In Ukraine

By Patrick L. Smith,, Tuesday, Feb 23, 2016

All of a sudden, straight out of nowhere, Ukraine creeps back into the news.

Hardship in Euromaidan Ukraine (Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters)

Hardship in Euromaidan Ukraine (Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters)

There is renewed fighting in the rebellious eastern regions. There is political warfare in Kiev. There is paralysis in the upper reaches. There is some new formation called the Revolutionary Right Forces occupying the Maidan—the very same Independence Square where, two years ago this past Sunday, months of protests tipped into violence and an elected president was ousted.

All of a sudden. Straight out of nowhere.

Now you know what you are supposed to think as the flowers of corruption and ultra-right atavism burst forth in Ukraine. Shall we insist together on remaining in what is quaintly called the real world?

Ukraine has gone from political crisis to armed conflict to humanitarian crisis with no break in the regress ever since the American-cultivated coup in February 2014. But for many months now, we have had before us a textbook example of what I call the Power of Leaving Out.

The most daring attempt at “regime change” since righteous Clintonians invented this self-deceiving euphemism in the 1990s has come to six-figure casualties, mass deprivation,  a divided nation and a wrecked economy. If you abide within the policy cliques or the corporate-owned media, it is best to go quiet as long as you can in the face of such eventualities.

The short of it, readers, is that all three chickens now take up their roosts at once: The Poroshenko government is on the brink of collapse, neo-Nazi extremists have forced it to renew hostilities in the east and there is no letup in the blockade Kiev imposes on rebelling regions. The last differs from a punitive starvation strategy only in degree.

The very short of it is that the more or less complete failure of Washington’s most adventurous assertion of power in the post-Cold War period can no longer be papered over. Even the most corrupted correspondents have to file something when political mutiny and warfare break into the open—and when non-American media, as is their peculiar habit, report on these things. It is for this reason alone you can read a smidge—but only a smidge—about the events now unfolding in Ukraine in the New York Times and all other media that reliably do as the Times does.


This column in Salon has cheered for an American failure in Ukraine since first forecasting one in the spring of 2014. Brilliant that it is upon us at last.

Forcing a nation to live under a neoliberal economic regime so that American corporations can exploit it freely, as the Obama administration proposed when it designated Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister in 2014, is never to be cheered. Turning a nation of 46 million into a bare-toothed front line in America’s obsessive campaign against Russia is never to be cheered. Forcing the Russian-speaking half of the country to live under a government that would ban Russian as a national language if it could is never to be cheered. The only regret, a great regret of mind and heart, is that American failures almost always prove so costly in consequence of the blindness and arrogance of the policy cliques.

Readers may remember when, with a defense authorization bill in debate last June, two congressmen advanced an amendment banning military assistance to “openly neo-Nazi” and “fascist” militias waging war against Ukraine’s eastern regions. John Conyers and Ted Yoho got two things done in a stroke: They forced public acknowledgment that “the repulsive neo-Nazi Azov battalion,” as Conyers put it, was active, and they shamed the (also repulsive) Republican House to pass their legislative amendment unanimously.

Obama signed the defense bill then at issue into law just before Thanksgiving. The Conyers-Yoho amendment was deleted but for a single phrase. The bill thus authorizes, among much, much else, $300 million in aid this year to “the military and national security forces in Ukraine.” In a land ruled by euphemisms, the latter category designates the Azov battalion and the numerous other fascist militias on which the Poroshenko government is wholly dependent for its existence.

An omnibus spending bill Obama signed a month later included an additional $250 million for the Ukraine army and its rightist adjuncts. This is your money, taxpayers, should you need reminding. As Obama signed these bills, the White House expressed its satisfaction that “ideological riders” had been stripped out of them.

No, you read next to nothing of this in any American newspaper. Yes, you now know what the often-lethal combination of blindness and arrogance looks like in action. Yes, you can now see why American policy in Ukraine must fail if this crisis is ever to come to a rational, humane resolution.

The funds just noted are in addition to a $1 billion loan guarantee—in essence another form of aid—that Secretary of State Kerry announced with fanfare last year. And that is in addition to the International Monetary Fund’s $40 billion bailout program, a $17.5 billion tranche of which is now pending. Since the IMF is the external-relations arm of the U.S. Treasury (and Managing Director Christine Lagarde thus the Treasury’s public-relations face) this is a big commitment on the Obama administration’s part (which is to say yours and mine).

How are things on the receiving end, it is natural to ask. Our money goes to exactly what?

Until recently, what one heard and read of Ukraine’s progress into a neoliberal future was almost all happy talk (or silence, of course). Vice President Biden, who carries the Ukraine portfolio in the administration, makes regular trips to laud the Poroshenko government and the reformist zeal of Premier Yatsenyuk. This is perhaps only natural, given Biden’s son is neck-deep in Ukraine’s resource extraction industry.

Biden sounded a different note during his latest trip to Kiev, which came in December. Yes, there was another handout, this one $190 million to help the Poroshenko government implement “structural reforms” of the usual anti-democratic kind. (Are you toting up all these checks?) But Biden was stern, make no mistake. He shook his finger from the podium in parliament.

“We understand how difficult some of the votes for reforms are, but they are critical for putting Ukraine back on the right path,” Biden said. “As long as you continue to make progress in fighting corruption and build a future of opportunity for all Ukraine, the U.S. will stand with you.”

Back on the right path? Continue to make progress?

Since euphemisms are an American export item, familiar in euphemism markets the world over, a translation: You are embarrassing us because you have done nothing. We gave you a window to pass legislation before the Ukrainian people figured out how awful it would make their lives. You’re blowing it as we speak. Hurry up. Meantime, here is another couple of hundred million.

A few days ago Geoffrey Pyatt, the American ambassador in Kiev, put in his two cents. (No check this time.) Pyatt, readers will surely recall, did the gumshoe work for Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state who engineered Yatsenyuk’s elevation to the premiership two years ago. His concern was grave as he addressed a defense and security seminar: He wants to see “meaningful steps to reform the trade and investment climate.” These are, of course, the abiding passions of every un- or under-employed Ukrainian.

“Ukraine has said that it wants to become a major defense exporter,” the ambassador elaborated. “I know that is possible, given the extraordinary capabilities that I have seen the Ukrainian industry demonstrate, but it can only happen if Ukraine continues to press ahead on critical reforms, tackles corruption, and works to meet NATO standards. This will require a paradigm shift in Ukraine’s defense industry, and a move away from a mindset of state-owned enterprises….”

Pyatt refers to a very specific circumstance in the above passage. Ukraine is a cesspit of illegal arms dealing, and this is a wellspring of corruption and illicit profit American defense contractors want to partake of. A source in Europe who is familiar with the trade but not part of it explained things this way in a note the other day:

Ukraine has been the plaque tournant [hub, lively market] of illegal arms trade since the end of the USSR. The mob, the Kiev military, the far-right groups and some of the oligarchs all participate at different levels in this very, very dirty business…. None, as in none of this has been touched by the Kiev regime…



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