​Ukraine - a ’Banana Republic’ without bananas

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
A miner bangs his helmet on the ground during a rally, to demand the payment of their salaries and reforms in the coal industry, in front of the parliament building in Kiev April 23, 2015. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)
While the world’s focus is on Greece, Ukraine is being ignored. However, the devastated nation makes Greece look like an economic success story. It’s now a ‘Banana Republic,’ without bananas.

In the era of instant news, we are now in Athens overkill. There hasn’t been five minutes this past week when some news channel hasn’t managed to produce a starving pensioner or despairing youth to illustrate how miserable Greek life is. However, there’s another European country where existence is even grimmer - Ukraine. Despite this, much of the same media presents the war torn country as a positive example of Western intervention.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Ukraine’s economy atrophied by 28 percent in 2014. From a nominal GDP of $182 billion (1.566 trillion hryvnia at 8.1 to $1) to one of $62 billion (1.465 trillion hryvnia), when adjusted for the collapse of the hryvnia currency. In 2013, the average wage was already a pitiful $410 a month under the democratically elected - but horrid - Viktor Yanukovich government. Now, after the Washington and Brussels-backed Maidan coup, it sits at $184 monthly. This makes me very sad and angry. For the simple reason that I like Ukraine, very much.

READ MORE: Thousands of Ukrainian citizens to sue Kiev regime over human rights violations – Russian activists

Here are a few more catastrophic and depressing economic figures to further dampen the mood. Since the coup, new car purchases have decreased by 76 percent and vehicle production by a whopping 93 percent. Steel production has recoiled by a third. Meanwhile, gasoline sales are down by 40 percent. Additionally, inflation (officially) has increased by 61percent, year on year (April 2014-April 2015).

For far too long, those of us with a genuine affection for Ukraine have allowed anti-Russia activists and Western media chancers to hijack debate about the country. Many actual Ukraine experts understood clearly that the Maidan movement was going to end in disaster and took this unpopular - in the West - view from the very start. Instead of being listened to, these sensible voices were branded as “Putin stooges” and “Ukraine haters” by people with hardly any credentials to comment on the situation at all. Indeed, quite a few hacks that landed in Kiev early last year, pushing a pro-NATO/EU line, are now in Greece playing the exact same trick. Actually, some previously pulled the same stunt in Syria and Iran.

Participants in the rally for "transparent fees" and resignation of Arseniy Yatsenyuk Government in Lvov. (RIA Novosti)

Ukraine - truths and distortions

What actually happened at ‘Euromaidan’ is rather different from how the Western media has reported the story. The collective line is that a ‘revolution of dignity’ overthrew a horrible regime and immediately began transforming the country into a modern progressive democracy. This agenda is served by countless compositions extolling the virtues of the post-coup leaders. These read more like puff PR than serious news analysis. Here’s a really good example from The Financial Times this week. Read it and ask yourself how much a local advert rag would charge for such a loving write-up? Yet the FT is held up as a paragon of journalistic virtue by Western think-tanks and educational institutions.

All this reportage is total codswallop, and usually written to order by eager-to-please stringers desperate to either revive flagging careers or kick start nascent paths in journalism. Sometimes they don’t even need the template actually spelled out to them because the rules are obvious. We all know that anybody remotely seen as being sympathetic to the Russian point of view simply cannot get published in almost all Western mainstream media these days. Hence, for a young hack eager to prosper, the obvious path is being as anti-Russian as possible.

Anyway, what really happened in Kiev is that the “Euromaidan” episode didn’t herald a new dawn for principled democracy in Ukraine. It merely replaced one corrupt gang of oligarchic leeches with another. Now Ukraine has the richest head of state in Europe, the billionaire Petro Poroshenko, while paying its pensioners £5 a week. Ukraine makes Greece look like Narnia.

What you will never read in the Western press, by the way, is that the same Poroshenko served as Minister for Trade in Yanukovich’s government until December 2012. The same ‘regime’ that delivered average salaries over double what Poroshenko’s ‘modernizing government’ currently manages. Last year, he sponsored a ‘lustration’ law, aimed at purging members of Yanukovich’s administration from state governance. People just like himself.

Poroshenko's mendacity

As the Canadian writer Halyna Mokrushnyna pointed out in an essential piece last week, there is also the issue of Poroshenko’s serial fibbing. “Lies about a promised visa-free regime to Europe that has "acquired a fixed place in the calendar for the first time,” Poroshenko says in his speech, in spite of public statements of European officials saying that they cannot name a date for the introduction of visa-free entry to Europe for Ukrainians. Lies about plans to hold a referendum on Ukraine's joining NATO, which "we would have easily won,” but will not held because "this issue will shake the country" and its unity. "So is Ukraine united in this issue or no, Mr. President?” Mokrushnyna asked.

The Russian domestic press often features must-read analysis of Ukraine, but obvious issues with language prevent it being widely read in the West. Thus, I feel obliged to select some points from this marvelous Korrespondent article from Yuri Lukashin. Lukashin asserts that Ukraine is now "a banana republic without bananas." Furthermore, he insists that the nation is committing suicide. There is plenty of logic in his reasoning.

Ukraine’s income levels were already pathetic by European standards under the previous set of ‘kleptocratic’ leaders. Under the new gang of (Washington-approved) thieves, salaries are now pretty horrendous even by African measures. Yet, Western hacks continue to peddle the complete nonsense that Ukraine is changing for the better. Kiev’s tightly-controlled media bangs the same drum. Meanwhile, anybody capable of rational thought must surely be starting to realize that Ukraine is behaving, more and more, like the world’s largest, open-air, lunatic’s asylum.

Lukashin writes: “In the year following the great "revolution of dignity,” Ukraine has been successful in building towards a specific type of economy, mostly similar to that of a "banana republic.” In fact, there is only one difference between Ukraine’s current path and its banana brethren in faraway Africa, Latin America, and Asia. That is complete lack of bananas.

“There are numerous reasons why the EU - and the West in general - do not need Ukraine in its current form. It simply doesn't fit the EU's political, economic, or cultural framework. If it did, Ukraine would have successfully integrated already in the previous 24 years it has tried to. If it did, the EU wouldn't allow Ukrainian standards of living drop to African levels after the "pro-European" violent takeover. Ukraine would enjoy the open borders, economic benefits, and other hallmarks of European acceptance it thought it would receive shortly after "choosing Europe,” he adds.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)

Pray for Ukraine

Of course, there is a question never asked by Western supporters of Ukraine’s “European choice.” What exact role would Ukraine fulfill in the EU, if it ever were allowed to join? While I accept that the very thought is ludicrous, many frequently embellish and claim that Kiev will eventually accede to the EU. Brussels is incapable of saving Greece, so how would it finance a decrepit state which makes Greece look like Switzerland? Also, how would the British people react to 45 million (extremely poor) Ukrainians gaining access to the UK labor market - and, more importantly, its welfare system?

“Ukraine was built for a different economic model, with different markets and economic partners in mind. Specifically, the giant Russian market, which supported Ukraine through mutually beneficial trade, huge fossil fuel discounts, and Soviet-era economic connections. Cooperation with Russia kept Ukraine afloat until now and even provided an economic base which, as it turned out, allowed the country to grow a sizable population of hipsters and office workers that forgot why they needed all this unfashionable and smelly industry,” argues Lukashin.

Amid all this, the next economic ‘challenge’ facing Ukraine’s embattled citizens is new ‘European-style’ utility bills due to land in the coming weeks. Charges will be doubled, with a further 40 percent increase slated for the autumn. These new prices create the very real possibility that utility charges could exceed pensions. A potential humanitarian disaster is possible in winter.

Lukashin concludes with these pertinent words, “The social and economic catastrophe that the country keeps sliding towards is, to large extent, the consequence of our citizens’ support of the governments that got them there, the political ideals they worshipped, as well as Ukrainians believing that everybody else owes them something. The USA owes them because Ukraine is supposedly fighting Russia. Europe, because Ukraine supposedly protects it from Russia's supposed aggression and Russia, simply because Ukrainians are so wise and great that Russians should naturally admire and serve them.”

During the initial Euromaidan protests and subsequent coup, many Ukrainians changed their social media profile pictures to an English language graphic, titled “Pray for Ukraine.” While things were far from perfect then, the real suffering had yet to start.

The time to“Pray for Ukraine”is now.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.