No Excuses for Militant Barbarism in Ukraine – But the West Should Stay Out – Article by G. Stolyarov II

No Excuses for Militant Barbarism in Ukraine – But the West Should Stay Out – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
April 26, 2014

I was initially reluctant to accept the Ukrainian government’s reference to the pro-Putin separatists in Eastern Ukraine as “terrorists” – since terrorists deliberately target civilians in order to achieve political and ideological objectives. However, during the past week, it has become clear that at least a significant fraction of the separatists have engaged in exactly that: hostage-takings and killings of civilians in an effort to “secure bargaining chips” or “send a message” to their political enemies.

While very little news that comes out of Eastern Ukraine now can be trusted as being unaffected by propaganda for one interest or another, I do completely trust this account by Simon Ostrovsky, a VICE journalist who was captured by armed gunmen, beaten, held in captivity for four days, and subsequently released. His account relates the identities of some of the other prisoners; a few may themselves be militants working for the other ugly nationalist group in the mix – Right Sector – but many are completely innocent: journalists, political activists, and civilians. It is completely unacceptable to abduct and hold such people hostage, for political leverage or otherwise, no matter what one’s goals or objectives are.

The separatists have committed other crimes as well. The torture and murder of Vladimir Rybak, a councilman who supported the Ukrainian government, is the most heinous among them. Rybak was a peaceful man who spoke his mind; he was vocal and passionate, but never posed a physical threat to anyone. The fact that he would be whisked away in the middle of the night, mutilated, killed, and thrown into a river smacks of Stalin-era tactics to suppress political dissidents and critics.

A further travesty is the abduction of OSCE monitors and unarmed foreign military observers, who were clearly not in Eastern Ukraine to stoke up hostilities, but rather could have negotiated a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The fact that the separatists are inclined to take the observers hostage instead of speaking with them, expressing their grievances, and attempting a diplomatic solution, shows their true colors.

While I had hoped that the multilateral Geneva Statement would be the beginning of a de-escalation in Eastern Ukraine, this has, unfortunately, not come to pass. Vladimir Putin’s regime did not play its part. Putin could have easily defused tensions by publicly speaking about the need for separatists to vacate occupied government buildings in the Donetsk region and to engage OSCE monitors and other third-party negotiators peacefully and sincerely. The fact that he failed to do this, and continues to support the separatists rhetorically, in spite of their record of hostage-takings, murders, and intimidation, gives me substantial doubts regarding his good faith.

Then again, there are very few good people involved in this entire mess – apart from the innocent civilians who are trying to live and work in peace, and to speak their minds in civilized ways, instead of resorting to violence, brutality, and brinksmanship. The pro-Putin separatists and the Putin regime are not the only guilty parties here. This past weekend, Sergei Rodenko – a beloved figure in his community – and two other civilians who performed part-time duty at a checkpoint northwest of Slovyansk, were probably murdered by Right Sector thugs. This situation increasingly reminds me of the nightmare that has unfolded in Syria over the past two years, where the regime of the tyrant and murderer Bashar Assad is fighting a war of attrition against barbarous and often equally brutal Islamic fundamentalist fanatics. Once ancient hatreds – be they religious or nationalistic – are unleashed, all goodness is at risk of being washed away by rivers of blood. It is good that, in 2013, a major public outcry in the United States prevented the US government and military from becoming involved in a conflict where it is absolutely not clear who the greater evil is. (Nor is it ever justifiable to aid evil, period – all the misguided rhetoric regarding the “greater good” notwithstanding.) A similar public outcry is needed against intervention in Ukraine; American foreign policy is terrible at dealing with “gray areas” – especially where every side has clear evil elements. One can only hope that sanity and reason will prevail in Eastern Ukraine, and peace will somehow be achieved, before the body count approaches anywhere near the catastrophic levels it has reached in Syria. As for us in the West, we can only condemn – and hope.

What should the United States government do? This is vital: nothing – except condemnation of all atrocities and attempts to secure the release of all captured civilians. Diplomacy has unfortunately not succeeded in resolving the present mess, and further intervention of any sort will only reinforce the perception (held by the Putin regime and many of its sympathizers in Eastern Ukraine) that the Ukrainian government is simply a tool of Western and especially American geopolitical interests. While military occupation of Ukraine has thankfully been ruled out by the United States and NATO, economic sanctions would, too, be a grave folly. The free-market argument against sanctions includes the recognition that sanctions almost never harm the regime in power; they always harm ordinary civilians and rally them around the hostile regime. In the words of Frédéric Bastiat, “When goods don’t cross borders, armies will.” Economic sanctions always set up the scene for war, because they break the ties of commerce that enable peaceful cooperation, mutual understanding, and cosmopolitanism. As the great Ludwig von Mises put it, “Wars, foreign and domestic (revolutions, civil wars), are more likely to be avoided the closer the division of labor binds men.” Mises also said that military conflicts “are an outgrowth of the various governments’ interference with business, of trade and migration barriers and discrimination against foreign labor, foreign products, and foreign capital.” To the extent that advocates of sanctions depart from this understanding, they are sacrificing free-market principles to the desire to undermine and punish Putin and Russia. Putin may deserve punishment, but his innocent subjects certainly do not.

Do nothing and allow a local solution – fueled by what Friedrich Hayek called “knowledge of the circumstances of time and place” – to emerge. The United States and European Union cannot improve on any resolution that Ukrainians and Russians might be able to arrive at, even if that resolution would be grossly sub-optimal from any reasonable standpoint. For us Westerners to inject ourselves into this horrific mess would only risk dragging us down into the thick quagmire of hatreds, hostilities, and recriminations. This is not a part of the world that can be easily fixed, and it has always suffered from deep cultural maladies. The penetration of the 18th-century Enlightenment there is only superficial and limited to a small segment of society. Those who truly seek a better life are better off just leaving than attempting to resolve the deep problems that have persisted since at least the 13th-century Mongol conquests! They are better off just leaving – as I fortunately did during my childhood – and we are better off just staying out. By attempting to “solve” the problems of post-Soviet republics, the Western powers only risk importing those problems – nationalism, xenophobia, militarism, jingoism, propagandism, and economic isolationism, just to name a few – into their own countries.

6 thoughts on “No Excuses for Militant Barbarism in Ukraine – But the West Should Stay Out – Article by G. Stolyarov II

  1. Allow a “local solution.” Great idea. Note that if the West abandons Ukrainians the locality that will decide the “solution” is Moscow.

    I’m shocked at how much Kremlin propaganda you’re parroting — Praviy Sektor are fascist thugs, for example, or the hand-wring over the pro-Putin terrorist allegedly shot at the checkpoint in Slovyansk. This is what happens when you let the likes of Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul (who employs Putin propagandist Daniel McAdams) hoodwink you.

    Finally, your “solution” that everyone in Ukraine, or for that matter Russia, who wants freedom should just leave makes no sense. They can’t. Without visas, the West is closed to them. And why is it that having a dictator in Russia mean that everyone who loves freedom must abandon their home? When do we ever stand up to tyranny instead of surrendering or running away like cowards?

    This is an absurd and remarkably unprincipled argument you’ve made.

  2. Dr. Steele,

    Who exactly do you think the Right Sector is, if not a group of fascist thugs? Are they peace-loving patriots of Ukraine?

    If they are peaceful, how do you explain the brutal beating of candidate Oleh Tsarev in Kyiv or the killing of Sergei Rodenko (not a Russian provocateur, but a local and occasional school-bus driver, much beloved in his village)? How do you explain videos of Right Sector thugs attacking and threatening Ukrainian prosecutors and other officials with violence? (See this Daily Beast article for links to multiple videos.) How do you explain the fact that even the Turchynov/Yatseniuk government has found it necessary to send police and special forces to keep Right Sector under control and to kill its worst thug, Oleksandr Muzychko (who certainly had it coming to him)?

    Your partial condemnation of only one side is just that: one-sided. It provides further evidence for my point as to why the West should not interfere in this mess. Far too many Westerners (yourself included) see this situation as black and white, with one side being completely innocent and the other side being completely evil. In reality, Western intervention may succeed in stopping some of the evils on one side, while letting loose and encouraging the evils on the other. This has been the case time and again – in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, just to name a few places affected this decade. What makes you think that, in the timeframe of less than a year, Western governments have become dramatically more enlightened and effective in sorting the innocents from the thugs? What makes you think that the same administration that spies on its own citizens in mass and has made the heroic libertarian whistleblower Edward Snowden prefer Putin’s protection to the American court system would all of a sudden become a heroic and just protector of liberty abroad? How does Obama, whom you yourself have condemned as totalitarian when it comes to his domestic policies, magically become capable of a solution when people in other countries are suffering, instead of people in this one?

    I think Western countries should give visas to all Russians and Ukrainians who did not have high positions in the Putin or Yanukovych administrations. Better yet, I support open borders everywhere, for everybody. That is the true free-market position: free movement of people and thinking of individuals as individuals, rather than as nationalities. But even in the absence of that, seeking refugee status in Europe or even illegal immigration may be better options for some to remaining in Eastern Ukraine. Better to remain alive and somewhat free (as free as one can be in the West today) than to face a centuries-old mess that one individual could not possibly unravel.

    You ask, “When do we ever stand up to tyranny instead of surrendering or running away like cowards?” I think opposing intervention into this mess is a better way to stand up to tyranny – in the United States. Please give me at least one example of a war fought by the United States that did not result in loss of civil liberties for Americans. I cannot think of one. The more involved the United States becomes in Ukraine, the harder it would be for the Obama administration to disentangle itself if/when tensions escalate. Better to steer clear and contain the damage. That way civilians in the West, at least, can live their lives in a semblance of peace and prosperity.

    Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell had nothing to do with my position here; I have only read a little bit of Ron Paul’s writing on this situation, and virtually none of Rockwell’s. These conclusions are my own, assembled from my reading of as many diverse sources as I could find, and interpreted through the framework of libertarian principles and the great historical thinkers who espoused them.

    Gennady Stolyarov II

  3. The ex-President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili has been making numerous attempts to warn the Westerners since at least 2008 that Putin would inevitably invade Ukraine, similarly like he had invaded Georgia, but the sloppy politicians of the West did not recognize the threat.It should be stressed that the Western policies nevertheless saved Georgia from going to ruins by real military threat to Moscow! The real plan of Putin, that has been revealed numerously is to go as far as possible, namely to get the whole Eastern Ukraine, attack Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and go even further. What’s even scarier is that this horrible man gets considerable support for such policies from Russian population, partly thanks to the propaganda machine. Many Russians were proud that Russia invaded Georgia! They are proud of the recent events in the Ukraine. They want to see Russia as an agressive dominating country. Many disturbing Soviet trend are becoming more and more prominent in Russia. No solution will ever be achieved through dialoge. Putin doesn’t care about agreements. Also, one cannot forget the difference between The North Korea and The South Korea!There is but one sanction that will be 100% effective and 100% bloodless. This means direct attack of the whole Russian elite! In other words, 1)confiscation of ALL the huge Western assets of the Russian elite(including Putin) without any stupid warning and red lines in all Western countries, 2)Throw out of all the Western countries ALL the relatives (children, wifes, etc.) of the whole Russian elite, especially from the UK!! What the West either fails to recognize of pretends to not recognize is that all the material interests of the so called Russian elite which spread anti-Western policies are in the West, since they hate their own country! Such a move might turn the Russian elite against Putin and cause some very very serious turmoil. Moreover, military threat must be consdered an option. The Soviet Union fell particularly because of the idiotic war-oriented economic policy, Putin’s policy is identical.Military threat will make Putin print more weapons, waste more resources and destroy the economy(again). Finally, despite the fact that the EU was not smart enough to get rid of the Russian oil suppply in 2008, they should start that right now! Never again should they ever buy Russian oil! Such a move will destroy Gazprom and the elite and save ordinary West-oriented Russians like me from this horrible governtment.

  4. Zviad,

    I think the 2008 Georgia War, while regrettable in entirety, was also a good example of what happened when the West largely stayed out. Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence, became de facto Russian protectorates, but Georgia is still an independent country, and the crisis in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained a local crisis only, while peace in Europe lasted for six years thereafter because the West did not intervene. In 2008, I wrote a brief analysis of the Russia-Georgia conflict and why the United States should stay out. In retrospect, I was quite right as to how matters turned out; non-intervention by the West gave the best possible outcome.

    The best hope for human progress and world peace is to contain the damage from the crisis in Ukraine, so that it does not spill over into Western countries by militarizing them, motivating increasing violations of civil liberties, and leading to ugly nationalism and xenophobia in the West. The more the West gets involved in Ukraine, the more Western governments will start looking like Putin’s Russia. The best way to contain Putin is not to let his depredations drag the whole world down with them.

    Your recommendation to throw innocent Russian women and children out of Western countries is an example of exactly the kind of collectivist and nationalist thinking that needs to be avoided. How can it ever be justified to deliberately harm people who have committed no wrong? How can it be reasonably thought that it would even be possible to contain the expulsions to relatives of the elite, rather than anyone with a Russian-sounding name (which is what, I fear, would happen once the horror of ethnic profiling is unleashed to any extent)?

    Only the individuals personally responsible for violations of human rights should be punished in any way. I really have no problem with penalizing Putin and his inner circle with restrictions, but I draw the line at ordinary, apolitical (or politically powerless) civilians. Those of us from the former USSR who have embraced the culture and values of the West should be the foremost champions of individualism – drawing distinctions between the innocent and the guilty as individuals and avoiding any damage to the innocents foremost of all. Remember that we would be the first victims – no matter what our political views – if serious anti-Russian sentiments arose in the West. Xenophobia is inherently stupid, and xenophobic mobs and the demagogues who thrive off of them do not make distinctions. You support their point of view? They do not care; once they are unleashed, they will make your life miserable anyway, just because you resemble “the other”.

    There is a tremendous moral difference between (i) sitting by and doing nothing and (ii) intervening with perhaps good intentions but inflicting damage to good people in the attempt. Doing nothing is morally neutral, but any deliberate infliction of evil drags one down to the level of the original evildoer. One must not let oneself become a perpetrator of evil or advocate the infliction of coercive harm against peaceful civilians, no matter what the cause or the motive.

    Gennady Stolyarov II

  5. 1)I have read your article about the 2008 South Ossetia War and I certainly agree with the majority of your conclusions, especially with the notion that not a single life should be ended in the name of some higher principle, especially a young life. It might be that Saakashvili was too openly anti-Russian and pro-American.At the same time, I am not certain whether it was possible to escape war in the region, since it is a region with extremely complicated relations between different ethnic groups. As an example I can recall the horrible war in Abkhazia which I witnessed myself.There was zero intervention from the US at the time. On a lighter note, I can proudly say that the recent Austrian reforms in Georgia were clearly successful and the country is heading to the right direction towards decentralization, robustification and liberty despite some relatively minor problems.Saakashvili himself once mentioned Mises, Rothbard and Hayek in one of his talks. This success inspired many young individuals in the CIS region.

    2)There is one point of disagreement. I do not consider these not-so-responsible for violations of human rights individuals like children and wifes to be innocent. They use financial resouces that do not belong to them.Similarly like family members of drug lords. If these monetary resources truly belonged to them I would have no objection. Moreover, I do not see anything bad if these individuals go from some London luxury apartment to some Moscow luxury appartment. If this leads to serious political volatility in Russia that is worth it. I happen to know pesonally some of them and I am certain that it won’t be a major tragedy . On the other I think your statements about xenophibia are valid. But these measures are solely my fantasy and it’s highly improbable that these measures will take place.

    Yours sincerely,

  6. Greetings, Zviad.

    Thank you very much for your response. I think we agree on most points. With regard to children and wives of Russian officials using resources that do not belong to them, perhaps the best approach would be simply to deny them the use of those resources by cutting them off from the money and other assets that were illegitimately acquired (effectively, the foreign-asset freezes that have been put on certain high officials of Putin’s regime may already achieve this). However, I do think they should be allowed to remain abroad and seek honest ways to earn a living. For instance, the wife of one of Putin’s officials could choose to take a job in a store and live off of her earnings and support her family that way. Would such a person actually make that decision? Probably not, especially if she is used to luxury – so she would move back to Moscow, with a similar outcome to the one you suggest. However, because all individuals should be treated as individuals, all those relatives of high Russian officials should at least be given the opportunity to distance themselves from the illegitimately acquired resources.

    As for Saakashvili, I have mixed impressions. Early on in his administration, he certainly did implement the free-market reforms which you mentioned, and, prior to becoming President, he was a human-rights advocate who stood on the right side of many issues. However, especially toward the end of his second term, he became increasingly heavy-handed and began to suppress peaceful dissent with violence and intimidation. Perhaps he is a good example of power corrupting, or perhaps he figured out that it is not possible to hold onto power in Georgia without acting like an authoritarian, at least when it comes to one’s political opponents. While he had some successes in liberalizing Georgia’s economy, it is likely that he could not alone overcome the culture of cronyism, corruption, and political reprisals that still prevails there, so he began utilizing that culture to his advantage. Unfortunately, it appears to me that a person who wishes to become prosperous and influential while remaining principled still cannot do so in the former Soviet republics (perhaps with the exception of the Baltic states) and would have better chances in the West.

    Gennady Stolyarov II

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