Ukraine: Thinking Together

An international conference called Ukraine: Thinking Together («Мислити з Україною») is currently being held in Kyiv, with participants who include Timothy Snyder, Leon Wieseltier, Timothy Garton Ash, Adam Michnik, Slavenka Drakulić, Paul Berman and others. The conference aims to discuss Maidan and reactions to it in the context of wider questions of human rights and contemporary geopolitics, and the sessions can be followed in livestream here.

How It Was Done in Odessa

In LRB Keith Gessen takes a tour of post-revolutionary Odessa – and has some commentary on the historical background to recent events:

Concerns over the collapse of the Russophone political space are nothing new. In the 1990s such disparate writers as Solzhenitsyn, Brodsky and Eduard Limonov worried over it. Solzhenitsyn proposed creating a Russian-language superstate, encompassing the Russian Federation as well as the Russian-majority sections of northern Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. Limonov actually took up arms, or tried to: he was arrested in 2001 for trying to transport a cache of Kalashnikovs and some explosives which he may have been planning to use in an invasion of northern Kazakhstan, with the intention of declaring a Russian republic there. Brodsky’s poem ‘On Ukrainian Independence’, written in the early 1990s, excoriated Ukrainians for wanting independence from Russia. He read the poem once at a public gathering in New York, then forbade its publication, but it’s circulated online for years. It’s a furious poem, but I had never truly realised, until seeing the Russians in Odessa, just how nasty it was. Brodsky warns his Ukrainian readers that on their deathbeds they’ll remember the poetry of Pushkin, not the brekhnya (‘gibberish’) of the Ukrainian national poet, Taras Shevchenko. And maybe he’s right: maybe Pushkin is the better poet, and maybe a Ukrainian inclined to remember poetry on his deathbed would choose Pushkin. But maybe he wouldn’t. And in any case Ukrainian independence isn’t a poetry competition.

Obama’s Brussels Speech

The Kyiv Post has the full text of President Obama’s speech at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels today:


…the world has an interest in a strong and responsible Russia, not a weak one. And we want the Russian people to live in security, prosperity, and dignity like everyone else – proud of their own history. But that does not mean that Russia can run roughshod over its neighbors. Just because Russia has a deep history with Ukraine does not mean it should be able to dictate Ukraine’s future. No amount of propaganda can make right something that the world knows is wrong.

In the end, every society must chart its own course. America’s path – or Europe’s path – is not the only ways to reach freedom and justice. But on the fundamental principle that is at stake here – the ability of nations and peoples to make their own choices – there can be no going back. It is not America that filled the Maidan with protesters – it was Ukrainians. No foreign forces compelled the citizens of Tunis and Tripoli to rise up – they did so on their own. From the Burmese parliamentarian pursuing reform, to the young leaders fighting corruption and intolerance in Africa – we see something irreducible that all of us share as human beings; a truth that will persevere in the face of violence and repression and, ultimately, overcome it.

Sniper story does not tell all: journalist

Journalist Olga Khudetska lists the names of murdered Maidan activists whose death circumstances do not fit the bounds of the so-called “sniper” version of events.

Taras Slobodian disappeared from the Maidan. His body was found in the woods in Sumy oblast. Autopsy revealed that he was tortured.

25-year-old Maksym Horoshyshyn died on February 18 from gas poisoning which he suffered during clashes on Instytutska Street next to the government quarter. Doctors were unable to save his life.

Viktor Shvets went to the Maidan on February 18. He phoned his family at 11 pm, saying that everything was fine. At 4 am, family received a call from the morgue, saying that he died around 1 am. He was being transported, presumably still alive, to the Emergency Hospital from Mykhailivska Street, but was then taken to Shevchenkivsky district police station, stripped naked, and sent to the morgue on Oranzhereina Street. He was recorded as a police officer, because he had an ID card of a retired police officer on him.

Volodymyr Naumov was kidnapped and strangled on his way from the Maidan. His body was found on Trukhaniv Island in Kyiv.

Andriy Tsepun, 35 years old from Kyiv was beaten to death on the night of February 21.

Berkut officers doused Ivan Horodniuk in water and beat him on February 18. He did not survive.

Dmytro Maksymov’s arm was severed at the shoulder by a grenade explosion. Witnesses say that this was a live grenade.

Ihor Serdiuk was murdered on February 18 by titushky acting in tandem with Berkut officers near the Mariyinsky Palace.

Yakiv Zaiko died of a heart attack following clashes outside of the Verkhovna Rada on February 18.

Serhiy Didych and Oleksandr Kapinos died as a result of having an artery torn by an exploding grenade.

“And, of course, everyone remembers the beheaded body, right? As well as the 263 missing persons, right?” reminds the journalist.

Khodorkovsky on Maidan

“Мне рассказали и показали, что в Киеве сделали власти. Она это делала с согласия российских властей. Более сотни убитых, более 5000 раненых …. Я видел те фанерные щиты, с которыми здесь стояли против автоматных пуль – плакать хотелось. Это страшно.”

“Это – не моя власть. Я хочу, чтобы вы знали – есть совсем другая Россия, есть люди, которые несмотря на аресты и долгие годы, которые им придется провести за решеткой, выходили на антивоенные митинги в Москве. Есть люди, для которых дружба между народами Украины и РФ важнее собственной свободы.”

“Российская пропаганда как всегда врет. Здесь (на Майдане) нет фашистов или нацистов. Точнее, их не больше, чем на улицах Москвы или Петербурга. Здесь нормальные ребята – русские, украинцы, крымские татары, мои сверстники, воины-афганцы, прекрасные люди, которые отстояли свою свободу.”

“Борітеся – поборете, вам бог помогає.”

There’s a full translation of the speech here.

“If It’s A Revolution…”

The real nature of Vladimir Putin’s attitude towards the new government in Ukraine became clear during his news conference today. Essentially what he appears to be saying is that since the Ukrainian authorities came to power as the result of a revolution, they have no legitimacy – and therefore Russia can do as it likes with what it perceives as a non-state. It can overrun Ukraine’s borders and violate its “non-existent” sovereignty with impunity.

Dictator Psychology

Anschluss Österreich, WienAs Russia’s President Putin appears to be preparing to re-enact the Anschluss of March 1938, this time in Ukraine, it may be wondered whether what we are witnessing is a full-scale military aggression of a kind that has not been seen in Europe since 1968, or even since the Second World War, or merely an episode of tacky war drama culled from the cinema, designed for TV, and meant to impress a domestic audience back home in Russia. The preparations and build-up in Crimea certainly look convincing, but there’s a question as to how far they will go, and whether they will lead to a full-blooded invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

The Russian government must be well aware of the consequences that would be likely to follow: immediate and comprehensive economic sanctions by the West, an expansion of the Magnitsky List with asset freezes and visa bans on Russian officials, an embargo of Russian companies and banks, exclusion of Russia from the G8 and other international bodies, and a great deal more. It seems improbable, therefore, that Putin is really willing to risk finally destroying Russia’s already fragile and ailing economy and society by taking such a step – if, that is, he is a rational actor.

The explanation advanced by observers like chess master and human rights activist Garry Kasparov is that in the international and domestic public sphere alike, the rationality of Russia’s leaders only extends so far – at a certain point it veers off into demagogic muscle-flexing and posturing: