Thursday, February 12, 2015

Slava EUkrainie!

What you need to know about the 'Ukraine Crisis'

For much of what we know, the current 'crisis' in Ukraine started when the Russian President Putin 'annexed' the Crimean Peninsula, declaring 'war' on the newly 'democratized' country. After that Russian forces 'invaded' eastern Ukraine and, despite the attempts of the Ukrainian government to 'free' its citizens from subjugation to "criminals, terrorists and Russian invaders", Ukraine is in critical need of weapons, and money, and somebody else to continue to  'free' itself.

Russia - particularly President Vladimir Putin and the 'oligarchs' who support him - has obstinately refused to stop interfering in the Ukrainian situation. The west (led by the USA) has been 'forced' to lay political, social and economic sanctions on him and  them, personally, and  on organs of the Russian state and economy 'under their control'.

Much of what we consider to be a 'whole story' is missing.

Until 1992 the Ukraine was one of the Soviet Socialist Republics of the USSR. At that time, like many other of the Soviet republics, the Ukraine became independent of what was to be re-formed as the Russian Federation.  Although it was independent, it maintained many social, political and economic ties with Russia and the other ex-republics. At that time, too, the territory of the Ukraine was 'set' - in keeping with that of the former SSR which, after 1953, had been itself reformed to include the annexed parts of Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland that had fallen as 'war spoils' to the victorious Red Army.  The Communist leadership at that time, under the rule of  Nikita Khruschev - a native Ukrainian - attached to Ukrainian SSR,  the formerly 'imperial oblasts' of NovoRussia and the Crimean Peninsula.

 A series of political 'changes' beginning with the "Orange Revolution" in 1994 saw the advancement of 'democrats' and Ukrainian nationalists in the government of the country.  That period also marked the rise of oligarchs who became owners of a number of 'privatized' state industries and publicly-owned concerns. It also led to growing political clashes in the Ukraine and a series of changing government administrations. One of the earlier Presidents was poisoned by, purportedly, 'Russians'; another, Julia Timoshenko, was charged, tried, convicted in a Ukrainian court and jailed  for corruption after her term in office - her family wound-up owning the national gas distribution system. The latest nationally-elected President, Yanukovich, served in the government from the beginning and was, eventually, elected three times to the country's highest office.

The notion of Ukraine becoming an integral part of Europe was present all along.  Indeed Ukraine, as a military 'occupied zone' during WW2, had a collaborationist government, aligned with Germany, and raised two complete divisions for the German Waffen SS,  as  well as maintaining a security apparatus that 'dealt with' communist partisans, subversives, non-Ukrainians and Jews. At the end of the war these Ukrainian forces fled west with the retreating Germans. Many emigrated to the Americas, under the auspices of the Catholic Church, as 'anti-communist refugees'. Some, like Stepan Bandera continued an anti-communist movement in Europe. Bandera was assassinated in Munich, in 1959, by (purportedly) the Russian KGB.  Other Ukrainians returning 'home' were arrested, tried and, if found guilty of treason or war crimes, executed by Ukrainian authorities.  After 1992 many of these began to return to Ukraine, some were repatriated and others maintain 'visitor' or 'temporary resident' status. They were no longer potential war criminals after 1992.

By 2000 the European Ukraine and Nationalist Ukraine movements were well-established. Ukraine sent its military to serve in a number of UN peace-keeping missions and, after 2001, Ukrainian forces were deployed to assist the 'allies' in Afghanistan and Iraq. The costs for these involvements were largely covered by US assistance grants and loans for the Ukrainian military which had been debilitated by economic cutbacks.

 The Ukrainian military, in 1992, had fallen heir to the resources of the forces of the USSR air, naval and land 'fronts' stationed inside its territory. Those included strategic rocket forces and military production plants. In 1993 it had the largest, most well-equipped, army in Europe. By 2001 that force's equipment  had been mothballed, or sold-off to nations in Asia and Africa. Ukraine remained home to Russian aircraft manufacturers such as the Antonov concern  and, until last year, was producing and exporting Russian-designed rocket engines for the US and other space programs and maintaining, under contract, the Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation. Much of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was transferred to Ukraine, and the former soviet naval base at Sebastopol was leased on a long term basis. Other Russian Federation air and land forces were permitted in Crimea under lease agreements and treaty with Kyiv government.

Over recent years Ukraine failed to thrive economically and ran-up a considerable international debt, as well as steadily  reducing its standard of living. Industries were poorly-maintained and previous production fell  as unemployment became a social fixture. Some western-trained officials saw a hope of redemption in the free market theories espoused in America: low taxation rates, and curtailed government spending. To them the economic austerity being demanded by western banks as precursor for further credit, evoked a closer alignment with the west and a less-socialist government, as the salvation of Ukraine. When the annual bond sale of 2014 failed to generate interest, or funds ($1.5 billion on the sale of $15 billion in bonds through the Bank of Ireland) and European,  World Banks and IMF  remained obstinate in demanding reforms and open markets, the then-President Yanukovich,  reversed his previous position and announced interest in a Russian proposal at a November meeting of the G8 in Sweden. Within hours the "EuroMaidan" protests started. They built in violence and intensity from November 2013 to January 2014 when protestors and police were shot on the square. Yanukovich resigned and fled the country to safety in the RF. An 'interim' government under the appointed President Turchynev and Prime Minister Yatseniuk ruled by decree until general elections installed President Poroshenko. Also elected were  the newly-released Juilia Timoshenko and a small number of right-wing and neo-nazi radicals - some of whom were appointed to government Defence, Police and Security portfolios.

The interim government,  among its initial decrees, had outlawed the use of Russian in Ukrainian territory and criminalized some aspects of 'russian' life.  Street disturbances, targeting 'russians', were extended from Kyiv to outlying cities such as Odessa (where a number of people burned to death when a 'russian' trades union building was stormed). There were killings  and rioting, with street fights in eastern cities like Mariuopol, Donetsk, Kharkiv and  Dniepropetrovsk.

Russian separatists in Crimea voted to secede and join the RF. That was done. Others in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk (and others) occupied government buildings and disarmed government forces and police. The 'interim' government declared war, announced conscription and deployed 5 divisions of the army to the east to retake territory and put down the rebellion.  The campaign was described as an 'Anti-Terrorist Operation' (ATO) and is, still, as is the area under rebel control,  as that name, to-day.

Beginning in May,  the UA rapidly fanned out across the eastern regions stopped only by the protests of local citzenry blocking roads.  A couple of incidents caused by zealous 'heroes of the Maidan' who thought they were putting-down Russian invaders, led to bloodshed and retaliatory ambushes as citizens of the east, with military experience, armed themselves from government supplies (including 'the world's largest arms repository' under the City of Slavyansk).

By midsummer, widespread fighting was underway - ending with a cease fire just before the fall of Slavyansk. A subsequent 'push' by government forces 'liberated'  Slavyansk and almost severed the link between Donetsk and Lugansk leaving a rebel area almost bisected. The  'massacre' of a government unit in the north east of the ATO,  followed by an another unit being trapped against the Russian border and the downing of MH17 followed and resulted in a temporary lull in operations. Before government forces could regroup, they found themselves being 'kettled' in a number of places in Lugansk and in two places north east and south east of Donetsk. One of these latter units was eradicated.

A separatist 'offensive' in late August, started in the extreme south east of the ATO and drove toward Donetsk and Mariuople pushing government forces back out of the entire southern part of the Donetsk region.Government forces were 'hanging on' to villages outside Donetsk, the airport there and at  the transportation hub at Debaltsevo when another ceasefire was called in September.

An abortive government (announced as "massive")  offensive ("Punch in the teeth") was stopped in early January after rebels forces succeeded in clearing Donetsk airport. The rebels maintained their pressure retaking a number of villages from which the airport area had been supplied and later, shelled. In early February operations were underway to cut-off the salient and 'kettle' a considerable (7 000) government force at  Debaltsevo. This was being resisted, as the city of Donetsk continued to be shelled from this position,  but it was isolated 40 Km from the nearest help.

This was the situation before which a third ceasefire was announced on February 13th,  2015.

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