Events in Ukraine
As Tensions Build, U.S. Has `Zero Options' in Ukraine
Ukraine: One `Regime Change' Too Many?
Ukraine Revolt's Dark Side
A New Cold War? Ukraine Violence Escalates, Leaked Tape Suggests U.S. Was Plotting Coup
As Tensions Build, U.S. Has `Zero Options' in Ukraine
Hari Sreenivasan/Steven Cohen
PBS News Hour
March 2, 2014
HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s driving Vladimir Putin’s thinking about all of this? What is the Russian perspective? For more about that, we are joined now by Stephen Cohen. He is professor emeritus of Russian Studies at New York University and of politics at Princeton University. Thanks for joining us. Putin just raised the stakes a significant amount, why?
STEPHEN COHEN: We hear the American view that Putin is a neo-imperialist and a Soviet leader and he’s trying to recreate the Soviet Union. He’s something fundamentally different. Remember he came to power 14 years ago and he inherited a collapsed state. Remember also that the Russian state has collapsed twice in the 20th century – in 1917 and again in 1991. Putin’s mission as he sees it, and as the Russian political elite sees it, is to restore Russian stability, greatness at home and that includes to secure Russia’s traditiona, historical security zones around Russia. First and foremost, that is Ukraine. So what Putin did when he mobilized his forces, was to say to the United States and to Europe, you are crossing my red line and I have no choice. And politically at home, and given the pro-Russian forces and sentiments in Eastern and Southern Ukraine bordering Russia, I don’t see that he had a choice. Now, he has a choice of what he will do next, but that will depend on us, I think.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the options for the U.S. here?
STEPHEN COHEN: Zero. Zero, unless we want to go to war. Putin holds all the cards for better or worse. He holds the military cards because it’s his territory. He holds the political cards because a very large portion of Ukraine supports Putin, not the West. He holds the economic cards because Ukraine is part of the Russian economy. And legally — you’ll have to ask a lawyer — there is the question of whether the Russians are right – is the government in Kiev which overthrew, 10 days ago, the constitutional order in Kiev and threw out the elected president — is it a legitimate government – whatever that word means? Putin says it it’s not legitimate. We haven’t recognized it as yet, but we’re acting as if it is legitimate. I don’t know what a lawyer would say.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Are we following the same path of 2008 in Russia and Georgia? Where essentially this escalated into an all-out war for a few days?
STEPHEN COHEN: You’re right, there is a similarity in the sense that that two was a red line — the Former Soviet Republic of Georgia. But there was something else there. First it was of much lesser importance to Russia than Ukraine because of its location and its size. Secondly, even though we always say that Russian and Putin invaded tiny little Georgia, the fact is that the war was begin, by the American-backed military forces of Georgia– because they attacked Russian enclaves in Georgia. Today, nobody fired a shot and if nobody fires a shot there is a way out. But there is a worse scenario and that is if the Russians think they have to move their troops not only into Crimea, this peninsula where their naval base is and historically part of Russia, but also into eastern and southern Ukraine as well. There will be enormous pressure for NATO to move into western Ukraine and then all bets are off.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What is the capability of capacity of the Ukrainian army? Where do their loyalties lie?
STEPHEN COHEN: That’s a terrific question, after all, as much of the Ukrainian army, such as it is, 130,000 troops, is ethnically Russian. We don’t know whether they would follow Kiev’s orders. But if there was a war – and literally even if we’re not religious we need to pray there’s not a war – because this would be a turning point in history. If there’s a war, Ukrainians who support Kiev and the West will become partisan fighters. They don’t really have an army that can fight and that will be as bloody as anything. It will be a civil war and ancient hatreds – tombstones will be kicked over as they say – and all sorts of ancient hatreds will roam the land for years and years.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Briefly, you’ve studied American-Russian relations – how bad is this point now?
STEPHEN COHEN: I think we now have seen the descent of a new Cold War divide –this time not in Berlin but on Russia’s borders. Can it end there? I mean it’s already fateful – can it not get worse? I think it depends on whether the West now rises to leadership and gives Putin the guarantees he needs to back off. Now, in America there’s a different view – that he has to back off first. But that’s where we stand.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Stephen Cohen thanks so much.
STEPHEN COHEN: My pleasure.
Ukraine: One `Regime Change' Too Many?
March 1, 2014
Exclusive: Russia’s parliament has approved President Putin’s request for the use of force inside neighboring Ukraine, as the latest neocon-approved “regime change” spins out of control and threatens to inflict grave damage on international relations, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains.
By Ray McGovern
Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has given an unmistakable “yes” to those questions – in deeds, not words. His message is clear: “Back off our near-frontier!”
Moscow announced on Saturday that Russia’s parliament has approved Putin’s request for permission to use Russia’s armed forces “on the territory of the Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country.”
Putin described this move as necessary to protect ethnic Russians and military personnel stationed in Crimea in southern Ukraine, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet and other key military installations are located. But there is no indication that the Russian parliament has restricted the use of Russian armed forces to the Crimea.
Unless Obama is completely bereft of advisers who know something about Russia, it should have been a “known-known” (pardon the Rumsfeldian mal mot) that the Russians would react this way to a putsch removing Yanukovich. It would have been a no-brainer that Russia would use military force, if necessary, to counter attempts to use economic enticement and subversive incitement to slide Ukraine into the orbit of the West and eventually NATO.
This was all the more predictable in the case of Ukraine, where Putin – although the bête noire in corporate Western media – holds very high strategic cards geographically, militarily, economically and politically.
Unlike ‘Prague Spring’ 1968
Moscow’s advantage was not nearly as clear during the short-lived “Prague Spring” of 1968 when knee-jerk, non-thinking euphoria reigned in Washington and West European capitals. The cognoscenti were, by and large, smugly convinced that reformer Alexander Dubcek could break Czechoslovakia away from the U.S.S.R.’s embrace and still keep the Russian bear at bay.
My CIA analyst portfolio at the time included Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe, and I was amazed to see analysts of Eastern Europe caught up in the euphoria that typically ended with, “And the Soviets can’t do a damned thing about it!”
That summer a new posting found me advising Radio Free Europe Director Ralph Walter who, virtually alone among his similarly euphoric colleagues, shared my view that Russian tanks would inevitably roll onto Prague’s Wenceslaus Square, which they did in late August.
Past is not always prologue. But it is easy for me to imagine the Russian Army cartographic agency busily preparing maps of the best routes for tanks into Independence Square in Kiev, and that before too many months have gone by, Russian tank commanders may be given orders to invade, if those stoking the fires of violent dissent in the western parts of Ukraine keep pushing too far.
That said, Putin has many other cards to play and time to play them. These include sitting back and doing nothing, cutting off Russia’s subsidies to Ukraine, making it ever more difficult for Yanukovich’s successors to cope with the harsh realities. And Moscow has ways to remind the rest of Europe of its dependence on Russian oil and gas.
There is one huge difference between Prague in 1968 and Kiev 2014. The “Prague Spring” revolution led by Dubcek enjoyed such widespread spontaneous popular support that it was difficult for Russian leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin to argue plausibly that it was spurred by subversion from the West.
Not so 45-plus years later. In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”
We know that thanks to neocon prima donna Victoria Nuland, now Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who seemed intent on giving new dimension to the “cookie-pushing” role of U.S. diplomats. Recall the photo showing Nuland in a metaphor of over-reach, as she reached deep into a large plastic bag to give each anti-government demonstrator on the square a cookie before the putsch.
More important, recall her amateurish, boorish use of an open telephone to plot regime change in Ukraine with a fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Crass U.S. interference in Ukrainian affairs can be seen (actually, better, heard) in an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.
Yikes! It’s Yats!
Nuland was recorded as saying: “Yats is the guy. He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know. … Yats will need all the help he can get to stave off collapse in the ex-Soviet state. He has warned there is an urgent need for unpopular cutting of subsidies and social payments before Ukraine can improve.”
And guess what. The stopgap government formed after the coup designated Nuland’s guy Yats, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, prime minister! What luck! Yats is 39 and has served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister. And, as designated pinch-hitter-prime-minister, he has already talked about the overriding need for “responsible government,” one willing to commit “political suicide,” as he put it, by taking unpopular social measures.
U.S. meddling has been so obvious that at President Barack Obama’s hastily scheduled Friday press conference on Ukraine, Yats’s name seemed to get stuck in Obama’s throat. Toward the end of his scripted remarks, which he read verbatim, the President said: “Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister [pause] – the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.”
Obama doesn’t usually stumble like that – especially when reading a text, and is normally quite good at pronouncing foreign names. Perhaps he worried that one of the White House stenographic corps might shout out, “You mean our man, Yats?” Obama departed right after reading his prepared remarks, leaving no opportunity for such an outburst.
Western media was abuzz with the big question: Will the Russians apply military force? The answer came quickly, though President Obama chose the subjunctive mood in addressing the question on Friday.
Throwing Down a Hanky
There was a surreal quality to President Obama’s remarks, several hours after Russian (or pro-Russian) troops took control of key airports and other key installations in the Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, and home to a large Russian naval base and other key Russian military installations.
Obama referred merely to “reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine” and warned piously that “any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing.”
That Obama chose the subjunctive mood – when the indicative was, well, indicated – will not be lost on the Russians. Here was Obama, in his typically lawyerly way, trying to square the circle, giving a sop to his administration’s neocon holdovers and R2P courtiers, with a Milquetoasty expression of support for the new-Nuland-approved government (citing Biden’s assurances to old whatshisname/yatshisname).
While Obama stuck to the subjunctive tense, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk appealed to Russia to recall its forces and “stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine.”
Obama’s comments seemed almost designed to sound condescending – paternalistic, even – to the Russians. Already into his second paragraph of his scripted remarks, the President took a line larded with words likely to be regarded as a gratuitous insult by Moscow, post-putsch.
“We’ve made clear that they [Russian officials] can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.”
By now, Russian President Vladimir Putin is accustomed to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, et al. telling the Kremlin where its interests lie, and I am sure he is appropriately grateful. Putin is likely to read more significance into these words of Obama:
“The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine … and we will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies.”
Fissures in Atlantic Alliance
There are bound to be fissures in the international community and in the Western alliance on whether further provocation in Ukraine is advisable. Many countries have much to lose if Moscow uses its considerable economic leverage over natural gas supplies, for example.
And, aspiring diplomat though she may be, Victoria Nuland presumably has not endeared herself to the EC by her expressed “Fuck the EC” attitude.
Aside from the most servile allies of the U.S. there may be a growing caucus of Europeans who would like to return the compliment to Nuland. After all does anyone other than the most extreme neocon ideologue think that instigating a civil war on the border of nuclear-armed Russia is a good idea? Or that it makes sense to dump another economic basket case, which Ukraine surely is, on the EU’s doorstep while it’s still struggling to get its own economic house in order?
Europe has other reasons to feel annoyed about the overreach of U.S. power and arrogance. The NSA spying revelations – that continue, just like the eavesdropping itself does – seem to have done some permanent damage to transatlantic relationships.
In any case, Obama presumably knows by now that he pleased no one on Friday by reading that flaccid statement on Ukraine. And, more generally, the sooner he realizes that – without doing dumb and costly things – he can placate neither the neocons nor the R2P folks (naively well meaning though the latter may be), the better for everyone.
In sum, the Nulands of this world have bit off far more than they can chew; they need to be reined in before they cause even more dangerous harm. Broader issues than Ukraine are at stake. Like it or not, the United States can benefit from a cooperative relationship with Putin’s Russia – the kind of relationship that caused Putin to see merit last summer in pulling Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire on Syria, for example, and in helping address thorny issues with Iran.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His academic degrees are in Russian and he was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the CIA. He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Ukraine Revolt's Dark Side
Dispatches From The Edge
March 2, 2014
"The April 6 rally in Cherskasy, a city 100 miles southeast of Kiev, turned violent after six men took off their jackets to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Beat the Kikes" and "Svoboda," the name of the Ukrainian ultranationalist movement and the Ukrainian word for "freedom."
--Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
April 12, 2013
While most of the Western media describes the current crisis in the Ukraine as a confrontation between authoritarianism and democracy, many of the shock troops who have manned barricades in Kiev and the western city of Lviv these past months represent a dark page in the country's history and have little interest in either democracy or the liberalism of Western Europe and the United States.
"You'd never know from most of the reporting that far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests and attacks on government buildings," reports Seumas Milne of the British Guardian. The most prominent of the groups has been the ultra-rightwing Svoboda or "Freedom" Party.
And that even the demand for integration with Western Europe appears to be more a tactic than a strategy: "The participation of Ukrainian nationalism and Svoboda in the process of EU [European Union] integration, " admits Svoboda political council member Yury Noyevy, "is a means to break our ties with Russia."
And lest one think that Svoboda, and parties even further to the right, will strike their tents and disappear, Ukrainian News reported Feb. 26 that Svoboda Party members have temporarily been appointed to the posts of Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Education, Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Supplies, and Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources.
Svoboda is hardly a fringe organization. In the 2012 election won by the now deposed president, Viktor Yanukovitch, the Party took 10.45 percent of the vote and over 40 percent in parts of the western Ukraine. While the west voted overwhelmingly for the Fatherland Party's Yulia Tymoshenko, the more populous east went overwhelmingly for the Party of the Regions' Yanukovitch. The latter won the election handily, 48.8 percent to 45.7 percent.
Svoboda - which currently has 36 deputies in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament-began life in the mid-1990s as the Social National Party of the Ukraine, but its roots lie in World War II, when Ukrainian nationalists and Nazis found common ground in the ideology of anti-communism and anti-Semitism. In April, 1943, Dr. Otto von Wachter, the Nazi commander of Galicia -- the name for the western Ukraine -- turned the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army into the 14 Grenadier Division of the Waffen SS, the so-called "Galicia Division."
The Waffen SS was the armed wing of the Nazi Party, and while serving along side the regular army, or Wehrmacht, the Party controlled the SS's 38-plus divisions. While all Nazi forces took part in massacres and atrocities, the Waffen SS did so with particular efficiency. The post-war Nuremberg trials designated it a "criminal organization."
Svoboda has always had a soft spot for the Galicia Division and one of its parliament members, Oleg Pankevich, took part in a ceremony last April honoring the unit. Pankevich joined with a priest of Ukrainian Orthodox Church near Lviv to celebrate the unit's 70th anniversary and re-bury some of the Division's dead.
"I was horrified to see photographs.of young Ukrainians wearing the dreaded SS uniform with swastikas clearly visible on their helmets as they carried caskets of members of this Nazi unit, lowered them into the ground, and fired gun salutes in their honor," World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder wrote in a letter to the Patriarch of the Ukrainian church. He asked Patriarch Filret to "prevent any further rehabilitation of Nazism or the SS."
Some 800,000 Jews were murdered in the Ukraine during the German occupation, many of them by Ukrainian auxiliaries and units like the Galicia Division.
Three months after the April ceremony, Ukrainians re-enacted the battle of Brody between the Galicia Division and Soviet troops, where the German XIII Army Corps was trying to hold off the Russians commanded by Marshall Ivan Konev. In general, going up against Konev meant a quick trip to Valhalla. In six days of fighting the Galicians lost two-thirds of their division and XIII Corps was sent reeling back to Poland. The Galicia Division survivors were shipped off to fight anti-Nazi partisans in Yugoslavia. In 1945 remnants of the unit surrendered to the Americans in Italy, and in 1947 many of them were allowed to emigrate to Britain and Canada.
The U.S. press has downplayed the role of Svoboda, and even more far right groups like Right Sector and Common Cause, but Britain's Channel 4 News reports that such quasi-fascist groups "played a leading role" in organizing the demonstrations and keeping them going.
In the intercepted phone call between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, the two were, as Russian expert Stephen Cohen put it to Democracy Now, "plotting a coup d'état against the elected president of the Ukraine."
At one point Nuland endorses "Yat" as the head of a new government, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland Party, who indeed is now acting Prime Minister. But she goes on to say that Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok should be kept "on the outside."
Her plan to sideline Tyahnybok as a post-coup player, however, may be wishful thinking given the importance of the Party in the demonstrations.
Tyahnybok is an anti-Semite who says "organized Jewry" controls the Ukraine's media and government, and is planning "genocide" against Christians. He has turned Svoboda into the fourth largest party in the country, and, this past December, U.S. Senator John McCain shared a platform and an embrace with Tyahnybok at a rally in Kiev.
Svoboda has links with other ultra-right parties in Europe through the Alliance of European National Movements. Founded in 2009 in Budapest, the Alliance includes Svoboda, Hungary's violently racist Jobbik, the British National Party, Italy's Tricolor Flame, Sweden's National Democrats, and Belgium's National Front. The Party also has close ties to France's xenophobic National Front. The Front's anti-Semitic leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was honored at Svoboda's 2004 congress.
Svoboda would stop immigration and reserve civil service jobs for "ethnic Ukrainians." It would end abortion, gun control, "ban the Communist Ideology," and list religious affiliation and ethnicity on identity documents. It claims as its mentor the Nazi-collaborator Stephan Bandera, whose Ukrainian Insurgent Army massacred Jews and Poles during World war II. The Party's demand that all official business be conducted in Ukrainian was recently endorsed by the parliament, disenfranchising 30 percent of the country's population that speaks Russian. Russian speakers are generally concentrated in the Ukraine's east and south, and particularly in the Crimean Peninsula.
The U.S. and the EU have hailed the resignation of President Yanukovych and the triumph of "people power" over the elected government -- Ambassador Pyatt called it "a day for the history books" --but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Prior to the deployment of Russian troops this past week anti-coup, pro-Russian crowds massed in the streets in the Crimea's capital, Simferopol, and seized government buildings. While there was little support for the ousted president-who most Ukrainians believe is corrupt-there was deep anger at the de-recognition of the Russian language and contempt for what many said were "fascists" in Kiev and Lviv.
Until 1954 the Crimea was always part of Russia until, for administrative and bureaucratic reasons, it was made part of the Ukraine. At the time, Ukraine was one of 15 Soviet republics.
The Ukraine is in deep economic trouble, and for the past year the government has been casting about for a way out. Bailout negotiations were opened with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU), but the loan would have required onerous austerity measures that, according to Citibank analyst Ivan Tchakarov, would "most probably mean a recession in 2014."
It was at this juncture that Yanukovych abandoned talks with the EU and opened negotiations with the Russians. That turn around was the spark for last November's demonstrations.
But as Ben Aris, editor of Business News Europe, says "Under the terms of the EU offer of last year-which virtually nobody in the Western media has seriously examined-the EU was offering $160 million per year for the next five years, while just the bond payments to the IMF were greater than that."
Russia, however, "offered $15 billion in cash and immediately paid $3 billion. Had Yanukovych accepted the EU deal, the country would have collapsed," says Aris.
The current situation is dangerous precisely because it touches a Russian security nerve. The Soviet Union lost some 25 to 27 million people in World War II, and Russians to this day are touchy about their borders. They also know who inflicted those casualties, and those who celebrate a Waffen SS division are not likely to be well thought of in the south or the east.
Border security is hardly ancient history for the Kremlin. As Russian expert Cohen points out, "Since the Clinton administration in the 1990s, the U.S.-led West has been on a steady march toward post-Soviet Russia, beginning with the expansion of NATO.all the way to the Russian border."
NATO now includes Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungry, Slovenia, and former Soviet-led Warsaw Pact members Albania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's comment that the IMF-EU package for the Ukraine would have been "a major boost for Euro-Atlantic security" suggests that NATO had set its sights on bringing the Ukraine into the military alliance.
The massive demonstrations over the past three months reflected widespread outrage at the corruption of the Yanukovych regime, but it has also unleashed a dark side of the Ukraine's history. That dark side was on display at last year's rally in Cherkasey. Victor Smal, a lawyer and human rights activist, said he told "the men in the T-shirts they were promoting hatred. They beat me to the ground until I lost consciousness."
Svoboda and its allies do not make up a majority of the demonstrators, but as Cohen points out, "Five percent of a population that's tough, resolute, ruthless, armed, and well funded, and knows what it wants, can make history."
It is not the kind of history most would like to repeat.
Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com
A New Cold War? Ukraine Violence Escalates, Leaked Tape Suggests U.S. Was Plotting Coup
Juan Gonzalez, Amy Goodman, Steven Cohen
February 20, 2014
A short-lived truce has broken down in Ukraine as street battles have erupted between anti-government protesters and police. Last night the country’s embattled president and the opposition leaders demanding his resignation called for a truce and negotiations to try to resolve Ukraine’s political crisis. But hours later, armed protesters attempted to retake Independence Square, sparking another day of deadly violence. At least 50 people have died since Tuesday in the bloodiest period of Ukraine’s 22-year post-Soviet history. While President Obama has vowed to "continue to engage all sides," a recently leaked audio recording between two top U.S. officials reveal the Obama administration has been secretly plotting with the opposition. We speak to Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. His most recent book, "Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War," is out in paperback. His latest Nation article is "Distorting Russia: How the American Media Misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A short-lived truce has broken down in Ukraine as street battles have erupted between anti-government protesters and police. Last night, the country’s embattled president and the opposition leaders demanding his resignation called for a truce and negotiations to try to resolve Ukraine’s political crisis. But the truce only lasted a few hours. The last three days have been the bloodiest period of Ukraine’s 22-year post-Soviet history. Over 50 people have died, including at least 21 today. The truce ended today when armed protesters attempted to retake Independence Square. Both sides have accused the other of using live ammunition. A Ukrainian paramedic described the chaotic scene.
UKRAINIAN PARAMEDIC: [translated] Some bodies are at the concert hall. Some are at the barricades. Now there are maybe around 15 or 20 dead. It is hard to count, as some are carried away, others are resuscitated. Now, as far as I know, three dead people are at the city hall, and two more dead are at the main post office. There are so many at the concert hall that we didn’t even take them.
AMY GOODMAN: The Ukrainian parliament, Rada, and Cabinet buildings have reportedly been evacuated because of fears they could be stormed by protesters. The street clashes are occurring while the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, is meeting with the foreign ministers from Germany, Poland and France.
The Obama administration stepped up pressure on the Ukrainian government Wednesday by announcing a visa ban on 20 members of the Ukrainian government. The U.S. is also threatening to place sanctions on the Ukrainian government.
The protests began in late November after President Yanukovych reversed his decision to sign a long-awaited trade deal with the European Union, or EU, to forge stronger ties with Russia instead.
To talk more about the latest in Ukraine, we’re joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. His most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, is now out in paperback. His latest piece in The Nation is called "Distorting Russia: How the American Media Misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine."
So, talk about the latest, Professor Cohen.
STEPHEN COHEN: Where do you want me to begin? I mean, we are watching history being made, but history of the worst kind. That’s what I’m telling my grandchildren: Watch this. What’s happening there, let’s take the big picture, then we can go to the small picture. The big picture is, people are dying in the streets every day. The number 50 is certainly too few. They’re still finding bodies. Ukraine is splitting apart down the middle, because Ukraine is not one country, contrary to what the American media, which speaks about the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Historically, ethnically, religiously, culturally, politically, economically, it’s two countries. One half wants to stay close to Russia; the other wants to go West. We now have reliable reports that the anti-government forces in the streets—and there are some very nasty people among them—are seizing weapons in western Ukrainian military bases. So we have clearly the possibility of a civil war.
And the longer-term outcome may be—and I want to emphasize this, because nobody in the United States seems to want to pay attention to it—the outcome may be the construction, the emergence of a new Cold War divide between West and East, not this time, as it was for our generation, in faraway Berlin, but right on the borders of Russia, right through the heart of Slavic civilization. And if that happens, if that’s the new Cold War divide, it’s permanent instability and permanent potential for real war for decades to come. That’s what’s at stake.
One last point, also something that nobody in this country wants to talk about: The Western authorities, who bear some responsibility for what’s happened, and who therefore also have blood on their hands, are taking no responsibility. They’re uttering utterly banal statements, which, because of their vacuous nature, are encouraging and rationalizing the people in Ukraine who are throwing Molotov cocktails, now have weapons, are shooting at police. We wouldn’t permit that in any Western capital, no matter how righteous the cause, but it’s being condoned by the European Union and Washington as events unfold.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you say the Western countries who bear some responsibility, in what sense do they bear responsibility? I mean, clearly, there’s been an effort by the United States and Europe ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union to pull the former Soviet states into their economic sphere, but is that what you’re talking about?
STEPHEN COHEN: I mean that. I mean that Moscow—look at it through Moscow’s eyes. Since the Clinton administration in the 1990s, the U.S.-led West has been on a steady march toward post-Soviet Russia, began with the expansion of NATO in the 1990s under Clinton. Bush then further expanded NATO all the way to Russia’s borders. Then came the funding of what are euphemistically called NGOs, but they are political action groups, funded by the West, operating inside Russia. Then came the decision to build missile defense installations along Russia’s borders, allegedly against Iran, a country which has neither nuclear weapons nor any missiles to deliver them with. Then comes American military outpost in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which led to the war of 2008, and now the West is at the gates of Ukraine. So, that’s the picture as Moscow sees it. And it’s rational. It’s reasonable. It’s hard to deny.
But as for the immediate crisis, let’s ask ourselves this: Who precipitated this crisis? The American media says it was Putin and the very bad, though democratically elected, president of Ukraine, Yanukovych. But it was the European Union, backed by Washington, that said in November to the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country, Ukraine, "You must choose between Europe and Russia." That was an ultimatum to Yanukovych. Remember—wasn’t reported here—at that moment, what did the much-despised Putin say? He said, "Why? Why does Ukraine have to choose? We are prepared to help Ukraine avoid economic collapse, along with you, the West. Let’s make it a tripartite package to Ukraine." And it was rejected in Washington and in Brussels. That precipitated the protests in the streets.
And since then, the dynamic that any of us who have ever witnessed these kinds of struggles in the streets unfolded, as extremists have taken control of the movement from the so-called moderate Ukrainian leaders. I mean, the moderate Ukrainian leaders, with whom the Western foreign ministers are traveling to Kiev to talk, they’ve lost control of the situation. By the way, people ask—excuse me—is it a revolution? Is it a revolution? A much abused word, but one sign of a revolution is the first victims of revolution are the moderates. And then it becomes a struggle between the extreme forces on either side. And that’s what we’re witnessing.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the Ukrainian opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who admitted earlier today the opposition does not have full control of protesters in Independence Square.
ARSENIY YATSENYUK: The only chance to do it is to stop the riot police, to stop the protesters, to impose a DMZ, like demilitarized zone, and to move this conflict from the streets to the Parliament.
REPORTER 1: Parts of the protesters are out of control?
ARSENIY YATSENYUK: No one—I would be very frank, that the government doesn’t control the riot police, and it’s very difficult for the opposition to control Maidan. And there are a number of forces who are uncontrolled. This is the truth.
REPORTER 2: So, Ukraine is in chaos now.
ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Ukraine is in a big mess.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Professor Cohen?
STEPHEN COHEN: A moderate.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go—
STEPHEN COHEN: Who wants to be president.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to President Obama. He’s in Mexico for the big Mexico-Canada-U.S. summit talking about Ukraine.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With regard to Ukraine, along with our European partners, we will continue to engage all sides. And we continue to stress to President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government that they have the primary responsibility to prevent the kind of terrible violence that we’ve seen, to withdraw riot police, to work with the opposition to restore security and human dignity, and move the country forward. And this includes progress towards a multi-party, technical government that can work with the international community on a support package and adopt reforms necessary for free and fair elections next year. Ukrainians are a proud and resilient people who have overcome extraordinary challenges in their history, and that’s a pride and strength that I hope they draw on now.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama in Mexico, Professor Cohen.
STEPHEN COHEN: What are you asking me to comment on?
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to his response.
STEPHEN COHEN: To what he just said? Shame. Shame. He is saying that the responsibility for restoring peace is on the Ukrainian government, and it should withdraw its security forces from the streets. But let me ask you, if in Washington people throwing Molotov cocktails are marching on Congress—and these people are headed for the Ukrainian Congress—if these people have barricaded entrance to the White House and are throwing rocks at the White House security guard, would President Obama withdraw his security forces? This is—this is—and do you know what this does? And let’s escape partisanship here. I mean, lives are at stake. This incites, these kinds of statement that Obama made. It rationalizes what the killers in the streets are doing. It gives them Western license, because he’s not saying to the people in the streets, "Stop this, stop shooting policemen, stop attacking government buildings, sit down and talk." And the guy you had on just before, a so-called moderate leader, what did he just tell you? "We have lost control of the situation." That’s what I just told you. He just confirmed that.
So what Obama needs to say is, "We deplore what the people in the streets are doing when they attack the police, the law enforcement official. And we also don’t like the people who are writing on buildings 'Jews live here,'" because these forces, these quasi-fascist forces—let’s address this issue, because the last time I was on your broadcast, you found some guy somewhere who said there was none of this there. All right. What percent are the quasi-fascists of the opposition? Let’s say they’re 5 percent. I think they’re more, but let’s give them the break, 5 percent. But we know from history that when the moderates lose control of the situation, they don’t know what to do. The country descends in chaos. Five percent of a population that’s tough, resolute, ruthless, armed, well funded, and knows what it wants, can make history. We’ve seen it through Europe. We’ve seen it through Asia. This is reality. And where Washington and Brussels are on this issue, they won’t step up and take the responsibility.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, even in most recent history, whether you look at Libya or whether you look at the situation in Syria, where those presidents warned that there were extremist elements inside a broader popular movement that were eventually going to gain control, this seems like a replay in terms of what’s going on here in the Ukraine of a popular movement, but yet a very, very, as you say, right-wing movement—not only a right-wing movement, but a fascist movement with a history. Ukraine has had a history of a fascist movement going back to the days of Nazi Germany.
STEPHEN COHEN: Let’s go to real heresy. Let’s ask a question: Who has been right about interpreting recent events? Let’s go to the Arab Spring. Obama and Washington said this was about democracy now, this is great. Russia said, "Wait a minute. If you destabilize, even if they’re authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, you’re not going to get Thomas Jefferson in power. You’re going to get jihadists. You’re going to get very radical people in power all through the Middle East." Looking back, who was right or wrong about that narrative? Have a look at Egypt. Have a look at Libya. Who was right? Can Russians ever be right about anything?
Now what are the Russians saying about Ukraine? They’re saying what you just said, that the peaceful protesters, as we keep calling them—I think a lot of them have gone home. There were many. By the way, at the beginning, there were hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, of very decent, liberal, progressive, honorable people in the streets. But they’ve lost control of the situation. That’s the point now. And so, the Russians are saying, "Look, you’re trying to depose Yanukovych, who’s the elected government." Think. If you overthrow—and, by the way, there’s a presidential election in a year. The Russians are saying wait 'til the next election. If you overthrow him—and that's what Washington and Brussels are saying, that he must go—what are you doing to the possibility of democracy not only in Ukraine, but throughout this part of the world? And secondly, who do you think is going to come to power? Please tell us. And we’re silent.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the famous leaked tape right now. The top State Department official has apologized to her European counterparts after she was caught cursing the European Union, the EU, in a leaked audio recording that was posted to YouTube. The recording captured an intercepted phone conversation between the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, and Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe. Nuland expresses frustration over Europe’s response to the political crisis in Ukraine, using frank terms.
VICTORIA NULAND: So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the U.N. help glue it. And, you know, [bleep] the EU.
AMY GOODMAN: While Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s comment about the EU dominated the news headlines because she used a curse, there were several other very interesting parts of her conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
GEOFFREY PYATT: Let me work on Klitschko, and if you can just keep—I think we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing. Then the other issue is some kind of outreach to Yanukovych, but we can probably regroup on that tomorrow as we see how things start to fall into place.
VICTORIA NULAND: So, on that piece, Geoff, when I wrote the note, Sullivan’s come back to me VFR saying, "You need Biden?" And I said, "Probably tomorrow for an attaboy and to get the deets to stick." So Biden’s willing.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Pyatt, speaking with Victoria Nuland. The significance of what she is saying? She also had gone to Ukraine and was feeding protesters on the front line.
STEPHEN COHEN: Cookies, cookies. Well, here again, the American political media establishment, including the right and the left and the center—because they’re all complicit in this nonsense—focused on the too sensational, they thought, aspect of that leaked conversation. She said, "F— the European Union," and everybody said, "Oh, my god! She said the word." The other thing was, who leaked it? "Oh, it was the Russians. Those dirty Russians leaked this conversation." But the significance is what you just played. What are they doing? The highest-ranking State Department official, who presumably represents the Obama administration, and the American ambassador in Kiev are, to put it in blunt terms, plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.
Now, that said, Amy, Juan, you may say to me—neither of you would, but hypothetically—"That’s a good thing. We don’t like—we don’t care if he was elected democratically. He’s a rat. He’s corrupt." And he is all those things. He is. "Let’s depose him. That’s what the United States should do. Then the United States should stand up and say, ’That’s what we do: We get rid of bad guys. We assassinate them, and we overthrow them.’" But in Washington and in Brussels, they lie: They’re talking about democracy now. They’re not talking about democracy now; they’re talking about a coup now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, this is more from—
STEPHEN COHEN: And we—excuse me—and we should—we, American citizens, should be allowed to choose which policy we want. But they conceal it from us. And I’m extremely angry that the people in this country who say they deplore this sort of thing have fallen silent.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let’s listen to little bit more of the leaked conversation between the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, and Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe.
VICTORIA NULAND: Good. So, I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea.
GEOFFREY PYATT: Yeah. I mean, I guess, you think—in terms of him not going into the government, just let him sort of stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking, in terms of sort of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok and his guys. And, you know, I’m sure that’s part of what Yanukovych is calculating on all of this. I kind of—
VICTORIA NULAND: I think—I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy—you know, what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week. You know, I just think Klitsch going in, he’s going to be at that level working for Yatsenyuk. It’s just not going to work.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, speaking with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine. Stephen Cohen, this—this chess game—
STEPHEN COHEN: You don’t need me here. What do you need me for?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —this chess game that they’re conducting here?
STEPHEN COHEN: There it is. There it is.
AMY GOODMAN: But explain the names. Who is Klitsch, Yats?
STEPHEN COHEN: All right. And notice the intimacy with which the Americans deal with the two leading so-called "moderate"—and these are big shots, they both want to be president—Ukrainian opposition. Klitschko is Vitali Klitschko, a six-foot-eight former—he resigned his title two months ago to enter politics—heavyweight champion of the world. His residence has been Ukraine—I mean, Germany. He plays—he pays taxes in Germany. He’s a project of Merkel. He represents German interests. I’m sure he’s also faithful to Ukraine, but he’s got a problem. Yatsenyuk, however—not Yatsenyuk, but the other guy she calls "Yats" is a representative of the Fatherland Party. It’s a big party in Parliament. But Washington likes him a lot. They think he’ll be our man. So you could see what they’re saying. We don’t quite trust Klitschko. Now, if you want to get esoteric, that’s the tug between Washington and Berlin. They’re not happy with Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. They don’t like the role Merkel is playing, generally. They think Germany has gotten too big for its britches. They want to cut Merkel down. So you noticed Klitschko, the boxer, is Merkel’s proxy, or at least she’s backing him. You notice that they say, "He’s not ready for prime time. Let him do his homework."
Now, this guy—I’m bad on Ukrainian names. Tyagnybok, that they say has got to play a role, he’s the leader of the Freedom Party, the Svoboda Party, but a large element of that party, to put it candidly, is quasi-fascist. And they’re prepared to embrace this guy. This is the guy, by the way, that Senator John McCain in November or December went to Kiev and embraced. Either McCain didn’t know who he was, or he didn’t care. The United States is prepared to embrace that guy, too—anything to get rid of Yanukovych, because they think this is about Putin. That’s all they really got on their mind.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, here you have President Obama, again, speaking yesterday in Mexico.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia. Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make decisions without having bombs going off and killing women and children, or chemical weapons, or towns being starved, because a despot wants to cling to power.
AMY GOODMAN: Who benefits from the instability, Professor Cohen, in Ukraine? And what does it mean for Putin? Is he concerned about this?
STEPHEN COHEN: Of course he’s concerned. It’s right on his borders, and it’s all tainting him. I mean, The Washington Post wrote an editorial yesterday. Putin is happy that the violence has broken out in the streets. Everybody understands, even The Washington Post understands, which understands almost nothing about Russia, but they got this, that during the Sochi Olympics, the last thing Putin wants is violence in Ukraine. So why is he happy about it? He deplores it. He’s unhappy. He’s furious at the president of Ukraine. He read him the Riot Act on the phone last night, that why doesn’t he get control of the situation? What is he doing? So Putin is not responsible for this. Can we speak about Obama?
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly.
STEPHEN COHEN: Very quickly. I grew up in the segregated South. I voted for him twice, as historical justice. That’s not leadership. That’s a falsification of what’s happening in Ukraine, and it’s making the situation worse, what he says, is that we deplore the violence and call upon Ukrainian government to withdraw its forces and stop the violence. He needs to talk about what’s happening in the streets.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is it conceivable, if Ukraine descends into a further civil war, that Russia might intervene?
STEPHEN COHEN: It’s conceivable. It’s conceivable. Here—I mean, Yanukovych—you might say, as an adviser to Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, "Impose martial law now, because you’ve got bad PR in the West anyway, and you’re not in control of the situation." The problem is, Yanukovych isn’t sure he controls the army.
AMY GOODMAN: He just fired the head of the army yesterday.
STEPHEN COHEN: Yeah, we don’t know what it means, but it indicates he’s not too sure about the army. But, by the way, you asked, would Russia intervene? Would NATO intervene? NATO is all over the place. NATO was in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Ask yourself that: Would NATO send troops in? Is that, yes, you think they would?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I—
STEPHEN COHEN: We don’t know.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We don’t know, yeah.
STEPHEN COHEN: And we’re not going to be told, just like we’re not being told what’s going on in these private conversations about deposing the president of Ukraine. If they depose—
AMY GOODMAN: Unless they’re leaked again.
STEPHEN COHEN: Yeah, and if the Russians leak them, it doesn’t count. Is that right?
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. can hardly protest, given the whole scandal with the NSA recording conversations.
STEPHEN COHEN: Yeah, well, you know what they said. They said—they said, when this got leaked, that this is a low point in statecraft. After Snowden? After Snowden? I mean, what did Tennessee Williams used to say? Mendacity? Mendacity? The mendacity of it all? Don’t they trust us, our government, to tell us a little bit of the truth at last?
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Cohen, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to move onto Venezuela. Stephen Cohen is professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. His most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, it’s just out in paperback. His latest piece in The Nation is "Distorting Russia: How the American Media Misrepresent [Putin], Sochi and Ukraine." This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.