Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?

Exclusive: Russia’s parliament has approved President Putin’s request for the use of force inside neighboring Ukraine, as the latest neocon-approved “regime change” spins out of control and threatens to inflict grave damage on international relations, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has given an unmistakable “yes” to those questions – in deeds, not words. His message is clear: “Back off our near-frontier!”

President Barack Obama discusses Ukraine during a meeting with members of his National Security Staff in the Oval Office, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama discusses Ukraine during a meeting with members of his National Security Staff in the Oval Office, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Moscow announced on Saturday that Russia’s parliament has approved Putin’s request for permission to use Russia’s armed forces “on the territory of the Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country.”

Putin described this move as necessary to protect ethnic Russians and military personnel stationed in Crimea in southern Ukraine, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet and other key military installations are located. But there is no indication that the Russian parliament has restricted the use of Russian armed forces to the Crimea.

Unless Obama is completely bereft of advisers who know something about Russia, it should have been a “known-known” (pardon the Rumsfeldian mal mot) that the Russians would react this way to a putsch removing Yanukovich. It would have been a no-brainer that Russia would use military force, if necessary, to counter attempts to use economic enticement and subversive incitement to slide Ukraine into the orbit of the West and eventually NATO.

This was all the more predictable in the case of Ukraine, where Putin – although the bête noire in corporate Western media – holds very high strategic cards geographically, militarily, economically and politically.

Unlike ‘Prague Spring’ 1968

Moscow’s advantage was not nearly as clear during the short-lived “Prague Spring” of 1968 when knee-jerk, non-thinking euphoria reigned in Washington and West European capitals. The cognoscenti were, by and large, smugly convinced that reformer Alexander Dubcek could break Czechoslovakia away from the U.S.S.R.’s embrace and still keep the Russian bear at bay.

My CIA analyst portfolio at the time included Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe, and I was amazed to see analysts of Eastern Europe caught up in the euphoria that typically ended with, “And the Soviets can’t do a damned thing about it!”

That summer a new posting found me advising Radio Free Europe Director Ralph Walter who, virtually alone among his similarly euphoric colleagues, shared my view that Russian tanks would inevitably roll onto Prague’s Wenceslaus Square, which they did in late August.

Past is not always prologue. But it is easy for me to imagine the Russian Army cartographic agency busily preparing maps of the best routes for tanks into Independence Square in Kiev, and that before too many months have gone by, Russian tank commanders may be given orders to invade, if those stoking the fires of violent dissent in the western parts of Ukraine keep pushing too far.

That said, Putin has many other cards to play and time to play them. These include sitting back and doing nothing, cutting off Russia’s subsidies to Ukraine, making it ever more difficult for Yanukovich’s successors to cope with the harsh realities. And Moscow has ways to remind the rest of Europe of its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Another Interference

There is one huge difference between Prague in 1968 and Kiev 2014. The “Prague Spring” revolution led by Dubcek enjoyed such widespread spontaneous popular support that it was difficult for Russian leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin to argue plausibly that it was spurred by subversion from the West.

Not so 45-plus years later. In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

We know that thanks to neocon prima donna Victoria Nuland, now Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who seemed intent on giving new dimension to the “cookie-pushing” role of U.S. diplomats. Recall the photo showing Nuland in a metaphor of over-reach, as she reached deep into a large plastic bag to give each anti-government demonstrator on the square a cookie before the putsch.

More important, recall her amateurish, boorish use of an open telephone to plot regime change in Ukraine with a fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Crass U.S. interference in Ukrainian affairs can be seen (actually, better, heard) in an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.

Yikes! It’s Yats!

Nuland was recorded as saying: “Yats is the guy. He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know. … Yats will need all the help he can get to stave off collapse in the ex-Soviet state. He has warned there is an urgent need for unpopular cutting of subsidies and social payments before Ukraine can improve.”

And guess what. The stopgap government formed after the coup designated Nuland’s guy Yats, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, prime minister! What luck! Yats is 39 and has served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister. And, as designated pinch-hitter-prime-minister, he has already talked about the overriding need for “responsible government,” one willing to commit “political suicide,” as he put it, by taking unpopular social measures.

U.S. meddling has been so obvious that at President Barack Obama’s hastily scheduled Friday press conference on Ukraine, Yats’s name seemed to get stuck in Obama’s throat. Toward the end of his scripted remarks, which he read verbatim, the President said: “Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister [pause] – the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.”

Obama doesn’t usually stumble like that – especially when reading a text, and is normally quite good at pronouncing foreign names. Perhaps he worried that one of the White House stenographic corps might shout out, “You mean our man, Yats?” Obama departed right after reading his prepared remarks, leaving no opportunity for such an outburst.

Western media was abuzz with the big question: Will the Russians apply military force? The answer came quickly, though President Obama chose the subjunctive mood in addressing the question on Friday.

Throwing Down a Hanky

There was a surreal quality to President Obama’s remarks, several hours after Russian (or pro-Russian) troops took control of key airports and other key installations in the Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, and home to a large Russian naval base and other key Russian military installations.

Obama referred merely to “reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine” and warned piously that “any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing.”

That Obama chose the subjunctive mood – when the indicative was, well, indicated – will not be lost on the Russians. Here was Obama, in his typically lawyerly way, trying to square the circle, giving a sop to his administration’s neocon holdovers and R2P courtiers, with a Milquetoasty expression of support for the new-Nuland-approved government (citing Biden’s assurances to old whatshisname/yatshisname).

While Obama stuck to the subjunctive tense, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk appealed to Russia to recall its forces and “stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine.”

Obama’s comments seemed almost designed to sound condescending – paternalistic, even – to the Russians. Already into his second paragraph of his scripted remarks, the President took a line larded with words likely to be regarded as a gratuitous insult by Moscow, post-putsch.

“We’ve made clear that they [Russian officials] can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.”

By now, Russian President Vladimir Putin is accustomed to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, et al. telling the Kremlin where its interests lie, and I am sure he is appropriately grateful. Putin is likely to read more significance into these words of Obama:

“The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine … and we will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies.”

Fissures in Atlantic Alliance

There are bound to be fissures in the international community and in the Western alliance on whether further provocation in Ukraine is advisable. Many countries have much to lose if Moscow uses its considerable economic leverage over natural gas supplies, for example.

And, aspiring diplomat though she may be, Victoria Nuland presumably has not endeared herself to the EC by her expressed “Fuck the EC” attitude.

Aside from the most servile allies of the U.S. there may be a growing caucus of Europeans who would like to return the compliment to Nuland. After all does anyone other than the most extreme neocon ideologue think that instigating a civil war on the border of nuclear-armed Russia is a good idea? Or that it makes sense to dump another economic basket case, which Ukraine surely is, on the EU’s doorstep while it’s still struggling to get its own economic house in order?

Europe has other reasons to feel annoyed about the overreach of U.S. power and arrogance. The NSA spying revelations – that continue, just like the eavesdropping itself does – seem to have done some permanent damage to transatlantic relationships.

In any case, Obama presumably knows by now that he pleased no one on Friday by reading that flaccid statement on Ukraine. And, more generally, the sooner he realizes that – without doing dumb and costly things – he can placate neither the neocons nor the R2P folks (naively well meaning though the latter may be), the better for everyone.

In sum, the Nulands of this world have bit off far more than they can chew; they need to be reined in before they cause even more dangerous harm. Broader issues than Ukraine are at stake. Like it or not, the United States can benefit from a cooperative relationship with Putin’s Russia – the kind of relationship that caused Putin to see merit last summer in pulling Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire on Syria, for example, and in helping address thorny issues with Iran.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His academic degrees are in Russian and he was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the CIA.  He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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21 comments on “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?

  1. incontinent reader on said:

    Great article and great advice.

    I hope Obama will not let himself (or rather Dempsey will not let Obama) be manipulated or sabotaged by the neocons into trashing his chance for a cooperative relationship with Russia, or screwing up the negotiations with with Iran, and/or escalating the war in Syria. As for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, they were almost dead on arrival, and Ukraine is a now convenient distraction for Netanyahu to keep them out of the ICU.

  2. John on said:

    It is hard to believe that Obama merely seeks to placate neocons, with ongoing disruption in every democracy they cannot defeat directly with gold. If they were so disruptive without admin approval they would be replaced or prosecuted. And he appointed Nuland/Pyatt knowing their neocon agenda.

    It seems likely that the admin sought to bully Russia into a military response to create a new rationale for the military kleptocracy. The grossly hypocritical pseudo-democracy propaganda was prepared in advance for Ukraine and Venezuela. The plan may be to recruit the defense-of-Europe generation by resurrecting a big but now weak old enemy. Then the old anti-communist rhetoric can be trotted out to denounce the advocates of democracy in the US as its enemies, and reward the enemies of democracy here as its saviors.

  3. Ruth Vreeland on said:

    Is it arrogance or cluelessness that allows President Obama (and our other elected officials) to decry Putin’s actions, given the aggressive actions of the United States in the last decade and a half, flouting international law whenever it pleases us to do so?? Once again there is no ability in Washington to apply revere-think, to ask ourselves what we would do if the situation were reversed. Or if it were Mexico or Canada that was undergoing a revolution we disapproved of.

    • TheAZCowBoy, Tombstone, AZ on said:

      DON’T WORRY – BE HAPPY, with Putin on his, VA-ROOOOOM(!) Harley-Davison riding high these dayze after ‘taking Kerry at his word,’ on the detoxifiction of Syria’s CW’s, and the UNITED SNAKES (US/NATO) getting their ‘tit-in-the-wringer’ in Ukraine with the oligarchs and the Neo-Nazi’s there as they search for a future ABM (IRBM) site and a few more military bases on Russia’s ‘near abroad,’ rest assured that Papa Putin will continue to vigorasly (((push))) the bastards until they LQQK much like they did in Georgia in 2009, ‘retreat’ with their tails ‘in-between-their-legs’ and call off their CIA NED/USAID ‘spooks’ off hoping for better days after Putin ‘hangs-up-his-air-Nike’s’ in 2020 and turns the Geat Satan over to the Chinese who have been watching the current charade for some time now as they prepare a ‘special welcoming’ for the Great Satan’s ‘pivot’ to South East Asia to get involved in ‘rocks jutting up from the ocean floor and China (((throwing))) its weight around as it has done for 10,000 years in the North China sea area.

  4. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Flaccid indeed. Perhaps impotent would be a better descriptor. Neocons have apparently succeeded in brainwashing the administration with Hollywood propaganda of the genre made popular in the Slavko Nowitsky “documentary” films rendered credible by the darkly malevolent and portentous voice of Jack Palance. Palance, himself a tool of right-wing Ukranian fascism, was more than willing to lend his voice to a cause championed by the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. Using the mythology of the Holodomor famine in the same manner that Nazis used the Versaille “stab in the back”, the OUN organization of Bandera turned a crop failure into the rallying cry to support Hitler against Stalin. Palance narrates a fairy tale in which the Ukranian fascists were innocent victims caught between Stalin and Hitler, and even attempts to paint Auschwitz as a Ukranian genocide. In truth, western Ukranian fascists were perhaps the prime movers in supplying their own countrymen to Germany as slave laborers.

    Flash to the present era, and look into the phony Ukranian “relief” organizations such as UCCA set up in Canada, Australia, United States and Great Britain by the ideological descendants of the Ukranian Nazi divisions who surrendered to the Allies at the end of the war. They belong to the same heritage American intelligence agencies promulgated with “Operation Paperclip” and the “Gehlen Organization” in order to garner Nazi intelligence assets. These organizations have formed potent lobbying organizations and political action committees in virtually all of the so-called “five-eyes” countries with disastrous results for post-cold war diplomacy. They represent what could be truly called a Nazi “fifth column” active in western democracies. A review of their prominent donors is a real eye-opener. Their only goal is the destabilization of Russia and the reimplementation of former east European oligarchies.

    That the administration’s Neocon advisors could be so clownishly incompetent and so disastrously naive as to the ideologies at play makes it tempting to postulate that they in fact have another strategy. I agree with “Incontinent Reader” above. The “real deal” is probably a ploy to enhance the ongoing efforts to insure that Middle East peace efforts bear absolutely no fruit. Embroiling the United States in a potential nuclear confrontation to enhance the subversive interests of a dubiously loyal third-party ally is beyond impotence. It’s trason. Nuland needs to be fired TODAY.

    • charlesincharge59 on said:

      A brilliant reply and excellent counter-narrative. The only figure you left out is easy to miss: inveterate Russia-hater and now Obama’s foreign-policy Rasputin Zbigniew Brzezinski.

      Scuttle-butt has it that Brzezinski has thoroughly seeded State and the Foreign Service with fellow Russia-hating acolytes who will settle for nothing less than the maximalist goal of the dissolution of the Russian Federation.

      I’m usually reluctant to toss around the ‘T’ (for ‘Treason’) charge but, after watching Brzezinski smirkingly blow off the 3,000 civilian casualties of 9-11 as merely a ‘cost of doing business,’ my reluctance is starting to fade.

      Again, though, kudos to you for calling those Ukrainian fascists and Nazis for who they truly are. It’s refreshing and long overdue, in my opinion.

      • F. G. Sanford on said:

        Thanks- I mentioned Zbiggy in my response to Professor Pillar’s article, “A Selective View of Democracy”. Those Slavko Nowitsky propaganda “documentaries” contain cameos of Zbiggy spouting his subversive lies: pure hypocrisy and evil incarnate, a true “Dr. Strangelove”.

    • rtdrury on said:

      Chronicling all that for historical purposes is a good thing but for the purpose of competing in political rat races it is not productive for the people’s participation. Instead, we want to transcend those rat races and welcome all groups in Eastern Europe to join the global society in celebration of what’s truly important, the things we have in common, the positive things that maximize our collective wellbeing. I would be thrilled to catalog developments in Eastern Europe with you after first achieving the people’s agenda of maximum universal wellbeing. Thanks for bringing these things to our attention.

    • Andreas Wirsén on said:

      I agree with most of what you write, but find suspect your implication that the Soviet Union was not pursuing a conscious starvation policy against the Ukraine in the 1930s. Got any sources for that?

      • F. G. Sanford on said:

        Just the facts: There was a wheat rust epidemic, crop failures occurred all over the USSR, collectivization and mismanagement contributed, then the peasants slaughtered draft animals to eat leaving them with no plow-horses, and denial by Stalin was to avert accusations of failed collective ideology. Ukrainian Nationalists blamed this on Bolshevik Jews and claimed Stalin did it deliberately. It has schizophrenically become a hot potato. It proffers anti-Semitism on the one hand, and is lumped with Holocaust denial on the other. It definitely happened, but unlike the Holocaust, there is little evidence to support the idea that it was a state-sponsored genocide. Incompetence, ineptitude, indifference? Yes!. Deliberate? Sorry, the evidence refutes that. But today, Tymoshenko accuses Yanukovytch of “Holodomor denial”. If you need a reference, cite “F. G. Sanford, Personal Communication, 2014″

  5. My confidence is in the people, who post comments here, and all our peers worldwide, just regular everyday people, all of whom happen to hold profound untapped potential as a fundamental law of nature, to wrestle control of our societies from the hands of sociopath elites contaminating/corrupting governments worldwide, for the people to finally steward our societies properly, to untangle the bloody kinks in the systems that these sociopaths twist into them. Don’t let the media (including Consortium News) trumpet their proclamations too loudly. They don’t need the soapbox. They need treatment. Only the people, in partnership with nature, can provide. Now this is a profound partnership of providence.

  6. As McGovern so lucidly explains, Washington is skating on thin moral ice in playing the pure innocent and loudly accusing Russia of aggression for involving itself in a Ukrainian civil crisis in which many have strong pro-Russian views. Imagine U.S. reactions if Russia helped foment anti-US conflict in Canada!

    But the U.S. is skating on thin ice for a second reason as well: the rules that Putin is applying are not just old Soviet rules (or old U.S. rules for banana republic management); they are the new 21st century rules imposed on the world arbitrarily after the end of superpower rivalry by a newly aggressive…United States.

    A major power unilaterally asserts the “right” to launch a war of aggression against a weak country: Israel vs. Lebanon, the U.S. vs. Iraq, Russia vs. Ukraine. No one should miss the parallel. Politicians may be incapable of taking the long view or learning how to create a better world, but this they can learn: they can learn the rules of the game. That is how they win.

    The rules of the international game evolve (or, one might say, “regress”) constantly. Over recent centuries, international law evolved, for example. Over the last generation, i.e., since the collapse of the global bipolar system, some new rules have evolved. Building on Israel’s repeated invasions of Lebanon, the failure of Washington to protest with any significant degree of sincerity Putin’s barbaric campaign of destruction in Chechnya, and—most importantly—the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the new rules that up and coming pols are learning include the unilateral right to bully and flat out invade anyone weak enough and clearly outside the sphere of influence of another power.

    Welcome to the world the Neo-Cons made, the world Obama–everyone’s favorite pretend liberal–has hastened to nuture. If we don’t want Russia or Iran or China or India (they all have what they consider good reasons…) to follow the precedents we create, then maybe we Americans should learn to think before playing the cowboy.

  7. I like how Obama is playing it. If USA looks to aggressive than Russia can use that as an excuse to hunker down. This should not be a USA vs. Russia issue. Why do us Americans always feel like it should be? Majority of people who are calling out Obama are the same ones that want ‘smaller government.’

  8. Henk Middelraad on said:

    Loud and clear article also showing on the Anti War website. Personally at the age of 14 I witnessed close by in the Netherlands the “One Bridge Too Far” episode with disastrous civilian and military aftermath for the entire area,
    Ray, perhaps you recall the articles I wrote the application of para-psychological teams a couple of years ago with which anyone in this world can be reached on a calculated basis!! Presented examples to you: release of the dozen British sailors from Iran, the turnaround of the North Korean freighter Kam Nang 1 in the Pacific.
    This is a useful purpose of application that would require serious oversight that can be controlled by knowledgeable people.

    Mindless bureaucratic decisions by zealous self serving elites only create huge problems for many others.

  9. Mikhail Krivoruk on said:

    Ray McGovern is one of the few, very few observers who knows what he is talking about. All these talking heads on major media stations, so called “experts” both on the right and left, who cannot speak a word of Russian nor Ukrainian, whose knowledge of history of that part of Europe consists of a bunch of cliches are only repeating each other indignantly or with giggling. What happened to journalism in this country ?

  10. A. Regina Schulte, M.A., Ph.D. on said:

    Voicing threats and drawing lines as initial responses to the political behavior of leaders of other nations is dangerous–besides being mere posturing by a nation with the reputation for arrogance and bullying. It gives us no leverage. Surely Mr. Obama is intelligent enough to recognize the value of negotiations.
    And, anyone who cannot see where the neocons want to take this nation should read “JFK” by James Douglass. It’s deja vu.

    • Francis on said:

      So, Obama and intelligent??? Used in the same sentence??? Obama, the New Neocon??? Really??

  11. steve@ssgreenberg.name on said:

    Let’s think about the American response when its citizens are threatened in a foreign country. Of course Reagan had to invade Grenada to protect US citizens, but Putin has no right to invade the Ukraine to protect half the population.

    I am not condoning either invasion, just pointing out how complicated it can be to deal with other people with whom you disagree. You can probably apply this to all the players in this sad affair.

  12. Edward on said:

    Very good article. Plenty of thought and insight. So Nuland, the cookie monster has proven that she is not up to par and she along with the other zionist neocons should be made to resign. It’s quite incredible, I am convinced, that Putin will most certainly be THE man of the century!!

  13. Alex on said:

    “If COMMUNISM comes to America, it will come wrapped in the FLAG, and carrying the Bible”
    Well that is EXACTLY how it came.
    NeoCon was INVENTED by Irving Kristol, a TROTSKYITE COMMUNIST.
    NeoCon is COMMUNISM wrapped in an American flag.
    NeoCons refuse to WEAR an American uniform ….
    they just wrap themselves in the flag and send YOU and YOURS to be maimed and killed.
    WHY did American “conservatives” allow a Jewish COMMUNIST to lead them away from putting AMERICA FIRST, SECOND, and THIRD in their priority list? Israel is NOT AMERICA and is NOT our “ally”. Israel is a SOCIALIST/COMMUNIST/TRIBE.
    Of the 502 highest officers of the 1917 First Soviet Socialist Government, 467 were Jews. Alexandr Solzenitzyn writes in his last book on the history of Russia that the Jews murdered over 66 million Russians. Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Bakunum, Lenin, Stalin, Kruschev, and others were all Jews by two or at least one parent. All the prison camps, torture chambers, gulags, etc were all commanded and run by Jews.

    The greatest CURSE on humanity is this FAKE “judeo-christian” CR@P.
    There is NO SUCH THING as “judeo-CHRISTian”.
    CHRISTianity is a REPUDIATION and CONDEMNATION of Judaism.
    CHRIST fulfilled the OLD Testament and “closed the book” Why do you think there is an OLD Testament and a NEW Testament. Jews refuse to even acknowledge Christ.
    JESUS was the LAST sacrifice,
    but the jews want to rebuilt the ‘temple” AND SACRIFICE ANIMALS THERE.