During the last month or so, filtering out the lies, the half-truths and the outright nonsense in search of any semblance of truth about what’s happening in Ukraine has been an exceptionally tricky business. Propaganda has been flooding in from all sides (certainly if we were prepared to look from all sides) and the bias in the coverage has been as unstinting as it remains deliberately bamboozling.
So what can we now say with any guaranteed certainty about the situation in Ukraine? Well, firstly, and most obviously, there has been a revolution, although in saying this we should remember that this was an uprising – an insurrection – which ended in a bloodbath.
The only other uncontested facts are really these: that when the democratically elected though hugely corrupt government in Kiev was overthrown and replaced by a self-elected transitional government, Viktor Yanukovych, the former President of Ukraine immediately fled to Moscow and declared the new authorities illegitimate. Following this, Putin then deployed forces in the Crimea to “restore law and order”. A military offensive that has been widely interpreted as an act of extreme aggression, even a declaration of war, and a further indication of Russia’s return to Soviet-style expansionism.
Before continuing, I would like to recommend a different article – one published by antiwar.com entitled “What Color is Ukraine’s ‘Color Revolution’?” Here are just a few extracts drawn from the beginning, middle and end:
As the real nature of Ukraine’s “democratic” and allegedly “pro-Western” opposition becomes all too apparent, the pushback from the regime-change crowd borders on the comic. The War Party is stumbling all over itself in a frantic effort to cover up and deny the frightening provenance of the neo-fascist gang they’ve helped to seize power in Kiev. […]
Outside the “we are all Ukrainians now” bubble, however, people are sitting up and taking notice. A Reuters piece spotlights the general uneasiness about the exact color of this latest US-sponsored “color revolution”:
“When protest leaders in Ukraine helped oust a president widely seen as corrupt, they became heroes of the barricades. But as they take places in the country’s new government, some are facing uncomfortable questions about their own values and associations, not least alleged links to neo-fascist extremists.” […]
I don’t know which is more alarming: the entrance into government of a party that traces its origins back to a fighting battalion affiliated with Hitler’s SS, or the sight of US officials whitewashing it. They’re flying the Confederate flag and the Celtic cross in Kiev, and the first African American President is hailing them as liberators. That’s one for the history books!1
Click here to read the full article.
Key to separating a little of the wheat from the chaff requires a clearer picture of the following: i) What were the people in the square protesting about? ii) What kind of protest was taking place? iii) Who were the leaders?
So let’s take each of these points in order:
i) Demands of the Maidan
I touched on this in an earlier extended post, but to recap relatively briefly here: the protesters were united primarily because of their strong opposition to the ruinous and kleptocratic presidency of Yanukovych. The majority also appear to have been demanding closer ties with the EU and so we saw quite a number of tattered EU flags fluttering above the square.
Scratch the surface just a little, however, and we learn that the protesters were most angered by the Ukrainian government’s acceptance of a Russian bailout package worth $15 billion. On paper at least, the Russian deal was far better than the EU’s alternative, but many Ukrainians who are fearful of Russia (justifiably so), were quick to point out that “the only place you find free cheese is in a mousetrap”. In other words, they wanted to know where the Kremlin wished the strings to be attached.
Yanukovych was not the Russian puppet he has been often been portrayed as, but a man desperately struggling to get out off a hole of his own making and seeking help wherever he could find it (East or West). With his downfall, the new transitional government is now led by the former banker Arseniy Yatseniuk. “Yats” was, if you recall, the man preferred by Washington as Victoria Nuland’s leaked phone call so embarrassingly revealed. It is also worth pointing out that Yatseniuk is a co-founder of the Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation, “a nonpartisan international philanthropic foundation” (according to wikipedia), which has partners including Chatham House, The United States Department of State, and Nato. Strange bedfellows for a philanthropic foundation, one might think.
And here is what Yatseniuk told the press soon after his appointment as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister:
“We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight,” Mr Yatsenyuk told BBC Ukrainian.
“We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell,” he added.2
The kamikaze mission Yatsenyuk has in mind will involve Greek-style austerity measures, served up very much to the satisfaction of the IMF and EU. So welcome to hell indeed!
For further details on the Russia and EU deals, as well as Victoria Nuland’s support for Yatseniuk, I refer you again to related sections in the post linked above.
ii) The protests
The protests in Independence Square were far from peaceful. Evidently, amongst the crowds there were many peaceful individuals and so whenever the BBC and Channel 4 reported from the square they were keener to draw attention to this non-violent contingent. It was even possible to make lazy comparisons to earlier pro-democracy demonstrations. We saw the tents, the soup kitchens, the banners and, occasionally, the poets! Here was Occupy Kiev, although rapidly spreading as it won over hearts and minds across the country to eventually become Occupy Ukraine. And according to the early accounts, every reasonable Ukrainian was chipping in to help the Maidan. These were our first impressions.
Amongst the ordinary protesters, however, there were others who appeared more sinister. Dressed for battle in WWII-style army helmets, and often marching in columns, like an army. The police locking shields like Roman legions in vain attempts to fend off a furious bombardment of sticks, rocks and petrol bombs. Well, Occupy Ukraine is more heavy duty, but that’s okay we were gently reassured. And the same news reports that implied that it was fine to rip up cobblestones, smash them up on a makeshift revolutionary production line, and catapult them at the police lines, also showed Kiev ablaze with barricades of burning tyres and looted government buildings.
During Channel 4‘s coverage on the eve of the main battle, Wednesday [Feb 19th], their Europe Correspondent Matt Frei revealed that some of the protesters were filling up hundreds of plastic bottles with petrol and polystyrene fragments which, he then explained, would cause the Molotov Cocktails to stick like napalm. So arson too was presented as not only an acceptable form of civil disobedience but a tactic requiring impressive levels of commitment and hard work – which it does – but let’s face it, if a similar situation was unfolding in London, with rivers of fire and the streets engulfed by clouds of acrid smoke, the protesters would be have been called “rioters”. Instead, we were constantly given to understand that the Maidan occupied the moral high-ground, even when evidence indicating the contrary was being simultaneously shown to us.
And then we must come to the vitally important question of who ordered snipers to open fire on the protesters. The western media has always been very clear about this (at least to begin with) – it was the Berkut who carried out government orders to shoot the protesters. But, there is an alternative version of events. When first reported upon, it was rather quickly sidelined as “a conspiracy theory”. Here, for example, is a Guardian report from March 5th:
A leaked phone call between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet has revealed that the two discussed a conspiracy theory that blamed the killing of civilian protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the opposition rather than the ousted government.
Embedded below is a recording of that intercepted phone conversation although I should warn you that there are also extremely graphic images overlaid. The controversy surrounds what Paet says to Ashton about 8 mins into the call – it is also transcribed by the Guardian in the same article that continues beneath the video:
The 11-minute conversation was posted on YouTube – it is the second time in a month that telephone calls between western diplomats discussing Ukraine have been bugged.
During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.
“What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides,” Paet said.
“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”
“So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet says.
Ashton replies: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh,” Ashton says.3
This opinion expressed by Paet is not quite as extraordinary as the Guardian report would have us believe. Snipers have been used to provoke revolutionary fervour on past occasions, the best known example happening during the Miraflores confrontation in Caracas, Venezuela during a violent uprising and failed attempt to oust Hugo Chavez in April 2002. You can read more on this in another earlier post.
So I would beg to differ with the Guardian‘s rather easy dismissal of Paet’s claims. “False flag attacks” are irrefutably a part of history.
You can click here to read their full report.
More recently [Sat 8th], Associated Press released an article backing up claims that the sniper attacks had been a provocation. It begins:
On Wednesday Paet confirmed the recording was authentic, and told reporters in Tallinn that he was merely repeating what Bogomolets had told him. He said he had no way of verifying the claims, though he called Bogomolets “clearly a person with authority.”
Bogomolets couldn’t be immediately reached by the AP for comment. She did not answer repeated calls to her cellphone or respond to text messages.
In an interview earlier this week with a correspondent from British newspaper The Telegraph, Bogomolets said she didn’t know if police and protesters were killed by the same bullets, and called for a thorough investigation.
“No one who just sees the wounds when treating the victims can make a determination about the type of weapons,” she was quoted as saying. “I hope international experts and Ukrainian investigators will make a determination of what type of weapons, who was involved in the killings and how it was done. I have no data to prove anything.”
However, according to the same report, support for the “conspiracy theory” appears to be growing in Kiev, although, in admitting the claims of Paet, members of the transitional government point not to factions within the Ukrainian opposition (and why would they?) but to Russia instead:
Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia — pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government. […]
“I think it wasn’t just a part of the old regime that (plotted the provocation), but it was also the work of Russian special forces who served and maintained the ideology of the (old) regime,” [Ukrainian] Health Minister Oleh Musiy said. […]
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signaled that investigators may be turning their attention away from Ukrainian responsibility.
“I can say only one thing: the key factor in this uprising, that spilled blood in Kiev and that turned the country upside down and shocked it, was a third force,” Avakov was quoted as saying by Interfax. “And this force was not Ukrainian.”4
Click here to read the full Associated Press report.
So we might ask ourselves, whether Russia would be likely to send snipers in order to destabilise an already dangerous situation in the hope of covertly toppling Yanukovych, so that it might later seize on the chaos in order to annex the Crimea – “the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion”, as the Associated Press article suggests.
If so, then why has the West not drawn our fuller attention back to the leaked phone call? Indeed, why were the claims made by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, first publicised by Russia Today, and then either ignored or dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by western media? Was all this somehow a part of the same Kremlin plot?
iii) The leaders of the Maidan
Embedded below is a promotional video for a faction of the Maidan known as the “Right Sector”:
Right Sector have all the hallmarks of an extreme-right group because they are one. And disturbingly, in Ukraine, Right Sector are not alone – though they appear to be the most hardline of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi groups. As you can see from the video above, they were also a big part of the paramilitary wing of the Maidan protests.
A BBC news report (released soon after the dust had settled) calls attention to the fact that with the removal of Yanukovych, Right Sector became one of the biggest winners from the crisis:
The 42-year-old [Dmytro Yarosh, who is head of the fascist Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization or “Tryzub”] leads the paramilitary movement known as Right Sector, which was involved in violent clashes with the police in Kiev and considers the far-right party Svoboda “too liberal”. [I will come to Svobado next]
Advocating a “national revolution”, he dismissed the Yanukovych administration as an “internal occupation regime” and wants to ban both the former ruling party and its ally, the Communist Party.
There is pressure from the Maidan demonstrators to give him a security-related post in the new government, possibly as Mr Parubiy’s deputy.5
Click here to read the full BBC news report entitled “Ukraine crisis: Key Players”.
Another BBC news report from the previous day told us a little more:
Ukraine’s new interim government has been presented at Kiev’s main protest camp, the Maidan, following last week’s ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.
The Maidan council named Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister. The cabinet – to be voted on by MPs on Thursday – includes leading activists. […]
Overall Maidan commander Andriy Parubiy – who commands huge respect among the protesters – was named candidate for secretary of the National Security and Defence Council
Andriy Parubiy is a neo-Nazi too, but we can deal with him in a second. The same article goes on:
However, some of the nominations – including that of Mr Avakov – prompted loud booing from the crowd, who said those candidates were not worthy of government posts.
People also chanted “Yarosh! Yarosh!”, demanding that the leader of the Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, be given a post. [the bold emphasis is added]6
Click here to read the full BBC news article.
But then, on the eve of the bloodiest night of the protest, at the end of Thursday evening’s Channel 4 news broadcast on Feb 20th, Matt Frei had already more casually let the cat out of the bag. Standing next to him was Yuriy Levchenko, captioned as spokesmen of “the far-right party Svoboda”, and Matt Frei was there to interview him in the politest possible way. What Frei might have asked, but didn’t, was why did his ultra-nationalist party with a name that now translates as “freedom” change from being “the Social-National Party” when it was founded in 1991. Back then they had also identified themselves with a symbol called the Wolfsangel, which looks like this:
The similarity to the swastika is not accidental, as this report from Der Spiegel published last month explains:
The Svoboda party also has excellent ties to Europe, but they are different from the ones that Klischko might prefer. It is allied with France’s right-wing Front National and with the Italian neo-fascist group Fiamma Tricolore. […]
In a 2012 debate over the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis, he said that she wasn’t Ukrainian, rather she was a “Jewess.” Indeed, anti-Semitism is part of the extremist party’s platform; until 2004, they called themselves the Social-National Party of Ukraine in an intentional reference to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist party. Just last summer, a prominent leader of party youth was distributing texts from Nazi propaganda head Joseph Goebbels translated into Ukrainian.7
Click here to read the full article from Der Spiegel International.
And embedded below you can watch Yuriy Levchenko as Svoboda candidate complaining to France 24 following his defeat in the October 2012 parliamentary elections. Please judge for yourself whether Levchenko appears to be a neo-Nazi:
But in fairness to Matt Frei, he wasn’t the first to rub shoulders with the far-right extremists in this latest Ukrainian uprising. Back in December, neo-con Senator John McCain was very happy to join Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda party, and already a member of the Ukrainian parliament – indeed, one of thirty-eight Svoboda candidates who won seats in the last election – on the stage in Independence Square during a mass rally:
It was Oleh Tyahnybok along with Andriy Parubiy (remember him? – the recently appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine) who in 1995 had jointly founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), which has since been rebranded as Svoboda. And Dmytro Yarosh (leader of the even more odious Right Sector who the crowds were chanting for – at least according to that BBC news article) has indeed since been appointed as Parubiy’s deputy.
So are there fascists in the new government? Yes. Are they in positions of influence? Well, aside from Parubiy and Yarosh who now jointly oversee national security, and Oleh Tyahnybok, of course, there is also:
The new Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych is a member of the far-right Svoboda party, which the World Jewish Congress called on the EU to consider banning last year along with Greece’s Golden Dawn.
The party, which has long called for a “national revolution” in Ukraine, has endured a long march from relative obscurity in the early 90s. Their declaration that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” has raised fears for the safety of the country’s Jewish population.
Svoboda now controls the ecology and agricultural ministry with Andriy Mokhnyk, the deputy head of Svoboda, running ecology and Ihor Shvaika as agriculture minister.
That’s taken from a Channel 4 piece also catching up with events a little late in the day (again from March 5th) and continuing:
The most important office seized by Svoboda is that of deputy prime minister, now occupied by Oleksandr Sych, whose position on abortion rights and comments about rape provoked an international outcry.
He has been criticised for declaring: “Women should lead the kind of lifestyle to avoid the risk of rape, including one from drinking alcohol and being in controversial company”.
Svoboda member Oleh Makhnitsky is now acting prosecutor general.
The initial actions of the interim government have included forcing making Ukrainian the only official language of the nation and making moves to remove a law which forbids “excusing the crimes of fascism”.8
In total, there are eight Svoboda neo-Nazis now occupying positions in Ukraine’s transitional government – fascist representatives making policy in every sector.
So why did the BBC and Channel 4 wait until after the revolution (or coup) was over before they started shedding this light on the far-right leadership at the heart of the Maidan movement, and why isn’t news of these worrying fascist gains in an Eastern European state being featured more prominently in their regular broadcasts today?
Click here to read the full article entitled “How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine’s power vacuum”
This is how veteran investigative reporter John Pilger chose to begin his latest article [from March 16th]:
Washington’s role in the fascist putsch against an elected government in Ukraine will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore the historical record. Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a similar fate, usually with bloodshed.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on earth with fewer people than Wales, yet under the reformist Sandinistas in the 1980s it was regarded in Washington as a “strategic threat”. The logic was simple; if the weakest slipped the leash, setting an example, who else would try their luck?
The great game of dominance offers no immunity for even the most loyal US “ally”. This is demonstrated by perhaps the least known of Washington’s coups – in Australia. The story of this forgotten coup is a salutary lesson for those governments that believe a “Ukraine” or a “Chile” could never happen to them.9
Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.
Pilger’s point, in brief, is that the United States, more often than not by the clandestine hand of the CIA, has a long record of overthrowing governments including those in power in democratic countries and sometimes even those of its own western allies. He then implies – without providing any supporting evidence – that Washington played a central role in the fall of Yanukovych. So is Pilger correct?
Well, we certainly know that both John McCain and Victoria Nuland made pre-revolutionary visits to Kiev in support of the Maidan. We also know that America has been spending large sums of money to “build democratic skills and institutions” and to “promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations.” Nuland talked of over $5 billion in ‘aid’ of this kind, although she failed to say more precisely how any of that money was spent. (So we may wonder, for instance, if any went into the coffers of the “Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation”.)
We also have the very clear and recent historical precedents in the form of those “colour revolutions” of the last decade, including, of course, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. All of which, it was later revealed, had been orchestrated by Washington and manufactured by means of NGOs, most especially those of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
Soros remains proud of the part his own networks played in those earlier and much more peaceful uprisings. Unsurprisingly, therefore, some see the hand of Soros assisting in this latest upheaval in Ukraine, but is there direct evidence?
Here is what George Soros himself wrote on February 26th:
Following a crescendo of terrifying violence, the Ukrainian uprising has had a surprisingly positive outcome. Contrary to all rational expectations, a group of citizens armed with not much more than sticks and shields made of cardboard boxes and metal garbage-can lids overwhelmed a police force firing live ammunition. There were many casualties, but the citizens prevailed. This was one of those historic moments that leave a lasting imprint on a society’s collective memory.
No mention of any fascist elements there – but did Soros’ funding play any role in this latest revolution? The answer he gives is almost tantalising:
I established the Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine in 1990 – before the country achieved independence. The foundation did not participate in the recent uprising, but it did serve as a defender of those targeted by official repression.
So what does this mean? “Serve as a defender” – defending by what means? And who were “those targeted by official repression”? Well, one of the groups that Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) helped in ‘defending’ were Spilna Sprava (which translates as “The Right Deed” but are also known as “Common Cause”). And so here is another BBC news report worthy of closer inspection (and bear in mind it is was published as far back as February 1st):
Together with the Right Sector, Common Cause is also at the extreme end of the Ukrainian protest movement, though it does not appear as yet to share the former’s relish for street fighting.
It is best known for capturing several key government offices in Kiev, such as the ministries of justice, agriculture, and energy.
The group has called for early parliamentary and presidential elections, and describes any opposition leaders who may urge protesters to disperse before the early polls “either idiots or provocateurs”.
“If we don’t force the authorities to go today, we’ll regret it tomorrow,” says the group’s website.10
You will find the organisation Spilna Sprava registered in the IRF annual report for 2009 at the bottom of page 189 where it is described as a “Charitable Foundation”.
Click here to read the full BBC news report.
However, for full-blown hypocrisy it’s hard to beat John Kerry censuring Russia and Putin after sending forces into the Crimea, saying “you just don’t invade another country on phoney pretext in order to assert your interests” [about 2:30 mins into clip]:
Not that Kerry is wrong in his assessment. Russia is most certainly “asserting its interests” but then are we really supposed to understand that in comparable circumstances America would do otherwise? When under Obama, America already daily flexes its military might in faraway Afghanistan, over Yemen, and even in Iraq (where a strong US presence still remains). Remembering that Nato’s “kinetic action” against Libya became a flagrant violation of the humanitarian bounds of UN Security Council Resolution “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”. And that just six months earlier, Kerry and Obama were about to go ahead with massive air strikes against Syria without UN backing of any kind.
If there were a real crisis on the American doorstep would the US shrink from military engagement on the grounds that it ought not “assert its interests”? Would they even wait for a crisis – for are we also supposed to forget about the US invasion of the tiny island of Grenada in 1983? Or protecting its strategic interests in Panama in 1989? Or meddling in El Salvador, in Nicaragua and the notorious Iran-Contra scandal? Or US involvement in the Venezuelan coup in 2002, or for that matter their evident backing of the violent uprising taking place in Venezuela today? In fact, are we to forget about US interference in almost every country in Latin America throughout the entire postwar era – it really wasn’t so very long ago when White House officials openly referred to the continent as “America’s backyard”.
Former New York Times correspondent and investigative reporter, Stephen Kinzer, recently wrote a piece for The Boston Globe entitled “US a full partner in Ukraine debacle” in which he provides a more detailed historical perspective on the latest crisis. His article begins:
From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.
“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” warned George Kennan, the renowned diplomat and Russia-watcher, as NATO began expanding eastward. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies.”
Russia’s dispatch of troops in recent days to Crimea — a verdant peninsula on the Black Sea that is part of Ukraine but, partly as a result of Stalin-era ethnic cleansing, has a mainly Russian population — was the latest fulfillment of Kennan’s prediction.
Putin’s decision to deploy troops reflects his loss of control over Ukrainian politics. US officials recognize this, and are pressing their anti-Russia campaign. Last week President Obama received the prime minister of Georgia. The prime minister of Moldova is due this week. These meetings are aimed at honing a strategy for further isolating Russia; it is called “Western integration.”
Much has been made of the fact that Ukraine is deeply divided between its pro-Europe western provinces and the pro-Russian east, of which Crimea is a part. A “velvet divorce” dividing Ukraine into two countries might be the best solution, but border changes, even when they seem sensible from far away, are always difficult to engineer.
If Ukrainians cannot agree to divide their country, Russia may do it for them. It already occupies part of Moldova and part of Georgia. For it to keep an army in Ukraine would anger the United States — and many Ukrainians — but it would be nothing new. Military occupation is, in fact, one of the few weapons Russia has to oppose the “Western integration” of neighboring countries.11
Click here to read Stephen Kinzer’s full article.
To read more on George Soros’ backing of previous “colour revolutions” as well as Victoria Nuland’s remarks on more recent American largesse, I refer readers again to my previous post.
It is even harder to know where to start when we get to the matter of hysteria over what Kinzer rightly describes as the Ukraine debacle. For convenience, however, we might begin again with John Kerry and that interview on Meet the Press! already embedded above:
“This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really Nineteenth Century behaviour in the Twenty-First Century. And there is no way to start with, that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to assemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But, there’s much more than that – Russia has major investment and trade needs and desires. I think there’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday – all of the G8 and more – that they’re simply going to isolate Russia.”
So the aim now appears to be to isolate Russia… but is that even possible? Here is a little more of Kerry’s latest blustering:
“There could even ultimately be asset freezes, visa bans, there could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine. There could be business drawback on investment in the country.”
But could it be that Kerry and the US are actually the ones in danger of becoming isolated? After all, how can Germany start imposing sanctions when it depends on a Russian gas supply. And as for those asset seizures, can Kerry really imagine that the dirty money Russian oligarchs prefer to launder by taking advantage of the uncommon laxity of our own financial centres will no longer be welcomed? Here are the thoughts of Ben Judah writing in the New York Times on “London’s Laundry Business” and the unlikelihood of such tough sanctions on Russian oligarchs [from Friday March 7th]:
The White House has imposed visa restrictions on some Russian officials, and President Obama has issued an executive order enabling further sanctions. But Britain has already undermined any unified action by putting profit first.
It boils down to this: Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine.
Britain, open for business, no longer has a “mission.” Any moralizing remnant of the British Empire is gone; it has turned back to the pirate England of Sir Walter Raleigh. Britain’s ruling class has decayed to the point where its first priority is protecting its cut of Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that, in the 21st century, what matters are banks, not tanks.
The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.12
Overall, the tone of the rhetoric coming from Washington is alarming. Economic sanctions have historically been a precursor to war. That cracks within the Nato alliance are already showing is therefore good news. Any ratcheting up of tension between the two opposing superpowers being in no one’s best interests (other than defence contractors of course) and the dangers of backing Russia into a corner are all-too obvious:
Both John Kerry’s threats to expel Russia from the G8 and the Ukrainian government’s plea for Nato aid mark a dangerous escalation of a crisis that can easily be contained if cool heads prevail. Hysteria seems to be the mood in Washington and Kiev, with the new Ukrainian prime minister claiming, “We are on the brink of disaster” as he calls up army reserves in response to Russian military movements in Crimea.
Were he talking about the country’s economic plight he would have a point. Instead, along with much of the US and European media, he was over-dramatising developments in the east, where Russian speakers are understandably alarmed after the new Kiev authorities scrapped a law allowing Russian as an official language in their areas. They see it as proof that the anti-Russian ultra-nationalists from western Ukraine who were the dominant force in last month’s insurrection still control it. Eastern Ukrainians fear similar tactics of storming public buildings could be used against their elected officials.
So begins an excellent piece by Jonathan Steele writing in the Guardian. Steele is another journalist who has managed to sidestep all of the hysteria and remain level-headed about this latest escalation of the Ukrainian crisis.
His article continues:
Kerry’s rush to punish Russia and Nato’s decision to respond to Kiev’s call by holding a meeting of member states’ ambassadors in Brussels today were mistakes. Ukraine is not part of the alliance, so none of the obligations of common defence come into play. Nato should refrain from interfering in Ukraine by word or deed. The fact that it insists on getting engaged reveals the elephant in the room: underlying the crisis in Crimea and Russia’s fierce resistance to potential changes is Nato’s undisguised ambition to continue two decades of expansion into what used to be called “post-Soviet space”, led by Bill Clinton and taken up by successive administrations in Washington. At the back of Pentagon minds, no doubt, is the dream that a US navy will one day replace the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Balaclava.
Russia’s movement into Crimea was certainly an invasion – of sorts – and marked the beginning of a dangerous new phase in the present Ukrainian crisis. Although Russia are entitled to keep troops at bases within Crimea, and though the number of troops appear to have remained below those permitted under treaty, by moving Russian troops into the streets, Putin has been acting outside of International law. That said, this invasion is no way comparable to the types of “shock and awe” assault we are accustomed to seeing the US and Nato engage in. What Kerry called an “incredible act of aggression” resulted in no casualties (other than the unfortunate victims of more recent sniper attacks), in part because the majority in Crimea are not hostile to the Russian forces. Indeed, it was not the elected parliament of Crimea but the self-appointed parliament in Kiev which many Crimeans fear and oppose (and do not regard as legitimate), who declared the Russian troop movements “an act of war”.
Here is more from Jonathan Steele who closes his article considering the legality or otherwise of Russia’s annexation of Crimea13 as well as his hopes of a diplomatic resolution:
It is not too late to show some wisdom now. Vladimir Putin’s troop movements in Crimea, which are supported by most Russians, are of questionable legality under the terms of the peace and friendship treaty that Russia signed with Ukraine in 1997. But their illegality is considerably less clear-cut than that of the US-led invasion of Iraq, or of Afghanistan, where the UN security council only authorised the intervention several weeks after it had happened. And Russia’s troop movements can be reversed if the crisis abates. That would require the restoration of the language law in eastern Ukraine and firm action to prevent armed groups of anti-Russian nationalists threatening public buildings there.
The Russian-speaking majority in the region is as angry with elite corruption, unemployment and economic inequality as people in western Ukraine. But it also feels beleaguered and provoked, with its cultural heritage under existential threat. Responsibility for eliminating those concerns lies not in Washington, Brussels or Moscow, but solely in Kiev.14
The article, which is entitled “John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off”, offers a perspective which very few mainstream journalists (Stephen Kinzer and Liam Halligan being two others along with Stephen Cohen – see previous article) have so far been prepared to offer. His call for an end to the hysteria is surely the wisest call anyone can make right now.
Following the referendum in Crimea, on Monday [March 17th] Democracy Now! featured a discussion about the vote and the likely diplomatic, economic and military repercussions following Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The three guests were Oliver Bullough, Caucasus editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting; Nicholas Clayton, a freelance journalist who has been reporting from Crimea and covering the South Caucasus since 2009; and Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Here is a snapshot of what each had to say:
Oliver Bullough: Well, the first thing about the vote is the result. The result was never in any doubt. The only option, essentially, on the ballot paper was either—well, you has a choice: to leave Ukraine or to join Russia. There was no “no” option. So, there was never any question that this would go one way. And it did indeed go that way. It went that way overwhelmingly, though, personally, I think possibly the results given are a little bit inflated. I can’t believe that the turnout was as high as 83 percent, certainly considering the fact that all the Ukrainians who live in Crimea and all the Crimean Tatars, who together make up, you know, more than 30 percent of the population, boycotted the polls. […]
Well, you know, it was—people were turning up for the polling stations. People were casting their votes in a fairly orderly manner. But it got increasingly jolly as the day wore on and it became obvious which way the vote was going to go. And people gathered on the central Lenin Square underneath the big towering statue of the founder of the Bolshevik state. And there was a rock concert, and people gathered, waved Russian flags, chanted “Russia! Russia! Russia!” as if they were at a football match. It occurred to me about halfway through that it was like a combination of Russia winning the World Cup and the Nuremberg rally. It was a very peculiar atmosphere of sort of a degree of celebration and also as a strange and slightly disquieting sense of triumphalism that I, as a non-Russian, found a little bit weird.
Dmitri Trenin: Well, I would say that the Russians have become used to people essentially using various standards for their own behavior and for other people’s behavior. Basically, President Putin in his press conference recently intimated that he was doing the things that basically the United States was doing. He was—he was placing the legitimate above the legal. If you need something and you need it badly, you go for it. It may not be legal, but if it’s your—if it’s in your national interest, then you go for it—except that the cases of Libya or Kosovo or Iraq, arguably, were less important for the United States’ national security interests than the issue of Crimea and Ukraine is, or was, for Mr. Putin and the Kremlin.
Nicholas Clayton: Well, the new leadership, it appears that they’re still very much in crisis mode, attempting to hold the country together. Many of them were not in the government before the Yanukovych regime fell. One of the more controversial things that has happened recently and one of the firmer gestures that the new government has made is saying that those advocating secession in other Ukrainian territories will be apprehended. And on one hand, this is a bit of an escalation of the rhetoric within Ukraine; however, it also represents very much the crisis mentality of the new government. As you mentioned before, there have been increasing protests in the cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk, where pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters have clashed, and three people have died so far. There’s been accusations traded, but Kiev has claimed that a large portion, if not the majority, of these pro-Russian protesters are indeed Russian citizens that have come—been bused in from Russia, and they’re also tightening the border. It appears that they’re trying very hard to avoid any other province in Ukraine from getting the Crimea treatment at this point. […]
And as we’ve discussed already this hour, I do think that many in the West underestimated how strategic Ukraine, and particularly Crimea, is to Russia. The port of Sevastopol has been the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet since imperial days, since the 18th century, and it actually is probably the best harbor in the Black Sea for a large fleet and one of the only ones that could safely hold a large fleet. It has a deep harbor, it’s very large, and it’s protected on both sides by hills, which means the wind is not a factor. If Russia were to be booted from there, it would have to drastically reduce the size of its fleet and spend billions of dollars attempting to build up facilities in one of its other ports in order to hold it. And the Russian Black Sea Fleet is the portion of the Russian navy that it uses to project naval force into not only the Black Sea, where it has significant interests, but also the Mediterranean Sea and through the Sinai and the Indian Ocean, and therefore, it’s an important portion of their Middle East strategy and their foreign policy in those regions.
And so, this really is a—what the Russians call a steel interest, something that is certainly a red line and certainly something that if Russia had to retreat from, would be very—would very much hurt their foreign policy and their ability to project power in the world. And we saw—this is partially why Russia moved so quickly in the upper house, was that many figures in the new government in Kiev did make statements saying that they wanted to basically cancel the lease that Russia has for the use of the base in Sevastopol. The current lease gives Russia the right to use that port until 2042, but there—in the past, previous governments have also tried to push Russia out, and it has been a major factor in Russia’s relationship with Ukraine since the end of the Soviet Union and very much—very much has been a huge card in the East-West battle over Ukraine, as well.
For once I would also recommend the latest outing of BBC’s political magazine programme This Week, which featured analysis from the Telegraph‘s Liam Halligan.
13 ‘annexation’ is a provocative term. Many Russians including those in Crimea see it as a ‘reunification’. Mikhail Gorbachev said:
“Earlier Crimea was merged with Ukraine under Soviet laws, to be more exact by the [Communist] party’s laws, without asking the people, and now the people have decided to correct that mistake. This should be welcomed instead of declaring sanctions.” He said: “To declare sanctions you need very serious reasons. And they must be upheld by the UN.” Adding: “The will of the people of the Crimea and the Crimea’s possible unification with Russia as a constituent region do not constitute such a reason.”