What price the Ukrainian revolution?

The subject came up yesterday when I was interviewed by Israel National Radio.

This wasn’t my first such experience, and yet again I marvelled at the difference between the way such interviews are handled here and there.

On our own radio stations one is seldom asked probing, intelligent questions, and even more rare are occasions when one is given enough time to sound reasonably coherent in reply.

By contrast the Israeli talk-show host Tamar Yonah was asking questions not only intelligent but on occasion deliciously provocative – and she gave me a full 20 minutes, an eternity in broadcast terms, to try to appear intelligent in return.

Still, broadcast has inherent limitations, which I realised after the interview ended and hindsight kicked in. Being able to think on the hoof may help one out in a rapid-fire oral exchange, but it’s well-nigh useless when trying to ponder a serious issue at depth.

Also, much has happened in the intervening 20 hours, as history tends to speed up at the time of revolution. Yesterday I said that the EU didn’t really want the Ukraine as a fully fledged member, what with her economy making Greece look like a Balkan Tiger. Today I’m not so sure.

Mea culpa, really. I forgot for a second that the EU, its protestations notwithstanding, is really not about the economy. It only ever uses it, either as a carrot or as a stick, in pursuit of megalomaniac political aims.

One such aim is to create a giant superstate, the bigger the better. The size does matter, and if this entails beggaring Europe, the federalists will see it as the cost of doing business.

In that vein, EU officials, including our own Chancellor of the Exchequer (you don’t doubt he’s merely an EU official these days, do you?) have proffered blank cheques to the Ukrainian interim government. Billions? Tens of billions? Doesn’t matter. Progress can’t be held back by a few zeroes here or there.

Yet if history has taught as anything, it’s caution against the presumption of progress. Alas, simplistic Western minds are weaned on the binary view of politics: tyranny – democracy. If it’s not one, it has to be the other.

This leads the West, in particular its leader the USA, into appalling errors of judgement, most notably in the Middle East. Americans can’t seem to get their heads around the simple proposition, proven empirically beyond much doubt, that, in countries that have no history of stable, just institutions, every tyrant tends to be replaced by a worse one.

Whether the replacement is effected by violence or elections is immaterial, and democracy is an inadequate yardstick by which to measure the nature of each power shift.

Yanukovych, for example, was democratically elected and violently overthrown, which proves neither that his reign was truly legitimate nor that his successors are impeccably virtuous.

I for one see no reason to believe that the billions foolishly being proffered by the EU won’t reach Kiev only to double up and go back whence they came, this time ending up in the numbered accounts belonging to the kleptocrats who have been governing the Ukraine since… well, for ever.

The sainted martyr Yulia Timoshenko is one such. This formidable lady does possess a lot of fortitude, yet she displayed it not only during her imprisonment but also when amassing billions, many of them courtesy of criminal gas deals with the Russians.

With characteristic impetuosity she has been beatified in the West as the Ukrainian Joan of Arc plus hydrocarbons, whereas in fact she’s much closer to Elena Ceausescu minus the hubby-wubby.

God only knows how events in the Ukraine will develop. One of the intelligent questions I was asked yesterday was whether the country was strong enough to remain sovereign. I replied it was possible but not the way to bet, and I stand by that comment.

Modernity raises optimistic economic expectations, and Ukrainians are no different. However, their economy is too wobbly to be able to satisfy such expectations widely, that is beyond the criminalised gang of kleptocratic rulers.

Massive infusions of freshly minted, in effect counterfeit, euros won’t solve poverty in that country any more than welfare handouts can solve it in our own lands. Such handouts corrupt and, when delivered on an international scale, they corrupt absolutely.

Moreover, the Ukrainians can’t put euros into the furnaces and machines that keep the economy going. That requires energy, and much of it is coming from the Russian gas pipeline.

The control valve on the pipe is regulated by the lever that’s firmly in Putin’s hands. Turned this way, it looks like a carrot. Turned the other way, it turns into a stick with which Russian kleptocrats can beat their Ukrainian counterparts on the head.

Can the EU make up any potential deficit in energy supplies should Putin put his foot down? Somehow one doubts it. If they begin to freeze in the dark, it won’t take Ukrainians long to return to the Maidan – they know the way.

Another question intelligently asked and evasively answered in yesterday’s interview was whether or not the Ukraine was setting an example for others to follow. What if America or, say, Greece follows suit?

The possibility of an anti-Obama revolution in the States sounds as far-fetched as it would be welcome. But Greece and other sick men of Europe are a different matter.

It’s conceivable, for example, that the EU’s attempt to underwrite the Ukrainian revolution just may be the last straw that’ll break the back of the whole wicked project. For, as we’ve had numerous opportunities to observe, politics can ride roughshod over economics only for so long.

Turning the Ukraine into another major recipient of European welfare is something the Europeans simply can’t afford. It’s back to those economic expectations that have for all intents and purposes turned into entitlements. Frustrate them en masse and sparks may well fly all over Europe.

Political disputes in America haven’t been settled by violence for 150 years, and in England for 350. But the southern and eastern reaches of Europe can’t boast the same history of political stability. Violence is programmed into their DNA much more firmly than docility.

Meanwhile the Ukraine will remain lodged between the rock of the EU and the hard place of Russia. She may find a way to survive by playing both ends against the middle, she may split into two separate states divided by the Dnieper, she may sink into chaos, she may turn into a version of Belarus, she may eventually join one or the other multinational Walpurgisnacht.

Before loosening the strings of the purse filled with our money (that is, yours and mine) it would be wise to see which course is the most likely. But no one who accuses our governments of wisdom can himself be wise.



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