'Gay Nazis' fueling Ukraine uprising, Putin says - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

'Gay Nazis' fueling Ukraine uprising, Putin says

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila, shown in 2000, finalized their divorce this spring.  (Source: www.Kremlin.ru via WikimediaCommons) Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila, shown in 2000, finalized their divorce this spring. (Source: www.Kremlin.ru via WikimediaCommons)
Voters in the eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk overwhelming voted to be independent of Ukraine in a referendum condemned by the national government and the West. (Source: CNN) Voters in the eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk overwhelming voted to be independent of Ukraine in a referendum condemned by the national government and the West. (Source: CNN)
Two American experts on Ukraine and eastern Europe believe that a majority of the people in eastern Ukraine do not want to join Russia. (Source: WikimediaCommons) Two American experts on Ukraine and eastern Europe believe that a majority of the people in eastern Ukraine do not want to join Russia. (Source: WikimediaCommons)
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(RNN) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has positioned the Kremlin as the protector of traditional values in his propaganda war with the West, especially in the wake of President Barack Obama's policy change on gay marriage.

He's even gone so far as labeling Kiev protesters who confronted the former pro-Russian regime in Ukraine "gay Nazis," says Matthew Schmidt, an assistant professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

The gay Nazis label was simultaneously an attempt to tie the new pro-Europe camp in Kiev to the hated German Third Reich while also taking advantage of the growing acceptance of gay marriage in the West, particularly in the United States.

"Putin has said homosexuality is not our values, and that sense of tolerance of homosexuality is not part of Euroasia," said Schmidt, who will be in Ukraine monitoring the May 25 elections that are being overseen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Euroasia is the name for the empire Schmidt believes Putin is trying to construct. Schmidt says Putin is driven by the goal of rebuilding a Euroasian empire with Moscow as its capital. Putin also has written extensively on the subject of Euroasia, which would generally follow the geography of the former Soviet Union. Bringing Ukraine into Moscow's camp would be crucial to seeing that dream come to reality.

Russian media also have called the Maidan square, where protests led to the demise of former pro-Russian Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, the "Gayeuromaidan," thus tying together Europe and the gay rights movement, writes Yale history professor and author Timothy Snyder in The New York Review of Books.

And even more recently Russian politicians pounced on the opportunity provided by Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita West. The bearded drag queen "showed supporters of European integration their European future - a bearded girl," tweeted Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

Church and state cooperation

Despite finalizing his own divorce this spring, Putin has tried to seize the mantle as protector of family values against what he casts as the West's deepening depravity.

And he has the backing of a powerful ally, the Russian Orthodox Church, says Olena Nikolayenko, an assistant professor of political science at Fordham and native of Ukraine.

Nikolayenko said the leadership of the important Russian Orthodox Church has backed Putin, including his annexation of Crimea.

"Patriarch Kirill frequently speaks about spiritual unity between Russia and Ukraine, overlooking centuries of Ukraine's colonization by the Russian empire and the Moscow-centered Soviet Union," she said of the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. "He was an outspoken critic of Ukraine's aspirations for European integration lambasting Western culture and praising Slavic unity. Moreover, he referred to the invasion of the Crimea as ‘the Russian peacemaking mission in Ukraine.'"

In the aftermath of protest events in Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church attempted to tighten its control over Orthodox priests in the neighboring state, she added. In February of 2014, Patriarch Kirill replaced his representative in Ukraine, Metropolitan Vladimir, with Onufrii, a graduate of the Moscow Theological Academy and opponent of the independence of Ukrainian Church from the Moscow Patriarchate. The deacon Andrei Kuriaev was expelled from the Moscow Theological Academy for his "wrong" position regarding events in Ukraine, which he openly expressed in his blog, Nikolayenko said.

Sanctions and Ukraine's gas wealth

Case Western Reserve University economics professor Roman Sherementa says Russia is losing billions of dollars fulfilling Putin's aspirations. Sherementa will actually be in Ukraine's capital of Kiev to visit his family the day before the scheduled May 25 elections. He specializes in behavioral economics and says the move by credit agency Standard & Poor's to cut Russia's foreign currency ratings in late April is a blow to Moscow. That setback coupled with economic sanctions from the West are hurting Putin's balance sheets.

"Since the beginning of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, we have seen dramatic losses to Russian economy, which some measure in hundreds of billions," he said. "Cuts in the S&P credit rating will further cause damage to Russian economy. Most mutual funds and investors have fairly straightforward investment strategies – higher S&P rating, higher investment. As the official rating goes down so do the investments. Therefore, Russia will continue to suffer losses to their already bleeding economy."

But Putin knows the Russian people are accustomed to suffering for national pride, and the former KGB officer has probably already figured in the West's response to his Ukraine policy, Sherementa and Schmidt believe.

"I think that Putin has stopped speaking the language of diplomacy; as evidence, countless violations of international agreements by Russian Federation," said Sherementa. "Unfortunately, one of the reasons for this is the weak response by the U.S. and the E.U. Putin knows, based on the previous experience with Ossetia, that sanctions don't last for very long. And he hopes that this time will be no different."

Russia intervened on the side of South Ossetia in a conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008.

But Putin may have a strategy to regain the riches he's now losing. Numerous gas fields in eastern Ukraine are largely undeveloped, Schmidt said.

"In the future, if Ukraine develops those gas fields, they can become energy independent from Russia and that's something Putin doesn't want because he wants to maintain control over Ukraine," Schmidt said.

Most Ukrainians want their own country

Schmidt and Nikolayenko agree that the majority of people in eastern Ukraine are actually in favor of remaining citizens of Ukraine.

"Russia is an economically backward, authoritarian state," Nikolayenko said. "What can it offer for residents of eastern Ukraine, except higher pensions for the elderly and higher wages for the security apparatus to maintain the police state?"

She said that public rallies in support of Ukraine's unity have recently been held throughout Ukraine. There are also a few civic initiatives aimed at fostering national unity.

"For example, university students from Lviv region invited students from eastern and southern parts of the country to spend a weekend in Lviv and understand better what unites Ukrainian youth," she said.

Schmidt, who holds a Ph.D. in government from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Russian studies from the University of Kansas, says Ukraine's national leaders believe the nation can't endure an east-west split.

"I don't believe there is a strong sentiment for a split," he said, adding that only five to 10 percent of eastern Ukrainians have bought into the pro-Russian point of view. "Russians may be concerned about Russian language laws but they think of themselves as Ukrainian."

A poll released in early May showed that a strong majority of Ukrainians want their country to remain a single, unified state, a desire true even in the largely Russian-speaking east, an Associated Press report said.

The poll, done in April by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, said that 77 percent of Ukrainians want current borders to stick, while 70 percent in east Ukraine share the same sentiments. Even among the Russian-speaking population, the percentage stands at 58 percent.

However, in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March, 93 percent of those surveyed were confident in Putin and had positive feelings for Russia's role in Crimea. Their confidence in President Obama stood at 4 percent.

The Russian government claims that rights of ethnic Russians are violated in Ukraine and used that rhetoric to invade Crimea, Nikolayenko said, adding the charge is false.

"But ethnic Russians in Ukraine can freely speak Russian and send their children to Russian-language schools. In fact, it is the Ukrainian language that needs state protection in the country burdened with decades with the Soviet policy of Russification and the continuous heavy presence of the Russian language in pop culture," she said.

Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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