The Risk of a Ukraine Bloodbath

Exclusive: Pressured by neocons and the mainstream U.S. media, the Obama administration is charting a dangerous course by seeking a military solution to Ukraine’s political crisis and possibly provoking Moscow to intervene to protect ethnic Russians, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern warns.

By Ray McGovern

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko – by thumbing his nose at the leaders of Russia, Germany and France as they repeatedly appealed to him to renew the fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine – has left himself and his U.S. patrons isolated, though that’s not the version of the story that you’ll read in the mainstream U.S. press.

But the reality is that an unusual flurry of high-level conference calls last weekend from key European capitals failed to dissuade Poroshenko from launching major attacks on opposition forces in eastern Ukraine. Washington was alone in voicing support for Poroshenko’s decision, with a State Department spokeswoman saying “he has a right to defend his country.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Austria on June 24, 2014. (Official Russian government photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Austria on June 24, 2014. (Official Russian government photo)

As Ukrainian air and artillery strikes increased on Tuesday, so did diplomatic activity among the Europeans with the U.S. playing no discernible role in the peace efforts. There was no sign, for example, that Secretary of State John Kerry was invited to a hastily called meeting in Berlin on Wednesday involving the foreign ministers of Germany (Frank-Walter Steinmeier), France (Laurent Fabius), Russia (Sergey Lavrov), and newly appointed Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

This marginalization of the U.S. is a consequence of a well-founded suspicion that Poroshenko’s fateful decision to “attack” came with Washington’s encouragement. The continued provocative behavior of Secretary Kerry, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and other U.S. hardliners comes despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin still holds the high cards in this regional standoff.

Putin has at his disposal a range of alternatives short of sending in tanks to protect the ethnic Russians of eastern Ukraine, many of whom had voted for President Viktor Yanukovych who was ousted in February by violent protests. The uprising was led by western Ukrainians demanding closer ties to Europe but was turned into a “regime change” on Feb. 22 through a putsch spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias contemptuous of the ethnic Russians living in the east and south.

Yanukovych’s ouster was strongly encouraged by Nuland, who handpicked Arseniy Yatsenyuk to be the leader of the interim government, while at least four ministries were awarded to the neo-Nazis, including the office of national security, in recognition of their key role in the final attacks that forced Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives.

Though hailed as “legitimate” by the U.S. State Department, the coup regime was rejected by many ethnic Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine. In Crimea, the population voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a development that U.S. officials and the dutiful mainstream media characterized as a Russian “invasion.”

Similarly, in the east, in the so-called Donbass region, ethnic Russians rose up and asserted their independence from the Kiev regime, which then deemed them “terrorists” and launched an “antiterrorist” campaign that incorporated some of the neo-Nazi militias as National Guard units deployed as shock troops to crush the uprising. Several bloody massacres of ethnic Russians followed in Odessa and other cities.

In May, the election of Poroshenko – in balloting mostly conducted in western and central Ukraine – held out some hope for a negotiated settlement with guarantees to respect the ethnic Russian population and greater autonomy granted to the eastern regions. However, Poroshenko had trouble getting control of his hardliners and he refused to negotiate directly with the rebels, leading to the failure of a shaky ceasefire.

A Fateful Decision

While the focus over recent days has been on Poroshenko’s decision to end the ceasefire and go on the offensive, Putin has continued to rely on diplomacy as his primary tool, especially with European officials fearful of the economic consequences of a full-scale confrontation between Russia and the West. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has made considerable headway in getting at least Berlin and Paris to join Moscow in trying to restrain Washington in its apparent eagerness to stoke the fires in Ukraine.

Speaking on Russian TV on Saturday, Lavrov said, “Peace within the warring country [Ukraine] would be more likely if negotiations were left to Russia and Europe,” adding, “Our American colleagues … according to a lot of evidence, still favor pushing the Ukrainian leadership towards the path of confrontation.”

That evidence is increasingly evident to Europeans. What is new is their apparent willingness to slip softly out of their accustomed lockstep subservience to the U.S. in such matters.

Washington is losing support elsewhere in Europe as well. Last Thursday, Kerry declared it “critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that it is moving to help disarm the separatists,” and on Friday the European Union leaders set a Monday deadline for Russia to take a series of steps to avoid further sanctions.

Alas, Monday showed the Europeans putting off any action for at least another week. This delay has driven the editors of the neocon flagship Washington Post to distraction; in Wednesday’s edition they pouted that such lack of resolve amounts to “craven surrender” to “Russian aggression.”

Putin, meanwhile, is maintaining a determined coolness in his public remarks. In a major speech on Tuesday, he noted, in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone:

“Unfortunately, President Poroshenko has resolved to resume military action, and we failed – when I say ‘we,’ I mean my colleagues in Europe and myself – we failed to convince him that the road to a secure, stable, and inviolable peace cannot lie through war. … Mr. Poroshenko had not been directly linked to the orders to begin military action, and only now did he take full responsibility, and not only military, but political as well, which is much more important.

“We also failed to agree to make public a statement approved by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine on the need to maintain peace and search for mutually acceptable solutions.”

Focus on Europe

Putin reminded his audience of Russian ambassadors that “Europe is our natural and most significant trade and economic partner.” Adding a gentle reminder about Europe’s dependence on natural gas from Russia, Putin noted that Moscow had developed a reputation as a “reliable supplier of energy resources.” He also explained why Russia has put Ukraine on a pre-payment system for the delivery of natural gas, noting that Kiev had not paid its bill for several months.

Putin also took a dig at economic “blackmail” in referring to “the pressure our American partners are putting on France to force it not to supply Mistrals [helicopter carrier ships] to Russia.”  Russia bought two Mistral-class ships from France for $1.6 billion in what was Moscow’s first major foreign arms purchase since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Appearing on French TV last month, Putin said, “We expect our French partners to fulfill their contractual obligations” and held out the prospect of future orders, an important enticement given France’s struggling economy.

Toward the end of his speech Putin also drew attention to the spread of “radical, neo-Nazi” elements not only in the fledgling states of the former USSR, “but also in Europe as a whole.”  He warned that “social contradictions … can be a breeding ground for … the growth of extremism.”

Putin added that even in seemingly stable countries ethnic and social contradictions can suddenly escalate and become ripe for external players “to seek illegitimate, non-democratic regime change, with all the ensuing negative consequences.”

Putin seems to be challenging the Germans and French, in particular, who have had direct experience living under fascism (and who now have their own home-bred fascists to deal with), to decide whether they really wish to acquiesce in the brutal suppression of southeastern Ukrainians with the help of admirers of the late Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera and other Ukrainian fascists who helped Hitler cleanse Ukraine of Jewish and Russian “vermin.”

There is serious question as to whether Poroshenko can now rein in these Frankenstein extremists even if he seriously tried to do so. The ultra-nationalists and other hardliners in western Ukraine have made it clear to Poroshenko that they expect him to fulfill his promises about rapidly crushing the eastern Ukrainian uprising.

Meanwhile, the neocon-dominated Western mainstream media has consistently downplayed the role of fascists and neo-Nazis in the Putsch of Feb. 22, in the subsequent violence in other key cities like Odessa, and now in southeastern Ukraine. Mentioning Ukraine’s “brown shirts” destroys the U.S. media’s preferred narrative of Washington-backed “white hats” vs. Moscow-backed “black hats.”

The Russians, of course, have their own violent history with fascists and seem intent on waking other Europeans to the dangers – with the coup in Kiev a very recent reminder. Professor Stephen F. Cohen of New York University provides an excellent wrap-up of the evidence on this issue in a new article, “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities.”

Taking the Ukrainian Army Seriously

Nastupat is a strong word in Ukrainian and Russian. It means “attack” – and Poroshenko hit the word hard in announcing he had ordered his forces to “attack and free our lands.” He seemed intent not only on snubbing his peace-seeking telephone partners from last weekend, but also on channeling John Kerry’s hawkish buddy John McCain.

There were even hints of Bandera’s old attitude about ethnically purifying Ukraine in Poroshenko’s warning that Kiev’s new attack would rid Ukraine of “parasites.” The Ukrainian defense ministry quickly announced the launching of attacks “from the air and land,” and the violence has escalated sharply.

It struck me, though, as I watched the short clip from Reuters that the Washington Post and Huffington Post ran before the footage of Poroshenko’s solemn “nastupat’” announcement, that the segment did nothing to burnish the image of the Ukrainian troops he is sending off to battle.

The clip shows a ragged line of soldiers applauding two comrades as each approaches the corpulent, fatigue-clad, Poroshenko for an award that looks like a small box of chocolates – presumably from Poroshenko’s own candy factory.

The choreography was not the best. Nor has been the performance of Ukrainian troops sent to the east so far. But it would be far too easy to underestimate the kinds of casualties that elite Ukrainian units are capable of inflicting on lightly armed opponents – not to mention the highly trained Right Sektor and other fascists. A bloodbath may be in the offing.

Will Good Sense Prevail?

In his speech on Tuesday, Putin expressed the hope that “pragmatism will eventually prevail.” He tucked in one short paragraph relating directly to Russia’s relations with the U.S., stating merely, “We are not going to shut down our relationship with the United States,” while conceding that relations “are not in good shape” and blaming Washington for ignoring Russia’s “legitimate interests.”

And there is some reason to hope that, as the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine gather in Berlin, they will be able to reinstate the ceasefire and move the conflict off the battlefield and onto the negotiating table.

If Poroshenko chooses the path of bloodshed, however, Putin will react strongly. Russia can be counted on to supply arms to those under air and artillery attack from the Ukrainian military. If this proves to be not enough support, Moscow may decide to do even more, possibly adopting a favorite American strategy of declaring a “no-fly zone” and shooting down attacking aircraft.

But any overt or even covert Russian government assistance to the rebels would, in turn, be sure to add fuel to the fiery hysteria in Official Washington about “Russian aggression.” There would be demands on President Barack Obama to retaliate. Who knows where this madness would end?

In the first part of his Tuesday speech, Putin was upfront about the possibility of a Russian intervention to stop any Ukrainian military slaughter of ethnic Russians. He said he “would like to make clear” to all that Moscow might feel compelled to protect “Russians and Russian-speaking citizens of the Ukraine. … I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community; they may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.”

Putin said, “This country will continue to actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means – from political and economic to the right to self-defense envisaged by international humanitarian law.”

Putin’s reference to “international humanitarian law” sounds very much like the “Responsibility to Protect” so favored by some of President Obama’s foreign policy advisers, though apparently not when the people doing the killing are being supported by the U.S. government.

If an even more dangerous crisis is to be averted, the Russian leader’s words need to be taken seriously. To stanch bloodletting in eastern Ukraine and to protect those on the receiving end of Poroshenko-authorized attacks, I would not expect Putin to let himself be mouse-trapped into invading Ukraine – at least not until he had exhausted all other alternatives.

More likely, he would impose a no-fly zone in an attempt to shield the opposition in the east and save it from being decimated. But that itself could represent a dangerous escalation. Poroshenko and his supporters should realize that such matters can get quickly out of hand. Putin has his own tough-guy John McCains to deal with.

Someone might remind Poroshenko of the embarrassingly bloody nose that the Russians gave Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili in August 2008 when he sent Georgian forces to attack the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Moscow justified its military retaliation as necessary to prevent the killing of Russians as well as the Ossetians in the area.

Ultimately, President George W. Bush and then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had encouraged Saakashvili’s adventurism, were powerless to protect him.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington. During his 27 years as a CIA analyst, he served as chief of CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch as well as preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief.  He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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10 comments on “The Risk of a Ukraine Bloodbath

  1. Great article! Highly informative. Poroshenko is Washington’s poodle. The stepped up campaign is clearly approved by or suggested by the Obama administration.

    The EU flurry of activity and cutout of the Obama team is encouraging. The $330 billion in trade between Russia and the EU is vital to both. This is encouraging.

    Attacking cities to get to rebels means civilian deaths, which are aplenty. How on earth can the Obama people justify this? The question is, who is running Obama on this policy (and Israel is NOT the correct answer, the neocons are foot soldiers)? Is there any push back on this insane policy by Exxon and other interests who have major business with Russia?

  2. Peter Dyer on said:

    Well researched, well-written and timely. Thank you, Mr McGovern.

  3. toby on said:

    I encourage everyone who agree’s that the US warmongers are wrong, go into the belly of the beast MSM, WP, NYT and make comments voicing NO CONFIDENCE in this US/EU/Israel aggression.

    All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.

  4. F. G. Sanford on said:

    I was somewhat encouraged today listening to RT’s “Crosstalk” moderated by Peter Lavelle. Robert Parry was a member of the panel, and aspects of his recent article regarding foreign policy weaknesses were mentioned. Of particular interest was Professor Francis Boyle’s distillation of Neocon ideological provenance: Carl Schmitt, the “crown jewell” of Nazi jurisprudence and Professor Leo Strauss, the “godfather” of American Trotskyism were both given proper credit for their role in the evolution of Neocon nihilism and the neofascist mass psychosis we witness today. Of the Neocons, Professor Boyle said, “These people are neo-Nazis.” Those who have bothered to read some of my previous comments may note that the distinguished Professor practically ‘took the words out of my mouth’. I found it enormously satisfying to hear an eminent man voice in a public forum those truths which few find the courage to tell. The same goes for Ray McGovern. I wonder where he finds the strength. Thanks, Ray, for fighting the ‘good fight’.

  5. mark on said:

    The foreign policy of exerting power without negotiations will bite US in the ass. How long Russia stands for this is on the short list. I have never been more concerned for what remains of this country than today.

  6. Joe Tedesky on said:

    My mother always told me, how one lie would just lead to another lie. Another danger is believing in your own lies. All this war bluster, along with handing out sanctions to everyone begins to create a great sense of loneliness.

    I still believe that the U.S. undoing will come from a pivot shift from within our own circle of allies. Germany, France, Turkey, and Japan in my opinion would be worth paying attention to.

  7. mattmarriott on said:

    Poroshenko does nothing bu to execute orders
    Missing Boeing 777 attacks Parliament (Knesset) with mini-nuke: ** WHY ** script was postponed: UKRAINE not IRAQ

    Ukraine NOT Iraq revolution is the only reason postponing the resurrection of Osama Bin Laden
    Missing Malaysia Boeing 777 was scripted to have resurfaced in Jerusalem, Israel, on the third year of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
    The illuminati were forced to postpone it because a few brave men in Slavyansk, Ukraine, started the Ukraine revolution.
    The plan was to be executed as soon as the ukrainian resisters would be annihilated.

    What happened in the Ukraine in Donetsk and Lugansk in April 2014 had taken place in Iraq months earlier at Fallujah, January 2014.
    Jun 10: Iraq revolution takes control of the second largest city, Mosul.
    Jun 28: Maliki’s genocidal puppet government lost control of half of the country, Baghdad is surrounded from all directions.
    Yet the Ukraine revolution continues to be the only reason postponing the resurrection of Osama Bin Laden attached to the wings of a Boeing 777.

    Why?
    Because the start of the BIG BANG requires total deception everywhere in the IV Reich.
    The same total deception that
    - prevents russians from seeing that an actor impersonates the real murdered Putin;
    - prevents americans from seeing that “Obama” is a total fraud used among other things to lead blacks, other ethnic minorities and freedom loving people to the slaughterhouse.

    It’s possible to continue to paint the Iraq freedom fighters as terrorists of ISIL / ISIS all over the IV Reich, from the USA to Russia.
    But it’s NOT possible to sell the Ukrainian freedom fighters as terrorists in Russia. And that does not fulfill the pre-condition of total deception.
    That’s why Osama and the Boeing 777 will resurrect as soon as Novorossya (Lugansk-Donetsk) will be destroyed.

    BASICS
    ISIS created by the illuminati to fight and discredit the real rebels in Syria and Iraq.
    ISIS also plays a role in the start of the BIG BANG, the remake of 911 2001 at Jerusalem:
    - missing Boeing 777 crashes with a mini-nuke at the Parliament (Knesset).
    - hours or days later Osama Bin Laden resurrects to reveal himself as the real leader of ISIS and the same day Obama is arrested on live TV.
    http://end-times-prophet.blogspot.com/

  8. Ron Beal on said:

    Well, after getting past all of the accolades for being well researched, well written etc. I will agree, it is ‘well written’ but in essence if mostly fluff absent very little truth or depth on the Ukrainian situation!
    My wife is Russian, lived in Odessa, Ukraine for the past 25 years. We have children and G-children, in-laws and friends in both Ukraine and Russia. I have traveled both countries extensively, meeting great people along the way.
    The Russian owned TV channel, http://www.1TV.ru , provides an outlet for the journalist from European countries to present their findings across Europe. (Two Russian journalist have been killed while reporting from Ukraine. In fact, anyone with a camera is a potential target of the Ukrainian Army.) You may investigate the site yourself and use translator software to learn the truth from the ‘other’ side.
    The ‘coup’ was instigated by the Obama White House (OWH), whose snipers fired on both sides during the demonstrations, end of April- 1st week of May. This caused riots, barricades etc. Greystone, fka Blackwater had mercenaries on the ground before the demonstrations began. Approximately 150 civilian dressed advisors were in-country, housed in Kiev, the first week in May. (If you walk like a duck…) The OWH immediately began ‘loan guarantee’ (BS) agreement with Europe for Ukraine. Under the pre-text of a ‘purchase’ the OWH begin pouring military hardware and disposables, i.e., ammo- hollow point 7.62 and exploding ammo, tanks, rockets, APCs, Hummers, Vans, Helicopters, and then air support. Later, phosphorous, chemicals and other gases were provided and used by Kiev. Cluster bombs were provided and used. NOTE – PLEASE: Who is the “war” against? Russian forces are not in Ukraine – there are no Russian spies or instigators anywhere in Ukraine; where are the Russian casualties, Russian dead, the burned, mutilated soldiers ? Where is the evidence of Russian bombed out tanks, kill zones, free zones? From whom are the ‘terrorist’ receiving their supplies, and where are the supply routes and captured supplies? Is anyone going to ask or answer those simple, logical questions? Have we become so brainwashed by the government propaganda we can’t even think or reason?
    Bottom line: (The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say) The OWH, Joe Biden and John McCain have orchestrated the totality of the Ukraine ‘genocide’. All war material (ALL) provided by the OWH is being used against the civilians, both Ukrainian and Russia citizens of Ukraine!!! There are no other forces, fractions, groups or any other ‘named’ forces fighting in Ukraine. The Ukraine government, installed, directed, advised, supported and armed by the OWH, is killing the Citizens of Ukraine, both Russian and Ukrainian daily! US Army troops are on the ground across the country. I have seen the videos with the US troops in uniform, insignia, rank and name shown, shooting citizens in the streets I once walked through.
    US soldiers have raped young women on the streets and parks. Men, women and children have and are being mutilated with axes, their body parts strewn in the streets and on the sidewalks in some cities.
    Some ‘areas’ of eastern Ukraine have been designated as areas to be ‘cleansed’ meaning all humans will be killed if they do not abandon the areas. The cleansing has taken place along the eastern border of Ukraine and Russia. It is estimated that as many as 60,000 refugees have fled Ukraine for surrounding countries, including Russia. The most recent report from French journalist on the Russian border, was 5,000 per day being processed into Russia, who is providing safety, places to sleep, childcare, food, blankets etc. (Buses labeled “Children Bus” in three languages have been riddled with gunfire by the Kiev Army.) Ninety metric tons of supplies, food, clothing, insulin etc was sent by Russia and stopped at the Ukrainian border and ultimately denied access. Videos show the convoy of Russian trucks backed up at the checkpoint into Ukraine.
    The talking-head from the OWH responds to questions related to the refugees as, ‘people going on vacation, going to beach, going to see grand-children’ etc. No problem, Russia lies….”
    Ref the following article quote: “Someone might remind Poroshenko of the embarrassingly bloody nose that the Russians gave Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili in August 2008 when he sent Georgian forces to attack the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Moscow justified its military retaliation as necessary to prevent the killing of Russians as well as the Ossetians in the area.
    Ultimately, President George W. Bush and then-Republican presidential candidate John Cain, who had encouraged Saakashvili’s adventurism, were powerless to protect him.”
    That sounds really dramatic: Bush and John McCain, “who had encouraged” ? !!!
    First, Russia did not ‘bloody’ anyone’s nose, not a shot was fired. Russian tanks approached and the demand to cease all military action was given, under the threat of Russia invading, to protect, as stated. But no one received a bloody anything. But one item is true: encouraged by Bush and John McCain – Ossetia – does not have an army!!! All the killing, encouraged by B & J, was civilians!!! Men riding bicycles and motor scoters were shot by military soldiers. What a f…g victory that was going to be, AGAIN I REPEAT, encouraged by B & J!! Stand proud America.
    In closing, your article was well written, I just wish you would use your talent to reveal truth and not engage in presenting more fluff, porridge and artificial sweetener for the propaganda bloated masses…
    I am retired military, commissioned officer, Viet Nam vet and General Staff Officer, Intelligence.

  9. amaze on said:

    There’s now rumours (reported even in Russian mainstream media) that Rand corporation has made a plan for the ethnic cleansing of the separatist regions, complete with concentration camps and such.. (could be fake, of course )

    http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_07_05/Plan-for-suppression-of-eastern-Ukraine-prepared-by-US-Agency-RAND-for-Poroshenko-2636/

  10. Sharkey on said:

    Ukrainian nazi government airstrike on Lugansk City.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=padcE_nc664