Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Farage's gaffe on Ukraine

More often than not I agree with Nigel Farage.   He generally has disdain for statist authority, tends to prefer to leave people alone to live their lives the way they want and his stance against the EU is primarily (although not exclusively) about wanting less rules from Brussels, not more rules from Westminster (the Tony Benn stance).

 I agree with withdrawal from the EU for many reasons, most of all its strong protectionist instincts, the overwhelming push to introduce pan European legislation on matters that shouldn't be regulated and the unaccountable nature of the European Council and European Commission, not least because the European Parliament has no powers to repeal or introduce legislation.  I'm no worshipper of democracy, but law making should not be done by appointed officials, rather than elected representatives, not least because the latter can be removed.

I don't believe the EU should have a foreign policy that extends beyond trade, not least because the interests and positions of Member States are wildy diverse.  How can you reasonably represent a common view from leading NATO Members that are Nuclear Weapons States (the UK and France) against neutral states (Austria, Ireland and Sweden)?  You need only look at the sclerosis the EU has with disputes between its Member States of this nature (Gibraltar-UK) to see this, as well as how ineffectual it is in dealing with issue facing its Member States from threatening behaviour.  

However, when Nigel Farage debated Nick Clegg saying the EU had "blood on its hands" and spoke rather approvingly of Vladimir Putin he opened a can of worms that he didn't really intend.  Hence the backtracking via press release.

You see Nigel's most appealing trait is that he speaks off the cuff, he says what he feels like saying, it isn't particularly well rehearsed and that shows, and people respect it.  What it means is that sometimes what he says points to much much more than he really means.  That is what has happened over Ukraine.

Let's get some facts absolutely straight here.  To claim the EU has "blood on its hands" and to portray it as some sort of imperialist aggressor, it so ludicrous as to be beyond parody.  It parallels the simplistic jingoistic propaganda emanating from TASS RT, and makes Farage, and those in UKIP ignorantly parroting his stance seem like the Kremlin's useful idiots.   Indeed I suspect that is what the Kremlin's propagandists now think, as they now have more than a few UKIPpers with poor understanding of international relations and history now parroting views fed to them from the contrarian point of view.

Why?  Well it is an easy kneejerk opinion to take that whatever Governments and mainstream political parties in the UK, US, France and Germany say, and the EU, the truth must be the opposite.  After all, aren't the political elite incompetent, self-serving liars as a matter of course?

Incompetent? Frequently.  Self-serving?  Often.   Liars?  When they feel they have to.

Yet how come the political elite of Russia are not also painted with the same brush?

The narrative that is being passed around by some in UKIP is that the EU is substantially to blame for
the conflict in Ukraine, by leading many Ukrainians to expect, unrealistically, that the country could become an EU Member State, and so protest against the corrupt Putin-esque regime of Yanukovych.   Unfortunately, he falls into the trap that the EU also falls into, of thinking itself to be far more important than it actually is.

The Yanukovych government was going to sign a free trade agreement with the EU, which oddly enough is what I expect Farage would want the UK to sign with the EU too.  It rejected this for several reasons, one being that Vladimir Putin had made it clear that cheap oil and gas would no longer be available, because he felt snubbed - poor baby.  It also saw that closer relations with the EU would expose the nastier side of Ukrainian governments.  The rampant corruption and nepotism of a Putinesque regime was what they rejected.  

So the protests were driven by fears of Ukraine becoming more like Russia, and indeed Yanukovych's attempts to pass anti-protest and anti-free speech laws were key to stirring protests.  It was that, not the loss of an EU free trade agreement, that got people fired up.  However, for many Ukrainians (admittedly not many Russian Ukrainians), they saw an embrace of the EU as liberating.  A point that is inconvenient for Farage, because relatively speaking, the EU compared to a Soviet-style kleptocracy is liberating.

For, despite the many criticisms that can be laid at it, generally speaking western Europe does have the rule of law, it does have legal systems and institutions that typically are independent from politics (although the extent to which this is true in Bulgaria and Greece compared to Sweden and Luxembourg is another matter), where freedom of speech, in particular to criticise politicians's views and their lifestyle, is protected and where states are not ruled by single strongmen.  It is easy and correct to damn the fiscal incontinence, the profligate and unsustainable welfare states, the constraints on free market capitalism , the rampant rent-seeking of EU profligacy and the long list of protectionist provisions at national and EU level, but for all that, Europeans are able to organise themselves freely.  Politicians in western Europe are far more likely to be held accountable for criminal behaviour than those in the former USSR.

In short, Ukrainians protesting wanted their country to be more like western Europe and less like Russia.  The regular (and continuing claims) that Ukraine had a "legitimate" President are just embarrassingly absurd.  That "legitimate" President was ready to abolish free speech and to cement his rule by making elections how they are in Russia - charades to claim the facade of legitimacy over a system weighted almost completely against free and open political discourse.

Yes, a small number of Ukrainians are fascists who want to purge the country of Russians, but they are far from friendly towards the EU.  Yes, Russian Ukrainians are right to be wary of such individuals, but to think the EU would tolerate and embrace this is quite wrong.  Austria's government was ostracised when the so-called "Freedom Party" was part of a coalition government, and its platform was far less fascist than Svoboda. Hungary's existing government has faced sanctions when it drifted towards such policies.  

So to blame the EU is simply wrong.  It appears Farage's unbridled (and to be fair, understandable) hatred of the EU has meant it is now a scapegoat, for actions that were opportunistic by Moscow.  Putin's regime created fear among Russians in Ukraine that they would face "oppression" under a fascist government, and that all of their jobs would disappear when Ukraine could no longer export so readily to Russia (not noting that the only reason this would happen is if Russia increases trade barriers with Ukraine).  He focused especially on Crimea, given the ample Russian military presence there in the first place, to host a trumped-up referendum, not allowing open campaigning for a "no" vote, and using local and Russian mercenary forces to bully their way against the Ukrainian military and police.

It 's similar to what Russia has done in Georgia.

If anyone thinks that Brussels is to blame for this, then let's imagine the counterfactual.  What if Ukrainians actually just protested against their government and overthrew it, without the EU having offered a free trade agreement?  Does anyone really think Putin wouldn't have taken Crimea?  

Unfortunately, Farage's stance is shared not only by the Kremlin, but by the radical leftwing peace movement (Stop the War coalition's statement in favour of Russia should put paid any claims it has to being anti-war) and by libertarian isolationists like Ron Paul.

The borders of a peaceful country have been changed, by the intervention of another state, on trumped up claims of fascism threatening their people.

I am far from surprised that typically pro-communist, anti-capitalist, anti-liberal democratic so-called "peace" movement backs Russia.   It exposes it even more for what it is - a group of fifth columnist revolutionaries who think of peace only in terms of "don't fight against those opposing western capitalism".

Yet for UKIP to go down the ludicrous path of blaming the EU for events that are largely about relations between Ukraine and Russia is absurd. 

Farage and other spokepeople should stop appearing on RT and being puppets brought out by the Kremlin to serve its interests.  It doesn't serve British interests, nor the interests of anyone who genuinely believes in a smaller state and less government.  After all, if you think the EU is oppressive, wait until your country takes orders from the Kremlin.  That's something Ukrainians have known too well.  Holodomor and the purge of the Crimean Tartars are actions that you wont see discussed on RT, as they don't fit history.  Whereas exaggerating the size and the actions of fascist ultranationalists in Ukraine will be mentioned, a lot, as they do fit it.

Of course Western media are free to report on any of the above, RT is not.  

Farage has got enough brickbats to throw at the EU, without, in spite of all he claims now, siding with the bullshit machine that is Kremlin propaganda.

He's fallen victim to his greatest asset - the ability to think on your feet and not to parrot media trained catchphrases.  The problem being when your mouth runs away with your head, knowledge and understanding of complex events.

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