“Ukraine” means “borderland,” and if there were ever a country suffering a borderline personality disorder—barely “keeping itself together,” as we say—it is Ukraine. Suddenly, it’s been deprived of its meds (discounted gas and other Russian-provided subsidies), and goaded into a schizophrenogenic family crisis (the American-sponsored overthrow of its elected government, resented by half the country). After the maidan mania, came the Crimea depression, and now, it seems, rapid and radical decompensation.
Before the maidan winter games, if some in the country (Kiev “liberals”) were looking for the cure from Dr. America and Nurse NATO, standing by to treat the flailing patient with their straitjacket of austerity and electroshock-and-awe therapy, perhaps some are now realizing that these practitioners’ cures only increase the crazy.
Since my last detailed post, the Ukraine situation has indeed been devolving rapidly, both within the country and on the level of international geopolitics. It’s hard to see where Ukraine is going—whether it will survive as a unified state at all (even sans Crimea), and it is hard to see how seriously the world will be riven by a “new Cold (or even hot) War.” American political and media discourse is now completely dominated by the “aggressive Russia/nasty Putin” meme, but it would be wise to look carefully at the different axes of major, and lesser-included subsidiary, contradictions to see the real web of tensions which the “new Cold War” narrative is designed to occlude.
In Ukraine itself, the major contradiction revolves around the country’s social future: What will be the path of social development? Who will control it? In whose interests?
Unfortunately, the starting point for those questions in Ukraine right now is the underlying socio-economic crisis brought about by the oligarchic polity and social economy that is the result of the restoration of capitalism. As I previously pointed out, the “Western” (i.e., American)-influenced process of capitalist restoration in Ukraine involved the quick-and-dirty creation of a capitalist class via the barely-disguised theft of public property by those called “the oligarchs,” to whom the country’s wealth and political power were acceded during the last 20 years. Michael Hudson sums it up nicely:
What happened in Ukraine is what happened in Russia and all the other post-Soviet economies. American advisors came in and said “Just give away all the public property to individuals. It doesn’t make any difference who you give it to; property has its own logic.”1
Patrick Smith points out that America’s “shock therapy” formula for the quickest possible restoration of capitalism in post-Soviet states was designed not only to eliminate public ownership of social capital (what Marxists call the “productive forces”), but also to eliminate the possibility of a decently progressive social democracy, which would itself be too discomfiting for the reinvigorated, rapacious neo-liberal capitalist order into which these countries were meant to take their subservient place.2Thus was born the Wild, Wild East. Do not pass Roosevelt. Go directly to Robber Baron. The Great Leap Backward.
Having run out of ways to hide, via international indebtedness, the full social disaster of that neo-liberal strategy, Ukraine has to decide what path to take in the immediate future. Therein lies the major contradiction in Ukrainian society and politics.
Now, I would define this fundamental contradiction as one between a model of development whose first priority is to ensure the “right” of billionaires to appropriate vast amounts of social wealth and attendant political power versus one whose first priority is to produce a decent and improving social life (jobs, housing, healthcare, education) and real political empowerment for the majority of people. If one were to focus on that contradiction clearly, the path forward would begin with something like Bogdan Danilishin, a former minister of economy, suggested:
In order to be saved, the Ukrainian economy doesn’t need 35 billion dollars or even 135 billion dollars. It will be stolen anyway. They just need to check and evaluate all privatization deals made during the last years. All that has been bought for a reduced price or illegally must be nationalized or the difference must be paid to the state budget. All taxes that oligarchs have been exempt from for the last three years must be paid.3
Unfortunately—for all kinds of historical, cultural, and political reasons, ranging from the millions of Ukrainian victims of Stalinism eighty years ago to the billions of dollars spent by America during the last five years—most Ukrainians now think this contradiction as a conflict between “European”-oriented West and the “Russian”-oriented south and east. And it is on those terms that Ukraine was brought to a political crisis point by the US-supported Kiev insurrection.
Though this kind of thinking represents confusions on everyone’s part, I have to say that the biggest fools here are the “Europeanists” – anyone who actually believes that Yanukovych did not sign the EU deal because of his love for Russia or Putin, and/or that not signing the deal compromised Ukraine’s independence or jeopardized its possibility for a prosperous and democratic future. (I suppose that mainly means Western-NGO-educated Kiev liberals.)
In fact, as a Reuters report in December emphasized, consistent with his oligarchic position as a proponent of Western capitalism, Yanukovych was a fierce advocate of integration with the EU. In a meeting in September, for example: “For three hours Yanukovich cajoled and bullied anyone who pushed for Ukraine to have closer ties to Russia. …‘Forget about it … forever!’ he shouted at them, according to people who attended the meeting. Instead the president argued for an agreement to deepen trade and other cooperation with the European Union…. ‘We will pursue integration with Europe,’ he barked.”4
Indeed, Yanukovych’s government was the prime teller of European fairy tales. In September, his prime minister, Mykola Azarov, painted the picture of sugarplums to come: “We all want clean air and water, safe food, good education for our children, up-to-date medical services, reliable legal representation, etc. All these are not abstract terms, but norms and rules that are already in place in the EU, which we need in Ukraine.”
A couple of months later, the same Azarov, apparently forgetting that he was one of those “so-called leaders,” was telling the people: “So-called leaders tell us fairy tales about how, once we had signed, we would be able to travel to Europe without visas. Nothing of the sort. To get that we would have to fulfill a whole raft of conditions.”
In fact, Yanukovych balked at finalizing the EU agreement because, when the real numbers were put on the table, it was a bad deal. A really bad deal: “[Volodymyr] Oliynyk, who is Ukraine’s permanent representative for NATO, and others were furious. He told Reuters that when Ukraine turned to Europe’s officials for help, they ‘spat on us.’…‘We could not contain our emotions, it was unacceptable.’”
It’s noteworthy that Azarov emphasized how the agreement would not make Ukrainians eligible for European visas—I’m guessing since the ability to get to jobs in Western Europe was one of the more enticing sugarplums for non-oligarchic Ukrainians. But it indicates a significant—though, of course, hardly publicized—point in the agreement that was a particular craw-sticker for the Ukrainians: They would be second-class citizens, inferior to “even” the Poles. “Yanukovich was also offended when he found out Kiev would not be offered a firm prospect of full membership of the EU; he felt Ukraine was being treated as a lesser country to ‘even Poland’, with which it shares a border…‘Many citizens have got it wrong on European integration. It is not about membership, we are apparently not Poland, apparently we are not on a level with Poland … they are not letting us in really, we will be standing at the doors. We’re nice but we’re not Poles.’” How many Europhile Ukrainians, who might well share the sense of insult, were even aware of this condition?
Beyond this blow to Ukrainian sensibilities, the EU agreement has to be understood as an invasion, part of what Michael Hudson identifies as “today’s financial war against the economy at large”—an ongoing financial war that is as devastating to countries as any shooting war:
The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain.5
It’s a financial war. And finance really is war by other means, the way it’s being conducted today, because the objective of finance in Western Europe is the same as that of war. It wants to appropriate land. It wants to appropriate basic infrastructure, all the monopolies. And it wants to extract tribute, and this usually in the case of debt service.…. So what Europe wants is all of the property that the Ukrainian kleptocrats, the people who rule the country and have appointed themselves the leaders, have basically stolen when they registered the steel mills, the land, the factories, everything in their own name, and they’ve kept Ukraine one of the poorest countries in Europe, very low labor.…
And now Western Europe has come to them and said, okay, now we’re going to make a deal. We’re going to let you keep what you have, but you have to sell us part of what you have, and we want you now to–we’re going to encircle Russia. We want you to make a very anti-Russian move.6 -
Leaving aside the “encircle Russia” point for the moment, the EU agreement would have “captured” the Ukrainian economy. As Marilyn Vogt-Downey makes clear, in her analysis aptly subtitled, “An Imperialist Invasion Without an Imperialist Army,” its specific provisions would make “impossible any Ukrainian economic planning that did not follow the guidelines established by the IMF and other imperialist lending agencies,” would “mandate…that capitalist profits be only minimally taxed, the government provide generous financial support and tax breaks for capitalist ventures, public services be privatized, and restrictions on transfer of capitalist profits abroad be minimal.” As a result, she points out, “Ukraine would find it very difficult to ever escape the debt cycle,” and “it would be difficult, if not impossible for any Ukrainian government to raise funds for basic institutions people need to live a quality life.”7
As Joseph Stiglitz learned about the IMF and the World Bank, when he was the latter’s chief economist: “They were interested in one thing. They looked at the country and thought, ‘they need to repay the loans they owe to Western banks. How do we get that to happen?’…They were interested in milking money out of the country quickly, not rebuilding it for the long term.”8
“Anti-communist” protestors in what was known as the Euro-maidan, and their liberal supporters in the West, might take heed of what Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and supply-side guru has to tell them about the capitalism they were actually fighting for:
Ukraine will never see one dollar of the IMF money. What the IMF is going to do is to substitute Ukrainian indebtedness to the IMF for Ukrainian indebtedness to Western banks. The IMF will hand over the money to the Western banks, and the Western banks will reduce Ukraine’s indebtedness by the amount of IMF money. Instead of being indebted to the banks, Ukraine will now be indebted to the IMF.9
As in typical IMF deals, most of that $27 billion would go to cover payments to western bankers first, to ensure they’re protected and covered. Little would be left to stimulate the Ukrainian economy or to relieve the average Ukrainian household. Moreover, the ‘terms’ of the IMF deal (as any IMF deal has shown) would prove disastrous to the real economy.10
It sure will. As AFP notes, approvingly, it would: “impose tough economic conditions that will alter the lives of Ukrainians who have grown accustomed to the comforts of Soviet-era subsidies and social welfare benefits. [and] … herald a fundamental shift in Kyiv … to a commitment to the types of free-market efficiencies that could one day bring Ukraine far closer to the West.”11 Happy day, when Ukrainians will experience the “efficiencies” we in the West have come to know so well. To cite Rasmus again: “The Ukraine in an IMF bailout would almost certainly replicate the still continuing Austerity crisis in Greece.” A 50-100% gas price hike is already in place.12
Gotta love that many American liberals, so quick to denounce the latest Paul Ryan budget, have been blithely supporting a far worse “Republican” program for Ukraine.
Really, the IMF demands are staggering, and include: Ukraine must raise the retirement age, raise gas and electricity prices, cap the minimum wage, reduce unemployment benefits, cancel support for childbirth, free meals and textbooks, privatize all mines, and lift the moratorium on sale of agricultural land. It’s a neat program—if your goal is to impoverish Ukrainians and sell off Ukrainian steel industry to the Germans, Ukrainian oil resources to Chevron, and the famous Ukrainian “black soil” farmland to Cargill and Monsanto. Cargill and Monsanto are chomping at the bit.13
Of course, all of this is the culmination, the final push into irreversibility, of a process of capitalist imperialism/invasion that’s been going on for twenty years—with, to be sure, some reluctance on the part of the political machines of the oligarchs, who have been fearful of popular pushback.
In other words, “European” Ukraine would be the IMF’s Ukraine [writes the author politely, eschewing the word for female dog]—a poor cousin within the shriveling neo-liberal austerity Europe of today, not at all the prosperous brother within the social-democratic European thing of remembered past. Crumbs of the madeleine are all that’s left of that.
Oh, yeah, the IMF agreement also “stipulates that Ukraine cannot accept any financial support from Russia.”14That would be the Russia whose financial support, according to the head of the IMF, has been a “lifeline” that’s helped Ukraine avert disaster: “Without the support that they were getting from this lifeline that Russia had extended a few months ago, they were heading nowhere.”15
As Stephen Cohen points out:
[I]t was the European Union, backed by Washington, that said in November to the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country, Ukraine, “You must choose between Europe and Russia.” That was an ultimatum to Yanukovych. Remember—wasn’t reported here—at that moment, what did the much-despised Putin say? He said, “Why? Why does Ukraine have to choose? We are prepared to help Ukraine avoid economic collapse, along with you, the West. Let’s make it a tripartite package to Ukraine.” And it was rejected in Washington and in Brussels. That precipitated the protests in the streets.16
Russia did not start this fight. It was not Russia that drove an already “profoundly divided” Ukraine into a “my way or the highway” choice; it was “Europe”—a word in this context that should be understood as signifying the presently conjoined projects of the EU/IMF/Western-capital and NATO.
Ultimately, the fact is that Yanukovych balked at the EU/IMF deal because it was too costly for Ukraine. Russia simply made a better offer: “[O]ne reason Yanukovich chose the Russian $15 billion offer over Europe’s lesser offer is that the EU deal was less and with more IMF austerity strings attached. Moreover, the possibility of energy relief from the Russian Federation may have appeared a better deal than the EU’s energy deprived, high energy cost, economic partnership.”17
Americans, along with Ukrainian Europhiles, might carry assumptions that make this difficult to imagine, but the fact is that Yanukovych went into the negotiations “a fierce advocate of integration with the EU,” and came to recognize that economic ties to Russia were more beneficial to Ukraine than ties to EU/neo-liberalism were going to be.
Fact is, too, that the Ukrainian oligarchs, and their present Ukrainian government, know this. They know their job is to be the compliant agents of the IMF, delivering their country into a socially disastrous austerity that is going to mean less popular democracy and less national independence. This is why the new prime minister, the man who is described in Forbes as “setting Ukraine up for ruin,” says: “I’m going to be the most unpopular prime minister in the history of my country.”18
Please notice that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, about democracy in all this. More democracy? Please, the EU/IMF program will have to be imposed on the Ukrainian people—with, likely, some electoral process that’s engineered to ignore their interests and subvert their will. And the oligarchs—as well as American leaders, who are masters of such a process—know this.
So, whoever came out to the maidan thinking that fighting for the EU/IMF deal was fighting for more democracy and independence…well, as Rasmus puts it, kindly: “It appears many Ukrainians do not yet understand the fundamental economic and political dynamics at play in the Ukraine.”19
It’s an unfortunate misrecognition that many Ukrainians (perhaps especially self-identified “liberal” Ukrainians, goaded by $5 billion of American NGO miseducation), lost sight of the main contradiction—that between the social program of the Ukrainian oligarchs and the social needs of the Ukrainian people—in favor of a confected conflict between an imaginary utopian Europe and an imaginary dystopian Russia. It’s a miscrecognition that only serves to further the real, shared, anti-populist agenda of the oligarchs and “Europe” (that conjoint project described above), and to hide the tensions within “Europe” between the EU and NATO.
Crooks and Fascists
The other element within Ukraine that complicates the main contradiction between Ukrainian oligarchs and society is the presence of combative ultra-nationalist/neo-fascist factions that have fought their way into the center of power (and are tolerated by the democratic US and Europe in a way that no similarly radical left factions would be).
I’ve analyzed these forces in detail in my previous Ukraine post. Liberal and conservative American media want to keep pretending that these groups, who were the fighting vanguard of the insurrection, are a) not really fascists, and b) even if they are, they “don’t really matter.”
Bull. The truth is: a) These groups, Joseph Goebbels Research Center and all, follow proudly in the tradition of their mythologized nationalist heroes who fought with the Nazis in WWII. They’re the people, in other words, who are sorry the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany. That’s not fascism? And, b) However often American pundits insist these fascists don’t matter, the fascists themselves are going to keep insisting that they do. And, occupying key positions in the new Ukrainian government and security services, yes, they do. Furthermore, as we’ll discuss below, the Eastern uprising is enhancing their role. A column in Foreign Policy puts it quite succinctly: “The uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kiev’s current government — and the protesters who brought it to power — are, indeed, fascists.”20
The one thing every Ukrainian was enraged about was the corruption of the crooked oligarchs. Unfortunately, the maidan coup replaced a government of crooks with a government of crooks and fascists.
This ultranationalist right, represented in parliament by the Svoboda party and on the street by Right Sector (Pravy Sektor), is focused on restoring Ukrainian ethnic and national identity. Emmanuel Dreyfus points out that both groups wantto defend “the values of white, Christian Europe against the loss of the nation and deregionalisation,” and reject multiculturalism, as “responsible for the disappearance of the crucifix and the arrival of girls in burqas in your schools.” Both want to promote Ukrainian national identity “through measures ranging from systematic glorification of the nationalist movement to reintroducing the mentions of religious affiliation and ethnicity on identity documents.” Both want de-Russification and “de-Sovietisation,” which means “purging or sidelining former SNPU cadres and KGB agents, changing street and place names, removing monuments to heroes of the Soviet Union.”21
Of some relevance to Russia’s reaction to the Kiev insurrection, for anyone who might want to consider such things, Svoboda, which has bullied its way into dominance in parliament, called specifically for “abolishing Crimea’s autonomous status,” and for “join[ing] NATO, rearm[ing] with nuclear weapons and leav[ing] all post-Soviet cooperative organisations.”
Regarding the EU, Right Sector wants to maintain a distance from the EU, which it describes as a “homodictatorship,” a “liberal totalitarianism in which God has vanished and values are turned upside down.” Svoboda does not disagree with that characterization of Europe, but is now willing to accept Ukraine joining the EU. This, because it sees EU membership as a bulwark against Russian influence, and because it sees accepting the EU as an opportunistic electoral tactic.
Ultimately, the European integration these ultra-nationalist groups seek is not on the terms of the Europhile Kiev NGO liberals, or of the offshore banked-up oligarchs. Svoboda and Right Sector seek alliances within, and want very much to be part of, an insurgent pan-European far-right. For them the Ukrainian uprising was a key moment in The Great European Reconquista.
As Michael Moynihan pointed out, “the ecosystem of ultra-nationalist websites seem heavily focused on supporting Svoboda’s bid for political power in post-Yanukovych Ukraine,” and Svoboda was praised on the website of the British National Party, which celebrated that “a group of our Polish comrades from the [neo-Nazi] Falange organization visited Ukraine” to support Svoboda and the revolution.
The Swedish neo-Nazi, Fredrik Hagberg, also paid a visit to Kiev City Hall, to congratulate the insurrectionists, and proclaim: “You now have the opportunity to choose and create your own future. Do not accept the trap of choosing either the West or Russia.”22
The Ukrainian far-right is also not as fooled as the liberals about what to expect from the EU-oligarch elite social program, perhaps because they are learning from their right-populist comrades in Western Europe, who are quite aware of the continent’s real condition. Thus Svoboda, “’probably on the advice of [France’s] Front National’, according to Andreas Umland, has also drawn up an economic programme with a social dimension. This would renationalise a number of enterprises, introduce progressive taxation on business profits, and seek to reduce the dominance of the oligarchs over the political and economic systems.”23 (Dreyfus)
Neo-fascism, meet paleo-fascism. It’s not as if neo-fascists are really going to demolish capitalism, let alone empower the people, but, history knows, they can be adept at playing the populist game, and at filling in the “national-socialist” gaps of an absent actually-socialist left. Liberal neo-liberal oligarchs—i.e., plutocrats, i.e., campaign contributors—in Europe and America, who think they can get away forever with people-crushing socio-economic policies overlaid by sweet-sounding, substance-free, identity politics and “democracy” talk, might take notice of the terrible beauty they are (re-)birthing.
So the anti-Yanukovych insurrectionary movement combined a relatively self-aware, elite EU-oligarch agenda with a relatively self-aware, populist neo-fascist agenda, spiced up with a dash of self-deluded NGO liberalism that allowed Western media and liberals, along with many Ukrainians, to swallow the concoction whole.
Many western Ukrainians, that is. Eastern Ukrainians have spit that shit out. More on that later.
On Again, Off Again
It’s worth remarking here that the US was, to some extent, trapped by the excess effects of its own policy. After all, the US probably would have got what it wanted if it had enforced the agreement of February 21, a complete capitulation to the maidan, which was brokered by the Vice President himself, with his cooperative European partners. Since the agreement moved the elections up to May, and presuming Yanukovych was as thoroughly unpopular as he seemed, an IMF-friendly government would have been in place very soon. (Even though Russia was not a party to that agreement, it was willing to abide by it. Russia was not trying to save Yanukovych, who was not “their” man.) The US, however, could not resist going along with the now-popular neo-fascist forces it had set in motion. Though they were no longer under any threat and had already won their political goals, these militants forced an immediate overthrow of the government, and began to institute their “de-Russification” program by outlawing the Russian language (later rescinded) and attacking and purging members of political parties they didn’t like (Communists and Party of the Regions).
I think, too, that the US and its favorite oligarchs would have preferred to dispense with, or at least marginalize, Right Sector and other the neo-fascist forces. These forces were indispensable in overthrowing Yanukovych, but their persistent presence could seriously undermine the legitimacy of the new “European” regime—especially among, you know, Europeans. Western Europeans, particularly Germans, are not comfortable with these guys. European media notices and talks about them, and even the American media cannot hide them forever.24
Thus, there have been some moves, surely encouraged by the Americans, to dress the regime up in more palatable center-right colors. There may be an attempt to peel Svoboda away from Right Sector, with the former becoming a more respectable parliamentary presence, and the latter, the militant street fighters, left behind. So Svoboda mellows its “Joseph Goebbels Research Center” and “anti-Muscovite Jew” rhetoric while playing kissy-face with the Israeli ambassador on the basis of their shared “nationalism.”24
Particularly portentous in this regard was the killing in March of Oleksandr Muzychko, aka Sashko Bilyi, one of Right Sector’s most notorious and pugnacious militants. Muzychko is the star of this viral video, in which he roughs up a local prosecutor and shows him who’s the boss now, and this one, where he tells the crowd: “I am calling on the people to arm themselves. Only those who have a Kalashnikov will be respected. I’m calling all to take up arms!,” and this one, where he lectures to a regional parliament, brandishing his AK-47: “The Right Sector was armed and will be armed till the time when it will be necessary… You did not give us this weapon and you will not take it away. Who wants to take away my machine gun, my pistol, my knives? Let them try!”
Sashko Bilyi knew: The first counter-revolutionary act of every government is to collect the guns.26
Muzychko was killed on March 25th, in a raid on the Three Carp Café in Barmaky by members of the Sokil (Falcon), the interior ministry’s special task force. Some witnesses say he was pulled from his car, handcuffed, and then shot in the heart twice. The interior ministry, after saying he was killed in a shootout when police returned fire, settled on a suicide story, that “he had shot himself in the heart [twice?] as police tried to bring him to the ground after a chase.”27 (Here’s a link to what purports to be the killing of Muzychko captured on surveillance video. As you might expect, it’s difficult to make out exactly what is happening in it.)
Right Sector had no doubt about what happened. Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, himself now Deputy Chief of the National Defense and Security Council and a declared presidential candidate, called it “Our brother-in-arms Oleksandr Muzychko’s murder,” carried out by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov as part of the “counterrevolutionary pressure on maidan and Right Sector as the vanguard of our revolution.” Yarosh announced: “We cannot silently accept the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s active counterrevolutionary activities. In this connection, we demand Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s immediate dismissal, and we demand the arrest of the Sokil special task force commander and all those guilty of [Muzychko’s] murder.”
As Andrew Higgins points out in the New York Times: Muzychko’s militancy “struck a chord with some ordinary Ukrainians, who wonder when Ukraine’s revolution will bring tangible benefits.” Right Sector and other neo-fascists stormed the parliament vowing to “take revenge on Avakov for the death of our brother,” calling for Avakov’s resignation and the arrest of all agents involved in the killing of Muzychko, and for a “second maidan.” As the Times put it, a lot of Ukrainians saw his killing as a “‘pre-ordered hit’ orchestrated by establishment forces,” who wanted to silence an uncompromising rebel who wanted to oust not only Mr. Yanukovych, but an entire class of politicians and civil servants he viewed as irredeemably corrupt.” Higgins quotes one “veteran Ukrainian nationalist”: “This is an unfinished revolution and he [Muzychko] wanted to carry it through to its logical conclusion.”28
Avakov, for his part, held firm. His interior ministry and the SBU (Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency) had previously demanded that all maidan activists hand in illegal weapons, and he now called armed militants “bandits,” suggested banning Right Sector, and ordered arrests of many of their militants.
As Interior Minister Avakov is a member of the Fatherland Party, controlled by America’s sweetheart, Yulia Tymoshenko, this looked like the beginning of the turf war in which Western-approved, well-coiffed, oligarchs of the respectable right would attempt to show their wolfsangel-wearing comrades who’s really the boss. Was prying Sashko Bilyi’s Kalishnikov from his cold, dead hands a message from Yulia, via Avakov, to Dmytro and his Right Sector: What happened in the maidan stays in the maidan. Time for a conscious uncoupling. If so, Dmytro’s response, via his street posse, was sharp: We’re still in the maidan. “Until the end.”29
Did this mark the beginning of the end of the mutually-instrumental marriage during the winter games in the maidan between the western-backed oligarchic elite, whose only real goal was the EU/IMF program, and the populist neo-fascist movements, who are focused on a program of purified ethnic Ukrainian nationalism, but are quite willing to take up the fight against corruption, privilege, and social penury that is the real concern of most people? An end to this dramatic alliance, which itself diverted attention from the fundamental contradictions that affect the social future of the country?
I thought it was. I thought we were in for a hell of a fight. I also had a pretty good idea of who would win it: As Sashko Bilyi learned, and as his death was meant to teach others, guys who strut around in camo waving their rifles usually don’t stand a chance against gentlemen and women in bespoke suits, who command whole armies, and the banks that pay them. Usually, suits beat camo.
Usually. In this case, however, the neo-fascists have gained a lot of credibility and traction. Svoboda and Right Sector might be hard to break up. Both factions share the same mass constituency, based in the same stridently right-wing nationalist mythology that has been promoted by oligarchic governments themselves for twenty years. Most importantly, the populist neo-fascists have “struck a chord with some ordinary Ukrainians” who see that they share the deep suspicion that the corrupt oligarchs and international elite are only out to continue screwing the country. I wish the Ukrainian socialist left had a serious presence, but right now, who else do “ordinary Ukranians” see who might complete what they know to be an “unfinished revolution“?
So it looked like the oligarchs and their Euro-American sponsors would have to go to the mattresses, and do a whole lot of nasty wet work, mobilizing all the reinvigorated agents of state-sanctioned violence, Three-Carp style. Easy enough to portray it as a righteous campaign against fascists—who were now to be noticed and rejected—in a way that would, again, win the quick assent of Western liberals and the Western media. Of course, it would also be a diversion—another cover for the less telespectacular, but real and incessant, anti-populist and anti-democratic campaign to entrench the strict authoritarianism of the neo-liberal state, without the embarrassing wolfsangel. It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen, for example, in “anti-Islamist” campaigns in Arab countries.
It seems now, however, that the oligarch-fascist divorce is on hold. Call it a trial reconciliation, until the east is retaken. Since eastern Ukrainians are as willing and capable of occupying buildings, arming themselves, and resisting the armed forces of the state as their western compatriots, and, since the regular army—which the elected Yanukovych government was not, but the unelected new government is, wiling to send against its own people—seems to be reluctant to fire on those people, it’s necessary to call on the hard cases. Time for the suits to call on the camos.
So Right Sector has moved 150 or so militants into Slavyansk, which looks like it’s becoming the central point of contention in the east. Right Sector has also moved its main headquarters to the eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk, in order to “closely monitor” developments. There, they’ve organized a new paramilitary squadron of 800 fighters. This will link up, presumably, with the new “special battalion” of “local patriots” formed by Igor Kolomoysky, the oligarch appointed as governor of the region by the new Kiev regime. These are part of a new structure of fighting forces outside of the regular army that include a 60,000-man National Guard “recruited from ‘activists’ in the anti-Russian protests and from military academies,” under the control of Svoboda leader, Andriy Parubiy.
Right Sector leader Yarosh says: “We coordinate all of our actions with the leadership of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Security service of Ukraine.” Interior minister Avakov is on board, speaking of groups like this as comprising: “The new structure of special divisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs…the answer to saboteurs, ‘green little men’ and to the other gangs tasked with attacking statehood and integrity of Ukraine.”
So the oligarchs and the neo-fascists are forming a common fighting strategy for eastern Ukraine. They even have a social program! Oligarch-governor Kolomoysky’s deputy, after “thinking a lot about events in Donetsk and Lugansk,” has called for “a revolution of the poor, the rebellion of tired and desperate people, unheard by the government”—by which he means paying off the “poor” rebels who turn in their weapons ($1000 for a Kalashnikov) or evacuate government buildings ($200,000). The capitalist dream: the “revolution” will be cashed in.30
The Eastern World, It Is Exploding…
All of this complicated maneuvering of forces is because of scenes like this:
(under 2 minutes – www.youtube.com/embed/dDspsGSYLIE)
The assumption in the new Kiev government, its Western backers, and most of the world, that, Crimea aside, resistance to the new status quo would be minimal, and easily dispersed with a show of force by the Ukrainian army, turned out to be another self-delusion. Crimea might be a one-off, they thought, because Crimean resistance was purely a Russian product, an epiphenomenon of Russia’s military concerns over its naval base. Russia isn’t as interested in Slavyansk as it is in Sevastopol, so not to worry. We’ll accept a kind of neo-Yalta regarding Crimea, negotiated from on high, and show the eastern Ukrainians who’s the boss now with some armored columns and helicopter gunship flyovers. Surely eastern Ukrainians know—what Russia and all the post-Soviet states knew in the 90s, and what every Serious person in the West still knows, and every American NGO still teaches—that There Is No Alternative.
So when eastern Ukrainians stood up to it rather than laid down for it, it was clear that a lot of things had changed since email was invented. In the great movie, Burn![If you haven’t seen it, you must.],Marlon Brando’s character said: “Ten years suddenly might be enough to reveal the contradictions of a whole century.” Well, the last twenty years have been a generation of learning about what can be expected from the ostensibly only alternative: wars and austerity, forced compliance (via the IMF and “the market”) to finance capital, and forced compliance (via bombers and drones) to American hegemony. For many of those years now, people have lived through, have been able to read and see enough alternative reports and analyses of the world, and are now primed to reject the purported inevitable.
Patrick Smith put it nicely in Salon: “The Western allies — and this always means the Americans with the Europeans in tow — have come up against a post–Cold War limit that has been lying out there in the middle distance since the triumphalist 1990s. The neo-liberalization of planet Earth is not a go.”31 At least not without a fight.
Let’s consider what we’ve seen in confrontations like the above in eastern Ukraine. Demonstrators telling reporters: “People came out of the village and stood in front of the tanks because they do not want them in their village,” and telling soldiers, “You are fulfilling criminal orders”; soldiers who “lack the heart” to fire on their own people, and who say “I am a soldier. I protect the people. I won’t shoot you.” In short, citizens disarming and turning back their national army—which was sent to crush their resistance by a unelected government that had designated them as “terrorists”—without firing a shot or setting anyone on fire.32
Isn’t this the kind of once-in-a-generation sight that would astound with joy anyone who proclaims a belief in “democracy”? Isn’t this a remarkable display of popular resistance, at least as remarkable as anything we saw on the maidan? These eastern Ukrainian uprisings are clearly popular and widespread, and are using similar tactics of occupation and resistance as were used by the maidan insurrectionists—with less violence, and without the wolfsangel. Good for the gander, no?
And yet, the NYT reporter who recorded the quotes in the paragraph above calls this an “insidious mix of unconventional tactics.” And let’s remember the American president, a few months ago, “Urge[d] Ukraine’s military not to get involved in a conflict that must be resolved politically,”33 and, wag of the finger and all, spoke thusly to Ukraine’s elected government about what Daddy “the leader of the ‘free world’” expects of them (9 seconds – www.youtube.com/embed/QYwS43BvxmM):
Then, after cringing at how sick sovereign nations must be of patronizing American leaders who lecture them like disobedient children, let’s marvel at how same leader now has his highest diplomatic and intelligence officials endorsing his now-favored, unelected, Ukrainian government’s characterization of their citizen protesters as “terrorists,” and giving material and political support to that government’s use of its military in “a conflict that must be resolved politically,” under the guise of an “anti-terrorist” campaign. Nothing “insidious” about that. Tip of the hat, not wag of the finger.
Should we be surprised by the resistance of eastern Ukrainians? Not how we expected them to behave? The revolt of eastern Ukraine reveals, once again, the dangerously foolish arrogance of neocon American imperialism. Apparently it did not occur to the Nulands and Kerrys and other architects of the American empire, whose leader seems to have deluded himself into believing that the Kiev government was “duly elected” [!],34 that eastern Ukrainians—who are not sorry the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany, have not been blessed with the education in “democracy” provided by Western billionaires and NGOs, and don’t like crooks or fascists—would be shocked and repelled by the overthrow of their democratically-elected (in a “good and competitive election”35) government by a coalition of oligarchs, Kiev liberals, Europhile austerians, and neo-fascists.
Apparently, these doyens of democracy did not understand, or simply assumed they could ignore, the specific contours of Ukrainian politics and culture, including the fact that, as Patrick Cockburn points out: “Every election in Ukraine since …1991 has shown that the country is almost equally divided between pro-Russians and pro-Westerners with each side capable of winning closely fought elections.”36
Apparently, American regime changers could not anticipate that eastern Ukrainians would not only reject the insult to their democratic rights represented by the Kiev coup, but would also foresee, and resist, the threat to the industrial heartland and their livelihood within, represented by the IMF program. As AFP noted, in its paean to the new “free market efficiencies” the IMF program will produce: “One of Yatsenyuk’s main outstanding worries is that higher gas prices and limited state subsidies will most dramatically impact the big steel mills and other heavy industries that dot the heavily Russified southeast.”37 That’s why, as Robert Parry points out: “eastern protesters have said they are resisting the imposition of power from Kiev, which has included the appointment of billionaire ‘oligarchs’ as regional administrators, and … a harsh austerity plan from the International Monetary Fund that will make their hard lives even harder.”38
Apparently, American democracy promoters figured that eastern Ukrainians would be down with the oligarchs appointed to rule them by the new unelected Kiev government, and eager to vote for presidential candidates like America’s Top Oligarch (and unindicted co-conspirator), Yulia, who, when asked: “What should we do now with the three million Russians that stayed in Ukraine?” (reportedly) replied: “They must be killed with nuclear weapons.”39
I think Cockburn has it about right: “It was also self-deceptive and irresponsible for EU and US officials either not to see or not to care about the explosive consequences of backing the takeover of an unelected pro-Western government in Kiev, propelled into office by groups including extreme ultra-nationalists, and then to treat it as if it has total legitimacy.” This is another result of the“false belief by outside powers that they could win cheap victories, and a failure to appreciate that their chosen partner locally was a self-interested faction with many enemies.”40
The rebellion in eastern Ukraine is the result of deep divisions in Ukrainian society that were dramatically exacerbated by the Maidan coup, which was itself supported—and, to a great extent, politically managed—by the United States. To pretend that the eastern uprising was conjured up by Russia is, as Cockburn describes it, “dangerous self-deception.” It’s also a way of diverting attention from the ways in which US neocon policy disrupts already-fragile societies.
American leaders were “surprised” by the tumultuous reactions in eastern Ukraine because for them, as Patrick Smith puts it: “Ukraine was never about Ukraine… Ukraine was merely the next job” in “the spread of the neoliberal order on a global scale, admitting of no exceptions.” That’s the project to which America’s “foreign policy cliques remain wholly committed,” and it doesn’t admit to much nuance about national specificities. If it we can sell it in the beltway, they figure, we can sell it everywhere.
In other words, once again, with its trademark arrogance and ignorance, America has intervened in a foreign country to achieve its agenda, and the regime change that it wants, ignoring—or, again, dismissing as insignificant—the specific internal tensions within the country it seeks to “correct.”
The Sunni-Shia divide in Iraq? The Sunni-Shia-Alawite-Christian tensions in Syria? The balance of secular and fundamentalist religious forces in Afghanistan, Libya, and throughout the Middle East? And now the West-East division in Ukraine? The ethnic differences? The (never-to-be-ackowledged) class contradictions? Not to worry. We’re here to color you democratic. We’ll dissolve all your internal divisions in the acid of “democracy”—which really means integrating you into the US-dominated neo-liberal capitalist order, an “international community” in which all US-compliant cats are painted “democratic” gray. We’re bringing you our freedoms. Isn’t that what everybody wants?
And when some significant section of the population fights back against the new, American-approved regime? Well, they’re just “dead-enders” and “terrorists.”
Particularly precious is the complaint, now ubiquitous in the American commentariat, that eastern Ukrainians are being fooled into their resistance by the “relentless propaganda” of Russia Today (RT). Really, the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government was achieved with the help of $5 billion of American government money and “five years’ worth of work and preparation,” and with the personal visit to and endorsement of the Kiev insurrectionists by the Assistant Secretary of State and other representatives of the American government; it was achieved after being fed years of missionary education in America’s version of inevitable capitalist “democracy” provided by Western liberal billionaires (Soros, Omidyar), congressionally-funded Institutes (NED, IRI, NDI, etc.), and the State Department.41 It was also nourished by the relentless praise showered upon the maidan rebels by the entire Western media establishment and echoed from the stages of FOX, MSNBC, and the Academy Awards, and the first thing the new American ambassador did in August was to fund an online television outlet to support the maidan uprising.42 After this complex propaganda matrix, whose reach and power no other country or force in the world can touch, was put at the service of the Kiev insurrectionists, the US government and media are now going to complain that RT is on the air? They’re going to say that eastern Ukrainians are standing in front of tanks because Abby Martin told them to?
This doesn’t pass the laugh test. Is RT a media outlet with a product that’s circumscribed by a particular national agenda? Yes, as is the New York Times and the rest of that immensely more powerful Western propaganda matrix. RT has as much right to tell the story its way as does the New York Times. Kiev insurrectionists and eastern Ukrainian separatists, and a world audience, will listen to both, and their actions will be influenced, but not determined, by one or the other.
The US is complaining because there are now enough other channels of information and analysis in the world to compete seriously with those which are committed, whether explicitly or implicitly, to the American agenda. To cite Patrick Smith again, referring to outlets like RT and Al Jazeera, which he finds people around the world increasingly turning to: “The West’s monopoly on perspective is collapsing….The monopoly on consciousness the West has long enjoyed is also drawing to a close.”
Deal with it. Shouldn’t American progressives agree that: “This is a good sign. A multiple world lives only in multiple perspectives, even as multiplicity is deadly to the neoliberals”?
Really, anybody who thinks that, say, the NYT, is intrinsically more trustworthy than RT must have forgotten the outright lies the former has endorsed and propagated—from the Gulf of Tonkin to Iraq WMDs to the Syrian chemical attack, to, in this case, the NYT story last week that purported to “prove,” with photos, the existence of “masked” Russian spies in Ukraine—until two days later the photographer spoke up, and the Times had to had to admit the story was false.43 RT has Abby Martin; the NYT has Roseanne Roseannadanna Judith Miller. Never mind.
Regarding the American media’s coverage of Ukraine, I must agree that: “You need a machete these days to whack through the thicket of misinformation, disinformation, spin, propaganda and straight-out lying that daily envelopes the Ukraine crisis like kudzu on an Alabama telephone pole,”44 and that it’s “the most despicable misrepresenting in the public media of anything that I’ve ever seen.”45 In the bizarro world of American journalism, “chaos and danger” in the Ukraine began when eastern Ukrainians took to the streets and seized government buildings. The Kiev chaos that came before “can be forgotten as irrelevant to the case,”and the only “extraordinary propaganda campaign” in play is that which results from “a new brazenness on the part of Russian officials”46:
[A]nd it is like so totally not really fair because some people actually believe this stuff — CIA Director John Brennan being in Kiev, for instance … Subtext: Please stop believing the Russians when they mention things such as Brennan’s Kiev visit. … it only looks as if the Russians have a more sustainable account of the Ukraine crisis.47 [emphasis in original]
History and propaganda begin and end when the righteously brazen American government says it does.
Unfortunately for the American regime, too many honest observers like Smith, who has had a prestigious career in establishment journalism (The International Herald Tribune, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Nation, five books), can see that “The more I scrutinize it, the more the American case on Ukraine is held together with spit and baling wire,” and “The Russian take in the Ukraine crisis is more truthful than the artful dodge Washington attempts.” How unfair. So we’ll refuse to answer the RT correspondent when she asks a perfectly reasonable question about the Brennan and Biden visits.
Who Didn’t Start The Fire
America’s regime-change architects also dismissively ignorethe inevitable effects of their projects on the countries and peoples that neighbor or have close relations with thecountry being “corrected.”Changing one regime means changing a web of geopolitical relationships. As Cockburn remarks: “[S]tates do not exist in isolation. Occupy them – as happened in Kabul and Baghdad – or become the predominant influence, as the US and EU have been doing in Kiev, and you transform the political geography of a whole region.”
Whatever one thinks of the Iranian regime, Iran did not start the Iraq war. It gained by it, and adjusted its geopolitical strategy in reaction it, but it was reacting, as any nation would, to profound changes that were forced upon the region by the United States and its Allies. To say that is not in any way to endorse the Iranian regime.
Similarly, despite the bizarre narrative now being pumped out by the American media, Russia did not start the Ukraine fire. It is ludicrous to believe that “chaos and danger…would not exist except that Russian propaganda created them.”Russia did not spend five billion dollars over many years to produce the regime change it wanted in Kiev. It did not send its diplomats and parliamentarians to cheer on, and literally feed, a rebellion. It did not spend twenty years adding America’s neighbors to its military alliance, and encroaching that alliance steadily towards America’s borders. It’s the US and western capital that “induced a convulsion to shake a nation loose.”48Blaming Russia for the consequences of this policy is like blaming Iran for the Iraq war.
Russia is now reacting to events in a neighboring state, part of its historical territory, that is crucial to its defense and energy industries, the home of millions of its citizens. Any nation—and certainly the United States—would react vigorously to such upheaval:
There is no question that if the roles of the United States and Russia were reversed, Washington would be threatening to intervene against a pro-Russian regime in its neighborhood. …Is there any question that if Russia somehow backed a putsch to install a client regime in Mexico City, which sent the army to crush opposition protests along the US-Mexico border and threatened to annihilate US citizens with nuclear weapons, Washington would intervene?49
The US, let’s not forget, has brazenly claimed the right to prevent any political changes that threaten its energy interests in the Middle East, thousands of miles away. Good for the gander?
Is Russia trying to steer events in a radically-changing Ukraine in directions that minimize harm to itself? Is it politically and materially supporting the pro-Russian population of eastern Ukraine? It would be astounding if it weren’t! Let’s see: British MI6 and Defence Intelligence agents are “on the ground” in eastern Ukraine, although—pinky swear—“unarmed.”50 The CIA—the head of the CIA—made an attemptedly clandestine, but he assures us non-interventional, visit to the new unelected Kiev government a few days before it launched its first “anti-terrorist” offensive. It may just be that he was the only CIA agent to show up in the last few weeks, and that the Kiev government is not coordinating its strategy closely with American and British intelligence. And the mercenaries from Greystone (aka Academi, aka Blackwater) who have been reported arriving in eastern Ukraine may have come to visit the Potemkin Steps.51 So, is every vaguely concerned party from countries thousands of miles away permitted to see after its interests in Ukraine, while we expect Russia to watch from the sidelines, obediently passive?
This has nothing to do with whether Russia is wonderful or Putin evil. These are childish distractions. Putin is watching Russia’s defense and energy interests being undermined, and its citizens, ethnic confrères, and historical supporters coming under the rule of a regime that they oppose, and that hates—I mean despises—everything Russian. Here’s the darling of western liberals, Saint Yulia, again, in an undisputed rant:
It’s about time we grab our guns and kill go kill those damn Russians together with their leader… I will use all of my means to make the entire world raise up, so that there wouldn’t be even a scorched field left in Russia…[I’m ready to] grab a machine gun and shoot that motherfucker [Putin] in the head.52
You can be a bad guy and still have your position forced and you can still be attacked. … even if you don’t like Vladimir Putin, you can say Vladimir Putin can also be …forced into a situation where he has to protect himself and his own position….
It’s absolutely crazy. It’s as if Obama has decided to reinvigorate class war by taking the side of the Nazis in World War II, by these neo-Nazi groups that said “We’re sorry, the wrong side won World War II. We wished Germany conquered Russia”. Well, you can imagine the effect this has on the Russians.53
Russia hasn’t had an elaborate, decades-long program for regime change in Ukraine, or for invading eastern Ukraine, but it may well find it difficult to stand by and watch the regular Ukrainian army and/or neo-fascist militias overrun what it considers to be the righteous resistance of ethnic Russians to an undemocratic and aggressively unfriendly regime that’s a stalking horse for NATO.
Russia hasn’t had an elaborate, decades-long program for regime change in Ukraine, or for invading eastern Ukraine, but it may well find it difficult to stand by and watch the regular Ukrainian army and/or neo-fascist militias overrun what it considers to be the righteous resistance of ethnic Russians to an undemocratic and aggressively unfriendly regime that’s a stalking horse for NATO.
It’s the US and the West who have bitten off more than they expected, and created a mess they do not know how to solve. They’ve got a government that’s hated by half its people, is losing a lot of its territory to separatist movements, and is rated at risk of “imminent default.” The IMF has no answer to this except austerity, subsidy cuts, and more debt. The US has no answer except sanctions that will hurt its European partners more than anyone,54 and some American companies (Boeing, for example) quite a bit. And it can of course make empty—or worse, serious, and in any case, dangerous—military threats. The US is very good at that. It’s going to be a little difficult, however, to persuade Americans, who are fed up with wars based on packs of lies, and who can’t get a $10 an hour minimum wage, to fight with their lives and/or treasure for Yulia and Right Sector.
In fact, the US and the West need Russia—to whom Ukraine owes a lot of money, which the IMF will have to pay off—to help solve the Ukraine problem they have created for themselves. And they are, unbelievably, demanding that Russia do so, at whatever cost to its own interests. A little harsh in tone, but Michael Hudson and Paul Craig Roberts are on point:
So Mr. Obama and the Secretary of State [tell] Russia [it] must give its gas free to the Ukraine. It must give a half-a-billion dollars a month free and not charge anything so that Ukraine will have enough money to buy military arms and invite NATO in to put hydrogen bombs on our border, so we can bomb you if you don’t do what we say.55 (Hudson)
Washington is demanding that the Russian government pull the rug out from under the protesting populations in eastern and southern Ukraine and force the Russian populations in Ukraine to submit to Washington’s stooges in Kiev. Washington also demands that Russia renege on the reunification with Crimea and hand Crimea over to Washington so that the original plan of evicting Russia from its Black Sea naval base can go forward. In other words, Washington’s demand is that Russia put Humpty Dumpty back together again and hand him over to Washington. This demand is so unrealistic that it surpasses the meaning of arrogance. The White House Fool is telling Putin: “I screwed up my takeover of your backyard. I want you to fix the situation for me and to ensure the success of the strategic threat I intended to bring to your backyard.”56 (PCR)
I have no brief for Putin or his Russia, which is mired in what I consider its own defects of oligarchy-lite capitalism and reactionary if not-so-fascist nationalism. This is more like the pre-World War I tension between competing great powers than any epic battle for democratic socialism or national liberation. Of course, that means there’s still a risk of a serious conflict. And I do think that Andrew Levine is onto something, when he says that: “Putin is no less pro-capitalist than anyone else in the liberal fold.” I also agree with Levine’s shrewd perception that “he is as fine a conservative leader as one can be in today’s world,” perhaps “the closest approximation the world now has to the great conservative leaders of the past.”57 Within the world of capitalist power, we’re seeing an object lesson in political realism versus the neocon imperial delusion that drives the American leadership.
Too bad that “No one can entertain any illusion … that America’s conduct abroad stands any chance of changing of its own in response to an intelligent reading of the emerging post–Cold War order.”58
Blind Man’s Bluff
The idea of a hot war with Russia seems surreal, and yet the danger becomes more palpable every day. A situation has arisen in which “sides” have been formed, and it looks like one side will have to suffer a clear setback, something that the parties involved are loathe to accept.
On one side is the Kiev government, allied with the EU/IMF-US/NATO—a very complicated relationship.
It’s important to recognize how the “US/NATO” part of that “side” represents a surplus of American hegemony, in excess of the economic conditions required by the EU/IMF. The US is enforcing a marriage of the NATO agenda of military encirclement of Russia with the EU/IMF economic agenda. It’s a conflation that the EU accepts, even though many EU countries find it in serious tension with their independent economic and security interests (as well as their conflict-averse populations),59 because the EU accepts its own submission to American hegemony.
The US insists on the sanctity of this marriage precisely because it wants to keep EU countries from succumbing to the allures of forming dangerously independent liaisons with the rising economic powers of Eurasia. Everyone should be aware, and wary, of the harsh particularity of the American agenda, which should be obvious by now. As Pepe Escobar says, the US is “trying to scotch the full economic integration of Eurasia.”60 Mike Whitney warns: “This is about military expansion into Eurasia, this is about pipeline corridors and oil fields, this is about dismantling the Russian Federation and positioning multinational corporations and Wall Street investment banks in Asia for the new century.”61 John Pilger refers to the US pursuing a new “manifest destiny,” its “longstanding ambition to dominate the Eurasian landmass, stretching from China to Europe.”62
These guys did not dream up this “longstanding ambition.” They can trace it back to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperative. In it, Brzezinski’s identified Eurasia as “the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played,” and Ukraine as a “critically important geopolitical pivot” that the US had to control, because “it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America.”63 Because American primacy is imperative.
The US may be particularly insistent about enforcing the marriage vows between EU and NATO interests because, pace Zbig, it’s not 1997, and America’s own prodigious potency has been flagging lately. For example [continuing the metaphor], the, um, block it experienced in Syria, which has held so far, was, as I discussed in a previous post, a serious interruption in the imperial agenda. Neocons seethe with jealous rage against Putin, who was instrumental in preventing the consummation of their Syrian plans, even though adamant popular resistance, starting with England just saying No!, was the real deal-breaker. The US does not want the impasse in Syria, along with the hesitation over Iran, along with the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with its economic decline, along with its seeming inability to actually win anything, to add up to the real turning point in imperial karma many of us hope it is. It needs to know that Europe is committed to this relationship.
At any rate, the Kiev provisional government is both entirely dependent on, and fundamentally undermined by, this EU-NATO ménage, into whose embrace it has thrown itself. One the one hand, the oligarchs have cast their lot with the EU-IMF agenda, and absolutely need the backing of NATO to maintain their precarious hold on power; on the other hand, they absolutely need that backing because the insurrection that brought the EU-IMF program into power has infuriated half the country, and it won’t be too long before the EU-IMF program itself will infuriate the other half.
It’s too bad, because another destiny for Ukraine might have been possible. As Escobar suggests, Ukraine could have developed its “borderland” identity in quite productive ways: “In a sane, non-Hobbesian environment, a neutral Ukraine would only have to gain by positioning itself as a privileged crossroads between the EU and the proposed Eurasian Union – as well as becoming a key node of the Chinese New Silk Road offensive.” But that’s not in the American primacy program, and, “Instead, the Kiev regime changers are betting on acceptance into the EU… and becoming a NATO forward base.” Another pawn on the Grand Chessboard.
So the Kiev regime “side” is likely to be forced by US/NATO, as well as by the ultranationalist tendencies within, to forcibly defeat any separatist uprising, and crush even any “federalist” demands—or anything that smells like a concession to “Russia.” We have to understand the word “Russia” now as Ukrainian-nationalist- and American-media-speak for anything that might allow some regions to wriggle out of either the IMF neo-liberal austerity program, or the American/NATO Eurasian primacy agenda. It’s looking like the US is intent on a confrontation that will demonstrate the continued viability of its big stick, and stanch any perceived bleeding of its imperial power.
This is going to require the Kiev government to crush the eastern uprisings with all the force necessary, including unleashing the otherwise embarrassing neo-fascists and accepting overt NATO military support (arms, munitions, intelligence, drones, and special ops including mercenaries). It will be ugly and deadly—much more so than the maidan. It will severely damage the Kiev regime, and result in a broken state, with a sullen population, no part of which will get anything for it.64
But, hey, for the US, it was never about Ukraine. Sure, the US would like—and Europe would really like—to have Ukraine as a stable, passive, and compliant field of exploitation, but if that’s not in the cards, they’ll take a broken state. The US does not want a full-on war with Russia, but civil war in Ukraine, a chaotic polity, constant tension with Russia, even sporadic guerilla actions—all that craziness can well serve the neocon imperial agenda. It will help to prevent the formation any kind of strategically significant Eurasian bloc. Better a Ukraine that’s a broken borderland than a Ukraine that’s a “privileged crossroads” in a network of Eurasian economies not subject to American primacy. Cook the goose to spite the gander.
Besides, another broken state will also justify military spending, American exceptionalism, opportunistic demonization of the Eurasian devil-of-the-day, and divert Americans’ attention from their real social problems and enemies at home. It’s a strange effect of the neocon strategy: America “wins” when everybody else loses.
Haven’t we seen this time and again—in Iraq, Libya, Syria. It’s not an accident.
I’m not saying this will really “work,” in some “sane, non-Hobbesian” way, but from their point of view this kind of upheaval has always worked to their “Hobbesian” advantage, and they have are fairly convinced it will continue to do so.
On the other “side” are the eastern Ukrainian dissident populations and their only possible patron, Russia. Russia may support them, but it does not control the situation on the ground. They want to resist the government of crooks and fascists. The depth of Russia’s commitment to those people will be a key factor in what happens next. The Russians, too, are trapped by the excesses of US policy.
Putin doesn’t want or need war of any kind. He knows he would lose a direct confrontation with the US military, and any serious invasion or sustained support of an insurgency would drain Russia economically and politically. Whatever faults or ambitions Russia has, they do not produce anything like the neocon agenda.
There is an argument that Russia cannot afford to let the EU destroy and cannibalize Ukrainian industry and agriculture, or allow the US and NATO to tighten its indisputably threatening grip around the country—that now is as good a time as any to have the fight that’s inevitable, if Russia doesn’t want to agree to be a subsidiary of the American empire.
There’s the counter-argument, of course, that Russia would do just as well to let the Kiev government and its American patrons deal with a hateful and rebellious eastern population, let the costs of IMF austerity sink in across Ukraine and Europe, and let its own reasonableness pay off in the long term.
Both arguments are plausible. Neither course of action would make for a particularly “evil” Russia, and or a particularly “good” result.
The first option would require a military move to defeat any Kiev government offensive that threatened to crush the eastern protesters. It would be a strong defense of an arguably legitimate principle of self-determination and, more importantly, of the people fighting for it. It would call what may be America’s and Europe’s bluff, and be a strong challenge to America’s assumption that it can dictate the terms of primacy in Eurasia. If it’s a bluff. It would be extremely dangerous for Russia.
The second would require standing by while a Kiev government military offensive crushes the eastern protesters. It would be an immediate bloody disaster, and a long-term social disaster, for the eastern Ukrainians in revolt. (Can American liberals, who cheered on Obama’s bombing the crap out of Libya, not recognize that if there were ever a case for “humanitarian intervention,” Russia has it here?) It would also undermine Russia as a Eurasian, let alone world, power. Would it also involve a NATO-Ukrainian recapture of Crimea? Could Russia stand for that?
Since a new Kiev offensive has already begun, we will soon find out.
In any case, Ukraine loses. It was never about Ukraine.
[As this is being posted, a new Kiev offensive against the east has already begun. In a particularly horrific incident, at least 38 people have died in Odessa when the “Trade Unions House was set on fire by pro-Kiev radicals after they surrounded and destroyed the tent camp of anti-government activists that stood in front of the building.” Thirty died, “suffocated to death with smoke,” and many burned bodies were found on the upper floors. Eight were killed jumping out of windows. According to some reports, “those who jumped and survived were surrounded and beaten by football ultras and the Right Sector.”
Using an insulting term for eastern dissidents, pro-Kiev nationalists gloated on Twitter that “Colorado beetles are being roasted up in Odessa.”65]
Of course, there was a third alternative: Negotiate a political reconciliation in Ukraine that does not privilege the Kiev insurrectionary government, that acknowledges it was in fact the result of a movement that was not thoroughly representative. Recognize that it will have to be replaced by a regime that issues from the democratic consent of all regions, even if that means some form of federalization. Allow Ukrainians to build a new regime that is not dominated by crooked oligarchs, no matter who their foreign patrons are; that is, in fact, willing to strip the oligarchs of their political power and of the wealth of the county they have stolen; that rejects any integration with NATO and any part in a “new Cold War”; and that commits itself to negotiating economic deals that are transparent, explained carefully in advance, and designed to serve the best interests of the majority of Ukrainians, not foreign financial institutions.
Such an alternative is perfectly reasonable, and would help Ukraine. Of course, that would require the United States to relativize its own actions, to recognize that maybe it was a tiny bit reckless with the fire it lit in Ukraine, and to dampen rather than to double down on the accelerant. Unfortunately, “No one can entertain any illusion … that America’s conduct abroad stands any chance of changing of its own in response to an intelligent reading of the emerging post–Cold War order.”
It was never about Ukraine.
Notes and Links
1. Michael Hudson Interview, If You Can’t Tap Their Phone, How Do You Know Who To Shoot?, renegade economists | Earthsharing
2. Patrick L. Smith, Thomas Friedman, supreme toady: Also, shameless! – Salon.com
4. Elizabeth Piper, Special Report: Why Ukraine spurned the EU and embraced Russia | Reuters. Many quotes in following paragraphs from this article.
5. Michael Hudson, America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff
6. Michael Hudson, Anti-Russian sentiment a resource play diversion
7. Marilyn Vogt-Downey, Whither Ukraine? An Imperialist Invasion Without an Imperialist Army » CounterPunch
9. Paul Craig Roberts, Western Looting Of Ukraine Has Begun — Paul Craig Roberts – PaulCraigRoberts.org.
10. Jack Rasmus, The Ukraine Economic Crisis » CounterPunch, and see his detailed analysis of the IMF Standby Agreement with Ukraine of March 27, Ukraine’s IMF Deal Means Greece-Like Depression. In fact, some of the IMF money would go to Russia, to which Ukraine owes a ton for gas.
13. IMF demands and occupation Putin – LB.ua (From an Anti-Russian Deputy)
The story of how oligarchs and transnational capital have been taking over the rich black soil farmland is tragically emblematic, and a good account of it from 2013 can be found here. That takeover will accelerate dramatically when the new IMF-approved Ukrainian government allows foreigners to buy the black soil farmland that made Ukraine known as the “breadbasket of Europe.” See: Land Grabs in the Black Earth: Ukrainian Oligarchs and International Investors | Heinrich Böll Foundation. See also, A free land market will destroy the Ukrainian village | Foundation for Effective Governance, and JP Sottile, Corporate Interests Behind Ukraine Putsch | Consortiumnews
14. Marilyn Vogt-Downey, op. cit.
17. Rasmus, The Ukraine Economic Crisis
18. Kenneth Rapoza, Washington’s Man Yatsenyuk Setting Ukraine Up For Ruin, Forbes.com
19. Rasmus, The Ukraine Economic Crisis
20. Andrew Foxall and Oren Kessler, Yes, There Are Bad Guys in the Ukrainian Government Foreign Policy.com
21. Emmanuel Dreyfus, Ukraine beyond politics – Le Monde diplomatique – English edition
22. Michael Moynihan, The Swedish Neo-Nazis ‘Volunteers’ of Kiev – The Daily Beast
23. Emmanuel Dreyfus, op. cit.
25. Max Blumenthal, Is the U.S. Backing Neo-Nazis in Ukraine? | Alternet
Anna Nemtsova, Ukraine’s Unfinished Revolution, Foreign Policy,
31. Patrick L. Smith, Liberal media myth officially dead: Brazen propaganda, historical amnesia and the New York Times – Salon.com
32.  Andrew E. Kramer, Ukraine Push Against Rebels Grinds to Halt – NYTimes.com
33. Obama Calls On Viktor Yanukovych To Remove Security Forces From Kiev Immediately| AP via Huffington Post
36. Patrick Cockburn, Ukraine: From Crisis to Catastrophe » CounterPunch
38. Robert Parry, Prepping for a Ukrainian Massacre. See also, In Ukraine, a crisis of bullets and economics – The Washington Post
“Reportedly,” because Tymoshenko has acknowledged the conversation took place, but has denied making this particular statement about the three million Russians. She claims it was the one element of the tape inserted by the FSB. Decide what you think is credible regarding that. Her interlocutor, parliamentarian Nestor Shufrych, told another story, saying: “The conversation didn’t take place.” So, at least one of these Kiev government figures is lying.
Note here, also, the echo of Svoboda’s nuclear rearmament fixation. I think that restoring the Ukraine as a nuclear power is a another key element, within revanchist Ukrainian nationalism, of restoring national pride.
40. Patrick Cockburn, Ukraine: From Crisis to Catastrophe
41. See Steve Weissman’s great analysis of the intense and continual American nurturing of Ukrainian regime change, in Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev.
42. Patrick L. Snith, Liberal media myth officially dead
- Robert Parry, NYT Retracts Russian-Photo Scoop | Consortiumnews
45. Michael Hudson interview, op. cit.
46. David M. Herszenhorn, Russia Is Quick to Bend Truth About Ukraine – NYTimes.com
47. Smith, Liberal media myth officially dead
48. Smith, Thomas Friedman, supreme toady
53. Michael Hudson interview, op. cit.
55. Michael Hudson interview, op. cit.
56. Paul Craig Roberts, Moving Closer To War — PaulCraigRoberts.org
57. Andrew Levine,Putin’s Demonizers » CounterPunch. And I agree that: “the gap between real conservatives and the self-styled ones around us is extreme; they might as well be different species.“
58. Smith, Thomas Friedman, supreme toady
60. Pepe Escobar, Robocop NATO Dreams of War » CounterPunch
61. Mike Whitney, Directing War Strategies from the Shadows » CounterPunch
63. www.takeoverworld.info/Grand_Chessboard.pdf, See also: Whitney and Escobar, and Chris Ernesto, The Eurasian Chessboard: Brzezinski Mapped Out “The Battle for Ukraine” in 1997 | Global Research
64. Notice, I did not mention the western Ukrainian, Europhile Maidan liberals. That’s because they count for nothing. Their purported concerns will be subsumed within the real Western neo-liberal agenda, the oligarchs who actually run the country will ignore them, the NGOs will go away, the western media will forget about them, and a whole lot, if not most, of the Ukrainian people will end up hating them and what they have wrought. Ask the Russian liberals how they’ve fared since the Yeltsin “revolution.”
65. 38 People Killed As Radicals Set Office On Fire In Ukraine’s Odessa, InformationClearingHouse.info