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Four years on: Ukraine and the Myths of Maidan (PODCAST)

Stephen Cohen and John Batchelor break down the melodramatic mess Kiev has become since 2014

Stephen Cohen

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(TheNation) – Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton, and radio-show host John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, can be found here at TheNation.com.)

Cohen argues that the Ukrainian crisis, which unfolded in late 2013 and early 2014 and which led to Crimea’s annexation by (or “reunification with”) Russia and to the still ongoing US-Russian proxy war in eastern Ukraine, is a seminal event of the 21st century. It militarized and moved the new Cold War to Russia’s borders—in the form of a civil and proxy shooting war—indeed to inside a civilization shared for centuries by Russia and large parts of Ukraine. It implanted a toxic and dangerous political element in US, Russian, Ukrainian, and European politics, perhaps for at least a generation. And it has left Ukraine in near-economic ruin, with thousands of citizens dead and millions displaced and many more struggling to regain the quality of life they had before 2014. The events of 2014 also led to the ongoing NATO buildup on Russia’s western border in the Baltic region, yet another new Cold War front fraught with the possibility of hot war. Making things only worse, in late 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would supply the Kiev government with more, and more sophisticated, weapons, a step that even the Obama administration, which played a major detrimental role in the crisis, declined to take.

Two conflicting narratives of the Ukrainian crisis have been a major factor in preventing its resolution. One, promoted by Washington and the US-backed government in Kiev, blames only “aggression” by the Kremlin and specifically by Russian President Putin. The other, promoted by Moscow and rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, which it supports, blames “aggression” by the European Union and NATO, both inspired by Washington. Cohen sees enough bad intent, misconceptions, and misperceptions to go around, but on balance thinks Moscow’s narrative, almost entirely deleted from US mass media, is closer to the historical realities of 2013–2014:

  • Putin, celebrating the apparently highly successful Olympic games in Sochi, in January 2014, intended to demonstrate that Russia was prospering, sovereign, and a worthy partner in international affairs, had no reason to provoke a major international crisis with the West on Russia’s borders, and still less in “fraternal” Ukraine. Whether wise or not, his actions ever since have been mostly reactive, not “aggressive,” including in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
  • On the other hand, ever since the 1990s, following the end of the Soviet Union, Washington has made clear that both EU and NATO expansion eastward should eventually include Ukraine, which was regarded as “the prize.” What precipitated the Ukrainian crisis was the EU “partnership” offered to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which he declined to sign in November 2013. (Actually, having learned the astronomical financial costs, he merely asked for more time to consider the terms.) Protests in Kiev, centered on Maidan Square, led to violence and eventually to Yanukovych’s overthrow and his replacement by the US-backed government in Kiev.
  • Several circumstances need to remembered—or learned—in recalling these events. Putin and his ministers sought to persuade the EU to make the economic agreement with Ukraine “tripartite,” including Moscow so as not to disadvantage the very substantial trade relationship between Ukraine and Russia. The EU leadership, for whatever reason, refused, telling Kiev it had to choose between Russia and the West. For years, as all sides knew, Washington and other Western actors had been pouring billions of dollars into Ukraine to prepare it for the West’s “civilizational” values. That is, the “march” on Ukraine had long been under way. The EU agreement—purportedly only economic and civilizational—included provisions binding the new “partner” to NATO “military and security” policy. (The intent was clear, with President George W. Bush having proposed to fast-track NATO membership for Ukraine in 2008, only to be vetoed by Germany and France.) Moreover, during the years preceding the EU’s proposed agreement, President Yanukovych had not been “pro-Kremlin,” as regularly alleged in the US media, but had, on the advice of his American electoral adviser (the now-infamous Paul Manafort), “tilted” toward the West, toward the EU, in order to expand his electoral base beyond southeastern Ukraine. (Putin’s loathing for Yanukovych as a greedy and corrupt opportunist was well known in Moscow and Kiev, though evidently not by the US media.)  As anyone who followed the unfolding of the crisis knows, prominent members of US officialdom—from the State Department, Congress, and the Obama administration—were persistently present throughout the Maidan events, publicly and privately urging a showdown with Yanukovych, the constitutionally elected president. (A phone conversation between the leading State Department official involved and the US ambassador to Ukraine plotting the makeup of a successor government became public.) Finally, the day before Yanukovych was forced to flee the country by an armed street mob, he signed an agreement, brokered by three EU foreign ministers, to end the crisis peacefully by forming a coalition government with opposition leaders and agreeing to an early presidential election. That is, a democratic resolution of the crisis, privately endorsed by President Putin and President Obama, was in hand. Why none of the Western parties defended their own agreement, insisting that it be honored, remains uncertain, though perhaps not a mystery.
  • Which brings Cohen to another prevailing media myth: that what occurred on Maidan in February 2014 was a “democratic revolution.” Whether it was in fact a “revolution” can be left to future historians, though most of the oligarchic powers that afflicted Ukraine before 2014 remain in place four years later, along with their corrupt practices. As for “democratic,” removing a legally elected president by threatening his life hardly qualifies. Nor does the peremptory way the new government was formed, the constitution changed, and pro-Yanukovych parties banned. Though the overthrow involved people in the streets, this was a coup. How much of it was spontaneous and how much directed, or inspired, by high-level actors in the West also remains unclear. But one other myth needs to be dispelled. The rush to seize Yanukovych’s residence was triggered by snipers who killed some 80 or more protesters and policemen on Maidan. It was long said that the snipers had been sent by Yanukovych, but it has now been virtually proven that the shooters were instead from the neo-fascist group Right Sector among the protesters on the square. (See, for example, the reports of the scholar Ivan Katchanovski.)
  • The antidemocratic origins of today’s Kiev regime continue to afflict it. Its president, Petro Poroshenko, is intensely unpopular at home. It remains pervasively corrupt. Its Western-financed economy continues to fail, as even some of its ardent American cheerleaders now admit. And for the most part it continues to refuse to implement its obligations under the 2015 Minsk II peace accords, above all granting the rebel Donbass territories enough home rule to keep them in the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, Kiev is semi-hostage to armed ultranationalist battalions, whose ideology and symbols include proudly neo-fascist ones, which hate Russia and today’s Western “civilizational” values almost equally. It may be said that the Donbass rebel “republics” have their own ugly traits, but it should be added that they fight only in defense of their own territory against the armies of Kiev and are not sponsored by the US government.

Adding to this explosive mix, the Trump administration now promises to supply more weapons. The official pretext is plainly contrived: to deter Putin from “further aggression against Ukraine,” for which he has shown no desire or intention whatsoever. Nor does it make any geopolitical or strategic sense. Neighboring Russia can easily upgrade its weapons to the rebel provinces. Indeed, the danger is that Kiev’s failing regime will interpret the American arms as a signal from Washington for a new offensive against the Donbass in order to regain support at home—but which will end again in military disaster for Kiev while perhaps bringing neo-fascists, who may well come into possession of the American weapons, closer to power, and the new US-Russian Cold War closer to a larger, more direct war between the nuclear superpowers. (US trainers will need to be sent with the weapons, adding to the some 300 already there. If any are killed by Russian-backed rebel forces, even if unintentionally, what will be Washington’s reaction?)

Why would Trump, who wants to “cooperate with Russia,” take such a reckless step, long urged by Washington’s anti-Russian hawks? Assuming it was Trump’s decision, it was no doubt to disprove the underlying premise of the still unproved Russiagate allegations that he is a lackey of the Kremlin and an accomplice of Putin—accusations he hears and reads daily, not only from damning commentary on MSNBC and pseudobalanced panels on CNN, but from the once-distinguished academic Paul Krugman, who tells his New York Times readers: “There’s really no question about Trump/Putin collusion, and Trump in fact continues to act like Putin’s puppet.” There is every “question” and no “in fact” at all, but Trump is understandably desperate to end the unprecedented allegations that he is a “treasonous” president—that there was “no collusion, no collusion, no collusion.” We have here yet another example, Cohen points out, of his argument that Russiagate has become the No. 1 threat to American national security, certainly in regard to nuclear Russia.

Indeed, Cohen concludes, if the media insists on condemning Trump for mangled narratives and dubious international entanglements, they might want to focus on former vice president Joseph Biden. It has long been known that President Obama put him in charge of the administration’s “Ukrainian project,” in effect making him proconsul overseeing the increasingly colonized Kiev. In short, Biden, who is clearly already seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, bears a heavy personal responsibility for the four-year-old Ukrainian crisis. But he shows no sign of rethinking anything and still less any remorse. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Biden and his coauthor, Michael Carpenter, string together a tsunami of highly questionable, if not false, narratives regarding “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin,” many of them involving the years he was vice president. Along the way, Biden repeatedly berates Putin for meddling in Western elections. This is the same Joe Biden who told Putin not to return to the Russian presidency during Obama’s purported “reset” with Moscow and who, in February 2014, told Ukraine’s democratically elected President Yanukovych to abdicate and flee the country.

 

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Is the Violent Dismemberment of Russia Official US Policy?

Neocons make the case that the West should not only seek to contain “Moscow’s imperial ambitions” but to actively seek the dismemberment of Russia as a whole.

The Duran

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Authored by Erik D’Amato via The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity:


If there’s one thing everyone in today’s Washington can agree on, it’s that whenever an official or someone being paid by the government says something truly outrageous or dangerous, there should be consequences, if only a fleeting moment of media fury.

With one notable exception: Arguing that the US should be quietly working to promote the violent disintegration and carving up of the largest country on Earth.

Because so much of the discussion around US-Russian affairs is marked by hysteria and hyperbole, you are forgiven for assuming this is an exaggeration. Unfortunately it isn’t. Published in the Hill under the dispassionate title “Managing Russia’s dissolution,” author Janusz Bugajski makes the case that the West should not only seek to contain “Moscow’s imperial ambitions” but to actively seek the dismemberment of Russia as a whole.

Engagement, criticism and limited sanctions have simply reinforced Kremlin perceptions that the West is weak and predictable. To curtail Moscow’s neo-imperialism a new strategy is needed, one that nourishes Russia’s decline and manages the international consequences of its dissolution.

Like many contemporary cold warriors, Bugajski toggles back and forth between overhyping Russia’s might and its weaknesses, notably a lack of economic dynamism and a rise in ethnic and regional fragmentation.But his primary argument is unambiguous: That the West should actively stoke longstanding regional and ethnic tensions with the ultimate aim of a dissolution of the Russian Federation, which Bugajski dismisses as an “imperial construct.”

The rationale for dissolution should be logically framed: In order to survive, Russia needs a federal democracy and a robust economy; with no democratization on the horizon and economic conditions deteriorating, the federal structure will become increasingly ungovernable…

To manage the process of dissolution and lessen the likelihood of conflict that spills over state borders, the West needs to establish links with Russia’s diverse regions and promote their peaceful transition toward statehood.

Even more alarming is Bugajski’s argument that the goal should not be self-determination for breakaway Russian territories, but the annexing of these lands to other countries. “Some regions could join countries such as Finland, Ukraine, China and Japan, from whom Moscow has forcefully appropriated territories in the past.”

It is, needless to say, impossible to imagine anything like this happening without sparking a series of conflicts that could mirror the Yugoslav Wars. Except in this version the US would directly culpable in the ignition of the hostilities, and in range of 6,800 Serbian nuclear warheads.

So who is Janusz Bugajski, and who is he speaking for?

The author bio on the Hill’s piece identifies him as a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington, D.C. think-tank. But CEPA is no ordinary talk shop: Instead of the usual foundations and well-heeled individuals, its financial backers seem to be mostly arms of the US government, including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the US Mission to NATO, the US-government-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy, as well as as veritable who’s who of defense contractors, including Raytheon, Bell Helicopter, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Textron. Meanwhile, Bugajski chairs the South-Central Europe area studies program at the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State.

To put it in perspective, it is akin to a Russian with deep ties to the Kremlin and arms-makers arguing that the Kremlin needed to find ways to break up the United States and, if possible, have these breakaway regions absorbed by Mexico and Canada. (A scenario which alas is not as far-fetched as it might have been a few years ago; many thousands in California now openly talk of a “Calexit,” and many more in Mexico of a reconquista.)

Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine a quasi-official voice like Bugajski’s coming out in favor of a similar policy vis-a-vis China, which has its own restive regions, and which in geopolitical terms is no more or less of a threat to the US than Russia. One reason may be that China would consider an American call for secession by the Tibetans or Uyghurs to be a serious intrusion into their internal affairs, unlike Russia, which doesn’t appear to have noticed or been ruffled by Bugajski’s immodest proposal.

Indeed, just as the real scandal in Washington is what’s legal rather than illegal, the real outrage in this case is that few or none in DC finds Bugajski’s virtual declaration of war notable.

But it is. It is the sort of provocation that international incidents are made of, and if you are a US taxpayer, it is being made in your name, and it should be among your outrages of the month.

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At Age 70, Time To Rethink NATO

The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via The Unz Review:


“Treaties are like roses and young girls. They last while they last.”

So said President Charles De Gaulle, who in 1966 ordered NATO to vacate its Paris headquarters and get out of France.

NATO this year celebrates a major birthday. The young girl of 1966 is no longer young. The alliance is 70 years old.

And under this aging NATO today, the U.S. is committed to treat an attack on any one of 28 nations from Estonia to Montenegro to Romania to Albania as an attack on the United States.

The time is ripe for a strategic review of these war guarantees to fight a nuclear-armed Russia in defense of countries across the length of Europe that few could find on a map.

Apparently, President Donald Trump, on trips to Europe, raised questions as to whether these war guarantees comport with vital U.S. interests and whether they could pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

The shock of our establishment that Trump even raised this issue in front of Europeans suggests that the establishment, frozen in the realities of yesterday, ought to be made to justify these sweeping war guarantees.

Celebrated as “the most successful alliance in history,” NATO has had two histories. Some of us can yet recall its beginnings.

In 1948, Soviet troops, occupying eastern Germany all the way to the Elbe and surrounding Berlin, imposed a blockade on the city.

The regime in Prague was overthrown in a Communist coup. Foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell, or was thrown, from a third-story window to his death. In 1949, Stalin exploded an atomic bomb.

As the U.S. Army had gone home after V-E Day, the U.S. formed a new alliance to protect the crucial European powers — West Germany, France, Britain, Italy. Twelve nations agreed that an attack on one would be treated as an attack on them all.

Cross the Elbe and you are at war with us, including the U.S. with its nuclear arsenal, Stalin was, in effect, told. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops returned to Europe to send the message that America was serious.

Crucial to the alliance was the Yalta line dividing Europe agreed to by Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the 1945 Crimean summit on the Black Sea.

U.S. presidents, even when monstrous outrages were committed in Soviet-occupied Europe, did not cross this line into the Soviet sphere.

Truman did not send armored units up the highway to Berlin. He launched an airlift to break the Berlin blockade. Ike did not intervene to save the Hungarian rebels in 1956. JFK confined his rage at the building of the Berlin Wall to the rhetorical: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

LBJ did nothing to help the Czechs when, before the Democratic convention in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev sent Warsaw Pact tank armies to crush the Prague Spring.

When the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa was crushed in Gdansk, Reagan sent copy and printing machines. At the Berlin Wall in 1988, he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Reagan never threatened to tear it down himself.

But beginning in 1989, the Wall was torn down, Germany was united, the Red Army went home, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the USSR broke apart into 15 nations, and Leninism expired in its birthplace.

As the threat that had led to NATO disappeared, many argued that the alliance created to deal with that threat should be allowed to fade away, and a free and prosperous Europe should now provide for its own defense.

It was not to be. The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

This, said Kennan, would “inflame the nationalistic and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion” and “restore the atmosphere of the cold war in East-West relations.” Kennan was proven right.

America is now burdened with the duty to defend Europe from the Atlantic to the Baltic, even as we face a far greater threat in China, with an economy and population 10 times that of Russia.

And we must do this with a defense budget that is not half the share of the federal budget or the GDP that Eisenhower and Kennedy had.

Trump is president today because the American people concluded that our foreign policy elite, with their endless interventions where no vital U.S. interest was imperiled, had bled and virtually bankrupted us, while kicking away all of the fruits of our Cold War victory.

Halfway into Trump’s term, the question is whether he is going to just talk about halting Cold War II with Russia, about demanding that Europe pay for its own defense, and about bringing the troops home — or whether he is going to act upon his convictions.

Our foreign policy establishment is determined to prevent Trump from carrying out his mandate. And if he means to carry out his agenda, he had best get on with it.

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Photos of new Iskander base near Ukrainian border creates media hype

But research into the photos and cross-checking of news reports reveals only the standard anti-Russian narrative that has gone on for years.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News obtained satellite photos that claim that Russia has recently installed new Iskander missile batteries, one of them “near” to the Ukrainian border. However, what the Fox article does not say is left for the reader to discover: that in regards to Ukraine, these missiles are probably not that significant, unless the missiles are much longer range than reported:

The intelligence report provided to Fox by Imagesat International showed the new deployment in Krasnodar, 270 miles from the Ukrainian border. In the images is visible what appears to be an Iskander compound, with a few bunkers and another compound of hangars. There is a second new installation that was discovered by satellite photos, but this one is much farther to the east, in the region relatively near to Ulan-Ude, a city relatively close to the Mongolian border.

Both Ukraine and Mongolia are nations that have good relations with the West, but Mongolia has good relations with both its immediate neighbors, Russia and China, and in fact participated with both countries in the massive Vostok-2018 military war-games earlier this year.

Fox News provided these photos of the Iskander emplacement near Krasnodar:

Imagesat International

Fox annotated this photo in this way:

Near the launcher, there is a transloader vehicle which enables quick reloading of the missiles into the launcher. One of the bunker’s door is open, and another reloading vehicle is seen exiting from it.

[Fox:] The Iskander ballistic missile has a range up to 310 miles, and can carry both unconventional as well as nuclear warheads, putting most of America’s NATO allies at risk. The second deployment is near the border with Mongolia, in Ulan-Ude in Sothern Russia, where there are four launchers and another reloading vehicle.

[Fox:] Earlier this week, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said authorities of the former Soviet republic are being “controlled” by the West, warning it stands to lose its independence and identity as a consequence. “The continuation of such policy by the Kiev authorities can contribute to the loss of Ukraine’s statehood,” Mr Patrushev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, according to Russian news agency TASS.

This situation was placed by Fox in context with the Kerch Strait incident, in which three Ukrainian vessels and twenty-four crew and soldiers were fired upon by Russian coast guard ships as they manuevered in the Kerch Strait without permission from Russian authorities based in Crimea. There are many indications that this incident was a deliberate attempt on the part of Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, to create a sensational incident, possibly to bolster his flagging re-election campaign. After the incident, the President blustered and set ten provinces in Ukraine under martial law for 30 days, insisting to the world, and especially to the United States, that Russia was “preparing to invade” his country.

Russia expressed no such sentiment in any way, but they are holding the soldiers until the end of January. However, on January 17th, a Moscow court extended the detention of eight of these captured Ukrainian sailors despite protests from Kyiv and Washington.

In addition to the tensions in Ukraine, the other significant point of disagreement between the Russian Federation and the US is the US’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia sees this treaty as extremely important, but the US point of view expressed by John Bolton, National Security Adviser, is that the treaty is useless because it does not include any other parties that have intermediate range nukes or the capability for them, such as Iran, North Korea, and China. This is an unsolved problem, and it is possible that the moves of the Iskander batteries is a subtle warning from the Russians that they really would rather the US stay in the treaty.

Discussions on this matter at public levels between the Russian government and the US have been very difficult because of the fierce anti-Russia and anti-Trump campaigns in the media and political establishments of the United States. President Putin and President Trump have both expressed the desire to meet, but complications like the Kerch Strait Incident conveniently arise, and have repeatedly disrupted the attempts for these two leaders to meet.

Where Fox News appears to get it wrong shows in a few places:

First, the known range for Iskander missiles maxes at about 310 miles. The placement of the battery near Krasnodar is 270 miles from the eastern Ukrainian border, but the eastern part of Ukraine is Russian-friendly and two provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, are breakaway provinces acting as independent republics. The battery appears to be no threat to Kyiv or to that part of Ukraine which is aligned with the West. Although the missiles could reach into US ally Georgia, Krasnodar is 376 miles from Tbilisi, and so again it seems that there is no significant target for these missiles. (This is assuming the location given is accurate.)

Second, the location shown in the photo is (44,47,29.440N at 39,13,04.754E). The date on the “Krasnodar” photo is January 17, 2019. However, a photo of the region taken July 24, 2018 reveals a different layout. It takes a moment or two to study this, but there is not much of an exact match here:

Third, Fox News reported of “further Russian troops deployment and S-400 Surface to air missile days after the escalation started, hinting Russia might have orchestrated the naval incident.”

It may be true that Russia deployed weapons to this base area in Crimea, but this is now Russian territory. S-400s can be used offensively, but their primary purpose is defensive. Troops on the Crimean Peninsula, especially at this location far to the north of the area, are not in a position strategically to invade Kherson Oblast (a pushback would probably corner such forces on the Crimean peninsula with nowhere to go except the Black Sea). However, this does look like a possible defense installation should Ukraine’s forces try to invade or bomb Crimea.

Fox has this wrong, but it is no great surprise, because the American stance about Ukraine and Russia is similar – Russia can do no right, and Ukraine can do no wrong. Fox News is not monolithic on this point of view, of course, with anchors and journalists such as Tucker Carlson, who seem willing to acknowledge the US propaganda about the region. However, there are a lot of hawks as well. While photos in the articles about the S-400s and the Russian troops are accurately located, it does appear that the one about Iskanders is not, and that the folks behind this original article are guessing that the photos will not be questioned. After all, no one in the US knows where anything is in Russia and Ukraine, anyway, right?

That there is an issue here is likely. But is it appears that there is strong evidence that it is opposite what Fox reported here, it leaves much to be questioned.

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