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My Thoughts on Ukraine

At the time of this writing, Ukraine seems to be holding back the Russian army somewhat. The rest of the world is united against Russia. Maybe diplomacy and sanctions will be effective. There is a lot more drama to play out. The outlook for Ukraine does not look good.

My weekly small-town newspaper has a syndicated column from a well-regarded Canadian geopolitical analyst Gwyn Dyer. He has been saying for weeks that Russia is not going to invade Ukraine. His main reason is that Mr. Putin knows there would be a backlash AND the 170,000 troops stationed near the border is nowhere near enough to overtake, let alone occupy, Ukraine. Well, Mr. Dyer was both right and wrong.

Imagine someone bringing a loaded gun to a house party and placing it on the living room table. And there is some alcohol around. Should we not be surprised that something might go wrong? In a like manner, amassing 170,000 troops on a border is a recipe for something to go wrong, even though the original intent was only to flex a little muscle. Who knows how much the back rooms of the diplomatic channels had to do with those troops crossing the border?

I am anticipating that the left-wing writers will soon be critical of Mr. Biden. Some will claim that he acted too forcefully, not allowing Mr. Putin to save face and pull his troops away. Other writers will say he was not forceful enough and today’s sanctions should have been applied weeks earlier. The one effect of all this criticism will likely mean many soft-support voters of the Democrat Party won’t be voting in the next round of elections. My Medium experience is that left-wing writers do not understand soft support very well.

We should not have been surprised of the annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk. These two provinces have a big majority of ethnic Russians. Like Crimea, they would prefer living under Russian rule than Ukrainian rule. These two provinces would have been an easy conquest — and, like Crimea, it would have been hard to force them back into Ukraine. Maybe Ukraine should have let those two provinces go a long time ago.

But why invade Kiev? And Kharkiv? This was not making much sense to me, other than another big land grab, typical of political thinking before 1900.

I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to current Ukrainian politics as I should have been. Since 1991, we have seen Ukraine move from one kleptocratic government to another. At least, the Ukrainian voters were good at throwing bad governments out on a regular basis. But they could not find the good government they were so looking for.

Then in early 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy put his name on the ballot as Ukrainian president. He was using his TV fame as a name brand. Many observers were calling him a joke candidate. Many voters saw him as someone worth trying out for the real politicians seemed to have no solution, but were not expecting much.

According to Mr. Zelenskyy’s Wikipedia article, he “has had some progress in tackling corruption.” In my opinion, that is a key reason for the invasion. Ukraine is moving away from being a financial playground of oligarchs from Russia. The oligarchs wanted Mr. Zelenskyy out of office so they could figure out ways to siphon more money from this country. Capturing Kiev would mean the collapse of the Ukrainian government. The oligarchs would put in someone more amenable. And then, there is the aspect of the land grab to appease Russian nationalists of Mr. Putin’s base.

I have family in Ukraine. My maternal grandparents came from Bukovina, a region, which so far, has not seen any Russian tanks. My uncle sent me a video of the aftermath of a Russian convey traveling through a Ukrainian village. The convey got blasted to pieces in an ambush. Mr. Putin really underestimated the strength of Ukrainian resolve. Maybe he should have read Mr. Dyer’s columns.

Ukraine gained its independence in 1991. A drunken USSR president wanted to relieve himself of a few political challenges and somehow convinced the Russian political elite to let the former Soviet republics go free. Kind of a fluke of history, but that’s what happened.

The west gave Ukraine the gift of western democracy. All sorts of western experts gathered in Kiev to work with the Ukrainian intelligentsia. They hammered out a constitution that spelled out electoral rules and various civil rights typical of western countries. Then the Ukrainians elected one kleptocratic government after another. Some gift.

I should mention that Ukraine also became a client of the International Monetary Fund. IMF’s neoliberal economic policies of government austerity and privatization of public entities have had a poor track of making life better for the average people of their clients. But the uber-wealthy and western business interests seem to do well under IMF reigns. One wonders who the IMF is really working for.

When I visited my Ukrainian family in 2006, my uncle’s retired father-in-law was living in my uncle’s house. He had worked as a truck driver for 40 years, delivering loads throughout Ukraine and western Russia. His government pension should have provided for a basic living. But hyper-inflation eroded the value of his pension. He sold his flat and moved in with his daughter’s family. I saw too many elderly Ukrainians selling sunflower seeds and pastries on roadsides. That’s how the IMF works.

Ukraine & The TDG

My lukewarm followers know that I usually dovetail most of my articles into a pitch for my alternative democracy called “Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG).” While it is only wistful to believe that Ukraine could have had a TDG in 1991, I will provide my 1991 vision for my readers.

With a TDG, Ukraine is divided up into about 200,000 electoral units. Each unit constitutes a neighborhood, where residents have some chance of getting to know each other personally. Most neighborhoods will elect someone of good character and competence in their neighborhood as their neighborhood representative.

When these neighborhood representatives meet in their district, they are working together to solve problems at the district level. In doing so, they are getting to know each other better. They — who are already people of some degree of good character and capacity for governance — are voting one of their own to the next tier of TDG governance. Most likely, that elected person is one of the better people in the district for that job. As tier elections cascade, the more capable people are going to top. Representatives at the higher tiers will have attained their position by serving well at the lower levels.

I estimate Ukraine will have about five to seven TDG tiers. Yes, average Ukrainians will not vote for the people at the top tier. But their wise vote for the bottom tier is so important for this system to work.

With a mature TDG, the oligarchs would have been turned into more honest business people earning their profit by the rule of good business laws and paying reasonable taxes on that profit. The Russian minorities in Ukraine would not have been agitating for return to their mother country. With a more prosperous economy, Ukraine would have had a more adept military to deter whatever wishes were on the minds of Russian power brokers in that kleptocratic world. A TDG in Ukraine would have built a different Ukraine.

The gift of western democracy in 1991 was a great system for oligarchs and IMF ideologues. We really need to get away from more than a few “democratic principles,” like voters must elect their top leaders.

Mr. Zelenskyy is a visionary. He — a political neophyte — believed he could win a big political election in a corrupt system. He believed in the reforms to reduce corruption in his country. Right now, Mr. Zelenskyy is reaching for the stars to keep Ukraine an independent country.

We really need more visionaries.

Yesterday, I visited my mother. She was in tears from all the newscasts of Ukraine. Millions of people are having their lives uprooted because oligarchs don’t want to lose their playground. It will be years before their kids can go back to proper schools. How much education has been lost?

Mother and I were watching the Canadian Men’s Curling Finals on TV. It seemed so empty that we had this luxury.

Maybe the right gift for Ukraine is building a new democracy for ourselves. Then the Ukrainians can take our example. We need only sacrifice 10 hours a month! Think about the young mother and her two children from Kharkiv now in a refugee camp in Poland, not knowing if she will ever see her husband again.

Can we sacrifice 10 hours a month for this mother? Or should we just hand over another version of western democracy to her children?

The new visionaries will be the world citizens who take the next TDG step.

Publish on Medium 2022

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