Watching Ukraine

by , October 14, 2008

"Watch Ukraine!"

John McCain said it twice, once during the first presidential debate:

"And watch Ukraine. This whole thing has got a lot to do with Ukraine, Crimea, the base of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol. And the breakdown of the political process in Ukraine between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko is a very serious problem. So watch Ukraine, and let’s make sure that we – that the Ukrainians understand that we are their friend and ally."

And again during the second match-up with Barack Obama:

"I said before, watch Ukraine. Ukraine, right now, is in the sights of Vladimir Putin, those that want to reassemble the old Soviet Union. We’ve got to show moral support for Georgia. We’ve got to show moral support for Ukraine. We’ve got to advocate for their membership in NATO."

Most Americans have no idea where Ukraine is, much less any interest in watching it, but just on the premise that McCain’s connections with the War Party give him the inside scoop on where the next phony foreign policy "crisis" is going to erupt, let’s take his advice and start watching Ukraine with the help of our Antiwar.com microscope…

Not that we haven’t homed on in Ukraine before: indeed, we’ve done so quite often in this space, especially back when that Central European nation was enjoying its 15 minutes of fame during the trials and tribulations of its president, Viktor Yushchenko, a former state bank official whose fight against a pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, made him into a symbol of America’s new cold war with the Kremlin.

Back then, you’ll remember, Yushchenko was supposedly poisoned, his face reduced to a mass of pockmarks and swollen tissue. He immediately pointed to the Russians as the culprits, and the Western media – primed for another East-West confrontation – accepted his story unquestioningly. Except it turns out that, over four years later, the "investigation" has never gone anywhere, and Yushchenko now points to his former best friend – and campaign manager – as the culprit! It’s just a coincidence, of course, that his former friend is now a political enemy, and that the identity of Yushchenko’s poisoners seems to change with the vagaries of Ukrainian politics.

Whatever works!

During the heyday of the "Orange Revolution," Western money and other aid flowed into Yushchenko’s party coffers, and also in the direction of his ally at the time, Yulia Tymoshenko, the "gas princess" whose anti-Russian rhetoric and fiery campaigning style made her the co-star in this Western-sponsored narrative of "We Beat the Russkies – On Their Own Doorstep!" Now, however, Tymoshenko has turned against her former ally, blocked his power-grabbing schemes, and defied his order to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Significantly, the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko alliance was finally wrecked on the shoals of a foreign policy question: what stance to take in regard to the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Yushchenko, who knows what side his bread is buttered on, unhesitatingly supported his fellow "revolutionist," Mikheil Saakashvili, whose reckless military assault on the defenseless Ossetian capital city of Tskhinvali was quickly beaten back by the Russians. Tymoshenko, on the other hand, took a neutral stance, averring that Ukraine has too many of its own problems to get involved in Georgia’s internal political troubles. The response from the Yushchenko camp was immediate, and brutal: Yushchenko’s henchmen declared she was sucking up to the Russians, and Andriy Kyslynskyi, Yushchenko’s deputy chief of staff, branded her a "traitor."

The War Party’s tactics are pretty much the same, no matter what country we’re talking about.

Tymoshenko’s heresy was compounded when she (and key members of her party) refused to unequivocally endorse Ukraine’s entry into NATO – a move that is supported by only 22 percent of Ukrainians. Coverage in the Western media has subsequently portrayed her as a willful harpy and sellout to the Russians, rather than as the heroine of the Orange Revolution. Worse, she wants to hold a national referendum on Ukraine’s NATO membership – a prospect that would shatter the myth of the "freedom-loving" NATO-crats, as they face the near certainty of rejection by the Ukrainian electorate.

The downward arc of Yushchenko’s meteoric career represents a double setback for the War Party: in the immediate sense, because NATO membership for the former Soviet satellite nations in eastern Europe is a source of much-anticipated income for the American armaments industry, which will profit handsomely from the mandatory upgrade in these nations’ defense systems required before entry into the NATO alliance. It also puts a damper on the long-range plan to encircle the Russians, with NATO potentially stretching from the Baltic republics to Ukraine and penetrating all the way into the wilds of Central Asia.

McCain tells us to watch Ukraine, but I say watch Crimea!

The Crimean peninsula was never historically a part of Ukraine: as in the case of Georgia, which subsumed Ossetia and Abkhazia under Stalin’s brutal regime, Crimea was subsumed by the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It remains part of Ukraine today, but, as the site of Russia’s Black Sea fleet for the past 200 years, and populated by a pro-Russian majority, Crimea sits uneasily at the Ukrainian table.

Already, the alarm is being raised by Western commentators that Russia may have "designs" on the region, with the Kremlin accused of handing out Russian passports, as they supposedly did in Ossetia and Abkhazia, to justify a future intervention. (The Associated Press, however, found zero evidence of this, and you can bet they were looking.) The irony of Western politicians calling for the full maintenance and enforcement of borders designated by the Soviet Communists may be lost on Western observers, but not on the Crimeans themselves, who yearn for autonomy, and, in many cases, union with Russia.

Like most of the Caucasus, Crimea contains within its borders a patchwork quilt of ethnic and religious groups, some of which are pro-Russian – the majority, 60 percent, are Russian speakers – and others, such as the Tatars, who support a strong, centralized Ukrainian state, as opposed to the "federalization" plan favored by long-oppressed minority groups. In short, there is plenty of fertile ground here for Western makers of mischief and their indigenous accomplices, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find out that they, the little worker bees of U.S. imperialism, are already on the job.

Aside from the inevitable and continuing reverberations from the fall of the Soviet Union, the roots of a growing conflict in Crimea stem from the politics of the various Ukrainian parties, and specifically the party of Yushchenko, which utilizes crude anti-Russian and ultra-nationalistic appeals in order to stay in power, despite their leader’s wretched performance in office, and in the polls. In response to the ongoing collapse of the economy, the sheer incompetence of the authorities, growing gangsterism, and pandemic corruption, the ruling party of Yushchenko simply fans the flames of nationalist passions and conjures up the specter of the ogre Putin, and everyone is supposed to forget about the meat shortages, the fuel shortages, and the increasingly precarious economic condition of the nation.

Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s principal foreign policy adviser, is a former lobbyist not only for the government of Georgia, but also for a number of NATO applicants. He was the spark plug, along with arms manufacturer lobbyist Bruce Jackson, of the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO (later changed to the more demure U.S. Committee on NATO). The Republican ideology of nationalistic expansionism in the name of "exporting democracy" fits in nicely with McCain’s anti-Russian bellicosity, but what about Obama’s expressed hostility to Moscow – is he, too, watching Ukraine?

The answer is undoubtedly yes, and with either party in the White House , we are bound to see and hear a narrative once again fill the headlines and the airwaves with tales of Russian "expansionism" and the alleged threat to European security posed by the loss or victory of this or that Ukrainian faction. The occasion of a new "crisis" could well be the upcoming elections.

Yushchenko has just dissolved the parliament and is calling snap elections – albeit not without a lot of legal and procedural trouble that is rapidly undermining his credentials as the U.S.-approved "democratic," pro-Western candidate. Before the crisis of the Ukrainian governing coalition is over, he may take after his Georgian buddy, Saakashvili, close down a few television stations in mid-broadcast, and call out the troops against protesters in the streets. The last U.S. intervention in Ukraine was during an election, when our tax dollars and other covert support poured in to support Washington’s golden boy, but it may not be enough this time to shine up Yushchenko’s tarnished image. He may come in last, if the elections are halfway fair. I can almost hear the charges of "fraud" – the same story we heard when he ran against Yanukovich in 2003.

The really dangerous tripwire, however, is the presence of the Soviet fleet in Sevastopol, where they’ve been moored since the days of Catherine the Great. The Russian lease runs out in 2015, but Yushchenko and his fellow ultra-nationalists have been making noise about unilaterally terminating the agreement and taking back "their" port.

If Yushchenko were to be so foolish as to announce the termination of the lease, it would be a provocation far more threatening to the Russians than Saakashvili’s invasion of a ramshackle Ossetian village on the edge of nowhere. It would, indeed, have to mean war with Russia – and this is the real significance of the campaign to get Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. We would then be committed to going to war with Russia over Ukraine’s claim to the Crimean peninsula, as well as Georgia’s alleged suzerainty over Ossetia.

Are we really ready to face down the nuclear-armed Russians over who shall rule in the land of the Golden Fleece? The Abkhazians make a good case for their history as a separate people with all the characteristics of a nation, and, indeed, their claims are more convincing than some others. In any event, is this something we want to go to war over?

To any rational person, the answer must be a resounding "No!" To both presidential candidates, however, the answer is, in McCain’s case, a definite yes, and in Obama’s case, a depressingly probable yes. After all, during the presidential debates the great left-wing hope was quick to take up McCain’s call, to give NATO membership to both Ukraine and Georgia – and we know where that is likely to lead.

Watch Ukraine – yes, don’t worry, we’re watching here at Antiwar.com, and I urge my readers to take McCain’s advice and keep a very close eye on U.S.-Russian relations in the coming months. Because that is where the next big challenge to the peace movement lies, and I’m afraid we’re likely to lose a lot of liberals, who will go along with the U.S. government’s continuing provocations aimed at Moscow.

With socialism defeated in the lands of the former Soviet Union but now triumphant on Wall Street and Washington, a new cold war is just what the doctor ordered to get the war economy moving, as everything else comes to a grinding halt, and to divert peoples’ attention away from their own increasing misery. From the perspective of our rulers, it’s far better to direct all that anger at a foreign enemy – when, of course, the real enemy is right here at home…

Read more by Justin Raimondo