Category Archives: Ukraine

Podcast: Catherine Wanner, War, Grief and Rage: Popular Commemorations of the Maidan

image_normalWhen over one hundred people died during a night of violence on the Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, on February 20, 2014, memorial shrines commemorating the tragic deaths sprang up immediately. By creating sacred commemorative space, the surviving protesters created a means and a place for grieving. These popular memorials and the rites of mourning performed there not only commemorate death and sacrifice, they also focus outrage. As such, the memorials cultivate deeply felt moral sentiments of loss, mourning and grieving that feed the conviction that the protests were more than a political act. They constituted a “revolution of dignity.”

Catherine Wanner is a Professor of History and Cultural Anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University. She received her doctorate in cultural anthropology from Columbia University. She is the author of Burden of Dreams: History and Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine (1998), Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism (2007), which won four best book prizes and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title, and co-editor of Religion, Morality and Community in Post-Soviet Societies (2008), editor of State Secularism and Lived Religion in Soviet Russia and Ukraine (2012) and editor of a forthcoming collection of essays on resistance and renewal during the Maidan protests. She is currently working a book entitled, The Winter that Changed Us: Religion, Faith and Belonging in Russia and Ukraine. Her research has been supported by awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council among others.

Podcast: Serhiy Kudelia, Revolutionary Cycles and the Secessionist Conflict in Ukraine

Serhiy Kudelia

The yearlong conflict in Donbas already claimed over five thousand lives and produced nearly two million refugees. The ceasefire agreements failed to hold, while the heavy fighting produced a humanitarian calamity in the region. This talk will discuss the effects of the revolutionary rupture on the breakdown of political order in Ukraine, the motives behind the counter-revolutionary insurrection in Donbas, the narratives and resources of insurgents, the limits of Ukraine’s counterinsurgency strategy and the alternative paths to a sustainable peace.

Podcast: Taras Kuzio, Euromaidan, Crimea and War with Russia

Is Ukraine’s Weakness Its Greatest Strength?

University of Pittsburgh Economics Professor Tymofiy Mylovanov has an article with Samuel Charap, “For Ukraine, Weakness Could Be Its Greatest Strength,” in the National Interest. Here’s an excerpt:

The United States and the EU have demonstrated significant commitment to Ukraine’s success since the Maidan revolution. However, no Western leader has ever suggested that Ukraine has a blank check—that the Western commitment is without limits. Instead, as evidenced by the measured extent of financial and military assistance to Ukraine, this commitment is both limited and conditional. In particular, if Kyiv’s promises to implement meaningful reforms are not fulfilled soon, then Western support might evaporate.

Russia has also demonstrated significant commitment to achieving its objectives in Ukraine. The Kremlin has shown willingness to incur significant costs—international sanctions, political isolation and economic and human losses from the military conflict—since the crisis broke out a year ago. Thus, in contrast to the West, Russia’s actions demonstrate that its commitment in this conflict is essentially unconditional and unlimited.

Thankfully, Ukraine’s circumstances have not deteriorated to the point of the U.S. big banks in 2008, when the federal bailout demonstrated that they were in fact too big to fail. But the threat of a dramatic deterioration in Ukraine’s security or economic conditions looms large in 2015. Policy makers in Kyiv certainly need to prepare for the worst. After a year of nearly every Western leader proclaiming firm commitments to Ukraine, some of those policy makers might well believe that they can still take certain risks; after all, they might reassure themselves, the West will never allow Ukraine to fail. While we cannot say with certainly that such a reassurance is baseless, there is strong evidence to suggest precisely that.

Take, for example, Washington’s recent passage of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which observers in both Kyiv and the West have characterized as a major step forward in the U.S. commitment to the security and prosperity of Ukraine. But the way it changed as it evolved from bill to law runs counter to this narrative.

In the initial draft that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ukraine was classified a “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA). The term has a largely technical meaning that relates to arms export procedures and security cooperation; it is not the same as a mutual defense treaty. But both in Ukraine and beyond, many, including President Petro Poroshenko, seemed to believe that MNNA implies just that. For Washington, regardless of the technical meaning of the term, granting MNNA status to Ukraine would have represented a much firmer commitment to Ukraine’s security, since violations of it would have undermined the credibility of all U.S. alliances.

But, in the end, the MNNA provision was removed from the final version of the bill. Further, essentially all other measures in the legislation—including both military assistance and sanctions on Russia—grant authorities to the executive branch, but do not compel it to act.

In short, the new law does demonstrate U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s security, but its transformation shows the profound limits of that commitment. It should be a cautionary tale to President Poroshenko and the Ukrainian elite as a whole. They can rely on the United States for support, but the United States will not guarantee Ukraine’s security. In the short term, that means Kyiv will be largely on its own if Moscow decides to break the tenuous ceasefire and push deeper into Ukrainian territory.

Some argue that if the security situation deteriorates dramatically, the United States and its allies will be compelled to intervene, because they could not countenance the permanent dismemberment or occupation of a European state. In fact, they did just that in the case of Cyprus. Since its 1974 invasion of the island, Turkey has illegally occupied the sovereign state of the Republic of Cyprus. Following the north’s 1983 declaration of independence as the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), Turkey recognized it, and it remains the only state to have done so. To this day, Turkey maintains between 30,000 and 40,000 troops on the one-third of the island controlled by the TRNC despite numerous UN Security Council resolutions since its initial invasion calling for immediate withdrawal.

The UK, as a guarantor of the treaty granting Cyprus its independence, had a legal obligation to “undertake to prohibit . . .any activity aimed at promoting . . . partition of the Island.” Despite the presence of UK servicemen at its two bases on the island, London did not act militarily to stop Turkey’s invasion. The United States had no treaty obligation, but beyond the UNSC, its response was restrained: a three-year embargo on U.S. military grants and arms sales to Turkey was the most severe measure adopted.

You can read the whole article here.


Timofiy Mylovanov Talks Ukraine on Essential Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh economics professor Timofiy Mylovanov was interviewed on Essential Pittsburgh on the state of Ukraine. Here’s a description of the interview from WESA‘s website:

Mylovanov acknowledges that the political and judicial corruption for which Ukraine has been notorious remains an issue for the country, but he says the corruption may be a symptom rather than a cause. He says that the Ukrainian economy and political system definitely suffer from a lack of transparency, but because that lack of transparency ends up benefiting parties with vested interests, it’s difficult to overcome.

Mylovanov explains that he is part of an informal group of economists, scholars and critics that publishes articles covering Ukrainian political issues at Occasionally the work published at Vox Ukraine has been influential to Ukrainian policymakers, who have adopted some of the scholars’ recommendations.

You can hear the interview below:

Lecture: Dominique Arel, The New Ukraine and the War with Russia

In the past year, Ukraine has experienced tectonic changes in its internal and external orientation, with the fall of the fall of the authoritarian regime of Viktor Yanukovych, a de facto war with Russia leading to the loss of the most heavily ethnic Russian areas (Crimea and the heart of Donbas) and a new anti-Russian and pro-Europe constitutional majority in parliament. The lecture addresses the political, economic, and regional constraints that the Ukrainian government is facing in seeking to reestablish legitimacy, recover territory, and implement cardinal changes.


Thoughts on Ukraine’s Election

Ukrainians voted for a new parliament yesterday, and with 50 percent of the votes counted, the breakdown looks like this:

Narodnyi Front: 21.61%

Blok Petro Poroshenko: 21.45%

Samopomoch: 11.1%

Opposition Bloc: 9.82%

Radical Party: 7.38%

Batkivshchina: 5.69%

The European Parliament, PACE, and the OSCE have all given the election a clean bill of health by declaring it to be fair and legitimate by democratic standards. Even Russia appears ready to recognize the results, according to statements made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The results point to a major victory of Ukraine’s pro-European parties. As Poroshenko stated, voters had “powerfully and irreversibly supported Ukraine’s path to Europe.” This gives probable Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk the mandate to continue economic reforms and move Ukraine further toward setting the stage for European integration. It also means Ukrainians can expect more economic austerity.

The Ukrainian economy is reeling, with the hryvnia having lost 40% of its value in relation to the dollar. This means that what was worth $12,400 at the beginning of the year is now worth $6,800. As a result, Ukrainians have withdrawn $8.1 billion from their accounts looking to convert their hryvnias into increasingly scarce foreign currencies. Moreover, the price for utilities have shot up with the cost of hot water increasing by 50 percent, heating by 98 percent (in some localities) during the winter, water by 93 percent, sanitation by 105 percent, gas by 73 percent, and electricity by 10 percent. The recent gas deal with Russia will supply just enough to get through winter. Ukraine still owes Russia $5 billion for its delinquent gas bill. Kiev says it can only pay $2-3 billion by the end of the year. All of this has prompted Timothy Ash, the head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, to tell the Washington Post, “I now fear systemic economic failure — unless there is a positive confidence shock.” Whether the parliamentary results provide that positive shock remains to be seen.

Another take away from the election is the feeble results for the much feared Ukrainian radical right. Svoboda is close, but still below, the 5 percent threshold. And Opora, an independent election monitor, has predicted the nationalist party won’t make it into parliament. What has happened to Svoboda’s electorate, especially since it polled 10.44 percent in 2012? Anton Shekhovtsov explains:

I presume that more moderate voters went back to the national-democratic forces, such as the People’s Front or Samopomich [“Self-help”]. Part of Svoboda’s former electorate apparently went to the Right Sector and Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party. The inclusion of these two parties into the far right category is tentative. As a political party, the Right Sector is ideologically quite different from the movement under the same name that was formed during the 2014 revolution; the party is less radical than the movement, so I suggest the term “national conservative” as a more relevant one. Lyashko’s Radical Party is dangerously populist and a typical anti-establishment force. Although both the Right Sector and Lyashko’s Radical Party have extreme right members, they are still a minority. In contrast to Lyashko’s Radical Party, the Right Sector will not be able to enter the parliament, but its leader Dmytro Yarosh will most likely be elected in one of the single-member districts.

So there will certainly be some far right-wingers in parliament, but they won’t be a enough to form a formidable political bloc. This robs Russia of one of its most trotted out boogeymen.

The big loser in all this is Russia. Ukraine has made a significant step toward the west, making its political (but not economic) decoupling from Russia a foregone conclusion. Now Putin can only hope the factions in the Rada will eat themselves alive like they did after the Orange Revolution. Ukraine still has the east to reckon with, and with the strong showing of both the “war party” (Yatseniuk’s Narodnyi Front, Radical party, and Batkivshchina) and the “peace party” (Poroshenko’s Bloc), at least when it comes to negotiating with Russia, the Rada looks hopelessly divided. How divided remains to be seen.

Podcast: Timofiy Mylovanov, The Game Theory of the Events in Ukraine

Cinema of a Civil Protest

On October 3, 2014, Yuriy Gruzinov,  a cinematographer with Bablyon’13, presented a series of documentary shorts from the project Cinema of a Civil Protest, about the revolution and conflict in Ukraine.

Babylon’13’s Manifesto states:

It is a notable fact, that the driving power of the civil protest is the generation formed within the timeframe of independence. The generation that may be called the one of immediate action, and which deems basic European values as determinant and hence is ready to protect them.

The new civil society generates meaningful ideas. But at the moment there are too little of those, who are ready to fulfil these ideas. This circle has to grow and then we’ll get a chance to persuade the whole Ukraine, that time has come to begin vast social reforms. And, strictly speaking, a documentary is a tool that is able to change people’s perception of reality

Here are some of the documentaries Gruzinov presented: