The US is Culpable in Today's Ukraine Crisis
How the incessant neo-conservative urge to reshape foreign nations in the Western image has brought us to the brink of World War.
Many know this story, but I’d like to summarize it as succinctly as possible, using only primary and establishment media sources in hopes that this article may be persuasive and shareable to friends/family of all politics. The goal is not to distract from Ukrainian suffering but to inform US citizens of how their leaders often engage in harmful foreign policy so that we may refrain from electing such leaders in the future.
Throughout 2012 and most of 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had been in negotiations with the European Union on the terms of a political/trade agreement involving a sizeable loan, lowering of tariffs, and a goal to “promote gradual convergence on foreign and security matters with the aim of Ukraine's ever-deeper involvement in the European security area” (direct quote from the agreement). Putin has stated, numerous times over several decades, his concerns about Western military forces creeping closer to Russia’s border. The Ukranians asked for $160 billion to offset trade restrictions that Russia would likely implement as a result of the deal. The EU could only offer $828 million. Russia then offered Ukraine a $15 billion loan and to cut Russian natural gas prices by almost a third. Yanukovych canceled negotiations with the EU and accepted Putin’s offer. Considering the Russian loan was nearly 20 times greater than the EU loan and the agreement eliminated the possibility of Russian sanctions while leaving EU relations largely unchanged, this was a rational decision by Yanukovych. To quote Reuters, “the unwillingness of the EU and International Monetary Fund to be flexible in their demands of Ukraine also had an effect, making them less attractive partners.”
The decision to cancel the EU agreement, which was not a unilateral decision by Yanukovych but a valid vote by Ukranian Parliament, was met with protests in the North-Western Capital Kiev, led by prominent members of Yanukovych’s opposition party, which quickly turned violent. Western Ukranians were understandably upset after the one-year-long negotiations fell through. By January 20, 2014, the BBC reported “Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych has agreed to negotiate with pro-EU protesters and opposition leaders after violent clashes in the capital Kiev.” Days later, in an attempt to quell the uprising, Yanukovych offeredtwo opposition leaders key positions in his administration - prime minister to Arseniy Yatsenyuk and deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs to Vitali Klitschko. When they declined, he repealed anti-protest laws and agreed to accelerate the presidential elections (which were due in about one year) to allow the people an opportunity to vote sooner.
While these protests did get bloody, the systems underpinning democratic republics were functioning as intended by forcing Yanukovych to the negotiating table with his constituents and political opponents. One would think it best to let the Ukrainian people work this out, but US foreign policy officials decided otherwise.
A leaked phone call, believed to have taken place on January 28, 2014, between then US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt revealed that Obama-admin officials were involved in a scheme to oust Ukrainian President Yanukovych and replace his administration with Western allies. The call was discussed in several US-based media outlets though, for the most part, they refrain from discussing its content and instead focus on Nuland’s expletive remark of “Fuck the EU” and highlight that Russian hackers were likely the leak’s source. Then State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki corroborated the legitimacy of the call as she “did not dispute the authenticity of the recording and said that Nuland had apologized to European Union officials for her remarks,” according to Associated Press. Listen to full call here:
Here are what I believe to be the key quotes from the call and their context and implications [emphasis added]:
(00:45) Nuland: “So I don’t think Klitschko should go into the government. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t think it’s necessary.” This is followed by a distressed sigh from Pyatt and he asks for clarification, implying this is his first time hearing this. He later mentions that Nuland should speak to Klitschko one-on-one. (2:06) Pyatt: “just knowing the dynamic that’s been with them where Klitschko’s been the top dog… I think you reaching out directly to him helps with the personality management.”
A couple months prior, Klitschko had announced a campaign for the presidency and early polls showed him as the most popular opposition candidate. During the time of the phone call, he was still campaigning, making headlines in US outlets:
A little over a month later, despite his populist support, Klitschko announced that he would be withdrawing from the race and running for Mayor of Kiev. It appears Nuland was successful in “corner office-ing” him out of national and into local government.
(1:22) Nuland: “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience.” She’s referring to Arseniy Yatsenuk and emphasizing that he should play a leading role in the new government.
Less than one month later, Yatsenyuk went on to the position of prime minister.
Yats promptly signed the long sought-after EU trade agreement that initially started this fiasco.
To illustrate the new regime’s stance: almost immediately, Russian was demoted from a national language to a minority language (no longer permitting its use in courtrooms and public schools), the following year Yats called on the EU to stop the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and Ukraine tightened immigration policy for Russian citizens entering Ukraine.
(2:48) Nuland: “When I talked to Jeff Feltman this morning, he had a new name for the UN guy - Robert Serry… He’s now gotten both Serry and Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great to help glue this thing and to have the UN to help glue it.”
A little under a month after this phone call, Yanukovych fled the country due to dwindling support from his allies. This prompted the Verkhovna Rada, a legislative body within the Ukrainian parliament, to publish a press release claiming itself to be “the only legitimate authority in the country”. In that same press release, “Robert H. Serry informed that the United Nations Organization ‘highly appreciates Ukraine and supports current processes.’”
However, the vote to impeach Yanukovych and elect new officials was illegal under the Ukrainian Constitution. To quote Huffington Post, “It is simply untrue that the Rada followed the procedure laid down in the Ukrainian constitution to impeach and remove a president from power.” For more details check out their article.
Pyatt also mentions the need to “get somebody with an international personality to help midwife this thing” to which Nuland replies she’s been in touch with Obama’s director of policy planning who told her that “Biden’s willing”. So, ironically, Biden himself likely played a key role in getting this vote through.
It’s fairly clear that the subject of Nuland and Pyatt’s conversation was how to influence opposition leaders and leverage ties with the United Nations to legitimize this unconstitutional vote. Such an act, by the way, falls under the definition of a coup. The prescient nature of this conversation, how subsequent events played out in accordance with Nuland’s directives, implies it was not simply a brainstorm session. This was a deliberate attempt to install a Western-friendly regime into a sovereign nation - one sharing a border with Russia just 500 km from Moscow - and it was a successful attempt at that. All because US officials couldn’t settle for neutrality and self-governance; they knew better than the people of Ukraine. Jonathan Marcus of the BBC summed it up well at the time:
The US says that it is working with all sides in the crisis to reach a peaceful solution, noting that "ultimately it is up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future". However this transcript suggests that the US has very clear ideas about what the outcome should be and is striving to achieve these goals.
These acts by the US forever changed the trajectory of Russia-Ukraine relations: The 2013 Russian trade deal was revoked, this pushed Russia into a similar deal with China a few months later, and the following years were filled with periodic announcements of Ukraine’s intentions to join NATO accompanied with showy military exercises like the NATO-sponsored ‘Clear Sky’ event held in Ukraine in 2018. Remember, NATO was created by the US and other Western countries in 1949 with the stated goal to “provide collective security against the Soviet Union.” Given that the Soviet Union hasn’t existed in decades… why does NATO need to exist, let alone expand?! Tensions have continued to fester ever since, culminating in the catalytic spark of today’s conflict when president Volodymyr Zelensky implied that Ukraine might pursue nuclear weapon accumulation if international treaties were unsatisfactory. This was all the justification that Putin needed.
Putin watched in the early 2000s as seven former Soviet Union countries joined NATO. Despite promises by the Clinton administration that NATO would not keep military forces in Eastern Europe permanently, over 20 years later NATO “has about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions, backed by tanks, air defenses and intelligence and surveillance units” across Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, according to Reuters. Putin tolerated such expansions for decades, and while it was not without complaints and retaliatory acts of his own, he clearly is not a madman intent on re-establishing the Soviet Union.
If you are a US citizen, and if, God willing, the world survives this war, then please, do not continue to tolerate these neo-conservative and neo-liberal establishment politicians. They are on both sides of the aisle - Bush’s, Clinton’s, Obama, Schumer, McConnell, Pelosi, Cheney’s, Anthony Blinken, McCain, John Bolton. It’s a special kind of hubris and naiveté to believe covert and reckless regime change operations will flourish into Western values. The Middle East has paid this price for years and now neo-con machinations are potentially putting the entire planet at risk.
As a funny aside, during the leaked call Pyatt said, “We could land jelly-side up on this one if we move fast.” I think it’s safe to say, after 8 years, which direction the ‘jelly-side’ landed.
Bypass paywall: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TvK8NLTCwqUguwIbqmJaEtrMgkybI6RD/view?usp=sharing
Once again, a clear and concise explanation of a complex situation. Well done and thank you!
An excellent article. I particularly appreciated your description of the abandoned 2013 political / trade agreement. It filled a gap of understanding for me. I have been watching some JImmy Dore interviews with Aaron Mate and Max Blumenthal on YouTube. Max mentioned a study by Ivan Katchanovski on the Maidan snipers. I am about halfway through but you might want to look at it for a future article. Congratulations on some great work: