Fascinating letter from TPM Reader RS (and one of the many reasons I love email channel with readers, going strong for more than thirteen years ) …
A bit of background- my family immigrated from Kiev to Philadelphia in 1992 during the last great wave of Jewish migration from the former Soviet Union. I was 10 years old. As you can imagine, my feelings towards modern Ukraine are quite mixed and probably somewhat contradictory. We still have friends and family in Kiev, and while my grandparents continued to visit almost annually while their health allowed, my parents have never gone back even once. My sole visit back was in 2009, which simultaneously served to strengthen my connection to my place of birth and dramatically increase the appreciation I have of the all the substantial benefits of being an American.
In any case, I’ve been completely riveted by the events of EuroMaidan, the fall of the Yanukovich regime, the anticipation of Putin’s response (if you have any sense for that part of the world, you knew it was coming) and the present invasion of Crimea. As a long time TPM reader, I’ve really enjoyed your perspective on the events and I think you guys have hit the main points quite well, but hopefully I can add some depth to what is going on. There is a massive social media presence from both the Ukrainian and Russian side and a fascinating back and forth taking place. The propaganda coming out of Kremlin has been massive and omnipresent. Basically the Putin press conference gave you all the bullet points. The current government are Nazi, ultra-nationalist, anti-semites, there is chaos in the streets, Russian speaking citizens are under thread, Ukrainian troops are abandoning posts in Crimea, etc..
I’m sure you knew all that, but what’s interesting has been the Ukrainian response. The Maidan organizers and basically citizen journalists all over the country have been systematically debunking every single point and posting responses on youtube. Just to give you a taste, unfortunately it’s very hard to appreciate for non-native speakers.
Pro-Ukraine gathering in Kharkiv, in Russian speaking heartland of Eastern Ukraine, the last speaker is especially beautiful reciting poems both in Russian and English:
Parody of the “chaos” taking place in the streets of Odessa:
Ukrainian naval officers gathering where the resignation of the Admiral is discussed and to a man, everyone commits to defending the country:
This has been going around, but the tension of this situation is just incredible and the conversation between the Ukrainian troops and Russians is heart breaking. Remember, many if not most Ukrainian army troops in Crimea are ethnic Russians.
And on it goes. The sense I get is Krimea might be lost. Putin’s troops aren’t going anywhere, and while the Ukrainian troops are disciplined enough not to fire, they can only hold out in their bases for so long. I’m sure there’ll be a “referendum” where Crimea will ask to join Russia and that will be that. However, the rest of Ukraine is more united than ever. If Putin tries to enter troops into any other part of the country he will face stiff resistance, even in the east.
So to go back to the question of whether he is acting from a position of strength, I don’t really know. His actions, as usual are reactive, but I really don’t think he cares about short term, or even medium term consequence right now. He wants to be remembered as the guy who brought Crimea back to it’s rightful place in Russia. That would be his legacy over everything else. The price he pays is a Russia that’s more isolated than ever in its post-USSR history and Ukraine that’s completely outside its sphere of influence. Is this a position of strength?
Honestly, that’s my optimistic scenario. It could get much, much darker. So to summarize, if you guys need any help with Russian translation, or information on the Ukrainian perspective of the events taking place, or at least the Russian speaking Ukrainian perspective, please feel free to call upon my services, I’d be happy to help!
Keep up the great work!