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Serhiy Kudelia of Baylor University, who recently returned from a trip to the eastern regions in Ukraine, says Kiev’s use of force in Donbas instead of negotiations helped to transform the initial popular mobilization into a full-scale military resistance

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The United Nations puts the death toll in Ukraine at over 5,000 now. I’m in conversation with Sergiy Kudelia about the potential solutions and negotiated solutions to the conflict in Ukraine. Sergiy Kudelia is assistant professor of political science at Baylor University. He coauthored the book The Strategy of Campaigning, which was published in 2007. He recently returned from a trip to the Eastern region in Ukraine. Thank you so much for joining me again. SERGIY KUDELIA, ASST. PROFESSOR, POLITICAL SCIENCE, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY: Thank you. Glad to be here. PERIES: So, Sergiy, in our earlier segment, you outlined some elements that is crucial and necessary for a negotiated solution to the conflict. Can you recap that for me? KUDELIA: Sure. So I think after the latest round of violence, it’s very hard to imagine that both sides, both the Ukrainian side and the insurgent side, would be able to talk and negotiate without the mediation of the international community. And I think that a more active intervention of the international community, specifically the United States, the European Union, in the form of mediation, is a necessary requirement for that settlement to actually–to be able to reach–for the sides to be able to reach the settlement. What kind of conditions are we talking about for the settlement to be successful? Well, the first condition is for Ukraine to cede, de facto cede its sovereign claims over the territory that is now controlled by the insurgents and to agree to a temporary entity that will exist outside of Ukrainian boundaries, whatever you call it, Donetsk People’s Republic, Lugansk People’s Republic. You name it. It doesn’t matter. And that entity will be under the control of the international organizations. The UN will have its contingent stationed on the territory of these republics. And it would be important to have a timeframe, after which there will be a referendum on these territories that will be overseen by the international observers, where the people would vote whether they want to stay as they were in this semi-independent state or they would want to come back and return to Ukraine. And only after that referendum, which would be certified by the international community, you would have a final decision made on the level of Ukrainian government on what to do with these entities. But I think, as I said, it’s important that the enforcement should come from the outside, from the United Nations, from the United States, E.U., and Russia. These are all the international players that have to enforce that kind of agreement between the rebels and the Ukrainian government. PERIES: Now, Professor Kudelia, some would argue that the last elections was a kind of a referendum on the current situation. Would you not agree? KUDELIA: The last parliamentary election, you mean? PERIES: Yes. KUDELIA: Partially it was. I agree with that. It was a referendum on whether the Ukrainian people supported a more aggressive or a more conciliatory position. President’s party was arguing, positioning itself as more of a peaceful force, pro-peace, and the prime minister’s party was positioning itself is a more aggressive force. And the end result was that it was 50-50. The result was split, really, between the pro-presidential and pro-prime ministerial party. So we don’t really have, I think, a set opinion in which the majority of Ukrainians would favor either a military solution or a political solution to the conflict. And I think the majority of Ukrainians would want to see a resolution to the conflict that would lead to the end of violence. That’s–I think the urgency of ending violence is clear. The need to end violence is very important. And we’re seeing that the mobilization, the draft that has been announced several days ago by the president, that draft is now being resisted by many even in Western Ukraine. Locals are not willing to join the Army, which many view as being incompetent and corrupt. And I think that’s one of the reasons why in general the society would not be against a solution that would end violence. PERIES: Right. And one of the things that is really impeding, perhaps, a more peaceful approach to all of this is much of the coverage in the media. I know that the Western press, news particularly, the editorial boards, describe some of the fighting there as Russia’s latest aggression in Ukraine or Putin’s adventures, and that really puts things in a more destabilized situation. Your comments on the media coverage. KUDELIA: Well, the media coverage, I think, in the West in general has been very sparse and basically ignored both the complexities of the conflict [incompr.] the situation in Donbas. And I would say even the day-to-day situation in Donbas has not been covered very well in the press, and particularly in the large networks. On television you rarely see any news bits about what’s happening in Eastern Ukraine anymore. And, of course, the simplified version of events that you just presented, that we’re dealing with Russian aggression, the Russian troops are fair, and it’s an inter-state conflict, it’s a very easy way of explaining this conflict. It’s easy to understand for people who are not very familiar with the situation on the ground, with what Ukraine is, how complex the makeup of Ukraine is, and regional differences within Ukraine. So it’s something that I’m not surprised about in general. It’s very unfortunate, of course, because that creates a very wrong impression of what’s happening in Ukraine among the large part of the population in the West, but it’s nothing surprising. PERIES: Right. And also you have written that some accounts of this fighting that’s going on ignore the possibility that citizens in the region like Lugansk and Donetsk feel genuine alienation from the Kiev government. Why is that so? KUDELIA: Why do they feel alienation? PERIES: Mhm. KUDELIA: Well, the alienation, of course, started after the revolution, when the popular movement basically ousted the president that the majority of the people in Donbas supported, voted for. Many of them were not actually supportive of him anymore at that time. But the way the change of power happened in Ukraine, the way the power was captured, in a sort of–with the use of violence, of course, on both sides, that really became an issue of contention, an issue of agreements for many people who live there. They disagreed with that. And that was sort of the push, the initial push for the mobilization of people on the streets with the demands for greater economy, for the recognition of their political rights, etc. The way that initial popular mobilization transformed into the full-scale military resistance, of course, has a lot to do with the response of Kiev to these popular demands. And the response of Kiev, of course, was to send military troops, tanks into this area to try to quell what they saw as a small group of people basically creating trouble. In reality, the Ukrainian authorities misread the situation as well, and they recognize a little too late, I think, in the process. Only later in the process they recognized that there is a grassroots support for that position. It’s not about just a dozen of people who are creating troubles and making these separatist demands. There is a grassroots support for that. And they realized that only when they suddenly saw people on the streets meeting these tanks and asking them to go away, to turn around. And, of course, instead of trying to pursue negotiations with this movement, with the people who represent this movement, they started to use force in large numbers, very excessive force that led to substantial civilian losses. And so, of course, once you have this kind of a situation, the conflict escalates and people–the grievances accumulate. And people are becoming even more agreed, even more alienated. So this point in time, from what I understand, it’s hard to imagine that many of the people who live through this fighting and live through this conflict, regular people, not necessarily rebels, insurgents, would be willing to accept their future as part of Ukraine. And that’s really a very unfortunate outcome to this very mishandled and incompetent military campaign that the Ukrainian government waged in Donbas. PERIES: Right. And is there–getting back to the rebellions, is there a genuine rebellion leadership emerging here? KUDELIA: So, in November, of course, the insurgents used to that moment when the fighting calmed down to hold their own elections and institutionalize themselves, create their own organs of power, bodies of power. And so you have the two leaders from these unrecognized republics who claim certain popular support and who were elected in these elections that actually neither Ukraine nor the West nor Russia recognized. But they thought that these elections legitimized [incompr.] And from what we’re seeing now, these republics are institutionalizing themselves very quickly and that you have actually, different bodies, very diversified bodies that are almost, like, in a quasi state that are working on providing social services, basic social services, that are working on dealing with, on addressing other needs of the population on the ground, and are trying to represent these people. So in a way we are seeing and institutionalization of these quasi-republics over the last several months. PERIES: Right. Professor Kudelia, thank you so much for joining us today and explaining much of what’s unexplained, really, in the mainstream press. I appreciate that. KUDELIA: Sure. Thank you. Good to be with you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Sergiy Kudelia's research interests include state formation, political regimes, revolutions, institutional development, civil wars and political violence with a geographic focus on the post-communist world. Prior to coming to Baylor he held teaching and research positions at Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, University of Toronto, University of Greifswald University (Germany) and National University "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy" (Ukraine). His articles appeared in various peer-reviewed journals including Post-Soviet Affairs, Problems of Post-Communism, East European Politics and Societies, Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Demokratizatsiya and in several edited volumes. His book The Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris co-authored with Kiron Skinner, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Condoleezza Rice was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2007. Dr. Kudelia comments frequently on post-communist politics to a variety of media outlets including BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Voice of America, Al-Jazeera, NHK, Radio China International, The Moscow Times, Kyiv Post and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.