By Robert Parry
Western Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” against rebels in Eastern Ukraine has the makings of what could degenerate from scattered atrocities to ethnic cleansing to genocide. It already is a nasty war to suppress an ethnic minority through the use of military force, complete with references to the targeted population as insects and animals.
Traditionally, the U.S. government protests such violence and even intervenes militarily to stop it, such as the cases of Kosovo in the 1990s and Libya in 2011. In the Kosovo case, the U.S. government supported the arrest and trial of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on war crimes charges and later backed Kosovo’s outright secession from Serbia. In the Libyan case, a U.S.-directed bombing campaign helped overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who was then captured and murdered.
But the Obama administration, especially the U.S. State Department, is gung-ho in favor of Western Ukraine’s military assault on Eastern Ukraine where many ethnic Russians objected to the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych in a violent Feb. 22 coup. Yanukovych came from the East, which was also his political base.
Despite the disturbing circumstances surrounding the coup, including the role of neo-Nazi militias in forcing Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives, the U.S. State Department immediately embraced the new authorities as “legitimate.” The mainstream U.S. news media also clambered onboard the pro-coup bandwagon.
Over the ensuing months, both the State Department and the U.S. press corps have consistently presented a one-sided narrative that portrayed the coup makers as white-hatted “pro-democracy” protesters and denounced anyone opposed to the coup as black-hatted supporters of “Russian aggression.”
The key role of neo-Nazi “brown shirts” was whited out of the official U.S. picture despite the fact that the interim regime gave these far-right ultranationalists – admirers of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera – at least four ministries, including national security, in recognition of their crucial contribution in overthrowing Yanukovych.
However, the propaganda role of the State Department and the mainstream U.S. press is now taking on a darker coloration as the Kiev regime vows to crush the ethnic Russian resistance in Eastern Ukraine, raising the prospect of widespread civilian deaths, ethnic cleansing and even the possibility of genocide.
Historically, propaganda has gone hand-in-hand with such barbarities. First comes the dehumanization, then the immediate rationalizations and finally the slaughter. The close ties between propaganda and atrocities have led modern international law to treat demonization of a targeted group as a contributing element in crimes against humanity.
Nazi propagandists stood in the dock at Nuremberg because they paved the way for Hitler’s Holocaust, and Rwandan radio commentators were held to account for enflaming passions against the Tutsis in the 1990s.
But American propagandists, including media personalities, have traditionally escaped any accountability for contributing to serious war crimes, whether the Vietnam War in the 1960s or the Iraq War in the 2000s.
Indeed, many U.S. opinion leaders may see themselves as having immunity from any accountability for their words and actions. One of the most remarkable aspects of the years after President George W. Bush launched an illegal invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, is that almost no one in Official Washington who pushed for that criminal act suffered any consequences at all.
Many of the Iraq War’s proponents are still sought-after opinion leaders – whether politicians like Sen. John McCain or pundits like the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman – called upon, endlessly, to explicate today’s foreign policy crises for the American people.
At the Washington Post, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt and his deputy Jackson Diehl were important cheerleaders for the Iraq War with their editorials stating as flat-fact that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The fact that Iraq didn’t have WMD had no noticeable impact on their careers. Today, they are in the same positions collecting their Post salaries and advocating for more U.S. overseas interventions.
On Wednesday, the Post, which has become the neocons’ media flagship, was virtually rubbing its hands with glee at the prospect of Western Ukraine’s military offensive to crush the ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine. In the print edition, the lead editorial had the light-hearted title: “Time’s up.”
The Post, of course, blamed everything on Russian President Vladimir Putin, declaring: “As heavy fighting resumed Tuesday in eastern Ukraine, it was obvious that Russian President Vladimir Putin had disregarded the demands from the United States and European Union that Russia stop intervening.
“Rebels backed by Moscow did not hand back border posts; military supplies have not stopped flowing across the border; Mr. Putin did not compel the insurgents to observe a cease-fire, leaving the Ukrainian government with no choice but to resume military operations.”
Again, we have the Post stating as flat-fact what is really slanted propaganda. Though “blame-Putin” has been at the center of Official Washington’s false narrative on Ukraine from the beginning, the reality was always that the West – the United States and the European Union – provoked this crisis, not Putin and Russia.
The crisis emanated from the EU’s reckless offer of an economic association agreement to Ukraine that President Yanukovych weighed but ultimately rejected because it came with a draconian International Monetary Fund austerity package attached. The Russians offered a more generous $15 billion loan and also provided energy subsidies for Ukrainians.
Yanukovych’s decision to opt for what he considered a better deal for Ukraine was well within his rights as the elected president, but his choice touched off furious demonstrations led by western Ukrainians and openly encouraged by senior U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.
When Yanukovych refused to reverse his decision, the protests turned violent with well-trained neo-Nazi militias, organized in groups of one-hundred fighters each, moving to the fore to battle police. In the violence, both protesters and police were killed, though the typical treatment in the New York Times and much of the U.S. press was to simply report falsely that all the victims were protesters. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Danger of False Narrative.”]
On Feb. 21, seeking to stanch the violence, Yanukovych signed an agreement guaranteed by three European countries – Germany, France and Poland – to surrender many of his powers and accept early elections so he could be voted out of office. The elections would have tested popular opinion on the EU’s package while maintaining the Ukrainian constitutional structure.
Yanukovych also agreed to pull back the police, a move that opened the way for the neo-Nazi militias to seize government buildings and force pro-Yanukovych officials to run for their lives. With these storm troopers patrolling government buildings, the remnants of the shaken parliament cobbled together a new regime led by Assistant Secretary Nuland’s personal choice, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who became prime minister.
The neo-Nazis got a share of ministries – with their top commander Andriy Parubiy made chief of Ukraine’s national security – to reward them for their service to the coup and in recognition that these militias might otherwise turn on the fragile new regime and seize power for themselves. Reflecting Western Ukraine’s hostility toward Eastern Ukraine, the parliament took actions offensive to ethnic Russians including a vote to ban Russian as an official language throughout the country (though that plan was later rescinded).
Resistance to the Coup
The stunning developments in Kiev led Crimea’s local government to organize a hasty referendum on leaving Ukraine and rejoining Russia, a choice approved by more than 90 percent of voters. Putin and the Russian government agreed.
Though the U.S. media carried lurid headlines about a Russian “invasion,” the articles strangely lacked any photographs of tanks crossing borders, paratroopers jumping from planes or an amphibious landing. The reason for the absence of these photos was that thousands of Russian troops were already stationed in Crimea (under an agreement with Ukraine giving Russia access to its historic naval base at Sevastopol). The Russian troops simply left their bases and engineered a largely peaceful transfer of power.
The political resistance in the East and South – and the unwillingness of Ukrainian soldiers to fire on fellow Ukrainians – also led the new national security chief Parubiy to incorporate the neo-Nazi militias into National Guard units and dispatch them to the front lines.
The value of the neo-Nazis was that they shared the vision of World War II-era Nazi collaborator Bandera who viewed Ukrainians as a superior race threatened by inferior ones – Poles, Jews and Russians. Bandera’s radical paramilitary force, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-B, sought to transform Ukraine into a racially pure state.
The OUN-B assisted the Nazis in their expulsion and extermination of thousands of Jews and Poles. Other Ukrainians joined in Germany’s war against Russia on the Eastern Front, including the “Galician SS” which also was implicated in crimes against humanity.
A modern version of this Nazi brutality surfaced again on May 2 when right-wing toughs in Odessa attacked an encampment of ethnic Russian protesters driving them into a trade union building which was then set on fire with Molotov cocktails. As the building was engulfed in flames, some people who tried to flee were chased and beaten to death.
Those trapped inside heard the Ukrainian nationalists liken them to black-and-red-striped potato beetles called Colorados, because those colors are used in pro-Russian ribbons. “Burn, Colorado, burn” went the chant.
As the fire worsened, those dying inside were serenaded with the taunting singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The building also was spray-painted with Swastika-like symbols and graffiti reading “Galician SS.”
The death by fire of dozens of people in Odessa recalled a World War II incident in 1944 when elements of a Galician SS police regiment took part in the massacre of the Polish village of Huta Pieniacka, which had been a refuge for Jews and was protected by Russian and Polish partisans. Attacked by a mixed force of Ukrainian police and German soldiers, hundreds of townspeople were massacred, including many locked in barns that were set ablaze.
Yet, this historical context is almost always missing in the mainstream U.S. media which goes along with the State Department’s desire to delete the neo-Nazi role in last February’s coup and inside the post-coup government. Despite the May election of billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine’s new president, many of the same extremists remain in key positions, including Parubiy as national security chief.
Citing Hard Truths
The presence of Nazi ideology and the evolution of the Ukraine civil war into an ethnic conflict was noted by New York University and Princeton Professor Stephen F. Cohen in an article for The Nation magazine. As Cohen explained:
“Independent Western scholars have documented the fascist origins, contemporary ideology and declarative symbols of Svoboda and its fellow-traveling Right Sector. Both movements glorify Ukraine’s murderous Nazi collaborators in World War II as inspirational ancestors. Both, to quote Svoboda’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok, call for an ethnically pure nation purged of the ‘Moscow-Jewish mafia’ and ‘other scum,’ including homosexuals, feminists and political leftists.
“And both hailed the Odessa massacre. According to the website of Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, it was ‘another bright day in our national history.’ A Svoboda parliamentary deputy added, ‘Bravo, Odessa…. Let the Devils burn in hell.’
“If more evidence is needed, in December 2012, the European Parliament decried Svoboda’s ‘racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views [that] go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles.’ In 2013, the World Jewish Congress denounced Svoboda as ‘neo-Nazi.’ Still worse, observers agree that Right Sector is even more extremist. …
“In December 2012, a Svoboda parliamentary leader anathematized the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis as ‘a dirty kike.’ Since 2013, pro-Kiev mobs and militias have routinely denigrated ethnic Russians as insects (‘Colorado beetles,’ whose colors resemble a sacred Russia ornament). More recently, the US-picked prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, referred to resisters in the Southeast as ‘subhumans.’ His defense minister proposed putting them in ‘filtration camps,’ pending deportation, and raising fears of ethnic cleansing.
“Yulia Tymoshenko — a former prime minister, titular head of Yatsenyuk’s party and runner-up in the May presidential election — was overheard wishing she could ‘exterminate them all [Ukrainian Russians] with atomic weapons.’ ‘Sterilization’ is among the less apocalyptic official musings on the pursuit of a purified Ukraine.”
Yet, the U.S. State Department and the mainstream U.S. media continue to portray the conflict as simply “Russian aggression” that must be countered by overwhelming military force in Eastern Ukraine and by severe economic sanctions – along with possible political destabilization – against Moscow.
As the Washington Post’s editorial declared: “Last Thursday Secretary of State John F. Kerry said that ‘it is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they are moving to help disarm the separatists.’ Many hours have passed with no disarmament. On Friday, E.U. leaders set a Monday deadline for a series of steps, including the evacuation of border posts. These have not been carried out.
“A failure by the West to act following such explicit rhetoric would be a craven surrender that would provoke only more Russian aggression.”
So the only course that Official Washington can seem to see ahead is one of unleashing Ukraine’s conventional military force and its paramilitary adjuncts against the popular resistance in the East, a path that could put the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. press corps on the side of the violent suppression of ethnic Russians, a situation that could easily slide into ethnic cleansing and even genocide.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.