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Four years on: Ukraine and the Myths of Maidan (PODCAST)

Stephen Cohen and John Batchelor break down the melodramatic mess Kiev has become since 2014

Stephen Cohen

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(TheNation) – Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton, and radio-show host John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, can be found here at TheNation.com.)

Cohen argues that the Ukrainian crisis, which unfolded in late 2013 and early 2014 and which led to Crimea’s annexation by (or “reunification with”) Russia and to the still ongoing US-Russian proxy war in eastern Ukraine, is a seminal event of the 21st century. It militarized and moved the new Cold War to Russia’s borders—in the form of a civil and proxy shooting war—indeed to inside a civilization shared for centuries by Russia and large parts of Ukraine. It implanted a toxic and dangerous political element in US, Russian, Ukrainian, and European politics, perhaps for at least a generation. And it has left Ukraine in near-economic ruin, with thousands of citizens dead and millions displaced and many more struggling to regain the quality of life they had before 2014. The events of 2014 also led to the ongoing NATO buildup on Russia’s western border in the Baltic region, yet another new Cold War front fraught with the possibility of hot war. Making things only worse, in late 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would supply the Kiev government with more, and more sophisticated, weapons, a step that even the Obama administration, which played a major detrimental role in the crisis, declined to take.

Two conflicting narratives of the Ukrainian crisis have been a major factor in preventing its resolution. One, promoted by Washington and the US-backed government in Kiev, blames only “aggression” by the Kremlin and specifically by Russian President Putin. The other, promoted by Moscow and rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, which it supports, blames “aggression” by the European Union and NATO, both inspired by Washington. Cohen sees enough bad intent, misconceptions, and misperceptions to go around, but on balance thinks Moscow’s narrative, almost entirely deleted from US mass media, is closer to the historical realities of 2013–2014:

  • Putin, celebrating the apparently highly successful Olympic games in Sochi, in January 2014, intended to demonstrate that Russia was prospering, sovereign, and a worthy partner in international affairs, had no reason to provoke a major international crisis with the West on Russia’s borders, and still less in “fraternal” Ukraine. Whether wise or not, his actions ever since have been mostly reactive, not “aggressive,” including in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
  • On the other hand, ever since the 1990s, following the end of the Soviet Union, Washington has made clear that both EU and NATO expansion eastward should eventually include Ukraine, which was regarded as “the prize.” What precipitated the Ukrainian crisis was the EU “partnership” offered to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which he declined to sign in November 2013. (Actually, having learned the astronomical financial costs, he merely asked for more time to consider the terms.) Protests in Kiev, centered on Maidan Square, led to violence and eventually to Yanukovych’s overthrow and his replacement by the US-backed government in Kiev.
  • Several circumstances need to remembered—or learned—in recalling these events. Putin and his ministers sought to persuade the EU to make the economic agreement with Ukraine “tripartite,” including Moscow so as not to disadvantage the very substantial trade relationship between Ukraine and Russia. The EU leadership, for whatever reason, refused, telling Kiev it had to choose between Russia and the West. For years, as all sides knew, Washington and other Western actors had been pouring billions of dollars into Ukraine to prepare it for the West’s “civilizational” values. That is, the “march” on Ukraine had long been under way. The EU agreement—purportedly only economic and civilizational—included provisions binding the new “partner” to NATO “military and security” policy. (The intent was clear, with President George W. Bush having proposed to fast-track NATO membership for Ukraine in 2008, only to be vetoed by Germany and France.) Moreover, during the years preceding the EU’s proposed agreement, President Yanukovych had not been “pro-Kremlin,” as regularly alleged in the US media, but had, on the advice of his American electoral adviser (the now-infamous Paul Manafort), “tilted” toward the West, toward the EU, in order to expand his electoral base beyond southeastern Ukraine. (Putin’s loathing for Yanukovych as a greedy and corrupt opportunist was well known in Moscow and Kiev, though evidently not by the US media.)  As anyone who followed the unfolding of the crisis knows, prominent members of US officialdom—from the State Department, Congress, and the Obama administration—were persistently present throughout the Maidan events, publicly and privately urging a showdown with Yanukovych, the constitutionally elected president. (A phone conversation between the leading State Department official involved and the US ambassador to Ukraine plotting the makeup of a successor government became public.) Finally, the day before Yanukovych was forced to flee the country by an armed street mob, he signed an agreement, brokered by three EU foreign ministers, to end the crisis peacefully by forming a coalition government with opposition leaders and agreeing to an early presidential election. That is, a democratic resolution of the crisis, privately endorsed by President Putin and President Obama, was in hand. Why none of the Western parties defended their own agreement, insisting that it be honored, remains uncertain, though perhaps not a mystery.
  • Which brings Cohen to another prevailing media myth: that what occurred on Maidan in February 2014 was a “democratic revolution.” Whether it was in fact a “revolution” can be left to future historians, though most of the oligarchic powers that afflicted Ukraine before 2014 remain in place four years later, along with their corrupt practices. As for “democratic,” removing a legally elected president by threatening his life hardly qualifies. Nor does the peremptory way the new government was formed, the constitution changed, and pro-Yanukovych parties banned. Though the overthrow involved people in the streets, this was a coup. How much of it was spontaneous and how much directed, or inspired, by high-level actors in the West also remains unclear. But one other myth needs to be dispelled. The rush to seize Yanukovych’s residence was triggered by snipers who killed some 80 or more protesters and policemen on Maidan. It was long said that the snipers had been sent by Yanukovych, but it has now been virtually proven that the shooters were instead from the neo-fascist group Right Sector among the protesters on the square. (See, for example, the reports of the scholar Ivan Katchanovski.)
  • The antidemocratic origins of today’s Kiev regime continue to afflict it. Its president, Petro Poroshenko, is intensely unpopular at home. It remains pervasively corrupt. Its Western-financed economy continues to fail, as even some of its ardent American cheerleaders now admit. And for the most part it continues to refuse to implement its obligations under the 2015 Minsk II peace accords, above all granting the rebel Donbass territories enough home rule to keep them in the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, Kiev is semi-hostage to armed ultranationalist battalions, whose ideology and symbols include proudly neo-fascist ones, which hate Russia and today’s Western “civilizational” values almost equally. It may be said that the Donbass rebel “republics” have their own ugly traits, but it should be added that they fight only in defense of their own territory against the armies of Kiev and are not sponsored by the US government.

Adding to this explosive mix, the Trump administration now promises to supply more weapons. The official pretext is plainly contrived: to deter Putin from “further aggression against Ukraine,” for which he has shown no desire or intention whatsoever. Nor does it make any geopolitical or strategic sense. Neighboring Russia can easily upgrade its weapons to the rebel provinces. Indeed, the danger is that Kiev’s failing regime will interpret the American arms as a signal from Washington for a new offensive against the Donbass in order to regain support at home—but which will end again in military disaster for Kiev while perhaps bringing neo-fascists, who may well come into possession of the American weapons, closer to power, and the new US-Russian Cold War closer to a larger, more direct war between the nuclear superpowers. (US trainers will need to be sent with the weapons, adding to the some 300 already there. If any are killed by Russian-backed rebel forces, even if unintentionally, what will be Washington’s reaction?)

Why would Trump, who wants to “cooperate with Russia,” take such a reckless step, long urged by Washington’s anti-Russian hawks? Assuming it was Trump’s decision, it was no doubt to disprove the underlying premise of the still unproved Russiagate allegations that he is a lackey of the Kremlin and an accomplice of Putin—accusations he hears and reads daily, not only from damning commentary on MSNBC and pseudobalanced panels on CNN, but from the once-distinguished academic Paul Krugman, who tells his New York Times readers: “There’s really no question about Trump/Putin collusion, and Trump in fact continues to act like Putin’s puppet.” There is every “question” and no “in fact” at all, but Trump is understandably desperate to end the unprecedented allegations that he is a “treasonous” president—that there was “no collusion, no collusion, no collusion.” We have here yet another example, Cohen points out, of his argument that Russiagate has become the No. 1 threat to American national security, certainly in regard to nuclear Russia.

Indeed, Cohen concludes, if the media insists on condemning Trump for mangled narratives and dubious international entanglements, they might want to focus on former vice president Joseph Biden. It has long been known that President Obama put him in charge of the administration’s “Ukrainian project,” in effect making him proconsul overseeing the increasingly colonized Kiev. In short, Biden, who is clearly already seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, bears a heavy personal responsibility for the four-year-old Ukrainian crisis. But he shows no sign of rethinking anything and still less any remorse. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Biden and his coauthor, Michael Carpenter, string together a tsunami of highly questionable, if not false, narratives regarding “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin,” many of them involving the years he was vice president. Along the way, Biden repeatedly berates Putin for meddling in Western elections. This is the same Joe Biden who told Putin not to return to the Russian presidency during Obama’s purported “reset” with Moscow and who, in February 2014, told Ukraine’s democratically elected President Yanukovych to abdicate and flee the country.

 

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Second group of Su-57 stealth fighters to be requested in 2020

The second Su-57 contract will feature fighters with the advanced engine design that was under development while the prototypes were made.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The contract for a second order of Russian Su-57 stealth fighters is expected to be signed in 2020, according to an unnamed source in Russia’s aircraft-making industry. TASS, the Russian News Agency, reported on this on Wednesday, 16 January:

The second contract to manufacture 13 Su-57 fighter jets for the Russian Aerospace Forces is to be signed next year, a source in Russia’s aircraft-making industry told TASS on Wednesday.

“In 2020, we plan to sign the second contract to manufacture and deliver 13 Su-57 fighter jets, some of them equipped with the second-stage engines,” he said. “The preliminary timeframe for the new contract is five years.”

The first contract envisages the delivery of two fifth-generation aircraft in 2019-2020.

“In line with the contract signed in 2018, one serial Su-57 jet with first-stage engines will be delivered to the Aerospace Forces this year, the other aircraft featuring the same type of engine – in 2020.”

The aircraft’s manufacturer, the United Aircraft Corporation, refrained from commenting on the report.

The Su-57 is a fifth-generation multirole fighter designed to destroy all types of air targets at long and short ranges and hit enemy ground and naval targets, overcoming its air defense capabilities.

The Su-57 took to the skies for the first time on January 29, 2010. Compared to its predecessors, the Su-57 combines the functions of an attack plane and a fighter jet while the use of composite materials and innovation technologies and the fighter’s aerodynamic configuration ensure the low level of radar and infrared signature.

The aircraft has been successfully tested in Syria.

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Kaspersky Lab snags former NSA contractor stealing hacking tools

Semi-buried article did see publication on Politico and Fox News, but Kaspersky Lab was not vindicated for its help in solving this case.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In a time known for Smear Campaigns of the Strangest Kind, we have seen Russia blamed for being there, for interfering and preventing the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Presidency, putting Donald Trump in the White House instead. One of Russia’s companies, Kaspersky Lab, has a particularly notable history of late; that is to say, this computer security company has found itself on the receiving end of quite frankly, illegal levels of slander and punishment without cause from the US government. Kaspersky Lab owner and CEO tried very hard to come to the US to discuss these matters with a Congressional committee, only to have the meeting shelved into limbo.

However, the truth made itself manifest when it became known that Kaspersky Lab actually helped the American FBI catch Harold T. Martin III, who was found to be attempting to steal some of the American government’s most sensitive hacking tools. This fact emerged on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, when sources familiar with this investigation spoke to The Politico magazine. Politico says the following in its report:

[Kaspersky Lab’s] role in exposing Martin is a remarkable twist in an increasingly bizarre case that is believed to be the largest breach of classified material in U.S. history.

It indicates that the government’s own internal monitoring systems and investigators had little to do with catching Martin, who prosecutors say took home an estimated 50 terabytes of data from the NSA and other government offices over a two-decade period, including some of the NSA’s most sophisticated and sensitive hacking tools.

The revelation also introduces an ironic turn in the negative narrative the U.S. government has woven about the Russian company in recent years.

Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, officials have accused the company of colluding with Russian intelligence to steal and expose classified NSA tools, and in 2016 the FBI engaged in an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit the company and get its software banned from U.S. government computers on national security grounds. But even while the FBI was doing this, the Russian firm was tipping off the bureau to an alleged intelligence thief in the government’s own midst.

“It’s irony piled on irony that people who worked at Kaspersky, who were already in the sights of the U.S. intelligence community, disclosed to them that they had this problem,” said Stewart Baker, general counsel for the NSA in the 1990s and a current partner at Steptoe and Johnson. It’s also discouraging, he noted, that the NSA apparently still hasn’t “figured out a good way to find unreliable employees who are mishandling some of their most sensitive stuff.”

The Politico piece as well as Fox News’ variant still seem somewhat determined to keep that negative narrative in place, with Fox assessing that the FBI had a “strange bedfellow” in the investigation, and what appears to be an absolutely enormous presumption in Politico’s piece:

The first message sent on Aug. 13, 2016, asked one of the researchers to arrange a conversation with “Yevgeny” — presumably Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky, whose given name is Yevgeny Kaspersky. The message didn’t indicate the reason for the conversation or the topic, but a second message following right afterward said, “Shelf life, three weeks,” suggesting the request, or the reason for it, would be relevant for a limited time.

However, there are many people in the world named “Yevgeny” (Evgeny, or Eugene) in Russia, and presumably many Evgenys in Kaspersky Lab itself. The notion that the CEO of the company would be involved in this appears to be an absolutely enormous leap of logic.

The maintenance of a negative narrative about Kaspersky Lab has been one of the most frustratingly effective examples of American propaganda in use since Russia overall became increasingly used as America’s newest scapegoat.

This is also not the first time that Kaspersky Lab saved the day for an American intelligence agency. In 2017 the same company’s services found 122 viruses on an NSA employee’s computer.

Kaspersky Lab itself is a highly sophisticated company based in Moscow, Russia, specializing in securing computers against malware, viruses, ransomware and all manner of invasive efforts by the bad guys out on the ‘Net, and among the providers of such services it consistently rates among the best in the industry, including in US surveys. While US retailers Best Buy, Office Depot and the US government have banned selling or running Kaspersky Lab software, European allies of the US have not even breathed the slightest bit of discontent with the AV provider. The narrative is the only thing that is actually wrong, and since Evgeny Kaspersky’s education was largely at the Academy that trained former KGB personnel, (now called FSB), the anti-Russia narrative in the US the acronym “KGB” is usually enough to alarm most low-information American news readers and watchers. 

However, logic and awareness of life in modern Russia, point to the fact that getting an education on security at the FSB Academy ought to be equivalent to the same education at the CIA. Who would know better about how to create security than those people specially trained to compromise it? However the propaganda vantage point that Kaspersky afforded the US government in its drive to get rid of President Donald Trump made the Russian company too juicy a target to ignore.

Over the last year or two, however, this narrative has slowly been falling apart, with this Politico article being a significant, though still small vindication of the company’s prowess and abilities.

That a Russian Internet Security company could succeed where American enterprises failed, and especially where it helped the Americans catch a man who was stealing very powerful hacking tools, is a significant story, indeed.

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Russia’s court jester that tells the truth: Meet Vladimir Zhirinovsky [Video]

While Mr. Zhirinovksy failed in his presidential run, this man is unafraid to speak truth to power. He has done this in Russia for years.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The ancient tradition of court jester is not dead in the world. In Russia it is manifest in the person of Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party of the Russian Federation. This man is Russia’s answer to the legendary late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, with his famous “I get no respect at all” shtick. However, Mr. Zhirinovsky does his act in full view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov and others who are extremely important in the government of Russia.

His “jestering” is often utilized by the government because he has a way of presenting information that other people are reluctant to talk about in such company as the Russian President, and so among Russians he has earned this reputation as a court Jester to President Putin. However, like some jesters have done in history, this affords Mr. Zhirinovsky the unique ability to speak very freely and directly about all manner of topics. Wikipedia refers to him thus:

He is fiercely nationalist and has been described as “a showman of Russian politics, blending populist and nationalist rhetoric, anti-Western invective and a brash, confrontational style”.[1] His views have sometimes been described by western media as fascist.

In this video, just released by VESTI News, the fiery politician made his first major appearance since the 2018 Presidential elections, and he spoke about his views on foreign policy, not only of Russia, but of the United States, China and the rest of the world. What he had to say is nothing less than fascinating:

Some of the more salient points:

[00:15] – Nobody knows how to go on across the whole planet. The age of empires is over.

[00:40] – The US became the sole ruler of the world after 1991, but that time is over. It is neither willing nor able to remain the sole ruler.

[01:00] – North Korea became a nuclear power, able to negotiate on even terms with the US, though it is very small

[01:20] – The Middle East is following a relatively peaceful (!) scenario, tending toward peace.

[01:40] – China has unleashed its full potential, but it doesn’t know what to do next. China knows it could be on top but it isn’t because it doesn’t know what to do with such power, and the US is visibly having problems with such a role.

[02:13] – Ukraine is the nastiest problem. Zhirinovksy predicts they will become more fascist over time, and eventually will “Balkanize” into separate countries.

[03:11] – He goes on to point out how the Russian “elite” who is essentially pro-Western, have essentially sold Russia out, but in so doing, they have lost their happiness because the West used them to punish Russia.

Mr. Zhirinovsky does not stop here. He actually discusses a common phenomenon among the Russian “elites” which is that they often take citizenship in other countries, such as England, Germany and even the United States. Their children attend fine European schools. Yet they keep their Russian citizenship as well. When the Western powers started leveling more and more sanctions against Russia, sometimes it was these elites who took the brunt of the hit. For Mr. Zhirinovsky, Russia’s response should be to strengthen, to let the West know that Russia will never be on the same side as the West, nor will it ever become part of the Western world.

No doubt the Western press, if it picks this story up, will lift this sort of rhetoric out of context, taking it as a “sure sign” that Russia is trying to take over the world. To that end they would refer to Mr. Zhirinovsky’s hopes of Russia stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Oceans, and say that this “fascist” leader wants Russia to do something similar to what the West charges President Putin of wanting.

However, this is not exactly the gloom and doom scenario Zhirinovsky envisions. As one continues to watch the video clip there is history, viewpoint and a stunning assessment that excessive focus on capitalist notions like wages, taxes and salaries is a source of great unhappiness in Russia. Far from focusing on “progress” as merely economic development of free markets, Mr. Zhirinovsky goes a different direction, pointing out although the monarchy cannot be restored to Russia, there are elements of it that Russia might call on to get to a better place.

A deeper study of Mr. Zhirinovsky’s context reveals some interesting features that even made it to Wikipedia’s pages in English. We include a few select points that appear interesting:

Zhirinovsky has expressed admiration for the 1996 United States presidential election contender Pat Buchanan, referring positively to a comment in which Buchanan labeled the United States Congress “Israeli-occupied territory.” Zhirinovsky said that both countries were “under occupation.” and that “to survive, we could set aside places on U.S. and Russian territories to deport this small but troublesome tribe.” Buchanan strongly rejected this endorsement, saying he would provide safe haven to persecuted minorities if Zhirinovsky were ever elected Russia’s president, eliciting a harsh response by Zhirinovsky: “You soiled your pants as soon as you got my congratulations. Who are you afraid of: Zionists?”

Zhirinovsky has Israeli relatives, including his uncle and cousin, [and]… [he] has led a number of official Russian delegations to Israel, on behalf of the Russian government. Visiting Israel, he says that he is concerned particularly about the economic situation for the more than one million Russians living in Israel. He also states that “Russia will never allow any kind of violence against Israel.”

Besides expressing his concern for Turks and Caucasians displacing the Russian population from their settled territory, Zhirinovsky also advocated for all Chinese and Japanese to be deported from the Russian Far East. During his 1992 visit to the United States, Zhirinovsky called on television “for the preservation of the white race” and warned that the white Americans were in danger of turning their country over to black and Hispanic people.

In 2004, Zhirinovsky spoke at the City Court of Saint Petersburg, in reference to the assassination of Galina Starovoytova. After accusing Starovoytova of having worked for foreign intelligence, he said “I have always said openly that for democrats of pro-Western orientation there are only three roads: prison, the grave, and emigration.”

In August 2016, Zhirinovsky prayed for the Republican presidential election nominee, Donald Trump, whose antics were similar to Zhirinovsky’s but different in backgrounds, to defeat Hillary Clinton, whom he considered dangerous, in order to take his party’s ideology global. He also expressed his desire to test his DNA to determine whether he and Trump were related. In April 2017, Zhirinovsky promised to drink the champagne for Donald Trump’s impeachment, saying: “A half of Americans voted for different foreign policies. Trump breaks his promises, and if he continues breaking them, his impeachment is inevitable.”

The Last Break Southward (1995) is the magnum opus of Zhirinovsky in which he expressed his worldview. “Since the 1980s, I have elaborated a geopolitical conception—the last break southward, Russia’s reach to the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.” This is “really the solution for the salvation of the Russian nation … It solves all problems and we gain tranquility.” Russia will rule the space “from Kabul to Istanbul…” The “bells of the Orthodox Church must [ring] from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.” And Jerusalem becomes close. It is necessary that “the Christian world reunifies in Jerusalem.” The Palestinian problem can be solved by partial transfer of the Palestinian population to the former territories of Turkey and Iran. The great Russian language and Russian ruble would wield Near Eastern and Central Asian peoples into one Russian citizenship.

Along the Russia southern sphere from India to Bosporus, other spheres of influence will stretch from north to south in the forthcoming world order, Latin America would be in the American sphere, Africa in the European sphere, and Japan and China will rule Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Australia. Everywhere “the direction is the same—north-south. “Geopolitically, it is logical. “Hence, the distribution along such a geopolitical formula would be very beneficent for the whole of humanity, and all over the planet would be established warm and clear political climate.”

But his talk in the video makes another stunning point: The spirit of the Monarchy must be returned, rather than thoughts only of wages, spending and taxes. “We must restore the sanctity of power”, says Zhirinovsky, and this is a radical departure from the viewpoint of market economics such as is held in the West.

There is much about the rhetoric of Mr. Zhirinovsky that would, at first and even second glance, would alarm readers schooled in the Western way of viewing the world. But this is also the function of the court jester in motion. Mr. Zhirinovsky has never earned more than about 9.5% of the vote for any of Russia’s recent Presidential elections and he earned only 5.65% in the most recent 2018 election, probably because he dug into a nasty row against the supremely unqualified but nonetheless female candidate Ksenia Sobchak in debate.

However, his function is no less important. In listening to and reading his works, such as “The Great Break Southward”, there are salient points that he has made in the past that turn out to be true. The Jester was able to speak such truth to power and remain unassailed, and yet, this ability does help get people to think.

 

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