Coup in Kiev
Mobs rule the day – but a peaceful solution is possible
Ukraine is exploding, and the force of the eruption may plunge not only the country but also Europe and the US into an abyss out of which there is no easy extrication.
First, a primer for those who have missed the rapidly escalating events of the past few days: mobs of protesters have taken over Kiev and the government of Viktor Yanukovich has been effectively overthrown. Impeached by the Parliament, and opposed now even by members of his Party of Regions, Yanukovich has fled the presidential palace for parts unknown (probably to his home town of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border). The police and all signs of organized authority have simply disappeared from the streets of the city: armed bands dressed in medieval armor, carrying bats, crowbars, and sometimes guns roam the streets, dispensing victor’s "justice" to anyone perceived as a Yanukovich supporter.
It’s a coup d’etat, pure and simple, the violent overthrow of a duly elected official, and it is being hailed not only by that champion of "democracy," the United States government, but also by our clearly biased media, which is using this as a bludgeon to beat the hated Vladimir Putin – the latest in a series of overseas villains, second only to Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.
The Western media can hardly contain its collective glee: "journalists" eagerly tweeted a photo of a golden toilet supposedly found on the grounds of Yanukovich’s looted estate.
The photo is a fake: it has nothing to do with the fallen Ukrainian leader. The quickness – and carelessness – with which the photo was seized on by members of the Fourth Estate speaks volumes about their biases and their willingness to jump on any bandwagon so long as its being propelled by their bosses friends in Washington.
It would be easy to dismiss the protesters as pawns in just another of a long line of US-sponsored "color revolutions" aimed at the states of the former Soviet Union – and Putin, Washington’s chief antagonist in the international arena. After all, evidence of direct financial and political support to the Ukrainian opposition is a matter of public record, and there is no doubt more we don’t know about.
Yet no one can deny the Ukrainian people have suffered under competing gangs of outright thieves: politicians who are merely extensions of this or that "oligarch," i.e. the post-Communist elite who looted "public" industries under the guise of a phony "privatization." The best example is the most well-known: Yulia Tymoshenko, who stood on the stage at the Maiden and hailed the victory of the glorious "revolution."
Formerly known as the "Gas Princess," the canny Tymoshenko was an unindicted co-conspirator in a corruption trial held here in the US, where the feds locked up Pavel Lazarenko, former Ukrainian Prime Minister, for embezzling $200,000,000 – that’s two-hundred million dollars! – from the Ukrainian government. His tenure was marked by a very close political and business relationship with Ms. Tymoshenko, who ran United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a state monopoly. Lazarenko was determined to crush his enemies, the oligarchs headquartered in Donetsk – Yanukovich’s home town – and Ukrainian prosecutors built a case against the former Prime Minister and Tymoshenko, who were accused of arranging the 1996 murders of Donetsk businessmen Yevhen Shcherban and Alexander Momot. Tymoshenko was jailed for corruption, and her release – one of the demands of the US/EU, who elevated her to the status of a "political prisoner" – is now being hailed as the beginning of a new era for the country.
Yes indeed, a new chapter in the long-running story of Ukraine as one of the most corrupt countries on earth.
So how did a thieving dicey oligarch make her way to the head of an insurrection against corruption? Listen to the infamous tape of US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, where she cursed out the European Union for its timidity in stage-managing the opposition leadership: she told the US ambassador that Vitali Klitschko, the champion boxer and head of the UDAR ("Punch") party is too combative to be able to get along with the State Department’s chosen candidate, former Prime Minister and head of the National Bank Arseniy Yatsenyuk – who heads up Tymoshenko’s party, known as "Fatherland."
This stage-managing illustrates the essential principle that must inform our understanding of the Ukrainian events: the role of the United States government in this affair is utterly pernicious. While funding and encouraging the Ukrainian people to rise up against a gang of kleptocrats, Washington plots behind the scenes to install their own favored thieves in power. But that is only the beginning of the Obama administration’s crimes.
The larger game being played here is a geopolitical one, with Ukraine in the role of a pawn. As Reuters reports, Washington has already raised the stakes to the level of a military crisis:
"The United States and European allies warned Russia not to send forces into Ukraine on Sunday as rival neighbors east and west of the former Soviet republic said a power vacuum in Kiev must not let the country break apart….
"Scuffles in Russian-speaking Crimea and some eastern cities between supporters of the new, pro-EU order in Kiev and those anxious to stay close to Moscow revived fears of separatism that a week earlier were focused on the west, where Ukrainian nationalists had disowned Yanukovich and proclaimed self-rule.
"President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, was asked on U.S. television about the possibility of Russia sending troops to Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin had hoped Yanukovich would keep closely allied to Moscow.
"’That would be a grave mistake,’ Rice said. ‘It’s not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see a country split. It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.’"
It’s the old familiar cold war propaganda, updated to be sure but all the more tired for that: The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! The fantasy life of a national security advisor is apparently a rich one, but Ms. Rice is playing with fire here – and plenty of people stand to be burnt in the ensuing conflagration.
Those reports of "scuffles" in Crimea are particularly ominous, for this is the site of the Russian fleet stationed at Sevastopol, as well as the heart of the Russian-speaking Cossack population. As Kiev burned, Crimeans rallied in their tens of thousands calling for unity with Russia.
Rice is completely wrong: the present borders of Ukraine no more represent a real nation than do the borders of African states set by nineteenth century European colonialists. The boundaries of the "Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic" were established by Lenin and Stalin, and included a preponderance of Russian-speakers in order to quash any remnants of nationalist sentiment. The great irony here is that Washington and the Ukrainian protest leaders are holding up this arrangement as somehow sacrosanct.
Take a look at this ethno-linguistic map of Ukraine: now take a look at this map of the last election results in which Yanukovich was the winner. As Max Fisher, formerly foreign policy writer at the Washington Post, puts it: this juxtaposition does much to explain Ukraine’s protest movement.
The Western half of Ukraine speaks Ukrainian, and yearns to be part of Europe: thus the amazing spectacle of mass demonstrations in favor of a treaty with the EU, which was rejected by Yanukovich. The sight must have been a great relief – and surprise – to the Euro-crats, who are used to demonstrations against them, as in Greece. Bankrupt Ukraine would be another Greece times ten, and it’s unlikely they’d be admitted (although NATO might find them quite useful). Pro-EU sentiment is purely symbolic of the underlying nationalist impulse driving the protesters: it has little to do with sympathy for the bureaucrats of Brussels and everything to do with the fact that the EU is not Russia.
Rice is utterly wrong about it being in "nobody’s interest" to "see a country split." What about Czechoslovakia? That divorce, which established a Czech Republic entirely separate from the nation of Slovakia, was amicable: there was no violence. The same outcome is possible in Ukraine – if only Washington and its Ukrainian sock-puppets would permit it.
The US favors separatism when it serves Washington’s geopolitical goals, Kosovo being the outstanding example. Yet when Putin attempted to apply the same principle of national self-determination to Abkhazia – a former province of the republic of Georgia that voted in a plebiscite to merge with Russia – the Americans denounced it as "Russian aggression." Hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to describe the brazen cynicism of US policy in this regard.
As I wrote two weeks ago:
"What’s happening today in Ukraine is a replay of an old struggle that cannot be resolved except by the partition of the country, which is not a real nation but merely an administrative unit of the old Soviet Union. This article explains the cultural divide well: the truth is that Russian is the language of choice in Ukraine, and as far as the Internet is concerned, Ukrainian language sites come in third behind Russian and English."
Putin could outwit the regime-changers by proposing a plebiscite in which the Crimean people and other Russian-speakers could choose to go their own way – and make Western leaders look like the warmongering cold warriors they are. Civil war – and a confrontation between Russia and the US/EU – in "nobody’s interest," as Ms. Rice would put it. Yet that is precisely what American insistence on the "unity" of Ukraine will lead to.
The costs to Putin if he "loses" Ukraine to the West are going to be steep. While Western media depict the Russian leader as some kind of ultra-nationalist maniac intent on "revanchist" dreams of rebuilding the old Russian Empire, in the context of Russian politics he is a relative moderate. There are real ultra-nationalist forces that would come down on him like a ton of bricks if the historic land of the Cossacks was "lost" to the anti-Russian EU and their American allies. Indeed, two of the most visible anti-Putin "dissidents" – Alexei Navalny and Eduard Limonov (of the fascistic National Bolshevik Party) – are rabid nationalists who make Putin look like the kind of liberal who listens to NPR and strongly favors Birkenstocks. Naturally these two are celebrated by the Western media, who don’t care to look too closely at whom they are lionizing.
The same goes for the "dissidents" who have taken over Kiev: many of these "heroes" – as Tymoshenko calls them – are militant neo-Nazis, with several shades of ultra-nationalists well-represented. There is Svoboda, formerly known as the "Social National" party, which idolizes World War II Nazi-collaborator Stepan Bandera, who fought on the side of Hitler’s SS against the Red Army. The leader of Svoboda was once expelled from Parliament for calling pro-Russian leaders agents of "Moscow’s Jewish Mafia." Then there is the "Right Sector," a gang of football hooligans which is openly fascist and has been used as the "muscle" of the movement as the insurrectionists took over public buildings and fought the police in the streets.
The chief rabbi of Ukraine has declared the country unsafe for Jews and is urging them to emigrate: he says the Israeli embassy is telling them not to leave their homes because Jews are not safe in the streets. No wonder Spanish neo-Nazis are marching in support of their Ukrainian "brothers"!
This is not to say there aren’t many sincere people in the ranks of the protesters – undoubtedly the majority – who are tired of the corruption and just want a better life. They are the biggest victims of this coup.
The US government has poured millions into the Ukrainian protest movement, and they want their money’s worth – even if it means spilling oceans of blood. The reality is that their interests and those of the Ukrainian people are diametrically opposed: Washington’s manipulations can only lead to yet another "revolution" betrayed. The tragedy is that the long-suffering people of that country may learn this lesson far too late.