23.03.2014

“All quiet on the Eastern Front” and “some are more equal than others”? The assocation agreement, the Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the U.S. after “EwroMaidan” and “Crimvasion”

The signature of the association agreement between the de-facto new Ukrainian government of Arseny Yatsenyuk in Kiev and the EU last Friday, four months after the beginning of the protests, is not the end of the Maidan story and certainly not the end of the conflict in the country and the whole Eastern European region. Western hypocrisy and double standards towards Russia with regard to Maidan and Crimea have estranged Moscow not only further from London and Washington, but now increasingly from Brussels and Berlin as well.



E.U. and Ukrainian flags in Kiev, 2008


About a hundred victims of the Maidan later, only superficially “all is quiet on the Eastern front”. The EU has won a Pyrrhic victory in having a pro-Western government in power in Kiev and the treaty signed. Why Pyrrhic? Because the country is virtually bankrupt and, despite the regime change, remains split. As Russia is likely to break all economic and financial ties to and support of the Kiev government, the EU has to foot the bill of its - in the current (financial) state it is in, megalomaniac - expansion drive. Brussels, and NATO, are part of the power game and to blame for their black-and-white, undiplomatic, role in the conflict. 

Yet, European politicians have only condemned Russia's, admittedly aggressive, brash and imperial, realpolitik, and military and political behaviour with regard to the annexation of Crimea. But they remain nauseously tranquil with regard to their own mistakes in the escalation of the conflict and, more importantly, uncritical towards Western imperialism, i.e. neo-conservative and imperial behaviour of the U.S. intelligence agencies and military - if they are not even in open support of it, as e.g. the government of the United Kingdom is. The U.S. strategy of dividing Europe (the EU) and Russia has borne fruit. Especially the German-Russian relations, who could be described as cooperative, if not amicable, about a decade ago (when Vladimir Putin spoke, mostly in German, in the Bundestag in 2001), lie in complete tatters, as Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), chose to unequivocally side with Washington.
Vladimir Putin addressing the Bundestag, Berlin on September 25, 2001, mostly in German

Almost exactly four months ago, on November 21, 2013, the protests soon known as „Maidan“ or „Euromaidan“ started when thousands of people, some primarily out of anger at Victor Yanukovich's government for its oligarchic character, some primarily out of their pro-Western or pro-EU stance, and some out of anti-Russian nationalism, rallied on the Independence Square (Maidan Nezaleshnosti) in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. Nine years after a previous series of protests in 2004 in Ukraine, dubbed Orange Revolution, those protests were triggered by the refusal of then-President Viktor Yanukovich to sign an association agreement with the European Union. The protests, directed not only against the pro-Russian policies of Yanukovich, but also against the economic plight of the country, continued for three months, well into the new year, 2014, until an escalation into more severe violence took place, and subsequently, triggered by that escalation, a revolutionary upheaval shook the political foundations of the country, torn between East and West. Right-wing extremists increasingly took over the Maidan, who had consisted of people of mixed allegiances previously. The first fatalities came on February 18 and the following days: about 100 people were killed in clashes between police and protesters, or by snipers (whose affiliation, first believed to be pro-goverment, has recently become less clear). International diplomacy, that had been rather inactive until then, finally tried to solve the conflict; the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland brokered a deal, including a snap presidential election, between the Yanukovich government and opposition leaders, which they agreed upon on February 21. However, the more radical elements from the right wing, who had hijacked the leadership of Maidan, didn't accept the deal and ousted the president in a coup, only a day later, on February 22. The newly-formed government that was set up consists of moderate (neo-)liberals, but also of right-wing extremists of the anti-Russian „Svoboda“ party. The protected status of Russian as a minority language was scrapped, angering the pro-Russian or ethnically Russian population in Eastern Ukraine and on the Crimea Peninsula, giving Russia a pretense to get involved not only politically, but militarily.

The host country of the Sochi Winter Olympics in early and mid-February that were overshadowed by the escalation in Kiev, saw its geopolitical interests, i.e. its ecomomic hegemony in Ukraine and the continued existence of its naval base in Sevastopol in Crimea, endangered by the anti-Russian coup in Kiev, and, almost immediately after the Games were over, moved to take the peninsula, largely (70%) populated by ethnic Russians, (back) into its territory, in late February and early March, in a parallel operation of military invasion and political annexation. Russia was welcomed by an autonomous, anti-Maidan government that had taken over power on Crimea. A referendum set up after the de-facto invasion overwhelmingly supported Russia's move, “bringing back Crimea to its mother country”.

The same way Yanukovich had been ousted by force, despite the diplomatic agreement reached just hours before, and a parliament “formally“ voting him out under the pressure of armed neo-Nazi Right Sector thugs, the Crimean population “formally“ voted under the barrel of Russian or pro-Russian soldiers' guns to join the Russian Federation. Two acts of force, that were backed by “legal“ legitimatory acts after the fact.


EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and French foreign secretary Laurent Fabius in Paris, March 5, 2014

But how was this reported and assessed by most European and U.S. politicians and in some (or most) media (with a few exceptions, especially on the Left)? Unbelievably one-sided - apparently “some are more equal than others”. U.S. Foreign Secretary John Kerry made a laughing stock out of himself by uttering in all seriousness, with a completely straight face: You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext”. To repeat, this was meant in a serious way. The U.S. must know about this, because when it comes to invading other countries on dubious grounds and without broad international support, they certainly know their stuff, most recently in the Iraq War at the beginning of the 21st century that Kerry mentioned. Destabilizing countries and regions, specifically those who are not “market-friendly” yet, is the favourite hobby of neo-cons like Victoria Nuland, the assistant foreign secretary of State "for Europe and Eurasian affairs", who gained prominence in Europe for saying “fuck the EU”, uttering in a Freudian slip, the U.S. attitude towards Brussels' “foreign policy” in Ukraine and elsewhere, namely that it should not exist independently of U.S. interests.

Whereas Putin is no doubt an authoritarian, undemocratic president, not far short of a dictator, the new Ukrainian government, that the EU just signed the association agreement with, is a government in which right-wing extremists of the Svoboda party run crucial ministries, such as defense; Svoboda's leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has openly invoked hatred against Russians, Jews and Germans. Neo-fascist or at least right-wing extremist parties are also in power in countries that are already EU members, most prominently in Hungary, and have been in the past, e.g. in Austria from 2000 to 2008. Bulgarian pr
esident Rossen Plevnelyev (of the GERB party, a conservative party, member of the European People's Party fraction in Brussels, i.e. affiliated with Merkel's CDU), apparently a parrot of Germany and Austria (and dependent on their economic clout within the EU) and a fan of NATO, had the nerve to dismiss the fact that right-wing extremist nationalists are in power in Kiev as “Russian propaganda” echoed by “controlled” media allegedly “bought by Gazprom”, in a talk on the “prospects of Southeastern Europe from the perspective of Bulgaria”, at Vienna's Diplomatic Academy on Friday (as if Western media was not “controlled” at all). He pointed out the breach of the Budapest Memorandum on Security, signed between the U.S., the U.K., Russia and the Ukraine in 1994, by Russia's “Crimvasion”, but e.g. failed to mention that his country had supported the Iraq War, that was doubtful in its legality, to put it mildly, in 2003. He also failed to mention that the association agreement is basically a dictate by the IMF and the World Bank, to impose a neo-liberal agenda and austerity on Ukraine with no commitment on future membership of Ukraine (or at least lifting visa restrictions for Ukrainians) on the part of EU, in return for “economic and financial aid” by these actors, and that people on Crimea, now Russians (at least from Moscow's point of view), enjoy higher salaries and pensions than they would under the Kiev government.


Bulgarian President Rossen Plevnelyev speaking at the Diplomatische Akademie Wien (Diplomatic Academy, Vienna, February 21, 2014)
John Kerry was right in that Russia's annexation of Crimea was 19th century (or 1930s) style, “old-fashioned”. But it was in a way just an answer to neo-imperial, more subtle, financial, economic and military moves by the West, such as the expansion of Western economic influence in the former Eastern bloc, by the accession of ten Central and Eastern European countries to the EU in 2004, and, more severe and in in-your-face to Russia, the Eastern expansion of NATO, despite the promises not to expand the military alliance that the West gave to Gorbachev in exchange for German (and European) (re-) unification just about ten years earlier. Reading a few history books would have avoided the conflict over Crimea and Ukraine, that was not instigated by Russia alone, but to a similar extent by Europe and the U.S.: Crimea was part of the Russian Empire for centuries and of the Russian SSR for decades, before it was given to Ukraine (then the Ukrainian SSR) as late as 1954, by Nikita Chruschchev, in a decision seen as peculiar by many. Not only did many Crimeans always feel closer to Russia than to Ukraine, but, more importantly, Sevastopol has been a Russian naval base for centuries. In suggesting that not only most of the former Warsaw Pact members outside the ex-Soviet Union, but even former Soviet Republics such as the Baltic States and now even Ukraine, which to a large part is culturally closer to Russia than Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, should be members of NATO, the West has overstretched its limits on what it could do unanswered and challenged Russia's waning patience. All these developments, including the missile defense shield by the U.S. in Eastern Europe, allegedly “against Iran”, were in-your-face affronts to Russia; the Ukraine conflict was only the final straw that broke the camel's back.


U.S. Assistant Secretary of State on Europe and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, talking about U.S. and EU economic interests in the Ukraine to U.S. business leaders

But especially the neo-liberal Western politicians, such as Plevneliev, ignore geopolitics and history, owing to the dollar signs in their eyes. It is clear that the West is not interested in “justice and civil rights and democracy” (Nuland) for Ukraine, but in further Eastern expansion of economic influence (Nuland: " a signal to private markets, increase foreign direct investment, (...) stable business climate") in resources such as the shale oil of Ukraine - Chevron's logo incidentally is present in the above video of Victoria Nuland talking about her and EU influence on Ukraine; the company signed a deal to explore the Ukrainian shale oil sources - and in taking a piece of the gas pie away from Russia' Gazprom ("the people in the room" are prominent U.S. businessmen).

Russia's resistance to this and its insistence on securing its naval base on Crimea and thus access to the Black Sea port are its main motives for acting the way it does. Diplomacy was not even considered by the West. The U.S. neo-cons, that's clear by now, have partly financed the protests in Kiev and encouraged them by sending in prominent figures such as John McCain, or Nuland.

From the Kremlin's perspective, the Russian bear delivers an "invigorating kick" to "Pindostan" (=slur for the United States) in the Ukraine/Crimea conflict
The U.S. (proudly sponsored by Chevron a.o.) has “invested” five billion dollars in Ukraine (according to Victoria Nuland). U.S. neo-liberal organizations have worked to stir up the Maidan, to prepare the taking over of power by pro-Western leaders. The EU has also been more confrontative than conciliatory towards Russia, by not offering talks, but only the option “us or Russia”to Ukraine, not even to speak of NATO, the old adversary of Soviet Russia, that moved towards Russia's doorstep in the last decade or so. The West was not a broker between two sides of the conflict before and during the Maidan events, it was always a party to that same conflict. 

Diplomacy has gone out with the garbage, the West tries to impose economic interests, thus stirring up conflicts. Resistance is punished by economic isolation and sanctions, as long as Western “global financial markets” are not hurt too significantly. 

Nuland talks about "democratic skills and institutions (...)" and about "officials of civil society, who believe in a democratic and European future for their country", but in the Kiev government and parliament, there are also aggressive, undemocratic, ultra-nationalist forces, as this video of a Ukrainian Svoboda MP, Ihor Miroshnychenko (ironically the deputy head of the committee on freedom of speech) shows, who forced the head of Ukrainian national TV (NTU) to resign by physically intimidating him , after NTU  showed a session of the Russian parliament on Crimea. He gets physical, calls the journalist "Moscow scum" and shouts "you can't give air time to the enemy":




Members of the far-right Svoboda party, a party represented in the interim government in Kiev, barged their way into the offices of Aleksandr Panteleymonov, the acting president of Ukraine's National Television Company and forced him to resign



In the West, the annexation of Crimea is now dubbed a “crisis” (as if no more severe military conflicts were in existence elsewhere), Russia a war-monger; even the danger of a “Third World War” is conjured up by some. Russia is demonized by most Western media outlets and politicians, and sanctions, albeit only half-hearted and symbolic ones - not to hurt the interdependent global economy and finance too much - are now levied against it by Washington and Brussels, on the grounds that it is breaking international law. That's correct, but the West, and especially the U.S., also did and does so on a daily basis. The U.S.-led invasion of Serbia in 1999 was doubtful on those grounds, as was the independence of Kosovo resulting from it some years later, as Putin has pointed out in response to Western indignation. The U.S. is responsible for even more clear-cut breaches of international law (as well as U.S. national law, such as the abolition of “habeas corpus”, by the way) since the “war on terror” was declared in 2001: Terror suspects (not convicted criminals) were illegaly abducted by the CIA, e.g. from Germany (Khaled Al-Masri, Murat Kurnaz), many of them tortured in Abu Ghreib, Iraq, and in the illegal prison camps in Guantanamo, Bagram and elsewhere, many others are de facto executed without trial by U.S. drones all over the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
U.S. or U.S.-led invasions, for ideological reasons, have been launched in Cuba and half a dozen other Latin American countries in the last half century or so, war crimes were committed by the U.S. in the war in Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos in the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, the U.S. has, mostly for corporate imperial and/or other reasons, more recently invaded Iraq and Libya. It is also not news that the CIA or other U.S. agencies were behind numerous operations to topple elected anti-Western/anti-capitalist governments (most prominently in Chile 1973, were Salvador Allende was toppled and the military dictator Augusto Pinochet installed).


Most recently, “whistleblowers” who revealed U.S. war crimes and global surveillance practices, such as Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks' Julian Assange and former NSA employee Edward Snowden, were declared “enemies of the state” by Washington and are therefore either in jail or in exile. Snowden, in his latest revelation, has uncovered that the NSA is not only spying on the internet, but illegally recording phone and other conversations and correspondences of whole countries, in a clear, of course illegal, breach of the national sovereignty of those countries and the privacy of their citizens.

Yet, despite all this coming out into the public sphere, it is Putin, not the neo-cons of Washington and Langley, who is called “crazy”, “imperialist” and “the most dangerous man in the world”, and it is Russia, that is allegedly the country most threatening to global peace. This reflects a very superficial notion of peace as the “absence of the war”, in disregard of economic and financial inequality in the Western model capitalist system of “structural violence” on a daily basis. U.S. (or financial elite) power is backed by the mass surveillance, and development towards police states is occurring in many countries, ready to counter action by any movements subversive to that model. A Brave New World, indeed.






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