On April 25, 2014, the Associated Press reported the accusation by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the West was plotting to control Ukraine. That same day CBC.ca carried the story, quoting Lavrov as saying “the pro-Russian insurgents in the southeast would lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in the capital Kyiv.”
This response from the Putin government frames issues as a conflict between “the West” and Russia, and claims that the latter is a victim. Such a strategy allows Putin to present himself in his own, heavily-censored media as not just a staunch opponent of the West but also its equal. “The West wants — and this is how it all began — to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov misrepresents “how it began,” of course. He makes no mention of the wishes of the Ukrainian people, who demonstrated during the many weeks of Maidan protests that they were opposed to Yanukovych’s rule and wanted a new government that would respect their civil rights. It was not “the West” that made this civil rights movement and revolution. Nor does Lavrov mention the fact that the entire world community has recoiled from Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. These moves violated all international agreements to which Russia was a signatory, and immediately drove Russia’s European neighbours, including neutrals like Finland, to seek NATO protection. The invasion and annexation signaled to the world that the Russian government felt entitled to exercise raw power whenever it wanted to do so, that it was prepared to live by a doctrine of “might is right” and not by the system of international treaties and agreements that had been built up after the Second World War. These moves by the Putin government have made the world a much more insecure and dangerous place.
Lavrov does not mention Putin’s own political ambitions. The Russian president failed to set up a form of proxy-rule in Ukraine, which was what the corrupt and now entirely discredited Yanukovych regime represented. Today he is attempting to destabilize parts of eastern Ukraine by supporting terrorist groups and sending in his “special operatives.”Above all, Lavrov’s statement makes it clear that the Russian government wants to frame the discussion without any reference to Ukraine’s political sovereignty, the will of its people, or the inviolability of its borders.
It is not the interests of Ukrainian citizens that Lavrov or Putin have in mind. These interests were loudly demonstrated by the Maidan movement, which is clearly something the Russian leaders want to avoid thinking about. They would like even any memory of the civil rights protests and mass mobilizations to disappear. Then, says Lavrov, Russia will tell its operatives in the southeast to lay down their arms.