Sunday 25 February 2024

Just as Guilty of Aggression and Warmongering

It is ten years, not two years, since the war in Ukraine began. And once you have grasped that, you can begin to think clearly about it. What is Britain’s interest in this conflict? Why do so many in politics and the media cheer for carnage that has devastated Ukraine, the country they claim to love and admire? What has Ukraine gained from it? What can Ukraine and its people possibly gain from it?

I ask only that you use your minds instead of your emotions. Let us begin with what happened ten years ago. It ought to be shocking.

In 2014, Ukraine had a crude but functioning democracy. This worked because the country was pretty evenly divided between its east and its west. Power swung from one side to the other, and in 2010 Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential election with 12.5 million votes, beating his nearest rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who won 11.6 million.

Unlike the previous election in 2004, nobody seriously disputed the result. So in February 2014, Yanukovych was the lawful head of state, with two years to run.

If we believe, as we all say we do, in democracy, then this is a near-sacred fact. The widespread and justified disgust over the invasion of the US Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021, is based on the belief that power rests on ballots, not on force.

There is no clearer distinction between democracies and the rest. The losers must respect the result. If they dispute it, they must use lawful methods. But in general if they do not like whoever is in power, they must wait till the next election.

There is hardly a politician or a commentator in Britain who has not said exactly this at some time in his or her life. It is called ‘losers’ consent’. Our ordered lives depend on it and we cannot betray it here or abroad.

But now we come to the big exception. In February 2014, a violent mob infiltrated and came to dominate what had originally been genuine democratic protests in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

There is much that is murky about these bitter days, including the mysterious shootings of members of the crowd. Let us just say that there is a serious dispute about who was responsible, which has yet to be resolved.

In a leaked (and undenied) phone conversation, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, that there was ‘stronger and stronger understanding’ that ‘behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition’.

A UN report (published on July 15, 2014) concluded that 103 protesters and 20 police officers died in these events. I believe at least some of the protesters were armed, and the deaths of 20 policemen suggest some pretty heavy violence on the side of the protesters.

In the midst of all this bloodshed, two serious efforts were made to reach a peaceful, lawful outcome. The first was wrecked, perhaps deliberately, when protesters responded to it on Tuesday, February 18, by setting fire to Yanukovych’s party HQ. On the night of Thursday, February 20, the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France flew to Kiev to broker a deal with the embattled Ukrainian President.

On February 21, that deal was signed by the President, by three senior members of the anti-Yanukovych opposition and witnessed by the three EU ministers. Yanukovych offered a rewrite of the constitution to suit the opposition; a new government; early presidential elections (no later than December 2014); and an impartial probe into the violence (which there has never been). All sides renounced the use of force.

But that Friday evening, the deal was put to the crowd in the Maidan, an unelected body with no constitutional or democratic authority. They certainly did not represent the eastern part of the country.

Their chieftains rejected it and threatened to ‘take arms and go’ to Yanukovych’s residence if he did not step down by the next morning. The opposition leaders who had signed the deal crumbled, and made no effort to defend it against the yelling anger of the crowd.

Yanukovych, whose security protection had melted away, left Kiev. But he did not resign and he did not leave the country. A recent book by the highly respected Ukrainian historian Serhii Plokhy shows beyond doubt that the elected President was still in office and in Ukraine when parliament voted to remove him. The vote was unlawful, since MPs lacked the votes needed to do so under the constitution. But they went ahead anyway.

So anti-democratic violence was followed by lawlessness. The offer of early elections was brushed aside (did the mob fear their faction would lose them?). Thus a mob overthrew a legitimate head of state. And here comes the shocking test. Western nations, including Britain, should have condemned this action. They are normally vigilant defenders of law and democracy all over the world, are they not? But in this case, they condoned the coup.

The then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, made a wholly inaccurate statement to the House of Commons on March 4, 2014. He said that Yanukovych was removed ‘by the very large majorities required under the constitution’. This is simply untrue. And so the future Lord Hague’s next assertion that ‘it is wrong to question the legitimacy of the new authorities’ seriously misled Parliament.

I took this up with Lord Hague. After it became plain he had no good defence of his actions, he stopped replying to me and fell silent. Pathetically, an awkward letter I sent to his official address was returned to me adorned with a sticker saying he was not known there. If we had a proper Opposition in this country, he would never have been able to get away with this. But we do not.

The events of February 2014 split Ukraine and began a filthy little war in the east of the country in which (among other tragedies and horrors) many civilians died at the hands of the Ukrainian army. The disgusting Russian invasion two years ago, indefensible and barbaric, was the second stage of the war, not the start of it.

Of course, I do not know who if anyone was behind the overthrow of Yanukovych. All kinds of Western politicians and intelligence types were hanging around Kiev at the time. And the West blatantly betrayed its own principles to condone and forgive the nasty event. But that of course does not prove that any Western nation backed the coup against Yanukovych.

Even so, it is my view that any outside force which did support that putsch is just as guilty of aggression and warmongering as Russia’s Putin is. Think of that as you listen to all those loud, safe voices demanding that we keep on fuelling this war, in which Ukrainians die daily for democratic principles we do not, in fact, support.