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.