Contributor Post Created with Sketch. In Which I Offer Faint-Hearted Praise of Victor Yanukovych, or, A Letter to Dr. Rahe

 

shutterstock_176640020Dear Paul,

Your posts on Ukraine have turned my thinking right around: Either the United States stands up to Vladimir Putin over his invasion of a historically complicated but nevertheless sovereign nation or we’ll find Putin emboldened on the Black Sea and the Baltic, and other bad guys emboldened—well, everywhere from Syria to the inner counsels of the Chinese military in Beijing.

I’m with you. I get it.

But there’s a problem with the argument that keeps niggling at the back of my mind: the deposing of Viktor Yanukovych and the matter of democratic legitimacy.

In 2010, Yanukovych became president of Ukraine by winning an election that everyone at the time seems to have regarded as free—or at least as free enough to reflect the popular will. Six weeks ago he was deposed by—let’s face it—a mob.

The mob was pro-western. It was—so refreshing to have seen a mob like this for once—on our side. But it was a mob. Yes, when Yanukovych fled Kiev the Ukrainian parliament voted formally to remove him from office. But the vote fell short of the number the Ukrainian constitution required. Yanukovych was a bad guy, and the leaders of the opposition were good guys—I grant that. But an election was scheduled to take place in just one year. Shouldn’t the opposition simply have waited?

Polls indicate that Putin’s popularity is now soaring, and the man has staged a referendum in Crimea in which more than 90 percent of voters have demonstrated a desire to see Crimea secede from Ukraine to join Russia. There are problems here—goodness knows. In Russia, Putin controls the press, and in Crimea he arranged for voters to stare down the barrels of Russian guns. But when Putin, himself duly elected, claims that he possesses more democratic legitimacy than the present government of Ukraine, doesn’t he—oh, Paul, it pains me even to ask this—doesn’t he have a point?

Awaiting your fraternal correction, fondly,

Peter

There are 27 comments.

  1. Wordcooper Inactive

    By the same token, the duly elected parliament voted Yanukovych out (or impeached him). Were they following the law or their constitution? Genuine question for an expert.

    If that was legal, then it was more legal or correct than the Crimea secession. If Crimea wants to secede, then doesn’t the rest of the country need to allow it? Other than acceding to it by force?

    • #1
    • March 18, 2014, at 12:48 PM PST
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  2. Aaron Miller Member

    Excellent question, Peter.

    As I said in another thread, we should also question whether or not democratic process really smooths or legitimizes any secession. Imagine being of the minority opinion when the majority of your regional neighbors democratically petition to secede. In other words, imagine your home being divorced from your native nationality because most of your neighbors want to form a new nation. Is your right of association as an individual — your nationality — subject to majority rule?

    Maybe (and this is a big “maybe”) secession by democratic process can avoid bloodshed, but it still involves some degree of coercion.

    There is undoubtedly no perfect system, moral or legal, for the determination of borders and nationalities. But what are the rights of the minority in a case of democratic secession?

    • #2
    • March 18, 2014, at 1:22 PM PST
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  3. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    I just wonder . . . if Putin had stayed out of it, might the Crimeans not have eventually declared independence from Ukraine anyway, just a few years further down the road? Perhaps from Putin’s point of view it’s a wash. By strong-arming the Crimeans it makes him look like an international thug, but at home he’s the all-conquering hero. Man, I’m glad I live here and not there.

    • #3
    • March 18, 2014, at 2:28 PM PST
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  4. Dr Steve Member

    Peter, I don’t accept the contention that the President Yanukovych was “deposed” by a mob. We disagree, perhaps, on what a mob looks or acts like. As I recall those many months ago–no, only a few weeks actually–the protesters began by calling for a reversal of Yanukovych’s spurning the EU. The protesters soon began to call for an end to the cronyism the spurning of the EU seemed to represent. Next, the protesters called for an end to the violent response from Yanukovych. President Yanukovych negotiated, signed a cease fire, to be followed by a reassessment of the issue raised by the protesters. Whereupon, he scrambled away in the middle of the night. Deposition by the Parliamentariams who remained on the job, followed in due course, if not due process.

    • #4
    • March 18, 2014, at 2:29 PM PST
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  5. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    I take it, Peter, that had you been alive in 1776 you would have been a Tory. The Americans chose Revolution when the British shut down self-government in Massachusetts via the Intolerable Acts and sent an army to crush the colonists. The Ukrainians in Maidan Square opted for Revolution when President Yanukovych ordered that snipers shoot them in cold blood (something on the order of one hundred were killed). In time, even the man in command of the snipers thought this a bit much.

    Vladimir Putin, who has similarly murdered many a Russian citizen, had reason to act. The Ukrainians are a brother people, fellow Orthodox. What happened in Maidan Square could have become a contagion.

    • #5
    • March 18, 2014, at 3:04 PM PST
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  6. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Randy Weivoda:
    I just wonder . . . if Putin had stayed out of it, might the Crimeans not have eventually declared independence from Ukraine anyway, just a few years further down the road? Perhaps from Putin’s point of view it’s a wash. By strong-arming the Crimeans it makes him look like an international thug, but at home he’s the all-conquering hero. Man, I’m glad I live here and not there.

     There is, for the record, no reliable evidence that the Crimeans were unhappy being a part of Ukraine. In 1991, a majority voted to join Ukraine. The vote held this past weekend was a farce — worthy of comparison with the “elections” held there prior to 1991. Vladimir Putin is nothing if not brazen.

    • #6
    • March 18, 2014, at 3:08 PM PST
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  7. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    “The Americans chose Revolution when the British shut down self-government.” It was a lot more complicated than that, of course, but you offer a fair enough summary statement. What I just don’t see is the parallel to the Ukraine. Who shut down self-government there? Viktor Yanukovich was duly elected president in a fair election. Yanukovich himself therefore had a far better claim to be the representative of self-government than did the protesters, who, no matter how pro-western and well-intentioned, had never taken the trouble to win a vote. Had they been genuine democrats, they would have waited until the next election, only a year away, before ousting Yanukovich–and done so by constitutional means.

    • #7
    • March 18, 2014, at 4:23 PM PST
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  8. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    Just looked up “mob,” finding this:

    a large crowd of people, esp. one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence

    Since the protesters in Ukraine seemed neither disorderly nor intent on violence, I grant your point. They weren’t a mob. But–and now we come to my point–neither were they duly elected.

    I’m not saying they were bad people. I’m saying their lack of democratic legitimacy badly damages their case–and strengthen’s Putin’s hand. They need to hold a legitimate election of their own just as soon as ever they can.

    • #8
    • March 18, 2014, at 4:30 PM PST
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  9. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Peter, people get impatient with their government when the snipers begin picking them off. If they have an inalienable natural right to life (as well as liberty and property), then they have the right to defend themselves when attacked, and revolution is a species of collective self-defense. There are, after all, limits to what an elected government can legitimately do. When it is lawless in the way Yanukovych was, patience is a vice, not a virtue; and revolution is not just a right. It is a duty. The people of Ukraine elected a President, not a tyrant.

    • #9
    • March 18, 2014, at 4:56 PM PST
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  10. Raxxalan Member

    No government no matter what majority of the populace it commanded in the last election has the right to shoot non-violent dissenters. Period full stop. Once the government engages such activity it is the duty of the people to abolish it by force if necessary. If a people in a democracy allow the government to act in such a fashion in the vain hope of mending its ways in the next election, they deserve the government they have which is no longer a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word.

    • #10
    • March 18, 2014, at 6:41 PM PST
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  11. James Gawron Thatcher

    Paul A. Rahe:
    I take it, Peter, that had you been alive in 1776 you would have been a Tory. The Americans chose Revolution when the British shut down self-government in Massachusetts via the Intolerable Acts and sent an army to crush the colonists. The Ukrainians in Maidan Square opted for Revolution when President Yanukovych ordered that snipers shoot them in cold blood (something on the order of one hundred were killed). In time, even the man in command of the snipers thought this a bit much.
    Vladimir Putin, who has similarly murdered many a Russian citizen, had reason to act. The Ukrainians are a brother people, fellow Orthodox. What happened in Maidan Square could have become a contagion.

     Now comes the 64 thousand hryvnia question. If Ukraine equals the Colonies in 1776, Russia equals England in 1776 then we must be France in 1776. How will we support the colonialists. Will we send the Bonhomme Richard? 

    cont.

    • #11
    • March 18, 2014, at 7:39 PM PST
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  12. James Gawron Thatcher

    cont. from #7

    The_Bonhomme_Richard

    It was a piece of garbage compared to the English Navy. However, Freedom finds a way and so did John Paul Jones.

    This angry bird might stop Russian tanks in the open countryside of Western Ukraine.

    Angry Bird II

    Instead of mothballing them why don’t we loan them to Ukraine.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
    • March 18, 2014, at 7:40 PM PST
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  13. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Peter, I would say that legality and legitimacy aren’t necessarily the same thing. It would be hard to argue that Yanukovich didn’t lose his legitimacy when he started killing protesters, in the same way that Serbia “legally” possessed Kosovo in 1999, but clearly lost its legitimacy in ruling it.

    Now, as far as Crimea’s “right” to secede, there are clear international precedents, and norms, on how it can be done. First and foremost a real “grievance” should exist if the secession is to be done without the consent of one side, as was the case in Kosovo. And the side that doesn’t consent usually also have to be unwilling to resolve those grievances through peaceful and democratic means. This doesn’t apply to Crimea. The Russians there were not being oppressed in any way, nor was there the possibility of such an outcome. Second, there has to be some historical claim. Russia has no more claim to Crimea than does Turkey, or Ukraine. The third option may be that both sides agree on secession, if approved through democratic means, as may be the case in Scotland or Catalonia or Quebec. 

    In all situations the guiding principle is the protection of individual rights and democratic rights. The violation of those rights might give…legitimacy…to a secession movement, and perhaps legality. 

    But simply wanting to secede, isn’t either legal or legitimate. Now, of course Putin doesn’t understand the distinction between wanting to secede because you are being oppressed, and wanting to secede because you just want to. In the views of Russian nationalism, the mere lack of Russian hegemony constitutes “oppression”. Well, this is the mentality that led to hundreds of thousands of dead in the Balkans, and hundreds of thousands of dead in Russia’s frontiers.

    • #13
    • March 18, 2014, at 8:09 PM PST
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  14. Dr Steve Member

    My impression is that the Maidan protesters were not the Bostonians of the Massacre, and were not even the Tea Partiers of Boston Harbor. They were closer to the Occupiers of Wall Street, perhaps, and I think might be more Dr. King’s Marchers on Washington. MLK’s goal was civil rights reform, and he got it without overturning the government. The Maidan protesters were not initially (or even ultimately) calling for the overthrow of the legitimate government. The events just spun out of control when the President panicked and ran into Russia’s protective bosom. At that point, Parliament improvised.

    I agree with your final point here, which is that they need to hold some kind of re-legitimating party, pronto–just as our own Framers needed to have the people ratify the proposed Constitution. The events of 1776 aside, recall that the results of the 1787 convention were seen as illegitimate by many serious figures, until the ratification.

    • #14
    • March 18, 2014, at 9:21 PM PST
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  15. James Of England Moderator

    Wordcooper:
    By the same token, the duly elected parliament voted Yanukovych out (or impeached him). Were they following the law or their constitution? Genuine question for an expert.
    If that was legal, then it was more legal or correct than the Crimea secession. If Crimea wants to secede, then doesn’t the rest of the country need to allow it? Other than acceding to it by force?

     I think that this is an important component to the democratic legitimacy question. When Yanukovych was elected, in February 2010, he was elected to a Presidential position in a Parliamentary democracy. Amongst his first acts was to alter the Constitution to make himself dramatically more powerful, which he did via the courts in remarkable time (some of his party’s legislature launched the suit in July, and the judgement was delivered by the constitutional court in October).

    That said, the impeachment procedure has only partly been followed. The 22nd February impeachment vote was only a vote to initiate impeachment. The 73% impeachment/ 27% abstention vote included members of Yanukovych’s party, and carries considerable political weight, but the system was short circuited by Yanukovych fleeing the country before the process could be completed.

    • #15
    • March 18, 2014, at 9:26 PM PST
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  16. James Of England Moderator

    Peter Robinson:
    Just looked up “mob,” finding this:
    a large crowd of people, esp. one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence
    Since the protesters in Ukraine seemed neither disorderly nor intent on violence, I grant your point. They weren’t a mob. But–and now we come to my point–neither were they duly elected.
    I’m not saying they were bad people. I’m saying their lack of democratic legitimacy badly damages their case–and strengthen’s Putin’s hand. They need to hold a legitimate election of their own just as soon as ever they can.

    An election is being held as soon as possible (not with the Russian speed, because it is not possible to hold a fair election in that time, particularly not in this environment), on May 25.

    The mob did not choose that date, though, the democratically elected parliament chose that date and voted for it.

    • #16
    • March 18, 2014, at 9:34 PM PST
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  17. Kozak Member

    Wow. Where to start.
    Yanukovych took corruption to new levels even for Ukraine. He corrupted the Supreme court, thereby allowing him to concentrate more and more power in the Presidency. He looted billions from the government, bragging to foreign leaders about how corrupt he was. His family members became some of the richest in Europe, with one son a billionaire Dentist. When protests started he ordered the security forces to harass and beat them, finally culminating in the sniper murder of about 100 civilians. He then fled the country, and the Rada, also democratically elected, voted UNANIMOUSLY with 75% of the members present to remove him.
    As to the referendum. The Crimea was occupied by Russian troops. All media was controlled by Russia, and the ballot had no option to vote no, only 2 versions of yes . And finally guess who counted the votes? Any surprise we got Cuban style election results? Would they have won a fair vote? Probably, but we will never know. Is it reasonable to think the 13% Tatars, and 25% ethnic Ukrainians voted overwhelming for Anschluss? Come on.
    Even Hitler offered a chance to vote Nein on the Anschluss.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26601487 Anschluss

    • #17
    • March 19, 2014, at 12:14 AM PST
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  18. swatter Inactive

    Peter’s question on legitimacy is a good one. Also, after deposing Y, Putin’s concerns are also good regarding the safety of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

    What is the best way to accomplish said goals or respond to concerns? Answer, none of the above, except something has to be done. We are all human.

    Was the Ukraine opposition correct? Well, yeah, I certainly do think so, especially after snipers began killing protesters (I differentiate that from police protecting their own lives from the ‘mob’ or protesters).

    When the vote to impeach was taken after Y lost the military, he could have stayed just like Gaddhafi, Saddam and Mubarak. We have all seen what they do to them, so Y split. Well, you need a government, no?

    As for Putin and his actions, there is no hindsight that says what he did and how fast he did it was legitimate. He jumped the shark and acted too quickly for his actions to be legitimate, though his concerns were valid.

    You have to look at both sides. I did and found Ukraine mostly good; Putin bad.

    • #18
    • March 19, 2014, at 7:37 AM PST
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  19. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Peter Robinson: Since the protesters in Ukraine seemed neither disorderly nor intent on violence, I grant your point. They weren’t a mob. But–and now we come to my point–neither were they duly elected.

    Since when do we demand that people be elected before they are allowed to protest?

    The protesters did not stage an armed coup, or even an unarmed coup. Rather, they did what non-violent protesters do – they protested.

    By all reasonable accounts, Yanokovych wasn’t “forced from office”. He wasn’t impeached until after he had already fled from office.

    All evidence (AFAIK) supports the conclusion that it was a non-violent protest, not an armed uprising, and that Yanukovych fled voluntarily.

    If new evidence is brought to light that this portrait of the protesters is incorrect, and it turns out that Yanukovych was expelled by force, then I’ll happily alter my opinion.

    • #19
    • March 19, 2014, at 9:43 AM PST
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  20. Sally Zelikovsky Member

    Paul A. Rahe:
    Peter, people get impatient with their government when the snipers begin picking them off. If they have an inalienable natural right to life (as well as liberty and property), then they have the right to defend themselves when attacked, and revolution is a species of collective self-defense. There are, after all, limits to what an elected government can legitimately do. When it is lawless in the way Yanukovych was, patience is a vice, ected a President, not a tyrant.

    • #20
    • March 19, 2014, at 9:58 AM PST
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  21. Sally Zelikovsky Member

    I’m with Paul on this one. Sometimes, the peaceful transformation of power doesn’t work. Sometimes, there is a call for action. And almost always, when action is taken–however benign and peaceful–the course of events do not always follow the expected or anticipated path.

    • #21
    • March 19, 2014, at 10:10 AM PST
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  22. Sally Zelikovsky Member

    Well stated, Kozak. On the lighter side, I’m not surprised a dentist could make a killing in former soviet bloc countries. If you thought Austin Powers and the Brits have bad teeth….I’m just saying….

    • #22
    • March 19, 2014, at 12:45 PM PST
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  23. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    swatter: though his concerns were valid.

     I don’t see how his “concerns” were valid. The Russian media went on a rather silly 1930-esque propaganda spree against Ukraine to make the case for “concern”. If there was any validity in them, they wouldn’t have had to resort to fabricating stories, fabricating videos (documented cases where the use the same “actor” in multiple places representing different people) etc. 

    • #23
    • March 19, 2014, at 1:36 PM PST
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  24. swatter Inactive

    Gotcha AIG. By ‘concerns’ I meant the economic and social symbiosis of Russia and Russians into Ukraine. They are somewhat intertied. That is all I meant by ‘concerns’. Sorry, hated to get you fired up.

    A new government in Kiev was a cause of concern for the ‘eastern’ Ukrainians.

    I am trying to think of a good analogy. Sunni v. Shiite Muslims is too dramatic and in Washington State Norwegians v. Swedes is too light. The interaction between the western Ukrainians and the eastern are somewhere in between. Somewhat peaceful but lots of dislike.

    • #24
    • March 19, 2014, at 2:11 PM PST
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  25. Aaron Miller Member

    Y’all are obviously better informed on Ukraine’s recent history than I am.

    What do you make of this estimation of Putin’s motives, by former advisers to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili? From The Washington Post:

    Vladimir Putin’s speech Tuesday — disavowing Russia’s Soviet past, glorifying its Orthodox roots, decrying the unjust price paid by Russians when the Soviet Union collapsed and condemning the West’s hypocrisy — upended the foundations of the post-Cold War narrative.

    The widespread idea that Crimea could be ceded without cascading consequences arose from the erroneous belief that Putin is reconstituting the Soviet Union. The Soviet past was never his frame of reference. Putin’s expeditionary wars are fueled by Russian exceptionalism: a vision for a renewed union based on a common Russo-Orthodox destiny. In other words, Putin’s ambitions range beyond the boundaries of the former U.S.S.R. and into Europe. […]

    • #25
    • March 19, 2014, at 6:17 PM PST
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  26. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    They are right, and echo Kissinger in pointing out that it is not communism that separated Russia from the West, but rather Russia itself (and demonstrate why Solzhenitsyn, is wrong). Communism was simply a manifestation, continuation, and highest achievement of Russia’s thousand-year ambitions. But simply because communism fell does not mean that Russian antithetical position towards the West has changed.

    Putin is a Czar, an autocratic dictatorial repressive ruler. The Russian orthodox Church is, as it has always been, a political entity aimed at Russification and propagation of the Russian ethnic identity (i.e. it has little to do with Christianity, imho). 

    Although, I don’t see how this changes the calculus on dealing with Russia. Whatever the underlying justifications Putin gives, the response ought to be the same. Of course, Russia has never been weaker and more insignificant on the world stage in the last 100 years, despite Putin’s posturing. It’s military is a joke compared to its potential rivals, other than its nuclear arsenal. It’s economy is a simply a “gas station” as McCain described it. And its smartest and brightest have left Russia long ago for the West.

    • #26
    • March 19, 2014, at 7:59 PM PST
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  27. James Of England Moderator

    AIG:Putin is a Czar, an autocratic dictatorial repressive ruler. The Russian orthodox Church is, as it has always been, a political entity aimed at Russification and propagation of the Russian ethnic identity (i.e. it has little to do with Christianity, imho).

    Would you care to expand on this AIG? Do you believe that when the Pope acts politically, or the Episcopalian primates do so, they also cease to be Christian?

    • #27
    • March 19, 2014, at 11:58 PM PST
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