The new Great Game: Why Ukraine matters to so many other nations

a13-iconBloomberg Businessweek reports: Ukraine doesn’t seem like the kind of place that world powers would want to tussle over. It’s as poor as Paraguay and as corrupt as Iran. During the 20th century it was home to a deadly famine under Stalin (the Holomodor, 1933), a historic massacre of Jews (Babi Yar, 1941), and one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters (Chernobyl, 1986). Now, with former President Viktor Yanukovych in hiding, it’s struggling to form a government, its credit rating is down to CCC, a recession looms, and foreign reserves are running low. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of the opposition party affiliated with former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said on Feb. 24 in Parliament, “Ukraine has never faced such a terrible financial catastrophe in all its years of independence.”

But Ukraine is also a breadbasket, a natural gas chokepoint, and a nation of 45 million people in a pivotal spot north of the Black Sea. Ukraine matters—to Russia, Europe, the U.S., and even China. President Obama denied on Feb. 19 that it’s a piece on “some Cold War chessboard.” But the best hope for Ukraine is that it will get special treatment precisely because it is a valued pawn in a new version of the Great Game, the 19th century struggle for influence between Russia and Britain.

Russia, which straddles Europe and Asia, has sought a role in the rest of Europe since the reign of Peter the Great in the early 18th century. An alliance with Ukraine preserves that. “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire,” the American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in 1998. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine to join his Eurasian Union trade bloc, not the European Union. Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol, a formerly Russian city that now belongs to Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “The new Great Game: Why Ukraine matters to so many other nations

  1. mijj

    “.. as corrupt as Iran..” ? .. lol. Surely you mean “.. as corrupt as Israel..”, don’t you? Corruption isn’t Iran’s forte.

    But, i guess you have to play the game.

  2. Paul Woodward

    For those who imagine there isn’t much corruption in Iran, this is how they built their own military-industrial complex:

    After the 1979 Revolution, Iran’s oil-driven economy fell under tighter control of the government. But, Rafsanjani’s two-term presidency (1989-1997) was the era in which the government’s economic policy underwent drastic changes. Rafsanjani initiated liberalization of the economy and its privatization. Those who advocated control of the national economy by the government accused him of being “controlled” by the [policies of the] World Bank and International Monetary Fund. But the fact is that privatization during that era was based on nepotism, and many large government assets were “sold” at below-market prices and backed by bank loans to the khodis — the insiders.

    In April 2010 then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “Privatization began in 1993, and the assets that were sold [during the Rafsanjani administration] were worth about $7.5 billion. But, during my administration [beginning in 2005] the total worth of the government’s assets that we have sold to the private sector has been $50 billion, and it has been done through Tehran’s stock market.”

    A major problem in Iran’s privatization has been selling the government’s assets to the military institutions. On November 5, 2013, Eshagh Jahangiri, President Hassan Rouhani’s Principal Vice President [Iran has eight Vice Presidents] said, “In order to implement Article 44 of the Constitution [that emphasizes privatization] and to shrink the size of the government, we have sold government’s assets worth a total of $80 billion,” but, “Only 17 percent of this has been turned over to the true private sector. The rest has gone to quasi-governmental organs.” Rouhani’s Minister of Economy, Ali Tabibnia, said on the same day, “At most 17 percent of the privatization has been in the true sense of the word. The rest of the public assets have been sold to institutions that are not considered as belonging to the private sector.”

    One needs to understand the reason for the joint order of Khamenei and Rafsanjani that gave the military the permission to begin its economic activities. In March 2011 Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Yazdi, deputy IRGC commander for legal and parliamentary affairs said, “All the economic activities of the Sepaah [the IRGC] are based on the Supreme Leader’s order….”

    Rafsanjani’s and Khamenei’s goal was to create a new social class or stratum to systematically share part of the government’s oil income and exclusive rights to many economic activities, and which would in turn support the regime in a national crisis. This was done mainly through “privatization”, by “selling” — practically giving things away — to the new elite social class various state-controlled companies, lands in major urban centers, exclusive rights for mining and for importing from Iran’s major commercial partners, etc. Most of the assets were “sold” to military/security-controlled organs, and to the foundations and corporations that are controlled by the Abode of the Supreme Leader, or beit-e rahbari as it is called in Iran.

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