Sunday, July 13, 2014

No One Has Any Idea Who’s ‘Winning’ in Ukraine | Russia

Probably the single wisest thing that I have yet heard comes from what might sound like an unlikely source: my college rowing coach. Before a championship race, when the team was at its most nervous and skittish, he specifically addressed the seniors in the group, who would be competing for the last time as intercollegiate athletes. “Take advantage of the opportunity you have in front of you,” he said, “because once you finish school, you’ll see that life offers very few moments that are as dramatic as this.” This wasn’t the sort of expletive-filled rah-rah bluster that people expect to hear from a coach (like Al Pacino’s now-famous speech in Any Given Sunday) but it was a bit of wisdom that I wished I’d listened to more closely. Life doesn’t offer many moments like that race, times when the winners and losers are so quickly, neatly, and clearly divided. Life is a lot more complicated.

So why am I telling old war stories about my rowing days? What on earth does this have to do with Russia or Ukraine? Well, I’ve noticed a really troubling tendency in commentary on the crisis in Ukraine, one that seems to have strengthened as the conflict has dragged on and become even bloodier. This tendency, sadly, isn’t limited to one side of the spectrum. I’ve seen pro-Russians make this mistake just as often as I have Maidan activists, and it appears to have afflicted mainstream and non-mainstream media in equal measure. What is this problem? It’s the desire, based on rather small changes in real-world conditions, to declare one side or the other “the winner” or “the loser.

”As one of the freshest examples, take an article that appeared on Zero Hedge: “Vladimir Putin scores another historic victory: Austria signs south stream pipeline deal in defiance of Europe.” Vladimir Putin didn’t just modestly improve Russia’s position in the European energy market. Putin didn’t even simply score a major win, one that would give a substantial boost to Russian fortunes at a highly uncertain juncture. No, that is all far too modest. Putin won not just a historic victory but another one. I’m honestly not sure what other Russian “victories” Zero Hedge considers historic (it was left ambiguous, though I think they had in mind the recent cutoff in gas supplies to Ukraine) but this is the sort of short sighted and context-free writing that drives me absolutely batty.

Whether or not any of the recent events in Ukraine are actually historic is an open question. No one knows. It’s possible, probably even likely, that the Maidan will be seen as a crucial inflection point, a time when Ukraine (or at least the Western and Central parts of it) made a decisive break with what Boris Yeltsin once called the “grey, totalitarian past.” History books twenty years from now could teach schoolchildren how the bumbling, corrupt Viktor Yanukovych and his last-minute rejection of the association agreement finally make Ukraine a part of Europe. This would be an uplifting tale of a people discovering its own power, and of ordinary citizens forcing their government to respect their desires.

It’s also entirely possible that the Maidan will be seen, like the orange revolution, as a false dawn, an uprising that failed to achieve anything of lasting significance. It’s not the most likely outcome but it wouldn’t be the slightest bit shocking if Ukraine doesn’t really go anywhere, that it will continue to drift back and forth between east and west while its economy continues to deteriorate and its citizens continue to get more desperate. Given all of the failed revolutions throughout the former Soviet space, it would be the very height of hubris to entirely discount the possibility that Maidan ends not in “Europe” but in dashed hopes and shattered dreams.

Complete story at - No One Has Any Idea Who’s ‘Winning’ in Ukraine | Russia

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