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Ukraine goes on spiralling down

As political conflict continues and corruption remains as before even Ukraine’s most fervid Western friends are now in despair

Alexander Mercouris

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As news of the bizarre antics in Kiev involving former Georgian President Mikheil Saakachvili – now  released again this time by a court after having been arrested for a second time – continues, I recently read an article about Ukraine which gives just about as bleak a picture of the state of the country as it gets

….the news out of Ukraine over the past few weeks has been dire.  The country’s prosecutor general has disrupted investigations by its National Anti-Corruption Bureau with the apparent consent of Mr. Poroshenko.  The interior minister has intervened to protect his son from similar scrutiny.   Officers in the security service, the SBU, have tried to arrest Mikheil Saakachvili, the former Georgian President turned Ukrainian corruption fighter, only to be driven back by protesters.  Prosecutors are targeting anti-corruption activists; the army, interior ministry troops and private militias work at cross-purposes, answering to different politicians or oligarchs.  Mr. Poroshenko’s government has been seriously weakened.

This is in fact an accurate description of the sort of things that happen in Ukrainian politics in any given week.  The only thing that makes these events at all unusual is that they are being written about in this way by a journal which up to now has been one of the most fervid supporters of Ukraine’s Maidan “revolution” (aka “the Revolution of Dignity”).

That journal – from whose latest article on Ukraine the above extract is taken – is The Economist.

The Economist is not the only pro-Maidan anti-Russian journal to write recently about Ukraine in this way.  An article in the website of the rigidly Atlanticist Atlantic Council makes the same points.

Hand-wringing about continued corruption in Ukraine following the Maidan “revolution” is nothing new.  Former US Vice-President Joe Biden said many of the same things about corruption in Ukraine and the need for ‘reform’ there during a visit to Ukraine in September last year.

The latest flurry of Western complaints about the state of Ukraine come alongside publication of data about the disastrous decline of Ukraine’s economy.  Here is how an article from RT sums it up

The latest research shows the people of Ukraine have the worst living standards among all of Europe.

An average Ukrainian earns just €190 per month, or just a little over $220, according to the study by Texty.org.ua. The highest average net salary, according to the analysts, is in Switzerland. An average Swiss earns no less than $5,000 per month after taxes.

In November, Ukrainian Economy Minister Stepan Kubiv admitted the economy lost $15 billion annually after Russia closed its borders to consumer goods from Ukraine, almost a fifth of the country’s GDP.

The current gross domestic product of Ukraine is $93 billion. Before the Maidan revolution at the end of 2013, Ukraine’s GDP was $183 billion.

The RT article overstates the extent of the contraction of Ukraine’s GDP.  The figures given are based on calculations of Ukraine’s GDP based on the exchange rate of Ukraine’s currency relative to the US dollar.  This is an artificial measure of GDP vulnerable to changes in the exchange rate.

If the more accurate purchasing power parity measure of GDP is used then Ukraine’s GDP increases to $368 billion, which however is still less than a tenth of Russia’s.

This is a precipitous decline for what was once one of the most economically developed regions of the USSR, and which because of its Soviet legacy of strong industries, rich farmlands, large population, abundant natural resources and access to the sea ought to be a rich country.

Suffice to say that whilst living standards in Russia are now significantly higher than they were before the Soviet collapse, Ukrainian living standards – which have never recovered to their Soviet levels – have since 2014 fallen back still further.

Ukraine’s tragedy is that there appears to be no route out of this crisis.

As it happens every so often one comes across claims that the situation in Ukraine is ‘stabilising’.  Then something happens – such as the bizarre antics involving Mikheil Saakashvili – which shows the opposite.

On the question of the economy, I remember having identical discussions in the mid 1990s with various people about the ‘economic stabilisation’ which was supposed to be happening in Russia.

When an economy has contracted as severely as Russia’s did in the early 1990s and as Ukraine’s did in the period 2014 to 2015 even minimal amounts of economic activity – such as always happen even in the most collapsed economies – can distort the statistics to make the situation look better than it really is.

The mere fact for example that Ukraine this year has received $4 billion from abroad – $3 billion which it borrowed itself at very high interest, $1 billion which it was given by the IMF – which is a very considerable amount of money for a country like Ukraine (4.3% of GDP calculated on a nominal basis, 1% of GDP calculated on a purchasing power parity basis) will have made the GDP statistics about the economy look better than actual economic conditions in the country really are.

This is of course always assuming that the statistics are being collected and collated properly, which in countries such as Russia was in the 1990s and such as Ukraine is now they never are.

That Ukraine’s statistics are not reliable has in fact been confirmed by studies of its population statistics, which show massive distortions intended to conceal how bad the country’s demographic situation has become.  There is no reason to suppose that the same distortions do not affect the economic data.

Again the example of 1990s Russia is useful.  It is now generally acknowledged that Russia’s real economy continued to contract every year throughout the period from 1994 to 1998 when Boris Yeltsin’s government and the IMF were claiming to see in the statistics evidence of a ‘stabilisation’.  The truth became clear in 1998 when the whole House of Cards, which was what the Russian economy had by then become, simply collapsed.

The event which precipitated the Russian economic collapse in 1998 was a collapse in oil prices.  The event which averted a total collapse of Ukraine’s economy in the period 2014 to 2015 was also a collapse in oil prices.

The benefits of that oil price collapse have however been squandered.

The Maidan regime used the space the collapse in oil prices gave it to increase spending on the military and to reduce further Ukraine’s economic ties to Russia.

This is the exact opposite of what a Ukrainian government really concerned about the economy would have done.  If Ukraine’s government had really been concerned about stabilising the economy it would have sought a rapprochement with Russia – Ukraine’s obvious energy supplier and the traditional market of its goods – and sought Russia’s help to bring the war in eastern Ukraine to an end.

None of that can however happen whilst the present Maidan regime remains in power since it would represent a repudiation of the Maidan movement’s entire programme, which is to distance Ukraine as far from Russia politically, culturally and economically as possible.

Which brings me back to the cause of Ukraine’s crisis.

Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary made by various people – including by the way President Putin – the issue behind the political conflict which in February 2014 brought the Maidan movement to power was not corruption; it was Ukraine’s relations with Russia.

In 2014 Ukraine’s oligarchs overwhelmingly backed the Maidan movement and bankrolled its protests since they were adamantly opposed to closer relations with Russia but wanted instead closer relations with the West.

This was because – diametrically opposite to what Western commentators say – they were alarmed by the way Putin’s government after 2000 managed to rein in Russia’s oligarchs, and were alarmed that if Russian influence in Ukraine grew so that Ukraine became fully integrated in the Eurasian institutions the same thing would be done to them.

The Western powers backed Ukraine’s oligarchs in 2014 because their entire policy since the USSR broke up in 1991 has been to detach Ukraine from Russia.  This was what the benighted association agreement between the EU and Ukraine – the nominal issue behind the 2014 Maidan protests – was ultimately all about.

It was this mutual opposition to closer ties between Ukraine and Russia which created the commonality of interest between Ukraine’s oligarchs and the Western powers, both in 2014 and earlier, which set the scene for the 2014 Maidan ‘revolution’.

That ‘revolution’ of course needed its foot-soldiers who were to be found in Ukraine’s various ultra-rightist and neo-Nazi groups.  However as The Economist slips out in the article which I have quoted from above, these “private militias….answer to different politicians or oligarchs” ie. they are ultimately controlled by the oligarchs as well.

Needless to say the great majority of Ukraine’s people were not involved in the 2014 events, and based on what I am hearing from people who know about the situation in Ukraine today, they have now become utterly cynical and disillusioned.

To imagine that such a system created as a result of what it is not altogether wrong to call a criminal conspiracy (after all it did result in the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s constitutional and democratically elected government) is capable of carrying out ‘reform’ or ending corruption in Ukraine is beyond fanciful, and it is testament to the seemingly unlimited detachment from reality of some people in the West that they still appear to expect it.

The trouble is that though the people of Ukraine are utterly cynical and disillusioned, the extraordinary violence the Maidan regime can be counted on to use against people who it is able to define as ‘pro-Russian’ makes it all but impossible to see how a change of course can be brought about.

This opens the way for chancers and adventurers like Mikheil Saakashvili to make their pitch, which is what we are seeing in Ukraine now.

Needless to say if Ukraine had a properly functioning political system someone like Saakashvili would be making no impact there at all.  The fact that he is making an impact despite the minimal level of his public support (no more than 2% according to some polls) shows how dysfunctional Ukraine’s political system actually is.

I would add that given how corrupt and politicised the Ukrainian judiciary has become, the fact that a court has now ordered Saakashvili’s release is a sure sign he is getting support from elements within the Ukrainian power system (Tymoshenko? Kolomoisky?) who are hostile to Poroshenko, and who are using Saakashvili as a weapon against Poroshenko.

The victims in all this are of course the people of Ukraine, who are trapped in a nightmare created for them by Western policy in exactly the same way and to the same extent that the people of Libya say are.

No wonder that with their living standards having collapsed and with all hope of things getting better having gone they are now voting with their feet, leaving Ukraine in growing numbers, causing Ukraine’s population to collapse, just as its economy has.

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Ukraine Wants Nuclear Weapons: Will the West Bow to the Regime in Kiev?

Efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation are one of the few issues on which the great powers agree, intending to continue to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and to prevent new entrants into the exclusive nuclear club.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The former Ukrainian envoy to NATO, Major General Petro Garashchuk, recently stated in an interview with Obozrevatel TV:

“I’ll say it once more. We have the ability to develop and produce our own nuclear weapons, currently available in the world, such as the one that was built in the former USSR and which is now in independent Ukraine, located in the city of Dnipro (former Dnipropetrovsk) that can produce these kinds of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Neither the United States, nor Russia, nor China have produced a missile named Satan … At the same time, Ukraine does not have to worry about international sanctions when creating these nuclear weapons.”

The issue of nuclear weapons has always united the great powers, especially following the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The decision to reduce the number of nuclear weapons towards the end of the Cold War went hand in hand with the need to prevent the spread of such weapons of mass destruction to other countries in the best interests of humanity. During the final stages of the Cold War, the scientific community expended great effort on impressing upon the American and Soviet leadership how a limited nuclear exchange would wipe out humanity. Moscow and Washington thus began START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations to reduce the risk of a nuclear winter. Following the dissolution of the USSR, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances persuaded Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear weapons and accede to the NPT in exchange for security assurances from its signatories.

Ukraine has in recent years begun entertaining the possibility of returning to the nuclear fold, especially in light of North Korea’s recent actions. Kim Jong-un’s lesson seems to be that a nuclear deterrent remains the only way of guaranteeing complete protection against a regional hegemon. The situation in Ukraine, however, differs from that of North Korea, including in terms of alliances and power relations. Kiev’s government came into power as a result of a coup d’etat carried out by extremist nationalist elements who seek their inspiration from Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. The long arm of NATO has always been deeply involved in the dark machinations that led to Poroshenko’s ascendency to the Ukrainian presidency. From a geopolitical point of view, NATO’s operation in Ukraine (instigating a civil war in the wake of a coup) follows in the footsteps of what happened in Georgia. NATO tends to organize countries with existing anti-Russia sentiments to channel their Russophobia into concrete actions that aim to undermine Moscow. The war in the Donbass is a prime example.

However, Ukraine has been unable to subdue the rebels in the Donbass region, the conflict freezing into a stalemate and the popularity of the Kiev government falling as the population’s quality of life experiences a precipitous decline. The United States and the European Union have not kept their promises, leaving Poroshenko desperate and tempted to resort to provocations like the recent Kerch strait incident or such as those that are apparently already in the works, as recently reported by the DPR authorities.

The idea of Ukraine resuming its production of nuclear weapons is currently being floated by minor figures, but it could take hold in the coming months, especially if the conflict continues in its frozen state and Kiev becomes frustrated and desperate. The neoconservative wing of the American ruling elite, absolutely committed to the destruction of the Russian Federation, could encourage Kiev along this path, in spite of the incalculable risks involved. The EU, on the other hand, would likely be terrified at the prospect, which would also place it between a rock and a hard place. Kiev, on one side, would be able to extract from the EU much needed economic assistance in exchange for not going nuclear, while on the other side the neocons would be irresponsibly egging the Ukrainians on.

Moscow, if faced with such a possibility, would not just stand there. In spite of Russia having good relations with North Korea, it did not seem too excited at the prospect of having a nuclear-armed neighbor. With Ukraine, the response would be much more severe. A nuclear-armed Ukraine would be a red line for Moscow, just as Crimea and Sevastopol were. It is worth remembering the Russian president’s words when referring to the possibility of a NATO invasion of Crimea during the 2014 coup:

“We were ready to do it [putting Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert]. Russian people live there, they are in danger, we cannot leave them. It was not us who committed to coup, it was the nationalists and people with extreme beliefs. I do not think this is actually anyone’s wish – to turn it into a global conflict.”

As Kiev stands on the precipice, it will be good for the neocons, the neoliberals and their European lackeys to consider the consequences of advising Kiev to jump or not. Giving the nuclear go-ahead to a Ukrainian leadership so unstable and detached from reality may just be the spark that sets off Armageddon.

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Mike Pompeo lays out his vision for American exceptionalism (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 158.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda take a look at Mike Pompeo’s shocking Brussels speech, where the U.S. Secretary of State took aim at the European Union and United Nations, citing such institutions as outdated and poorly managed, in need of a new dogma that places America at its epicenter.

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Speaking in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unwittingly underscored why nobody takes the United States seriously on the international stage. Via The Council on Foreign Relations


In a disingenuous speech at the German Marshall Fund, Pompeo depicted the transactional and hypernationalist Trump administration as “rallying the noble nations of the world to build a new liberal order.” He did so while launching gratuitous attacks on the European Union, United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—pillars of the existing postwar order the United States did so much to create. He remained silent, naturally, on the body blows that the current administration has delivered to its erstwhile allies and partners, and to the institutions that once upon a time permitted the United States to legitimate rather than squander its international leadership.

In Pompeo’s telling, Donald J. Trump is simply seeking a return to the world that former Secretary of State George Marshall helped to create. In the decades after 1945, the United States “underwrote new institutions” and “entered into treaties to codify Western values of freedom and human rights.” So doing, the United States “won the Cold War” and—thanks to the late President George H. W. Bush, “we won the peace” that followed. “This is the type of leadership that President Trump is boldly reasserting.”

That leadership is needed because the United States “allowed this liberal order to begin to corrode” once the bipolar conflict ended. “Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself,” Pompeo explained. “The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.” What is needed is a multilateralism that once again places the nation-state front and center.

Leave aside for the moment that nobody actually believes what Pompeo alleges: that multilateralism should be an end in itself; that paper commitments are credible absent implementation, verification, and enforcement; or that the yardstick of success is how many bureaucrats get hired. What sensible people do believe is that multilateral cooperation is often (though not always) the best way for nations to advance their interests in an interconnected world of complicated problems. Working with others is typically superior to unilateralism, since going it alone leaves the United States with the choice of trying to do everything itself (with uncertain results) or doing nothing. Multilateralism also provides far more bang for the buck than President Trump’s favored approach to diplomacy, bilateralism.

Much of Pompeo’s address was a selective and tendentious critique of international institutions that depicts them as invariably antithetical to national sovereignty. Sure, he conceded, the European Union has “delivered a great deal of prosperity to the continent.” But it has since gone badly off track, as the “political wake-up call” of Brexit showed. All this raised a question in his mind: “Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats and Brussels?”

The answer, as one listener shouted out, is “Yes!” The secretary, like many U.S. conservative critics of European integration, is unaware that EU member states continue to hold the lion’s share of power in the bloc, which remains more intergovernmental than supranational. Pompeo seems equally unaware of how disastrously Brexit is playing out. With each passing day, the costs of this catastrophic, self-inflicted wound are clearer. In its quest for complete policy autonomy—on ostensible “sovereignty” grounds—the United Kingdom will likely have to accept, as the price for EU market access, an entire body of law and regulations that it will have no say in shaping. So much for advancing British sovereignty.

Pompeo similarly mischaracterizes the World Bank and IMF as having gone badly off track. “Today, these institutions often counsel countries who have mismanaged their economic affairs to impose austerity measures that inhibit growth and crowd out private sector actors.” This is an odd, hybrid critique. It combines a shopworn, leftist criticism from the 1990s—that the international financial institutions (IFIs) punish poor countries with structural adjustment programs—with the conservative accusation that the IFIs are socialist, big-government behemoths. Both are ridiculous caricatures. They ignore how much soul-searching the IFIs have done since the 1990s, as well as how focused they are on nurturing an enabling institutional environment for the private sector in partner countries.

Pompeo also aims his blunderbuss at the United Nations. He complains that the United Nations’ “peacekeeping missions drag on for decades, no closer to peace,” ignoring the indispensable role that blue helmets play in preventing atrocities, as well as a recent Government Accountability Office report documenting how cost-effective such operations are compared to U.S. troops. Similarly, Pompeo claims, “The UN’s climate-related treaties are viewed by some nations simply as a vehicle to redistribute wealth”—an accusation that is both unsubstantiated and ignores the urgent need to mobilize global climate financing to save the planet.

Bizarrely, Pompeo also turns his sights on the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Union (AU), for alleged shortcomings. Has the OAS, he asks, done enough “to promote its four pillars of democracy, human rights, security, and economic development?” Um, no. Could that have something to do with the lack of U.S. leadership in the Americas on democracy and human rights? Yes. Might it have helped if the Trump administration had filled the position of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs before October 15 of this year? Probably.

Equally puzzling is Pompeo’s single line riff on the AU. “In Africa, does the African Union advance the mutual interest of its nation-state members?” Presumably the answer is yes, or its members would be headed for the door. The AU continues to struggle in financing its budget, but it has made great strides since its founding in 2002 to better advance security, stability, and good governance on the continent.

“International bodies must help facilitate cooperation that bolsters the security and values of the free world, or they must be reformed or eliminated,” Pompeo declared. Sounds reasonable. But where is this “free world” of which the secretary speaks, and what standing does the United States today have to defend, much less reform it? In the two years since he took office, Donald Trump has never expressed any interest in defending the international order, much less “returning [the United States] to its traditional, central leadership role in the world,” as Pompeo claims. Indeed, the phrase “U.S. leadership” has rarely escaped Trump’s lips, and he has gone out of his way to alienate longstanding Western allies and partners in venues from NATO to the G7.

When he looks at the world, the president cares only about what’s in it for the United States (and, naturally, for him). That cynicism explains the president’s deafening silence on human rights violations and indeed his readiness to cozy up to strongmen and killers from Vladimir Putin to Rodrigo Duterte to Mohammed bin Salman to too many more to list. Given Trump’s authoritarian sympathies and instincts, Pompeo’s warnings about “Orwellian human rights violations” in China and “suppressed opposition voices” in Russia ring hollow.

“The central question that we face,” Pompeo asked in Brussels, “is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today—does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?” The answer, of course, is not as well as it should, and not for nearly enough of them. But if the secretary is seeking to identify impediments to a better functioning multilateral system, he can look to his left in his next Cabinet meeting.

“Principled realism” is the label Pompeo has given Trump’s foreign policy. Alas, it betrays few principles and its connection to reality is tenuous. The president has abandoned any pursuit of universal values, and his single-minded obsession to “reassert our sovereignty” (as Pompeo characterizes it) is actually depriving the United States of joining with others to build the prosperous, secure, and sustainable world that Americans want.

“Bad actors have exploited our lack of leadership for their own gain,” the secretary of state declared in Belgium. “This is the poisoned fruit of American retreat.” How true. Pompeo’s next sentence—“President Trump is determined to reverse that”—was less persuasive.

 

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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