Ivan Winters returns with a guest-essay that takes a look behind the curtain of media hype at the crisis in Ukraine.
What’s the Real Story in Ukraine?
by Ivan Winters
I am writing this article to help interested persons make head or tail of the ongoing shambles that is the situation in Ukraine and to give some (hopefully accurate) information about the main players in the situation. One of the things that has driven me to contacting the team to offer to write this article has been the disgraceful, shallow, ill-informed coverage in much of the UK Press. The coverage on the two main TV News providers, BBC and ITN has been pathetic and has been propagandising an EU version of events (I will give some examples of this in the article).
Most of the print media has been nearly as bad. In fairness, during the past few weeks, since mid-February, the Daily Mail has started to take the situation seriously and provided much more accurate coverage, particularly in some of the op-eds. The best TV news coverage has been from Al-Jazeera (AJ). I suppose AJ is giving unbiased coverage for the simple reason that as an Islamic-funded broadcaster they have no particular brief for any of the parties in the region. There is also a channel for non-EU-tainted coverage on Russia Today (RT). RT is as you would expect: pro-Russian, putting the official ‘Moscow spin’ on all its reporting. It is also on occasions hilariously technically incompetent and some of its presenters speak very strongly accented English (some of the other staff are, however, Western European).
The first thing to get straight about the situation is the claim that the document that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign was a ‘EU Trade Pact’ (or similar names). This was in fact an innocuous and misleading wrapper put around a preliminary agreement for Ukraine to begin accession procedures with the EU, a process that can take decades (for example, Turkey!). Why was this misleading name used?
In the discussion that follows please note the difference between ‘Europe’ and the ‘EU’. Some reporters use the two names interchangeably. They are not the same. Europe is a geographical entity, a continent, consisting of over 40 countries. The EU is a group of 28 countries within Europe that have decided democratically (!) to form a supranational bloc. Reasons for the use of the misleading name for the rejected treaty are numerous and include:
|a.||Attempting to hide the real nature of the EU attempt to expand its bloc up to the Russian border. The EU were perfectly aware that if Russia realised what was happening, Putin had two ‘weapons’ at his disposal. The first is that much of the population in Southern and Eastern Ukraine is pro-Russian (Russian-speaking and often Russian Orthodox). These peoples would much prefer Ukraine to increase its links with Russia rather than the EU, and Putin could easily motivate then into vociferously objecting to the proposed treaty.
The other weapon is that Russia supplies Ukraine with its oil and gas, and Ukraine regularly owes Russia for unpaid deliveries. For example, as of 1st March the unpaid balance was approx $1.59 billion (approx £980 million). Russia can (and has in the past) cut off Ukrainian fuel deliveries in mid-winter using the unpaid balance as an excuse. A collateral result of this is that some other EU countries lose some of their oil/gas deliveries as they use the pipelines running through Ukraine.
|b.||The EU were well-aware that many Ukrainians, while perfectly happy to see Ukraine increase its links with Western Europe, would not be keen to see accession to the EU. After all, having got out of one supranational bloc in 1992, why would anyone want to join another such bloc? The image many East Europeans have of the EU is that of another expansionist supranational bloc led by a bureaucracy that comes up with the same incompetent decision-making as occurred in the Soviet bloc (see discussion and comment programs on RT to see this stereotype regularly repeated). A further image problem for the EU is that many people around the world see it as a putative ‘Fourth Reich’ dominated by Germany! Accurate or not, most Ukrainians have bad memories of their last involvement with Germany.|
|c.||Many of the EU’s social and cultural standards expected of accession nations are inimical to the Ukrainian people. As one example out of many, countries acceding to the EU are expected to legitimize same-sex marriage. This has already caused a problem with the latest accessing nation, Croatia, a proudly Catholic country, where a national referendum has rejected same-sex marriage. The Ukrainians are also proudly religious and the majority object to same-sex marriage. In fact most Ukrainians didn’t realise involvement with the EU included support for same-sex marriage until an advertising campaign in the local press — the campaign was paid for by a oligarch who is a friend of Vladimir Putin.
Having disposed of the narrative that the Ukrainian President was signing up to a trade pact, there is of course one simple fact that has to be recognised: President Yanukovych was a democratically elected president. If a democratically elected president wishes to change his mind before signing up to a treaty, that is his prerogative in a democracy and that is no reason for his overthrow. To give an obvious example: you are perfectly entitled to walk away from a potential house purchase provided you have not ‘exchanged’ contracts. The worse that can happen is you might have to pay some fees for solicitors/valuer etc.
Who was behind the rioting mob in Kiev that used the non-signature of the Trade Treaty as an excuse for a coup? Two answers actually: the US and the EU. The US has for the past two decades pursued a policy of trying to detach the former Soviet Republics from the Russian economic sphere and move them into the Western sphere, including such little sweeteners as ‘candidate member of NATO’ status. One of the most famous examples of this was Georgia. The Georgian government expected that in the event of a border dispute with Russia, NATO would intervene, all guns blazing. Instead, during the South Ossetia crisis they got French President Sarkozy to negotiate a ceasefire!
One of the most active members of the US State Department. during these operations has been Assistant Secretary of State Victoria ‘F*** the EU’ Nuland. Unlike many of the staff at her level who are short-term political appointees, Nuland is a career diplomat who began her career some twenty years ago in the Clinton era. Like Bush-era Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nuland is a Sovietologist. Nuland was in Kiev a few months ago handing out cookies to demonstrators. More recently she was caught on the phone giving her (very accurate) opinion of the EU and discussing with the US ambassador to Ukraine who should be members of a new Ukrainian government. Hardly the actions of a ‘neutral’ power in the overthrow of Yanukovych.
Another American visitor to Kiev was Senator John McCain who, although a Republican, is usually on the same side as Obama/Kerry on Foreign affairs agendas. McCain was speaking on a platform in Kiev alongside a leader of the Ukrainian Nationalist Party Svoboda. The Svoboda leader is so extreme he is barred from entry to the US by the State Department, but that didn’t deter McCain from supporting him.
In the case of the EU the situation is quite comical. Both Polish and German Foreign Ministers have stood in the Kiev ‘Maidan’ supporting the anti-government demonstrators. There have also been the endless visitations from EU ‘Foreign affairs chief’ Baroness Ashton. The German Foreign Minister (until mid Dec 2013) Guido Westerwelle spoke alongside Svoboda leaders. Westerwelle is openly gay, Svoboda is openly violently homophobic. Strange bedfellows! (so to speak)
What help did the US and the EU give to the democratic demonstrators overthrowing Yanukovych? A lot! Funding people to stay for months in the Maidan and various other locations where demonstrators set up encampments, food, tents, field kitchens, support for the campaign through the Press and TV material — it wasn’t cheap. It is estimated that since the early 1990s the US has spent $5 billion (approx £3.1 billion),]. This money is channelled through political parties, charities, NGOs etc. The EU is estimated to have spent at least $1 billion (£620 million). Note 1 suggests that demonstrators are typically being paid €8-25 (£7-£20) per day funnelled through NGOs such as the German ‘Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’ (a foundation linked to Merkel’s CDU Party). Note 2 lists payments made to a range of small NGOs/charities.
The final straw in the overthrow of Yanukovych was the infamous ‘snipers’ incident in which he is alleged to have ordered snipers to fire upon demonstrators, his own fellow countrymen, causing approximately 80 fatalities. The strange thing about this incident is that no one has apparently succeeded in arresting or killing one or more of these snipers. We do not know who they were, their names, ethnicity, or what uniforms (if any) they were wearing. In fact we haven’t even been told the calibre and type of ammunition they were using, which would usually be available from post mortems. How convenient those snipers were in causing public hatred of Yanukovych, who effectively had to flee the country to avoid a lynching. But we have a credible report that it appears the ‘snipers’ had also fired on government police and that they had been set in place by someone involved with the new government. Both the new government and Baroness Ashton have not been in any hurry to set up any enquiry into who the snipers were and who ordered them. Could it have been yet another ‘false flag’ operation?
At this point I’ll point out a legal aspect on which Putin is wrong. Regardless of whether or not the ‘snipers’ incident for which Yanukovych is now facing an arrest warrant from the Ukrainian Parliament was faked, there is prima facie evidence Yanukovych is guilty of fraud, embezzlement and abuse of office in all the villas seized, documents found, accounts frozen etc after he absconded. There are also reports that he suffered a severe heart attack after fleeing the country. So he cannot continue to be President as if he were still in Ukraine; he would be facing financial charges or too ill to carry out his duties. The next in line to the Presidency according to the Ukrainian Constitution is the Speaker of the Parliament (by the way, in the US Constitution the third in line to the Presidency is the Speaker of the House). Similarly most of the government ministers, having either resigned or absconded, an interim government had to be appointed. Quite correctly, since the interim President and government lack a mandate, election dates lack been brought forward so that a new government has a democratic mandate. Despite proceeding in a constitutionally correct manner the Russians, have said wrongly that they will not recognise the interim President and prime minister They cannot even claim the interim president is a ‘neo-Nazi’; Oleksandr Turchynov is from the Fatherland Party.
The Fatherland Party is a moderate centrist pro-capitalist party. In addition to a national minimum wage, increased pensions, a simplified taxation system, business-friendly policies, adoption of jury trials, and a strong range of anti-corruption measures, the Party is pro-EU. The party has been an ‘observer member’ of the European People’s Party in the EU since 2008. The party’s manifesto makes no mention of joining NATO and calls for “a mutually beneficial and equitable agreement on the establishment of free trade with Russia”. (Source Fatherland Party policies). The Party’s current leader since her release from imprisonment is Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko has of course been Prime Minister of Ukraine before on previous occasions. Her previous governments (she has led governments consisting of various amalgams of parties/blocs over the years) have always been accepted as democratically elected by voters across Ukraine, even those voters who voted for different parties. She has successfully dealt with the Russian government in various negotiations over the years. ‘Russian Prime Minister (now President again) Vladimir Putin has stated (in November 2009) he found it comfortable to work with his (then) Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko and also praised her for strengthening Ukrainian sovereignty and building stable ties with Moscow and called the second Tymoshenko Government “efficient and a force for stability”’.
So if Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party isn’t the problem, what is the problem? The main party in the ‘Right Sector Bloc’ is Svoboda. To describe Svoboda as neo-Nazi is generous; the party is Nazi. I am not going to go into the history (except for one item) but for background I can suggest for a start sources  and . (I do not recommend the Wikipedia entries on these subjects as they appear to have been ‘airbrushed’ by friendly editors!). I have already mentioned the party’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who stood on platforms in Kiev with various Western politicians, and the party’s homophobia. The party is also anti-Russian and anti-Semitic. ‘The Party was involved in the vote of 23 Feb 2014 by the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada) repealing the previous law regarding the use of regional languages making Ukrainian the sole state language at all levels; however, this vote was vetoed by acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on March 2.’. Another example of anti-Russian policy from the party was a move by a Svoboda legislator in the new Rada calling for Ukraine to start once again developing its own nuclear weapons. This in a country where most people want absolutely nothing to do with any nuclear materials post-Chernobyl. The party’s deputy leader Yuri Mikhalchishin, a Svoboda ideologist, has founded a think-tank called the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre, translated Hitler’s work which he calls ‘classics’, and calls the Holocaust a ‘bright period’ in European history,. The same sources also report the leader of Svoboda, in 2004, speaking at the graveside of a UPA commander (UPA — WWII ‘Ukrainian Insurgent Army’), urging Ukrainians to fight against the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia”, and lauding the World War II Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) for having fought “Muscovites, Germans, Jews and other scum who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state.” Svoboda leaders and members attend reunions, funerals and memorials for UPA, OUN and Waffen SS Galicia Division. Moving forward to the present day, although Svoboda holds several ministries in the interim government, its followers haven’t given up violence. An example shows Svoboda ‘activists’ assaulting a Ukrainian TV boss.
I said I wasn’t going to get involved in history except for one item, and that was also the item that made me realise the failure of the Western media to report the ‘Maidan’ uprising accurately. Svoboda supporters venerate a Ukrainian Nationalist ‘hero’ of the Second World War named Stepan Bandera . This war hero’s war consisted of committing genocide against Poles, Jews, Russians, Magyars, Romanians, Crimean Tartars and other minorities in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine. Not surprisingly minorities in Ukraine today, particularly the ethnic Russians who form a substantial part of the population in Southern and Eastern Ukraine, want nothing to do with a government where several ministers think Bandera is a hero! I realised that the mainstream media were hiding things in late 2013 when I saw young demonstrators in the Kiev Maidan on TV marching behind banners of Bandera’s face. I recognised the face and realised what this said about the real politics of the allegedly freedom loving pro EU ‘demonstrators’. They were Svoboda supporters! The BBC/ITN/Sky commentators never said whose face was on the banners. If their reporters ‘didn’t know’ because of lack of local knowledge, all they had too do was ask their Ukrainian interpreters, car drivers etc. Bandera was even awarded the title ‘Hero of Ukraine’ by outgoing President Yushchenko in 2010. The award was cancelled by President Yanukovych. Despite this Bandera is an ‘honorary citizen’ of many Ukrainian cities and there are statues, shrines, etc. to him all over Western Ukraine (see Wikipedia ‘Stepan Bandera’ for a full listing).
Having set out at some length examples showing that Right Sector/Svoboda is a fascist party, the only conclusion I can come to is that the ‘Western powers’ — the EU and the US — were so desperate to get Ukraine into a West-leaning power bloc that they were willing to use any ‘activists’ that were available to overthrow a democratically elected government, and let the nationalist genie out of the bottle. They are now going around trying to order an interim government currently without a democratic mandate to put the heavily armed and equipped genie back into the bottle as a condition for bailout packages (Baroness Ashton has had high profile coverage in recent days — mid April — demanding that ‘unauthorised groups’ be disarmed, etc.). It is not just a case of satisfying EU/US/IMF that the problem is being solved so that bailout funds are released. There are two other parties that have to be satisfied. Minorities in Ukraine, in particular the substantial Russian-speaking minority in southern and eastern Ukraine, have to be convinced they are dealing with an administration that has the interests of all Ukrainians at heart in its governance of the country. (2001 census figures show approx 30% of Ukrainians as Russian-speaking, rising to 77% in the Crimea). Little that has happened recently could convince these regions that the interim government is good news for their populations. The other party that has to be reassured is, of course, Russia.
What has this got to do with Russia, some of you may be asking? To give a comparable example just think if the Russian government spent $6 million overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mexico by funding the drug cartels to seize power. How many ‘red lines’ would that cross with Obama/Kerry/Nuland?
The Russian government has every right to be concerned about a foreign-financed and -supported ‘regime change’ on its border, particularly as the outgoing regime was a democratically elected government with which Russia had friendly relations.
In presenting this overview I am stating my own opinions, and have included a list of sources so that readers who wish to check the factual bases for my statements can do so. The list of sources is only a starter list. Needless to say, my overview is different from that being presented in most Western publications, but I still (currently) have the right to present my own research and interpretation.
Previously by Ivan Winters: “A Systemic Failure of Public Responsibility”