News from Ukraine on April 21-20, 2014


APRIL 20, 2014

April 20 – Three people have died and another three have been wounded as a result of an armed attack on a blockhouse in Sloviansk (Donetsk oblast). Ukrainian authorities believe that this provocation can be traced back to Russia. Russia is blaming this attack on members of “Pravyi Sektor”, which is a small team uniting Ukrainian right-wing group and which became famous thanks to Russian television. “Pravyi Sektor” has stated that they were not involved in the Sloviansk incident.

April 20 – Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that he is “outraged” by the armed incident that occurred in Sloviansk and is calling for further negotiations with Ukrainian authorities. Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued an absurd statement concerning “evidence”, which in their opinion “proves” Pravyi Sektor’s involvement in Sloviansk shootings. Internet users have mocked this statement heavily – they believe that it is another provocation by Russia.

April 20 – Even if there is a resolution to the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, US President Barack Obama will never have a constructive relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. President Obama is focused on isolating Russia by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions and effectively making it a pariah state.


Alexander J. Motyl

One of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs, Igor Kolomoisky, has just taken another rude poke at Russian President Vladimir Putin. And this time the Jewish Ukrainian businessman hasn’t just insulted Putin. By invoking Jewish support of Putin’s Ukrainian nationalist bogeyman-Stepan Bandera (1909-59) -Kolomoisky, who is president of the European Jewish Union and a leading Jewish philanthropist, has engaged in the ultimate provocation.

Kolomoisky, 51, was one of Ukraine’s first oligarchs to side with the post-Yanukovych democratic government. Just after Putin’s occupation of Crimea in early March, he agreed to serve as governor of his native Dnipropetrovsk province and publicly called Putin “a schizophrenic of short stature.” As if that weren’t enough, Kolomoisky then went on to say: “He is completely inadequate. He has completely lost his mind. His messianic drive to recreate the Russian empire of 1913 or the USSR of 1991 could plunge the world into catastrophe.”

A day later, Putin paid him back in kind:

For example, Mr. Kolomoisky was appointed Governor of Dnepropetrovsk. This is a unique crook. He even managed to cheat our oligarch Roman Abramovich two or three years ago. Scammed him, as our intellectuals like to say. They signed some deal, Abramovich transferred several billion dollars, while this guy never delivered and pocketed the money. When I asked him [Abramovich]: “Why did you do it?” he said: “I never thought this was possible.” I do not know, by the way, if he ever got his money back and if the deal was closed. But this really did happen a couple of years ago. And now this crook is appointed Governor of Dnepropetrovsk. No wonder the people are dissatisfied.

Kolomoisky’s latest assault on Putin wasn’t a statement, but a performance. He donned the T-shirt depicted here. The shirt abounds with semiotic meanings that need some unpacking.

For starters, black and red are the colors of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that derives its ideological inspiration from the radical branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists affiliated with Bandera. The OUN was established in 1929 as a national liberation movement committed to attaining Ukrainian independence. Until its demise in the mid-1950s, it fought the Polish, German, and Soviet authorities by means of propaganda, terrorism, and guerrilla activities. Ideologically and behaviorally, the OUN closely resembled the Algerian National Liberation Front, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Jewish Irgun or “Stern Gang,” while Bandera was the Ukrainian version of Ahmed Ben Bella, Yasir Arafat, Menachem Begin, or Avraham Stern. (For more on the OUN and Bandera.

Note as well that the image on the T-shirt represents a fusion of the Ukrainian national symbol, the trident, and a menorah.

The most semiotically charged part of the shirt is the term beneath the trident-menorah. If you read it in Russian, it’s zhidobandera-or “kike-Bandera.” If you read it in Ukrainian, it’s zhydobandera-or “Jew-Bandera.” Recall that, in the language of Soviet and Putin propaganda, “Bandera” is shorthand for “enemy of the Soviet Union,” “enemy of Russia,” “fascist,” and “anti-Semite.” According to this logic, enemies of the USSR/Russia must be fascists and anti-Semites. Hence, the T-shirt’s Russian reading boils down to a fusion of “kike” and “anti-Semite.” Its Ukrainian reading fuses “Jew” with “anti-Semite.” Both readings fuse “Jew” with “enemy.”

What, then, are the messages that the T-shirt, and Kolomoisky with it, are conveying?

First, and most obviously, Kolomoisky is claiming that ethnic Ukrainians and Jewish Ukrainians have a common cause in today’s Ukraine and that that cause-building a democratic Ukrainian nation and state (or what most Ukrainian nationalists would call nationalism) -is deserving of Jewish support.

Second, Kolomoisky is implicitly accusing Putin of being both anti-Semitic and anti-Ukrainian. The term zhidobandera reverberates with the interwar anti-Semitic notion of zhidokomuna, which fused Jews with Communism. By identifying himself, a Jewish Ukrainian, with a benign version ofzhidobandera, Kolomoisky is by the same token identifying Putin and his apologists with the malignant version, which views Jews as “kikes” and Ukrainians as “anti-Semites” and “fascists.”

Third, in the manner of gays and African-Americans, who have appropriated such terms as “fag,” “queer,” and “nigger,” in order to drain them of their offensive content and turn them against homophobes and racists, so, too, Kolomoisky is appropriating the offensive Russian zhid and the pejorative term, Bandera, and stating that, in Ukraine, his homeland, both terms will have the meaning that ethnic Ukrainians and Jewish Ukrainians choose to ascribe to them. In effect, Kolomoisky is taking control of both the Russian and Ukrainian languages and insisting that, not Putin, not Russia, and not Russian propaganda, but he, together with his Ukrainian/Jewish countrymen and women, will decide what words mean in Ukraine.

Finally, Kolomoisky’s T-shirt is a plea for Jewish-Ukrainian understanding. Many of Ukraine’s Jews, who are generally Russian speakers, find the Ukrainian word for Jew, zhyd (which is identical to the Polish, Czech, and Slovak words for Jew), to be too close to the Russian pejorative, zhid, to be acceptable and therefore prefer yevrey. Many Ukrainians defend their choice of zhyd on the grounds that yevrey came to Ukrainian from Russian. In effect, the pragmatic Kolomoisky is telling both communities to cool it, take a deep breath, transcend their complex past, and work out a solution that addresses current concerns.

APRIL 21, 2014

April 21 – In Sloviansk separatists abducted two Italian journalists Pol Gogo and Cosimo Attanasio, as well as Belarusian journalist Dmitri Halko (newspaper “Novy Chas”). Later kidnappers released the journalists but took their money, documents and cameras. The day before separatists abducted other journalists – Irma Krat, Artem Deynega and Segey Lefter.

April 21 – Counter-intelligence of Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) has uncovered and stopped intelligence and subversive activities of Russia’s secret services, aimed to harm international image of Ukraine: “In 2012 a FSB colonel Alexei Chepik recruited a citizen of Ukraine “O”. In January-February 2014 Chepik gave the recruited an assignment to establish a contact with activists and leaders of UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense) and to carry out trafficking of small arms to Russian Federation under a control of the FSB, thus discrediting Ukraine.

April 21 – US Vice President Joe Biden has arrived in Kyiv, confirming Washington’s support of current Ukrainian government.

April 21 – City militia precinct was seized in Kramatorsk, Donetsk oblast by people carrying machine guns and wearing camouflage clothing.


Alexander Nekrassov

A reminder of how useless the United Nations is when it could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done more every time.

As the interim President of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchinov, appeals to the United Nations to send UN peacekeepers to his beleaguered nation, the question that raises its ugly head, and not for the first time, is this: What is it exactly that the “international community” is doing about Ukraine, which is slipping into total chaos and skating close to a possible civil war?

Not much, is the answer. We don’t really hear about the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – the most powerful politician in the world, as the joke says, after Sarah Palin – and his lieutenants working their socks off, travelling between Washington, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow, as they try to work out some sort of solution to the crisis.

Up to now, the UN has come up with two “major” moves on Ukraine: First, there was a vote in the UN Security Council, convened in March at the request of the interim government in Kiev, on the draft resolution condemning the referendum in Crimea that saw it leaving Ukraine and joining Russia. The resolution was – surprise, surprise – vetoed by Russia, with China abstaining and the rest, including Chad, supporting it wholeheartedly. (By the way, I had suggested to the now exiled President Viktor Yanukovych’s people to ask the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting when anti-government protesters in Kiev got really violent back in February, and started shooting and killing policemen on the streets of Kiev, but Yanukovych refused for some unknown reason.)

And secondly, the UN General Assembly resolution on March 27 which called on nations not to accept the Crimean referendum and was approved by 100 countries, rejected by 11, with 58 abstaining. To listen to some UN officials, it was a huge diplomatic achievement that showed Russia that the international community was not going to tolerate all that nonsense with Crimea changing its status.

Now, these two bold actions may be accepted by some as outstanding acts of international diplomacy, although they smacked more of propaganda and public relations and did absolutely nothing to resolve the crisis. I would even go so far as to say that they probably made matters worse, as the whole of eastern Ukraine felt alienated and decided it was their turn to follow the example of Crimeans, taking matters into their own hands – literally.

No workable proposal

By now, 10 cities and towns have been taken over by anti-government protesters in the east, whom some people call “pro-Russian demonstrators”, others label “separatists” and some even imply that they are “terrorists”. As you read this, the so-called “anti-terrorist operation”, initiated by Turchinov is ongoing in the east, but its results are very confusing, with some of the Ukrainian troops, apparently switching sides and some surrendering to the demonstrators, protesters, separatists or terrorists – pick whichever description you fancy.

In effect, the UN has not offered any proposal on the resolution on the Ukrainian crisis that might have been considered even remotely workable. Total silence really – more of a “we are working hard behind the scenes” thing.

But honestly, what is wrong with the UN? We have just been reminded of how useless it is in times of conflict: The 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide was marked in a sombre mood in Kigali, with Ban attending the events and even saying that the UN had done a lot to prevent the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis but, wait for it, “could have done much more”.

Yes, it could have done more to prevent the war in Iraq as well, if we follow this path, and it could have made an effort to prevent Libya from turning into a hellhole and could have been more enthusiastic, if this is the right word, in doing something about ending the civil war in Syria. Not to mention that the UN should have been more effective in responding to the challenges of the Arab Spring altogether and showing its caring and competent side in Haiti, the Philippines and in many other places that have been hit by natural disasters.

The UN is not fit for its purpose any more. What’s more, its main headquarters are located in the wrong country altogether. The US is not the right place for it, for all sorts of reasons. It would look much better if it were housed, say, in Sudan, Somalia or Ethiopia, so as to be closer to the global problems that it purports to be solving. But New York is too close to Washington, if you know what I mean, and too far from the real action.

The whole idea of creating the UN and basing it in the US was a good idea in 1945, when Europe was still trying to get its act together after World War II and the others simply couldn’t afford to host such a vast institution. It made sense then, but not any more. The UN has to change and move out to new pastures. And it has to be accountable for its finances in a proper way and have a strict selection system, to avoid hiring so many people who have no ideas on how to solve problems, but claim a healthy family connection to some of the top names in international politics and business.

The new world order needs a new world organisation, with less bureaucracy, less corruption – yes, you read correctly – and fewer staff. And with an effective rapid response humanitarian structure that can help victims of both military conflicts and natural disasters quickly and professionally.

Addis Ababa will fit the UN HQ like a glove, if you think about it.

Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.



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