Writer Roger Annis discusses the West’s plans to further isolate Russia and the Ukrainian government’s embrace of austerity while civilians pay the price.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Eastern Ukraine’s civilian death toll has been rising as the fractured country continues to see its worst fighting in months. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that 19 civilians were killed in clashes between separatists and government forces. And the UN says more than 1,000 people have been killed since April. Both sides have exchanged accusations of the targeting of civilian areas by heavy weapons, and the country’s UN mission has called for a full investigation into the killing of civilians and warns targeting civilians in warfare violates international humanitarian law.
In response to what the West views as Russia’s meddling in the crisis and supporting pro-Russian separatists, the European Union expanded sanctions on Russia. It’s going to really hit Russia’s economy from its oil to its banking industry. And now President Obama says the U.S. will do the same. These sanctions are the most extensive sanctions from the E.U. on Russia since the end of the Cold War.
Now joining us to discuss all of this is our guest, Roger Annis. Roger is a writer and solidarity activist in Vancouver, Canada. He was just recently a delegate to the antiwar conference that took place in Crimea.
Thanks for joining us, Roger.
ROGER ANNIS, WRITER AND ANTIWAR ACTIVIST: Oh, you’re welcome. It’s good to be with you.
DESVARIEUX: So, Roger, let’s first discuss the news of the day about the sanctions. This back-and-forth with the E.U. and Russia, what’s really at stake here? Why is the West so concerned about Russia’s involvement?
ANNIS: I think there’s two things with the sanctions. One is I think that Europe and the North American governments want Russia to police the political autonomy movement that’s arisen in Eastern Ukraine over these past six months. And I think also that the sanctions are just part of the long-term drive by the countries of the NATO military alliance to weaken and isolate Russia. This is the one of two big factors, I believe, that lies at the root of the conflict going on now in Eastern Ukraine.
DESVARIEUX: There’s so much attention being placed on Eastern Ukraine and the separatist movement. But what about the Maidan? I mean, the purpose of it was for a more democratic Ukraine. Have we gotten any closer to actually achieving that goal?
ANNIS: Yes and no. The Maidan movement and the events in Eastern Ukraine are completely intertwined. The movement in the East for autonomy—or what they call federalization—earlier this year was in response to the coming to power of a neoconservative government in Kiev, a government that has allied itself with extreme right-wing and even fascist parties. And that government proposes to take a sharp austerity turn in alliance with Europe. And the people of Eastern Ukraine have said no to that, are protesting it.
This turn to Europe, insofar as this is necessarily, given what Europe is today, an austerity turn, is actually very much in conflict with the goals of many of the original Maidan protesters as well. But the Maidan movement became transformed, became sort of politically hostage to the far right in Ukraine. It’s now not a factor politically in the events, and you have now the people of Eastern Ukraine rising up against a very violent reaction to them saying, no, we don’t agree with the austerity turn, we have our own particular interests in this part of Ukraine, let’s talk about it. But, sadly, that’s—talk has not been at all on the agenda of Kiev.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk about Kiev. And I want to get an update on what’s actually going on in the Ukrainian government. A prime minister resigned. Can you elaborate a little bit on what actually happened there?
ANNIS: Yeah. The Kiev government is under extreme pressure in this war that it’s waging in the East. Its budget is essentially bankrupt. It’s dependent now on loans from the big international institutions. That’s part of the deal that it signed with Europe on June 30. And so it’s under great pressure for the cost of this war, I mean, [let alone (?)] the terrible human tragedy involved with it.
There are conflicts among those that agree with this economic turn towards Europe. There’s conflict about exactly what should be privatized, exactly how quickly the country should go, exactly how quickly the government should be cutting its social spending, because this is the cost of the turn to Europe is the cuts to social spending and reduction of tariffs that would protect the country’s industry or agriculture, a familiar tune to anyone who knows the stories of these austerity or free trade agreements.
And so that’s the vice that the government is being squeezed by. And so there’s a lot of shifting and back-and-forth going on and the resignation of the prime minister four or five days ago, which, by the way, was welcomed by the extreme right. It looks like they will try to move towards an election to the parliament so that they can sort of get this neoconservative and extreme-right coalition more firmly founded and begin to deal with the quite stiff opposition that I think we’ll still see not so far down the road amongst the entirety of the Ukraine population, even those who were in favor of this turn to Europe in the beginning.
DESVARIEUX: Roger, here in the U.S. when you talk about Ukraine, much of the attention and media attention is really focused on that downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. But for you, is this plane crash just a symptom of a greater conflict not really being discussed?
ANNIS: Absolutely. I think we have to understand that the people who died on the plane are among the many victims of this war. You cited the UN’s latest figures, more than 1,000 killed in the past three months by Kiev’s war in the East. I think the actual numbers are quite a bit higher. And hundreds of thousands of people have been made refugees by this war. Most have gone to Russia, but there’s about 100,000 internal refugees in Ukraine. So I think it’s very important that we see the plane crash event as very much a part of this whole complex war that’s taking place. Obviously, the plane wouldn’t have crashed had there not been a war. The plane wouldn’t have crashed if it wasn’t sent over a war zone, in contrast to what other airlines have been doing.
And mostly with this crash event, it’s—the rush to judgment to blame Russia or to blame the autonomy fighters in Eastern Ukraine has really done a great disservice to the potential for an objective international inquiry. The world needs that inquiry. And I think that writers like Robert Parry in the United States have done an admirable job in saying, whoa, what’s going on here? Why this rush to judgment? Why the blame? We don’t even have the real facts or evidence of what has taken place.
And so, yes, I think that story is very much—has to be seen as part of the wide war that’s taking place in order to really situate it well and understand it.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Roger Annis, thank you so much for joining us.
ANNIS: You’re welcome.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.