Thursday, May 26, 2016

Now that Nadya is Back, Some Worry Ukrainians Will Soon Forget Her and the West Forget Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 26 – A day after Nadya Savchenko returned to a hero’s welcome in Ukraine and when many are predicting she will re-energize Ukrainian political life and even ultimately become president of that country, some are worrying that Ukrainians will soon forget her and that the West will forget Ukraine.

            Vladimir Putin may be counting on both, hoping that his decision to send her home, however unpopular it may be among many Russians now and however much attention she is receiving from Ukrainians and people around the world, will contribute to confusion in Kyiv and ever less willingness in the West to support Ukraine against his aggression.

            Either of these things would be a tragedy, but neither can be excluded given the short attention spans of people in both places. Instead, they can be blocked only by recognizing that they are real dangers and that Moscow and pro-Moscow groups in Russia, in Ukraine and in the West will do everything they can to promote them.

            Two articles on the Novy Region 2 portal today thus provide a necessary warning of what may happen after the celebrations die down, as well as an important part of the explanation as to why Putin released the Ukrainian pilot now.

            In the first, journalist Viktoriya Matviyenko cites the words of Russian military commentator Arkady Babchenko that the Ukrainians love to elevate someone to the status of hero and then overthrow them (

            There will be “weeks of euphoria,” and then quietly and in an almost unnoticed fashion, “a process of de-hero-ization” in which this or that politician or journalist will complain about this or that word spoken by Savchenko or action taken by her and in which Ukrainians will simply turn away and focus on other issues.

            Matviyenko also cites the argument of Ukrainian political analyst Aleksey Golobutsy that Savchenko’s return was critically important for Ukraine and now the most important task is that she “remain a moral authority for all of Ukraine,” rather than being drawn into the political fray and inevitably reduced to a politician like any other.

            In the second article, Ukrainian commentator Oleg Shro suggests that the return of Savchenko will only accelerate the turning away of the United States from Ukraine, something Moscow has long sought and that would give Putin a victory that he certainly does not deserve (

            Indeed, he argues, her return may be a turning point or at the very least a warning bell for Ukrainians.  “There is the opinion that the US State Department was involved in the pardoning of Nadezhda Savchenko, and it is not excluded that John Kerry and Victoria Nuland used their influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

            In that event, Shro says, “it is completely real that Russia by this action engaged in a kind of bargaining to extinguish its [current] sharp conflict with the EU and the US” which involves sanctions.  These aren’t going to be lifted immediately, he continues, “but the sharpness of the conflict will be extinguished and the Russian-Ukrainian war frozen.”

            The reasons for this are obvious, he continues. The US “is not ready for decisive and tough actions toward Russia,” and many in Washington believe that it should cede the Ukrainian problem to Europe and “distance itself from all European problems focusing instead on its domestic problems” given that Ukraine has not reformed as much as Washington wanted.

            Moreover, Shro says, the US has other geopolitical problems, including ISIS, the future of the EU if Britain votes to leave that bloc, as well as ethnic and religious problems within Europe.  In this situation, he argues, “freezing” the Russia-Ukraine conflict and thus putting it on the back burner looks like a good choice.

            And all this is complicated by the US presidential elections. President Barack Obama hasn’t been prepared to take decisive actions against Russian aggression, Shro says, but it is far from clear whether his successor will change that vector or perhaps decide to “sacrifice” Ukraine in order to restart relations with Moscow.

            In that event, Shro says, Ukraine will be cast in the role of “’a swamp for Russian tanks’” while NATO builds up its “’Eastern Wall’ in the Baltic countries, Poland and Romania,” an arrangement that would leave Ukraine in a dangerous position.Of course, he concludes, “support for Ukraine won’t stop, but its role will be as a ‘gray zone’ buffer between NATO and Russia.”

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