Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 27 May 2014 20:59
What do we aim at? Houses! Who do we kill? Everyone inside the houses! What are their names? We don’t know! What did they do? We don’t know! Are they civilians? We don’t care!
This could be the catechism of the America’s drone death squads that rain death and destruction on defenceless people from the skies of Pakistan, month in, month out, year after year. As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports:
Domestic buildings have been hit by drone strikes more than any other type of target in the CIA’s 10-year campaign in the tribal regions of northern Pakistan, new research reveals. ... The project examines, for the first time, the types of target attacked in each drone strike – be they houses, vehicles or madrassas (religious schools) – and the time of day the attack took place.
• Over three-fifths (61%) of all drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, with at least 132 houses destroyed, in more than 380 strikes.
• At least 222 civilians are estimated to be among the 1,500 or more people killed in attacks on such buildings. In the past 18 months, reports of civilian casualties in attacks on any targets have almost completely vanished, but historically almost one civilian was killed, on average, in attacks on houses.
• The CIA has consistently attacked houses have throughout the 10-year campaign in Pakistan.
• The time of an attack affects how many people – and how many civilians – are likely to die. Houses are twice as likely to be attacked at night compared with in the afternoon. Strikes that took place in the evening, when families likely to be at home and gathered together, were particularly deadly.
Some of these operations are carried out at the direct order of the president of the United States, who meets with his advisors every Tuesday to draw up death lists of victims to be killed. Others are slaughtered by the innumerable officers and agents upon whom the White House has bestowed a license to kill as they see fit.
But as the Bureau points out, even when the name of the target is known — although of course there is no need for any proof to be offered as to the target’s ostensible death-deserving guilt — they are most often blown to pieces in domestic homes, along with family members, friends and, often, neighbors who live nearby.
— Sometimes when I write paragraphs like the one above — setting out undisputed facts; indeed, facts that are often celebrated in the highest reaches of the political and media elites — I find myself slack-jawed, drop-jawed to the floor with amazement. The bare, banal, widely accepted, shrugged-off realities of life in the American Imperium today would have been regarded, just a few years ago, as the wildest, most unbelievable fantasies of political paranoids. The president sits in the White House and draws up death lists. Robot-controlled missiles blow up people’s houses, killing hundreds of civilians each year. Not an eyelid is batted, scarcely a voice is raised in protest, except on the far-flung disregarded margins. This is the way the world is, and one must acknowledge that — but sometimes, the cognitive dissonance hits you like a two-by-four upside the head.
But this is where we are now. This is what we are now. Future generations will look back on us in horror. They won’t notice or care about the pointless, finely-meshed gradations of minute policy differences between the two parties, or between the two factions called “left” and “right”; they won’t care if Barack Obama was or wasn’t “two percent less evil” than George W. Bush, or any of the pitiful political molehills that entirely preoccupy our chattering classes. No; all they will see in a seamless record of murder, terror, tyranny and corruption inflicted by a militarist state on the world outside and on its own people within. They will look at us just as we look at the people in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia and wonder, with revulsion and incomprehension, how such things happened, how whole societies could give themselves over to brutality and hate, how such vicious, vacuous, pathetic elites — and their wretched little followers and sycophants — were allowed to hold such sway for so long.
They will be sickened by us. They will hate us for what we let happen. And they will be right to do so.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 16 May 2014 00:25
The only article I ever had published in The Nation involved the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortune. The piece was written 12 years ago, as the Enron scandal was breaking. (And boy, doesn't that seem several centuries ago now, looking back over the vast flooded plains of blood and ruin that our bipartisan elites have bequeathed us since then.)
It was a short article, dealing with the key role that the accounting firm Arthur Andersen had played both in the unfolding Enron morass in 2002 and the murky political machinations that kept George W. Bush from facing charges over what appeared to be a fairly flagrant -- and highly profitable -- bout of insider trading in 1990. That was when yet another Bush business was bailed out -- yet again -- by sugar daddies currying favor with his sour daddy in the White House; in this case, Harken Energy. Bush became a company director and member of the audit committee -- then cashed out just weeks before Harken's stock took a deep dive.
The deal netted L'il Dub a cool $800,000+, while ordinary investors in the company took an acid bath. The hijinks were so blatant the SEC was forced to investigate but in the end declined to take "enforcement action" against the president's son. However, as I noted in the article, the SEC made a point of declaring that
this [decision] "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation." (Of course, this has never stopped Bush from claiming that he was "exonerated" by the SEC.)
All in all, the Harken caper was pretty small beer when viewed against the Bush Family's mammoth record of corruption, going back many decades, mixing politics and private profit with a cheerful amorality that easily encompassed mobsters, tyrants, gun-runners, drug dealers, religious extremists, spies and, yes, the Nazis.
I wrote a lot about this interesting history (as did others, most notably Robert Parry), and always found a ready audience on the left eager to see, rightly, the true face of American power -- sleazy, greasy, brutal, cold -- in the machinations of this clan of ruthless clowns. But I don’t think we will see an equal eagerness to pursue a very similar story that broke this week about the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortunes. And unlike the Harken deal (although not dissimilar from many other Bush Family deals, including the one with German fascists), this particular piece of elite corruption could have — or is already having — deadly international consequences.
We speak, of course, of the news that the son of the US Vice President, and the stepson of the US Secretary of State, have been given lucrative positions with a Ukrainian energy firm whose future fortunes depend on the Kyiv coup regime’s control of western Ukraine — where pro-Russian forces are in the ascendant. As Yahoo News reports:
In the span of a few weeks, an energy firm little-known inside the United States added two members to its board of directors — scoring connections to Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in the bargain.
On April 22, Cyprus-based Burisma announced that financier Devon Archer had joined its board. Archer, who shared a room in college with Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz, served as national finance co-chair for the former senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Then, on Monday, the firm announced that Biden’s younger son, R. Hunter Biden, would join the board of directors.
Why would the company, which bills itself as Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, need such powerful friends in Washington?
The answer might be the company’s holdings in Ukraine. They include, according to the firm’s website, permits to explore in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the country’s eastern regions, home to an armed pro-Russian separatist movement. They also include permits to explore in the Azov-Kuban Basin of the strategic Crimean peninsula, annexed earlier this year by Moscow.
So: a Ukrainian energy firm with holdings in pro-Russian Ukraine has just hired the son of the US Vice President — who has been Washington’s point man in supporting the coup regime in Kyiv — to a prominent and no doubt well-remunerated position. At the same time, Washington has been fierce and forceful in its support for the Kyiv regime’s violent efforts to quell the kind of opposition in Western Ukraine that it employed to take power in the capital; i.e., occupation of public spaces with the support of armed militias, with support from foreign entities (the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine; Washington (and US oligarchs) in Kyiv).
America policy in Ukraine — securing control of eastern Ukraine by the Kyiv regime, and, if possible, the rollback of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea — has now become directly tied to the personal family fortunes of the American Vice President and Secretary of State. In what way is this remotely differently from the corruption of the Bush Family that once stuck so painfully in “progressive” craws? And yet, is it even remotely conceivable that we will see the same angry attention to this blatant baksheesh that we saw back in those Bush Regime days of yore?
UPDATE: It looks like L’il Hunter and Devon might be in high cotton. On Thursday night, the New York Times reports that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and once a major backer of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president, Victor Yanukovich, has now thrown his support and his money behind the American-backed Kyiv regime. According to the Times (which of course doesn’t breathe a word of Akhmetov’s unsavoury past), Akhmetov has ordered “his” workers onto the streets of Mariupol, Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities to reassert the control of the Kyiv government. The pro-Russian forces have “melted away,” even in Donetsk, ground zero of the resistance, and oligarchical control is being re-established.
Of course, Akhmetov has long-standing ties to John McCain and his rightwing network, so it’s not surprising to see him turning his ermine coat this way and that as the prevailing winds blow across Ukraine. The oligarchs are banding together on every side of the ostensible conflict — Ukranian, Russian, Republican, Democrat — and the fix, as always, as ever, is in.
So good luck, Hunter! I expect we’ll see you on a national ticket someday — maybe with Chelsea Clinton — running against one Bush or another, with Ukrainian oil money (suitably laundered) pouring into your campaign coffers — and into that future Bush campaign as well.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 20:58
As we all know, Glenn Greenwald recently revealed that he is saving the biggest revelations from the Snowden NSA archive until last, likening his journalistic process to a fireworks show a that builds up to a grand finale. This is, of course, the very opposite of any kind of actual journalism, which leads with the most important information first.
The traditional method would seem even more imperative in this case, as we are dealing with material which exposes vast crimes and deeply sinister actions by a tyrannical government. Greenwald himself has incessantly told us how important this material it is, how dangerous the government’s depredations have become, how urgent it is that we learn of this danger and do something about it. And yet he admits — no, he boasts — that he has been withholding information about the most dangerous activities, the greatest threats to liberty, for more than a year … solely in order to make a big splash, “where the sky is all covered in spectacular multicolored hues.”
If the threat is so great, should we not know the worst up front, in order to recognize the scale of the danger and take action more quickly? But if “the finale, a big missing piece” can wait for more than a year to be revealed, then how “big” can it be? Or turn the question around: if the finale really is that big and important, then what does it say about Greenwald’s constantly self-trumpeted concern for liberty that he would blithely wait more than a year before letting us know of this major threat — timing the sky-filling extravaganza with the release of his new book. A cynic might suspect that self-aggrandizement has trumped the love of freedom in this instance.
There is much to say about Greenwald’s astonishing admission, and I wanted to address a few more key points. But various matters have kept me away from the keyboard of late, and now I find that many if not most of the salient points I wanted to address are covered in a post at Rancid Honeytrap, especially in the long comment thread, where readers have unpacked the rest of the GQ story in which the fireworks impresario revealed his distorted vision of journalism.
Of course, Arthur Silber has been delving into the more troubling aspects of the handling of the Snowden revelations from the very beginning. (See here for a good précis of his work on the subject, including many links to previous articles.) He continues to struggle through a particularly bad downturn in his health, and has not been able to write for some time. As his blog is his only means of support, a dearth of posts can leave him in very low water. As always, if you are able to help keep this important writer going, I urge you to do so.
UPDATE: Oh my word, the landlord lawyer Carl Kandutsch has returned to the comments to take me to task for … well, I’m not quite sure. His learned disquisition was too cunning to be understood, as they say. It was something along the lines of, ‘If you criticize Greenwald, then you are just like Michael Kinsley” or some such howlingly false equating of apples and oranges. The whole thing was so disconnected from anything I’ve ever written that I couldn’t really follow it.
I think it boils down to Kandutsch’s delusion that I was trying to argue that Greenwald has no right to make decisions on how to release the NSA material. Well, some people construct little strawmen they can demolish in demonstrations of their mighty forensic skills; but here Kandutsch has fantasized not just a strawman but a humongous Transformer or Godzilla to whup up on. He expends a great deal of energy (if little wit) in hallucinating assumptions that I’ve never asserted, then expertly taking me apart for failing to support these non-existent positions. Maybe this kind of shadow-boxing is a big hit in the courtrooms of Plano, but it seems a bit fatuous to me.
The main point I was making in my very brief post was simple: in journalism, it is customary to lead with the most important material first -- not save it for a big slambang finale. Another point: if you are in possession of revelations about terrible crimes -- revelations which you have decided to publish -- it seems strange to hold back, for more than a year, a vital piece of information which yourself have publicly proclaimed is the most important, the "biggest" one you have. If you stumbled onto a cache of letters proving that your neighbor was a tax cheat, a carjacker -- oh, and had also murdered several people and was planning to kill your mother next Tuesday -- would you spend a year telling people about his tax dodging and car thefts …or would you not urgently reveal his murders and rush to save your mother?
The point is that Greenwald's own assertions of his methods and intentions in this case bespeak a mindset more attuned to show business than journalism. And I believe that this is unfortunate when we are dealing with such vital issues as the construction of a militarist Stasi state on the ruins of the Republic. So yes, I am sometimes moved to criticism of the methods being employed to disseminate — or not disseminate — this information. And since this information is being largely controlled by a single person, then criticism of its handling must inevitably involve some criticism of the handler.
(Although here again, Kandutsch indulges in fantasy, making up things I didn’t say, then attacking me for it, writing that “Floyd is content to substitute innuendo for argument … 'Greenwald is not a nice person, he wrote a book, he is employed by an ‘oligarch’, he makes money, he’s not a real ‘leftist,’ he’s sneaky.'” Except for Greenwald’s employment by an oligarch (no scare quotes, just basic fact), I’m not aware of making any of the other criticisms in my posts. Here, just as Greenwald did in his long and frankly hysterical attack on me several weeks ago, Kandutsch seems to conflate the things that I have actually said with every single criticism of Greenwald he has ever read.)
The landlord lawyer seems to operate on the assumption that no one has any right to make such criticisms in the first place. But as far as I can tell, he has not presented any argument at all in support of this assumption.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 23:34
The events unfolding in Ukraine are extraordinary, and extraordinarily dangerous. They are made even more dangerous by the unending slagheap of lies and propaganda being used to shape the shifting, chaotic situation on the ground into a narrative that serves the narrow and ruthless agenda of the Potomac Empire and its factotums in the European elite.
I've written here previously of the growing ugliness of the Putin regime in Russia. But what we are seeing played out among the knowing liars of the Washington power structure and their willing executioners in the Western press has nothing to do with the Kremlin's depredations against the Russian people. Nor does it have anything to do with the freedom, security or aspirations of the Ukrainian people. As always, there is a single, overarching aim behind Washington's maneuvering: the expansion of American dominance and the aggrandizement of its ruling elite. This is the abiding, bipartisan, overriding concern of all policy emanating from the corrupted corridors of power in Washington, and it is glaringly evident in the debacle now convulsing Ukraine.
At every turn in the Western press, Putin is being portrayed as the usual maniacal monster bent on world conquest, pushing his agenda forward with ruthless determination and consummate skill. The Potomac elite never tire of this trope. They pretend it's an echo of Hitler, and seek to draw on the deep wells of trauma and fear still lurking in the global psyche from the unbearable horrors of the Second World War -- but in truth, it is actually the projection of their own obvious agenda. An never-ending series of stock villains are painted with a Hitler moustache and brandished before the people, like some perversion of Christian doctrine of resurrection: He is risen, he is coming again, he is coming for your soul! It is now Putin's turn in this monstrous minstrel show.
But of course Putin is clearly on the back foot in this crisis. Acts portrayed as aggressive are in fact defensive, even desperate, and come in response to more than 20 years of remorseless military expansion by the West to Russia's borders. Western elites have not been coy about their intentions to keep Russia weak and quiescent, or even to smash it altogether. William Blum quotes an apposite passage from the memoirs of that quintessential imperial courtier, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who ran the Washington war machine for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
[Gates writes:] “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, [Defense Secretary Dick Cheney] wanted to see the dismemberment not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”
As Blum goes on to note: "Soon thereafter, NATO began to surround Russia with military bases, missile sites, and NATO members, while yearning for perhaps the most important part needed to complete the circle – Ukraine."
This is not ancient history. It has played out in front of our eyes over the past two decades. Yet Russian remarks about Western aggression -- and the repeatedly broken promise not to push NATO to Russia's borders -- are treated as a sign of "madness," of wild, specious propaganda by the wily wheeler-dealers in the Kremlin. Again, this characterization is a projection of what is actually happening on the Western side: wild, specious propaganda to press forward an act of madness -- risking world war, even nuclear war, to feed the psychosexual power fantasies and bottomless financial greed of a tiny imperial elite.
Let's be clear about what has happened. A corrupt but legitimately elected government (a phrase that could describe almost every government in the West, and certainly the ones in Washington, London and Paris) was overthrown in an action that was to a large extent funded and manipulated by Washington. American officials have publicly admitted spending up to $5 billion -- with their private partners among US oligarchs -- to fund the political opposition in Ukraine. They took advantage of the legimiate grievances of Ukranians against a government infected by the same oligarchism and market extremism that rules in the West to foment what, in the end, was an armed uprising led by unabashed, unashamed neo-fascists. This remains a fact, it remains the truth, even if Vladimir Putin and the ugly revanchists in his political faction say it.
It is also the truth that the Ukrainian "government" installed by the West -- a government led by the very people American officials were caught, on tape, conspiring to install -- is now relying on unabashed neo-fascist "paramilitaries" to put down uprisings by pro-Russian groups that exactly mirror what happened in Kyiv: the occupation of government buildings and public squares, the appearance of armed factions, the refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government. Although in the case of the protestors in eastern Ukraine, the government they are protesting was not legitimately elected; it has not been elected at all.
These neo-fascist militias in the service of the Kyiv regime have now killed far more Ukrainians than died in the Maidan uprising. In fact, they have adopted a horrific technique -- setting fire to buildings occupied by protesters, then killing the survivors as they plea. The world focuses -- rightly -- on the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian girls, but here is a nearly equivalent barbarism which is ignored, or even justified, by Western media. And why? Because in Ukraine, it is our extremists, our violent, murderous Boko Haram, who are doing the killing. As Robert Parry reports:
In Ukraine, a grisly new strategy – bringing in neo-Nazi paramilitary forces to set fire to occupied buildings in the country’s rebellious southeast – appears to be emerging as a favored tactic as the coup-installed regime in Kiev seeks to put down resistance from ethnic Russians and other opponents.
The technique first emerged on May 2 in the port city of Odessa when pro-regime militants chased dissidents into the Trade Unions Building and then set it on fire. As some 40 or more ethnic Russians were burned alive or died of smoke inhalation, the crowd outside mocked them as red-and-black Colorado potato beetles, with the chant of “Burn, Colorado, burn.” Afterwards, reporters spotted graffiti on the building’s walls containing Swastika-like symbols and honoring the “Galician SS,” the Ukrainian adjunct to the German SS in World War II.
This tactic of torching an occupied building occurred again on May 9 in Mariupol, another port city, as neo-Nazi paramilitaries – organized now as the regime’s “National Guard” – were dispatched to a police station that had been seized by dissidents, possibly including police officers who rejected a new Kiev-appointed chief. Again, the deployment of the “National Guard” was followed by burning the building and killing a significant but still-undetermined number of people inside. (Early estimates of the dead range from seven to 20.)
In the U.S. press, Ukraine’s “National Guard” is usually described as a new force derived from the Maidan’s “self-defense” units that spearheaded the Feb. 22 revolt in Kiev overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych. But the Maidan’s “self-defense” units were drawn primarily from well-organized bands of neo-Nazi extremists from western Ukraine who hurled firebombs at police and fired weapons as the anti-Yanukovych protests turned increasingly violent.
I've written previously of these neo-Nazi groups and their brazen celebration of Ukrainian collaborators with Nazi genocidists. [See more detail from Max Blumenthal here.] The Kyiv government installed by the machinations of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama is the first European regime since World War II to contain openly fascist factions in its cabinet. Indeed, the fascists are in control of such key posts as the Interior Ministry. And the government of the United States -- along with its favored oligarchs, like Pierre Omidyar -- spent $5 billion to make this happen.
But as Parry notes, this is not exactly news. It is, as I said, the long-running, bipartisan policy of the American elite. Parry writes:
In Central American conflicts that I covered for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, some of the “death squads” associated with pro-U.S. regimes were drawn from neo-fascist movements allied with the far-right World Anti-Communist League. In Afghanistan, the CIA relied on Islamist extremists, including Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden, to kill Russians and their Afghan government allies. Today, in Syria, many of the most aggressive fighters against Bashar al-Assad’s government are Arab jihadists recruited from across the region and armed by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms. So, it fits with a pattern for the U.S. government to hold its nose and rely on neo-Nazis from western Ukraine to take the fight to rebellious ethnic Russians in the east and south.
The key to all these unsavory alliances is for the American people not to know about the real nature of these U.S. clients. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration advanced the concept of “public diplomacy” to intimidate journalists and human rights activists who dared report on the brutality of U.S.-backed forces in El Salvador and Guatemala and the CIA-trained Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Thus, most Americans weren’t sure what to make of recurring reports about right-wing “death squads” killing priests and nuns and committing other massacres across Central America. Regarding Afghanistan, it took the American people until Sept. 11, 2001, to fully comprehend whom the Reagan administration had been working with in the 1980s. Similarly, the Obama administration has tried to maintain the fiction that the Syrian opposition is dominated by well-meaning “moderates.” However, as the brutal civil war has ground on, it gradually has become apparent that the most effective anti-Assad fighters are the Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaeda and determined to kill Shiites, Alawites and Christians.
So, it should come as no surprise that the Kiev regime would turn to its Maidan “self-defense” forces – formed around neo-Nazi militias – to go into southern and eastern Ukraine with the purpose of burning to death ethnic Russian “insects” occupying buildings. The key is not to let the American people in on the secret.
"Public diplomacy" is alive and well today. (I would demur from one of Parry's assertions, however; I don't think the U.S. government has to "hold its nose" in relying on neo-Nazis in Ukraine -- or on al Qaeda in Syria. Our Potomac imperialists are quite simpatico with those who share their belief in violent extremism.) Indeed, with the intensifications of social media and the internet at large, it is more effective than ever. Think of the storyline painted so starkly just a couple of weeks ago: Putin was 'obviously' controlling the anti-Kyiv uprising in eastern Ukraine. He was a wily puppetmaster, deliberately fomenting provocations so that the moment violence erupted, he could march in with his Hitlerian army and occupy eastern Ukraine.
But what happened in reality? Even when dozens of pro-Russians were literally burned to death and murdered by fascists, Putin ... called for restraint. He called for the pro-Russian referendums in eastern Ukraine to be called off. He was ignored, because, although the pro-Russians are evidently getting some material aid from Russia, they are not under the Kremlin's control. As Tony Wood notes in the London Review of Books:
Western governments decried these movements as mere puppets of the Kremlin, lacking any genuine popular support in the region – an ironic mirror-image of the Kremlin’s own claims about the Maidan groups being Western stooges and neo-Nazis. It certainly seems likely that the forces who have taken control of parts of Donetsk and Lugansk provinces benefited from logistical support from members of the Russian security services, who presumably wouldn’t have been involved without the Kremlin’s say-so. But to assume from this that Moscow has total control over events there is to overlook the complex reality on the ground, which seems to involve an often bizarre mix of personnel – local citizens, many with Soviet army training; nationalist ‘volunteers’ from across the former USSR; taciturn, mysteriously well-equipped Russians. It’s also not at all clear that the interests of eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian groups are aligned with those of Russia itself.
Again, it is clear that Putin is playing with a weak hand, trying to make the best of a bad situation, not controlling events from afar like a cackling Fu Manchu. Indeed, Wood speculates, not implausibly, that Putin would be glad to see the Kyiv regime quell, or at least defang the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine -- precisely because they are uncontrollable, and may lead to dangerous precedents. Wood notes the dark irony of the fact that the oligarch that the Kyiv regime appointed to govern the rebellious province of Donetsk is himself a crony of Putin:
... Putin’s decision to distance himself from the 11 May referendums has been interpreted in the West as cynical double-dealing, on the assumption that he could have stopped them with no more than a phone call. But this underestimates the degree to which the Donetsk and Lugansk uprisings represent a serious strategic problem for Putin ... [Rather than annex part of Ukraine,] it’s much more in Russia’s interests to keep it fragmented and semi-sovereign within its present borders. This would, for example, allow the sizeable Russian-speaking population to inflect electoral outcomes in directions favourable to Moscow, whereas absorbing that part of the electorate into Russia would involve losing all say in Ukraine’s political set-up. ... It's possible that Putin was actually telling the truth on 18 March when he said: ‘We do not want a partition of Ukraine, we do not need this.’ ...
One of the most striking features of the pro-Russian movements in eastern Ukraine, in fact, has been the institutional vacuum in which they have operated. In the absence of recognisable political parties that might channel their demands – but also defang them – the rough-and-ready methods of popular assemblies have taken hold; hence, too, the improvised character of the 11 May referendums. Whatever their level of support in Ukraine, these movements, combining nationalist appeals to Russian ethnicity and tradition with rebellious impulses to self-organisation, set an example Putin has no more desire to see emulated in Russia than he did the Maidan. This is another reason why he sought to distance himself from the referendums, and why he might prefer to see Turchynov crush the ‘people’s militias’ than see them succeed: they are not the natural allies, but the enemies of an oligarchic order whose local representative is the billionaire industrialist Serhiy Taruta, appointed governor of Donetsk by Kiev in early March, and whose Russian champion is Putin himself. It seems significant that, according to the mid-April poll by the Kiev International Sociology Institute, close to 40 per cent of respondents in Donetsk and a quarter of those in Lugansk favoured nationalisation of all property belonging to the country’s oligarchs.
The latter is another reason why Washington is backing Kyiv's burning and killing of protestors so assiduously. They certainly didn't go to all the trouble and expense of empowering a fascist-backed regime in Ukraine just to see oligarchs lose their property! Neither Washington nor Moscow want to see that kind of precedent being set.
And so the game goes on, teetering on a knife's edge. There is no doubt a limit to what Putin can accept before the imperatives of saving his own system, his own power, drive him to a stronger reaction in Ukraine -- perhaps even the invasion that the Potomac imperialists seem so eager to provoke. As for Washington and the EU, Wood notes that they've "got what they wanted – an unequivocally pro-Western government in Kiev – and [have] little reason to back down."
But as we learned 100 years ago, these power games and cynical calculations can spiral out of control, with catastrophic, world-shattering results. If we avoid the abyss this time -- an abyss now bristling with nuclear weapons -- it will be sheer luck; certainly we cannot count on the vapid, power-crazed poltroons of the Potomac to pull back from the brink.