di Oxana Chelysheva
Unfortunately, the XXI century is ruled in politics by the principle of the lesser evil.
However, each of the conflict sides identifies which evil is lesser not caring a bit about any foreseeable long-term consequences of such realpolitik. Another principle which dominates current politics is the principle of “two wrongs making a right”.
In the past we saw numerous examples of such politics. Mostly, it refers to the backing of various dictatorial governments. In Vietnam the USA supported the South Vietnamese regime paying no attention to its brutality. The main factor was that it was anti-communist. In Iraq it was the USA who oversaw Saddam Hussein’ rise to power as the lesser evil to the growing influence of the Iraqi Communist party. Though even then many in the US Government recognized Saddam as a potential dictator, they viewed him as the “lesser evil” when compared with the damage the Iraqi Communist Party might do with its planned nationalization measures and other reform programs that would probably have run counter to U.S. interests. Similarly, in 1991, when Shi’a across Iraq revolted against Hussein’s regime (partially in response to the televised rallying call to do so by U.S. President George H. W. Bush), the U.S. justification for ultimately staying out of the revolt and allowing Hussein’s security forces to suppress the rebels was that the U.S. had strategically decided Hussein’s rule was better than the risk of Iranian Revolution-style takeover. Then the turn for Saddam himself came. He had grown into a “bigger evil” which allowed his overthrow and subsequent execution.
In November 2014 British Daily Mail published an article based on the TV interview with former president George W. Bush in which the man who had ordered the invasion of Iraq made the revelation one of the motives which drove him to make that decision was strange loyalty to his father, “Dad understood it better than anybody that when you say something as president, you better mean it”. He didn’t hide his naive surprise with the fact that Saddam Hussein had not believed that the standoff of 2003 would be followed by the massive US invasion. One didn’t believe that a state, a signatory of all imaginable treaties, would just say, “ Diplomacy has failed and we would proceed to rid Iraq of mass destruction weapons” which later turned to be a myth. Now ISIS controls almost 2/3rd of both Iraq and Syria . The only reaction of George Bush was simplistic, “It didn’t have to be that way”. But it went exactly this way.
Another example of this practice of “lesser evil” is Chile and Pinochet. To get the justification of the war against the “evil of communism”, quite many states who declared themselves to be democratic just preferred not to admit to the fact that it was a military coup in which a democratically elected president who was not even a Communist, was killed. Was it worth deaths of several thousand Chileans? In June this year in Florida the jury ruled that the former Chilean military, now a US citizens, is liable with the murder of Victor Jara, a poet and singer. Now the life of one person, a victim of the “lesser evil” strategy, has bee n officially assessed as worth 25 million euros.
Afghanistan remains the responsibility of two major players, one which no longer exists, the USSR, which invaded it in 1979 and the US which once again placed the same “lesser evil” principle into practice supporting and backing forces which then were perceived to be “lesser evil” but which gave growth to Al-Qaeda.
Now I would like to present a set of evils of nowadays. Hopefully, we would be able to identify the evil which would be seen as something more acceptable.
Let it be the quartet: Russia/NATO/Ukraine/terrorism.
Hardly anyone doubts that Russian president Putin has long been on the list of bad guys.
He has quite an extended record of human rights violations starting with the war in Chechnya. But let’s see what Russia under him has become since the beginning of his 3rd term which is technically again his first…
Its major characteristic feature is relentless search for internal enemies. The most convenient cover-up for this fight on the “fifth column” is combatting terrorism. On June 24, Russian State Duma approved a set of laws which revised several laws in a way which might bring very serious consequences for people in Russia. For instance, failure to report on the plans to commit a crime becomes a criminal offence and can be punished with one year in prison. Online incitements to terrorism is punishable with up to 7 years. The amended law gives extrajudicial power to tap anyone’s phone conversation. Moreover, providers of mobile communication are obliged to store texts of all people’s exchanges for six months. One of the most sinister developments of the new legislation is that it extends criminal liability to the age of 14. In December last year Putin signed into a law a bill allowing FSB agents open fire on crowds. It even allows to do it without prior warnings. It refers to situations which the authorities describe as prevention of acts of terrorism, including taking hostages or seizing governmental buildings. Quite many Russian human rights organizations have already fallen victims of Foreign Agent Law which forces them to identify themselves as “foreign agents”. In June this year the first criminal case was instituted against Valentina Cherevatenko, the chair of Women of Don organisation, on the charges of “failure to comply” with Foreign Agent Law.
The war in the east of Ukraine remains a reality. After its two years the situation is volatile. The Minsk Agreement signed by the parties of the conflict in February 2015 was intended to keep ceasefire and move the situation forward to some political solution has never been fully fulfilled. The ceasefire has been violated many times.
According to the latest report on Ukraine by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, some 9,371 people have been killed and 21,532 others have been injured in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began in mid-April 2014.
On 27 April, for example, four civilians were killed and eight others were injured by shelling while waiting at a checkpoint in armed group-controlled territory on the road between Mariupol and Donetsk city. The OSCE monitoring mission has been fixing civilian casualties, including among children, in the last month and a half of everyday breaching the ceasefire agreement. The restrictions on movement have a direct impact on the daily life of civilians, who also have difficulties obtaining official civil documentation, receiving pensions and securing access to proper medical care, according to OHCHR. Recently a special section appeared in daily OSCE reports on a number of cars queuing at military checkpoints and a number of people who need medical help as a result of long exposure to heat with limited access to water.
The 2.7 million people living in armed group-controlled areas are facing tough living conditions. One of the main reasons for their desperate plight is not only missiles and bullets they can become victims of. It is the deliberate decision by the government in Kiev to deprive the population in the areas outside of their control.
These people based in different towns of Ukraine are true heroes. In many cases they are entirely dependent on the outside help which is provided by civil society volunteers working both in Russia and Ukraine. Just one woman Elena Aristova living in Kharkov has been organizing delivery of up to three tons of humanitarian aid every month in the last two years. Another incredible person, Anna Yaroslavtseva lives in Mariupol, the city located very close to the conflict line. She together with a small group of civilian volunteers keeps taking care of thousands of IDPS based in the city.
Such people have to operate in rather hostile political environment. The current government of Ukraine doesn’t enjoy much support from both civilians, especially from the areas affected by the conflict, or militant volunteers fighting on the Ukrainian side of the conflict. While the first are facing severe consequences of the special measures that the government applied to the conflict-affected areas, lowering human rights protection guarantees and derogating from a number of international treaty obligations, the latter blame the government of betrayal of the national interests by signing the Minsk Agreement alongside the leaders of self-proclaimed republics. The next burning issue of disagreement between the Ukrainian government is the demand imposed upon Ukraine by Minsk agreement of the Constitutional reform which would lead to the guaranteed autonomy of the rebelling region. Actually, this demand of autonomy, not secession from Ukraine was the initial demand in the aftermath of the events in Maidan which brought the government overturn. The feeble attempts by the government and law-enforcements to establish some control over militant volunteer battalions are of no avail. For instance, when recently a judge of Kiev district court ruled to take into custody a commander of ill-famed Aydar battalion, the court building was sieged by the man’s comrades-in-arms, including a number of deputies of the Supreme Rada and the person was forcefully released. Moreover, it all was accompanied by open statements of the leaders of such militant groups that the charges of murder, abduction, torture and extortion that the man is facing are of no importance because those actions were “required by the war situation”. There is no doubt that such atmosphere of exclusive impunity is fraught with more chaos and has undoubtedly very chilling effect on the general population of the country.
Another aggravating factor which impedes any prospect of the fast political solution of the crisis is the coverage of the situation which is either distorted or purely propagandistic. It refers to both sides of the conflict as much to the media outlets which are supposed to be unbiased. The lesser of the two big evils in this context is the situation when mainstream media chooses keeping silent. Nowadays I hear more and more often, “Do people really need help? We have not heard anything on Ukraine for half a year, at least” Back in December 2014 when I attended the discussion of the crisis is Ukraine in the Bundestag of Germany one of the journalists who worked on both sides of the situation admitted that they had made a crucial mistake by not stating that the reality is Ukraine is not black and white, that there are true extreme right-wing people now armed to the teeth with additional element of foreigners who joined paramilitary formations as volunteers. The same refers to the side which supports the self-proclaimed entities. As it goes for their militant volunteers, they are not necessarily from Russia but there are facts of people from Germany, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Estonia and even USA who joined the ranks of “republican volunteers”.
Russia claims they organized 53 humanitarian convoys to bring help to civilians. The OSCE mission counts the number of Russia’s convoys as 52 as they didn’t observe one of the convoys going across the border. One of the clearest examples of inaccurateness of the information provided for the general public through media. Although the OSCE monitoring mission reflects the fact that these official convoys are inspected by also Ukrainian border guards in cooperation with the Russian side, the media continues to publish speculations on what might the content of the cargo might be. The same refers to the fact of Joint Headquarters on Control and Cooperation established on the initiative of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry already in autumn 2014 which comprises both Ukrainian and Russian officers as well as representatives of the opposing side. At that, the Russian officers are based on the territory controlled by Ukraine. This part of complicated truth seems to be of such complexity that you would never find any mentioning of this fact in the media. It seems impossible to explain that initially 70 Russian officers of the Main Military Headquarters of Russia arrived in Ukraine on the invitation by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence via Kharkov which is one of the biggest cities in Ukraine-controller territory. Neither is easy to explain the facts that the Ukrainian president still makes huge portion of his personal money with the candy plant he owns in Russia or is possible to understand the fact that Ukraine claiming they don’t have any connection with the mines and enterprises based on territories outside their control allows one of them located in Antratsit town currently in the territory of Luhansk People’s Republic to sell coal to Slovakia.
Nevertheless, the crisis in the east of Ukraine continues to be presented as a black-and-white conflict between despotic neo-imperialistic Russia and Ukraine aspiring to democracy. It still plays a drastically negative effect in geopolitical situation in the world as it provides a pretext to justify the enlargement of the NATO. NATO’s member states have agreed to base 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and Poland. That is extremely welcome news in these Baltic Sea countries, whose governments have long been lobbying for exactly such a presence. Moreover, Foreign Affairs magazine recently published an article entitled “Latvia‘s Push for Navy NATO base” which states that Latvia lobbies to turn the old Soviet navy port in Liepaja to the NATO base. Even that magazine in the analysis provided in the article calls to consider the proposal of Latvia thoroughly. The edition quotes Vice Admiral Sir Anthony Dymock, a former British navy officer and UK military representative to NATO as saying “It’s also capable of dividing the US from Europe, European nations between themselves and some – particularly Germany – within themselves. Key elites’ economic self-interest in countries like Germany routinely masquerades as constructive engagement and there is fear of provoking Russia.” Indeed, NATO staff and vessels on permanent rotation at the port of Liepaja could be interpreted as an escalation of tensions with Russia. This year NATO held massive military drills in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as well as in Ukraine. Being no military expert, being just a journalist who has been also covering conflicts, I don’t see anything which might be taken for preserving peace and security. On the contrary, such escalation makes the situation absolutely sinister. Especially, in the light of the forth evil which is terrorism. The Islamic state is currently experiencing setbacks on battlefield but they have found a new way to inflict as much damage as possible on the world they regard to be their enemies. In just one week various ISIS cells stroke in three absolutely different cities killing more than 200 people in Baghdad, 22 people in Dhaka and 44 in the airport of Istanbul. It goes without saying that no efficient measures to prevent acts of terrorism rather than react to what already happened are not possible without proper coordination among different states actors, transparency and lack of impunity as well as putting an end to the practice of searching for internal enemies or developing pseudo-antiterrorist operations like the tragedy of Ukraine.