Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Russian spetznaz and the east/west divide

I found out how they know the special forces seen in a certain area outside of Kiev are Russian spetznaz. They have gone off the license plates of the buses used to transport them. Duh. They have video of it shot from quite high up that they showed on the news last night. (It looks to have been shot from the top of a building. No station here has a helicopter.) The camera zoomed in on the license numbers. They are either really stupid, the people who put this movement of troops together, or they don’t care that the fact is known. Or course these are not mutually exlcusive propositions, so I think it's both. In the end, I think it will have proven to be a highly stupid thing to have done. (More of the arrogance of power creating a certain blindness.) But they just don’t care about it. And by "they" I mean neither the Russians nor the Ukrainian authorities.

The Russians don’t care because they want influence in the countries that were traditionally a part of the Russian empire. This means the countries of Belarus (literally “White Russia”) and Ukraine (nicknamed by Russians “Little Russia” to the consternation of Ukrainians) for starters. Everyone here knows this. Putin makes no secret of it. As a matter of fact, a strong minority of Russians feel that Ukraine should be a part of Russia; territorially a part of Russia. And a real majority feels that Ukraine should be integrated economically and that closer ties should be created. What do the Ukrainians feel about this? That’s a bit more complicated.

Ukraine is divided in two. Most of those who have studied it have noted this fact. Huntington, for example, calls the split a split between the Uniate culture in the west and the Orthodox culture in the east. This refers to religion. The west is more Roman Catholic while the east is more Russian Orthodox. But there are other differences.

The west looks more European. When my wife and I visited Lviv a while back, I was struck at how the layout of the streets looked more European. This is different from places like Kiev or even further east. And there is a concert hall in downtown Lviv that looks like it would fit in any European city. In fact, when I saw it, it reminded me of the Vienna Opera house I had seen in pictures. (One place I have not been.)

And western Ukraine has more of an affinity with Poland than it does any with Russia. The language is closer to Polish and the culture tends more toward Poland. That makes them west-leaning by culture, language and religion.

My wife told me an interesting thing yesterday. She said that when perestroika was announced, there was an easing of pressure on the people here. A result of that was a protest in Lviv. Thousands of people took to the streets. She thought it was a strange thing because those sorts of crowds you got here only at May Day parades to watch the military march. But the people in Lviv went out into the streets. In no other city of Ukraine did this happen.

I think what this means is that there has been more of a tradition of freedom in west Ukraine. The West, the civilization, with its idea of liberty, made it that far, at least in part. (You might call that the limit of its eastward advance.) And it would not down during the Soviet era.

The east, on the other hand, is more of an Asian culture with Orthodox Christianity as its religion. Its cultural affinities are with Russia and the language is Russian. It is not all that uncommon to see a Russian flag flying alongside the Ukrainian. And this is true for the resort area of the Crimea to the south. The flag of Russia waves in the breeze alongside the flag of Ukraine, at the same height, in the train station of Semferopol, the regional capitol of the Crimea.

The election has highlighted these differences between east and west. Yanukovych is from Donetsk, an industrial city to the east. He speaks Russian; that is his native language. (He speaks Ukrainian not very well and with a Russian accent. And even in Ukrainian, Russian words pop out often.) Though Yuschenko is from a region close to Kiev, Ukrainian is his native language. (“I think in Ukrainian. It is the language of my mother.”) His support has come from the west.

(This split between east and west is with us now. The country today, Wednesday, is split between east and west on the issue of who won the presidency. This has the potential for being very dangerous. Who knows in the end? We’ll just have to see.)

And Kuchma has come down on the side of Russia. He has courted Russia. As a matter of fact, some would say that he ran to Russia and became a Russian client when he started to have problems with the West, the chief of which being with the US. There is evidence that he sent anti-aircraft equipment to Iraq during the run-up to war there. And there is a tape of a man who sounds like Kuchma, plotting the death of a reporter highly critical of Kuchma, who was later found dead. (That tape came from a member of Kuchma’s personal security staff.) The US didn’t like either of these things and showed its displeasure diplomatically and by modifying its relations with Ukraine.

What this means is that Yanukovych would not feel any scruples at having Russian spetznaz here openly. To him it would be a normal thing. Nor would it bother Kuchma. He is a client after all. They would both wonder what the problem was with it. But it looks like it is not going over all that well here.

1 comment:

Editor Choice said...

Excellent and original blog. I will comeback.
I wanted just to mention an interesting site regarding about Religions. With more than 500 pages, Religion News and Articles:Religion Universe: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism (Daoism) and many others