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Political economist Aleksandr Buzgalin and international law professor John Quigley discuss the internal rivalries for power taking place within Ukraine, and the history of its relations with Russia

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev after the Parliament called for his removal. Now elections are to be held on May 25.

Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych and are holding him responsible for the deaths of protesters in recent months. Right now, Russia will retain the $15 billion loan package it offered to Ukraine in December until a new government is in place.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia have voiced support for a new IMF loan to assist the country with its economic problems.

Here to discuss this, two guests.

First we have joining us Aleksandr Buzgalin. He’s a professor of political economy at Moscow State University.

Also we have John Quigley. He’s a professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University. And he previously dealt with conflicts between Ukraine and Russia arising from the breakup of the U.S.S.R., on behalf of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Thank you both for joining us.



DESVARIEUX: So, Aleksandr, I’m going to start off with you. Many commentators are trying to really discuss the uprising and ouster of Yanukovych as an external manipulation by either the E.U., Russia, and the U.S. And many also mention the E.U. deal as the cause of the protests. But clearly, by the scale of the protests alone, there’s clearly some internal struggle that we’re seeing happening between the governing elite. Can you just sort of break down these internal rivalries?

BUZGALIN: So, first of all, of course there is big influence of European Union, of the United States government and officials, acting directly and through Poland. So it’s true. The same I can say about Russian influence, and this is also true.

But, first of all, it was protest during many years. It was first Maidan, and now it’s second Maidan. And people were angry and are angry about bureaucratic oligarchic regime which took place in Ukraine and, I am afraid, which will be restored again, as it was after first Maidan.

So this is, first of all, spontaneous protest from below interconnected with struggle of elites, and interconnected also with far right activity. In Ukraine during last years, or maybe even decades, after collapse of the Soviet Union, appeared very strong and growing semi-fascist, very nationalistic movement which is interconnected historically. And they connect themselves openly with fascists in Ukraine who supported German fascism and occupation of our countries and so on.

So this is three different forces. Open protest of the people–of course, in the beginning it was not open, but now it was open protest of the people who want to change the system, who wants to overcome bureaucratic oligarchic regime, first. Second, big influence from European Union–NATO countries, better to say–from one hand, and Russia from another hand. Third force: struggle of pro-European and pro-Russian oligarch capitals in Ukraine. And this is extremely important factor which is behind all fights.

And finally, these right-wing forces, who are now also in the peak of their activity–and this is extremely dangerous for not only Ukraine, but for all over the world. In some respects, Ukraine now was similar and is similar with Weimar Republic and threat of far-right dictatorship as a result of chaos which took place now in Ukraine is maybe main factor and main threat, and we have to understand this and take in the consideration.

DESVARIEUX: John, you just heard Aleksandr really lay out those three different groups.

I want to get your impression, though, of who’s in control of the state now. What will they likely do now that they’re in power?

QUIGLEY: The interim government, if you can call it that, seems to be oriented towards closer ties with Europe. So I think they’re clearly going to go in that direction. And I think Aleksandr was perfectly correct in saying that the outside powers have tried to influence things. I don’t think that their outside influence proved decisive–at least, has proved decisive so far. I think it has been internal considerations that have led to this change.

But the United States was clearly trying to bring about a change in the government, as is clear from the telephone conversation that was overheard of Ms. Nuland talking with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev not long ago.

DESVARIEUX: Aleksandr, what’s your take?

BUZGALIN: So, first of all, I partly agree with John, and I want to stress that now we have another contradiction. This is contradiction between the right bloc, real force which has power in the country. It’s not Parliament. It’s not any former state organization. Now it’s troops, I can say, troops and groups of nationalists and right bloc (this is their name) militants–who has weapons, by the way, very often NATO weapons, who are very well trained, who are very well organized. And among them there are a lot of professionals who had great experience of the direct street fight, even shooting and so on. So it’s not just ordinary people who came with sticks. It’s very organized force and active in Kiev, first of all, but not only in Kiev, in many cities of Ukraine. And they are not big enthusiasts about joining to European Union. They want to have a self-independent Ukraine as a Ukrainian country with Ukrainian population, Ukrainian language, Ukrainian traditions. And this is right-wing nationalism, which is against both Russia, against European Union, and so on. And there is big conflict between Tymoshenko and other forces, from one hand, and this right bloc, from another hand.

And there are also ordinary people who are also divided. They’re divided because it is big contradiction between east and west of Ukraine. East is mainly Russian-speaking and more oriented on real production–steel, coal production. This is workers and ordinary people, mainly, and pro-Russian oligarchs. West is more peasant and more oriented on the European Union business.

Plus, this is also a big contradiction between people–and I can say majority of people–and such forces as Tymoshenko and their friends, because when Tymoshenko was prime minister, she was also very interconnected with bureaucratic, oligarchic power, and ordinary people understand this very well. She is not hero. She is just victim of the struggle between the two clans of oligarchs, nothing more. And this is very important and very well expressed in many interviews which we have in Russia.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. I’m happy, Aleksandr, you mention that right-wing sector that is very nationalistic, wants Ukraine for Ukrainians. But it’s undeniable that the Ukrainian border and the Russian border–obviously, there’s a considerable amount of migration between the two sides. And I’m going to quote an International Organization for Migration report in 2013. They say that it’s the second-largest migration corridor in the world, and that’s only behind Mexico and the United States. So Ukraine also has an agreement with Russia to keep a Russian naval sea base. And can you just talk about the history?

BUZGALIN: A few words about Sevastopol. This is a Navy fleet base in Black Sea, where there is both Ukrainian and Russian fleet. And, by the way, this town/city is a Russian-speakin city. And it was also something like Maidan. But on the Square, they elected new mayor, who is protector of Crimea as a independent, I can say, region, independent territory, which will be not joining to the European Union. And this is opinion of, I think, 90 percent of citizens of Crimea, except a very small party of Tartar population and a few others. So this is a big problem.

In Odessa, million city, again, port in Black Sea, it was 10,000 [demonstrators] with weapons, so-called people’s military–not military–people’s voluntary defense groups, or something like that. I don’t know how to translate exactly into English. And they said that they don’t want to be inside European Union, and especially they are against this slogan “Ukraine for Ukrainians” and right bloc. So this is extremely contradictory situation on the border of civil war.

DESVARIEUX: So, John, just talk about the history of the relationship between the two countries, particularly in terms of economic ties and how this might play a role in May elections.

QUIGLEY: Oh. They’ve been together for hundreds of years. And the industrial heartland of the entire Soviet Union was in Ukraine, was in the eastern part of Ukraine, the industrial base that Aleksandr was mentioning. So the connection is very strong. And Ukraine is getting its fuel supplies from Russia at favorable prices. So it would be very difficult for Ukraine to completely disaffiliate with Russia in some kind of orientation to Europe.

The situation is probably most difficult with respect to Crimea, which is territory that was actually part of Russia until 1954, when it was transferred into the Ukrainian Republic. Then, when the Soviet Union split apart, Crimea found itself suddenly outside of an orientation with Russia. And that has led to very serious disputes, and in particular because of the fact that the Black Sea Fleet, as Aleksandr mentioned, the fleet of the former Soviet navy, now the Russian Navy, is based there. So that’s been one of the major issues and conflict. And when Tymoshenko was in power, the Ukrainian government indicated that the fleet would have to leave. And now, when Yanukovych came in, he extended the arrangement till, I think, the year 2042. So that’s a major strategic issue.

But in terms of the population, the population, as Aleksandr said, in Crimea is very heavily Russian, very, very small Ukrainian component. The major minority there actually is the Tartars of Crimea, as he mentioned. And the people in Crimea are very concerned that they will suffer discrimination at the hands of a Ukraine that is in control of these more right-wing Ukrainian elements.

DESVARIEUX: Thank you both for joining us.

BUZGALIN: Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk with you. And I’m glad to be in contact anytime.

QUIGLEY: Yes, yes, thank you very much.

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


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Before joining the Ohio State faculty in 1969, Professor John Quigley was a research scholar at Moscow State University, and a research associate in comparative law at Harvard Law School. Professor Quigley teaches International Law and Comparative Law. Professor Quigley holds an adjunct appointment in the Political Science Department. In 1982-83 he was a visiting professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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Professor Quigley is active in international human rights work. His numerous publications include books and articles on human rights, the United Nations, war and peace, east European law, African law, and the Arab-Israeli conflict In 1995 he was recipient of The Ohio State University Distinguished Scholar Award.  He formerly held the title of President’s Club Professor of Law.

Aleksandr Buzgalin is a Professor of Political Economy at Moscow State University. He is also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives, and is a coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives, author of more then 20 books and hundreds of articles, translated into English, German and many other languages.