The number of articles, essays and editorials on the war in Ukraine is overwhelming. They also tend to be quite tedious because the vocabulary--the word choice and adjectives--invariably announces in advance what the authors are going to say. Any fact can be spun in one direction or another to fit an established narrative. Is it possible to say anything about this war without surrendering to spin? I have decided that on this subject less is more. My ambition is to present a few facts and let you, dear reader, decide what conclusions or interpretations should be derived from those facts. Hmmm, already I'm being disingenuous. I'm choosing the facts, so my choice of facts already implies a particular interpretation or conclusion. Let me try again.
It is a common claim that the war in Ukraine is being fought to preserve democracy both in Ukraine and, in some accounts, more widely in Europe and the Western world. In his State of the Union this week, President Biden called the war in Ukraine "the defense of democracy." I have come across a number of agreed-upon facts that may not contradict this claim but should at least invite us to consider the question. These are uncontested facts. They may be avoided or re-spun or buried beneath a mountain of verbiage, but no-one is denying that they are true.
1. Viktor Yanucovitch was elected President of Ukraine for a five-year term in 2010. The election was overseen by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR). According to the organization's final report: "The presidential election met most OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections [ . . . .] The process was transparent and offered voters a genuine choice between candidates representing diverse political views."
2. In 2013, President Yanucovitch pursued a trade agreement with the EU but pulled out of the negotiations before it was signed.
3. Demonstrations began in Maidan Square in reaction to the news that the trade agreement would not be signed. Demonstrations continued for months and eventually became violent. Over 100 people were killed. President Yanucovitch fled the country in February 2014 for exile in Russia.
4. In February 2014, Russian forces seized control of Crimea.
5. In May 2014, Petro Poroshenco was elected President of Ukraine and signed the EU trade agreement June 2014.
6. In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President of Ukraine, winning 73.22% of the vote over the incumbent Poroshenco with 24.45% of the vote. Later Poroshenco had to flee the country accused of corruption and treason.
7. In February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
In this selection of facts, I have dutifully avoided any claim which might be contested. Recently I came upon this web site which offers a breakdown of election results in Ukraine.
Here is a breakdown of the 2010 election results in which Victor Yanucovitch won the presidency. I invite you to consider the names of the areas where Yanucovitch had the greatest support. If you have been following the news on the war in Ukraine, I invite you to compare the sites where battles are being waged with the areas where Yanucovitch had his strongest democratic support.
Note, for example, these particular regions where Yanucovitch had strong democratic support and battles are now being waged.
Yanucovitch's opponent in the presidential run-off, Yulia Tymoshenko of the All-Ukrainian Union – Motherland Party, challenged the results but her complaints were eventually withdrawn. The OSCE/ODIHR report noted that "During both rounds, Ms. Tymoshenko misused administrative resources for campaigning, thus blurring the line between her roles as candidate and state official and skewing the playing field in her favour." The report also points out that
In the most recent census, 67.5 per cent of the population declared Ukrainian as their mother tongue, while 29.6 per cent named Russian. As official voter information and election material was available only in Ukrainian, an insufficient command of Ukrainian may have formed an obstacle for minority voters to gain full access to election related information.
Nonetheless, Viktor Yanucovitch of the Party of Regions eventually won the democratic vote, and held office until he was overthrown in 2014 and the war began.
Ironically, in his White House memoir, John Bolton claims that "The State Department didn't want me to meet with Tymoshenko separately because they thought she was too close to Russia [. . . .]" (448 The Room Where It Happened).