Monday, May 12, 2014

Sham-Wow, part два

It is both tragic and funny that the new referendum in Ukraine can make the Crimea Referendum almost seem legit.  Of course, both sets of referendum were shams, just that one was orchestrated and one was improvised.

So, which one is more legitimate then?  Um, neither.  Both referenda had gamed questions, with these weekend's question about self-determination providing no clue about independent, autonomy or union with Russia.  Both referenda were held in the presence of armed folks, where opponents feared turning out and feared voting against the separatists.  During both "campaigns" reporters were harassed and kidnapped.

The improv nature of this weekend's referenda indicates that Russia might not have been complicit.  Make that "as complicit."  Obviously, none of this would be happening this weekend if not for Russia's efforts in both Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  It is not clear why Putin created a smidge of distance, but so far no real pullback of Russian forces and no real increased legitimacy of this more "indigenous" separatist movement. 

What is clear is that Russia is getting wee bit cocky.  Now Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin is threatening Moldova if it signs an EU Association Agreement.  Oy.  To do anything there would require sending troops through Ukraine to Transnistria.  I have long been skeptical of claims that Russia would annex Transnistria.  Why?  Because Russia has done fine with frozen conflicts and ambiguous states. Annexing this hunk would be especially costly in the long run, and I am not sure there is much demand in Russia for this. [Um, not looking good here, Steve]

Still, Putin has already engaged in much effort that is costly, kissing goodbye to whatever benefits he wanted from the $50billion Sochi games, the capital flight, and the forthcoming recession.  The question, of course, is whether these costs will hurt anyone who matters.

All I know for sure is that few outside of Russia buy these referenda as being anything other that performance art.  They are not a measure of public support for irredentism or for Russia.  

The other thing I know for sure is that with the various sides accusing each other of being fascists, that term is becoming devoid of all meaning. 


Paul said...

Take a look at the films of the enormous queues of people waiting to vote in Mariupol. They are quite staggering - huge line-ups. For those who speak Russian it's also worth listening to the interviews with those people. They did not think that they were participating in a 'sham'. Nobody made them turn out. But hundreds of thousands of them did. To say that this is 'not a measure of public support' is bizarre. This is a significant political act with mass participation. Regardless of what you think of them, you ignore such things at your peril.
It is also worth contrasting these scenes with those from Mariupol on Friday, which show Ukrainian soldiers gunning down unarmed civilians (filmed by numerous bystanders from various angles, and so quite indisputable), and from Krasnoarmeesk on Sunday, showing National Guardsmen shooting and killing unarmed locals who posed no threat to them (also filmed multiple times). Then you can understand why so many lined up for hours to vote, and why this is indeed a meaningful act.

Steve Saideman said...

I do not absolve the Ukrainian government for whatever it has done.

The lines were partly a product of how badly organized the vote was--few places to vote.

The folks who were interviewed? Well, those who were not interviewed because they were too scared said what?

I do think that Ukraine should act to reassure all ethnic groups that it will not harm them. BUT these separatists and their Russian pals next door have not given the new government any time to develop any policies to reassure. Their preemption and use of very non-democratic means undercuts everything they do and claim.

Paul said...

"The lines were partly a product of how badly organized the vote was--few places to vote." - There's something to this, but it doesn't alter the fact that huge numbers of people did vote. the numbers lining up to vote were impressive, and the official turnout of about 2 million seems credible. Journalists who went to little villages reported votes happening even there. When 2 million people vote, the vote de facto has some legitimacy.

"those who were not interviewed because they were too scared said what?" - I've been following the reports of large numbers of journalists in eastern Ukraine, some of them very hostile to the rebels, but have yet to encounter any reports of overt voter intimidation. If you have any, I would welcome links. In any case, the ballot was a secret one - people could, and did, vote no.

"these separatists and their Russian pals next door have not given the new government any time to develop any policies to reassure." - The government hasn't tried. Indeed, just about everything it has done has been almost designed to justify the most extremist labels its opponents attach to it.

I have this morning written a article on this (was writing it when I came across your piece). Will provide a link when it is out.


Steve Saideman said...

Check out this assessment of the latest referendum

bad question + pop quiz election + suppression of dissent + armed folks = sham referendum.

Paul said...