Putin’s Victorious Defeat 238

Just a month ago, Putin had one of his pet oligarchs, the firmly pro-Russian multi-billionaire Yanukovich, in power in Ukraine.  Putin had been to an awful lot of trouble to ensure that Yanukovich got elected.  It is undoubtedly true that the United States and its allies funded various pro-western groups in the Ukraine – my friend Ray McGovern, former senior CIA, put a figure of US$100 million on it, and he should know.  The resources Putin poured in to ensure Yanukovich’s election were more in kind than financial, but were not on too different a scale.

In earlier attempts to put Yanukovich in power, Putin had in 2004 helped organise massive electoral fraud, and Putin’s secret service had attempted to assassinate Victor Yushchenko.  The 2010 election of Yanukovich also involved a great deal of fraud.  Russia is an influential member of the OSCE, Ukraine is also a member and that organization is notably mealy-mouthed in pointing out the derelictions of its own members. Nonetheless its observation mission of the 2010 Presidential elections stated:

 “The presidential election met most OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections and consolidated progress achieved since 2004. The process was transparent and offered voters a genuine choice between candidates representing diverse political views. However, unsubstantiated allegations of large-scale electoral fraud negatively affected the election atmosphere and voter confidence in the process.”

That is about as close as the OSCE has ever come to accusing one of its own members of fraud.  International organisations have their obvious limitations.

Putin had put years of effort into getting the President of Ukraine which he wanted, and he had him.  Yanukovich attempted to steer an even-handed path between Russia and the West, while putting his main effort into acquiring an astonishing personal fortune.  Putin lost patience when Yanukovich appeared ready to sign an EU association agreement, and put extremely heavy pressure on Yanukovich over debt, energy supplies, and doubtless some deeply personal pressures too.  Yanukovich backed down from the EU Association agreement and signed a new trade deal with Russia, appearing on the path to Putin’s cherished new Eurasian customs union.

The west – and not only the west – of Ukraine erupted into popular protest.  The reason for this is perfectly simple. Income, lifestyle, education, health and social security for ordinary people are far better in western and central Europe than they are in Russia.  The standard of living for ordinary Polish people in Poland has caught up at a tremendous rate towards the rest of the EU.  I am not depending on statistics here – I have lived in Poland, travelled widely in Poland and speak Polish.  I was professionally involved in the process of Polish economic transformation.  There have been a large number of commenters on this blog this last few days who deny that the standard of living for ordinary people in Poland is better as a result of EU membership, and believe life for ordinary people is better in Russia than in the west.  I also of course speak Russian and have travelled widely in Russia.  Frankly, you have to be so ideologically blinkered to believe that, I have no concerns if such people leave this blog and never come back; they are incapable of independent thought anyway.

Undoubtedly pro-western groups financed by the US and others played a part in the anti-Yanukovich movement.  They may have had a catalytic role, but that cannot detract from the upswell of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who were not paid by the West, and drove Yanukovich from power. It is true that, when the situation became violent some very unpleasant nationalist, even fascist, groups came to the fore.  There is a great deal of extreme right wing thuggery in all the former Soviet Union – ask Uzbeks who live in Russia.  The current government in power in Kiev seem a diverse bunch, and seem to include some pleasant people and some very unpleasant people.  Elections this year will make things clearer.   It is also true that corruption is the norm among the Ukrainian political elite, across any nationalist or ideological divides.

In a very short space of time, Putin went from the triumph of killing off the EU Association agreement to the disaster of completely losing control of Kiev.  But for reasons including trade, infrastructure and debt, the new government was bound to come back to some relationship and accommodation with Putin eventually.  It just needed patience.

Instead of which, Putin decided to go for a macho seizure of the Crimea.  There is no doubt that the actions of surrounding military bases and government buildings by Russian forces, and controlling roads and borders, are illegal under international law.  There also appears little doubt that a large proportion of Crimea’s population would like union with Russia, though whether a genuine majority I am not sure.  I am sure under these circumstances of intimidation and military occupation, the referendum will show a massive majority.  Hitler pulled the same trick.

So now Putin can stride the stage as the macho guy who outfoxed the west and used his military to win Crimea for Mother Russia.  But it is an extremely hollow victory.  He has gained Crimea, but lost the other 95% of the Ukraine, over which one month ago he exercised a massive political influence.

The western powers will not bring any really effective sanctions that would harm the financial interests of the interconnected super-rich, be they Russian oligarchs or City bankers.  But they will now do what they were not prepared to do before, provide enough resources to make Ukraine politically free of Russia.  The EU has already agreed to match the US$19 billion in guarantees Putin had promised to Yanukovich. Before the annexation of Crimea the EU was not prepared to do that.

The Crimea was the only ethnic Russian majority province in Ukraine.  Donetsk does not have an ethnic Russian majority, only a Russian speaking majority – just like Cardiff has an English speaking majority.  The difference is key to understand the situation, and largely ignored by the mainstream media.  Without Crimea, the chances of the pro-Putin forces in the rest of Ukraine ever mustering an electoral majority are extremely slim.  Putin has gained Crimea and lost Ukraine – has he really won?

The real tragedy, of course, is that Ukraine’s relationships are viewed as a zero-sum game.  Russia has huge interests in common with Europe.  I hope to see Ukraine a member of the EU in the next decade, and Putin has made that vastly more likely than it was a month ago.  But why does that have to preclude a close economic relationship with Russia?  The EU should not operate as a barrier against the rest of the world, but as a zone of complete freedom within and ever-expanding freedom to  and from without.  And European Union will never be complete until Russia, one of the greatest of European cultures, is a member.





238 thoughts on “Putin’s Victorious Defeat

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  • Kurtan

    I thought Scottish had a sense of humor Craig? You missed my sarcasm with local militia in place of soldiers.Ukraine situation is manufactured by the West.Or do you dispute that ?
    What was Putin to do ? If you were in his boots Craig. Let these obviously far right extremists and oligarchs just take over business from an elected leader ?
    It seems like a game and Putin isn’t losing.Obama doesn’t look weak,he looks stupid,but not as pathetic as his deputy.The CNN article I pasted mirrors my thoughts on the subject.
    Personally I would like to see Ukraine totally independent.
    Whichever way this ends Kiev will be wearing handcuffs.Beholden to western banking practices and yet another country under the yoke or just under Moscow rule.
    And yes, after the split of Soviet Union there was much sadness among many of it’s former members.We in the west were fed only the negatives,like now,and were never fed the cultural similarities.Uzbeks ,Tazjiks, fought with Kazhaks ,Russians & Ukrainians in a stupid war in Afghanistan.It pushed those soldiers together ,not apart.
    Time to dig out the old Soviet propaganda about the USA.It has never been more true.

  • mark golding

    Leaked calls gives us great insight including a wavelength of empathy towards those murdered by snipers in Kiev.

    Gosh! ‘I didn’t know’ is worth a listen my friends, an introduction if you will into the conspiracy world of lies and deception to further rampant, obsessive and high-handed desires of power and control that Craig in his former posts is well aware of.

    Part one:


    Part two:


    I say again remember the Arab dressed SAS forces in Iraq found planting explosives many of which ripped the fragile limbs of children now orphaned and in constant pain both mentally and physically.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Never mind that Gazprom Chief Miller has announced today that Gazprom will likely to stop gas supply to Ukraine within the next few weeks for the payment arrears.

    Not that crucial for people on this blog I guess.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    mark golding

    Just because one of the sides involved proved evil, it does not automatically matter that other side is angel. It needs to prove itself to be good caring angel. Or does it not, if it is Russia?

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Trowbridge H. Ford

    I am surprised my earlier answer did not answer that. As soon as Yanukovich forgot and neglected his nominal role as president of Ukraine (and that at least he needed to pretend to behave like one) he was out. Ukrainians throughout centuries had troubled relations with Russians, and one who rules Ukraine needs to at least pretend to be Ukrainian.

  • conjunction

    A very interesting piece. Like you, Craig I am a Europhile. Not to say I want the UK to join the Euro I am happy for us to sit on the edge. But the EU is the outcome of hundreds of years of wars culminating in the double crucifixion of the last century. In a certain sense we have got beyond nationalism.

    Russia of course has never except for a few years in the nineties had any form of democracy. Putin perhaps can only act out of his own traditions. But your thoughts about Russia and the EU are a good way of trying to imagine the future.

    The EU of course was born out of the ashes of the Second World War, in which 25 million Russians died.

  • Herbie

    That’s strange, Uzbek.

    Where’s the evidence that East Germany was on a par with Romania?

    I only ever see reports of East Germany having had the highest standard of living in the Eastern bloc.

    But anyway, how much do you think it will cost to bring the Ukrainian economy into the EU, and who has the money to pay for it?

    We’ve already seen that the EU Association deal was little more than a plunderer’s charter.

  • Lauris Kaplinski

    Craig, it is true that only 20% of people from Donetsk identify themselves as Russians and 80% as Ukrainians. But this does not mean, that they identify themselves with whatever regime present in Kiev. They probably love their country and precise because of that do not want it to fall into the hands of Western-Ukrainian nationalists. Unfortunately they are much more passive, because their Ukrainian identity is fueled by nationalism.
    IMO how things evolve depend now how Russia and current government in Kiev behave. The occupation of Crimea probably alienates many of them from Russia for the time being – but as soon as Kiev starts implementing nationalistic policies (and it seems determined to do that) it may serve as a strong cause that can be used to strong-arm the government for concessions. Which again does not fly well with Western-Ukrainians.
    Also, while Russia is less developed than Poland it has much better quality of life than Ukraine. Even Belarus is richer than Ukraine. As soon as the IMF pension cuts kick in I would not put my bets on the patriotism of Eastern Ukrainians.
    The best arrangement would be some sort of federal structure. It should have be set up 25 years ago but nationalists from Western Ukraine blocked it. And unfortunately it seems that for a time being powers that be are decided to not let it happen this time too.

  • old mark

    Craig, your definition of ‘Putin’s economic model’ that ‘provides very little employment’ seems to be based on your experiences in the similarly resource rich countries of West Africa rather than Russia. Russian citzens hold most of the technician and engineer posts that their extractive industries generate, whereas in West Africa these posts are largely staffed by Ex-pats (and not just westerners- you’ll find Filipinos working on Nigerian oil rigs almost as commonly as actual Nigerians. On many off shore facilities in the Bight the only Nigerian you’ll find would be the cook!)

    You are quite right about the high level of inequality, and rampant corruption, in Putin’s Russia. However the oil and gas boom in the Putin years has also benefitted some sections of the middle class, unlike in the Yeltsin years, when commodities were in the doldrums and the ‘shock therapy’, introduced in 1992, reduced a very large cohort of the Russian population to real penury.

    In the last decade the Russian middle class has enjoyed holidaying in large numbers on the beaches of Cyprus, Egypt and Thailand; that never happened under Yeltsin, and also helps explain why Putin’s authoritarianism hasn’t caused large scale unrest in Russia- or even much dented his approval ratings.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    I am not sure how much money it will take to modernise Ukrainian economy. Surely it should not be one way process, (like Russians do with Belarus) giving them money and pretending that they are doing something good with it. What do you mean bringing economy to the EU? What I see is Romania and Bulgaria members of the EU whereas Croatia and Turkey (with stronger economies) are not. EU is not just about economy.

    It depends what reports you are looking at. East Germans (like eastern block in general) were well known for things called in Russian as Prepiska (written without evidence). As said it was crucial for USSR to show that GDR is performing better than other, because it was GDR that had FRG (Federal Republic of Germany- West Germany) across the frontline border against which economic performance was clearly assessable.

  • Herbie

    Another way of looking at it is, why would the Germans put at risk their massive trade with Russia, in order to take on and fund the massive economic basket case that is Ukraine.

    They won’t. They simply won’t do that.

    The only interest the West has in Ukraine is a military one in terms of Russia, and Ukrainians would do best to understand that or they’ll be very disappointed as their remaining resources are plundered.

  • OrwellianUK

    I still think the extent of the Military situation in Ukraine has been massively exaggerated in Western Media and I feel you are being swayed by this Craig. The troops were already there. Sure, Putin is playing to the home crowd but in some respects he probably had little choice but to act considering some of the dangerous elements in what was for all intensive purposes a coup d’etat. I also think you are understating/underestimating the extent of the US/EU involvement with the violent protests. It’s becoming clear that some provocateurism was involved. The US/EU seem to care little who they get into bed with to get their own way, and the fact that they are singing from different hymn sheets has made the situation worse.

    I also think you’re focusing too much on Putin’s Imperialism here and not showing some balance. After all, how do you think the US would behave if this were Mexico? Can we believe for one minute that the US government has not had a major influence on who the government of Mexico is? For some reason no-one notices when the US does this, just as Piers Morgan on CNN the other day, questioning RT Anchor Abby Martin only sees the Propaganda when it is the Russians doing it. Supposing Alaska became an independent Republic but still maintained strong ties to the US including a military presence and the Russians and Chinese subverted the elected government and installed their own puppets? What do you think the US would do?

    I think it is too early to say who has overplayed their hand in this, but all outside parties are doing what Empires do – a tug of war between at least 3 major outside factions which will ultimately decimate Ukraine in a cascade of debt and internal crisis.

    I’m puzzled as to why you put so much store in the EU. It is an enormously wasteful, corrupt and bankrupt organisation run by a motley crew of inept Western and Eastern European Oligarchs and Politicos. These standards of living, in case you hadn’t noticed, are on their way down (for the majority of us), not up. Adding an already debt-crippled nation to this pathetically dysfunctional entity will do neither them or the incumbent nations any good at all. It’s just more good money thrown after bad.

  • BobM


    Gazprom cannot, physically, “stop supplying Ukraine”.
    Its pipelines to the south and west run through Ukraine.

    It’s a political rather than practical threat.

  • craig Post author


    My sincere apologies – your mimicry was so like some of the curious people who have been posting, I was quite taken in!!

  • Herbie

    Prof Aleksandr Buzgalin gives his view:

    “People were tired from Yanukovych, and I understand very well that it is necessary and it was necessary to make democratic revolution. But what was happened in Ukraine, unfortunately, is not real democratic revolution on the basis of the–on the backs of the ordinary people who wanted to change bureaucratic, corrupted power, came to the power another–representatives of another oligarchical groups, another geopolitical forces who want to manipulate with Ukraine.”


  • Uzbek in the UK

    old mark

    I think the main argument here what economy is better for Ukraine. European type (diverse and efficient) or Russian (very different from former) which would not work in Ukraine which has no gas and oil.

    It is too early to compare Russia to West Africa. It was after all 2nd world not 3rd. It has (still) some industrial output but as Mr Murray mentioned it is more within raw materials then finished industrial products. Russians sell metals (which itself require industrial output to produce) but does not sell cars.

    You gave Yeltsin’s era as example but during Yeltsin’s presidency oil did not cost over 100 USD per barrel. Nor gas cost as much as it is now.

    One only need to drive 20 miles away from MKAD (Moscow M25) to see what Russian economy and distribution of wealth is. I have been living in the UK for some years now, but I never seen toilet without sewage in the UK, or anywhere in western Europe. And there are still some within MKAD. And it is despite Russian GDP per capita closing to that of Estonia (which is by the way with no oil and gas export power).

  • Herbie

    Paul Craig Roberts gives his view:

    “The Looting Of Ukraine Has Begun”

    “Naive protesters who believed the propaganda that EU membership offered a better life are due to lose half of their pension by April. But this is only the beginning.”


    Dr Paul Craig Roberts is an economist and was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy under Reagan and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal.

  • mark golding

    Absolutely right Uzbek. Proof relies on information not propaganda or disinformation. Disinformation is unstable, immaterial or unreal and decays with time. That said the unreal part has to exist in the first place so that information can evolve.

  • John Goss

    As with the Iraq war it is our MSM who are not telling the truth. Whatever Putin’s tactics in the election of Yanukovich it was Yanukovich who was in power when overthrown by a rogue element from among the protestors. The fact that Mark Golding, who is well in touch with what is going on in the world, has only just posted a story that broke more than 48 hours ago. It shows how ill-informed society in general is. I respect Craig Murray and his opinions. When the BBC is deliberately presenting false information to influence public opinion, I for one want to know why I have to pay a licence fee.

    The lying BBC and other MSM outlets are presenting their masters’ wishes of what is happening in the Ukraine. It is all a load of tosh. Yet people still believe it. Wake up world! Russia has not sent troops into Crimea. The start of the shooting in Kiev came from a sniper from the protestors’ side who fired on police and supporters.


  • Keith Crosby

    So according to you, Yanushkevitch is a Russian version of the Khasi of Afghanistan/Cameron/Merkel etc. Did you ever doubt that Russia was a second division version of America or that US imperial policy towards Russia was a version of its siege of Cuba? A plague on all their statist totalitarian houses.

  • Herbie

    “An IMF director said a fact-finding mission to Kiev was “progressing well” and that the IMF was “positively impressed” with the new government.”

    The vampyre loves the virgin.

    Meanwhile, these Russians certainly aren’t suckers:

    “A spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin said the notion of talks with Ukraine mediated by Western powers “makes us smile”. But the spokesman expressed faith and hope that a new Cold War was not beginning.”


  • Keith Crosby

    “I am sure under these circumstances of intimidation and military occupation, the referendum will show a massive majority. Hitler pulled the same trick.”

    No, even with intimidation, fraud and terrorism the nazis failed to win the first election of 1933. It was only in the second “election” when only nazis could stand that the nazis “won”. Hitler was never democratically elected to anything. In the last free election in November 1932 the nazis got 33.09% of the vote and in the semi-bent election of March 1933 they got 43.91%, roughly the same as Thatchler under the equally bent FPTP system here. Britain has never had a democratically-elected government so perhaps you could suggest some changes here before sneering at Putin the amateur.

  • Ben

    Talk about curiosities. Please define the Left from your perspective, craig. Is it the Left who has given you support for your dissidence, or the Left who simply disagrees with your analysis of the the topic?

    Not expecting an answer, of course.

  • technicolour

    All the extremes doing their best to shout down the peaceful heart of it (much like most places), it would appear.

    Otherwise, have every sympathy with people citing the US/UK’s absolute lack of a peaceful moral high ground, not to mention the fact that Monsanto et al will be extending their feelers towards the ‘new’ Ukraine with gusto. On other other hand, anyone who hasn’t lived under the Russian regime really does not know what they are talking about. Why on earth you would whitewash/aggrandise one simply because you loathe the other is beyond me too.

  • Ben

    I miss Mary too Mark. I think she pre-empted Craig’s thoughtful invitation to any who disagree with him.

  • John Goss

    Hi Mark

    I’ve noticed Mary’s absence. I hope she is all right. Personal attacks have not been as bad recently and people have largely been staying on-topic. Perhaps, like all of us, comments may have been removed and she may have taken umbrage. That’s pure speculation, I don’t know. My only contact with her is through this blog.

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