A letter to friends the day after Yanukovych’s capitulation in Ukraine. My view from Kiev

Lots of people wrote this week to ask how I am.  I was gathering my thoughts in this piece, overtaken by events as the government seems to have collapsed just as I finished writing this piece.

The short answer is that we are doing, and were doing just fine.

My problem at the moment there is a two-year-old who is jealous that I’m talking to voice recorder, and is interrupting me. I have sent a number of you a map. Let me put it in words. We are across the river from the center of the city where all the fighting is going on. The river is about half a mile wide, and we are 3 miles away. As I think I’ve written before, we are in a real backwater, a rural enclave surrounded by the city. We are more than a mile from any big buildings in any direction. We’re cut off from vehiclar traffic on the west by the river, and on the north and the east by a railroad. This has been a problem in general, because we have to go three miles south in order to connect with civilization. In this instance that looks like a pretty good situation. Nobody is coming here to look for us.

Our major vulnerability is electricity. We use well water and a septic system. It all operates on the power grid. However,  if the electricity goes out other people will have a much worse than we do. Where people live in apartments, between 10 and 20 stories high, they absolutely depend on their elevators. If the electricity goes, there would be an awful lot of immobilized grandmothers, and great general outrage against the government that shut it off.  Also, we have a barbecue and a kerosene heater so which comes to worse we will survive.   We lost power for stretches of up to the day throughout the winter and got along okay.

The Metro did not work for four days. Nothing wrong with the Metro. The excuse is that they wanted to avert terrorist threats. The real reason was quite obvious. Protesters used the Metro to get around the city, and the administration wants to immobilized people. To that end they have also periodically blocked roads, shut down the gas stations, and yesterday they shut down the banks. I don’t know what that would do; make it harder for people to buy sandbags?  Except for the branches in the center of town, mine is open again today.  Yesterday I changed money at 8.92 hryvnya/dollar; it is a bit lower today.

It appears to me that the major effect was to bring the economy to a standstill. I have two housemates, and Yurii and Polina.  Yurii he wasn’t able to get to work yesterday. Paulina went, and she said is only about half the office was there, and they didn’t get much done. Everybody was glued to their streaming video on Internet.

You are concerned about me. Let me tell you about the guy I was concerned about. Michael Bedwell is a in is a 79-year-old Englishman who lives at the corner of Khruschevskovo and Khreschatic streets, right behind the Dniepro  hotel. That’s is right on European square, the absolute center of the fighting. He is across from from Ukraine house, the museum being used as a medical facility to treat injured demonstrators.

Michael had trouble getting in and out of his house. He says that he faces intense interrogation by the police every time he goes home. However, given that he is an older foreigner, they don’t take them to be much of a terrorist and they let him go. In any case, Michael has been living with in this apartment since he got back to town to weeks ago from a trip to Burma. I told him that he should get the hell out, come live with us. He said yes, in due time. He’s coming over today, ironically, after the threat is over.

Michael experienced the London blitz a few years back. He was in the Navy and is a hard guy to faze. That may explain some of my attitude as well. I lived in the cities of Danang in Saigon for four years during the Vietnam War. When I first flew in in 1968 I remember being somewhat apprehensive as I looked out of the windows of the 707 that I would be seeing antiaircraft rockets coming up to greet me. However, in the four years I was there nobody ever shot at me. There were a few explosions around me, but no gunfire that could have gotten me. I became kind of used to what one must do living in a war zone. And that’s how I feel right now.

One of the things to think about in this standoff is how limited the president’s options have been. His major force is the better equipped Berkut, the special police. These are his bully boys. They number only about 4000. They are trained riot police, and their major tactic is the Roman one called the turtle. They move forward in a phalanx with their heavy shields in front of them and break through the crowd. So they advance and retreat as a group. This avoids bloodshed, and it will clear an area when it works. However that doesn’t hold up fairly well against really determined line of defense, and he is not very good for occupying ground. There are not enough of them to really take over.

The other widely deployed force are called titushkis. These are ne’er-do-wells, young men who are recruited from the bars the fight clubs in the streets of the of the villages, which is the political stronghold of the president. They are paid about $30/day to cause trouble. They have been a fixture in this administration.  In this case they have been brought in by the busload.   There are supposedly three busloads in one hotel about 5 miles from here.

There was another interesting story about a busload that was waylaid in the town of Cherkassy, about a hundred miles south of Kiev. The residents of Chercassy saw that it was a busfull of young men headed toward Kiev and they simply immobilized the bus. They somehow stopped it, took the wheels off and left it right there with these young men in it.  In another story from yesterday, a bus full of young men was observed on the outskirts of Kiev.  Locals stopped the bus, forced the young men out, made them wade into a knee-deep pond barefoot, took the $30 plus whatever other money they had, gave them back $5 apiece and told them to get the hell out of town.  Which they did.

I may have mentioned that there are condemned houses in the path of the future metro a half mile from where we live.  Occupied by Gypsies, if at all.  As Oksana and I were out walking this morning a guy in a small SUV  stopped to tell us that titushki were going looking for places to stay, and the neighborhood was organizing to resist them.  He asked if there were any abandonned houses on our block; we said,no.

Housemate Yurii bicycled through the center yesterday to get his car.  The metro wasn’t working.  He says he saw more than 100 titushki on his way, less than a mile from the center.  They were carrying sticks, but mostly just goofing.  Taking cell-phone pictures of each other and so on.  He biked through them without incident.  He said there were people on the sidewalks.  It wasn’t like a gang war or anything.

Friend Mark says there were a lot of titushki in Poznaky where he lives.  There they broke store windows, burned cars and just raised hell.  His neighbors formed an ad-hoc association of more than 100 men to patrol the streets and keep them at bay.  They cornered one guy such that he had no option but to run across the ice-covered river.  He went in.  There was a firetruck right there, by pure chance, and they pulled him out and took him away.

I find these incidents very illustrative. People throughout the country are disgusted by what’s going on, and they will take measures to thwart this government. It also shows a proclivity to avoid violence. On hearing the instance of the immobilized bus, I pictured them setting fire to it and killing the thugs as a warning to others not to get involved.   They did not do that.  Nor did the young men spill out of the bus in a panic and and look for a fight.

I feel that restraint has characterized this entire confrontation.  Significantly, it ended the day after government forces started shooting Kalishnikovs indiscriminately into the crowd.  Several ranking officials deserted the president’s Party of Regions, and the government collapsed.  The wonder is not that 100 people were killed, but that it was so few.  There were many thousands of people on both sides. The government certainly had the resources to arm their people, and the civilians are not totally unarmed despite a European no guns policy.  Despite all, the use of firearms has been quite limited. So it is kind of a kabuki battle, or an old Chinese warlord battle going back and forth back and forth with a lot of symbolic movement, but not a vast amount of real violence.

Which brings me to another topic, that of the media. The media don’t have any very exciting wars going on at the moment. It’s true, if you want to look for bodies you have to go no further than any city in Africa and you’ll find quite a few. They are still cutting each other up butcher shop style in Congo and Rwanda and places like that. That’s not news. It’s news when Europeans are going at each other. So however restrained the violence here, it’s the best they’ve got, and the media played to the hilt.

Media attention puts pressure on the European and United States governments to do something. They really have nothing to do. I see both as spent forces, well overextended by their own budgetary problems, their involvement in the Middle East and elsewhere, and ineffective in any case. Moreover, as we learned from the intercepted telephone call with the lovely language that are that are American girls use these days, the United States government just doesn’t know what to do. The message that I took from this intercepted phone call was how impotent the United States is in the face of all this. We only know the leading players with party affiliations. We don’t know the people on the streets. There was no talk of how to get money to these leaders to these party leaders because that’s not really what they need. They need supporters they need cohesion. And that was what Nuland talked about – her perception of who needs to be in charge. Incidentally, I agree with her. The fact that she and I agreed means nothing, because the leaders themselves don’t listen to either of us.  Now that it appears the issue will be resolved in the Rada (parliament) these elected faction leaders become more important.  I hope they can work it out.  I don’t see much role for the US to help.  Maybe they can come up with the $15 billion that Russia seems to have withdrawn.

It does not appear to me that the United States could have swayed things much by smuggling in armaments, and if they did they would escalate the violence and put themselves in very bad odor. The same is true of Russia, which with its long border with Ukraine could do so more easily. I don’t think that we want to get into a contest with Russia’s in attempting to arm one of their neighbors. You may remember that such a strategy didn’t turn out very well in Georgia a couple years back. I don’t think that the United States can contribute very much in the way of intelligence gathering either. And there’s nothing much that electronic intelligence can pick up that Ukrainians cannot gather on their own. Something that the United States doesn’t know, and nobody else knows either, is how the situation will play out, knowing the intentions are of each of the players. It is a truly murky situation. It’s one that would call for good human intelligence and diplomacy. The United States is not proven itself to be terribly adept at either of these.

One of the observations to take from the situation is how poorly the Russians have done. For instance, an activist kidnapped a couple of weeks back and held for 10 days or so before being released. He was severely questioned while in captivity. However, the questions revealed that his captors didn’t know much at all about the situation. Finally they way they let him go after he gave some nonsensical answers. There was another instance in which a somebody turned up claiming to have been a Western Ukrainian activist who incited all sorts of violence. He was widely interviewed on TV talking about the atrocities that the activists were perpetrating. But he spoke with a very identifiable Russian accent. So finally the interviewer, a few minutes into the interview asked “where are you from” and he said Rivne, a Western province. So interviewer asked, “okay and what’s the capital of Rivne?”  There is a city named Rivne and he said Rivne. But as any Ukrainian would know, the capital of a Rivne Oblast is Lutsks. It’s hard to believe that the Russian their level of spy tradecraft had sunk so far from Soviet standards to commit an error so obvious.

The bottom line. Although the United States and Russia, and presumably the Europeans would apparently like to be involved, they simply don’t have tools that are useful. Money is not going to be tremendously effective, bringing weapons into the system would not be, and they don’t have much to give them the way of diplomacy and intelligence. I think that they are both consigned to letting it play out among the Ukrainians. That’s me is the best solution, the only thing that will result in the in anything permanent or meaningful.

I’ve been an advocate of a theory of government, or rather technologies of government. The monarchy system ran its course course in the 18th century.  We witnessed the end of the warlord system in Vietnam: the communist system was simply more effective way of organizing and motivating people than what we supported in South Vietnam. Of course we attempted the put a patina of democracy over the warlord system, but it didn’t fool anybody.  We lost.

What we see in Ukraine is a strong man, thuggish system. It is a legacy of the Soviets, which is itself descended from the Mongols, a strongman rule, always from the top down. This government is not effective because it cannot delegate that authority effectively. In the warlord system you don’t really trust your subordinates because if you give them too much power they will displace you. You have a tendency to appoint people around you on the basis of loyalty rather than ability.

This president is not a very smart man. He has surrounded himself with people who do not cast him in a bad light. In other words, some fairly dull tools. They are simply not effective at getting things done. Every action they undertake appears to be rather ham-fisted. Their thefts are blatant, crude and very destructive for what they realize out of it.   The measures that government took to attempt control those insurrection were also crude, inclined to irritate people and inconvenience them, but not to the deter them.

A president such as Yanukovych could formerly survive by keeping people divided, ignorant and propagandized. However, that simply does not work in Internet age.  Kiev is full of young professionals who are well-educated and well connected and reasonably well-informed. They simply look at him as an embarrassment. Yanukovych supposedly does not even have a computer in his office. He doesn’t know about the times. It is not know about the people he is governing. This disconnect weakens him a great deal. People simply don’t have respect for him and if they don’t respect him, they don’t fear him.

What will be the successor government? Western democracy is not that attractive of a model. People here envy the affluence of the West, but there’s not much in the political system that they really would adopt. They observe the paralysis of the financial systems, the banking system, and the wide unemployment. They don’t want that. They look at the political correctness, and the enforced diversity, and they don’t like that either.

People in Ukraine are socially very conservative. And even among the young the educated young people that I know, there aren’t any people who advocate homosexuality. They advocate tolerance for homosexuality, but they still look at it as a perversion. One that they will put up with – but a perversion nonetheless. So they look at the West as being relatively sick, wealthy as it may be. So I don’t think that there’s a widespread aspiration to emulate the Western democracies.  One hopes that Ukraine will select a government that is consistent with the needs of the country.

The governments of the West are no longer suited to the needs of their populations. Our representative democracy evolved in an era of much smaller more homogeneous populations, better educated populations, and one must add, populations that were on the average, smarter. With the influx of immigrants and the lowering of educational standards, the dysgenetic breeding whereby the smartest people don’t have kids and the dumb ones do, a representative democracy doesn’t work. We simply don’t have voters of the caliber to demand high levels of honesty and accountability among their representatives. So the smart guys are taking over, and the small guy is getting squeezed.  If you can’t figure out what kind of mortage you can afford, or that you can’t afford that new iGadget, the banks will eat you alive.  It is happening throughout the West.  People are unhappy, angry, but they don’t know exactly what to do.

I see a change happening here in Ukraine, with needed improvement coming with the departure of the oligarchs. Unfortunately I also see a collapse coming in the West, as the elites have arrogaged most of the financial power for themselves become less and less responsive to the people.  They will eventually take so much that they are they foment a rebellion and are done in by their greed.  The argument that Ukraine’s government was “democratically elected” didn’t save it.  The process was scarcely any worse than the supposed democracy by which the US elects legislators who do not represent the people.  I don’t expect that the patina of democracy will long save the unrepresentative representatives in Western governments.

Every country in the West is running a budget deficit, most of which appear to be beyond any hope of control. They are printing fiat money at an increasingly great rate. There is debate as to whether this will result in inflation or deflation. I side with the people who expect inflation, because increasing the money supply has always ultimately ended in reducing the buying power of each individual unit of currency. Whatever the reason, the money they get spread it gets distributed to the through the banks to the wealthy, and increasingly benefits the wealthy at the expense of the hoi polloi. The people may not be smart enough to explain why, but they know that they are being screwed.  No salary increases, no meaningful interest on their savings, patently manipulated financial markets, and vast increases in the cost of education, food and other necessary expenses.

This is the sea change.  The people of the Former Soviet Union are intelligent, educated, and finally well enough informed to demand a more transparent, representative government.  Conversely, the countries of the West are being dumbed down by policies that encourage immigration and the fertility of the less intelligent.  They are no longer capable of sustaining representative government, and are increasily governed by elites who make only cursory, sporadic and symbolic gestures in acknowledgement of a democracy which in fact disappeared long ago.  We can pray that nationalist parties in Europe may take their countries out of the European Union and the Euro, renounce their debt, dismiss their immigrants and resume their fertility.   These actions seem highly unlikely.  The best bet for Western civilization appears to be with countries such as Ukraine whose despots have protected them by making them unattractive targets for immigrants, debt and gender confusion.  As Eastern Europe establishes democracies, one hopes that they take a hard look at what failed in the West and avoid our mistakes.  They must maintain the ethnic integrity which assures a high level of social capital.  They must avoid policies that permit people to avoid the responsibilities of work and family.  They must continue to raise their children to be proud of who they are, to be like their parents.  However irrational belief may appear to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, a solid grounding in Christianity supports all of the foregoing.  They should retain that as well.

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