What Role Has Russia Played in Eastern Ukraine?
John Quigley & Aleksandr Buzgalin say that the building occupations and protests in cities like Donestk look like local initiatives, and are markedly less violent than some of those during the Euromaiden protests
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
Diplomats from Russia, U.S., Ukraine, and the E.U. met in Geneva to deescalate the situation in Ukraine after several pro-Russian protesters in the East were killed by Ukrainian security forces. The meeting in Geneva has led to an agreement of amnesty for the protesters who occupied buildings in recent days, with troops withdrawn from borders and greater autonomy in the eastern regions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has also said that nonlethal aid will be sent to Ukraine, and the White House has said additional sanctions have been readied in case the situation worsens.
Joining us now to discuss the situation are two guests.
Aleksandr Buzgalin is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University. He’s also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives and is a coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives, author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles, translated into English, German, and many other languages.
Also joining us is John Quigley. He’s a professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University and has 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.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMICS, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Thank you for invitation and the opportunity to discuss with you this very important question.
WORONCZUK: So, Aleksandr, let’s start with you. What role has Russia played in the protests that have taken place in East Ukraine? Is there any evidence that points to collaboration or support for the pro-Russian protesters by the Russian government, as U.S. officials have repeatedly claimed?
BUZGALIN: I do not see any real political or economic forms of support, and, of course, no support by military force. There is ideological support, cultural support, and mutual feelings of many Russians, who are speaking and talking between ourselves, not only officially in support of Ukrainian people who wants to have a federal system of organization of Ukraine, who want to have real defense of human rights of Russian-speaking people. And this is not something special. This is just absolutely normal situation, typical for many countries in Europe. In Belgium, people who speak French can work together and live together and be in one democratic country with those who are speaking Flemish and there is no big conflicts–there are two languages–while in Ukraine it is impossible. This is only one aspect.
There are some other aspects interconnected with threat of right being nationalist or even pro-fascist forces, and people in the east and south of Ukraine who were fighting against fascist troops during World War II who has all this memory cannot be together with these soldiers, militants, I can say even bandits who are real nationalists and pro-fascists and who has their flag, their symbols of [incompr.] and so on. And we can understand this.
So I think position of Russian government is more or less neutral officially and position of Russian people is real support, but not support by weapons, military forces, and so on.
And I wanted also to stress the specific forms of self-organization of people in the South and East of Ukraine. This is ordinary citizens from villages, from small towns, from big towns, who are crossing streets, who are standing in front of tents, in front of armed vehicles, who are talking with soldiers, and sometimes soldiers don’t want to–not only to attack, but simply don’t want to fight against them in any form. And there are a lot of evidences that armed vehicles and other guns and so on of Ukrainian army, soldiers, officers of Ukrainian army decided to support protesters, because they understand that very well.
So that’s why situation is not simple. It’s Ukrainian officials, new Ukrainian officials who are sending troops, tents, armed vehicles, and a lot of soldiers, officers with machine guns, and so on against people who has maybe a few guns and who are protesting even without any military force now. There is no armed attacks from population against Ukrainian army. So this is another type of confrontation that–it is presented typically in the Western mainstream press.
WORONCZUK: So, John, what’s your take on what Aleksandr has just said? What role do you think the Russian state has played in exacerbating the situation in the east of Ukraine?
JOHN QUIGLEY, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, I think it’s as Aleksandr said [incompr.] not been any kind of direct role, and there is significant sentiment in the eastern part of Ukraine that the Russian-speaking population is at some risk. And I think much of what is happening there is locally generated.
BUZGALIN: So, can I add a little bit?
WORONCZUK: Sure. Go on. Go ahead, Aleksandr.
BUZGALIN: I want to stress that inside these people who are occupying buildings and in different cities and towns who are organizing protests, crossing streets, the roads in the villages, there is very interesting system of mutual assistance, mutual support. And they [incompr.] slogans. And this is direct evidence which we received via internet. This is not official propaganda. There are signs: “the police never destroy anything”. We are not like peoples from Maidan. Maidan in Russia became symbol not only of mass protest, but also a symbol of destruction of buildings and dirty behavior of right-wingers in Kiev. So we will save all equipment in official buildings. They will never destroy anything. It will be clean, it will be safe, and all people can work–there is direct support from ordinary people who are bringing food, who are helping to heal people who are sick. There are a lot of music, songs. So this is another atmosphere. This is atmosphere of peaceful but decisive protest of those who came to do it together, to defend their rights together.
It’s–of course, I do not want to make idealization. There are a lot of contradictions, negative tendencies. There are some elements of Russian nationalism, of course. But if you compare with Ukrainian nationalism, and especially anti-Semitism, among right-wing Ukrainian militants in Maidan it will be much, much less in [incompr.] protesters who are defending the rights of Russian-speaking population and [incompr.]
So I think if we tell in general that their requirements are very simple: federal model of Ukraine. It’s not something destroying countries. It’s not something destroying state. It’s not something destroying democracy. This is absolutely democratic and [incompr.] useful for development of democracy first. Second, equal rights for the Russian and Ukrainian language in the east of Ukraine, where a majority of population is Russian-speaking population, absolutely democratic [incompr.] Defense of Russian-speaking population and support of self-organization.
If Maidan people could make self-organization and occupy a building and bring their government to their building, why it’s forbidden for the people who are doing the same in the East? They do absolutely the same as people in Maidan in Kiev one, two months before. The model of actions, their idea of actions is simple. We do not want to have those who came from above. We want to make our authorities from below. This is normal democratic agenda. And it’s possible and necessary to have normal negotiations about peaceful solution of these contradictions with these people, not only amnesty for them, but it’s important to take into the considerations their rights and their requirements and the opportunity and their will to be in the power, to make self-management, regional self-management organs, powerful self-management organs. I think it will be useful for Ukraine in general, useful for Ukrainians, for Jews, for Polish people, for Russian-speaking people in this multinational country.
WORONCZUK: So part of the agreement in Geneva included plans for greater political autonomy for the eastern regions. John, do you think greater autonomy or federalization are enough to resolve the political crisis? What would you recommend as solutions to the conflict there?
QUIGLEY: The agreement does call for a constitutional process in Ukraine that will involve a broad national dialog. It doesn’t specifically use the term federalism, and my understanding is that Mr. Lavrov is not insisting that it be federal in a formal sense, the substantial autonomy.
Whether that will hold in the long run I think remains to be seen. It might be helpful if there is some kind of international oversight of that autonomy to ensure that it is real, and that would be helpful. But this is an agreement that is entered into by Russia and the United States, a very informal agreement, but one that involves Ukraine. In that sense, it’s a rather strange joint statement. You have two countries making an agreement as to what’s going to be done by a third country. Presumably, the United States is in communication with the authorities in Kiev before agreeing to these propositions.
WORONCZUK: So Putin has also said that the Russian parliament has approved Russian military action in Eastern Ukraine. Do you think that there is still a possibility of military confrontation along the border of Ukraine and Russia? Or are diplomatic efforts like we’ve seen in Geneva averting this possibility?
QUIGLEY: Well, it seems that this agreement is aimed at ensuring that that’s not going to occur. But, I mean, that’ll have to be seen. There’s actually nothing in the agreement about the Russian troops that are on the border. There’s nothing in the agreement about the sanctions from the West. There’s nothing in the agreement about Crimea. It’s all about the domestic situation.
But the implication is that if the domestic situation is dealt with, that that will involve de-escalation on both sides.
WORONCZUK: And, Aleksandr, do you think that violent confrontation or violent conflict between the Ukraine and Russia is still an open possibility?
BUZGALIN: I don’t think so. The only problem which I see is a real, very big threat of bloody confrontation between Ukrainian army and special troops, right-sector militants, from one hand, and people who are defending their rights in the cities in the east and south of Ukraine, from another hand. This is possible, and this can be very bloody.
I don’t think that Russian troops will support Russian-speaking population and will cross the border of Ukraine, given such situation. But we must understand and must stress that if it will be blood, the responsibility will be on the hands of modern Ukrainian state, modern Ukrainian government, and the so-called president, and so on and so far.
That’s why now I think among very important requirements and requirements of the Western media, Western civil society, can be withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the east and south of Ukraine. This is absolutely not normal when troops are fighting against population of their country. And this is even forbidden by Constitution.
So I think it’s important. And only in this situation people will talk with Ukrainian central government about another model of mutual cooperation, or maybe mutual confrontation, but without using [incompr.] violence.
By the way, I want to stress that in the buildings occupied by East European–East Ukrainian people, there is a special order that we will not use armament, we will not use force, if we are not under the direct fire of Ukrainian army or right sector or anybody else. So they do not want to shoot, they do not want to kill anybody. And when people are crossing roads without any armaments and tanks, armed vehicles, hundreds of people with guns are attacking them, this is another model of confrontation by the West, that it is presented in the West. This is not confrontation of Russia against Ukraine. This is confrontation of Ukrainian people, because in the East, Ukrainian people are leaving. This is confrontation of Ukrainian people against Central Ukrainian modern government. This is the case, and it’s necessary to stress this. This is [incompr.] of government against Ukrainian people, part of Ukrainian people.
And if we tell that these people are separatists, this is a negative connotation. And separatists are people who are destroying something.
I want to say that people in the east of Ukraine, with all contradictions of this movement, are people who are defending their normal human democratic rights. And [incompr.] tell that in the east of Ukraine, Russian-speaking population is defending their human rights, and central government wants to attack these human rights. It will be absolutely another connotation, another model of explanation of the situation, where [incompr.] use standard words of modern Ukrainian officials and the many Western mass media, this is a democratic new government of Ukraine, or so-called democratic new government of Ukraine, is attacking those who are separatists, who are criminals, who are terrorists, and this is antiterrorist operation. This is not antiterrorist operation. This is direct violence against people who wants to realize their democratic rights. That’s it.
WORONCZUK: Alright. Professor Aleksandr Buzgalin, thank you so much for joining us.
BUZGALIN: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And Professor John Quigley, thank you so much for joining us.
QUIGLEY: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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