City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: The Crisis in Ukraine - Heralding a New Cold Front?

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 22 August 2015

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
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Peter Pomerantsev, Luke March

As the second anniversary of the Maidan protests which ousted the Yanukovich-led government in Ukraine approaches, Peter Pomerantsev, a recent visitor to the country of his birth, and Luke March from the Princess Dashkova Centre for Russian Studies at the University of Edinburgh discussed the current situation in that country and the manner in which it has arisen.

The ensuing discussion was necessarily discursive, and as both speakers were ready to point out, the situation contains and reflects many narratives, not all of which are true but which may contain some truth within them.

For example, the Russian-speaking population of the ‘Donbas’ region was deported there in the post World War Two era as part of Stalin’s deracination of the Soviet Union. Lacking indigenous roots it clings to a past that never quite existed, rather in the manner of Caledonian Societies in scattered parts of the world. The latter, however, have not thus far armed themselves and demanded that Christchurch or Manitoba be recognised as part of Scotland.

But such places are far away, while a mere 300 miles separates Kiev and Moscow, and Kiev itself was once the heart of medieval Russia.

A combination of aggressive patriotism, possibly not entirely misplaced suspicion and an element of nostalgic longing for the kind of world the Donbas insurgents seek clouds the Russian narrative, while the inability or unwillingness of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko to address questions of corruption within and without his administration gives rise to questions of the regime’s long-term viability, while even the size and duration of the Maidan protests that brought it into being have not prevented questions over the new regime’s legitimacy.

One perhaps has to have experienced exposure to genuine fascist ideology to fully appreciate its origins and impact. The glib use of the term in the West may make us more willing to accept Russia’s assertion that the Ukraine government is somehow inherently ‘fascist’ without appreciating how loaded the term is for Russians, whose Second World War is still the Great Patriotic War fought against an invader, undeniably fascist, but with whom Soviet Russia had been collaboratively carving up Eastern Europe for the previous two years under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

As both Pomerantsev and March indicated, the present crisis is likely to endure, at the very least as a stalemate situation that Putin and the Moscow administration will continue to play to their best advantage. As always in such situations, it will be civilian populations that will suffer the most and pay the heaviest for these diplomatic manoeuvres.