Category Archives: Russia

The Great Game continues


An article in today’s Observer gives an interesting overview of relations between the USSR’s most important successor states: Russia and the Ukraine.

with the international financial system almost collapsing, a global recession, a new US president, continuing war on Palestine, and in Iraq and Afghanistan…

It is not surprising that attention has strayed once again from what is happening in the states of the former Soviet Union. For a few weeks last year the world was forced to sit up by the war in Georgia, and then lost interest again. Last week’s report on that war shared the blame around: Georgia started it but Russia over-reacted. It only stated the conclusion that most observers had already come to.

But then trying to understand what is happening there is still, in too many ways like trying to understand the riddle wrapped in an enigma that Churchill described.

The politics of the successor states, and their interrelations, continues t be a place of smoke and mirrors where no-one’s motives are entirely what they seem to be.

Certainly under Putin, and now under the Putin-Medvedev regime, Russia is reasserting itself. It is once again making sure that its writ runs in what is still referred to as the “near abroad”. And now Russia’s gaze is turning again to the Ukraine, the independence of which it acquiesced in as unstoppable, but never really accepted as legitimate.

And Ukraine seems to be ripening for the picking as it slides into ever deepening political and economic crisis.

Few in the Ukraine it seems would want a return to the Soviet Union.  But the ruling class of that country was fully integrated into that of the Soviet Union. A situation that has in some ways not changed since. The country’s different political forces are little more than fronts for groups of biznesmeny who are still entwined with the state.

The political gyrations of Yulia Tymoshenko are just one of t he more prominent examples of this phenomenon. A “self made” billionaire she has shifted from being pro-Russian, to anti-Russian firebrand of the Orange revolution to Russia’s favoured choice for the Ukrainian presidency.

This should come as no surprise. She is a native of the Dnieprpopetrovsk in the heavily industrialized, and mainly Russian speaking, east of the country. It is where she became the “gas princess” and one of the country’s “energy oligarchs”. Her business partners and collaborators read like a who’s who of the Ukrainian elite.

The region was the base of Leonid Kuchma. The former boss of the massive Yuzmash missile factory he was to become the president who’s corrupt and undemocratic regime was the target of public anger in the so-called Orange Revolution.

Dnieprpopetrovsk has been the seedbed not only of the much of today’s Ukrainian elite but of the Soviet Unions’ before that. Leonid Brezhnev was party boss of the region and the cronies he packed the CPSU’s Central Committee with were known as the Dnieprpopetrovsk Mafia.

Volodimir Sherbitsky, the Ukraine party boss was another of this gang. When Kuchma won the presidency, it was only the same old gang reclaiming what they thought was rightfully theirs.

Viktor Yanukovich, the defeated candidate in the election that had been fixed for him to win, is from the Donbass, the equally industrialized region next-door to Dnieprpopetrovsk. Another famous son of the region was Nikita Khrushchev, who was of course ousted by his fellow Ukrainian and protégé Leonid Brezhnev in 1964.

The intricacies of post-Soviet politics seem to fit Churchill’s description. But they are also a source of instability as Russia continues to try and reassert itself in what it believes to be its back yard, and in the face of opposition from local elites, distrusting populations and western powers who often each seem to be pursuing differing and contradictory agendas (for some of the complications of Germany’s relations with Russia you could read a previous post here).

Either way the region continues to be unstable and a violent clash between Russia and Ukraine is now being seriously discussed as a possibility in the future.

The ramifications of which the world will not be able to forget as quickly as last years brief war with Georgia.

This isn’t necessarily what the Observer says but the article is definitely worth a look. To read it click here.

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