Mer­chants of peace: How the “civil war” rhetoric is used to gain po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal

How rhetoric about the “civil war” is gen­er­at­ing po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal in cer­tain cor­ners

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Denys Kazan­skiy

In any coun­try at war, there is al­ways de­mand among its cit­i­zens for peace. For over three years now, Ukraine has un­for­tu­nately been among those coun­tries with armed con­flict tak­ing places on its ter­ri­tory. Its cit­i­zens, like all those who have had a taste of war, un­der­stand the real value of peace­time life and look for­ward to the end of the blood­shed.

And so where there is de­mand, sup­ply soon fills the need. Over the last few years, a seg­ment of Ukrainian so­ci­ety has ap­peared that might be called “mer­chants of peace” or, more cor­rectly “traders in truces.” These are politi­cians and ac­tivists who are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the pub­lic mood to pro­mote their own in­ter­ests. Most of­ten, they like to prom­ise a truce that they are in no po­si­tion to achieve, or they blame its ab­sence on their ri­vals in an at­tempt to en­cour­age vot­ers to de­spise them.

Prom­ises of peace have be­come a stan­dard slo­gan in the pop­ulist arse­nal of Ukrainian pol­i­tics, along with prom­ises to raise pen­sions and wages, and to re­duce util­ity rates. These mer­chants of peace can be di­vided into two groups. In the first are the sit­u­a­tional pop­ulists who sim­ply want to take ad­van­tage of a pop­u­lar trend to get the at­ten­tion of vot­ers and give their rat­ings a boost. The sec­ond group is those who are work­ing on be­half of Rus­sia and are mask­ing their trea­sonous ac­tiv­ity with the rhetoric of peace. Be­cause both groups use sim­i­lar ar­gu­ments and slo­gans, it’s some­times very hard to dis­tin­guish the two.

On the one hand, we might say that there’s noth­ing wrong with want­ing peace­ful life to re­turn and talk­ing con­stantly about the need for a truce. But the devil, as they say, is in the de­tails. Firstly, the con­di­tions un­der which such a truce might be ar­ranged are very im­por­tant. It’s one thing when it’s on the en­emy’s terms and an­other when it’s on Ukraine’s terms. One thing when the re­sult is a frozen con­flict and an­other al­to­gether when the re­sult is ca­pit­u­la­tion. Seem­ingly ei­ther op­tion will lead to a re­turn to peace­ful civil­ian life. But the re­al­i­ties will be very dif­fer­ent.

Ukrainian politi­cians who keep mouthing the mantra “Peace at any price” clearly know what this slo­gan re­ally means and what the price of it will be. “Peace at any price” clearly means ac­cept­ing de­feat, agree­ing to a par­tial loss of sovereignty, and chang­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion as dic­tated by the ag­gres­sor coun­try. This is the kind of “peace” pro­posed by the Krem­lin in ex­change for the re­turn of oc­cu­pied Don­bas or ORDiLO and a cease-fire. How­ever, the fact that such a “truce” could cause a split in Ukrainian so­ci­ety, lead to a new con­flict, or end in an in­ter­nal con­fronta­tion these politi­cians are care­ful not to men­tion.

Paci­fist move­ments are a nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non for coun­tries that are at war. But there is one caveat: as long as the coun­try is not the vic­tim of an­other coun­try’s ag­gres­sion. In other words, paci­fist demon­stra­tions against war make sense in the US or the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, whose cit­i­zens want their lead­ers to stop war cam­paigns in Iraq and Syria. But in Ukraine, whose ter­ri­tory has been in­vaded by Rus­sian forces, calls for the gov­ern­ment to stop the war are com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate. For the war in Ukraine to stop, Rus­sia has to with­draw mil­i­tar­ily. Pe­riod. All its Ageyevs, Yero­feyevs, Alek­san­drovs and other “nonex­is­tent” Rus­sian sol­diers need to go back where they came from. For this to hap­pen, it’s the pres­i­dent of Rus­sia who needs to be chal­lenged, not the pres­i­dent of Ukraine. The pres­i­dent of Rus­sia is wag­ing this un­de­clared, shame­ful war against Ukraine. Only he is in a po­si­tion to de­cide to with­draw his troops and to stop de­liv­er­ing arms to oc­cu­pied Don­bas.

The cur­rent Ukrainian pres­i­dent, Petro Poroshenko, can be jus­ti­fi­ably ac­cused of many faults, but not want­ing the war to be over, as long as there are Rus­sian

troops in Crimea and oc­cu­pied Don­bas, is not one of them. Paci­fist calls in Ukraine might be rea­son­able if Ukraine’s armed forces stood in Ros­tov Oblast, Krasnodar Krai or Moldova. In that case, de­mands for them to im­me­di­ately re­turn to their own ter­ri­tory would make sense. But how are Ukraine’s forces sup­posed to with­draw from Ukrainian ter­ri­tory? What Ukrainian lead­er­ship would be able to en­dure peace if the Krem­lin does not com­ply with its de­ci­sions and has no in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing its army to Rus­sian ter­ri­tory? Need­less to say, Ukraine’s mer­chants of peace have no an­swer to such ques­tions.

Un­der­stand­ing how truly weak their po­si­tion is, those who fa­vor “Peace at any price” are forced to en­gage in the same kind of ma­nip­u­la­tion. In­deed, they try to deny that Rus­sia is in­volved in the con­flict at all. This pro­vides their rhetoric with some logic: if Ukraine is in­volved in a civil war, then the gov­ern­ment is re­spon­si­ble for that. And only it can call for a cease­fire in that case. Mem­bers of the Op­po­si­tion Bloc, the rump Party of the Re­gions and the most an­tiUkrainian party in the coun­try to­day, have been us­ing this kind of rhetoric in pub­lic for a long time. They openly cam­paign with de­mands to “stop the war” and “fight nazism in Ukraine,” on both Ukrainian and Rus­sian tele­vi­sion.

Af­ter three years of mil­i­tary con­flict, there would seem to be more than enough ev­i­dence of Rus­sia’s pres­ence on Ukrainian ter­ri­tory. Then there’s the in­volve­ment of Rus­sian GRU of­fi­cers like Igor Ghirkin and Olek­sandr Boro­dai in the ini­tial stages, the tragedy of MH17, the cap­ture of Rus­sian sol­diers who have reg­u­larly fallen into Ukrainian hands since Au­gust 2014, and the re­cent ad­mis­sion by Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov that Rus­sia was par­tic­i­pat­ing in the war “in Syria and Don­bas.” And still there are too many Ukraini­ans who do not be­lieve that Rus­sia started this war and is in­volved in the armed con­flict to this day. They are the tar­get au­di­ence for the mer­chants of peace. All three years, they have man­aged to ig­nore and say noth­ing about the ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence of Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary pres­ence, to say noth­ing of Crimea, whose oc­cu­pa­tion is un­ques­tion­able.

Any­one who is in­ter­ested in Ukrainian pol­i­tics can eas­ily guess who these mer­chants of peace are. They are of­ten guests on var­i­ous talk shows and the real vipers’ nest of politi­cians and ex­perts with these views is the NewsOne chan­nel, which broad­casts this kind of dem­a­goguery day and night.

NewsOne be­longs to Kharkiv MP Yevhen Mu­rayev, who makes no bones about his pro-Rus­sian views and pro­vides peo­ple with sim­i­lar views an open plat­form on this chan­nel. Not long ago, NewsOne found it­self in the midst of a scan­dal: its em­ploy­ees helped Rus­sian jour­nal­ists film a pro­pa­ganda clip for a pro­gram hosted by Rus­sian pre­sen­ter Dmitry Kise­liov, famed for his “We’ll leave the US in a pile of ra­dioac­tive dust” com­ment. For­mally, no laws were bro­ken, and so the in­ci­dent had no real con­se­quences for Mu­rayev’s peo­ple.

This kind of pseudo-peace­ful rhetoric can be heard from yet an­other high-pro­file Kharkiv MP, me­dia mogul Vadym Rabi­novych. He re­cently started a new po­lit­i­cal party called Za Zhyt­tia mean­ing “For Life” that is clearly ori­ented to­wards pro-Rus­sian vot­ers, with Mu­rayev. More than any­one else of this in­cli­na­tion, Rabi­novych con­tin­u­ously talks about “Peace at any price”—mean­ing “peace on Putin’s terms”—on ev­ery talk show he ap­pears in. And this tac­tic is lead­ing to re­sults. To­day, Za Zhyt­tia is rapidly gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in south­ern and eastern oblasts. In some places it is even squeez­ing out the Op­po­si­tion Bloc, which has been the lo­cal fa­vorite for years since its PR days. What’s more, Rabi­novych has turned out to be a fairly de­cent pre­sen­ter on tele­vi­sion. His own show, What’s Rabi­novych to you?, airs on the 112 Ukraina chan­nel and has been the leader among top news pro­grams in Ukraine more than once.

It’s not clear to this day who is spon­sor­ing Rabi­novych and Mu­rayev’s party. Some say that Yanukovych cronies are be­hind it, in the ex­pec­ta­tion that, should he win in the next elec­tion, Rabi­novych will help them re­turn to Ukraine.

Yet an­other pop­u­lar politi­cian who fa­vors paci­fist rhetoric is MP Nadiya Savchenko, the for­mer cap­tive pi­lot. She also gained a spot as a pre­sen­ter on NewsOne where she of­fers the same col­lec­tion of slo­gans. Ac­cord­ing to Savchenko, the war is “con­ve­nient” for the cur­rent lead­er­ship in Kyiv and that’s why Poroshenko has no in­ten­tion of end­ing it. More­over, she never of­fers any sug­ges­tions for how the pres­i­dent might go about end­ing it in the short­est term pos­si­ble and what he should do with the Rus­sian forces on Ukrainian ter­ri­tory. Ab­strac­tions like “you have to ne­go­ti­ate,” as Savchenko likes to put it, are never con­cretized. Nei­ther Savchenko nor the other politi­cians who love to talk about the need for “Peace at any price” bother to pro­vide any de­tails about the terms to which Ukraine should be agree­ing with Putin or what kind of com­pro­mises Ukraine should be will­ing to make.

Savchenko’s po­lit­i­cal project is linked to Vik­tor Medved­chuk, whose close ties to Putin make clear where her rhetoric is com­ing from. More than likely she will most likely also be try­ing to gain votes among the same pro-Rus­sian vot­ers as the Op­po­si­tion Bloc and Za Zhyt­tia. In­deed, it’s pos­si­ble that she will even join Za Zhyt­tia.

Worn out by the war and a seem­ingly end­less stream of bad news on tele­vi­sion, many Ukraini­ans are ready to be­lieve al­most any­one who will prom­ise to res­cue them, no mat­ter how un­re­al­is­tic their prom­ises might ac­tu­ally be. The be­lief in sav­iors is ir­ra­tional. Like any­one else, Ukraini­ans who run into se­ri­ous prob­lems will, in the face of all com­mon sense, be­lieve in ma­gi­cians and for­tune-tell­ers who prom­ise to mag­i­cally re­lieve them of spin­ster­hood or se­ri­ous dis­eases.

The mer­chants of peace have a good feel for the na­tional mood and have quite skill­fully taken ad­van­tage of the mo­ment to pro­pose their ser­vices as peace­mak­ers. It’s al­ready clear, un­for­tu­nately, that in the next elec­tion, plenty of Ukraini­ans will once again be happy to be conned at the bal­lot box.


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