By Rachel Douglas
“If I were Michael Ledeen,” a European friend of mine said yesterday, “and I wanted to intensify a clash with Russia, I would use Ukraine.” He was talking about the U.S. neoconservative operative and the author of Universal Fascism, who has been flitting around the newly inaugurated Trump Administration. Ledeen is best known for his obsession with Iran as an enemy image. But my friend was right about the detonation danger in Ukraine, the nation of 42 million that sits on the north shore of the Black Sea, southwest of Russia and east of the area of NATO’s East-Central European (ECE) expansion over the past two decades.
Three years ago, on February 22, 2014, the prolonged, increasingly violent “Euromaidan” coup d’état was completed in Ukraine against the country’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych. His life in peril as commandos from the so-called Maidan Self-Defense Forces threatened to storm his residence at dawn if he didn’t quit, yet unwilling to use military force to crush the thousands of demonstrators still in the Maidan (Independence Square) in downtown Kiev, Yanukovych fled the capital. Unable to regroup in the north-eastern city of Kharkov or his native Donetsk, he ultimately sought asylum in Russia.
The coup of Nov. 2013-Feb. 2014 built on the precedent of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, when Yanukovych’s first election had been challenged as fraudulent by a Maidan demonstration on the “color revolution” model of Anglo-American financier George Soros and the American professional organizer Gene Sharp. The demonstrators in Dec. 2004 forced a re-vote, which Yanukovych lost. Within months, the victorious Orange revolutionaries were squabbling over power, as the Ukrainian economy continued to dive under their deregulation and privatization policies and kowtowing to the austerity demands of the International Monetary Fund. Yanukovych ran again in 2010 and won.
But the more than 2000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine, funded by the U.S. government, the UK, the EU, and Soros’s private Open Society projects, continued to shape public opinion in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution. American Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland boasted that US$5 billion had gone into Ukraine through State Department channels alone—much of it, as the Ukrainian-born Russian economist Sergei Glazyev put it, “issued in the form of grants to develop an intellectual community of experts, oriented against the Russian Federation and directed toward shaping Russophobic attitudes in Ukrainian society.”
The new dimension in the Euromaidan, one that was pre-planned, was violent provocations and ultimately a violent overthrow of the government. Yanukovych’s November 2016 decision to delay signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, after he realized that it would damage Ukraine’s economy, was taken as the pretext for a full-scale coup. The Maidan organizers poured into central Kiev and announced they would not leave until the decision were rescinded and Yanukovych left office. While many people came to the Maidan waving EU flags and full of hope for a better life, the paramilitary groups, who repeatedly escalated the violence and sabotaged every interim agreement to resolve the standoff, marched under the red and black flag of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN)—the mid-20th-century fascist movement of Stepan Bandera. The OUN had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and carried out the “ethnic cleansing” mass murder of Poles and Jews on its own, as well. These neo-Nazi groups called themselves Right Sector; their formation and build-up during 1991-2013 stemmed directly out of funding to Bandera’s followers by MI6 and the Allen Dulles wing of the American CIA during the Cold War.
It was the coup-installed regime’s immediate move to demote Russian, spoken throughout much of Ukraine, from its status as a second official language, and a series of attacks by Right Sector in Crimea and the eastern industrial region called the Donbass, that set off a momentous cascade of events in 2014. By mid-March, Crimea had seceded from Ukraine and voted to join the Russian Federation. In the Donbass, the autonomous Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) were declared, rejecting the Kiev coup and laying claim to the major cities and much of the territory of those two districts. At least ten thousand people have died in the ensuing civil war, as Kiev sent army units and Right Sector-based battalions into the Donbass to attempt to quell the Donbass militias’ uprising.
In February 2015 negotiations held in the capital of Belarus and conducted by the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine reached the “Minsk II” agreement between Kiev and the Donbass republics, for a ceasefire and prospective political settlement in that region. Heavy weaponry began to be pulled back from the “line of contact” between their respective military forces. The ceasefire has been overseen and monitored, since then, by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an East-West club dating back to the 1970s.
Disagreements remained over the meaning of the Minsk II commitment to Constitutional changes in Ukraine, allowing extreme autonomy for the DPR and LPR. To date, the radical nationalists in the Ukrainian Parliament, with Right Sector figures among them, have refused to make such revisions. Nonetheless, the fighting and huge civilian loss of life had abated over the past two years, as if the Donbass were becoming one of ECE’s notorious “frozen conflicts.”
In December 2016, as President-elect Donald Trump continued to signal his wish for normalizing relations with Russia, the Donbass began to heat up again. The initiative came from the Kiev side. Even pro-Maidan analysts reported, as the Kyiv Post did on 26 January, that “Ukrainian forces have staged what has become known as a ‘creeping offensive’ to regain control over territory in the ‘gray zone’—the no-man’s land that divides separatist and government forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk [lugansk].”
On 28 January fighting exploded in and around the small industrial town of Avdeyevka, just north of the DPR’s capital, Donetsk. Analysts at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S. Government-funded outlet, acknowledged that “pro-Kiev troops have sparked bloody clashes with their enemy.” Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission for Ukraine, reported that Kiev’s forces had positioned large-caliber artillery “including towed howitzers, main battle tanks, and multiple-launch rocket systems banned under the Minsk deal ‘in the open with impunity’.”
With Right Sector and its offshoot battalions, it is never easy to say exactly who has provided the impetus for their actions. But a look around both London and Washington quickly turns up who is cheering them.
U.S. war party Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham (Republicans), along with Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, spent New Year’s eve with Kiev troops near the front line with the DPR. They also toured the Baltic countries, where NATO’s latest build-up is under way. On February 2 McCain issued a letter to President Trump, blaming the Donbass escalation on “Russia and its proxy forces,” and demanding that the USA supply Kiev with weapons—“defensive lethal assistance.”
Poroshenko, on February 1, launched a round of grandstanding about his intention to hold a referendum in Ukraine on joining NATO. Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman visited NATO Headquarters in Brussels on 9 February, to meet with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, formerly an under secretary of state in the Obama Administration.
Atlanticist think tankers chimed in, with a barrage of publications warning that Trump will “make a deal” over Ukraine: James Sherr of Chatham House in the UK sounded an alarm against “preemptive compromise” over Ukraine; Russian anti-Putin analyst Pavel Felgengauer, writing for the neoconservative Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, wailed, “If Trump hands over Ukraine, he will make Russia great again”; Adrian Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council preemptively accused Trump of preparing to sell out Ukraine by lifting sanctions on Russia while, so he claimed, “Russian-backed forces started a brutal offensive” at Avdeyevka.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov devoted nearly half of his 12 February Sunday prime time interview on Russia’s NTV channel to a careful, measured discussion of Ukraine. Speaking of the recent escalation, Lavrov said, “The only advantage I see in this situation, which we arrived at with much bloodshed and after many months, even years of experiments, is that the West is finally beginning to understand what the Ukrainian government is all about and what its assurances of being willing to comply with the Minsk agreements are worth.” Lavrov pointed out that the U.S. officials who will deal with Ukraine have not even been appointed yet. In the meantime, he said, he would be discussing Ukraine, along with other major international issues, with the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when they meet. That may happen on the sidelines of the February 15-17 G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Germany.
Dr. Natalia Vitrenko, the Ukrainian economist who has battled the Maidan regime from its outset, wrote in an open letter to Trump immediately after his election, “I greatly hope that you will abandon, as undemocratic and intolerable, the planning and implementation of coups d’état through color revolutions, such as has been done by U.S. agencies twice in Ukraine. I would like to see you build relations with Russia and China not as enemies or rivals, but as partners and allies in the name of peace, justice and prosperity for the entirety of our planet Earth. I hope very much, that you will also make a positive influence on what is happening in Ukraine. Our people are suffering badly from war, extreme poverty, corruption, political repressions, and the rampaging of neo-Nazis. The outgoing U.S. Administration kept stirring up the people of Ukraine against Russia, thereby inciting a war between our fraternal peoples—one that unquestionably threatens to trigger a Third World War. The whole world awaits with hope, for you to carry out your promises with specific actions to ensure the welfare of every American and promote peace and prosperity for all mankind.”