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Weissman writes: "The US and NATO increase their military buildup along Russia's borders, in the air above, and in the Black Sea face-to-face with Russia's fleet in Crimea. But only to defend their members and allies, of course."

Just like Crimea, throughout Eastern Ukraine there are demands to join Russia. (photo: EPA)
Just like Crimea, throughout Eastern Ukraine there are demands to join Russia. (photo: EPA)

Are Two Ukraines Better Than One?

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

24 April 14


oe Biden clinched it. With his trip to Kiev, he hammered home Washington’s determination to bring Ukraine into the Western camp, no matter what the neighboring Russians think, no matter what the people of Ukraine’s pro-Russian east and south want for themselves, and at whatever risk of an accidental nuclear confrontation.

“This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution,” he told Ukrainian lawmakers. He was recalling George W. Bush’s effort to roll back Russian influence in Ukraine in 2004, which I summed up at the time in “Uncle Santa and Ukraine’s Orange-Colored Elves.”

A former colonel in the Soviet KGB, Putin seeks to preserve Kiev’s independence only from NATO and the West, not from the Russian Bear, who has ruled Ukraine for centuries.

With no less chutzpah or hypocrisy, Bush condemns only Moscow's meddling – and not Washington's long-term effort to build up Ukraine's pro-Western opposition. According to the Associated Press, in the last two years alone the Bush Administration spent more than $65 million to seed the Orange Revolution and build support for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

Though much of the story remains the same, the damage, danger, and insanity have all increased massively. How, then, do we respond? Some readers lean toward Putin, I know. Others prefer to cheer Washington, its European allies, or the Ukrainian "freedom fighters." I take a different approach, as I have since October 1962, when a rag-tag bunch of student activists went to Washington to hold Khrushchev, Kennedy, and Castro all responsible for the Cuban missile crisis. We had absolutely no visible impact. But breaking free of a Cold War mindset shaped the way I have spent the rest of a long life opposing Washington's interventionist foreign policy – and doing it without ever drinking the Kool-Aid of Moscow, Beijing, Hanoi, Havana, Caracas, or Tehran.

In the present crisis, we can do our part by figuring out who did which and to whom, following wherever the trail leads without shying away from evidence that makes one side or the other look better or worse. We can avoid playing cheerleaders or useful idiots for any side, opposing the self-serving ploys of all sides alike, whether from Moscow, Washington, or its European allies. And we can point out as honestly as we can the growing threat their conflict poses to any hope for a sensible, peaceful, and humane international system.

Everyone will have their own view of events on the ground, but here is how it looks to me:

President Obama and his European allies pulled off a coup in Kiev, as I documented in detail here and here. Many other nations applauded the putsch, which makes it all the more likely that the masters of NATO, which is supposedly a defensive alliance, will resort to undemocratic regime change wherever and whenever they think they can get away with it.

In response, Putin seized Crimea, breaking Moscow’s pledge in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to guarantee Ukraine’s borders. The plebiscite in Crimea gives him cover, but where is the democracy in a hastily-called vote with no opportunity for full and free debate and no serious check on who counts the ballots? He took Crimea primarily to protect his warm-water naval fleet at Sebastopol from the whims of an increasingly anti-Russian regime in Kiev, and I suspect he would seize nearby Odessa as well if NATO ever showed signs of wanting to use it as a major naval port.

The US and NATO increase their military buildup along Russia’s borders, in the air above, and in the Black Sea face-to-face with Russia’s fleet in Crimea. But only to defend their members and allies, of course. “Nothing we've seen out of Moscow, nothing we've seen out of Russia or their armed forces is de-escalating the tension [or] is making things any more stable in Ukraine or on the continent of Europe,” explained Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, as he announced sending as many as 600 paratroopers to Poland. “What would be very helpful is if they removed their forces off that border and took concrete actions to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine.”

As Admiral Kirby suggests, Putin continues to mass tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border, giving inspiration to those in the south and east who want greater independence from the Western-backed government in Kiev. Within hours, he could send those troops into any part of Ukraine, either to seize additional territory or – more likely – to act as “peace-keepers.” He also appears to be sending small numbers of Special Forces into Ukraine, as he admitted having done in Crimea.

The vicious circle feeds on itself. It increases the possibility of a nuclear accident – and the probability that an already divided Ukraine will break apart. Biden insists that the U.S. and Europe want to preserve a united country, but however much they deny or try to mitigate it, they are effectively backing one side of the country against the other.

The Western-backed government in Kiev will above all defend favored oligarchs, who are the primary source of the corruption that Biden and the IMF talk of rooting out. But, ideologically, the new government favors right-wing nationalism. This extends from neo-Nazis who support the European Union to rabid ultra-rightists who oppose it to the more moderate-sounding Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of whose first acts – since rescinded – was to deny any official role for the Russian language.

As Biden says, but probably fails to understand, the new regime does represent the promise of the first Orange Revolution, whose greatest “success” was to create a mythic Ukrainian history that holds their uneasy alliance together. Theirs is the thinking of Western Ukraine, especially strong in the area around Lvov. They find their hero in the undeniably racist Stepan Bandera. And, if Washington and Brussels ever stop holding them back, they dream of creating an ethnically pure Ukraine for Ukrainians.

Moscow backs the other side of the country, the predominantly Russian-speaking east and south, where people tend to view Bandera and his followers as Nazi collaborators and unreformed fascists. Many of the Russian-speakers are as anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, and anti-gay as in Western Ukraine, but even mainstream reporters tells us that the people there have real grievances and truly fear that Kiev will not treat them and their language, Eastern Orthodox religion, and distinctive culture as equal parts of a united Ukraine.

Washington and its European allies encourage these fears by backing Kiev’s “anti-terrorist’ military attacks in the Russian-speaking regions, especially in the area around Donetsk. The Western-backed government in Kiev has just resumed these military operations, and Russian troops have responded by staging maneuvers closer to the border.

“If the regime in Kiev has begun using the army against the population inside the country, then this is undoubtedly a very serious crime,” Putin announced on Russian TV. “Of course, this will have consequences for the people who take such decisions, and this also affects our inter-state relations.”

The entire situation could grow even worse before this article goes online, but neither Washington, Brussels, nor Moscow seems in any way prepared to keep Ukraine from breaking apart, with all the bloodshed and bitterness that an ideologically-charged civil war will engender.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."

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