Post originally appeared on Counterpunch, by by Gary Leupp
Reuters headline, April 9: “Ukraine sets sights on joining NATO.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headline, April 9: “Far-Right Leader Names Ukrainian Military Adviser.”
Moscow’s official line on Ukraine—and it should not be dismissed just because that’s what it is—is that the U.S. has spent about $ 5 billion backing “regime change” in that sad, bankrupt country, ultimately resulting in a coup d’etat (or putsch) in Kiev in February 2014 in which neo-fascists played a key role. The coup occurred because the U.S. State Department and Pentagon hoped to replace the democratically elected administration with one that would push for Ukraine’s entry into NATO, a military alliance designed from its inception in 1949 to challenge Russia. The ultimate intent was to evict the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the bases it’s maintained on the Crimean Peninsula for over 230 years.
Personally, I believe this interpretation is basically true, and that any rational person should recognize that it’s true. Victoria Nuland, the neocon thug who serves as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and is the key official shaping U.S. Ukraine policy, openly admitted to an “international business conference on Ukraine” in December 2013 that Washington had “invested more than 5 billion dollars to help Ukraine achieve [the development of democratic institutions] and other goals.”
She repeated this assertion in an CNN interview, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has proudly reiterated it as well on cable news. The unspoken goal was Ukraine’s membership in NATO.
(Imagine if a top-ranking official in the Russian Foreign Ministry were to boast of a $ 5 billion Russian investment in undermining the Mexican or Canadian government, with an aim towards incorporating one of those countries into an expanding military alliance. John McCain and Fox News would be demanding the immediate nuking of Moscow.)
Russia, as you know, has relatively few naval bases for a country its size. These face the Barents and Baltic Seas to the north, surrounding Scandinavia. In 1904, when Russian forces were attacked by the Japanese navy at Port Arthur in Manchuria, Russia had to dispatch the Baltic fleet to the region in a voyage requiring six months (and ending in the disastrous Battle of Tsushima). Russian geography poses obstacles to a strong navy.
There is one Russian naval base in Astrakhan on the landlocked Caspian Sea (which is really a vast lake, from which one can sail to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran or Azerbaijan but nowhere beyond). And there are several bases in or near Vladivostok on the Siberian Pacific coast, which is iced over part of the year, as well as bases on the Kamchatka Peninsula north of Japan. Russia has a modest naval base at Tartus on the Syrian coast, and a logistics base in Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam. But the only bases with ready access to the Mediterranean and thence the Atlantic or Indian oceans are those in and around Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea.
Compare the U.S. with over 30 major naval bases on its east and west coasts and Hawaii, and others—some of them huge—in Japan, Italy, Cuba, Bahrain, Diego Garcia and elsewhere! There are more naval bases in the state of California than in the entirety of the Russian Federation.
The U.S. has military personnel stationed in about 130 countries in the world—that is, in two-thirds of the countries who are members of the UN. In contrast, Russia has military forces stationed in, by my count, ten foreign countries, eight of them on its borders. And yet the U.S. press and political class depict Russia and specifically its president Vladimir Putin, a threatening juggernaut. (Just as they once did Saddam Hussein, that lame creature demonized as—as the warmongers always do, before attacking and destroying him—“a new Hitler.”)
Any student at a U.S. university, enrolled in an interdisciplinary program in “international relations” (and educated, as is the norm, by political scientists of the “realist” school) is likely to conclude that—leaving aside the vilified personality of Putin—any Russian leader would insist on retaining the Crimean military assets. Anyone at all! Retention of that historic real estate is a no-brainer. Any outsiders with designs on it (which would include the hawks leading the U.S. Republican Party) are simply unrealistic if not brain-dead.
How could any Russian leader say to Victoria Nuland, “Fine, go ahead, take it,” and hand over this ethnic-Russian region—locus of the Crimean War of 1853-56 and some of the bloodiest battles against the Nazis in World War II, locus of the fateful Yalta meeting between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in February 1945–to forces overtly hostile to Russia? Forces that moreover are inclined to praise Ukrainian fascists who during World War II collaborated with the Nazis, even rounding up Jews for the slaughter at their bidding?
The Reuters article referenced above confirms the intention of the U.S-installed regime to formally apply for NATO membership. It cites Oleksander Turchynov, head of the new regime’s national security council, as stating to the parliament that NATO membership was “the only reliable external guarantee” of Ukrainian “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” (As though Russia, which had a cordial relationship with the previous President Viktor Yanukovich—who, let us repeat, was elected in a poll universally regarded as legitimate and democratic in 2010—has in recent times challenged the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine or any other country!)
It thus validates the key Russian charge that this is all about NATO—the NATO that, following George H. W. Bush’s promise to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 that the alliance would not advance “one inch” towards Russia’s borders has in fact advanced to surround European Russia since 1999. NATO now includes Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Albania, all expected by group rules to devote 2% of their GDPs to the mutual “defense” effort.
If it does not include Russia’s other neighbors, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, it is not for lack of trying. The “National Endowment for Democracy” (a “private, non-profit organization” used by the State Department to fund regime change abroad) has sought to draw all of them into NATO. As though this were the most natural thing in the world, for all peoples living in countries bordering Russia to aspire to join an anti-Russian alliance!
Nuland’s talking points for popular consumption on Ukraine include the assertion that the U.S. supports “the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations.” She ignores the fact that the country is deeply divided between east and west, and that in the east there are substantial “Russian aspirations” deeply rooted in a history she does not and indeed disdains to even try to understand. She also conceals the fact that U.S. support for regime change in Ukraine, leading up to the February 22, 2014 coup, was not really based on U.S. support for Ukraine’s entry in the European Union.
The EU is a trading bloc that challenges the U.S. and NAFTA. In a world of imperialist competition for markets and resources, the EU and the U.S. often disagree. Washington is angry that EU members Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Luxembourg are all joining the Chinese-led investment bank Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), mainly because it’s likely to boost the Chinese currency and contribute to the decline of the dollar as the international reserve currency. Congress fumes over the EU’s refusal to allow importation of Monsanto’s genetically modified food products. The U.S. State Department is not in the business of promoting EU membership. That’s not what this is about.
In 2013 Hillary Clinton’s State Department seized on the decision made by ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to back away from a deal he’d initialed with the EU. His advisors told him the austerity regime the EU would impose would be unacceptable, while Russia offered a generous aid package including continued supply of cheap gas.
Yanukovich’s decision to opt for the latter option was based on economic logic, and eminently defensible in economic terms. But the U.S. actively fanned the flames of a movement which depicted Yanukovich’s decision as a betrayal of Ukrainian nationhood and a statement of fealty to Russia. Hence Nuland’s oft repeated sound bite about “European aspirations.” As though Ukraine hadn’t always been part of Europe! As though “Europe” were some shining star, and all those horrible inflictions of terror on the Ukrainian Socialist Republic by European fascists during the 1940s were irrelevant. And as though submission to a Greek-style EU-inspired austerity regime would bring relief to the suffering Ukrainian masses.
In fact, Nuland’s own thoughts on “European aspirations” were sweetly summarized in her phone conversation with U.S. ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt just before the putsch in early February 2014. Quite probably leaked by Russian intelligence, and never disavowed by the State Department, the recording shows how Nuland had hand-picked the current prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, for his post over rivals Oleh Tyanybok (leader of the neo-fascist Svoboda Party, who has publically inveighed against the “Moscow-Jewish mafia ruling Ukraine” and referred to “Muscovites” and Jews as “scum) and Vitali Klitschko, a former boxer and sometimes anti-corruption activist.
In the phone call, Pyatt tells her “I think we’re in play,” meaning everything’s set for a coup. “The Kitschko piece is obviously the complicated electron here, especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister…I’m glad you sort of put him on the spot as to where he fits into this scenario.” Pyatt had apparently informed Kitschko that despite some EU backing, he was not a suitable candidate for the U.S. (In the call, Nuland blandly asserts that he needs more time “to do his homework.”)
Nuland wanted to marginalize Klitschko, who in the coup’s aftermath was awarded (as consolation prize) the post of Kiev mayor, She wanted to make sure that the former Minister of the Economy, Yatsenyuk, advocate of severe austerity measures and proponent of NATO membership, succeeded Yanukovich.
The phone call makes clear that Nuland had recruited UN officials to endorse the regime change.
Towards the end of the conversation, Nuland tells Pyatt “OK,” signaling that the two agreed on the general strategy. She then alludes to the welcome complicity of several other assets: Jeff Feltman, Robert Serry, and Ban Ki-moon.
She reports that Jeff Feltman has “now gotten both Serry and Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday.” Meaning: to help facilitate the coup and validate it afterwards.
Who are these people? Geoffrey Feltman, a career U.S. diplomat, was at the time the UN Under Secretary-General of Political Affairs. He is perhaps best known for his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon between 2004 and 2008 when he exercised so much influence that Hizbollah—echoed by other parties—referred to the Fouad Siniora government as the “Feltman government.”
Robert Serry is a Dutch diplomat who served as NATO’s Assistant Secretary-General of Foreign Crisis Management and Operations between 2003 and 2005 and also had been Dutch ambassador to Ukraine. An advocate of Dutch participation in the Iraq War based on lies, he was a reliable U.S. ally.
Ban Ki-moon is of course the UN Secretary-General who, as South Korea’s foreign minister, pressed for the deployment of South Korean troops in that same Iraq war based on lies. We know from Wikileaks that, prompted by the U.S., he urged the UN Security Council to ignore the UN Board of Inquiry’s report on the Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2008-2009 to avoid U.S. and Israeli embarrassment. It’s safe to call him a reliable U.S. puppet.
Towards the end of the intercepted phone call Nuland signs off: “So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU.” Fuck them, that is to say, if their ideas about Ukraine’s future differ from our own.
So much for respect for anybody’s “European aspirations.”
In the same phone call, Nuland notes that Yatsenyev “will need Klitschko and Tyahnybok on the outside, he needs to be talking to them four times a week.” One has to ask: what’s more disgusting, the fact that the U.S. State Department would so attempt to micro-manage a regime change in a sovereign state, or that this neocon Nuland (who just so happens to be Jewish) representing the U.S. government, would urge the U.S. puppet to routinely network with a neo-fascist who describes Jews as “scum”?
In this case, commitment to the expansion of NATO cause plainly trumps the resistance to anti-Semitism cause. Nuland ought to be ashamed of herself.
When confronted last May in a House hearing by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher with photographic evidence of the role of neo-Nazis in the Maidan events, Nuland acknowledged that “there were many colors of Ukraine involved including very ugly colors.” She didn’t mention her own photos with Tyahnybok, all smiles, or her instruction to “Yats” to be on the phone with him four times a week.
The Radio Free Europe article referenced above begins: “The controversial leader of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Right Sector paramilitary group has been named an army adviser. Ukrainian Armed Forces spokesman Oleksey Mazepa announced on April 6 that Dmytro Yarosh would ‘act as a link between volunteer battalions and the General Staff.’ Yarosh’s Right Sector militia claims to have some 10,000 members, but so far has not officially registered with the government as other paramilitary forces have done. The Right Sector militia is fighting alongside Ukrainian government troops against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.”
The neo-fascist Right Sector was formed in 2013 during the Maidan protests in Kiev, amalgamating a number of groups aligned to the Svoboda Party. As the latter was striving for international respectability, its leaders meeting with Nuland and John McCain among others, the Right Sector functioned as its violent activist contingent. It was almost certainly involved in sniper fire on the square, attributed to the regime and used to validate its overthrow.
Now its head is awarded a government post, to coordinate the actions of the right-wing militias (most notoriously the Azov Battalion, which proudly sports Nazi insignia and has attacked civilian targets in east Ukraine). Does this not validate the Russian charge that there is a strong fascist component to the regime?
The situation is complicated. The neo-fascist shock troops deployed to pull off the putsch are not in favor of EU membership. They don’t want its tolerance for diversity, its immigration rules. They have a vision of White Power manifest in their varied symbols, that include Confederate flags, certain Celtic crosses, and swastikas. They might not even favor NATO membership. But as the Radio Free Europe article indicates, their support is valued and needed by the regime.
No matter that Dmytro Yarosh is wanted by Interpol for “public incitement to terrorist activities” for threatening to destroy Russian pipelines in Ukraine. He’s a necessary part of a team, and Washington backs the team. And the State Department and captive media pooh-pooh any suggestion that there’s any fascism here, or any underhanded effort to encircle Russia. It’s all about Ukrainian “freedom,” supported by its benign self, which has in recent memory visited such memorable liberations on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
There is a fascist-friendly regime in Ukraine, ushered into power by the U.S. State Department. And it does want to enter NATO, and weaken Russia—if possible, by re-establishing control over Crimea and booting the Russian fleet out. Given German opposition to its admission into the alliance, it is doubtful that will occur short-term.
But with crazies running the U.S. State Department, successfully promoting a bogus narrative about what’s happened in Ukraine over the last two years—a narrative echoed slavishly by a clueless mainstream media—it’s just barely conceivable that there might come a day in which U.S. forces join the Azov Battalion in battling forces of the People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.
It won’t have anything to do with “freedom,” any more than the last few U.S. wars have had anything to do with that abstraction. It will be about imperial expansion, which while it might serve the .01% that rules this country, is not in your interest at all.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: [email protected]