Aleksi Tolvanen Nuori, kansainvälinen ja liberaali

The Conflict in Ukraine from a Libertarian Point of View



Kirjoitan ja julkaisen tähän blogiin poikkeuksellisesti jotain englanniksi, koska tämä on kansainvälinen aihe, joka kiinnostaa myös ulkomaisia lukijoita. Tästä huolimatta katson aiheelliseksi julkaista tämän kirjoituksen suomenkielisellä sivustolla. Viime vuosina minulla ei ole ollut enää aikaa kirjoittaa tätä blogia, mutta nyt teen poikkeuksen, koska tämä on yksi suosikkiaiheistani. Mutta tästä eteenpäin jatkan tätä blogikirjoitusta siis englanniksi.


I have been thinking about writing and publishing something about this topic for some time. Now I finally did it.


I lived in Kyiv during the war and I have travelled all over Ukraine. I have discussed for example with Ukrainians who attended the Euromaidan, who had to leave Crimea after the annexation or who have fought in the War of Donbass. My time of living in Ukraine, my travels there and discussions with many Ukrainians were the most important reasons that prompted me to write and publish this essay.


The conflict in Ukraine has been a somewhat controversial topic amongst libertarians and it has caused a lot of discussion amongst them. My purpose in this text is to analyse the conflict especially from the libertarian point of view. The purpose is not to cover everything about the conflict, because it is such a large topic with vast amounts of information, but I highlight some of the most essential things. My primary intention is not to repeat the history of the events, but I present facts in the extend it is necessary to provide ground for my arguments and opinions. I claim that there is actually barely nothing controversial in the conflict from the libertarian perspective, when one has sufficient information about the events, and when the information is interpreted correctly.


The Revolution of Dignity


The main idea of the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union is to remove tariffs between them (Remy 2015, 260). Libertarians tend to emphasize that free trade does not need any agreements. I agree with this point, but a free trade agreement may be an improvement towards free trade, if the preceding situation is even worse than the situation succeeding the agreement.


In this particular case with Ukraine and the EU the preceding situation is worse, because the agreement removes the tariffs, which is an improvement, and does not worsen the situation in any other sense. On the other hand, the agreement does not restrict Ukraine’s trade with third parties such as Russia, so it is not against free trade in that sense either. (Ibid., 260-61.) Also, many libertarians tend to praise the model of Switzerland. It has made free trade agreements with different parties, whenever necessary. To follow the example of Switzerland, it is the right thing to do for Ukraine to make the free trade deal with the EU.


The association agreement does not include even a mentioning about even the possibility of Ukraine becoming a member of the EU. Ukrainian negotiators would have wanted this, but the EU did not accept this. (Ibid., 260-61.) In conclusion, the agreement is not a step for Ukraine to become a member of the EU, so it is nonsense to criticise the agreement with the argument that it would help Ukraine to become a member of the EU. Furthermore, it is nonsense to criticize the EU by claiming that it wants to expand and be interventionist with the agreement.


On the other hand, Vladimir Putin had put pressure on Ukraine to become a member of the Eurasian Customs Union. In the beginning of 2015 it was transformed into the Eurasian Economic Union, which is similar political and international institution as the European Union, but the member states are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The leaders of the EU did not want Ukraine to become a member of the EU, but Putin wanted Ukraine to become a member of the Eurasian Customs Union, and thus later a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. (Åslund 2013, 1-11.) Therefore, Putin was much more interventionist than the leaders of the European Union in this sense.


The right path for Ukraine would be to stay out of both the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union, and instead just seek to make the necessary free trade agreements with both of them. It should also stay out of the Nato. Unfortunately, some libertarians, who rightly strongly condemn the actions of Russia, have abandoned their principles and started to take a more positive view towards the EU and the Nato or even support them due to the conflict of Ukraine.


The negotiations between Ukraine and the EU about the association agreement had already started in 2008. In 2010, before his election to the fourth president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych said to support the association agreement in his presidential campaign, and that he would act according to that as a president, if he became elected. This was one of the most central promises of his presidential campaign. (Remy 2015, 260.)


Due to pressure from Russia and Putin, Yanukovych made a last minute U-turn with the association agreement, and abandoned the agreement on 21 November 2013. Before the preceding months Putin had threatened for example to introduce tariffs against Ukrainian products, if the agreement became ratified. Of course such threats were against free trade. If the agreement was not ratified, Putin offered huge support for the Ukrainian government. (Ibid., 262.) The source of the money of such support would naturally have been Russian taxpayers.


For example, the European Union has financially supported the Ukrainian government as well, but Putin is not at least any better in this sense, if the government is the one he wants. The EU and the US introduced sanctions against Russia, after Russia occupied Crimea and invaded Eastern Ukraine. From a libertarian point of view sanctions are a wrong way to deal with an aggressor, because they are against the principles of free trade.


However, Russia threatened Ukraine with sanctions even before any war, so Russia has been even more interventionist and even fiercer opponent of free trade than the EU or the US. In conclusion, libertarians are right, when they criticize such actions of the EU and US, but some of them often forget that the Russia led by Putin is much worse in this sense.


The case against the sanctions is not only an ideological one. There are also practical reasons to oppose them, because sanctions have unintentional consequences as interventionist foreign policies in general tend to have. In this case the unified sanctions policy of the EU and the US gives the Russian government a propaganda tool. Now the Russian government can claim that the west has united against it, and that thus they need a strong leader to promote interventionist foreign policies on the Russian side, who can oppose and fight against the whole unified west.


Some people even argue that Russia is a needed force against interventions of the EU and the US, but this is nonsense, because Russia is more interventionist than they are or at least as interventionist as they are in every sense. In general, Russia used much more interventionist foreign policies to influence Ukraine before and during the Euromaidan, which is one reason, why it is completely ridiculous to claim that the Euromaidan was a coup caused by the EU and the US.


Libertarians tend to reasonably argue that one of the deficiencies of democracy is that politicians do not keep their promises that they make during elections. Especially if a politician made a promise that is good or at least an improvement from a libertarian point of view, the result in reality may often be something totally different. If this happens, as happened with Yanukovych’s promise with the association agreement, it would be the right thing to do to try to fix the bad result and the deficiency of democracy somehow, such as by overthrowing the lying politician.


Ukrainian individuals, grass root activists and citizens from all over the country started to indeed act after this, so the Revolution of Dignity, also known as the Euromaidan, began. The movement and it activists were a very large and heterogeneous group of people, but there were some common factors and goals between them.


First of all, they were all opposed to Yanukovych’s decision to abandon the association agreement. However, they all were not supporting and were not demonstrating for Ukraine’s membership in the EU. For example, the far right group Pravyi Sektor was formed in order to attend and advance the demonstrations and the revolution. It fought some of the heaviest fights of the Euromaidan with the police forces led by Yanukovych. Those fights were crucial in order to make the revolution happen. (Gusev etc. 2014, 188-89.)


Secondly, the demonstrators were opposed to the heavily interventionist foreign policy of Russia, which had led to the changed situation. Thus, they were opposing interventionist foreign, but they were not opposing Russia itself.


Thirdly, they were sick and tired of the thoroughly corrupted government of Yanukovych, which was arbitrarily abusing its governmental powers. Lastly, they became sick and tired, because the Yanukovych government started to massively and inhumanly slaughter its own citizens, who were demonstrating peacefully. In conclusion, to support free trade, to oppose foreign interventionism, and to oppose corrupted and mass murdering government, are all libertarian causes.


For example, many American libertarians tend to emphasize that if a government is bad, the citizens should be able to overthrow it in order to preserve liberty. Also, to do this it may be necessary to use self-defence, especially if the government starts to slaughter its citizens as happened during the Euromaidan. In other words, democracy and democratically elected government are not intrinsic values. Thus, especially from a libertarian point of view, it is nonsense to criticize the Euromaidan with the argument that it was a violent overthrow of an elected government.


The Annexation of Crimea


On 1 of March 2014 the Russian parliament authorized Putin to send troops into Ukraine. However, the annexation of Crimea already started before this, when on 27 February Russian troops occupied the parliament of Crimea. Then the parliament gathered at their gun point. In the gathering the parliament suspended the government of Crimea, appointed Russian leaned Sergei Aksyonov as a prime minister and commanded a referendum to be hold about joining Russia. According to official sources, over 80 % of the population voted and 97 % supported joining Russia. (Remy 2015, 266-67.)


First of all, during the abovementioned decisions of the parliament and during the referendum, Russian soldiers were threatening the parliament and the decision makers with guns, so they used the threat of force. Even Putin has admitted this afterwards, so there is no doubt about this (Putin reveals secrets… 2015).


The relatively small amount of escalated violence during the annexation is completely meaningless, since the threat of force was present at every moment. Libertarians tend to embrace that taxes are collected with the threat of force, which means that taxation is always violent, even if that threat never realized. The same principle can be applied to the occupation of Crimea. It does not matter that the amount of escalated violence was relatively small, because the threat of violence was there, and without it the parliament would not have acted as it did now.


To take the result of the “referendum” seriously, would mean that the “elections” in North Korea should also be taken seriously. In 2012 in the parliamentary elections very nationalist and Ukrainian minded parties got 22 % of the votes in Crimea, which was not visible in results of the referendum. It is completely obvious that the whole “referendum” was just a show. The result of the show had been decided in advance and disagreeing parties and people could not affect it. (Remy 2015, 267.) Of course, it is ridiculous and complete nonsense that some people have described the events in Crimea with the term “secession”.


Before the annexation the situation in Crimea was peaceful, but now this has changed. Ukrainians are treated as foreigners, there is ethnical hatred towards them, many of them have had to leave Crimea, and Ukrainians from other parts of the country cannot go there so easily anymore. People criticizing Russian policies have been arrested illegally and some have been beaten to death. Companies and other private property of Ukrainians have been outrageously socialized. Thus, to sympathize the annexation of Crimea would also mean to sympathize communist ideas in addition to sympathising Russian imperialism and interventionist foreign policy.


The Russian Invasion of Donbass


During the occupation of Crimea things started to escalate in cultural Eastern Ukraine, which is approximately the region from Donetsk to Odessa, as well. Aggressive Russian minded protestors took over local governmental buildings and attacked supporters of the Euromaidan. Pro-Ukrainian protests in Donbass were violently supressed (Skaskiw 2014). Russia was obviously organizing these protests and some of the protesters came from Russia. (Remy 2015, 269). However, at most these protests consisted of only hundreds of people, whereas in comparison the scale of the Euromaidan was hundreds of thousands of people.


At the same time, Russia concentrated its troops into the border of Ukraine, so that a full scale military invasion was possible. At the beginning of April armed troops, of which a large part came from Russia, started to take over governmental buildings especially in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and a little later they declared themselves independent from Ukraine. The “referendums” were even more ridiculous than in Crimea. Neither of the groups supporting joining Russia had the support of the local parliaments chosen in 2010 and the “referendums” were held only in those regions of Donbass, which were already controlled by Russia. (Ibid., 270).


Opinion polls done after the Euromaidan prove that most of the people in Donbass oppose joining Russia and that people in support of joining Russia are a minority. Since the beginning of the events the arms and guns of the Russian occupiers have come from Russia, and the leaders in the ground of the Russian occupation were, of course, Russians. (Ibid., 271). Russian government has claimed the servicemen from Russia to be volunteers of the Russian army, which is nonsense, but even in this case their arms would be from the Russian military. Thus, indirectly even the Russian government has admitted that it is arming the occupation.


One of them was Igor Girkin, who is a Russian citizen and a former agent of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, FSB. He has claimed that he started the whole war of Donbass with 50 men, who all came from Russia. (Ibid., 271). However, he has admitted that it was hard to start the war, because at the beginning nobody wanted to fight (Dolgov 2014). Thus, Ukrainians did not want a war, and it was started by the involvement of Russian outsiders.


Girkin has said that without Russian involvement the Russian side of the war would have quickly lost the war during the summer of 2014, and that by the beginning of August servicemen of the Russian army had started to enter Ukraine. As a ground commander of the Russian occupation he even made public petition for the Russian government, where he urged it to intervene, because otherwise they would lose the war. Furthermore, Girkin has said that an advisor of Putin, Vladislav Surkov, was directing the occupation, and has admitted that the Russian government is providing weapons for the Russian occupiers. (Dolgov 2014, Putin’s top aide… 2014.)


Girkin is a militant nationalist, and even much fiercer supporter of Russian imperialism than Putin. He is a former agent of the FSB. He was leading the Russian occupation in the ground, so he has personal first-hand experience from the events. Thus, even the Russian side of the conflict has admitted that the conflict is a Russian occupation. In conclusion, the war is obviously a Russian invasion, and to call it “a secession”, or something similar may happen due to deficient knowledge.


On the other hand, some of the most crucial battles of the war were on the Ukrainian side fought by privately financed voluntary battalions such as the Pravyi Sektor. They have been much better motivated than the regular Ukrainian forces. Thus, Ukrainian civil society and private sector has proved that it has been capable and efficient in fighting against the Russian empire despite the superior numbers of the Russian empire.




BBC News 9 March 2015. Putin reveals secrets of Russia’s Crimea takeover plot.


Euromaidan Press 14 November 2014. Putin’s top aide managed Donbass militants - Strelkov.


Gusev etc., 2014. #Euromaidan: History in the Making. Osnovy Publishing, Kyiv.


Peterson Institute for International Economics 2013. Anders Åslund. September 2013. Ukraine’s Choice: European Association Agreement or Eurasian Union?


Remy, Johannes 2015. Ukrainan Historia. Gaudeamus, Tallinn.


Roman in Ukraine 18 March 2014. Roman Skaskiw. Eye Witness Account of Donetsk Violence of a Few Days Ago.


The Moscow Times 21 November 2014. Anna Dolgov. Russia’s Igor Strelkov: I am Responsible for War in Eastern Ukraine.

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