Russia Quietly Takes Over Ukraine
In recent years, Russia and Ukraine have not been good friends. The Orange Revolution in 2004 swept Ukraine away from Russia forever and into the open arms of the West—or so it seemed.
Now, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych drive vintage rally cars together to highlight what good buddies they are.
The Orange Revolution has been reversed, or rather, more than reversed. Ukraine is now more firmly in Russia’s grip than it was in 2004, when pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko came to power.
Throughout Yushenko’s presidency, Russia did all it could to discredit Ukraine’s new pro-Western direction. Russia appears to have had an easy job—with all their petty squabbling and infighting, the leaders of the Orange Revolution seemed to do a good job of discrediting themselves.
Moscow’s chance to formally take back Ukraine came on February 14, with the election of Ukraine’s new president. Russia’s puppet, Yanukovych, won, albeit by a very slim margin of only 3.48 percent.
Winning by such a small amount would usual lead to an unstable and impotent coalition government. However, due to some almost certainly unconstitutional maneuvers, Yanukovych manage to take a firm grip on the government. He persuaded parliament to change its regulations to allow the government to form coalitions by making alliances with individual members. Before, only parliamentary blocs were allowed to form coalitions. Yanukovych was then able to persuade enough members to defect from their parties and join his coalition to form a sturdy government.
Russia’s puppet was firmly in charge of Ukraine, and so Russia’s agenda began to roll out.
On April 21, Yanukovych and Medvedev signed the Khariv accords, which allowed Russia to station its Black Sea fleet in the Crimea, and in return Ukraine was given a substantial discount on gas imported from Russia. The agreement, however, is heavily in Russia’s favor and ensures Ukraine’s dependency on Russia for decades to come. After the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko wanted to kick the fleet out of the Crimea in 2017. The Kharkiv accords guarantee that it can stay at least until 2042.
“The Kharkiv accords … have significant geopolitical implications,” writes James Sherr, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, an independent think tank based in the UK. “Not only do they signify a reversal of the policies adopted since 2005 by former President Viktor Yushchenko, they amount to a fundamental revision of the course that Ukraine has pursued since acquiring independence in 1991.”
The accords put Ukraine firmly within Russia’s sphere of influence. The accords “could preclude any further integration into the Euro-Atlantic security system for many years,” writes Sherr.
This change of direction for Ukraine will be very hard to reverse. If a future government decides it wants to kick the Russian fleet out of the Crimea, it will have to repay all of the gas discounts Ukraine has received.
Just as dramatic is Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s military and security services. The pro-Western head of Ukraine’s Secret Service (sbu) was replaced by one who is more friendly to Russia. Russia’s secret services have been given free reign to operate in Crimea (though in reality, they’ll be operating all over Ukraine) under the guise of protecting its Black Sea fleet, U.S. intelligence group Stratfor reports. On May 19, the sbu and fsb—successor to the kgb—signed a cooperation agreement. As part of this agreement, the sbu switched its main target from Russia to the U.S.
On April 2, Ukraine tore down the six departments that coordinate Ukraine’s integration with nato. Even before the Orange Revolution, Ukraine worked with nato. But now Ukraine is burning the bridges that connect it to the alliance.
Instead it has invited the alliance set up by Moscow—the Collective Security Treaty Organization (csto)—to set up offices in Kiev. The government has established a commission to investigate the potential for Ukraine to join the organization.
Russia is also undertaking an economic assault against Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly urged a merger between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz—a merger that would give Russia control over Ukraine’s gas industry and nuclear power generation. Sherr writes that “Steel, chemical, shipbuilding, aviation and nuclear enterprises are now under pressure from Russian buyers, ostensibly private, but backed by state lines of credit.”
As all this has happened, Ukraine’s government has expanded its power to the point that Ukraine is looking more and more like the Soviet state it once was. Ukraine’s government have been carefully eroding the country’s democracy. Sherr writes:
Outright violation of the law by the state evokes outrage, but its selective and bias application might not. Punishment creates heroines and martyrs, but bribery and kompromat [putting pressure on a person using compromising information] create accomplices. Censorship provokes defiance, but the reallocation of broadcasting frequencies provokes technical arguments. The suborning of judges arouses condemnation, but not so emphatically when one’s predecessor has done the same, even if less brutally and with an arguably superior purpose.
Perhaps most insidiously, the battle for the hearts and minds of Ukraine’s people (highlighted by the Trumpetlast year) has gone to Russia. In 2006, only 10 percent of Ukrainians wanted to give concessions to Russia in return for cheap gas. In May this year, 58.7 percent said they had a generally positive view of Yanukovych’s gas agreement. As Ukraine slides toward authoritarianism, there has been no mass outcry.
Here too, Russia’s assault continues. “Russia is conducting a massive cultural-cum-religious offensive in Ukraine designed, inter alia, to liquidate the Kiev Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church (with Yanukovych’s apparent support),” writes Sherr.
After Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 1998, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote that Ukraine “is the breadbasket of Russia, and surely it [Russia] is willing to wage war over that as well.”
He was right. Russia has waged war over the area—the kind of quiet, total war that Russia excels in. It involves security services and big business; political maneuverings and blockbuster movies. The Russian state has marshaled everything it can to take part in the assault.
Ukraine appears to be a major success for it. “For their part, Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, without international opprobrium or loss of life, have secured greater geopolitical dividends than were realized as a result of victory in the Georgian war,” writes Sherr.
Another country quietly falls to Russia, though this time without the world watching the 24/7 news coverage of the takeover—though you can be sure Europe is paying attention. For more information on Russia’s goals in Eastern Europe, see our article “Russia’s Attack Signals Dangerous New Era.”