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Derek Monroe says that Russian military presence along the western border is more defensive than aggressive; that the country is likely to remain unified; and the new transitional government continues an oligarchic rule that does not represent the interests of ordinary eastern or western Ukrainians

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Ukraine’s acting president, Turchynov, called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the country’s eastern region, where pro-Russian insurgents have occupied buildings in nearly ten cities.

In a round of myth-busting and analysis we are now joined by our guest, Derek Monroe. He’s an independent journalist who recently returned from Ukraine. And Derek covers Ukraine for Foreign Policy in Focus, a Washington-based publication for Institute for Policy Studies.

Thanks for joining us, Derek.


DESVARIEUX: So, Derek, first of all, just help us understand who these armed men are. And what are their interests, really?

MONROE: Well, I think if you look at the situation as it developed in the East and the West, the majority of the people who are protesting and are–of course, they’re quote-unquote terrorists by new government in Kiev–these are people who are concerned citizens, who are really looking forward to protect their own rights, both under the Ukraine Constitution, which doesn’t seem to be implemented right now by the new government in Kiev, but also are worried about their political and economic future. These are the people who feel they do not have any representation whatsoever in Verkhovna Rada, which is the Ukrainian parliament, because, as your viewers probably know, one of the first things that the new Ukrainian provisional government did was to dissolve the opposition parties. Therefore, they’re–basically are looking for the same thing that the Western Ukrainian protesters were seeking before: representation in the political and economic sphere. And that’s something that actually–that’s been emphasized not strong enough, I think, in the media, where they simply want to be left alone and be part of something which they can believe in which would guarantee their both economic and political future.

DESVARIEUX: So Russia is saying that they are independent entity, really, and really acting alone. But the Russian foreign minister, he said they have the right to intervene in order to protect them. So I’m trying to understand what’s the truth here. Are they really going to be supported by Russia at the end of the day? What do you see happening, Derek?

MONROE: Well, there are a lot of rumors happening right now that there are Russian special forces involved, just like there was in the situation in Crimea. And I think every sovereign government has a right to support people on their border, specifically when it comes from the same ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I mean, the same situation happened, if I can recall, back in the late ’70s, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia to put the end of the genocide of Khmer Rouge or variety of different interventions which took place in Africa and Congo, for example, where you have neighboring armies come in to get rid of extremists one way or the other.

So what’s happening in Russia right now, it’s basically something that’s been going on with different areas of the world for a long time. Every country is–every people and every sovereign countries have a right to be represented, both politically and economically and socially. And the current setup, political setup, does not guarantee any representation to the Eastern Ukrainians whatsoever, both if you look at our language laws, if you look at the current lack of opposition, which was banned; also if you look at a economic situation where the majority of the Eastern Ukrainian industry is heavy and it’s heavily centered to the exports to Russia.

So, basically, as it happens, right now in Kiev the current provisional government in Kiev has really nothing to offer to its Eastern Ukrainian citizens. And this is something which I think needs to be addressed, first and foremost really should be addressed among Ukrainians, who should sit down together and work out some kind of framework, representative framework, whether it’s federative-based or whether it’s association-based or whatever that might be, something that can actually put the end of the bloodshed and put the end of the instability. And, unfortunately, as it happens right now, both East and West has their own particular interests, and they don’t seem to really get along with it to make sure that the Ukrainians can be left for Ukrainians to figure out their own mess.

DESVARIEUX: Derek, let’s turn now to some photos that were released, satellite photos, actually, by NATO, and they show sort of the extent of Russia’s military mobilization on its border with Ukraine. You can see here some fighter jets. They say that there are tanks and thousands of soldiers who are prepared to enter Ukraine within any given amount of time–I think it’s–I believe it’s 12 hours.

So, first of all, what does all this mean? How are you interpreting these events? Is this Russia being more aggressive?

MONROE: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s aggressive. The western border of Russia always has been heavily militarized in Soviet times, and right now there’s obviously a lot of concern in the Russian leadership to the developing situation in Ukraine. Whether they’re going to intervene or not is a completely different story. Just to countervene this point, recently there was a NBC reporter who went along with this photographer all the length of the Ukrainian-Russian border. He basically stated that there are not major concentration of tanks or any major heavy weaponry as being alleged in the West. So you can basically take it many different ways, however you want it.

However, I think if you also look at the Russian position as far as its own western border defense is concerned, it’s not in their interest to have this continuous instability in the country itself. And politically, Putin has to really be aware of the situation where the Russian speakers, who are highly not only politically but also economically connected with Russia, they’re going to be killed or going to be maimed or attacked [incompr.]

You know, the political reality in Russia is that simply they simply cannot leave it alone and let it go, whatever happens. So I think there’s definitely some serious concerns here that Russia might intervene.

DESVARIEUX: Derek, the acting president, Turchynov, he actually suggested that a nationwide referendum could be held at the same time as the presidential election on May 25, and essentially the question would be: should the Eastern Ukraine remain a part of Ukraine? And he says that there’ll be overwhelming support for the country to remain unified. Do you see this as a step in the right direction, calling for this referendum in order to quell the mounting tension?

MONROE: Yes, it is. But, unfortunately, the rhetoric also has to have some kind of support on the ground. And I think sending special forces and military to quell the quote-unquote protests in Eastern Ukraine is very counterproductive to that. So you see a very strange dichotomy where, on the one hand, they want to talk about peace, they’re talking about political resolution of the issue; on the other hand, they’re putting artificial deadlines of people being attacked for exercising their own democratic rights.

So, once again, the bottom line here is that Eastern Ukrainians don’t have any political representation within the current political setup in Kiev. So I think this is the fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And can you describe who currently is in power right now in this transitional government? Is this more of the old old guard?

MONROE: Yes, it is. If you look at the original setup of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko, Yushchenko, and a variety of different power players and oligarchs which took over the power after this quote-unquote revolution, the same people are back in power. Although Tymoshenko’s currently scheduled to run for president for next month’s election, Mr. Turchynov has been a very close associate to her. There were a lot of allegations when he was one of the management people at Kryvorizhstal, which originally resulted in very criminal charges against Tymoshenko people, including one of them, Pavlo Lazarenko, that was arrested, actually, for fraud and is serving time here in the U.S., there are a lot of different unfinished–there’s a lot of different things that point to a lot of unfinished business from that time. And you look at /ɑrˈkɑːdi/ Yatsenyuk, which basically is another person that goes back to the past that also served in Tymoshenko’s government, and by his own recollection, even admission, he got very wealthy during the period. He basically is a millionaire. So you have this basically–a very continued presence of people who were compromised when they were running the country, and now they’re–the same people are back in power.

And one thing I also would like to mention, which is not strongly emphasized enough, I think, in the media, the Maidan Square that started it still exists. The people are still protesting. And one of the major slogans that they had is that people who are right now in Kiev under the provisional government do not represent them. These are the people who really should not be in power, and they consider this revolution an unfinished business. That’s why they’re staying put.

DESVARIEUX: And off-camera you mentioned that essentially this May 25 election that’s coming up, it’s really two choices that are pretty much the same. Can you explain that further?

MONROE: Well, there are two major players which are running for power–Tymoshenko, who herself is actually compromised, who has actually done a lot of things that West wanted her to do, including, for example, sending the Ukrainian army to Iraq, where they were–in Afghanistan also. And she’s basically considered one of the inside people that could be trusted as far as following the Western agenda, a corporate agenda from the West–number one thing. Number two is Mr. Poroshenko, who himself is a very wealthy oligarch who at that time, during the times of the ’90s and the early 2000s, got very wealthy by consolidating different industries and benefiting from the whole setup. So there’s really no fresh voices at this point. It seems like the political system that’s set up right now for–that’s supposed to be reinforced by election really excludes a whole slate of people. And people, not only Eastern Ukrainians, but a majority of regular Ukrainians, really do not have anybody to listen to their voices.

DESVARIEUX: So, Derek, so if future policy was in the interests of those regular Ukrainians that you were just talking about, what would it look like then?

MONROE: From my conversations with a lot of–when I was over there just recently and talked to people from the East and the West, the regular people, they’re basically looking for a third way. One thing that cannot also be strongly emphasized enough is that the whole revolution that came about in Maidan, it was basically about finding a third way to the existing status quo, since the both Yanukovych government and administration and opposition are basically two faces of the same–two sides of the same coin. So the idea was to spread some new, fresh ideas, a new political party, which at that time was represented by UDAR Party, led by Mr. Klitschko, who was considered an honest broker who made his money honestly and who would bring some kind of degree of sanity as well as respectability to the political office. Unfortunately, he’s been forced out by political machinations since the revolution, revolutionaries, quote-unquote, took power in Kiev.

Therefore it seems that there’s really no representation, that regular Ukrainians, whether from the West or the East, are not being heard. And their voices are not only not being heard, but their interests are simply not represented.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Derek Monroe, very interesting analysis. Thank you so much for joining us.

MONROE: You’re welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Derek Monroe is an independent reporter/journalist based in Illinois. He covered Ukraine, Iraqi Kurdistan and continuing crisis in Fukushima Japan for Foreign Policy in Focus, a Washington based publication for Institute for Policy Studies. Monroe also works as international business consultant and translator of 3 languages. He worked and lived in US, Poland, Mexico, Japan and Germany.