates but stock falls

TORONTO — BlackBerry Ltd. shares sank almost 10 per cent to their… Continue reading

OPEC countries to pump more oil to contain price increase

VIENNA — The countries of the OPEC cartel agreed on Friday to… Continue reading

Man sentenced for Edson triple murder

EDMONTON — An Alberta man who fatally shot three people has been… Continue reading

‘Hot Dog Water’ seller in Vancouver gets laughs, sales with savvy marketing

VANCOUVER — A Vancouver man who sold bottles of “Hot Dog Water”… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month