UKRAINE became independent in 1991 when the USSR collapsed, so has made its own way for the past 25 years. In our World Audit’s 2016 report it ranks (out of 150 nations) 69th in the world for its overall Democracy, to which its Press Freedom rank contributed towards its 85th position and critically Corruption at 114th. It is geographically European but by these criteria is far behind any comparable European nation. Whilst its people fit quite comfortably into the European pattern, its rulers do not. It seems that ‘independence’ to the ruling classes (those with influence and/or money), meant that the bribes that used to be paid within Ukraine, back in the Soviet days, the bulk of which had then to be forwarded to Moscow, could now remain in their entirety, in Kiev. Over and again there have been changes in leadership, individuals many of whom were already rich, but were probably richer on leaving office. Sadly, even those who tried have failed to reform, or meaningfully impact the concept of public service integrity.
Culturally western Ukraine is inclined to Europe. It is after all an ancient European state under other names. At one point some six centuries ago combined with Poland and Lithuania, it formed the largest state that Europe has ever seen, stretching coast to coast, the Baltic to the Black Sea. Its ruination was being a member of the Russian Empire where it had a particularly bad time in the 20th Century at the hands of Moscow, under the USSR’s new communist masters, implanting communist theory by force, into Ukraine’s agriculture, resulting in mass starvation. Then it, and neighbouring Belarus, bore the brunt of the enormous land battles between the USSR and the Wehrmacht in the opening and closing stages of WWII.
It is unlike several other European former Soviet states, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, all of which made a determined effort to shake off the Russian bear. Ukraine in the east particularly, is Russian speaking and understandably Russia inclined, with Moscow’s full encouragement; but with Washington tugging in the other direction. Unfortunately for Ukraine and Europe, the struggle from the US side was and is led by neo-con officials in the State Department, to whom Ukraine is a pawn in a global ‘Great Game.’ The Russians under Putin, have of course relentlessly pursued the Russian interest, which burst out as we all know, in an ugly unfinished civil war, fought out in the eastern provinces. The upshot is very close to being a simmering Great Power proxy war.
There are obvious solutions which we suggested years ago, that the so-called ‘independent Republics’ of Luhansk and Donetsk in contention, should be given a referendum conducted by OSCE or another international agency, asking if they wished to be a part of the Russian Federation, or of the State of Ukraine. It seemed obvious to us that the old Soviet Russia-Ukraine boundaries were purely administrative, never negotiated; and also from Kiev’s point of view, that remaining in Ukraine, if what they really wished was to be in Russia, means that this region would never be an asset to Kiev, but always a liability.
In this September issue we carry the story forward (from our May edition) “Ukraine: US’ & Russia’s Corrupt Target State.”
SYRIA is still permanently in the world news as it has been for five years. It has been covered by us for longer than that period, and it’s story becomes even more complicated. Russia is now a full-on player and with domestic Islamicist problems within its own vast territories, has every reason to seek to close down ISIS, apart from supporting the Assad government and remaining a ‘player’ in world politics. Turkey after all these years, has stirred itself by sending military across the Syrian frontier, not against Syrian troops fortunately, but pre-emptively against its enemy of choice, the Kurds. After many suspected that Turkey had long been a not so secret backer of the Islamic State, on account of its open borders to their people and trade, particularly contraband oil from Syrian and even Iraqi oil-wells, that financed the Caliphate. Turkey may or may not react militarily against ISIS where they have thus far seriously dragged their heels. That remains an open question. But if they were complicit, Erdogan has been poorly recompensed with IS terrorist explosions in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere.
The middle-eastern chequer board is as complex as ever with Iran more fully involved, Russia with limited objectives, one of which is to have a seat at the table that finally decides what post-war Syria might look like. Our September contribution, “Russia Outflanks the US in Syria with help from Iran” describes ephemeral geopolitical waves, as of recent events in the region, (stories of Israeli –Saudi cooperation, moving on from the theoretical as well as China’s involvement in Syria).
Finally, this issue includes “Democracy is Not Doing Well”! – data which tells that Free Speech, Media Freedom, that fundamental and essential component of democracy, is in steady decline around the World, as measured over recent years in the 2016 report of Freedom House (the World’s oldest NGO). It’s a serious matter when such a key building block of ‘the better world’ we strive for, or at least should do, to bequeath to our descendants is proven over several years to be failing.
Will it be up to them to do a better job, or is mankind simply incapable of sufficiently recognising and promoting unselfishness, over short term materialism?
When the Minsk agreements were concluded by the Normandy quartet, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in February of last year, there was a general sense that perhaps peace could be reached in the Ukraine, which has, in the course of the past three years, seen a violent regime change, the annexation of Crimea, and a bloody conflict in its eastern parts. The settlement saw warring sides of Presidents Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin reach an agreement on a withdrawal of heavy weaponry and a ceasefire. Significantly, the agreement was signed by the leaders of the pro-Russian self-proclaimed independent republics of Luhansk and Donetsk in the country’s east, where fighting has been concentrated, as the accord promised that a degree of decentralisation would be offered to the breakaway regions.
June of this year, however, saw a sharp spike in violence, along with a build up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border and sharpened rhetoric on both sides, culminating in Petro Poroshenko’s warning on August 18 that he ‘could not rule out a full scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia’ and that if the situation in Crimea continued to deteriorate, Kiev would have to ‘impose martial law and order mobilization’. The West has watched the situation keenly, with the media seeing Putin’s actions in Ukraine as the embodiment of his hawkishness and untrustworthiness.
However, Washington is far from being a neutral figure in the conflict, having made clear (largely thanks to the leaked Victoria Nuland phone call of February 2014) that it has its own plans for the state. [continues...]
Russia makes an all-out effort for Aleppo with help from Iran and …China
When Russian air force Tu-22 and Su-34 bombers took off on August 17 from the Iranian air base of Nojeh, 50 kilometers north of Hamedan, Moscow sent an important signal about its goals in the Syrian conflict. With the excuse of operational advantages, such as a higher number of missions with more bombs to deploy because the base is only 700 km. from Aleppo rather than 2,000 km (Mozdok airport), Russia and Iran want to play an even greater role in defending their Shiite ally, president al-Asad, in Damascus. Meanwhile, as of August 22, the Russian ambassador to Iran confirmed that at the moment there are no more Russian planes in Iran.
He, stressed however, that there is no reason why these cannot return in the near future.
It seems Russia was too ‘open’ about its use of the Iranian base, which caused some minor tremors in the Iranian establishment. The Iranians claim Russia was asked to leave the base because of ungentlemanly conduct, but the more likely reason may owe to the frequent internal bickering between various factions of Iran’s armed forces – the more conservative Revolutionary Guards and the more nationalist armed forces. There are also historical reasons that cut across all lines. [continues...]
On a global basis, that critical element of democracy: Press Freedom data (the key indicator for free speech in the media and at every level, worldwide), indicate that in the world as a whole, earlier years’ progress has peaked and is now in decline:
[World Democracy Audit our companion website, works in association with Freedom House using their Freedom of Speech data to determine the democratic rankings of the world’s 150 largest nations, in our report. www.worlddemocracyaudit.org].
Key Findings of Freedom House (the world’s oldest NGO)
• Press freedom declined to its lowest point in 12 years in 2015, as political, criminal, and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power.
• Only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a Free press—that is, where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.
• Forty-one percent of the world’s population has a Partly Free press, and 46 percent live in Not Free media environments. [continues...]