Archive | March 19th, 2014

What the Western Media Won’t Tell You: Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians Also Voted to Join Russia


“On the 16th of March We Choose” neo-Nazi Ukraine “Or” Russia

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research

16 марта мы выбираем


Image: “On the 16th of March We Choose”: neo-Nazi Ukraine “Or” Russia?

Media reports acknowledge that 83.1 percent of eligible Crimean voters cast their ballot in the March 16th referendum.

The final tally of the vote was 96.77 percent in favor of joining the Russian Federation, and 2.51 percent against.

File:Distribution of ethnic groups in Crimea 2001.png

The Western media has underscored that both the Crimean Tatars as well as the Ukrainian population of Crimea were against joining the Russian Federation. The Non-Russian population constitutes 41.7 percent of the Crimean population.

According to official data, Russians constitute 58.32% of the population of Crimea, 24.32% are Ukrainians and 12.10% are Crimean Tatars.

The Guardian, in a slither of media disinformation intimated that the Tatars feared a wave of repression if Crimea were to join the Russian Federation:

Now, as Crimea faces a referendum that is likely to seal its fate as a province or satellite of Russia, ethnic tensions are reaching boiling point. In a chilling echo of history, Tatar houses in the Crimean city of Bakhchisarai have been marked with an ominous X, just as they were before the Soviet-era deportations. On Monday two Tatar businesses were firebombed.

…. The prospect of a return to living under Moscow’s rule is disturbing. “People are in panic. “We are trying to keep people calm but they are scared of the Russian soldiers and Cossacks that come here,” he said.” (Crimea’s Tatars fear the worst as it prepares for referendum | World news |

Contrary to the reports of 135  international observers from 23 countries, the Western media in chorus has suggested without a shred of evidence that the elections were rigged and that Crimea was under Russian military occupation.

The observer mission reports which include members of theEuropean Parliament have been casually ignored by the mainstream Western media:

Mateus Piskorkski, the leader of the European observers’ mission and Polish MP:  “Our observers have not registered any violations of voting rules.”

Ewald Stadler, member of the European Parliament, dispelled the “referendum at gunpoint” myth:  “I haven’t seen anything even resembling pressure… People themselves want to have their say.”

Pavel Chernev: Bulgarian member of parliament:  “Organization and procedures are 100 percent in line with the European standards,” he added.

A woman is reflected in a mirror as she casts her ballot during voting in a referendum at a polling station in Simferopol March 16, 2014.(Reuters / Thomas Peter)

A woman is reflected in a mirror as she casts her ballot during voting in a referendum at a polling station in Simferopol March 16, 2014.(Reuters / Thomas Peter)

Johann Gudenus, member of the Vienna Municipal Council:  “Our opinion is – if people want to decide their future, they should have the right to do that and the international community should respect that. There is a goal of people in Crimea to vote about their own future. Of course, Kiev is not happy about that, but still they have to accept and to respect the vote of people in Crimea”.

People line up to receive their ballots during the referendum on the status of Ukraine's Crimea region at a polling station in Simferopol March 16, 2014. (Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

Serbian observer Milenko Baborats “People freely expressed their will in the most democratic way, wherever we were… During the day we didn’t see a single serious violation of legitimacy of the process,”

Srdja Trifkovic, prominent and observer from Serbia: “The presence of troops on the streets is virtually non-existent and the only thing resembling any such thing is the unarmed middle-aged Cossacks who are positioned outside the parliament building in Simferopol. But if you look at the people both at the voting stations and in the streets, like on Yalta’s sea front yesterday afternoon, frankly I think you would feel more tense in south Chicago or in New York’s Harlem than anywhere round here,” he said.   (For more details see Crimean ‘Referendum at Gunpoint’ is a Myth – International Observers By Global Research News, March 17, 2014)

Yet according to Time Magazine, without acknowledging the reports of the international observers,the ballot had to have been rigged and the vote was held under the gun of the Russian military:

“95 percent voted in favor of becoming a part of Russia. That may seem like an impossible result, the mark of a rigged election. And in some ways it was. The vote was held during a Russian military occupation of Crimea and the ballot did not offer voters the option of keeping their current status in Ukraine. ( Time, March 17, 2014)

In chorus, Western media reports have stated that both Ukrainians and Tatars were firmly against seceding from Ukraine. They also intimated that the Tatar community had decided not to vote.

According to the Washington Post, “a vote in favor of seceding” was inevitable because “ethnic Russians make up 60 percent of Crimea’s population”. But the result was not 60 percent in favor, it was 97 percent in favor, indicating that all major ethnic groups in the Crimea voted in favor of seceding from Ukraine.


The figures do not add up:  The Russians constitute 58 percent of Crimea’s population, yet 97 percent of the vote was in favor of joining Russia. If Ukrainians and Tatars had refused to participate in the referendum, voter participation would have been substantially less that 83.1.

The referendum was also a vote against the US-EU sponsored Coup d’etat.

The results confirm that the Tatars and Ukrainians who did cast their ballot, also voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia.

What this 97 percent vote also indicates is a rejection of the illegal Neo-Nazi government in Kiev.  The Election poster (image above) reads:

Posted in UkraineComments Off on What the Western Media Won’t Tell You: Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians Also Voted to Join Russia

A Distorted Lens Justifying An Illegitimate Ukrainian Government


Why does Western media ignore critical information about the snipers that killed Euromaidan protesters in Ukraine?

Global Research
Opposition Militant

Why does Western media ignore critical information about the snipers that killed Euromaidan protesters in Ukraine?

Support it or oppose it, a coup d’état took place in Kiev after an EU-brokered agreement was signed by the Ukrainian government and the mainstream opposition on Feb. 21. The agreement called for power sharing between both sides through the formation of a national unity government and for an end to the opposition-led street protests in Kiev. President Viktor Yanukovych ordered the Ukrainian police and security forces to withdraw from their positions, and even earlier, he had made multiple concessions to the opposition leadership.

Instead of keeping its end of the bargain, the Ukrainian mainstream opposition executed a coup through the use of violence by organized ultra-nationalist gangs, which some analysts have compared to stay-behinds or secretive militias that were created by NATO during the Cold War.

These armed ultra-nationalist groups took over administrative bodies in Ukraine and fought until they managed to oust the Ukrainian government and opened the path for opposition leaders to take power on Feb. 25. The Ukrainian mainstream opposition used the EU-brokered agreement, which the Brussels-based European Commission deliberately refused to enforce, as a means of justifying the formation of a coup-imposed government.

In the absence of almost half the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada, or Ukrainian Parliament, the opposition parties began to arbitrarily pass unconstitutional laws. They also unconstitutionally selected Oleksandr/Aleksandr Valentynovych Turchynov as the acting president of Ukraine before President Viktor Yanukovych was even impeached. Intimidation and violence were additionally used to secure the cooperation of any disagreeing parliamentarians or state officials in Kiev.

Saying that the ultra-nationalists and fascists are marginal elements, the mainstream media networks in North America and the European Union have simply dismissed the armed ultra-nationalist groups involved in the coup that are presently integrated into the putsch regime running Kiev.

The militant ultra-nationalists, however, are very influential and amassing power under the illegal premiership of Arseniy Yatsenyuk.  Yatsenyuk, himself, is from Yulia Tymoshenko’s notoriously corrupt All-Ukrainian Union Fatherland Party (Batkivshchyna) and essentially a U.S. and EU appointee. There is even a pre-coup leaked telephone interception, likely either recorded by the intelligence services of Russia or Ukraine, in which U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victory Nuland says that Yatsenyuk will be appointed as the prime minister of the Ukrainian government that the U.S. is putting together.

Act two of the Orange Revolution

It is unlikely that Yatsenyuk and the loosely-knit alliance of the governing parties that ran Ukraine under the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko governments, foreign-based Ukrainians, and the forces behind the Orange Revolution that form the Orangist camp which he belongs to could have gotten back into power in Ukraine without pressure, the use of force and foreign backing. Yatsenyuk was even threatened and booed by the Ukrainians gathered at Independence Square when it was announced that he would be appointed as the prime minister of the post-coup government. A vast segment of the protesters made it clear that Tymoshenko, Yatsenyuk’s party leader, was no alternative to the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in their eyes, either, when it was announced that she wanted to run for prime minister.

The Orangists do not have the support of a majority of the population, nor did they form the parliamentary majority in the Verkhovna Rada. Their Orangist president, Viktor Yushchenko, only got 5 percent of the vote in January 2010, in a show of no-confidence, whereas Viktor Yanukovych won the first and second rounds of the presidential elections in 2010. According to Victoria Nuland, the U.S. has also poured $5 billion into “democracy promotion” inside Ukraine. This is U.S. State Department doublespeak for politicized funding that Washington has sent to Ukraine to organize the Orange Revolution and its Euromaidan sequel or what can frankly be described as regime change.

The anti-government protests were fueled by Ukraine’s economic decline and the growing resentment of the population against the corruption of the entire Ukrainian political establishment. The irony is that the economic problems in Ukraine are the handiwork of the economic policies and neoliberal restructuring programs of the same Orangists that are now in power in Kiev again.

The supposedly liberal Orangists are sowing the seeds of chaos and social anomie in Ukrainian society. The Orangists have worked to politically galvanize Ukrainians on the basis of sectarian lines and cleavages to divide the population by using a nationalist and anti-Russian discourse.

To rule Ukraine once more, the Orangists and their foreign backers have used and manipulated the ultra-nationalist elements of the population — some of which are openly anti-European Union — as their foot soldiers in an application of force against their democratically-elected opponents.

Despite their views, the ultra-nationalists are actually more honest than the Orangist liberal figures like Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Unlike the misleading and utterly corrupt Orangist leaders, the ultra-nationalists do not hide their agendas and platforms.

The invisible Ukrainian ultra-nationalists

While the mainstream media in North America and the EU look the other way about the ultra-nationalists in the coup government in Kiev, the facts speak for themselves. Both the EU and the U.S. governments have rubbed their elbows with the ultra-nationalists. Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of Svoboda (formerly the Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine), was even part of the opposition triumvirate that all the U.S. and EU officials visiting Kiev met with while performing their political pilgrimages to Ukraine to encourage the protesters to continue with their demonstrations and riots demanding Euro-Atlantic integration.

Svoboda has popularly been described as a neo-Nazi grouping. The World Jewish Congress has demanded that Svoboda be banned. The ultra-nationalist party was even condemned by the EU’s own European Parliament, which passed a motion on Dec. 13, 2012 categorically condemning Svoboda.

The text adopted by the European Parliament states: “Parliament goes on to express concern about the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine, expressed in support for the Svoboda Party, which, as a result, is one of the two new parties to enter the Verkhovna Rada. It recalls that racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles and therefore appeals to pro-democratic parties in the Verkhovna Rada not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party.”

Several members of Svoboda have been given key cabinet and government posts. One of the two junior deputy prime ministers, or assistant deputy prime ministers, is Oleksandr Sych. The ministry of agriculture and food has been given for management to Ihor Shvaika. The environment and natural resources ministry has been assigned to Andry/Andriy Mokhnyk. The defense minister is Ihor Tenyukh, a former admiral in the Ukrainian Navy who obstructed Russian naval movements in Sevastopol during the Russo-Georgian War over South Ossetia and who was later dismissed by the Ukrainian government for insubordination. Oleh Makhnitsky, another member of Svoboda, has been assigned as the new prosecutor-general of Ukraine by the coup government.

Andry Parubiy, one of the founders of Svoboda, is now the post-coup secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (RNBO). He was the man controlling the so-called “Euromaidan security forces” that fought government forces in Kiev. His job as secretary is to represent the president and act on his behalf in coordinating and implementing the RNBO’s decisions.

As a figure, Parubiy clearly illustrates how the mainstream opposition in Ukraine is integrated with the ultra-nationalists. Parubiy is an Orangist and was a leader in the Orange Revolution. He has changed parties several times. After founding Svoboda, he joined Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine before joining Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party and being elected as one of the Fatherland Party’s deputies, or members of parliament.

The ultra-nationalists are such an integral part of the mainstream opposition that the U.S.-supported Orangist president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, posthumously awarded the infamous Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera the title and decoration of the “Hero of Ukraine” in 2010. Foreign audiences, however, would not know that if they relied on reportage from the likes of the U.S. state-run Radio Free Europe, which tried to protect Yushchenko because he wanted to reorient Ukraine toward the U.S. and EU. Parubiy also lobbied the European Parliament not to oppose Yushchenko’s decision.

Other smaller ultra-nationalists parties were also given government posts, and several of the independent cabinet members are also aligned to these parties. Dmytro Yarosh from Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor) is the deputy secretary of the RNBO, and the Trizub Party was given the education ministry. Trizub had Sergey Kvit appointed to the post of education minister.

The ultra-nationalists have inconsolably anti-Russian attitudes. Many of them also dislike a vast spectrum of other groups, including Jews, Armenians, Roma, Poles, Tatars, supporters of the Party of Regions and communists. In this context, it should come as no surprise that one of the first decisions that the post-coup regime in Kiev made was to remove the legal status of the Russian language as the regional language of half of Ukraine.

Right Sector is, itself, a coalition of militant ultra-nationalists. These militants were instrumental in fighting government forces and taking over both government buildings in Kiev and regional governments in the western portion of Ukraine. Despite the protests of First Deputy Defense Minister Oleynik, Deputy Defense Minister Mozharovskiy and Deputy Defense Minister Babenk, Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s post-coup government has even given the ultra-nationalist opposition militias official status within the Ukrainian military and security forces. Yatsenyuk and the Orangists also dismissed all the officials that protested that the move would fracture the country and make the political divide in Ukraine irreversible.

Western media silence about the snipers in Ukraine

The role of the ultra-nationalists in executing the coup has been essentially ignored by the mainstream media in North America and the EU. The roots of the bloodshed in Kiev have been ignored, too. The shootings of protesters by snipers have simply been presented as the vile actions of the Ukrainian government, never taking into consideration the agitation of the armed ultra-nationalist gangs and the mainstream opposition leaders for a conflict.

According to a leaked telephone conversation on Feb. 26 between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union Commissioner Catherine Ashton, which was leaked by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU/SSU) , the snipers who shot at protesters and police in Kiev were allegedly hired by Ukrainian opposition leaders. Estonian Foreign Minister Paet made the statements on the basis of details he was given by one of the head doctors of the medical team of the anti-government protests, Olga Bogomolets, an opponent of Viktor Yanukovych’s government who wanted it removed from power.

Paet tells Ashton the following first: “There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition.”

This is also corroborated by the fact that Yanukovych actually had ordered the Ukrainian riot police and security forces not to use lethal force.

The Estonian official then mentions that it was verified to him that the same snipers were killing people on both sides. He tells Ashton the following:

“And second, what was quite disturbing, this same Olga [Bogomolets] told as well that all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and then people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides.”

Another important point that Paet makes to Ashton is the following: “[Dr. Olga Bogomolets] then also showed me some photos she said that as a medical doctor she can say that it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”

Past reports from the mainstream media that is hostile to the ousted Ukrainian government also raise serious questions that corroborate what has been said about the snipers intentionally killing protesters to instigate regime change.

The Telegraph reported on Feb. 20 that [a]t least three of the bodies displayed single bullet wounds to the heads,” and were shot in the head, the neck or the heart. None were shot anywhere else like in the legs.” This means that the snipers were making kill shots by design, which seems like the last thing that the Ukrainian government would want to do when it was trying to appease the protesters and bring calm to Kiev.

The Ukrainian journalist Alexey Yaroshevsky’s account of the sniper shootings is also worth noting, and it is backed up by footage taken by his Russian crew in Kiev. Their footage shows armed opposition members running away from the scene of the shooting of anti-government protesters. What comes across as unusual is that the armed members of the opposition were constantly agitating to start firefights at every opportunity that they could get.

The commandant of the SSU, Major-General Oleksandr Yakimenko, has testified that his counter-intelligence forces were monitoring the CIA in Ukraine during the protests. According to the SSU, the CIA was active on the ground in Kiev and collaborating with a small circle of opposition figures. Yakimenko has also said that it was not the police or government forces that fired on the protesters, but snipers from the Philharmonic Building that was controlled by the opposition leader Andriy Parubiy, which he asserts was interacting with the CIA. Speaking to the Russian media, Yakimenko said that 20 men wearing “special combat clothes” and carrying “sniper rifle cases, as well as AKMs with scopes” ran out of the opposition-controlled Philharmonic Building and split into two groups of 10 people, with one taking position at the Ukraine Hotel. The anti-government protesters even saw this and asked Ukrainian police to pursue them, and even figures from Right Sector and Svoboda asked Yakimenko’s SSU to investigate and apprehend them, but Parubiy prevented it. Major-General Yakimenko has categorically stated that opposition leaders were behind the shootings.

Following the release of the conversation between Paet and Ashton, the Estonian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the leak was authentic, whereas the European Commission kept silent. The mainstream media in North America and the EU either ignored it or said very little. The Telegraph even claimed that Dr. Bogomolets told it that she had not treated any government forces even though she contradicts this directly in an interview with CNN where she says she treated military personnel.

CNN, on the other hand, quickly glossed over the story, giving it only enough attention to create the impression that the network is fairly covering the news. Opting not to give the story the airtime that it deserved, CNN instead posted it on its webpage. The conversation is immediately discredited, undermined and dismissed in the first sentence of the article, which is attributed to Foreign Minister Paet: Don’t read too much into the conversation.”

The article was deliberately structured by CNN to undermine the important information that would challenge the narrative that the U.S. mainstream media have been painting. The title, sub-titles and opening sentences of most texts act as microcosms or summaries of the articles, and in many cases, readers evaluate or decide to read the articles on the basis of what these texts communicate. Moreover, the first sentence of the article sets the tempo for readers and influences their opinion, too. Although anyone who listens to the conversation between Paet and Ashton and considers the evidence that is being discussed would realize just how important the news was, the message being set forth by CNN was a dismissive one.

The distorted lens justifies supporting an illegitimate government

The mainstream media genuinely selects which narratives prevail by deciding what voices to represent and the quantity and quality of coverage these voices get. Audiences should ask themselves some important questions about this. Whose voices are they hearing, and why? Why are certain voices excluded or deliberately ignored and other voices and points of view not excluded from the conversation? Why are some views credible and others discredited?

Evaluation is needed. The voices and accounts that challenge the narratives that are being promoted as reality to the public are ignored or undermined so that they do not defy the message or vision that the mainstream media is framing for audiences. Circumstances are deliberately left out of the narratives being reported or transmitted in many cases because of the justifications they can provide and the perceptions they can create.

A clear flow of information without any filters from Ukraine would cripple the public support that the governments of the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Poland are providing to the coup leaders in Ukraine, which are themselves pawns of the U.S. and its allies. This is why audiences in North America and the EU are being presented a distorted picture by the mainstream media and the reason that there is an intense campaign to discredit the Russian media. Instead, the facts involving the murder of protesters by snipers in Ukraine and the coup have been trivialized, ignored or discredited by the mainstream media in North America and the EU.

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Pro-War and Pro-Empire: Media’s Reporting on Ukraine as Terrible as It Was on Iraq

Global Research

After Giving Mea Culpas for Horrible Iraq Coverage, Media Does the Exact Same Thing On Ukraine

We noted last year that – despite all of the mea culpas for horrible Iraq coverage – the American media was doing the exact same thing in Syria.

In reality, it’s not just Iraq or Syria … the corporate media is always pro-war, and pro-empire.

After all, American media never discusses the fact that the U.S. has planned on taking control of Ukraine since 1997 … if not earlier.

Former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter Robert Parry notes:

As the Ukraine crisis continues to deepen, the mainstream U.S. news media is sinking to new lows of propaganda and incompetence. Somehow, a violent neo-Nazi-spearheaded putsch overthrowing a democratically elected president was refashioned into a “legitimate” regime, then the “interim” government and now simply “Ukraine.”

The Washington Post’s screaming headline on Sunday is “Ukraine decries Russian ‘invasion,’” treating the coup regime in Kiev as if it speaks for the entire country when it clearly speaks for only a subset of the population, mostly from western Ukraine. The regime’s “legitimacy” comes not from a democratic election but from a coup that was quickly embraced by the U.S. government and the European Union.

Objective U.S. journalists would insist on a truthful narrative that conveys these nuances to the American people, not simply behave as clumsy propagandists determined to glue “white hats” on the side favored by the State Department and “black hats” on everyone that the U.S. government disdains. But virtually the entire mainstream press corps has opted for the propaganda role, much as it has in the past. Think Iraq 2002-03.

You also might remember the mainstream media’s rush to judgment over the Sarin attack in Syria on Aug. 21, 2013. The State Department rashly blamed the incident on the Syrian government despite serious doubts inside the U.S. intelligence community. [Background]


You’ve had a similar rush to judgment in connection with the violence that broke out in Kiev last month. The U.S. government and news media blamed lethal sniper fire on the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and – after he was driven from office by a neo-Nazi-led putsch on Feb. 22 – the U.S. media made much of how the new rump regime in Kiev had accused Yanukovych of mass murder.

However, according to an intercepted phone conversation between Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Paet reported on a conversation that he had with a doctor in Kiev who said the sniper fire that killed protesters was the same that killed police officers.

As reported by the UK Guardian, “During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.”

Paet said, “What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides.

“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. … So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition.”

Ashton replied: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh.”

[And the former Ukranian security chief also alleges that the new Ukranian government was responsible for the sniper fire.]

This important evidence regarding who was responsible for the crucial sniper fire, which sparked the violent coup, has been virtually blacked out of the mainstream U.S. news media, along with the sudden disinterest on the part of the coup regime to investigate who committed those murders. Yet, instead of repairing the rotting foundation of Official Washington’s false narrative, the major news organizations just keep building upon it.

Whiting Out the Brown Shirts

The next step is to white-out the brown shirts of the neo-Nazi storm troopers who led the final violent overthrow of Yanukovych. Then, you clean up the unsavory coup regime by having its U.S.-chosen leader, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, receive a formal welcome at the White House. Next, you pretend that the concerns of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east and south are simply the result of Moscow’s propaganda and intimidation.

That’s what we’re seeing now. The New York Times even dispatched correspondent C.J. Chivers, the same guy who falsely fingered the Syrian government with that “vector analysis” last September, to co-author a dispatch entitled Pressure and Intimidation Grip Crimea,” with the subtitle, “Russia Moves Swiftly to Stifle Dissent Ahead of Secession Vote.”


You get the picture? While the New York Times accepted the rump parliament’s actions in Kiev last month as “legitimate” – voting in lock step under the watchful of eye of neo-Nazi militias to depose Yanukovych and strip away rights of ethnic Russians – a different standard will apply to Crimea’s referendum on bailing out of the failed Ukrainian state.

That vote, if it favors secession, must be seen as rigged and resulting only from Russian coercion, all the better to continue the false narrative that now dominates the U.S. political/media process.

Yet, the danger of false narratives – as the American people saw in Iraq and almost revisited in Syria – is that policies, including warfare, can be driven by myth, not by fact. The real story of Ukraine is far more complex than the black-and-white caricature that the New York Times, the Washington Post and others are presenting. It is in the truthful grays that responsible policies are shaped and bloody miscalculations are avoided.

But the Neocons are back (they never actually left), and the U.S. is desperate for a war to distract the population.

So here comes the mainstream media salesjob:

Painting by Anthony Freda:

Postscript:  Hopefully, the powers-that-be in the U.S., Russia and Ukraine will steer clear of war.  But the propaganda campaign means that Washington still benefits by creating a scary boogeyman to distract the American people from our real problems and create justification for massive spending by the military-industrial complex.

Posted in UkraineComments Off on Pro-War and Pro-Empire: Media’s Reporting on Ukraine as Terrible as It Was on Iraq

Crisis in Ukraine: Russia Extends its Control over the Black Sea and Strategic Waterways

Global Research

The decision of the people of Crimea to join the Russian Federation has strategic and geopolitical implications.

The union of Crimea with Russia redefines the geopolitical chessboard in the Black Sea Bassin.

It constitutes a major setback for US-NATO, whose longstanding objective was to integrate Ukraine into NATO with a view to undermining Russia and extending their military presence in the Black Sea bassin.

With the March 18, 2014 Treaty signed between Russia and Crimea, the Russian Federation will extend its control over the Black Sea as well over the Sea of Azov, the West coastline of which borders on Eastern Ukraine and the Donesk region. (see map below)

Under the agreement between Russia and Ukraine announced by president Putin, two “constituent regions” of Crimea will join the Russian Federation: the “Republic of Crimea” and the “City of Sevastopol”. Both will have the status of “autonomous regions”.

The status of Sevastopol as an autonomous entity separate from Crimea is related to the location of Russia’s Naval base in Sevastopol.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia retained its naval base in Sevastopol under a bilateral agreement with Ukraine. With the signing of the March 18th Treaty, that agreement is null and void. Sevastopol including the naval base becomes an autonomous region within the Russian federation

Strategic Waterway: The Kerch Straits

Russia now formally controls a much larger portion of the Black Sea, which includes the entire Crimean peninsula.

The Eastern part of Crimea –including the Kerch straits– are now under Russian control. On the Eastern side of the Kerch straits is Russia’s Krasnodar region and extending southwards are the port cities of Novorossiysk and Sochi.

Novorossiysk is also strategic. It is at the cross-roads of major oil and gas pipelines between the Black Sea and Caspian sea.

Historically, the Kerch straits have played a strategic role. They constitute a gateway to Russia’s major waterways.

During World War II, the Kerch peninsula occupied by Nazi Germany (taken back by the Red Army) was an important point of transit by land and water. In the coldest months of Winter, it became an ice bridge linking Crimea to the Krasnodar region.

The Kerch straits are about 5 kilometres in length and 4.5 km. wide at the narrowest point between the tip of Eastern Crimea and the peninsula of Taman, Kerch is a major commercial port linked to railway, ferry and river routes.

[image right: Kerch straits, photo taken from Crimean side, narrow width]

The Sea of Azov: New Geopolitical Hub

Of significance, the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation means that Moscow is now in full control of the Kerch Straits linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian authorities are no longer in control of the port of Kerch. The bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine governing the maritime route through the Kerch straights has been scrapped.

The straits constitute an entry point into Russia’s major river waterways. The Sea of Azov connects with the Don River and the Volga, through the Volga Don Canal. In turn, the Volga flows in the Caspian sea.

The Kerch straits are strategic. The Kerch-Yenikalskiy Canal allows large vessels (215 meters long) to transit from the Black sea to the Sea of Azov.

Moreoever, the Kerch Straits link the Black Sea to the Volga which in turn connects to the Moscow river through the Volga-Moskva canal.

Full control of the narrow Kerch straits by Russia ensures unimpeded maritime transit from the Black Sea to Russia’s capital as well as the maritime route to the Caspian Sea. (Black Sea- Sea of Azov -Don- Volga Don Canal -Volga -Caspian sea)

In December 2013 Moscow signed a bilateral agreement with the Yanukovych government in Kiev pertaining to the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Straits, connecting Eastern Crimea (which was part of Ukraine) with Russia’s Krasnodar region.

That agreement has also been scrapped. Crimea’s union to Russia was already in the pipeline: Less than two weeks before the March 16 Referendum, at the height of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the state-road building corporation Avtodor, or “Russian Highways” “to create a subsidiary company that will oversee the building of a bridge across the Kerch Strait”.

Needless to say, the project will now be fully under Russian ownership and control.

The Sea of Azov, Eastern Ukraine and the Donbas Region

The Eastern Ukraine and the densely populated Donetz basin (Donbas region) of Ukraine -in which the Russian population constitutes a majority– borders on the Western coastline of the Sea of Azov, which is now in large part under Russian control.

“Ripple Effect” of the Crimean Referendum. How will the Crisis Evolve?

Will the referendum in Crimea set the stage for the integration of part of Eastern and Southern Ukraine into the Russian Federation?

The geographic and geopolitical changes discussed above have a direct bearing on unfolding events in Eastern Ukraine. (see map above)

Throughout Eastern Ukraine as well as in Odessa in southern Ukraine, the legitimacy of the interim neo-Nazi government in Kiev has been questioned. Municipal and local levels citizens’ committees are challenging the authority of Kiev appointed officials.

In the port city of Odessa on the Black Sea, a protest movement demanding a referendum has unfolded.

Thousands held a Pro-Russian rally in support of Crimea’s referendum in Odessa, despite calls from the city’s authorities not to participate in meetings. Organizers claim more than 5,000 people joined the demonstration.

“Odessa is against the coup in Kiev, paid for by the West and Ukrainian oligarchs who remained in power with the help deceitful extremists and militants. We are tired of living in poverty and we are no longer going to tolerate the tyranny of oligarchs and officials,” ….

The people were chanting “Ukraine and Russia – one country,” and “Odessa, be bold, drive the fascists out,”as they gathered in the center of the city. (RT, March 16, 2014)

Reported by RT, protests have developed in Kharkov and Donetsk demanding the holding of a referendum similar to that of Crimea.

Protesters, on behalf of Kharkov’s assembly, asked Putin to “guarantee their rights and freedoms” and pass to the United Nations their demands regarding a referendum on the federalization, which they plan for April 27, reported Ukrainian National News (UNN) website. Additionally, activists asked to deploy Russian peacekeepers to Kharkov region, adding that they fear for their lives and property.

The demonstrators then marched to the nearby consulate of Poland, protesting against Western interference into Ukrainian affairs.

Kharkov protesters also looted the building housing offices of radical-nationalist organizations, including the Right Sector group, reported Interfax-Ukraine. The activists broke into the building, took out books and nationalist symbols and burnt them.

Pro-Russian activists hold giant Russian flags during their rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 16, 2014.(AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

In Donetsk, pro-Russian protesters questioned the legitimacy of the interim coalition government:

Meanwhile, Kiev sent heavy military hardware to the borders with Russia. Activists in eastern Ukraine regions, including Donetsk and Lugansk, were reportedly blocking trains delivering military equipment from the central and western parts of Ukraine.

Similar rallies were held in Dnepropetrovsk and Lugansk. In Lugansk the campaign focused on a ‘people’s referendum’ directed against the Kiev interim government:

In Lugansk, several thousand anti-coup activists were conducting a public poll by handing out “ballot papers” of “people’s referendum” of Lugansk region. The poll raised questions of trust in the authorities in Kiev, the possibility of joining the Customs Union following the federalization of Ukraine.

One of the questions was about the international bailout: “Do you support reduction of social benefits and cancellation of benefits at the request of the IMF?”

Posted in Russia, UkraineComments Off on Crisis in Ukraine: Russia Extends its Control over the Black Sea and Strategic Waterways

Crimea Referendum: the hidden truth behind the U.S.-Russia rivalry

The next stage in the global offensive by U.S. imperialism

By Brian Becker

Donetsk rally Ukraine
A huge rally against the Kiev coup government in Donetsk, Ukraine

The people of Crimea have voted in overwhelming numbers and by an overwhelming margin to leave Ukraine and to federate with Russia. The majority population in Crimea speaks Russian, identifies with Russia and was formally a part of Russia until the region was transferred to Ukraine as a largely administrative measure in 1954 when Ukraine and Russia were full republics united in one country: the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

The vote by Crimea to leave Ukraine has led to a chorus of condemnation and economic sanctions against Russia by the United States and all the NATO governments of Europe.

The same countries that dropped 23,000 bombs and missiles on Yugoslavia in 1999 demanding that Kosovo be separated from Serbia and Yugoslaviaand also invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and bombed Libya in 2011 — are crying about Russia’s flagrant “violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty by virtue of encouraging and supporting the Crimean referendum.

The same militarists who criminally invaded and bombed sovereign Iraq or cheered while Iraq was divided and left bleeding from the assault, are now crying very big crocodile tears about respect for sovereignty in Ukraine. Working class and progressive people should treat their feigned loyalty to the cause of national sovereignty with complete contempt.

U.S. and EU overplayed their hand

Provocateur neocon militarists like John McCain and his feckless counterpart who holds the position of Secretary of State have overplayed their hand by facilitating and congratulating a fascist-led anti-Russian coup d’etat against the corrupt but elected government of Ukraine.

They thought they were on the road of absorbing the second largest former Soviet Republic into NATO — lock, stock and barrel. They did not anticipate that the Crimea would hold a popular referendum and declare its independence.

The arrogance of imperial power drove the events. Five months ago Putin was prepared to engage in a peaceful economic competition to soften the hard edges of the U.S./EU campaign to absorb Ukraine into a western sphere of influence. Both sides knew, Putin assumed, that Ukraine is divided geographically and ethnically in a way that would make it impossible for the country to be entirely absorbed by western imperialism.

The ousted President Yanukovych favored integration into the EU but he promised Russia that Ukraine would never join the NATO military alliance against Russia. Yanukovych was a corrupt figure. Close to Ukraine’s oligarchs, he was perfectly willing in the past to do business with the fascist and semi-fascist forces who eventually toppled his government on Feb. 21.

The scrapping of the Feb. 21 agreement

Putin was busy hosting the Olympics and fending off a barrage of baiting by the western media while the street protests gathered steam in Kiev. Originally an eclectic mix of fascist, centrist and some leftist forces, the Maidan street protests came under the leadership of truly fascist forces controlled by the Right Sector and the Svoboda Party.

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland tricked Ukraine’s hapless president, Victor Yanukovych and perhaps Russia, as well, to sign the Feb. 21 agreement with EuroMaidan protest leaders. Yanukovych agreed to withdraw the police, weaken the power of the presidency and call an early election to form a new government. The moment the police were withdrawn on Feb. 21, however, the fascist militias seized the presidential compound and other government buildings and Yanukovych fled for his life.

Until the violation of the Feb. 21 agreement, the Putin government was playing an oddly passive role even while the United States and the E.U. countries were destabilizing Russia’s most important neighbor in an effort that, if successful, could only culminate in the integration of all Ukraine into EU and then into NATO. Crimea would be transformed into a NATO base. Russia would be ousted from its largest and most important naval base and NATO’s relentless drive toward the east would be a dagger pointed directly at Russia.

The last straw

The scrapping of the Feb. 21 agreement and the seizure of power by the new fascist-dominated government in Kiev was the last straw for Putin. The Feb. 21 agreement was worked out with the EU powers but it was instantly scrapped by the fascists and the United States officials went public saluting the new regime and recognizing it as the legitimate government.

Did anyone who was thinking believe that Putin would accept this outcome in Ukraine, a country of 46 million people with deep cultural, economic, political and military ties to Russia?

McCain, of course, doesn’t care because he spends his entire pampered life running around the world demanding new wars and new confrontations. He flies first class on the taxpayer’s dime to Ukraine or Syria or wherever he can grab headlines for his “tough stance.” McCain is a big windbag who has little real impact.

But John Kerry is responsible as Secretary of State for overseeing the foreign interests of the biggest U.S. banks and corporations and the status of the Empire globally. Kerry too is a pampered politician who has spent his entire adult life, like McCain, as a talking head in the U.S. Senate. As a Secretary of State he has proved to be a disaster for the Obama Administration. He almost succeeded in dragging Obama into a catastrophe by starting another war in Syria last August but his hand was checked by global opposition and Obama, at the last second, was given a helping hand by the Russians who arranged a diplomatic face saving gesture so the U.S. could back down without looking too “weak.”

Now that Putin was forced to act and did so by the exercise of a popular referendum that displayed beyond any doubt the genuine yearning of the majority in Crimea to affiliate with Russia, he has demonstrated an ability to push back against the schemes of U.S. imperialism. Even so Putin’s actions are measured and clearly designed to find a new path for possible negotiations over the fate of Ukraine and Russia’s acknowledged interests in the country and the region.

Russia’s move has changed the equation and provided a conundrum for the United States and the EU. Russia and the EU countries have many shared economic interests and trade. A sudden collapse in relations will create widespread economic suffering on both sides. This was not anticipated by the main figures in the west.

John McCain and the war-mongers in Congress want to pretend that Russia is Iraq or North Korea or Syria and that economic sanctions will do the trick and greatly weaken and destabilize Russia as if Russia doesn’t have counter measures available with which to hit back.

The crux of the U.S. rivalry with Russia

Russia today is far weaker in relationship to the United States and the other NATO powers than was the Soviet Union.

Russia’s military is one fifth the size of the Soviet Armed Forces, Air Force and Navy.

More importantly than the size of its military, Russia’s main European allies in the Soviet era have now been absorbed into the U.S./NATO sphere of influence. So too have many former non-Russian republics of the USSR.

The USSR was a union of 15 republics. The largest was Russia. Ukraine was the second largest powerhouse of the USSR. It had both heavy industry and a vast agricultural sector and was called the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.

Industry in Russia, Ukraine and the other republics was public property. It belonged to the state and its productive capability and products were government owned. There was not a class of billionaires, multi-millionaires, and oligarchs who controlled the economy. Nor did western multi-national corporations have a foothold in this economy.

The Soviet economy operated according to the principle of economic planning. The mainspring of this economic mechanism was completely different than that of the major capitalist powers where bankers lend and corporations produce and trade solely and exclusively to make profits for owners and investors.

The Soviet Union was sanctioned, largely cutoff from trade and investment with the United States following World War II and pushed into diverting a huge section of its national treasury to a nuclear arms race forced upon it by the Pentagon. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union, with Russia as its anchoring republic, became the second greatest economic and military power in the world.

How imperialism viewed the USSR

The USSR not only projected economic and military power for Russia, it did so on a different class basis. As the global struggle to decolonize Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East became the central feature of world politics after World War II, the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc nations became the economic and military ally of those fighting for independence.

Even though the Soviet political leadership was most anxious to have peaceful coexistence and a period of non-confrontation with the United States, the anti-colonial global struggle in the so-called Third World kept drawing the USSR into struggle.

Each of the former colonizing powers of Europe and the United States opposed the revolutionary movements in Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, Indonesia, Iraq, Palestine, Angola, South Africa, Mozambique and elsewhere while the USSR provided military and economic assistance.

The other hotspot for confrontation between the USSR and the United States was over the status of Eastern Europe following World War II. Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania had been dominated by the fascists

Eastern Europe was the staging ground and gateway for the German invasion into the USSR in 1941. The Soviet leadership wanted to guarantee that the post-war leadership of these countries not be controlled by anti-Soviet political forces who owed their political allegiance to the United States and Britain.

It was the Soviet Red Army that defeated Nazism in the area of Eastern and Central Europe in 1944 and 1945. The Red Army was able to mount a massive counter-offensive against the Nazi military machine and its quisling forces in the regionbut at a nearly unimaginable cost. More than 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians were killed in the war and most of the country was devastated. (The name of the Soviet Red Army was changed to the Soviet Armed Forces in 1946.)

It is critically important to understand this basic history, not only to grasp the essence of the U.S.-Soviet confrontation during the so-called Cold war but to ascertain the orientation of Putin and the Russian government today in the Ukraine crisis. Even though the socialist-led government of the Soviet Union was overthrown and the USSR was dissolved in 1991, even though the current Russian government is ideologically and programmatically pro-capitalist rather than communist, there is a constancy in the policies of the United States and the NATO powers that are deeply threatening to Russia.

Hitler and German imperialism

Germany’s invasion of the USSR was motivated not only by Hitler’s extreme anti-communism and hatred for communists, it was also to designed to grab hold of the vast resources of the lands of Eastern Europe: Ukraine, the Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), the Caucasus region (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) and big parts of Russia as well.

German imperialism, under Hitler, invaded these lands because it wanted to create a German imperialist zone of economic domination, not only or even mainly for fascist ideological goals, but rather for the benefit of the Germany’s capitalist-owned banks and industries.

Hitler’s Germany and later the United States and the NATO powers viewed these countries largely as they viewed their former colonies in the Third World: as a potential source of super-profits based on exploiting their land, resources and labor.

What Stalin and the USSR wanted after World War II

Under the leadership of Stalin, the Soviet Union hoped for a respite from war following World War II. The Soviets would have preferred that the war-time alliance with the United States would continue. They would have been content with a neutral Eastern Europe along the lines of the agreement that was worked out with Austria’s neutral status.

But the new leadership in Washington in 1945 was headed in a different direction altogether. The Soviet Red Army’s sweep into Europe coupled with the rising tide of anti-colonial national liberation movements and the global popularity of the USSR for its defeat of Nazism created widespread fear, panic and a war fever in Washington D.C. The U.S. establishment envisioned that a third World War was probable but this time it would be with the Soviet Union and their allies.

The U.S. began massive covert and overt operations to bring right-wing and anti-Soviet forces back to political power in Eastern and Central Europethe same lands that Hitler had used for a staging ground for the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. It was under this pressure that Stalin and the Soviet leadership decided to abandon the idea that Eastern Europe could be “neutral” and started bringing to power permanent governments that were lead by communist parties who were allies of the USSR. The exception was Yugoslavia where the indigenous communist forces led by Tito were strong enough to carry out their own socialist revolution following their long and bitter struggle to defeat the Nazi occupiers.

By “socializing” the governments in Eastern Europe, the Soviet leadership in the late 1940s also removed them as an arena for exploitation by European and United States capitalist corporations and banks.

Not just an ideological struggle

The Cold War is usually presented as an ideological struggle between pro-communist and pro-capitalist governments. That was one component to be sure. Imperialism, however, isn’t fundamentally an ideological program or project. It is a global economic system that compels the banks and corporations to dominate every piece of potential real estate for the benefit of those same entities.

This global economic system was reorganized in a transformative way after World War II. Inter-imperialist competition and rivalry between the colonizing powers had been the dominant characteristic of this global system between 1900 and 1945. After World War II, the rivalry between imperialist countries that had generated so much chaos and two world wars within two brief decades was muted as a direct consequence of the dominant role achieved by the United States and a sophisticated global strategy employed by the U.S. government in its newly acquired position of global leader and anchor of the global economic system.

A world system reorganized under U.S. leadership

Instead of punishing, sanctioning and weakening its enemies in World War II, U.S. policy set about reviving the economic and political power of its defeated foes in Germany and Japan.

Under conditions of U.S. military occupation, German and Japanese ruling economic elites and most of their political operatives were quickly restored to power. Instead of smashing them economically, the strategy of U.S. imperialism was to allow German and Japanese business to receive access to global markets and resources.

Under the new alignment both Germany and Japan, along with Britain, France and the other major capitalist economies and governments were welded together as a united front against the USSR and socialism.

After more than four decades of global struggle against the USSR a struggle that was unremitting and carried out on every frontit was an internal political implosion inside the summits of the Soviet Communist Party that finally collapsed Soviet political power and led to the dissolution of the second greatest power on earth.

Russia was weakened greatly. Its prime allies were picked away by NATO. Its economy went into a giant tailspin. The living conditions for a broad part of the population dropped dramatically. There had never been such a precipitous drop recorded in peace time. Big parts of the nationalized economy were looted by gangsters with connections to international financing. Russia was on its knees but 10 years later Russia started to come back. The United States wanted Russia to be a puppet or so weak that it could never be an obstacle again to imperialism’s desires and designs including in the vast resource-rich and geo-strategically important territories within the former boundaries of the Soviet Union.

An inherently expansionist system

But Russia is too big to be a puppet. Its military is too large, its land mass and resources too vast, and its level of development too high for Russia to be a doormat for western imperialism.

So even though the Soviet Union is no more, there remains a continuing struggle between the club of imperialist countries, led since 1945 by the United States, and Russia.

The ideological struggle against communism is no longer a feature of the new rivalry. But the inherently expansionist nature of modern day imperialism puts it on a continual collision course with Russia, China or any national entity or mass movement that serves as a brake or an obstacle to its desire for unfettered domination over the planets’ land and resources.

This historical pattern is observable because it is the dominant characteristic of modern imperialism. It is also the reason that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War did not bring about a peace dividend, disarmament and the diminution of militarism. On the contrary, the last 20 years have witnessed one imperialist war after another as the primary power center in the global economic system marches on in pursuit of its predatory agenda. In that sense, there is not a new Cold War but rather a continuation of an ongoing effort by the most powerful elites in the largest capitalist countries to maintain their stranglehold over the world.

Posted in Russia, UkraineComments Off on Crimea Referendum: the hidden truth behind the U.S.-Russia rivalry

‘US Troops Out Now’: Philippine Protesters Push Against Base Expansion


Hundreds march against Philippine government’s cooperation with US bid for heavier military presence

– Sarah Lazare

Riot police prepare to prevent protesters from marching closer to the U.S. Embassy Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 in Manila, Philippines, against the forthcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama. (Photo: AP/Bullit Marquez)Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the Philippine capital on Tuesday to demand U.S. troops leave their country, just days after Philippine President Noynoy Aquino announced he is close” to a deal that would open the Philippines to an expanded U.S. military presence.

“Aquino is desperately trying to outdo previous Philippine presidents when it comes to puppetry to the US,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, spokesperson for labor organization Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement), which organized the demonstration.

Riot police clashed with approximately 300 demonstrators, who carried signs and banners that read “Obama Not Welcome” and “US Troops Out Now,” near the U.S. embassy in Manila. At one point police attacked the crowd with truncheons, but no one was seriously injured, the Associated Press reports.

The protest comes ahead of a planned visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in April, which will be aimed at making progress towards an agreement over sustained U.S. military presence in the Philippines, including in the Subic Bay, which overlooks the South China Sea.

Social movements in the Philippines have long opposed U.S. power over their country, which includes more than five decades of direct colonial rule and the backing of brutal dictator Ferdinand Marcos — who was president from 1965 to 1986 until he was overthrown by a popular movement. Even after Philippine independence, the U.S. maintained a heavy presence of bases and troops, despite widespread opposition to the environmental and social harm they spread, including numerous incidents of sexual assaults and rape of the local population.

While the last U.S. base in the country was shut down in 1992, the U.S. currently sends 500 troops to the southern Philippines annually for so-called counter-terrorism purposes, while 6,500 come each year for training, according to the Philippine military.

With the cooperation of Aquino, Obama is aggressively pushing to expand this military presence as part of the U.S. military’s pivot to Asia to hedge against China. The U.S. and Philippine governments have levied U.S. humanitarian response to Typhoon Haiyan to build support for a deal.

According to Labong, Aquino “tries to make it appear that the return of US military bases to the Philippines is part of efforts to help the country when it is part of the U.S. geopolitical strategy.”


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Russia Mobilizes Military, But Who Really Threatens Ukraine?


Kremlin announces ‘readiness drills’ near border, but vows to refrain from intervening amid political upheaval

– Jon Queally

A Wednesday announcement that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered ‘readiness’ military exercises in the areas closest to its border with Ukraine are stirring already anxious concerns that the political upheaval that has gripped the country in recent weeks could continue to spiral out of control as the threat of outside intervention—particularly of a military nature—could dramatically escalate the fragile situation.

In this Tuesday, July 16, 2013 file photo Russian President Vladimir Putin, flanked by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, uses binocular as he watches military exercise near Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, on Sakhalin Island, Russia. President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, ordered massive exercises involving most of its military units in western Russia amid tensions in Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service, Pool)As news circulated about the announcement in global outlets, a local protest in the Crimean city of Simferopol—where Russian ties remain strong—Ukrainians upset about the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych clashed with those who supported the protest movement.

Whereas supporters of the opposition coalition whose protests in Kiev led to the removal of Yanukovych last weekend are hoping that the interim government now forming will lead to new parliamentary elections and a new prime minister, those more closely aligned with Russia are not so sure that their rights and interests will be protected now that Yanukovych has fled and key institutions dissolved.

While the U.S. and the European Union have issued warnings to Russia not to involve itself militarily, Russian diplomats have repeatedly said that its interests and allies inside Ukraine will be protected.

In announcing the military drills on Wednesday, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was specific in saying that the drills should not be misconstrued as preparations for any kind of intervention in Ukraine. As the Associated Press reports:

[Shoigu] said the exercise is unrelated to the developments in Ukraine, where tensions remain […]

But Shoigu added that the exercise will be held near Russian borders, including the border with Ukraine. He also said, according to Russian news reports, that his ministry will take steps to strengthen security of the facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, Russian lawmaker Valentina Matvienko, who heads the upper chamber of parliament, known as the Federation Council, indicated that though the Russian government has strong opinions and interests about the continuing situation in Ukraine, there was no plan to intervene militarily.

“Russia has been stating and reiterating its stance that we have no right and cannot interfere in domestic affairs of a sovereign state,” said Matvienko, adding that Russia does not support the idea of dividing the country along East-West, or any other lines.

“We are for Ukraine as a united state, and there should be no basis for separatist sentiments,” she said.

As the situation continues to develop, foreign policy analyst John Feffer argues in a new pieceWednesday that one striking fact about the complex situation in Ukraine is how despite attempts by key global powers—namely the established Ukraine government, the US, the EU, and Russia—to dictate or control the situation within Ukraine, all were out-manuevered by the opposition forces on the ground in Kiev.

Writing at Foreign Policy In Focus, Feffer sums it up this way: “Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych tried to hang on to power, and failed. Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to maintain Russian influence, and failed. The EU tried to mediate, and failed. And the United States tried to…well…”

Feffer breaks down some of the recent developments and then lays out this explanation:

Ukraine is part of the Great Game left over from the Cold War that the United States is still playing, a game that consists of keeping the Russians down, NATO in, and the oil and gas flowing outward. But the 21st-century chessboard is now very different. The EU is playing a major role, perhaps even the dominant one — and thus the vehemence of Nuland’s dismissal. Russia may well talk tough and spend considerable sums on reviving its military — and the Sochi Olympics elevated Moscow’s international cred a couple notches — but it is a shadow of its former Soviet self. And the United States might privately like to style itself as puppet master — or kingmaker — but these are not the “glory days” of the 1950s for the CIA and the State Department. Washington can’t even control the airing of its dirty laundry, from Wikileaks to Snowden to the Nuland phone call. The United States, particularly in these cash-strapped times, has nothing on the order of EU membership to hold as both carrot and stick over Kiev.

The very fact that Ukrainian protesters can oust their leader and plunge their country into political uncertainty testifies to the diminished influence of the major international players trying to control outcomes in Kiev. But ouster is easy compared to rebuilding an entire country the size of Ukraine. In this ongoing struggle between the street and the elite, let’s hope that the Ukrainians manage an outcome considerably better than their Egyptian, Libyan, or Syrian comrades-in-protest.

Posted in Russia, UkraineComments Off on Russia Mobilizes Military, But Who Really Threatens Ukraine?

A Complete US Withdrawal from Afghanistan? Bring… It… On


Obama orders Pentagon to draw up plans for ‘zero option’… and that’s a good thing, say those opposed to endless occupation

– Jon Queally

President Hamad Karzai, warned about security deal repercussions by the US. (Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)Despite repeated statements from the Obama administration that its preferred planned is for a large residual military force and operations footprint inside Afghanistan that extends well beyond 2014, the president formally ordered the Pentagon on Tuesday to draw up plans for a full and complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of the year—the so-called ‘zero option.’

Though treated like a threat and something that would be terrible for both U.S. interests and the Afghan people by many in the Washington establishment, the reality is that preparations for a coordinated and full withdrawal is exactly what the global anti-war movement and those who support Afghan sovereignty have been calling for since the country was first invaded by the U.S. and NATO more than a dozen years ago.

Obama’s move was leaked to the press following a phone call between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier on Tuesday in which the two leaders discussed the ongoing reluctance of Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) put forth by the White House.

Karzai has repeatedly rebuffed pressure from the US and NATO to sign the BSA, saying he wants to wait until after upcoming presidential elections in the country before committing to additional years of having foreign troops in the country, maintaining bases, and launching military operations within and across its borders.

As the Guardian reports:

Preparations for a withdrawal from Afghanistan are complicated by the fact that the use of air bases there are not solely focused on waging war. Bases like Kandahar in the south and Jalalabad in the east are also platforms for flying surveillance and armed drones into neighboring Pakistan, and surveillance drones have also likely flown from Kandahar into Iran.

Losing access to Afghan air bases may likely prompt the US to look for alternative regional launchpads in central Asian states, an uncertain prospect complicated by their dismal human rights records. In 2005, Uzbekistan revoked US access to its Karshi-Khanabad air base following a diplomatic row over a bloody crackdown that May in Andijan province.

The Pentagon did not comment on any airbase negotiations, but a spokeswoman, Navy commander Elissa Smith, said “regardless of the outcome of the BSA, the United States will take the steps necessary to combat terrorism and protect our interests”.

According to foreign policy analyst Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, the focus on U.S. interests in repeated statements by Pentagon officials and Obama himself reveals how shallow the rhetoric has been when the U.S. tries to say that the continued presence of U.S. troops is for the good of the Afghan people.

While rejecting Obama’s argument that keeping troops in Afghanistan will somehow keep Americans more safe from future terrorist attacks, Bennis supports the idea of a full and complete U.S. withdrawal. As she wrote recently:

The best way to prevent attacks on the U.S. is precisely to get all U.S. troops — all, not most — out of Afghanistan. The “Zero Option,” the full withdrawal the United States dreads and the inevitable result if the Afghan government, like its Iraqi counterpart, refuses to grant immunity to U.S. troops for any crimes they might commit, is in fact the best way to both help Afghanistan’s people reclaim their country on their own terms, and reduce the threat of attacks on the United States.

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Ukraine: Out of the Frying Pan

The very fact that Ukrainian protesters can oust their leader and plunge their country into political uncertainty testifies to the diminished influence of the major international players trying to control outcomes in Kiev.

The fall of Yanukovych, welcomed by virtually everyone in Ukraine including his own party, means that Ukraine is out of the frying pan. Now the challenge facing Ukrainians — and the country’s neighbors — is to prevent a tumble into the fire. (Photo: Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr)In the end, the street triumphed over the elite. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych tried to hang on to power, and failed. Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to maintain Russian influence, and failed. The EU tried to mediate, and failed. And the United States tried to…well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Over the weekend, the Maidan movement in Kiev rejected the agreement reached between Yanukovych and opposition leaders, which would have created a national unity government and prepared for new elections within the year. Like their distant cousins in Egypt and Syria, protestors wanted nothing to do with their putative leader and demanded his immediate resignation. They disregarded the blunt advice of EU mediator (and Polish foreign minister) Radoslaw Sikorski, who warned, “If you don’t support this [compromise] you will have martial law, the army. You’ll all be dead.” When Yanukovych left the capital on Friday night for his political base in the eastern part of the country, they sensed their opportunity and effectively seized control of the city.

Interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov and the newly empowered parliament immediately went to work. It voted to release Yulia Tymoshenko from prison — where the former prime minister and Orange revolutionary was serving a seven-year sentence for alleged corruption. The MPs also fired the interior minister responsible for the security forces, which opened fire on protestors last week, killing dozens. The hated riot police were disbanded.

The fall of Yanukovych, welcomed by virtually everyone in Ukraine including his own party, means that Ukraine is out of the frying pan. Now the challenge facing Ukrainians — and the country’s neighbors — is to prevent a tumble into the fire.

The most immediate problem is achieving a measure of political stability. It hasn’t been easy to form a new government in Kiev. But other signs are good. There have been no revenge killings. There are no reports of looting. Police and armed protestors are sharing responsibility for keeping order in the major cities. Thousands of people toured — as opposed to trashed — Yanukovych’s opulent presidential palace, and they not only didn’t touch anything but even stayed off the grass.

The opposition is far from unified. But Tymoshenko, a divisive figure now that she’s once again out of prison, has deferred to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Fatherland party that she founded.  Other oppositionists, like former boxer Vitali Klitschko, are also angling for the presidency. No one has threatened a Ceausescu scenario — rush to judgment followed by summary execution — for the AWOL Yanukovych. Rather, the interim leadership is only talking legal recourse, even broaching the possibility of involving the International Criminal Court.

The second pressing challenge is the Ukrainian economy. The country’s economic tailspin precipitated the current crisis, as the country was caught between twin bailouts, one from Moscow and the other from Brussels. After a feint towards Europe, Yanukovych eventually took $15 billion from Russia. That aid has been suspended. Now the EU, the IMF, and the United States are dreaming up some kind of package for Ukraine. In the past IMF austerity measures, which included wage freezes and utility hikes, were unpopular, to say the least. But Ukraine owes $73 billion in foreign debt, and $12 billion of that comes due this year. It’s the IMF’s job to dispense unpleasant medicine, and so far neither Brussels nor Washington have offered much to sweeten the pill.

The nightmare scenario, however, is the disintegration of the country. Ukraine is divided between an eastern part populated by a large number of Russian speakers and a European-leaning western part. Then there’s the peninsula of Crimea, in the Black Sea, which is 60-percent Russian-speaking and where Moscow docks its Black Sea fleet in a leasing arrangement good until 2042. On Sunday, 20,000 people rallied in the Crimean city of Sevastopol to elect a pro-Moscow Russian as their mayor. The whole peninsula might attempt to migrate back to Russia where it belonged for a couple centuries until 1954 when Khrushchev gifted it to Ukraine on the 300th anniversary of the Russian-Ukrainian “merger.” An unidentified Russian government official told The Financial Times last week that “if Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war. They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia.”

But a military intervention by Moscow into any part of Ukraine — as it did in Georgia in 2008 — would be a serious miscalculation. In fact, the only thing that would unite Ukraine more than dislike of Yanukovych at this point would be the introduction of Russian troops. Putin is a consummate realist and is not likely to risk his other projects in the “near abroad” with such a foolhardy venture. But serious economic austerity measures or further political missteps — like the repeal of a language law that mandated the use of two official languages wherever the minority population exceeded 10 percent — could nevertheless pull at the seams of the country.

One possible way of preserving territorial integrity would be decentralization — giving more autonomy to the different regions of Ukraine. “Although federalization is seen in Kiev and western Ukraine as a step toward ultimate partition, it could in fact help hold Ukraine together,” writes Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “With more financial and cultural autonomy, the country’s diverse regions could more easily live and let live, and keep one another in check.” Not even Yanukovych was willing to put federalization on the agenda. But with Crimea increasingly restive and Turchynov calling separatism “a serious threat,” such options should not be dismissed out of hand.

Political instability, economic ruin, and territorial disintegration: these are the three fires that Ukraine, having leapt from Yanukovych’s frying pan, now faces. Russian intervention is a remote threat — and Putin as the devil in the Ukrainian details has been wildly overblown, as Stephen Cohen has pointed out at The Nation. At the same time, although some genuine fascists lurk among the protestors in the Maidan, they too are a distinct minority. Like Tahrir Square, the Maidan movement has represented the full range of civil society, from LGBT activists to Ukrainian nationalists.

Now we get to the role of the United States. Two very different views have emerged in the media over the last few weeks. The first is of a largely helpless observer. As things were spiraling out of control between government and opposition, Fareed Zakaria opined at CNN that there really wasn’t much that Washington could do, since military intervention was clearly off the table and economic sanctions against Yanukovych would have been counterproductive.

Ah, but then what to make of the notorious phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt? The call made headlines for its profanity, not its profundity, as Nuland dismissed the diplomatic efforts of the EU with a dismissive F-bomb.

But as Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Patrick Smith points out, the actual content of the phone call is actually far more interesting. “The American plot revolves around manipulating various figures in the opposition, backing the fortunes of some, keeping others from the table, and thereby inducing a friendly, post–Yanukovych government of one kind or another, compromised from its very conception,” he writes in Nuland: The Message Beneath the Vulgarity.

Now that Yanukovych is out and we aren’t privy to any more high-level State Department chats, it’s difficult to know exactly how much influence Washington continues to wield in Kiev. Certainly the United States is doing what it can to keep Russia to its non-interference pledge. Some kind of economic package is being assembled, though it’s not likely to be of Marshall Plan proportions. And no doubt Ambassador Pyatt and colleagues are backing a horse in the race for leadership (Arseniy Yatsenyuk, at least according to the aforementioned phone call).

Ukraine is part of the Great Game left over from the Cold War that the United States is still playing, a game that consists of keeping the Russians down, NATO in, and the oil and gas flowing outward. But the 21st-century chessboard is now very different. The EU is playing a major role, perhaps even the dominant one — and thus the vehemence of Nuland’s dismissal. Russia may well talk tough and spend considerable sums on reviving its military — and the Sochi Olympics elevated Moscow’s international cred a couple notches — but it is a shadow of its former Soviet self. And the United States might privately like to style itself as puppet master — or kingmaker — but these are not the “glory days” of the 1950s for the CIA and the State Department. Washington can’t even control the airing of its dirty laundry, from Wikileaks to Snowden to the Nuland phone call. The United States, particularly in these cash-strapped times, has nothing on the order of EU membership to hold as both carrot and stick over Kiev.

The very fact that Ukrainian protesters can oust their leader and plunge their country into political uncertainty testifies to the diminished influence of the major international players trying to control outcomes in Kiev. But ouster is easy compared to rebuilding an entire country the size of Ukraine. In this ongoing struggle between the street and the elite, let’s hope that the Ukrainians manage an outcome considerably better than their Egyptian, Libyan, or Syrian comrades-in-protest.

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The Question of US ‘Democracy Promotion’ in the Newspaper of Record


Sometimes the thing we call “media bias” isn’t about what a given piece of journalism explicitly says about the world;  it’s more about the assumptions that must be taken for granted. Question those assumptions and the whole thing starts to fall apart.

You might ask Chilean President Salvador Allende what he thinks about US democracy promotion–if he hadn’t been killed in a CIA-backed coup in 1973. (Photo: Creative Commons / Sebastian Baryli)

Tuesday’s New York Times (2/25/14) had a piece about whether or not the Obama administration is as committed to a policy of “democracy promotion” as the Bush administration had been.

To anyone familiar with US history of inhibiting and undermining democracies, or its long-standing alliances with resolutely antidemocratic countries, the whole concept must seem rather absurd. But in order for this story to make any sense, you must on some level accept the premise that support for democracy in other countries is an important US value.

“Mr. Obama has not made global aspirations of democracy the animating force of his presidency,” the Times‘ Peter Baker writes. The administration has discussed a strategy of keeping some distance from pro-democracy movements, which doesn’t sit well with some:

To some critics, though, that justifies a policy of passivity that undercuts core American values.

“The administration’s Ukraine policy is emblematic of a broader problem with today’s foreign policy–absence of a strategic vision, disinterest in democracy promotion and an unwillingness to lead,” said Paula J. Dobriansky, an undersecretary of State for Mr. Bush.

The Times also elicits comments from Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, “who advised the Bush White House as speechwriters worked on the former president’s January 2005 inaugural address promising to combat tyranny abroad.”

Of the comparison between Obama and his predecessor, Obama supporters “say he has increased spending on projects that encourage democratic reform in places like Africa and Asia while directing money to support changes in the Arab world.” According to Baker:

For Mr. Bush, the focus on spreading democracy preceded his decision to invade Iraq, but it was inextricably linked to the war after the failure to find the unconventional weapons that had been the primary public justification. The goal of establishing a democratic beachhead in the Middle East began driving the occupation, but it became tarnished among many overseas because of its association with the war.

To Baker, this continued as Bush was “setting a ‘freedom agenda’ for his second term,” the evidence for which was evidently a speech where Bush  “declared it his policy to support democracy ‘in every nation’ with ‘the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.'”

It take an enormous amount of nerve to cast Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq as the starting point for a policy of democracy promotion, especially considering that US policy during the post-invasion occupation was fervently opposed to Iraqi elections (Extra!, 6/05).

It might have made more sense to consider  just a few of the available counter-examples. But again, doing this would start to make the basic point Times article seem absurd.

The reaction to the 2002 coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez might be seen as an expression of the White House’s actual views about democracy–which was to cheer on the coup plotters. (The Times, as it happened, had the same impulse–Extra!6/02.) The Obama administration was faced with a similar situation in 2009 when a coup removed left-wing Honduran President Manuel Zelaya; the administration’s response was, at best, weak.

These are actual tests of a superpower’s faith in democracy, and the record would not suggest that supporting or promoting democracy was particularly important in either case.

As the Bush White House ramped up its rhetoric about democracy promotion, Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment (National Interest3-4/07) wrote that Bush’s rhetoric had little to do with its actual Mideast policy. “Even at its peak in 2004–05,” Carothers said, “this push for change among America’s autocratic friends in the region was nonetheless relatively weak.” And election outcomes that ran counter to US elite interests seemed to signal a retreat from even the pro-democracy rhetoric. Carothers concluded that “the notion that the universal pursuit of freedom constitutes George Bush’s global compass is an enormous illusion.”

Carothers is often cited by author and critic Noam Chomsky, often to make the point that even establishment historians admit that official rhetoric should not be confused with actual policy. But the critique of US policy should go much deeper;  Chomsky   (5/4/05) pointed out that Bush’s nomination of John Negroponte as director of national intelligence sent a clear signal about democracy promotion:

The arc of Negroponte’s career ranges from Honduras, where as Reagan’s ambassador he oversaw the Contra terrorist forces’ war against Nicaragua, to Iraq, where as Bush’s ambassador he briefly presided over another exercise in alleged democracy development–experience that can inform his new duties to help combat terror and promote liberty. Orwell would not have known whether to laugh or to weep.

Chomsky closed that column with this observation:

For Washington, a consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives. But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel/Palestine run counter to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within the United States.

Does the United States need to do some democracy promotion here in the United States? Now that might be a more interesting piece to read in the Newspaper of Record.

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