"Who likes it when a nation shoots at its own people? We weren’t against being part of Ukraine, but after the latest events, we’ve changed our minds." ~Natalia Vasilieva, Retiree in Donetsk
On May 11, 2014, residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions voted in favor of independence from Ukraine. Irrespective of questions regarding the legality of this referendum (which can similarly be raised regarding the legality of Ukraine’s current completely unelected interim government) and the possibly biased sample of voters who turned out as compared to the general population of the regions, two facts are undeniable: (1) the turnout was massive, as any glimpse at the many images and videos of the referendum would show, and (2) the voters were overwhelmingly peaceful civilians, merely seeking to express their points of view. A third fact must also confront any reasonable observer of these events in the West: while the voters behaved peacefully, the interim government of President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk sent troops who fired on crowds of civilians.
NBC News—no propaganda outlet of the Putin regime—reported that soldiers from the Ukrainian “national guard” fired on crowds of peaceful voters in Krasnoarmeisk, Ukraine, and at least two people were observed killed. Irrespective of whether or not a referendum has legitimacy, the act of voting is the act of marking a piece of paper with one’s choice. Casting a ballot, in a valid election or not, is purely an act of free speech. How could casting a vote even remotely be equated to aggression? How could it justify the taking of a human life in any sane, rational person’s mind? How is it that Western politicians fail to denounce the Turchynov/Yatseniuk government’s brazen use of force in reaction to a peaceful, civil action? Has the concept of free speech lost all sanctity for Western leaders as well?
Moreover, how is the attack on crowds of civilians by the Ukrainian “national guard” morally different from the Viktor Yanukovych regime’s attacks on peaceful protesters during its last days? The crowds in Krasnoarmeisk consisted entirely of unarmed civilians trying to cast their ballots. Irrespective of whether or not some of the separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk region are agents of Vladimir Putin’s regime—as has been alleged—can gatherings of thousands of civilians be said to consist entirely or even largely of Russian special agents or their peons? Or is it likelier that Natalia Vasilieva is right and these crowds are made up of ordinary civilians who originally were not averse to remaining aligned with Ukraine—until the Ukrainian government sent troops, including recruited “civil activists” from known fascist and neo-Nazi groups such as Right Sector (some of whose high-ranking members are also officials in this interim government, as I have written earlier), to kill them and raze their homes? Indeed, as reported by the New York Times, it was a unit staffed by Right Sector “activists,” the Dnepr Brigade (or Dnieper Brigade or Dnieper Battalion), that opened fire on voters in Krasnoarmeisk.
It was also Right Sector “activists” who trapped tens of initially peaceful pro-Russian protesters in the House of Trade Unions in Odessa on May 2, 2014, and threw grenades and Molotov cocktails inside to set it on fire, burning 40 protesters alive—not the same protesters who initially attacked a Ukrainian unity march that day. The Turchynov/Yatseniuk government’s shameful subsequent report on the event blamed the victims, alleging that one of the building’s occupants had dropped a Molotov cocktail onto the roof, thereby setting off the blaze. Even if this happened, how does it remotely excuse the murderous intentions and behaviors of the Right Sector thugs who were caught on video, throwing fiery projectiles at the building? If an armed assailant repeatedly fires at and injures his intended victim, but fails to kill him because the victim dies of a slip and fall in the meantime, does this excuse the assailant from the charge of murder?
Turchynov and Yatseniuk are resorting to forming military units consisting of Right Sector thugs, because sane, reasonable people refuse to fight for them. This is also why the Turchynov/Yatseniuk regime undid Viktor Yanukovych’s sole good action and reinstituted military conscription for young men aged 18 to 25. As I wrote earlier, any government that treats its people as disposable cannon fodder against their will is an evil government that is not worth fighting for. Conscription is murder by lottery, and civilized people can only hope that Ukraine’s young men will engage in mass civil disobedience and dodge this draft in the hopes of preserving their lives and moral innocence. Those Ukrainians who do join the military would do well to follow the example of earlier armored columns that were sent to the Eastern regions and were stopped in their tracks by outraged civilians telling them to lay down their arms and go home. Many of these initial waves of soldiers—the ones sent before the Right Sector units were deployed—saw the folly of fighting their own people and relented.
To all Ukrainians who respect peace and civilization, I say: withdraw from all military operations, refuse to obey your criminal government, and pursue peaceful commerce and amicable daily interactions with your fellow humans—no matter what their language, ethnicity, or spoken political beliefs! No “territorial integrity” is worth the sacrifice of moral integrity, and certainly not the life of a single actual living human being. If a “united Ukraine” can only be preserved through conflagrations and rivers of blood, then it is not worth preserving! What is a set of boundaries drawn on a map ordained by the United Nations (which in many cases does not correspond to de facto political control in any event), compared to a conscious, reasoning being with a rich and irreplaceable internal universe? Borders have been drawn and redrawn time and again throughout history, but a life, once lost, can never be regained.
In the West, all too many leaders and pundits—even some libertarians!—would cast Vladimir Putin’s regime as the antagonist and the culprit for the entirety of the violence that is transpiring in Ukraine. While I have few kind words for Putin, and there is much to condemn about Putin’s own violations of the rights of Russian citizens, it does not appear that the blame placed on him for this crisis corresponds to his actual offenses. As Ron Paul points out, “The US demanded that Russian President Putin stop eastern Ukraine from voting on autonomy, and last week the Russian president did just that: he said that the vote should not be held as scheduled. The eastern Ukrainians ignored him and said they would hold the vote anyway. So much for the US claims that Russia controls the opposition in Ukraine.” And yet Western leaders continue to threaten Russia with escalating economic sanctions over the outcome of the referendum, even though Putin expressly urged delaying it! Even from a sheer pragmatic standpoint, this is an exceedingly unwise tactic; Putin might come to recognize that even his attempts at defusing the situation or disentangling Russia from it would not affect the West’s response, and he would see no reason not to escalate the crisis, if de-escalation does not alleviate any of the punishments that Western governments have in store for him.
Without the resounding endorsements and material support—economic bailouts and shipments of physical resources, paid for by Western taxpayers’ dollars—from the governments of the United States and the countries of the European Union, the Turchynov/Yatseniuk regime would not be able to sustain its crackdowns on its own people. Why do the United States and the European Union support this criminally negligent, civilian-killing government? While I was sympathetic to the deserved overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych, I am deeply ashamed of the US government for aiding the thugs who unfortunately replaced him. Turchynov and Yatseniuk are doing to the population of Eastern Ukraine exactly what Yanukovych did to the Euromaidan protesters who disagreed with his decision to abandon a proposed trade agreement with the European Union. This time, however, the Western governments have taken the side of the oppressors, just because they are perceived to be on “our” side rather than “their” side—“they” being the Russians in the eyes of all those who have not realized that the Cold War is long over and that Cold War thinking must be resolutely abandoned if we are to avoid a hot war that could engulf all of humankind and spoil our chances at achieving radical abundance and unparalleled health and prosperity through technological progress during the next several decades.
To ensure that the progress of human civilization continues without catastrophic setbacks, the crisis in Ukraine must remain localized. Only continued intervention by Western powers would allow it to spread beyond Ukraine’s current borders. It is true that, without American and EU support, the Turchynov/Yatseniuk regime will probably fall—but this will largely be achieved by Ukrainians themselves. Putin might sweep in later and occupy Eastern Ukraine—either annexing it as he did with Crimea (even though he has denied any intent to do so), or treating it much like the autonomous regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transdniestria, which broke away from Georgia and Moldova and are currently occupied by Russian troops. If the aftermath of the Crimean annexation is an indicator, this might actually result in fewer civilian deaths than a continuation of the status quo. Also, it need not affect life in the West, or continued efforts by civilians in the West to innovate technologically and raise human standards of living, by one iota. Why does anyone need to lose sleep over the existence of quasi-independent republics named Donetsk, Luhansk, or even Novorossiya? Are they any more threatening to Americans—of whom five-sixths cannot point Ukraine out on a map anyway—than South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transdniestria are today? What is threatening to Americans is their own government’s foreign policy, intervening in Ukraine apparently just to oppose any potential expansion of Putin’s power and Russia’s sphere of influence, without any compelling argument for American “national security” to be made under any remotely credible interpretation of that nebulous concept.
A month ago, I wrote that the worst scenario in Ukraine would be an escalation of military conflict, which was unfortunately beginning to occur at the time as the “anti-terrorist” operation was being launched by the Turchynov/Yatseniuk government. At present we clearly see the bloody results of this ongoing operation, as more civilians perish by the day. Of course, unleashing the Ukrainian military and ultra-nationalists within the Donetsk and Luhansk region could not be confined to dislodging armed separatists, and it has turned into a war against the civilians of Eastern Ukraine. Perhaps Turchynov and Yatseniuk did not want this, but they are now desperate, just like Yanukovych was in February 2014, and they see no other way to remain in power. They know that, if they lose, their fates will be at least as unpleasant as that of Yanukovych, and so they are willing to sacrifice the entire country to protect their hold on power. The Western governments need to cut off the lifeline they have given to this criminal regime. While the result would not be optimal from the standpoint of any cosmic justice, any local “solution” to this crisis would certainly be no worse than any “solution” that could be achieved through Western intervention. Furthermore, the effect of complete non-intervention at confining the Ukrainian crisis to a local one would be incalculably beneficial in avoiding the risk of a broader war. Let us look upward to technology and human ingenuity as the path to solving humankind’s problems, and avoid getting bogged down in the sordid muck of Ukraine’s crisis. A bright future requires and demands peace today.
* Gennady Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist and philosophical essayist, and is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. He lives in Carson City, Nevada.