Contributor Post Created with Sketch. What Happened in Kiev, Or, In Which I Admit I Was Wrong

 

In my open letter to our own Paul Rahe the other day, I noted a problem for our side with events in Ukraine: Although Viktor Yanukovych, the now former president, had won his office in a free election, he had been overthrown by what amounted to a mob—a mob that was on our side, but a mob all the same.

I was correct that Yanukovich had been duly elected. But in saying he’d been tossed out by a mob—in suggesting, in short, that he’d been forced from office by a mere convulsion, without regard to constitutional processes or democratic legitimacy—I was thoroughly mistaken. From Timothy Snyder’s overview of events in the New York Review of Books:

Did the current Ukrainian authorities come to power in a fascist coup [as President Putin of Russia claims]? As everyone who has followed these events knows, the mass protests against the Yanukovych regime that began in November involved millions of people, from all walks of life. After the regime tried and failed to put down the protests by shooting protestors from rooftops on February 20, EU negotiators arranged a deal whereby Yanukovych would cede power to parliament. Rather than signing the corresponding legislation, as he had committed to do, Yanukovych fled to Russia.

Parliament declared that he had abandoned his responsibilities, followed the protocols that applied to such a case, and continued the process of constitutional reform by itself. Presidential elections were called for May, and a new government was formed….Although one can certainly debate the constitutional nuances, this process was not a coup. And it certainly was not fascist.

The protesters—not “mob”—displayed as much respect for due procedure as the crisis permitted, and they immediately called elections for this very spring. That grants them a lot more democratic legitimacy than I’d originally supposed—a lot more.

I was, as I say, mistaken.

(With a tip of the hat to Professor K.)

There are 21 comments.

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  1. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Only a “tall” man is able to bow his head, Peter. You’re a real gentleman.

    But enough moping about. Finish that Cold War book! I want to read it.

    • #1
    • March 20, 2014, at 11:26 AM PDT
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  2. Larry3435 Member

    I think you had it right the first time Peter. If it waddles like a coup, and quacks like a coup, it might be a coup. Just because the new government called for early elections does not change the fact that the prior elections were nullified by force. If the Ukrainian President had been pro-Western, and he had been driven out by pro-Russian protesters, no one would be questioning that it was a coup.

    • #2
    • March 20, 2014, at 11:43 AM PDT
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  3. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Yanukovych didn’t leave by force. He left as part of an agreement reached with EU negotiators. Did anyone storm the castle?

    • #3
    • March 20, 2014, at 12:00 PM PDT
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  4. Douglas Inactive

    Larry3435:
    I think you had it right the first time Peter. If it waddles like a coup, and quacks like a coup, it might be a coup. Just because the new government called for early elections does not change the fact that the prior elections were nullified by force. If the Ukrainian President had been pro-Western, and he had been driven out by pro-Russian protesters, no one would be questioning that it was a coup.

     This.

    I don’t care how much you hate Putin, the Ukrainian “reformers” are often of the same stripe as “reformers” in Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc. They’re not Muslim, but their rhetoric… and actions… are pretty clear. And the same people that were cheerleading, ahem, reformers in those Muslim states are the usual suspects here: “But we have to help the Ukrainians!”.

    We never learn when it comes to these so-called “springs”.

    • #4
    • March 20, 2014, at 12:08 PM PDT
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  5. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    The Ukrainian parliament was democratically-elected too. They voted to impeach the president by a vote of 328-0.

    People too often focus on the actions and views of one person.

    • #5
    • March 20, 2014, at 12:15 PM PDT
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  6. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Don’t feel too bad Peter. Lotsa people are getting suckered by the pro-Russian propaganda.

    Myself included.

    Didja watch the anti-protesters video that I was suckered into posting in a wrong-headed bout of being fair-minded without checking the facts first?

    This whole crisis calls for nuanced opinions, and I’m still firmly undecided on the best course going forward, but the facts of how this all came about are pretty clear-cut.

    • #6
    • March 20, 2014, at 12:25 PM PDT
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  7. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    No. No they did not.

    In fact, they haven’t even looted his extravagant palaces, paid for out of stolen public funds.

    By all available accounts, the protesters have shown nothing but restraint and a commitment to non-violence throughout this ordeal.

    I was (perhaps cravenly) eager to hear evidence to the contrary, but so far nothing credible has been produced.

    • #7
    • March 20, 2014, at 12:28 PM PDT
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  8. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    What about the last time they overthrew their governments in Eastern Europe? Or would your suggestion have been in 1989 “don’t be fooled by those Polish “reformers”? ;) 

    Sometimes, its not wise to operate on metaphors.

    • #8
    • March 20, 2014, at 12:57 PM PDT
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  9. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson

    You know what nesting is good for? For saying, thanks, Aaron–and now I’m off to do my afternoon’s writing.

    • #9
    • March 20, 2014, at 1:08 PM PDT
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  10. Valiuth Member
    Valiuth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My view isn’t has no nuance I will admit, but I think if followed holds true. Never, ever believe the Russian’s. I pretty much just assume every word coming out of a Russian official’s mouth is a complete lie. This Russian government like the Soviet government of old (which lets be honest was Russian) has no moral bounds or ethical concerns. It will say whatever it has to say to get its way.

    • #10
    • March 20, 2014, at 1:22 PM PDT
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  11. Fred Cole Member

    Of all things, this makes me think of Egypt. The had an elected leader, he did things people didn’t like, so people turned out in the streets and turned him out.

    The problem with these kinds of politics is that democracy is difficult. It requires elected officials to moderate themselves or lose elections. That moderation is important and its a feature, not a bug. That moderation is the check on the enormous power one man can have at the apex of a political system.

    But rather than learn the harsh lessons of politics, failure, then adaptation in the form of moderation, the process is short circuited by the mob. Nobody moderate and instead we learn that mass protests, not elections, change governments. The lesson learned is not to moderate, but instead to respond more harshly to protesters.

    And somehow the mob tossing a democratically and lawfully elected leader out on his ass is cheered by conservatives (especially in the case of Egypt). This isn’t a thing that should be cheered.

    • #11
    • March 20, 2014, at 2:37 PM PDT
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  12. Dr Steve Member

    Peter, thanks for the link to the NYRB. The article is on point; and not just because it supports my own stated views. I may renew my long-lapsed subscription. 

    For the Ricocheteers that read the piece, and yet still accept the idea that this change in government in Ukraine was an illegitimate because it came through unconstitutional anti-democratic action (in other words a coup, perpetrated by a mob), I would suggest that they recall that Yanukovych passed “anti-protest” laws in January, which not only clearly sought to outlaw the ongoing and still mostly peaceful protests (by criminalizing assembly and organization), but also threatened censorship of speech, internet, and social media. These were on the books for two weeks before Y backed off, slightly, but by then, it was too late. Many of us might have missed this development, or have forgotten about it, because the events spun out of control so quickly. Yanukovych had already shown himself to be a would-be dictator uninterested in redressing the grievances of the protesters by peaceful democratic means when, three weeks later, he ordered the now famous shootings by sniper. 

    In homage to Peter, I offer this previous article by the same author he cites (unfortunately, behind the pay wall, but you can get the flavor in the paragraphs you can see): http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/feb/20/ukraine-new-dictatorship/

    • #12
    • March 20, 2014, at 3:12 PM PDT
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  13. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I flagged my own comment, Fred. You don’t have to.

    • #13
    • March 20, 2014, at 4:00 PM PDT
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  14. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Sorry, but this doesn’t conform all too well with the reality in Ukraine. Most of eastern Europe has successfully transitioned to democratic rule, except for a couple of places like Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. That era seems to have come to an end in Ukraine now. Again, I’m not sure why people try and compare this with Egypt or the ME. There are absolutely no parallels between the two. What happened in Ukraine was the last step in the anti-communist revolutions that started in 1989. Would some of you have said in 1989-1990 about the people in Warsaw, Tallinn, Prague, Bucharest, Tirana or Beijing, “don’t be fooled by the mob”? Would you have? People overthrowing tyrannical regimes that murder them is a cause for celebration for conservatives. The question is who replaces them, and I don’t see the parallels between E. Europe and Egypt or Syria. No need to try and create parallels, either, since there’s a historical track record in E.Europe to show otherwise.

    • #14
    • March 20, 2014, at 4:34 PM PDT
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  15. Steve MacDonald Inactive

    I remain confused. The Nuland-Pyatt conversation makes me wonder the extent of USA and European involvement in the uprising. The Ashton – Paet conversation leaves me wondering the origins of the snipers. We’ll never know. We do know there is an antiRussian fascist component and billionaire oligarchs involved.

    What we do know is that Russia has legitimate national interest in Crimea that they have gone to war many times, over centuries, to defend. The Crimea Parliament and people had a vote that seems every bit as righteous & self determined as others. No one with an IQ in double digits should be the least bit surprised that Russia would act in its interests there. 

    NATO has been aggressive expanding to Russia’s doorstep. Russia perceives this to be a threat in both military and influence senses. I don’t blame them.

    While I am no fan of Putin or even Russia, I struggle to find major fault with the way they have conducted themselves in this affair. I also find a mountain of hypocrisy and histrionics on the side of the west.

    We are on a very dangerous road. I hope we tread carefully.

    • #15
    • March 20, 2014, at 10:32 PM PDT
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  16. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Steve MacDonald:

    I remain confused. The Nuland-Pyatt conversation makes me wonder the extent of USA and European involvement in the uprising. The Ashton – Paet conversation leaves me wondering the origins of the snipers. We’ll never know. We do know there is an antiRussian fascist component and billionaire oligarchs involved.

    _______________

    The woman Paet quotes as a source for his conspiracy theories denies having said this. The conversation stands as proof that Paet is willing to engage in conspiracy theories, but of nothing else. It should surprise no one that there are some politicians in Russia’s immediate vicinity who can be made to join with Russia in suggesting absurdities that allow Westerners to feel good about surrender. This has always been the case with tyrants (or, at least, I assume so; I can’t think of many actual examples from before the 18th century, and stand ready to be corrected).

    There are fascists and oligarchs on both sides, but the fascists on the Ukrainian side are in a small minority (10% in the last elections). For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that the support of wealthy people delegitimizes a movement.

    • #16
    • March 21, 2014, at 3:46 AM PDT
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  17. Fred Cole Member

    AIG:
    Would some of you have said in 1989-1990 about the people in Warsaw, Tallinn, Prague, Bucharest, Tirana or Beijing, “don’t be fooled by the mob”? Would you have? People overthrowing tyrannical regimes that murder them is a cause for celebration for conservatives.

     But we’re not talking about 1989 and Eastern Europe. Viktor Yanukovych was elected to office. So was Mohamed Morsi. Popularly elected, and then turned out by the mob.

    It’d be like in the summer of 2010 if protesters turned out in the United States and Obama was forced to leave office. It’s unthinkable to us because we have a long established and solid republic. We’re good at it. They’re still learning.

    But rather than learn that a stable republic has value, and electoral success requires moderation, the lesson has now been taught in those places, that if the leader is unpopular, you don’t have to wait for elections.

    • #17
    • March 21, 2014, at 7:46 AM PDT
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  18. Tim H. Member

    I believe I understand the thinking of those on our side who are wary of what happened in the Ukraine and the calls to do something about the Crimea.

    As for the change of government in the Ukraine, Dr. Steve has already given the reasons for my thinking and those of many others: Yanukovich had become a tyrant, banning demonstrations and then shooting many protestors. I am of a Jeffersonian turn of mind, rather than a Burkean one, where it comes to this, and I don’t worry too much about continuity or the “legal” details of a how this kind of administration is changed. It’s nice that it was, actually, done by the legislature, for those who do worry about such things.

    As far as the Crimea goes, my opinions are mixed. I believe wholeheartedly in the right of secession, which goes in hand with the right of self-rule. And I support, in principle, the right of the Crimeans to leave the Ukraine and govern themselves, even if this means joining another country. What I don’t like is that this is clearly being organized by Russia itself. It’s orchestrated by Russia as a land grab.

    • #18
    • March 21, 2014, at 8:56 AM PDT
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  19. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Fred Cole:

    AIG:

    But we’re not talking about 1989 and Eastern Europe. Viktor Yanukovych was elected to office. So was Mohamed Morsi. Popularly elected, and then turned out by the mob.
    It’d be like in the summer of 2010 if protesters turned out in the United States and Obama was forced to leave office. It’s unthinkable to us because we have a long established and solid republic. We’re good at it. They’re still learning.
    But rather than learn that a stable republic has value, and electoral success requires moderation, the lesson has now been taught in those places, that if the leader is unpopular, you don’t have to wait for elections.

    In the United States, you don’t have to wait for elections. Impeachment proceedings, which were underway in Ukraine before the government gave up in the face of Yanukovych’s absconding himself, resulted in President Ford taking office without waiting for an election. Yanukovych’s own party in the democratically elected parliament voted against him, with no one voting for him.

    The situation in Egypt was quite different, with considerably less concern for democratic niceties.

    • #19
    • March 21, 2014, at 7:42 PM PDT
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  20. Steve MacDonald Inactive

    James of England – Your point reinforces the confusion and lack of facts. I.E. Can you imagine a high EU official not denying that alleged conversation? I can’t. You are right that being rich should not be a disqualifier. However, this is not the first world where endemic corruption has a legitimate veneer. These people made fortunes in a systemically corrupt system, and are not likely to benefit from reforms that lessen their competitive advantage. Thus I suspect they will not be paragons of reformist virtue and will likely perpetuate those corrupt aspects that benefit them. The point is the Ukraine is changing one corrupt regime for another – and trying to define good guys and bad guys is not a task for those seeking sanity.

    this leads me to:

    1. Peter’s apology is perhaps not 100% justified.

    2. Entering into a high stakes gamble with limited upside and huge potential downside, is perhaps not the brightest thing the west could do.

    • #20
    • March 21, 2014, at 10:45 PM PDT
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  21. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Steve MacDonald:

    James of England – Your point reinforces the confusion and lack of facts. I.E. Can you imagine a high EU official not denying that alleged conversation?

    ___

    Baroness Ashton does not deny that the conversation, in which the Estonian Foreign Minister told her about a lunatic conspiracy theory, took place. I believe that this is probably because that conversation did take place. While this is somewhat embarrassing for Estonia, having one’s politicians occasionally doing the Kremlin’s work is something that people in the region have to live with. Since Paet’s source says Paet doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and Paet claims no other sources, Paet’s conversation tells us nothing about Ukraine, only about Paet.

    The point is the Ukraine is changing one corrupt regime for another – and trying to define good guys and bad guys is not a task for those seeking sanity.

    ______

    This has always been the argument of the anti-anti-communist and other supporters of tyranny, and for good reason. In defending the indefensible, claiming moral equivalence with the imperfect efforts of morally superior states is always the easiest device. It has often, indeed generally, been false.

    • #21
    • March 22, 2014, at 12:09 AM PDT
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