U.S. Played Hardball in Ukraine
When the EU mediated a deal between the opposition and the government, I thought Yanukovich had dodged the bullet. Not quite. In parsing the circumstances of Yanukovich’s downfall, it is interesting to look for the machinations of Victoria Nuland, the State Department neo-con (wife of Robert Kagan) who was apparently given a free hand in matters Ukrainian by President Obama.
Consider this. The background of Nuland’s notorious “F— the EU” audio was her feeling that the EU was insufficiently confrontational with the Ukranian government, especially on the issue of sanctions. As to what “sufficiently confrontational” might look like, consider this AFP report from back in January that showed up in the Yahoo! Sports feed, since its subject, R. Akhmetov, is the owner of Ukraine’s most successful football outfit:
Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of the Shakhtar Donetsk football club, is having a possibly decisive influence on Ukraine’s standoff between the security forces and protesters. Akhmetov has long been seen as a leading ally of President Viktor Yanukovych. He has bankrolled the ruling Regions Party which he formerly represented in parliament as an MP, and harks from the eastern Donetsk region that is the president’s stronghold. But in a possible turning point in a crisis that has raised fears of a prolonged civil conflict, Akhmetov on Saturday issued a strong statement warning that the use of force against protesters was unacceptable and the only way forward was negotiations.
However his reasons for being so strongly against the use of a state of emergency to forcefully end the protests may not be entirely altruistic. According to the influential news site Ukrainska Pravda, visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland warned Akhmetov at a secret meeting when she visited Kiev in December that he and other wealthy backers of the Regions Party could face EU and US sanctions if the police used force against the protesters. For a businessman with an international reputation and properties outside of Ukraine, including a luxury town house in London, this was clearly an unwelcome prospect.
Akhmetov was able to control a group of at least 40 MPs from the ruling Regions Party in the Verkhovna Rada parliament, enough to block any motion to impose a state of emergency. So what happened after the EU brokered a transitional, power-sharing sort of deal with the EU? The truce broke but how did the truce break? Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine’s embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 70 people dead and hundreds injured, according to a protest doctor.
A truce announced late Wednesday appeared to have little credibility among hardcore protesters. One camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, told the AP even after the alleged truce, protesters still threw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police then began shooting at them, he said.
And what happened in the parliament?
Ukrainian Parliament Deputy Speaker Ruslan Koshulynsky has announced that more parliamentarians have withdrawn from the Party of Regions faction. In particular, Oleksandr Volkov, Yuriy Polyachenko, Vitaliy Hrushevsky, Volodymyr Dudka, Yaroslav Sukhy, Artem Scherban, and one more parliamentarian, whose name Koshulynsky pronounced unintelligibly, had left the Party of Regions faction. Koshulynsky later announced the names of four other deputies who left the Party of Regions faction, i.e. Viktor Zherebniuk, Ivan Myrny, Hennadiy Vasylyev, and Nver Mkhitarian. He later added Larysa Melnychuk and Serhiy Katsuba to this list. Hence, the Party of Regions has lost 41 deputies, including 28 on Friday and the other 14 on Saturday.
Don’t know if any of these were among Akhmetov’s 40 people. Would be interesting to find out. In any case, enough Party of Regions deputies bailed to give the pro-EU forces a majority and a free hand in parliament to undertake some sweeping initiatives, like unilaterally impeaching the president, repudiating a previous constitutional revision, and releasing Yulia Timoshenko from prison.
So, by a less-than-generous view, it might be suspected that the United States encouraged demonstrators to break the truce, with the expectation that violence would occur and Yanukovich’s equivocal fat cat backers, such as Akhmetov, would jump ship because the US had already informed them that their assets in the West would be at risk under US and EU sanctions.
If this is the case, the EU perhaps has additional reason to feel sore and resentful at the US.
By blowing up the truce and the transition deal, Nuland got Yanukovich out and “Yats”—the preferred US proxy, Arseniy Yatsenyuk—in, but at the cost of terminally alienating the Ukraine’s pro-Russian segment—a segment, it might be pointed out, was actually able to elect Yanukovich in a free and fair election a while back.
In any case, through a creative interpretation of the Ukrainian constitution, the now West-friendly parliament has constituted itself as the primary legitimate organ of government, selected a new prime minister, and scheduled elections for December.
Since this new government is flat-busted, needs somewhere north of $30 billion in fresh loans to make it through the year, one might think the West didn’t get much of a bargain. However, it seems that everybody in the new government is gung-ho on accepting an IMF package through which, I suppose, the Ukraine will be comfortably chained in debt vassalage to the West for the foreseeable future and incapable of returning to the welcoming arms of Russia.
Whether the eastern and southern Ukraine—strongholds of pro-Russian feeling—will put up with the wrenching IMF restructuring that their western comrades appear so eager to implement is another question.
Don’t be surprised if this miraculous offspring of Obamian righteousness and neo-con callous bravado yields another nation-building triumph along the lines of Libya and South Sudan, but this time with the fiasco squarely in the lap of the Ukraine’s discombobulated EU neighbors.
It will also be interesting to see if Russia yields to its spiteful feelings and neglects to pony up the $15 billion it had originally promised in order to prop up Yanukovich. (Interesting thought: was all this US-encouraged upheaval timed for the Sochi Olympics with the thinking that Putin wouldn’t dare intervene forcefully while his precious games were underway? Hmmm.)
By openly supporting insurrection by a militant faction in order to subject the Ukranian government to a level of stress that it, and particularly its apparently incapable pres, Yanukovich, were incapable of handling, I think the US crossed something of a Rubicon. It openly and enthusiastically backed a violent putsch against a democratically-elected government it didn’t happen to like. Neo-liberal enthusiasts, it should be noted, splashed across this boundary without even getting their feet wet…except from the dull-witted drooling of Western correspondents apparently besotted by the contrived tire-burning, Molotov-cocktail tossing freedom-fighter narrative layered over the political struggle.
This reminded me of how the media let itself get played during the Iraq War, a period in history I’m old enough to remember, but perhaps some gormless young journos can’t…or won’t.
The Obama administration’s new-found affection for street riots to overthrow unfriendly elected government will get its next road test in Venezuela. Caracas is starting to look like Kiev. The conservative youth of the private universities are already on the street looking for trouble and the excuse to exercise righteous violence like their ultranationalist brothers in Ukraine. If Carl Gibson’s article in Reader Supported News is quoting an authentic document, the USAID, with the help of consultants and Colombia, was already mapping out plans to destabilize the country through economic sabotage in late 2013 and, according to Gibson’s account, incite street confrontation: “Whenever possible, the violence should cause deaths and injuries. Encourage hunger strikes of numerous days, massive mobilisations, problems in the universities and other sectors of society now identified with government institutions.”
I don’t think there’s any question that opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is America’s man in Caracas. Gibson’s article also adds the detail that a Wikileaks cable apparently links Lopez to CANVAS, the US-funded democracy-promotion cum regime-change outfit that Yanukovich banned from Kiev just prior to his downfall.
Venezuela seems to fracture along class lines (not ethnic Russian vs. Ukrainian, or regional/tribal/Cyrenic/Tripolitan like Libya, or confessional Sunni/Shi’ite like Syria) so the task of catapulting a pro-US elite group into power may be bloodier and more prolonged than the adventure in the Ukraine. But I’m sure the United States has sufficient money and patience for a prolonged struggle, especially when the suffering is a thousand miles away from Washington.
As for the People’s Republic of China, I think the takeaway will be 1) active US political subversion of its enemies is not just one of those myths that target governments console or terrify themselves with 2) don’t let opposition parties form, let alone get on the ballot 2) don’t let anybody in the downtown square and 3) pre-emptively treat any activists with US or Western ties as de facto subversives and counter-revolutionaries.
It is doubtful that heightened PRC vigilance will translate into anything near the democratic liberalization which the West ostensibly craves for China’s benighted citizens. Instead, the regime will land on dissidents early and like a ton of bricks.
It is rather ironic that Barack Obama, the progressive paragon, took a few hits from the Dick Cheney regime-change crack pipe, and now apparently finds it irresistible. Maybe he feels that he might as well grab for a few cheap foreign policy wins, damn the consequences, because in two years he’s outta here and President Clinton can deal with the mess. I imagine that Alfred Nobel’s image on President Obama’s Peace Prize medal is weeping blood tears by now.