Historical context for current Russian aggression in the Ukriane; The sham “referendum” on May 11, 2014 in the eastern Ukraine

Russian aggression in the Ukraine: The historical context

For a bracing corrective to the Russian propaganda supporting Russian aggression in the Ukraine, see:

Timothy Snyder, “The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything; Fascism returns to the continent it once destroyed,” New Republic, May 11, 2012.

Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. This article is a revised version of an article which appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

With news reporting on and from the Ukraine which often is seemingly devoid of historical awareness, or the ability to describe what is really going on in context, Snyder reminds us of who the Soviet Union and Russia were and are, and of Russia’s treacherous attempt now to remake the map of the Ukraine, and Europe, through the illegal use of military force and the annexation of conquered territories.

The sham “referendum” held on May 11, 2014 in the eastern Ukraine

Reporters describe numbers as “election results” of a so-called referendum on greater autonomy in the eastern Ukraine, held on May 14, 2014, which has been organized by Russian invading special operations forces and those who they have empowered and whose actions they still control.


Florian Hassel, “Igor Strelkow, Kommandeur in der Ostukraine; Der Mann hinter der Schreckensherrschaft,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 12. Mai 2014 (15:06).

“Sein Erfolgskonzept ist “das rechtzeitige Ausschalten einiger Anführer des Gegners bewusst auch außerhalb legaler Methoden”: Oberst Igor Strelkow war schon im Februar auf der Krim, derzeit kommandiert er die Separatisten in der Ostukraine. Wer ist der Mann?”

See also:

Florian Hassel (Donezk), “Konflikt in der Ukraine: Putins Platzhalter im Osten,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 12. Mai 2013 (19:02).

“Die Schlüsselfiguren der Separatisten in Donezk, Slawjansk und Lugansk sind aus dem politischen Nichts aufgetaucht. Die meisten haben eine zweifelhafte Vergangenheit – aber das unbedingte Vertrauen der russischen Führung.”

Putin’s public call for the referendum to not be held can only be viewed as one further example of his “double game”, yet another treacherous and duplicitous act aimed at confusing and dividing the West and the nations of the EU in order to prevent them from adopting stronger sanctions against Russia for its ongoing aggression in the Ukraine.

Major examples of Putin’s “double game” include Russia’s agreement to the April 17 Statement (Agreement) in Geneva calling for separatists in the eastern Ukriane to lay down their weapons and vacate public buildings they had seized by force, and his repeated statements to Angela Merkel and others that Russian troops were withdrawing from the Ukrianian border when nothing could be further than the truth.

No Western leader should give credence to anything Vladimir Putin or Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says, in view of their undisputed record of duplicity.

As for the refendum itself, the following observations are in order:

There was no legally constituted electoral commission.  There were no electoral rolls used to control who voted.  There was no electoral body to which to appeal charges of corruption.  There was no presence at voting tables of different parties.  There were no independent international observers. 

There was no mechanism to ensure the “results” announced by “separatists” (who gained their de facto positions through Russian aggression and the use of force) bear any resemblance to the number of ballots actually cast in favor of the proposal on the referendum.

There was no opportunity for opponents of a “yes” vote to be heard in the media, and those who might have spoken out for a “no” vote reported that they were subject to great intimidation and fear. A number of politicians who opposed the “separatists” were assassinated.

See David Blair (Donetsk) and Roland Oliphant,”The ‘disappeared’ whose voices will be silent in vote on self-rule in Ukraine’s east; Pro-Russian separatists continue to hold a number of prisoners against their will, in a campaign against dissent,” The Telegraph, May 10, 2014 (7:18PM BST).

The question on the ballot was essentially so ambiguous as to be meaningless.

The so-called referendum failed to meet the lowest standards of even the most blatantly corrupt of Soviet and Russian sham elections.

Why Western news media would give any weight to referendum “results” secured under these conditions defies understanding.

The real story was about these factors which rendered the “results” meaningless. But by reporting the numbers again and again, Western media helped give credence to the erroneous belief that the election results had any significance at all, other than to check the box in Vladimir Putin’s step-by-step stretegy in his war of aggression against the Ukraine.

The under-reported real story about the May 11 “referendum”

There is a real story about the gross violations of internationally protected human rights that are underway in the eastern Ukraine, including the right to political participation and free and independent elections, the rights to freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and the right to public order in which the physical integrity of each human being is protected from violation by others, including the rights which protect individuals from the depredations of armed thugs acting in concert with foreign special operations forces who have invaded the country.

The story in the eastern Ukraine is about these human rights violations, and Russian involvement, and not merely about the various steps of Putin’s plan of aggression aimed at subversion of the rights of Ukrainian citizens to the political independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of their country.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
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About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.