How Ukrainian and Russian Elite Benefit From New Flare-ups at the Border
These border confrontations distract from domestic policies as a source of internal social problems, says Moscow-based political economist Aleksandr Buzgalin
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Tensions are on the rise between Russia and the Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has not ruled out introducing martial law and a new wave of military mobilization if the conflict with pro-Russian separatists worsens. Poroshenko made his comments as fresh tension with Russia over Crimea reignited fears that a fragile ceasefire deal hammered out in February 2015 could collapse following the deadliest month of fighting in a year.
Two soldiers were killed and eight wounded in 24 hours in Ukraine’s rebel-held eastern region, the Ukrainian defense ministry said on Friday, August 19. All this is coming at a time when a spotlight is shining on the Trump campaign’s ties to pro-Russian oligarchs and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Well now joining us to discuss all of this from Moscow is Aleksandr Buzgalin. Aleksandr is a Professor of Political Economy at Moscow State University. He is also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives. He’s also a coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives, and author of more than 20 books.
Thanks so much for joining us again.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: Thank you. I’m very glad to be with you.
NOOR: Talk about the source of the latest tensions in the area. Why has this violence worsened over the last month? Both Russia and Ukraine have held large military drills in the area. Give us your thoughts.
BUZGALIN: The program was really very deep, and the reason is fundamental. Minsk negotiations led to agreement, but it was not salvation of the problem. It was just a peace of break, if I can say so, and it was not pure peace. We have victims in Donbass. Ukrainians have also some victims, and so on.
The problem is it’s necessary to find the radical, not in the military form of radical salvation, but radical salvation which will change the situation. For Poroshenko this is their only opportunity to save his power and to continue his presidency, and to solve internal contradictions and internal problems. For Putin some difficulty with relations with Ukraine and tension creates a basis for his popularity because now we have enemy, and this is NATO, and not Ukraine as Ukrainian people, but Poroshenko is leader of the Ukrainian state.
There are a lot of contradictions in this confrontation. First contradiction: They have a lot of ideological debates and mutual critique, very strong, sometimes dirty critique from Ukraine to Russia, from Russia to Ukraine. The same with United States, and so on. But from another time, they have diplomatic relations. They have business relations.
Now, we have a million of Ukrainians all working in Russia, and there are a lot of Russians working in Ukraine, and so on and so far. I am now in Crimea, and here’s a lot of Ukrainians who came for vacations in spite of the fact that they have some threats from officials that they will be punished for traveling to Crimea. So this is very complex confrontation. Yes, [with cooperation] confrontation and so on.
Second, we have no real basis for solution of this problem, because from one and from another side, from Ukrainian side and Russian side, they have political ambitions. And the background for these ambitions is [inaud.] typical. Both in Ukraine and in Russia. And this tension is unprofitable for Ukrainian people, for peoples of Ukraine, because there are different peoples in Ukraine. Or peoples of Russia including Ukrainians who live in Russia.
This is an ugly, stupid confrontation which is not profitable, but useful for political reasons for leaders of both countries. [Inaud.]
NOOR: And so talk about who is benefiting. Is it the Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs? And what rule are they playing in what’s happening?
BUZGALIN: They don’t have a profit in this. They have a basis for continuation of their power. They have ideological backgrounds to say we have now bad economic situation not because we have terrible inequality, not because they have neoliberal economic policy, not because they have terrible [inaud.] oligarchs and so on, but because of the confrontation. This is Ukrainian logic, or so-called logic.
In Russia, it’s again, Russia is under the attack of NATO, under the attack of the United States, and Ukrainians are only a small country which is, don’t know, a puppet in the hands of the United States, Washington, and so on. And this is basis for all difficulties that, how do you say, reason why we have crisis in Russia, and so on and so on. This is the problem. And from time to time it’s necessary to have tension.
In Russia they had during last week’s information that Ukrainian special troops attacked Crimea, and the terrorists came to Crimea to make explosives in water system and power stations, and in other–not military, but civil [objects]. And that for the local interviews for this, officers from so-called Ukrainian special troops–[when it is there]. [Inaud.] is Ukrainian special troops. I don’t have any [knowledge]. And they said openly that they came to make this terrorist attack on Crimea. It was translated. I don’t know, we have many channels during weeks.
So it’s a big question, is it true or not, or this is provocation or not. But it was done, and now for Russia it’s again the basis to say yes, did not want us won Olympic games. There is no equality in liberal politics. And the Ukrainians only [inaud.] features also taking Russia. And we must be altogether oligarchs for people, everybody, in order to confront–not to confront, but to defend. Not to confront, but defend ourselves from NATO, from military forces of the United States and the European Union. [Inaud.]
NOOR: And you mentioned the United States–. So, you mentioned the United States. I wanted to ask you about the impact the U.S. election is having in this conflict. Recently Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, resigned after the New York Times uncovered he may have received $12 million in off-the-book payments from a pro-Russian Ukrainian party. And just today Politico released an article titled Trump Is Already Helping Putin Consolidate Control of the Ukraine. In this article–I’m going to read a quote. It says: In short, the rhetoric in the U.S. election, especially Trump’s, is already altering policy in the region, hardening Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine, at the same time frustrating and confusing Ukrainians who want to stand up to Putin.
What are your thoughts from being on the ground in this area? Does this reflect what’s actually happening there?
BUZGALIN: It’s only strange reflection or [inaud.] mural, reflection [inaud.] mural. The problem is contradictions of liberal globalization led to a very paradox situation, where sometimes more [inaud.] than neoliberals, more conservative politicians like Trump, can say, when they are trying to criticize mainstream policy or the previous president of the United States, or mainstream policy of other leaders, sometimes these far-right politicians who are ugly, terrible [inaud.] can say all bad things when they’re criticizing neoliberal globalization.
But really, if they are in power, such persons like Trump, this is catastrophe for–not catastrophe, but very bad result for the United States and for Russia. It will not lead to the friendship and decline of international tension. It will lead to the growth of international tension.
But we have strange situation, where the Russia leader, Russian president, and some others, have no bad relations with right-wing politicians in different countries, and they are together against a real threat from NATO. Threat of neoliberal integration of everyone in the supervision of global [inaud.]. This is paradox. Anti-globalization forces now are represented from the top level by right-wing, terrible politicians with [crisis] teachers. I’m not speaking about our leaders I’m speaking about. [Inaud.]
And this is a problem. And Trump is one of the symbolic and sometimes even funny, presentations of this problem. This is my command.
NOOR: Okay. Well, thank you so much for joining us.
BUZGALIN: And thank you for having a dialog with U.S. and other people who are watching your program. It’s a great program, and I’m very glad to participate every time when I can.
NOOR: Aleksandr Buzgalin is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University. Thank you so much for joining us.
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