The Pain in Ukraine

Two nuclear heavyweights jostle for position on the banks of the Black Sea

So Russia has moved to secure Crimea, where its prized Black Sea fleet resides. No surprise there, although Secretary of State John Kerry, the lantern-jawed buffoon that President Obama trots out to justify the indefensible, comically affected indignant outrage and declared Russian behavior to be, “an incredible act of aggression.” Yet neither the swift Russian reply, nor any of the other events in this latest deposing of a democratically-elected leader come as much of a surprise. At least not if history is a useful guide.

Obviously Not a Team Player

What were the causes behind the latest ‘democratic revolution’ in Ukraine? Best to view the scenario through the unvarnished lens of “straight power concepts,” as post-war U.S. planner George Kennan once put it. Essentially, now-deposed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych seemed to have hoped to perform a Houdini-like balancing act between East and West, solidifying Ukrainian sovereignty, enacting enough ‘business friendly’ reforms to assure IMF loans and enough populist measures to keep him in office, all while holding imperial wolves at bay. As usual, apart from the self-enrichment, this strategy was a spectacular failure.

(Yanukovych has proven to be an easy target for pro-Western opponents. While he casts a fair profile of Westernized professionalism, he has been dogged by criminal charges throughout his career. Despite felonies from his youth and questions about his academic degrees, he won the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, but stepped down in the wake of the Orange Revolution and calls of electoral fraud. Opponents have scrupulously documented his expanding asset portfolio and labyrinthine financial connections since his 2010 election. In the wake of his exodus, everyday Ukrainians are now touring his former mansion, “Mezhyhirya”, a stunning estate of otherworldly opulence, particularly given Yanukovych’s modest $100,000 salary.)

Faced with making a distinct choice between the European Union and Russia, Yanukovych seemed poised to deliver his nation further into the clutches of IMF debt peonage and enable regular looting by Western multinationals through an “EU association and trade agreement” (facilitated by trunkloads of IMF cash). At the last minute, Yanukovych declined this devil’s pact and opted for a Russian $15 billion dollar loan. This fatal misstep appears to have triggered American efforts to unseat Yanukovych and replace him with a Western-friendly face. Having likely witnessed the state of the European Union in the last few years, Yanukovych made a not so surprising about-face.

Of course, Yanukovych was already on thin ice with the West. He had been behaving in troubling fashion since his election, enacting various social programs that threatened to undermine the spending controls the IMF had stipulated, as well as refusing to lift utility prices to IMF-recommended levels—knowing that either could jeopardize his or his party’s popularity. In any event, it’s likely the West found him an unreliable partner in—and eventually an obstacle to—their hoped-for ‘liberalization’ of the Ukrainian economy.

Why Does This Former Soviet Republic Matter So Much?

But given all of this wrangling over economic policy, why does the U.S. care so much about the Ukraine? For a couple of reasons. First, the Ukraine is perched on the edge of the resource-rich Black Sea, a geostrategic prize for any fossil-fuel hungry empire. Russia’s cyclopean Gazprom has traditionally led mining efforts, but Western multinationals like Exxon are shouldering their way in, particularly after finding a massive natural gas field on the Black Sea floor last year. Exxon subsequently inked a $735 million deal with the Ukraine to drill deep-water wells off its coast. The long-term interest of the European Union would be to diminish Russia’s ability to wield political influence by virtue of the volume of its gas exports to the EU.

Second, the Ukraine also sits on the Russian border. What better place for NATO to set up camp and aim some ballistic deterrents at the Kremlin? From there NATO could reasonably hoist large megaphones aimed at Moscow with the booming voice of President Obama confirming that “all options are on the table.” One shudders to think. It isn’t enough that NATO now includes Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. This after George H.W. Bush cut a deal with Russia’s world-historical dupe Mikhail Gorbachev that, in exchange for unlocking East Germany, NATO wouldn’t move “one inch eastward.” It has expanded eastward three times since, including the aforementioned nations. So much for trusting the West.

It Worked in 1953!

All of this is par for the course. During the Cold War, the CIA normally performed the rabble-rousing subversion in countries that had been infected by the “nationalism” disease. Henry Kissinger once referred to such countries as a “virus” that threatened to spread “contagion” through the region. Kermit Roosevelt (one images a frog smoking a Camel from an ivory cigarette holder) helped execute the subversive activities that led to the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Mosaddegh had himself made the foolish misstep of attempting to nationalize Iranian oil, much to the consternation of petro concerns in Britain and the United States. He was duly deposed and replaced with a military government led by a repressive monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty.

Yes, But Let’s Use an NGO This Time

Some things have changed slightly, however. Now the U.S. prefers to destabilize democratically-elected governments using faux non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This has the twofold advantage of evading laws against directly funding opposition parties in foreign countries, but more importantly creates the appearance of supporting the promotion of democratic institutions in benighted nations that for whatever reason—backward religions, endemic corruption, latent influence of communism, etc.—have yet to glimpse the splendor of Western-style free-market neoliberalism.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is the poster child for the modern say-one-thing-do-another NGO. It has funded 65 projects in the Ukraine, all of them naturally designed to help these boorish Eastern Europeans grasp the core concepts of our capitalist demos. Consider this from Consortium News:

The National Endowment for Democracy, a central part of Ronald Reagan’s propaganda war against the Soviet Union three decades ago, has evolved into a $100 million U.S. government-financed slush fund that generally supports a neocon agenda often at cross-purposes with the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Some of the non-government organizations (or NGOs) supporting these [Ukrainian] rebellions trace back to NED and its U.S. government money.

For NED and American neocons, Yanukovych’s electoral legitimacy lasted only as long as he accepted European demands for new “trade agreements” and stern economic “reforms” required by the International Monetary Fund.

NED’s longtime president, Carl Gershman, took to the op-ed page of the neocon-flagship Washington Post to urge the U.S. government to push European “free trade” agreements on Ukraine and other former Soviet states and thus counter Moscow’s efforts to maintain close relations with those countries. The ultimate goal, according to Gershman, was isolating and possibly toppling Putin in Russia with Ukraine the key piece on this global chessboard.

So much for NGOs being politically neutral.

Be Sure to Hire Some Street Thugs Like Kermit Did

Other things have stayed the same, such as funding violent opposition elements in an attempt to stir up street-level dissent that can then be broadcast worldwide. This causes conscientious European pensioners to put down their café and read in consternation reports emanating from the scene of the (clandestine) crime. And like American flag-wavers who fall into a frothing fury at the notion of revanchist Russian state, both conclude that democracy—its delicate flame dwindling by the day—is nobly struggling for its life against the arrayed forces of a fearsome fascism.

It is, in fact, the West that is employing the fascists and neo-Nazis to further its own ends. Like it used SUMKA in the Iranian coup, in the Ukraine it has backed a motley confection of deranged fascists, Goebbels-reciting neo-Nazis, and various other unsavory types who all appear to have two characteristics in common: they celebrate violence and detest democracy. The Svoboda (“Freedom”) Party in particular has a treacherous history of collusion with the Nazis during WWII. Several have slipped into the nascent governing group, despite a desire by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to marginalize them once they served their thug purpose. Nor should we forget that the specter of Nazism continues to haunt the Russian nation. It lost a generation of men—some 20 to 25 million—in its heroic battle against the Germans. The last thing it wants to see as it peers across its Western borders is a fascist uprising.

If Ukrainians thought life was onerous under a democratically-elected Yanukovych (did they?), wait until they get a taste of IMF medicine, soon to be paternally administered by the new West-leaning government. You’ll have noticed the first words out of the mouth of freshly minted Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk were that the Ukrainian people would quite naturally have to suffer deprivations on the hard path to free-market democracy. A cursory glance at Greece and Italy might be sufficient to give the average Kiev resident nightmares. Just consider what the IMF asked of Ukraine last October, according to Global Research:

In negotiations last October, the IMF demanded that Ukraine double prices for gas and electricity to industry and homes, that they lift a ban on private sale of Ukraine’s rich agriculture lands, make a major overhaul of their economic holdings, devalue the currency, slash state funds for school children and the elderly to “balance the budget.” In return Ukraine would get a paltry $4 billion.

On the other hand, the Kremlin was dangling a rather more attractive offer:

Before the ouster of the Moscow-leaning Yanukovych government last week, Moscow was prepared to buy some $15 billion of Ukraine debt and to slash its gas prices by fully one-third. Now, understandably, Russia is unlikely to give that support. The economic cooperation between Ukraine and Moscow was something Washington was determined to sabotage at all costs.

The City of Woe

It all adds up, doesn’t it? Throw in Honduras, Egypt, Libya, and ongoing intrigues in Syria and Venezuela, and the Obama administration has fashioned for itself an impressive track record for regime change, normally associated with Republican neoconservatives. Now we can watch events unfold as the U.S. and Russia perform alarming chest-thumping military maneuvers reminiscent of Cold War posturing. Perhaps it will lead to a donnybrook of heavyweights, or more likely, just the brutal division of another sovereign state into two not-so-sovereign dependencies. A giant new World Bank loan will be approved with much fanfare and sighs of relief among Western liberals. Austerity will be imposed. Kiev technocrats will claim they are shouldering the burden of making ‘difficult’ decisions for the benefit of all. The population will suffer untold deprivations, and another fledgling state will be buried in the charry aftermath of its own self-determination.

Rather strikingly, each Ukrainian that wishes to tour the palace of the exiled Yanukovych and its mind-boggling layout of baroque architecture, medieval armor, and Sumatran pheasants, must pass beneath a sign above the entrance that proclaims, “People, do not destroy this evidence of thieving arrogance.” Interestingly, it was Yanukovych himself who must have seen—at the very last moment—the forbidding crest above the European Union that reads, as do the gates to hell in Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter.” Sadly, the Ukrainian people are now destined for that hopeless bourn, and are being marshaled onto mythic Charon’s leaky raft to ferry them to fates unknown.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.