O homem dos russos em Donetsk

Logo após a queda do avião da Malasya Airlines, o auto-proclamado ministro da Defesa da República Popular de Donetsk, Igor Girkin, gabou-se de ter abatido um avião na rede social russa VK.com. Conhecido na Ucrânia por Igor Strelkov, o militar é um cidadão russo alegadamente membro dos serviços de informações militares de Moscovo. Este é o texto que escrevi sobre ele há dois meses, na altura do referendo nas regiões leste da Ucrânia.

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Horas depois de serem anunciados os resultados dos referendos em Donetsk e em Lugansk, no leste da Ucrânia, no passado domingo, as auto-proclamadas Forças Armadas da República Popular de Donetsk (RPD) fizeram um ultimato: “Todos os soldados e oficiais das forças armadas, das forças de segurança interna, dos Serviços de Segurança, do Ministério do Interior e outras estruturas paramilitares da Ucrânia estão, a partir de agora, ilegais no território da RPD. Num prazo de 48h eles devem jurar fidelidade à RPD ou abandonar o território. Todos os que passem para o lado da RPD tem garantidos a manutenção do grau militar, o vencimento e prestações sociais.”

O comunicado incluía ainda uma instrução muito clara: “Os comandantes deverão cumprir a partir de agora apenas as minhas ordens”. Neste caso, as “minhas ordens” eram as do autor do ultimato: Igor Girkin. Conhecido na Ucrânia pelo pseudónimo de Igor Strelkov, o militar foi nomeado comandante supremo das Forças Armadas da região de Donetsk. Mas as autoridades ucranianas tem outra versão: garantem que ele é, na verdade, um agente do principal departamento de informações do exército russo, o GRU e a prova de que Moscovo está por detrás do movimento secessionista.

De acordo com o Serviço de Segurança Ucraniano (SSU), Igor Girkin chegou à península da Crimeia a 26 de Fevereiro, logo após a ocupação do parlamento, onde esteve a dirigir a ocupação de instalações militares e edifícios governamentais por tropas e forças especiais russas. Terá também recrutado cidadãos ucranianos para realizar acções subversivas na Crimeia e no leste da Ucrânia. “O sabotador deu ordens pessoalmente a cidadãos ucranianos para ocupar e manter o edifício da administração regional de Kharkiv, postos militares e unidades policiais com o objectivo de apreender armas”, afirmou o SSU em comunicado. Por isso iniciou uma investigação por “homicídio premeditado e por cometer actos que ameaçam a soberania, integridade territorial e a inviolabilidade da Ucrânia e por organizar motins na zona leste” do país.

Igor Girkin chegou à região de Donetsk no início de Abril. Instalou-se com um grupo de milicianos na cidade de Slaviansk e tornou-a no epicentro da revolta militar ucraniana. Antes tinha estado na Crimeia, a península ucraniana anexada pela Rússia, admitiu numa entrevista ao jornal moscovita Komsomolskaya Pradva: “A unidade com que eu vim para Slaviansk foi formada na Crimeia Não vou esconder isso. Foi formada por  voluntários. Diria que metade ou dois terços são cidadãos da Ucrânia”.

Durante cerca de um mês manteve-se na sombra. A liderança separatista de Slaviansk era representada por Viatcheslav Ponomarev, que se auto-proclamou presidente popular da câmara municipal da cidade. Foi ele, por exemplo, quem apresentou em conferência de imprensa, os oito observadores da Organização para a Segurança e Cooperação na Europa detidos em Slaviansk. No entanto, operações como o ataque ao aeroporto de Kramatorsk, em que dois aviões foram atingidos, e o abate de um helicóptero davam a entender que havia uma liderança militar nos bastidores.

O militar saiu das sobras no final de Abril, durante a apresentação à imprensa de três elementos dos serviços secretos ucranianos capturados na região de Donetsk. Nessa entrevista, Igor Girkin não respondeu às questões dos jornalistas sobre a sua ligação a Moscovo. Nem deu detalhes sobre a sua vida passada. Revelou apenas que o grupo que lidera decidiu ir para Slaviansk, após a anexação da Crimeia pela Rússia, por sugestão de alguns dos seus elementos que são naturais da região. Disse também que a maioria já tem experiência de combate ao serviço dos exércitos russo e ucraniano na Chechénia, na Ásia Central, Jugoslávia, Iraque e que alguns até terão estado na Síria. Será por isso que são considerados os mais ferozes adversários do exército ucraniano.

Numa voz calma e tranquila Igor Girkin, que terá entre 40 e 50 anos, garantiu que nunca teve apoio do governo de Moscovo e que as armas da milícia que lidera foram obtidas em instalações policiais e militares ucranianas. No entanto, poucos dias depois, foi apanhado em escutas telefónicas reveladas pelos serviços de informações ucranianos – e divulgadas pela revista Forbes – a combinar a libertação dos observadores da OSCE com Vladimir Lukin, o enviado especial do presidente russo, Vladimir Putin, para a região. Surgiram também relatos na imprensa chechena que o dão como um dos membros de uma unidade de elite dos paraquedistas russos envolvidos no rapto de um checheno, em 2001.

Logo após a conferência de imprensa, em que o militar foi identificado como Igor Strelkov, as autoridades ucranianas divulgaram a sua verdadeira identidade – incluindo a sua morada em Moscovo. Em poucas horas, equipas de jornalistas ucranianos dirigiram-se ao bairro residencial da capital russa. Vários moradores reconheceram o líder separatista como um dos seus vizinhos e revelaram que, horas antes, um automóvel preto tinha aparecido para transportar a sua mulher.

Nas semanas seguintes, Igor Girkin voltou a desaparecer das páginas dos jornais. A partir de Slaviansk, continuou a dirigir a resistência às investidas do exército ucraniano. Terá estado em contacto com a junta popular de Donetsk que organizou o referendo do passado domingo, dia 11 e que terá dado aos partidários da independência cerca de 89% dos votos. Na província de Lugansk, que também organizou uma votação, os separatistas terão obtido 96% dos votos.

Após o anúncio dos resultados, Igor Girkin foi nomeado comandante das Forças Armadas da RPD. Resta saber o que fará a seguir. Na entrevista que deu ao Komsomolskaya Pradva disse que havia duas tendências no grupo que liderava. Os militares oriundos de Donetsk queriam garantir que a região não voltava a depender de Kiev. Os outros pretendem mais: “não querem parar por aqui, querem ir mais além e libertar a Ucrânia dos fascistas”.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o Willy Wonka que pode ser presidente da Ucrânia

Fez fortuna na indústria do chocolade. Patrocinou os protestos que levaram à queda do presidente ucraniano Viktor Yanukovych. Agora é candidato às eleições deste domingo. Pode ser presidente – mas diz que gostava de ser deputado europeu. 

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Ukraine’s Chocolate King to the Rescue

Ukrainians hope that Petro Poroshenko can lead them out of the current crisis. But can one man provide the solution to all the country’s problems?

BY ANNABELLE CHAPMAN

“Petro Poroshenko has a dream. As the 48-year-old Ukrainian business tycoon told journalists earlier this week, he hopes one day to represent his country in the European Parliament — which was an odd thing to say since Ukraine is not a member of the European Union and has little chance of joining anytime soon. You’d think that Poroshenko would have his mind on a more immediate task: winning election to the presidency in the election scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 25.

Of course, there’s a deeper logic to Poroshenko’s European aspiration: It echoes the longing for a European future that played a part in the protests that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year. The Euromaidan protests, which were actively and visibly supported by Poroshenko, also vaulted him into the ranks of Ukraine’s most popular politicians — and now to the leading position in this weekend’s presidential race. In the run-up to the balloting, eastern Ukraine has been wracked by the worst violence since the political crisis there first erupted earlier this year. On Thursday, at least 13 Ukrainian soldiers were killed by pro-Russian insurgents at a checkpoint 20 miles south of the restive city of Donetsk. The rebel group behind the attack said one of its militants was also killed.

Still, if the vote goes off without a hitch, Poroshenko is so far ahead of his rivals in opinion polls that he could even win in the first round. Last week, a poll put support for him at 54.7 percent among likely voters — embarrassingly far ahead of opposition bigwig and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was in second place with 9.6 percent.

To be sure, Poroshenko is no ordinary politician (even in a country that abounds in outsized political personalities). He made his fortune, now estimated by Forbes at $1.3 billion, in the chocolate business — an unlikely achievement that has led some to dub him “Ukraine’s Willy Wonka.” That hint of magic befits a man whose followers believe that only he can rescue the country from its current predicament.

After he announced his decision to run for president a few weeks ago, a crowd of supporters began to chant his name. “I won’t let you down,” he told them.

Easier said than done. Winning the presidency is one thing; leading Ukraine out of its crisis is another. Though the Ukrainian media have been speculating about his running for president for months, Poroshenko’s strong lead in the polls does come as something of a surprise. When the protests against Yanukovych began in Kiev’s central square last year, Poroshenko probably wouldn’t have been considered an obvious candidate for future national leadership. Yet his early decision to side with the protesters raised his profile. At the same time, he remained aloof from the three main opposition leaders, all of whom were regarded with various degrees of skepticism by the Euromaidan demonstrators. Poroshenko said the right things but also knew when to stay out of the way.

This ultimately worked to his advantage. The three opposition leaders were left discredited for signing a deal with Yanukovych on Feb. 21, the night before the embattled president fled Kiev, eventually showing up in Russia. (Poroshenko was not among the signatories.) In March, boxer turned politician Vitali Klitschko, who had been the favorite candidate throughout the protests, announced his withdrawal from the race — and threw his support to the more popular Poroshenko, whose ratings then shot up even further. Poroshenko has since widened his lead over Tymoshenko, who was released from jail the day that Yanukovych fled.

The dramatic developments since then — first in Crimea and now in Ukraine’s east — have distracted attention from government business in Kiev and pre-election political scheming. Of course, Ukrainians have long been wondering whether the election will actually take place, and now separatist leaders in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk have said they will boycott the vote.

Poroshenko’s election slogan, promising no less than “a new way of life,” aims to capitalize on the widespread yearning for dramatic reform in the wake of the struggle against Yanukovych. “A new country was born and a new people was born,” he told Reuters in a recent interview. Referring to the casualties incurred during the protest, he added that Ukraine’s future leaders “should know why 104 people gave their lives.” It’s a line that echoes the mood of dissatisfaction among people who backed the protests, who wonder why more than 100 protesters died for the sake of change that is yet to come.

But can Poroshenko deliver? Ukraine is not the same country it was during the Orange Revolution of 2004: Society has evolved dramatically, even if Tymoshenko’s famed hairstyle has remained the same. Yet there is also something distinctly anachronistic about Poroshenko, whose political career dates back to 1998.”

O artigo completo está aqui. 

Vladimir Putin, o colosso do hóquei no gelo

Enquanto a Europa estava preocupada com as consequências dos referendos em Donetsk e em Luhamsk, no leste da Ucrânia, Vladimir Putin acrescentou mais um feito às suas proezas desportivas (que já incluem a prática de judo, mergulho, equitação e muitas outras): hóquei no gelo. O presidente russo passou a noite de sexta-feira, dia 10, a liderar a sua equipa durante um jogo de exibição em Sochi. Ao todo marcou seis golos e fez cinco assistências numa vitória por 21-4. Os pontos altos de um jogo que parecia não ter defesas estão aqui.

Foto: AP

Foto: AP

Tudo o que precisam de saber sobre a Ucrânia

O ritmo é alucinante. Os factos históricos são às centenas. Mas este vídeo é uma boa forma de compreender o que se passa na Ucrânia – e o caminho percorrido até à actual situação.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: um ensaio sobre a democracia

Os protestos na Ucrânia e a deposição do presidente Viktor Yanukovych levaram a The Economist a publicar online um ensaio sobre o o estado da democracia – o pior sistema político do mundo, excepto todos os outros conhecidos.

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What’s gone wrong with democracy?

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?

“THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.

It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.

Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government. The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before. This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, and also in Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago. In 2004 Mr Yanukovych was ousted from office by vast street protests, only to be re-elected to the presidency (with the help of huge amounts of Russian money) in 2010, after the opposition politicians who replaced him turned out to be just as hopeless.

Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in the most difficult circumstances possible—in Germany, which had been traumatised by Nazism, in India, which had the world’s largest population of poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been disfigured by apartheid. Decolonialisation created a host of new democracies in Africa and Asia, and autocratic regimes gave way to democracy in Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989). The collapse of the Soviet Union created many fledgling democracies in central Europe. By 2000 Freedom House, an American think-tank, classified 120 countries, or 63% of the world total, as democracies.

Representatives of more than 100 countries gathered at the World Forum on Democracy in Warsaw that year to proclaim that “the will of the people” was “the basis of the authority of government”. A report issued by America’s State Department declared that having seen off “failed experiments” with authoritarian and totalitarian forms of government, “it seems that now, at long last, democracy is triumphant.”

Such hubris was surely understandable after such a run of successes. But stand farther back and the triumph of democracy looks rather less inevitable. After the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, the political model had lain dormant until the Enlightenment more than 2,000 years later. In the 18th century only the American revolution produced a sustainable democracy. During the 19th century monarchists fought a prolonged rearguard action against democratic forces. In the first half of the 20th century nascent democracies collapsed in Germany, Spain and Italy. By 1941 there were only 11 democracies left, and Franklin Roosevelt worried that it might not be possible to shield “the great flame of democracy from the blackout of barbarism”.

The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century. Between 1980 and 2000 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many. And democracy’s problems run deeper than mere numbers suggest. Many nominal democracies have slid towards autocracy, maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections, but without the rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democratic system.

Faith in democracy flares up in moments of triumph, such as the overthrow of unpopular regimes in Cairo or Kiev, only to sputter out once again. Outside the West, democracy often advances only to collapse. And within the West, democracy has too often become associated with debt and dysfunction at home and overreach abroad. Democracy has always had its critics, but now old doubts are being treated with renewed respect as the weaknesses of democracy in its Western strongholds, and the fragility of its influence elsewhere, have become increasingly apparent. Why has democracy lost its forward momentum?”

O ensaio completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: Putin, o mestre do xadrês

Na véspera do referendo à adesão da Crimeia à Rússia, é interessante ler uma perspectiva diferente das dominantes: a de que o Ocidente não tem sido capaz de reagir, nem antecipar, as jogadas de Vladimir Putin, um presidente que defende a preponderância russa no mundo e que está a acabar com a ordem mundial instituída desde o final da guerra fria. Por Lília Shevtsova, na The American Interest.

Foto: Platon Antoniou

Foto: Platon Antoniou

Falling into Putin’s Trap

Until now, stunned and appalled, the West has been merely reacting to the Kremlin’s moves, however belatedly or inadequately. But now, heading into the March 16 referendum, the liberal democracies seem prepared to accept the Russian annexation of Crimea as a fait accompli.

Published on March 10, 2014

Inever expected so many intelligent, perceptive, and influential media and political personalities to so easily fall into Vladimir Putin’s trap. After the initial shock to the world, and especially to the West, following Moscow’s announcements about the possible use of Russian armed forces in Ukraine, and then after being forced to acknowledge that Russia has already occupied Crimea, the West breathed a collective sigh of relief upon hearing Putin’s March 4 press conference, where he suggested Russia doesn’t have any plans to seize eastern Ukraine. I intentionally waited a while to make sure that this would indeed be the prevailing Western reaction after the dust settled—and it was. Western capitals felt encouraged by Putin. In the New York TimesPeter Baker confirmed that “American officials took some solace” after hearing Putin’s explanations. One may suppose that the Europeans, who are much more inclined to forgive Putin than is Washington, have felt more than just relief, but actual satisfaction, at the news.

When it became apparent that Moscow was hurriedly attempting to annex Crimea through a “referendum” scheduled for March 16—in the presence of thousands of Russian troops—some in the West have grown nervous once again. They’re wondering why the Kremlin is in such a hurry, and why it is acting so crudely, without even pro forma attempts to clothe its naked aggression. But they needn’t wonder. By now it’s obvious that both Europe and the United States, unable to reverse the course of recent events and unwilling to pay the price for restraining Russia, are ready to participate in Putin’s gamble. Until now, stunned and appalled, the Western capitals have been merely reacting to the Kremlin’s moves, however belatedly or inadequately. But now the liberal democracies seem prepared to accept the new status quo—that is, to recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea as a fait accompli, since they do not dare force Russia to back down. They are now focused on stemming Russia’s expansion to Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions, apparently fearing that anything but acceptance of the new geopolitical reality will result in a much more dreadful outcome. Let us clarify what this reality is all about.

First, it is about the destruction of the post-Cold War world order. This order was based on the premise that Russia and the West are not in the business of “containing” each other anymore, and that both support the principle of the territorial sovereignty of the independent states that emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union. Moscow began to destroy that order as early as its 2008 war with Georgia, followed by the virtual annexation of Georgia’s breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. No less than President Nicolas Sarkozy, during France’s term of presidency of the European Union, ratified and legitimized the Russian occupation of Georgia’s territories. And Moscow’s interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs and its use of force in dealing with Kiev dates back to the Kremlin’s trade war against Ukraine in August 2013. So there’s nothing new or strange in the West’s inability to find a convincing way to react to Russia’s moves. Moscow concluded some time ago that it was free to take additional steps toward establishing the new order.

Second, it is about more than just setting a precedent allowing the Kremlin’s direct interference in the affairs of a sovereign state. Not only did its behavior validate the presence of Russia’s spheres of influence, thanks to the lack of meaningful Western reaction, but the Kremlin also reintroduced the “doctrine of interference” under the pretext of protecting the “Russian-speaking population.” Since Russian speakers live in most of the newly independent states, this “doctrine” threatens the stability of the entire post-Soviet space. Even Russia’s willing partners—Belorussian leader Lukashenko and Kazakh leader Nazarbajev—understand the looming threat to their countries’ territorial integrity, and so have stubbornly refused to support the Kremlin “solution” for Ukraine.

Third, it is about paving the way for the second stage of Moscow’s plans, which is to bring southeastern Ukraine under Russian control. This would make Ukraine a failed state and zone of instability, which will serve as an invitation to Moscow to “stabilize” it. One should even expect there to be Western supporters of Russia’s “moderating” role. Indeed some have already hinted that Moscow has its “interests” in the regions that have to be “accommodated.” And Moldova is likely the next target. In short, Eurasia is entering a period of instability.”