The mainstream western media has presented a united front in its coverage of events in the Ukraine since the Maidan protests began in late November 2013. The same narrative has informed the comments and actions of the so-called ‘international community’ – typically an anglo-american-zionist affair consisting of Washington, London, Jerusalem and NATO, but on this occasion also including enthusiastic backing from the EU.
Within the UN, the narrative enjoys the support of all individuals, institutions and NGO’s that are typically aligned with/controlled by the ‘international community’. As a result, the ‘man in the street’ in New York, London or Paris has absorbed the same narrative- wherever he/she turns – TV, internet or print – they encounter a consistent narrative. I shall call this the ‘western narrative’. Amongst the major media outlets only RT and Press TV have presented a counter-narrative.
The western narrative goes something like this:
1. In November, Yanukovych turned his back on an EU association deal and decided to accept a Russian deal instead. The EU deal would have been the best deal for the Ukraine, and the people of Ukraine wanted the EU deal, but Yanukovych is a despot who looks to Russia.
2. Pro-EU, Pro-democracy protests began in Kiev – the ‘Orange’ revolution resumed – ‘spring’ was in the air. Pro-democracy activists were protesting against a despotic state aligned with Russia.
3. Peaceful pro-democracy protests were brutally suppressed by police action.
4. The protests, understandably, became less peaceful.
5. Eventually, the government became desperate and started shooting protestors and passing draconian legislation to limit the rights of protestors.
6. After an explosion of violence in which many protestors were killed, the government fled in face of mass opposition and a new government was elected by the parliament.
7. The new government are nice – the old government were not.
8. Russian troops invaded the Crimea – the Russian bear sprang into action, trying to stop the plucky Ukrainians winning their hard fought battle for western style prosperity and freedom.
9. Under Russian occupation, Crimea voted to secede. The secession is illegitimate.
10. Russia must be stopped. She is trying to dismember Ukraine You can’t go invading your neighbours in the 21st century. Russia is up to it’s old tricks again…
Every single one of these points listed above is contestable, as follows
1. There is no compelling evidence that the EU association deal was the best deal for the Ukraine. For obvious historical and geopolitical reasons Ukraine’s economy is more closely integrated with Russia than the EU. Yanukovych had asked for $20 billion in aid as part of any deal. The Russian deal offered discounted gas prices, $15 billion in aid and imposed no economic conditions. The EU deal offered less than $1 billion in aid and imposed neo-liberal convergence conditions. Additionally, Ukraine already owes Russia about $2 billion dollars for gas, and will obviously get better terms on managing the repayment as part of an overall deal with Russia.
If ‘Europe’ and ‘Russia’ are opposing geopolitical and cultural poles, then there is nothing obviously ‘European’ about the Ukraine – at least the eastern/southern half of it. If Yanukovych looks to Russia, then what of it. He is in good company. Large swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine are emphatically Russophile. Why shouldn’t they be? Large swathes of the western and central Ukraine look to the west. The Ukraine is divided. A failure to recognise this is the main reason that the west has been taken aback by the strength of the counter-reaction to the ‘Ukrainian’ revolution in the east, south and in the Crimea.
2. The trigger for the protests was not democratic deficit, it was Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU deal. In due course, as the protests and the reaction to the protests became increasingly violent, the demands of the protestors became more generally political. But the trigger for the protests was the rejection of the EU deal. It is, of course, easier to align western public opinion behind a ‘pro-democracy’ protest, than it is to align it behind a fundamentally geopolitical conflict.
3-6. About 100 protestors and 16 members of the security forces were killed during the violence. The violence exploded into a crescendo between February 18-20th when the vast majority of deaths occured following the attempted sack of parliament. Pitched battles ensued in which large numbers of demonstrators, and some policemen were killed, in many cases by so called snipers. There is an ongoing debate over who was responsible for these deaths, with numerous conspiracy theories implicating either extremist elements in the Maidan, the Ukrainian security forces or Russian elements.
The police and the security forces did not cover themselves in glory. That much is certain. What is less visible in the western narrative is that the Maidan protestors, including significant and highly organised neo-nazi and far right elements, were also extremely violent. The pro Russian RT network was able, night after night, to air extensive footage of serious violence being carried out by armed and organised protestors, clad in makeshift body armour, against security forces that were offering very little resistance.
It is also quite clear that by February 18th the radical nationalist elements in the Maidan movement were seeking the violent overthrow of the government. In due course, they would achieve their aim.
Eventually the Yanukovych regime was willing to come to an accommodation. This culminated in the February 21st agreement, brokered by EU mediators and the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany. The agreement was signed by the government and the leaders of the three opposition parties – including the nationalist Svoboda party.
The deal agreed to the restoration of the 2004 constitution, a presidential election no later than December, a full inquiry into the violence to be monitored by the Council of Europe and an amnesty for all protestors arrested after February 17th. It also required that protestors abandon their occupation of public and administrative buildings, and surrender their arms.
And maybe that was the deal breaker, because the deal was rejected, not by the leaders of the opposition, but by the leaders on the street – specifically the fascists Yarosh and Parubiy. Following continued threats against the regime, the Yanukovych clique simply fled. In due course Yanukovych was impeached by the opposition. A new government was formed. In the meantime, the offices of the Party of Regions and the Communist party were sacked by fascists.
The key points that the western narrative fails to adequately account for are:
The protestors used elevated levels of violence against the security forces, including firearms and molotov cocktails, illegally and violently occupied public buildings and spaces, stormed government buildings, attempted to attack the main parliament buildings, and sacked the headquarters of anti-Maidan political parties.
The Yanukovych government did make a number of compromises, and in the end accepted a deal that was signed by all the opposition parties as well as France and Germany. This promised an EU brokered investigation into the violence and offered a full amnesty to the Maidan protestors.
It was the radical fascist right, the same groups that had been driving the increasing levels of protest violence on the street, that rejected the deal and then set out to physically drive out the regime.
At that stage, the regime collapsed and the opposition parties seized power, together with a breakway bloc from the Party of Regions. The vote in parliament took place in extraordinary circumstances in which legislators and parties opposing the Maidan were being hunted down and the pro-Yanukovych bloc in the Party of Regions had fled. The police and security forces had disintegrated and were abandoning Kiev. The Party of Regions headquarters had been seized by fascists. The impeachment vote that followed was of doubtful legality, and the required quorum was not reached.
Millions of Ukrainians in the east and south of the country played no part in any of the events leading up to the violent overthrow of the regime, and as is clear from subsequent events, many of them are wholly opposed to the new regime, which is not the one they voted for.
7. The old government may well not have been particularly nice – in fact they were venal and despotic. However, they were also the constitutional, elected government, and they made numerous concessions to the Maidan movement throughout the final few weeks. The new government is not particularly nice either. Incredibly for a government enjoying a honeymoon with Washington and the EU, it contains violent neo-nazi elements, including racists and anti-semites. Furthermore, it is very disturbing that the fascists have been handed ministries like security, intelligence and defence, and that the Maidan extremists are now being mobilised into a National Guard. A government containing Svoboda/Right Sector types would be considered a disgrace in Western Europe.
8. Did Russian troops invade the Crimea – well, yes and no. Russia leased ports in Crimea where it maintains the Black Sea fleet. Under the terms of the lease, Russia is allowed up to 25,000 troops. After the seizure of power by the new government, Russia advanced further troops into the area but remained within the 25,000 limit. However, they were deployed in a manner that certainly was not consistent with the terms of the lease, and were clearly providing logistical support to the anti-coup irredentist forces that were mobilising in the Ukraine. So why did this happen? The answer is simple and Russia’s actions are entirely understandable if we simply allow Russia the same rights to defend its national interests as would be claimed by, say, the USA or Israel.
A Ukrainian nationalist government has just seized power in Kiev. The new regime is heavily sponsored by Washington, the EU and NATO. It contains significant fascist elements who are anti-Russian racists who regard Russians as the ethnic enemy of Ukrainians. It is led by a man who has, in the past, spoken at great length about how he wishes that Ukrainians spoke English rather than Russian, and how he wants Ukraine to be a member of NATO.
Remember, at least 30% of Ukraine speaks Russian as a first language. The former governing party, and main party in the Russian speaking east and south, has had its headquarters in Kiev sacked, and there is talk of proscribing it all together. There is also talk of abolishing the official language status of Russian.
Crimeans are wholly opposed to the coup. Crimea had been part of Russia since the late 18th century. It is ethnically Russian, with Ukrainian and Tatar minorities. Many of the latter are also Russian speakers. It was only transferred to the Ukraine in 1954 by diktat of the Soviet communist regime. It is also a vital sea port for the Russian navy, being its main point of access to the Mediterranean and therefore the Middle East.
In these circumstances, in the face of a hostile government and a volatile post-coup situation in the Ukraine, Russia mobilised its forces in Crimea. It did so to defend its national interest and to protect a territory that is properly Russian. Would some of the Western countries who are typically forthright in defending their national interests, like the USA, UK, Israel or France – have acted any differently in comparable circumstances? I think not. Was Russia acting so as to frustrate the wishes of Lviv or Kiev? No. It acted to defend its own national interests and a fellow Russian people by deepening its military presence in a territory that was properly Russian anyhow- as subsequent events were to confirm.
9. Is anyone seriously suggesting that the Crimean referendum was rigged? That it was held under duress? At the point of a Russian gun? That the result was ever going to be anything other than an overwhelming majority in favour of secession? Were there independent observers – well, not the usual ones, because they refused to attend, but there were over 130 observers, including European national and EU legislators, journalists etc.
Russian guns weren’t much in evidence and the level of support was overwhelming. None of which is surprising, because as Gorbachev and Putin both correctly noted, this was the correction of a historical injustice – Crimea should never have been part of the Ukraine. The Ukrainian nationalists really only represent the west and central Ukraine. And that is exactly why Crimea seceded – because it is Russian and has no business in a Ukrainian nationalist state – so it got out.
As for legitimacy, funny but I thought the western view went something like this – states come and go, and very often they are carved out by the powers that be, but true sovereignty rests with the people, and if a peoples right to self-determination undermines the integrity of a state, well then the state just has to adjust to that, because right lies with the people – like in Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, the Falklands, maybe Scotland – and Crimea.
10.Is Russia trying to dismember the Ukraine? Why would it do that? To end up with a generically anti-Russian state on the western border of an expanded but in many ways weakened Russia? Western Ukraine would become a giant NATO base, and what would Russia have gained – about 20 million new citizens with a much lower standard of living than the current Russian standard. If Russia was as Machiavellian as the west are fond of pretending, its interests would be best served by having a pro-Russian Ukrainian state as a neighbour. Not splitting the Ukraine, taking on a significant economic liability and creating an enemy border state.
The ‘western narrative’ is, in conclusion, a biased and unfair account of what has been happening in the Ukraine. It is hypocritical, denies Russia and Crimea the same agency that is allowed to actors like the USA, UK and Kosovo, and is driven by the geopolitical and cultural biases of the USA and its proxies.
You are being lied to.
Mr. Lionel Reynolds is an independent analyst based in Australia