Moscow’s turn: The Russian version of the conflict in Ukraine

 

Since 2014, the conflict in Ukraine, which started as a result of the Euromaidan, has been continuing. Western Media reported well during the first half of the conflict, the Syrian civil war taking the stage soon afterwards, Ukraine fading from the European Union’s (EU) TV-screens. However, to what extent can we believe what we hear in Western media, without hearing the point of view of Russia itself? ______________________________________________________________________________________________
Authors: Derek W. Brokowski
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Embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid. (Image Source: Derek N. Photography)

In an interview with Mr. Evgeny Evdokimov, the First Secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid, Mr. Evdokimov explains Russia’s point of view and stance in the conflict, in contrast to that issued by Western European media.


The conflict in Ukraine, which started in February 2014, by Russia’s annexation of Crimea following a referendum celebrated on the autonomous peninsula, which the Ukrainian government in return declared illegal, is one of the major political crises Europe has experienced in the 21st century.

European media has done a great job reporting about Russia’s aggressions against Ukraine, as well as the violation of bilateral as well as multilateral treaties in which both countries were included. However, the role of Western Media is an important component of how we perceive the conflict in Ukraine. In Russia, Western Media has been called out to be biased, mostly reporting in favour of Ukraine and the actions of the European Union against Russia.

Interested in the conflict, although not identifying as pro-Russian, I have decided to exclusively interview the First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in Madrid, Mr. Evgeny Evdokimov. I knew the Ukrainian side of the conflict already, however I felt the need to be able to understand those opposing me, those in favour of Russia, and not Ukraine.

An interesting aspect of the conflict are the whereabouts of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who is considered to have triggered the Euromaidan and as a consequence also the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, following the suspension of talks between Ukraine and the European Union regarding an association agreement between the two. According to Mr. Evdokimov, the former president left the country on the night of February 21st 2014, heading for Russia. Furthermore, the First Secretary added, Russia has granted Yanukovych asylum, reportedly due to direct threats against him and as a humanitarian act.

Rumours about Yanukovych having been granted Russian citizenship through a secret decree by Vladimir Putin, are not only being denied by Mr. Evdokimov, but also by presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who stated that he had not seen such a decree issued by the president.

In 1994, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, USA and the UK signed the Budapest Memorandum, in which the territorial integrity, the respect of the established borders and sovereignty of the three former Soviet Republics was guaranteed by all signatories. A condition of the memorandum, was that all three former Soviet Republics give up their nuclear weapons to Russia, who in return will assure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries. An alleged military intervention by Russia on Ukrainian soil, as  reported by Western media, breaches the conditions of the memorandum. Upon mentioning this, Mr. Evdokimov explained that, all military interventions are alleged, with no proof of such existing. He furthermore states that this is a propagandistic move against Russia by the West.

What are the motivations of Russia’s support for the rebels in Ukraine’s Eastern regions?

According to Mr. Evdokimov, Ukraine is a country divided by ethnicity and language. In the predominantly ethnically and linguistically Russian East, the people are in favor of close cooperation with Russia, whereas in the predominantly ethnically and linguistically Ukrainian West of the country, people hope to establish close ties with the European Union, and even go as far as to wanting Ukraine to become a member state.

Mr. Evdokimov stated that while Ukrainian products have quite some success on the Russian market, the factories and the industrial sector of the Ukrainian economy will not be able to compete with those of the EU member states. He also describes the EU as a union in which member states compete for the highest political position and the best economy, which would be an unsuitable terrain for Ukraine.

Additionally, Mr. Evdokimov reminded us, that the West has been violating commitments made in 1990, which included the non-expansion of NATO to Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, formerly members of the Warsaw Pact or the Soviet Union, as is the case of Ukraine. The First Secretary also stated that according to Western media, this commitment was not a written one, but rather an oral agreement, therefore not making it valid.

This is evident in the case of NATO offering Montenegro, a former Yugoslav Republic, membership on 02. December 2015, which was met by strong disapproval from Moscow, who in return suspended common projects with the small Balkan country, in response to a possible accession to NATO. However, the population of Montenegro is split, both parties, the one in favour and the one against an accession being almost equally big, the protesters reportedly being “Russia-friendly”.

As for the Minsk II Protocol, Mr. Evdokimov stated that Russia is doing everything possible on its part to comply with the protocol and it is up to Kiev to do its part, reminding us that Russia cannot make any changes in agreement with the protocol inside of Ukraine.

In June 2015, the Ukrainian government published the so-called “Kremlin’s Black Book”, in which it lists Human Rights violations committed by Russia and statistics about the ongoing war in the Donbass region, such as casualties and destruction of Ukraine’s industry in the region.
Russia, in return, published the “White Book on Violations of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Ukraine”, in which it lists alleged Human Rights violations by Ukraine in its Donbass region, also including reports by Amnesty International.

Concluding the interview, Mr. Evdokimov stated that it is important to consider Russia’s point of view, as well as that of the West, regarding the situation, in order to set an end to the conflict in Ukraine.

THE MIDDLE EAST SITUATION; A PERSPECTIVE FROM A NORWEGIAN OFFICER WORKING FOR NATO

 

Lieutenant Colonel Tore Bade is a Norwegian officer who currently works for NATO at the NATO headquarters in Turkey (Izmir). He works with Military Cooperation, helping with military training.

He has been working for the Norwegian Armed Forces for more than 32 years, and has participated in missions in such places as Lebanon (1990-91), Iraq (1992-93), Rwanda (1995), Bosnia 1997-98), Kosovo (2002-03), Iraq (2006), Afghanistan (2008), and Egypt (2010-2011 during the revolution.tore nao

Centering ourselves in one of his missions, we could highlight the one in Iraq, between 1992 and 1993, where he also worked for the United Nations with UNICEF and UNHCR, helping the refugees.

Tore spent half of the year in Bagdad and the other half in Kurdistan in the North of Iraq, right after the first gulf war and the invasion of Kuwait. This was the moment when Iraq was settled under the international sanctions.

Some years later he went back to this country (exactly in 2006) this time, helping in the training of Iraqi soldiers.  In this mission, several of his comrades in arms were killed, when their military base was attacked up to fifteen times a day with rockets and mortars.

Tore affirms that probably the most difficult part of a mission is not being contending, but being apart from his wife and his four children;   << When I look back, I think that this is one of the most silly things I ever did. Volunteering to go to on missions means volunteering to be far away from my family >>

When Tore went to Iraq for the first time, the only way of communication with his family was by satellite.  He had to pay ten dollars per minute of call. The second time he was in the country, the army paid the calls, but he could just call home once per week or every ten days.

He reaffirms; << Even sometimes I think I have been selfish and stupid, every time I go back home I try to compensate the time I have been away, and I appreciate it much more>>.

For Tore Bade, frankly speaking, there is not always a great deal of idealism from his point of view in his work. He believes that many military personnel want to “live the experience they have been training for”, therefore, they mostly go to the battlefield to corroborate that they are able to do their work and function when someone is shooting at them or bombs are falling. It is a bit like a fireman, who trains to work in burning houses. You really want to know if you can do the job.

Talking now about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization we should bear in mind that they also work with countries which are not in the NATO, willing to help maintain stability in them, and to encourage democracy, transparency and confidence building.   A great example in this case, is Jordan (one of few stable countries at the moment in the Middle East). NATO has an excellent partnership with Jordan and assists the Jordanian military forces, introducing them to the NATO way of doing business, and therefore, also helping to reinforce the stability of the country. This helps Jordan to maintain security on its borders, and reinforces stability in the region as a whole.

NATO uses its resources many ways, also to encourage transparency in terms of military budgets and tries to help implement democratic values, so it is not just a military labor but they also help the countries to become more open to the international community. Moreover, they teach leadership, showing military officers to “lead by example”.

<< If you want soldiers to respect you and to do things in the right way, you, as their commander, should be the first person to do the difficult and dangerous duties as well.
This does not happen in all countries; instead, officers and non-commissioned officers are afraid themselves. >>

Centering ourselves in the Middle East situation , Tore believes that there is a big problem taking place in the region right now, and that it will have a very big impact not just in the region, but in Europe and in fact, the whole world.  He affirms that problems that exacerbate the situation may be issues like a lack of democracy, or freedom of speech, which unfortunately helps to generate discontent. The problems also relate to Europe and will require many years to fix.

Many influential people say that this is the beginning of the third world war, Tore is optimistic. Even though, he believes that stopping terrorism is not possible over night.

<<One cannot militarily destroy  all of them, even if one could for a while, it will keep coming back, so to win will require a long term approach with a lot more than military resources.
We are unfortunately going to experience terrorism for many years to come. Terrorists serve themselves from the hopelessness of the people.  Life as we know it is going to change. We will need much more security, much more surveillance, and this means that people living in the western countries will have to get used to a very different way of life. We will have television cameras, many police checking, a very different security situation….
>>

 

Lucía Rodríguez Lara ; IR Student (Universidad Europea de Madrid)

Europe must not sleepwalk into war on the back of misguided confidence

“Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chalk full of them – little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.”

 

On Wednesday we stood together. United by compassion, united in grief. We made a pledge – We Will Remember Them.

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Source: Stephane de Sakutin/AP PHOTO

 

It only took three days to break that pledge. Three days to disremember the lamentation of a futile war, and hype up the prospect of a new one. Three days to bang the drum of war again.

The attacks on Paris were an “act of war… and when faced with war, the country must take the appropriate decisions”, said French President François Hollande not 24 hours after the sickening climax to Friday’s senseless violence, which has so far claimed 128 lives. When taken in the context of other remarks he made on Saturday morning – that France knows how to “mobilise its forces” and “defeat the terrorists”, Monsieur Hollande’s ideas of ‘appropriate decisions’ become clear. France has already for months been bombing ISIS in the Middle East. The next logical step – the only next step – is boots on the ground.

Those boots would probably have European feet inside of them. France, as a member of NATO (as 25 other European nations are) can invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty  – with many actors already encouraging France to do so – forcing the organisation to take any “such action as deemed necessary” against ISIS. No prizes for guessing what the hawks at NATO will see as ‘necessary’, despite previous military action consistently failing to achieve long-term goals in that region. Because it’ll be different this time.

 

“Blithely they go as to a wedding day, The mothers’ sons.”

– Katharine Tynan

 

A strong NATO coalition could surely sweep through the country and wipe out extremists in a matter of months. Although, the supremely-funded Soviets never managed it despite being there for years. Neither has NATO in Afghanistan, or the UK and US in Iraq. But I’m sure it’ll be different this time.

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Source: NYT

 

And by marching into the region, we can save civilian lives, not just take ISIS ones. The huge civilian death tolls from the NATO campaign in Afghanistan and the UK / US campaign in Iraq were extremely unfortunate. But rest assured – it’ll be different this time.

By clearing out the incumbents, we can stabilise the area. Perhaps the Soviet and NATO campaigns in Afghanistan, and the UK / US campaign in Iraq were just outliers. Because once democracy is installed and instilled, there will be peace this time. Because it’ll be different this time.

And because our forces are so strong, so powerful, and because we know best, we can ensure that the ideology of terror dies with ISIS. The cropping up of new extremists during and after each past occupation is indicative of job not fully done, for sure. Military action will work this time. It’ll be different this time.

 

“Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.”

– Wilfred Owen

But, on the off chance that the same problems could occur, maybe we should step back for a second and consider. Consider the grimness of war – as terrible today for the families of those lost as it was a hundred and one years ago. Consider perhaps different strategies. Look at our current strategies, which have contained the spread of ISIS geographically, and served to weaken ISIS in the past few months. Do we really need boots on the ground now?

But first and foremost, we must consider our haste. It’s often said that we shouldn’t search for perfect solutions, that perfect is the enemy of good – but do we really want to put lives on the line for ‘good enough’?

 

“Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do & die.”

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

We must remember them.

Eight US soldiers killed by an Afghan pilot

On Wednesday 27th of April, eight US soldiers working for the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and US contractor were found killed in Kabul’s Airport (capital of Afghanistan).  As declared by an US official, apparently, all happened after an argument between an Afghan Air Force pilot and the USA soldiers. Another theory is that the pilot was recruited by the Taliban, but that has to be proven yet, even though the Taliban claimed to be responsible in a text send to AP (Associated Press). The pilot also died during the incident.

Col Bahader, a representative of the Afghan Air Corps, declared to the AP that the attack scene took place in an Afghan Air Corps’ operations room. “Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started,” he said. “After the shooting started, we saw a number of Afghan army officers and soldiers running out of the building. Some were even throwing themselves out of the windows to get away.”

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Australia in prima linea per il futuro dell’Afghanistan

Julia Gillard, Primo Ministro Australiano, accingendosi a partecipare al summit della NATO riguardante la questione afghana, in una lettera alla nazione comunica l’intenzione di Canberra di restare in Afghanistan per lo meno fino al 2014.

‘L’Australia è con l’Afghanistan e resterà al suo fianco fino a quando la situazione politica nel paese non si sarà stabilizzata.’

Queste parole confermano appieno la convinzione e la fermezza di Julia Gillard nel continuare ad inviare truppe in terra afghana nella missione di pace condotta dalla NATO in quanto sente che è dovere dell’Australia portare la democrazia nel paese asiatico impedendogli di tornare ad essere il paradiso dorato del terrorismo e dell’integralismo islamico. Leer más de esta entrada