Despite attempts by troops deployed by the regime to disrupt the referendums leading to violence that cost multiple lives, turnout was reported to be over 70 percent.
Russia Asked for Delayed Referendums
Russia had suggested that the referendums be delayed until tensions between eastern Ukrainians and regime troops eased. Policymakers in the United States and Europe had interpreted this as Russia backing down from NATO. Clearly then, the people of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and not the Kremlin, were determined to distance themselves from a regime in Kiev they felt does not represent them or their interests, as the referendums were carried out despite Moscow’s wishes.
A growing wave of unrest is spreading across the Eastern European nation of Ukraine. The unrest comes in the form of protesters refusing to recognize the current “acting government” in Kiev, which came to power on the back of violent protests that ousted the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych. Polices enacted by Yanukovych that attempted to appeal to both western and eastern Ukrainians were quickly repealed in the wake of the violent coup in Kiev.
In response to Kiev’s perceived lack of legitimacy, protesters have taken over government buildings, demonstrated in the streets, and have begun organizing referendums to distance themselves from the regime by granting themselves greater autonomy. The United States and Europe have accused Russia of organizing the unrest, even as they claim Russia has backed down on supporting referendums that have not only taken place, but granted pro-autonomy Ukrainians a sweeping mandate.
The US State Department has issued multiple statements condemning the referendums, regardless of who US politicians and policymakers claim are behind them. One statement dated May 10, 2014, tiled, “On the Illegal Referenda in Eastern Ukraine,” claims, “as the United States has said, the referenda being planned for May 11 in portions of eastern Ukraine by armed separatist groups are illegal under Ukrainian law and are an attempt to create further division and disorder. If these referenda go forward, they will violate international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The United States will not recognize the results of these illegal referenda.”
It is difficult to discern how the United States believes the referendums are “illegal under Ukrainian law” but continues supporting a regime that came to power by force, not elections. The US decision not to recognize the referendums will have a negligible effect on the growing unrest in the east as well as on the increasing instability of Kiev in the west.
Backlash Against Illegitimate, Fascist Regime
There are greater complexities underlying the current crisis in Ukraine. Desires for independence from Kiev are driven by longstanding historical, linguistic, cultural, economic, and defense ties Ukraine holds with neighboring Russia in the east, and aversions to fascist forces in the west. During World War 2, it was Adolf Hitler’s Nazis that attempted to occupy and reorder Ukraine’s western regions, while the east fought fiercely in opposition to fascism.
Today, a similar scenario is unfolding.
The current regime in Kiev consists of a coalition between Batkivshchyna (All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland”) and Svoboda (Freedom). Both echo the horrific ideologies and symbology of Ukraine’s Nazi-collaborators during World War 2. Svoboda in particular, began as the “Social-National Party of Ukraine,” a quite literal translation of the Nazi Party of Hitler’s Germany, and adopted many of the methodologies that were the hallmarks of the Nazi regime. This includes antisemitism, racism, bigotry, violence, and political intimidation of every kind. During the Euromaidan protests, students of history would have noted the familiar symbols of Hitler’s Nazis adorning the clothing, flags, and weaponry of Ukraine’s ultra-right.
It is not difficult to understand why so many Ukrainians are recoiling from the current regime. Not only was it unelected, having seized power violently from an elected government, but it represents an ideology that has disfigured Ukraine and cost the lives of millions both within the country and along its frontiers. Deep historical scars and the phantom pains of Nazism in Eastern Europe are the primary factors driving many Ukrainians to vote in ad hoc referendums and to take up arms against an old but familiar enemy that appears to be reemerging.
Within the US and Europe, the industrial and banking interests that sought to do business with and in part helped the rise of Nazism ahead of World War 2, are again involved in feeding fascism. While the Western World claims Russian aggression is destabilizing Ukraine, it is clear this is not the case. Russia, like the many Ukrainians involved in growing unrest, appear to have learned the lessons of history and are resolved to prevent the rise of fascism in their midst.
The United States has repeatedly referred to Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine as “rebels.” However, the term “rebel” is defined as those who oppose by force an established government or ruling authority. No such established government or ruling authority exists in much of eastern Ukraine. Troops deployed by Kiev must make incursions into Donetsk and Luhansk like an invading army, and have failed to assert Keiv’s authority on multiple occasions. Furthermore, since the regime in Kiev came to power by force, not by elections, it is difficult to understand why Ukrainians are expected to recognize its authority.
The United States and the European Union appear in a particular rush to hold elections in Ukraine. This is because of the glaring complication their unelected allies in Kiev pose to both their own legitimacy, and the legitimacy of their American and European backers. Unfortunately, it appears that with Crimea already integrating into the Russian Federation, and the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk declaring autonomy, elections in Ukraine will come across as having little to no legitimacy. Should the elections be carried out without Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk’s participation, it would be a concession that these regions no longer exist under Kiev’s authority, and undo months of rhetoric emanating from Washington, London, and Brussels.
Should elections be carried out including these three breakaway provinces, but garner diminutive turnouts, again, the legitimacy of the elections will be called into question. The “territorial integrity” of Ukraine is essential for the elections the Americans and Europeans need to continue granting the regime in Kiev perceived legitimacy. For Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, and other potential breakaway provinces, the tides are in their favor of not only continuing the undermining of the regime in Kiev, but preserving their newly achieved autonomy from Kiev.
Violence resulting from incursions into eastern and southern Ukraine by Kiev militias will continue, but most likely without any noticeable progress until either the country is fully divided, leaving Kiev to preside over a shadow of what Ukraine once was, or until the regime collapses and a unified Ukraine can move out from the darkness the Euromaidan and its US and EU sponsors have cast upon it.
Ulson Gunnar is a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”