Historical Lessons from Ukraine to Libya
In a democracy we trust, right? Its principles, pillars, and common sense have become such an integral part of civil society’s perception that praising it has become uniquely organic.
It is hard to imagine that some hundred years ago, a woman could not participate in elections and be elected. One could not even ride a bicycle or drive a car. Civil rights were severely abused. And about a century and a half ago, one could easily buy a black man in the market and do whatever you want with him. Society has evolved in terms of recognition of human rights, equality, cultivating political tolerance, the rule of law, freedom of expression, and transparency. Indeed, this is hard to deny, especially when you live in the center of the democratic world. But what is even harder to deny is the existence of the same patterns today, in the 21st century.
Let’s turn to the Democracy Index 2018 by The Economist Intelligence Unit and compare 2, at first glance incomparable, totally divergent countries: Libya and Ukraine. States that are separated by a vast distance—geographically, culturally, and politically. Libya, with a overall democracy score of 2.19 and global democracy rank of 154 versus Ukraine’s 5.69 score and ranked 84th globally. It looks like some lessons may be taken and given, right?
If you dig a bit deeper, turns out that Africa and Eastern Europe share many commonalities from a geopolitical and historical standpoint. An intriguing list of longest-ruling non-royal national leaders, occupied mostly by African and ex-Soviet leaders, helps to shed some light. The vast majority of those leaders are de-facto dictators, who are pretending to be democratic leaders. See the pioneers here: Cameroon’s Paul Biya with 44 years in power; Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, with 40 years in power; and then, of course, Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, having spent 25+ years in power.
According to The National Interests, Russia is fueling another turmoil, this time sending thousands of mercenaries into Libya. Armed with the most advanced weapons and drones, Putin is trying to reshape the result of Libya’s conflict. Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army are laying sieging on the UN-backed central government. But many still remember the Libyan revolution and the fall of Muammar Qaddafi. Obviously, ordinary Libyans do not want another dictatorship like that under Qaddafi, who held power for decades.
As both Libya and Ukraine possess a high interest for Russia, it’s no surprise they plummeted into protests against their respective dictatorship, unfortunately, to be followed by armed conflicts. Both Viktor Yanukovych and Muammar Qaddafi did not want to surrender their rule and began to loose control and even ordered security forces to fire on peaceful protesters. According to the Guardian, “Moscow encouraged Yanukovych to crack down harder on the unrest and threatened to withhold crucial financial aid unless he did.”
In fact, this seems to be a classic Putin scheme. Why? Let’s go back to Ukraine, which is still in turmoil. A recent New York Times article “A Ukrainian Billionaire Fought Russia. Now He’s Ready to Embrace It” tells us a lot. Can Putin come back to the Ukrainian game with Igor Kolomoisky? Very likely. It seems that history repeats itself, as Putin did this before. Remember the fallen president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who strove to weaken Ukraine’s defense capabilities before the start of the Russian invasion in 2014; at the same time, Yanukovych paid $1.4 million in bribes for every day he was president. He was also embracing Russia. Putin gains full control over Yanukovych’s actions, positioning Ukraine under Moscow’s direct control. It seems that Putin is trying to recruit Kolomoisky to do Moscow’s bidding.
But what if the Ukrainian solution to stop Russian meddling was applied to Libya? According to a Bloomberg article, “The U.S. urged Libya’s Russian-backed eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to end his offensive on Tripoli and said it would support the internationally-backed government against any effort by Moscow to exploit the months-long conflict in the OPEC member.” At the same time, Libya’s current situation could be different if opposition leaders would be more unified and find a roadmap for Libya’s liberation. This is a fundamental point where Ukraine was different, as Petro Poroshenko found a way to bring the opposition together as a trustworthy leader.
But Libya’s desperate factions became separated and clashed among themselves. Such a scenario was probably the ideal plan for Russia as they monitored Libya’s unfolding situation, and now we see the real Russian plan for Libya. Russia did invade Ukraine with the same style, bringing its mercenaries. So looking from the perspective of the Libyan conflict, we understand what former President Poroshenko achieved in that Ukraine is not destroyed today, and Russian mercenaries are not riding the streets, killing innocent people to protect Putin’s war interests. Poroshenko had some hard work to do to stop Russians. He attracted strong global support from the United States and the European Union, followed by the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014. Under this pressure, Russia signed the first document in the Minsk Agreement within the trilateral contact group based on Poroshenko’s peace plan. The Minsk Process was Poroshenko’s diplomatic victory, forcing Russia into peace and increasing sanctions with constant pressure from the global community.
Now, after Poroshenko stepped down as the Ukrainian president in 2019, Russia is retaliating with accusations against Poroshenko through pro-Russian politicians of the regime of Yanukovych for defending and protecting Ukraine’s state interests, for signing the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, for introducing a visa-free regime with the EU, for constitutionally securing Ukraine’s course for EU and NATO membership, for building the Ukrainian military in accordance with NATO standards.
Though, Poroshenko was accused of the allegedly illegal order of the counterattack of the Ukrainian army in the Donbas in June 2014. It was then that part of the occupied territories was liberated from the control of Russia. Interfax Ukraine posted Poroshenko’s response: “When they try to accuse me that in 2014, after a ten-day unilateral ceasefire…we liberated two-thirds of the occupied Donbas if the new government considers that it was a crime against Ukraine – I am ready to be responsible for this ‘crime.'” Recently, former U.S. State Department Special Representative Kurt Volker has hinted at current Ukraine President Zelensky’s office that they would reject the idea of prosecuting former President Petro Poroshenko.
Libyan turmoil continues, while the Ukrainian situation takes another turn with a new regime. Still, both countries teach us lessons that escaping dictatorship is definitely worth the effort, however high the cost may be.