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Can Kyiv sustain its war in eastern Ukraine? The view from Canada

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As the world reels from the horrific news of Israel's shelling attack yesterday on a United Nations shelter in Gaza, killing 16 people and injuring several hundred more, one of Israel’s trusted allies, the neo-conservative prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, is hatching a cynical plan to land imperialist police and maybe soldiers in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine where Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 crashed on July 17.

Twenty eight Australians were on board the doomed flight, as were some 200 people from Holland.

Abbott is working on his plan together with his Dutch counterpart. He says intervention is needed to "secure" the crash site of Flight MH17. But self-defense fighters in the area have cooperated fully with international investigators since the disaster happened. Several days ago, they withdrew from the site, turning it over fully to investigators.

So something more sinister is afoot. Western leaders are looking for ways to assist the murderous war that the government in Kyiv is waging to crush a political self-determination movement in eastern Ukraine. That movement arose in March in opposition to the neo-conservative government that seized power in Kyiv in late February of this year.

Curiously, or not, CBC reporter Susan Ormiston is reporting from Donetsk that investigators have been staying away from the crash site. There appears little interest in pursuing a thorough investigation.

Meanwhile, "security" is very much under deadly threat and daily attack in Donetsk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, but it's not coming from self-defense fighters (those who Abbott and a biased western media call "pro-Russian separatists"). No, the threat is coming from the governing regime in Kyiv and its three month-old war against the people of the region.

A report by Human Rights Watch issued on July 24 condemns the indiscriminate use of unguided rockets by Kyiv on civilians in the city of Donetsk, not far from the crash site. Almost half of the population of the city of more than one million has fled Kyiv's bombardments.

A report by this writer from two days ago details the horrific shelling of the neighbouring city and region of Luhansk in the past month. Shelling intensified after the place crash. Hundreds of people have been killed by Kyiv in the past two months in the Luhansk region alone.

Estimates vary on the number of refugees caused by Kyiv's war. A news update in The Guardian on July 23, 2014 says more than 220,000 refugees have crossed the border into Russia’s Rostov region since Kyiv launched its war in April. Four hundred refugee camps there are stretched to the limit of their resources.

The head of Russia's migration service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, says more that 515,000 people have fled to Russia from southeast Ukraine since April 1.

Estimates of the number of refugees in Ukraine proper vary; by most counts, it is approaching 100,000.

 

The view from Canada

Reporting of Ukraine in yesterday's Globe and Mail is revealing on many fronts. The Globe is the largest-circulation national daily in Canada.

Seasoned Globe writer Mark MacKinnon goes on a front-page tear against the BRICS countries, condemning them for failing to join the "blame Russia" chorus of  the NATO countries over the plane crash and the overall situation in Ukraine. He rails against a Chinese newspaper, from which he quotes:

"The Western rush to judge Russia is not based on evidence or logic. Russia had no motive to bring down MH17; doing so would only narrow its political and moral space to operate in the Ukrainian crisis. The tragedy has no political benefit for Ukrainian [pro-Russian] rebel forces, either," read an editorial this week in Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the ruling Communist Party of China. The paper called for the downing of Flight 17 to be investigated "without preconditions or preconceptions."

It's an odd complaint by the writer, that a newspaper, in this case Chinese, would call for an independent investigation into the crash. But it’s indicative of the "rush to judgment" over the MH17 crash that has been criticized by many writers and observers, including by the publisher of The Nation magazine and by seasoned, U.S. investigative journalist Robert Parry.

Yesterday, in a Globe and Mail op-ed, two right wing ideologues congratulate Stephen Harper for his great foresight in seeing through the wily Vladimir Putin from the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine earlier this year. The ideologues write, "From the very beginning of this current crisis, Canada's Prime Minister has been dead right in his assessment of Vladimir Putin...

"to Mr. Harper, and now incontrovertibly to rest (sic) of the world, Mr. Putin is a Stalinist using Nazi big-lie techniques and Soviet-era disinformation tactics to try to camouflage his government’s actions and shift blame [over Flight MH17]."

Harper is one of those intellectually and historically challenged western leaders who have compared President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler.

 

Kyiv's backers in Canada complain

It turns out that Mr. Harper may not be quite the hero that the ideologues paint him to be. In another front-page report in the Globe yesterday, we read that Canada has failed to come through with $200 million in loans and other assistance promised to the government in Kyiv four months ago. Kyiv and its backers in Canada now feel compelled to go public with complaints.

"I don't want to offend the Canadian government," says Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine's envoy to Canada. But, "frankly, I am at the end of my patience."

"We're very surprised that Canada, which considers itself one of Ukraine's best friends on the international stage, has still not delivered what Ukraine really needs today: that is money and non-lethal military aid to defend themselves (sic)," says Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Canada announced a $200-million-plus financial loan package for Ukraine in mid-March. That same month, Kyiv asked Canada and other NATO countries for supplies in the war it launched the following month against the citizens in the east of the country. Today, Kyiv still wants "non-lethal" equipment, including body armour, communication technology and medical supplies. The U.S. and France are already supplying it, says Kyiv.

Vadym Prystaiko says that "non-lethal" aid will "help us fight." He is frustrated that Canada is slow to provide it. The list of desired materials also includes all-terrain vehicles, drone aircraft and cell phones.

Concerning the promised financial aid (loans), Globe reporter, Steven Chase, writes, "Canadian officials said it's taking time to ensure the right conditions are attached to the aid, including reporting requirements and restrictions on where the money will be spent, whether it's for banking sector reform or anti-corruption measures. Corruption has plagued Ukraine for decades."

That's an understatement. Successive governments run by Ukraine's post-Soviet noueaux riche billionaires see the country sitting at 144 of 177 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.

 

What we are learning about conditions in Ukraine

Kyiv's spokesmen in Canada say government finances in Ukraine are stretched to the limit by its war in the east. The government has been slashing spending on social services and on economic supports. Its deliberate confrontation with Russia has cost the country the low price for natural gas that Russia was providing (and over which Russia has exercised extreme patience over Kyiv's failures to pay its bills).

Natural gas prices have risen 50 per cent this year and the country’s currency has lost half its value. Kyiv is now totally dependent of loans from international financial institutions.

In a remarkable admission, Prystaiko acknowledges in the Globe, "We are pouring all the money in our budget...into the anti-terrorism campaign." Kyiv calls its war in the east an "Anti-Terrorist Operation"; it has created an entire website devoted to reporting on its "ATO."

Prystaiko also acknowledges, "We have 85,000 internal refugees."

The monthly report on Ukraine human rights for June 2014 by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says Kyiv is failing to provide even minimal assistance for the internal refugees that its war has created. Refugees are dependent on help from family, friends and strangers. The report says this is also the case for many of the reported 10,000 Crimean Tatars who decided to move to Ukraine following Crimea's secession vote in March. Some of them (we don't know exactly how many) are returning home because of the absence support they anticipated receiving in Ukraine.

Notwithstanding all the bombast in Canada in the pages of the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star and on the airwaves of the CBC condemning Russia for the downing of Flight MH17, the Associated Press and other media outlets are reporting that U.S. government officials admit having "no evidence" linking Russia (or anyone else) to the plane crash.

And reports of the shooting down two days ago of two Ukraine fighter jets are noteworthy for the concern expressed for the jets and not expressed for the people they are bombing. The Globe publishes a New York Times News Service story that says, says, "The loss of the jets was a significant blow to the Ukrainian military, which has a limited amount of air power, much of it inherited from the breakup of the Soviet Union."

What are Canadian making of all this? A cross-section of public attitudes was aired five days ago on the CBC national radio program, Cross Country Checkup. It is a weekly, two-hour, phone-in program with a large audience.

At least half the callers into the program expressed great doubt or downright opposition to how the crash of Malaysia Airlines is being used to sound the drums of war in eastern Ukraine, including against Russia itself. Quite a few expressed sympathy and out-and-out support to the right of the people of eastern Ukraine to freely determine their future political status.

Many callers said they simply do not trust the arguments of those in the west chanting "blame Russia." The callers who advocated stepping up sanctions and even military threats against Russia came across as anachronistic, voices from another era (the Cold War) that most Canadians would prefer to leave in the past.

Christopher Westdal, a former Canadian ambassador to Russia (2003-06) and Ukraine (2006-08) was one of a number of special guests on the program. He urged talks to end the war in eastern Ukraine. He said, "Kyiv cannot bomb the Donbass back into the fold." (Donbass is the industrial region in southeast Ukraine that includes the two territories that voted in May for political self-determination -- Donetsk and Luhansk.)

Westdal repeated that message a little later, saying, "Kyiv can't bomb its way to national unity."

Paul Grod of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress told the program quite forcefully that he wants Canada to supply more arms to the government of President Petro Poroshenko.

The political struggle in eastern Ukraine began in February as a movement demanding autonomy over economic, social and cultural policy. Because of the ferocity of Kyiv's war, the popular sentiment has shifted to demanding outright independence.

The doubts, hesitations and outright opposition among Canadians to Kyiv's war are a constraint on the Harper government and they explain some of the reason why it is failing to put its aid money where its bellicose, pro-war mouth is. Progressive and antiwar Canadians should take encouragement from that. We need to step up concerted information and protest action that can help end Kyiv's carnage and shelling rampage in eastern Ukraine.

As for what it all means for Ukrainians, Sergei Kirichuk of the Ukraine socialist group Borotba has written an article titled, "National integrity and class struggle in Ukraine." Kirichuk is living in political exile, like many other of his Borotba comrades. He writes in his latest article:

Unfortunately, the patriotic hysteria that has gripped Ukrainian society does not allow people to take a sober look at the reality of the situation in a country where there is killing in their name and where they themselves are killed. There will be no Western armies fighting in the east of the country -- there will perish Ukrainian soldiers and officers, rebels and civilians. Rejection of peace negotiations is leading the country to a military, economic and social catastrophe. To not see this is to consciously or unconsciously push the country to ruin.

 

 

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