Ukraine, Through the US Looking Glass

Exclusive: As the post-coup regime in Ukraine sends troops and paramilitaries to crack down on ethnic Russian protesters in the east, the U.S. news media continues to feed the American public a steady dose of anti-Russian propaganda, often wrapped in accusations of “Russian propaganda,” Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

The acting president of the coup regime in Kiev announces that he is ordering an “anti-terrorist” operation against pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine, while his national security chief says he has dispatched right-wing ultranationalist fighters who spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

On Tuesday, Andriy Parubiy, head of the Ukrainian National Security Council, went on Twitter to declare, “Reserve unit of National Guard formed #Maidan Self-defense volunteers was sent to the front line this morning.” Parubiy was referring to the neo-Nazi militias that provided the organized muscle that overthrew Yanukovych, forcing him to flee for his life. Some of these militias have since been incorporated into security forces as “National Guard.”

Parubiy himself is a well-known neo-Nazi, who founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine in 1991. The party blended radical Ukrainian nationalism with neo-Nazi symbols. Parubiy also formed a paramilitary spinoff, the Patriots of Ukraine, and defended the awarding of the title, “Hero of Ukraine,” to World War II Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, whose own paramilitary forces exterminated thousands of Jews and Poles in pursuit of a racially pure Ukraine.

During the months of protests aimed at overthrowing Yanukovych, Parubiy became the commandant of “Euromaidan,” the name for the Kiev uprising, and after the Feb. 22 coup Parubiy was one of four far-right Ukrainian nationalists given control of a ministry, i.e. national security.

But the U.S. press has played down his role because his neo-Nazism conflicts with Official Washington’s narrative that the neo-Nazis played little or no role in the “revolution.” References to neo-Nazis in the “interim government” are dismissed as “Russian propaganda.”

Yet there Parubiy was on Tuesday bragging that some of his neo-Nazi storm troopers renamed “National Guard” were now being sicced on rebellious eastern Ukraine as part of the Kiev government’s “anti-terrorist” operation.

The post-coup President Oleksandr Turchynov also warned that Ukraine was confronting a “colossal danger,” but he insisted that the suppression of the pro-Russian protesters would be treated as an “anti-terrorist” operation and not as a “civil war.” Everyone should understand by now that “anti-terror” suggests extrajudicial killings, torture and “counter-terror.”

Yet, with much of the Ukrainian military of dubious loyalty to the coup regime, the dispatch of the neo-Nazi militias from western Ukraine’s Right Sektor and Svoboda parties represents a significant development. Not only do the Ukrainian neo-Nazis consider the ethnic Russians an alien presence, but these right-wing militias are organized to wage street fighting as they did in the February uprising.

Historically, right-wing paramilitaries have played crucial roles in “counter-terror” campaigns around the world. In Central America in the 1980s, for instance, right-wing “death squads” did much of the dirty work for U.S.-backed military regimes as they crushed social protests and guerrilla movements.

The merging of the concept of “anti-terrorism” with right-wing paramilitaries represents a potentially frightening development for the people of eastern Ukraine. And much of this information about Turchynov’s comments and Parubiy’s tweet can be found in a New York Times’ dispatch from Ukraine.

Whose Propaganda?

However, on the Times’ front page on Wednesday was a bizarre story by David M. Herszenhorn accusing the Russian government of engaging in a propaganda war by making many of the same points that you could find albeit without the useful context about Parubiy’s neo-Nazi background in the same newspaper.

In the article entitled “Russia Is Quick To Bend Truth About Ukraine,” Herszenhorn mocked Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev for making a Facebook posting that “was bleak and full of dread,” including noting that “blood has been spilled in Ukraine again” and adding that “the threat of civil war looms.”

The Times article continued, “He [Medvedev] pleaded with Ukrainians to decide their own future ‘without usurpers, nationalists and bandits, without tanks or armored vehicles and without secret visits by the C.I.A. director.’ And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies about the political crisis in Ukraine that have emanated from the highest echelons of the Kremlin and reverberated on state-controlled Russian television, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.”

This argumentative “news” story spilled from the front page to the top half of an inside page, but Herszenhorn never managed to mention that there was nothing false in what Medvedev said. Indeed, it was the much-maligned Russian press that first reported the secret visit of CIA Director John Brennan to Kiev.

Though the White House has since confirmed that report, Herszenhorn cites Medvedev’s reference to it in the context of “misinformation” and “conspiracy theories.” Nowhere in the long article does the Times inform its readers that, yes, the CIA director did make a secret visit to Ukraine last weekend. Presumably, that reality has now disappeared into the great memory hole along with the on-ground reporting from Feb. 22 about the key role of the neo-Nazi militias.

The neo-Nazis themselves have pretty much disappeared from Official Washington’s narrative, which now usually recounts the coup as simply a case of months of protests followed by Yanukovych’s decision to flee. Only occasionally, often buried deep in news articles with the context removed, can you find admissions of how the neo-Nazis spearheaded the coup.

A Wounded Extremist

For instance, on April 6, the New York Times published a human-interest profile of a Ukrainian named Yuri Marchuk who was wounded in clashes around Kiev’s Maidan square in February. You have to read far into the story to learn that Marchuk was a Svoboda leader from Lviv, which if you did your own research you would discover is a neo-Nazi stronghold where Ukrainian nationalists hold torch-light parades in honor of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.

Without providing that context, the Times does mention that Lviv militants plundered a government weapons depot and dispatched 600 militants a day to do battle in Kiev. Marchuk also described how these well-organized militants, consisting of paramilitary brigades of 100 fighters each, launched the fateful attack against the police on Feb. 20, the battle where Marchuk was wounded and where the death toll suddenly spiked into scores of protesters and about a dozen police.

Marchuk later said he visited his comrades at the occupied City Hall. What the Times doesn’t mention is that City Hall was festooned with Nazi banners and even a Confederate battle flag as a tribute to white supremacy.

The Times touched on the inconvenient truth of the neo-Nazis again on April 12 in an article about the mysterious death of neo-Nazi leader Oleksandr Muzychko, who was killed during a shootout with police on March 24. The article quoted a local Right Sektor leader, Roman Koval, explaining the crucial role of his organization in carrying out the anti-Yanukovych coup.

“Ukraine’s February revolution, said Mr. Koval, would never have happened without Right Sector and other militant groups,” the Times wrote. Yet, that reality though actually reported in the New York Times has now become “Russian propaganda,” according to the New York Times.

This upside-down American narrative also ignores the well-documented interference of prominent U.S. officials in stirring up the protesters in Kiev, which is located in the western part of Ukraine and is thus more anti-Russian than eastern Ukraine where many ethnic Russians live and where Yanukovych had his political base.

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland was a cheerleader for the uprising, reminding Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations,” discussing who should replace Yanukovych (her choice, Arseniy Yatsenyuk became the new prime minister), and literally passing out cookies to the protesters in the Maidan. (Nuland is married to neoconservative superstar Robert Kagan, a founder of the Project for the New American Century.)

During the protests, neocon Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, took the stage with leaders of Svoboda surrounded by banners honoring Stepan Bandera and urged on the protesters. Even before the demonstrations began, prominent neocon Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, had dubbed Ukraine “the biggest prize.” [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “What’s the Matter with John Kerry?”]

Indeed, in my four-plus decades in journalism, I have never seen a more thoroughly biased and misleading performance by the major U.S. news media. Even during the days of Ronald Reagan when much of the government’s modern propaganda structure was created there was more independence in major news outlets. There were media stampedes off the reality cliff during George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War and George W. Bush’s Iraq War, both of which were marked by demonstrably false claims that were readily swallowed by the big U.S. news outlets.

But there is something utterly Orwellian in the current coverage of the Ukraine crisis, including accusing others of “propaganda” when their accounts though surely not perfect are much more honest and more accurate than what the U.S. press corps has been producing.

There’s also the added risk that this latest failure by the U.S. press corps is occurring on the border of Russia, a nuclear-armed state that along with the United States could exterminate all life on the planet. The biased U.S. news coverage is now feeding into political demands to send U.S. military aid to Ukraine’s coup regime.

The casualness of this propaganda as it spreads across the U.S. media spectrum from Fox News to MSNBC, from the Washington Post to the New York Times is not just wretched journalism but it is reckless malfeasance jeopardizing the lives of many Ukrainians and the future of the planet.

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.




Rigging the Game Against Palestinians

Official Washington’s neocons are busy spinning the latest U.S. failure to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace as an excuse to extend the Israeli occupation indefinitely by insisting that the Palestinians first pass some ever-receding test of quality self-governance, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Now that Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to breathe life into the diplomacy known as the Middle East peace process has been widely pronounced even by those who appropriately salute his efforts to be a failure, different quarters are chiming in with recommendations for what to do next about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some suggestions are helpful; others would only help to perpetuate the Israeli occupation and lack of an agreement, and may be tacitly intended to do just that.

The New York Times editorial board proposes that the United States, as a last act before ending this phase of its active diplomacy on the problem, post on the international bulletin board its own sense of what the principles of a final settlement ought to look like. This is probably worth doing, and it has the merit of reflecting the fact that the basic lines of a feasible two-state solution have been apparent for some time.

Perhaps this would help to clarify who is resisting such a settlement and who is not. This has been tried before, however, most notably with the Clinton parameters, and it was insufficient to push the process over a finish line.

A couple of other limitations and uncertainties, revealed in the most recent diplomacy, would have to be overcome for such a U.S. declaration of principles to help. One concerns whether the Obama administration would be able and willing to backtrack on how, in its recent efforts to get some kind of preliminary agreement, it moved away from the consensus feasible settlement and adopted certain Israeli positions, such as regarding a continued troop presence in the Jordan River valley, that were bound to be unacceptable to any Palestinian leader.

The other uncertainty concerns the ability of one of the parties with the Israeli government demonstrating this skill in virtuoso form to use mixtures of procedural and substantive issues to put off any agreement even without explicitly rejecting U.S.-promulgated principles. The Netanyahu government has done this with its “Jewish state” demand and, more recently, with its reneging on a commitment to release Palestinian prisoners. The latter tactic resembles the familiar North Korean ploy of selling the same horse twice by making new demands for compensation in return for doing something it was already supposed to do anyway.

A different, but old and familiar, proposal that comes from those most sympathetic to an indefinite Israeli occupation has been voiced anew by Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post and Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for New East Policy. This notion is that a Palestinian state is not something to be created from above through negotiations but built up from below through a long process of developing Palestinian institutions.

The idea is that statehood is not a gift to be given to the Palestinians, but something they must earn by being good administrators. The appropriate role for the United States and other outsiders, according to this formulation, is to provide assistance and tutelage in being good administrators.

Thus Diehl says, “The Obama administration could have kept the forward movement going by continuing to promote the construction of Palestinian institutions including a democratic, corruption-resistant government and by pushing Israel to turn over more security responsibility and remove impediments to the Palestinian economy.”

Similarly, Singh writes that “a greater emphasis should be placed on Palestinian economic growth and reform” and addressing “corruption in the PA.”

This idea is not a prescription at all for reaching a settlement, ending the occupation, and creating a Palestinian state. It instead is a prescription for extending the occupation indefinitely by making it run smoothly. It is a method for making the principal Israeli sub-contractor for the occupation because that is what the Palestinian Authority has become do its part of the occupation duties tolerably well.

Meanwhile, Israel arrogates for itself the function of judge in determining whether the Palestinians have performed well enough to move to the next stage of this game. There will always be some reason why they are declared not yet ready. Corruption, as mentioned by both Diehl and Singh, will be a perennial favorite issue for this purpose.

If necessary, the Israelis can take direct action to make sure the economic and security performance of the Palestinians does not get too good, lest too many people start asking whether they really are ready for a state. The Israelis have done so in the past by trashing Palestinian infrastructure in the West Bank, and of course have done so in a more brutal way with the Gaza Strip in making it as difficult as possible for the Palestinian governing authority there to govern.

Singh states, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not ripe to be solved.” The obvious, glaring question to be asked in response is, “So when, after 47 years of occupation and more than two decades since the Palestinian Authority was created, will it ever be ripe?”

The actual answer, of course, given the framework Singh is trying to impose, is “never.” But the false promise of statehood at the end of the rainbow helps to keep enough Palestinians docilely on the reservation while the occupation continues.

Diehl tries to encourage the idea that there actually is some sort of progression toward that ever-receding statehood pot at the rainbow’s end by asserting that there has been “cumulatively enormous progress toward coexistence” and the parties “have traveled most of the path to a final settlement.” Totally ignoring trends in Israeli politics over the last 20 years, he would have us (and Palestinians) believe that the Palestinians are closer to having a state now, in the era of Benjamin Netanyahu, than they were when Israeli policy was made by Yitzhak Rabin.

Amazingly, Diehl cites as progress Ariel Sharon’s pull-out from the Gaza Strip, as if a unilateral action leading to a suffocating blockade and destructive military assaults is somehow a step toward a negotiated settlement providing for two states living peacefully beside each other. He also strains to reassure us about the continued construction of Israeli settlements, saying that the pace of colonization has slowed from earlier in the occupation and that most of the new housing is in “areas near the 1967 border,” apparently paying no attention to recent land appropriations that Haaretz describes as the “largest in years.”

Amid the fact-creating on the ground and the false-promise-making in print, it is understandable that more and more people talk of discarding hope for a two-solution and concentrating on trying to obtain human rights within one state. Even the son of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has made this transition. But no one has yet sufficiently explained how the nationalist aspirations of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs could be satisfied this way, and if they cannot, how a one-state solution would endure.

Perhaps action needs to be taken in the name of human rights within a single state, but without discarding the goal of two states. In this regard one of the best suggestions for where things ought to go from here comes from Henry Siegman:

“A two-state outcome is still possible if Palestinians were to take their fate into their own hands, rather than waiting for a deus ex machina, by shutting down institutions such as the Palestinian Authority that serve their subjugators and launching a non-violent, anti-apartheid struggle for equal citizenship in the de facto Greater Israel to which they have been consigned. Such a determined struggle may even convince Israelis to accept a two-state outcome, for the loss of their state’s Jewish identity in a single state in which Jews are outnumbered by Arabs is a price most Israelis will not pay for a Greater Israel.”

Siegman assesses that if Israel still rejected a two-state solution under such conditions, broad international backing for the anti-apartheid struggle would lead even Washington to abandon Israeli apartheid. That is hardly a given, and American policy in such circumstances would still be the most critical variable of all.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)