Explaining the Ukraine Crisis

Spurred on by neocons and liberal war hawks, the Obama administration lurches toward a dangerous escalation of tensions with nuclear-armed Russia, while the American people are again fed a steady diet of propaganda that is challenged by a new book on the Ukraine crisis, reviewed by David Swanson.

By David Swanson

I’m not sure if there’s been a better written book published yet this year than Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard and How the West Was Checkmated, but I’m confident there’s not been a more important one. With some 17,000 nuclear bombs in the world, the United States and Russia have about 16,000 of them. The United States is aggressively flirting with World War III, the people of the United States have not the foggiest notion of how or why, and authors Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong explain it all quite clearly. Go ahead and tell me there’s nothing you’re now spending your time on that’s less important than this.

This book puts all the relevant facts, those I knew and many I didn’t, together concisely and with perfect organization. It does it with an informed worldview. It leaves me nothing to complain about at all, which is almost unheard of in my book reviews. I find it refreshing to encounter writers so well-informed who also grasp the significance of their information.

Nearly half the book is used to set the context for recent events in Ukraine. It’s useful to understand the end of the cold war, the irrational hatred of Russia that pervades elite U.S. thinking, and the patterns of behavior that are replaying themselves now at higher volume. Stirring up fanatical fighters in Afghanistan and Chechnya and Georgia, and targeting Ukraine for similar use: this is a context CNN won’t provide. The partnership of the neocons (in arming and provoking violence in Libya) with the humanitarian warriors (in riding to the rescue for regime change): this is a precedent and a model that NPR won’t mention. The U.S. promise not to expand NATO, the U.S. expansion of NATO to 12 new countries right up to the border of Russia, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and pursuit of “missile defense”, this is background that Fox News would never deem significant.

U.S. support for the rule of criminal oligarchs willing to sell off Russian resources, and Russian resistance to those schemes, such accounts are almost incomprehensible if you’ve consumed too much U.S. “news,” but are explained and documented well by Baldwin and Heartsong.

This book includes excellent background on the use and abuse of Gene Sharp (an American advocate of non-violent struggle) and the color revolutions instigated by the U.S. government. A silver lining may be found, I think, in the value of nonviolent action recognized by all involved, whether for good or ill. The same lesson can be found (for good this time) in the civilian resistance to Ukrainian troops in the spring of 2014, and the refusal of (some) troops to attack civilians.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine II in 2013-2014 are recounted well, including detailed chronology. It’s truly remarkable how much has been publicly reported that remains buried.

Western leaders met repeatedly in 2012 and 2013 to plot the fate of Ukraine. Neo-Nazis from Ukraine were sent to Poland to train for a coup. NGOs operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev organized trainings for coup participants. On Nov. 24, 2013, three days after Ukraine refused an IMF deal, including refusing to sever ties to Russia, protesters in Kiev began to clash with police.

The protesters used violence, destroying buildings and monuments, and tossing Molotov cocktails, but President Obama warned the Ukrainian government not to respond with force. (Contrast that with the treatment of the Occupy movement, or the shooting on Capitol Hill of the woman who made an unacceptable U-turn in her car with her baby.)

U.S.-funded groups organized a Ukrainian opposition, funded a new TV channel, and promoted regime change. The U.S. State Department spent some $5 billion. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who handpicked the new leaders, openly brought cookies to protesters. When those protesters violently overthrew the government in February 2014, the United States immediately declared the coup government legitimate.

That new government banned major political parties, and attacked, tortured, and murdered their members. The new government included neo-Nazis and would soon include officials imported from the United States. The new government banned the Russian language, the first language of many Ukrainian citizens. Russian war memorials were destroyed. Russian-speaking populations were attacked and murdered.

Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine, had its own parliament, had been part of Russia from 1783 until 1954, had publicly voted for close ties to Russia in 1991, 1994, and 2008, and its parliament had voted to rejoin Russia in 2008. On March 16, 2014, 82 percent of Crimeans took part in a referendum, and 96 percent of them voted to rejoin Russia. This nonviolent, bloodless, democratic and legal action, in no violation of a Ukrainian constitution that had been shredded by a violent coup, was immediately denounced in the West as a Russian “invasion” of Crimea.

Novorossiyans, too, sought independence and were attacked by the new Ukrainian military the day after CIA Director John Brennan visited Kiev and ordered that crime. I know that the Fairfax County Police who have kept me and my friends away from John Brennan’s house in Virginia have had no clue what hell he was unleashing on helpless people thousands of miles away. But that ignorance is at least as disturbing as informed malice would be.

Civilians were attacked by jets and helicopters for months in the worst killing in Europe since World War II. Russian President Putin repeatedly pressed for peace, a ceasefire, negotiations. A ceasefire finally came on Sept. 5, 2014.

Remarkably, contrary to what we’ve all been told, Russia didn’t invade Ukraine any of the numerous times we were told that it had just done so. We’ve graduated from mythical weapons of mass destruction, through mythical threats to Libyan civilians, and false accusation of chemical weapons use in Syria, to false accusations of launching invasions that were never launched. The “evidence” of the invasion(s) was carefully left devoid of location or any verifiable detail, but has all been decidedly debunked anyway.

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 20114, a passenger plane carrying 298 people, was blamed on Russia with no evidence. The U.S. has information on what happened but won’t release it. Russia released what it had, and the evidence, in agreement with eyewitnesses on the ground, and in agreement with an air-traffic controller at the time, is that the plane was shot down by one or more other planes. “Evidence” that Russia shot the plane down with a missile has been exposed as sloppy forgeries. The vapor trail that a missile would have left was reported by not a single witness.

Baldwin and Heartsong close with the case that U.S. actions have backfired, that in fact whether the people of the United States have any idea what is going on or not, the power brokers in Washington have Second Amendmented themselves in the foot. Sanctions against Russia have made Putin as popular at home as George W. Bush was after he’d managed to exist as president while planes were flown into the World Trade Center.

The same sanctions have strengthened Russia by turning it toward its own production and toward alliances with non-Western nations. Ukraine has suffered, and Europe suffers from a cut-off of Russian gas, while Russia makes deals with Turkey, Iran and China. Evicting a Russian base from Crimea seems more hopeless now than before this madness began.

Russia is leading the way as more nations abandon the U.S. dollar. Retaliatory sanctions from Russia are hurting the West. Far from isolated, Russia is working with the BRICS nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other alliances. Far from impoverished, Russia is buying up gold while the U.S. sinks into debt and is increasingly viewed by the world as a rogue player, and resented by Europe for depriving Europe of Russian trade.

This story begins in the irrationality of collective trauma coming out of the holocaust of World War II and of blind hatred for Russia. It must end with the same irrationality. If U.S. desperation leads to war with Russia in Ukraine or elsewhere along the Russian border where NATO is engaging in various war games and exercises, there may be no more human stories ever told or heard.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook. [This story previously appeared at http://worldbeyondwar.org/ukraine-and-the-apocalyptic-risk-of-propagandized-ignorance/.]  

27 comments for “Explaining the Ukraine Crisis

  1. Ernest
    June 26, 2015 at 15:22

    It’s something disturbing with Americans. You are discussioning about book but not what is inside. Other case it would be already in Washington Post or NYT oooor US Today! On Cover. You’ve got silent since 1960es. Sincerely.

  2. Don
    June 17, 2015 at 18:16

    Some very fine entries here, and thanks to all. I’m a bit surprised that no one has mentioned a wonderful 2015 book entitled Frontline Ukraine, by Professor Richard Sakwa, at the University of Kent, in England. It is remarkable for its depth of research, balanced perspective, and clear writing style. While Sakwa has criticisms for both sides to the conflict, he weighs in more powerfully against the U.S. and the E.U. He covers Ukraine’s history primarily from about 1990 forward.

    For those of us who read thoroughly about events like the crisis there, but sometimes wish for additional information or context, it is great to see this in a book like this. As an example, I wanted a bit more about the plot against Crimea (that mirrored the events in Kiev), which was intercepted by Russian intelligence. I had learned of it from the estimable Pepe Escobar. Sakwa weighs in on that and essentially corroborates what Pepe had revealed.


  3. Joe L.
    June 16, 2015 at 17:06

    It’s funny, I was looking at an article on Yahoo! Finance about how China and Russia are trying to keep “colour revolutions” from occurring in their countries – Yahoo! Finance basically making the point that “colour revolutions” are a good thing for democracy and freedom – blah, blah, blah (“China has taken up Russia’s deepest fear” – http://finance.yahoo.com/news/china-taken-russias-deepest-fear-155944253.html). Then I scrolled to the comments below and they seem so totally clueless how these “colour revolutions” are manipulated by the US to try and install governments that are subservient to the US and US corporations.

    I am never more amazed that people still buy into the jargon that everything that western nations do is for the sake of “democracy” and “freedom” for the world meanwhile we have examples of Iraq OR even the US training 11 Latin American dictators and overthrowing democracies all throughout Latin America to install them. I just don’t know how anyone, in the day of the internet, can be so completely clueless about what has happened in the past as a clue to what is happening today!

    I would love someday to see China as a democracy but not one that is created or manipulated by the US or any other country – a democracy of their own making. Democracy, for the US, means countries that are subservient to US interests and US corporations – sounds more like a dictatorship to me. Just because the US, or western powers, don’t like a certain leader of a country that was “democratically elected” does not mean that the country is any less of a democracy – this was apparent with Egypt and Ukraine with the overthrow of both of their “democratically elected” leaders with the help of US NGO’s such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy who stir up trouble in country after country. More people need to wake up and stop believing the “patriotic” BS which supports every war or regime change as defending “freedom” and “democracy”.

    • June 17, 2015 at 01:21

      Joe says, “I would love someday to see China as a democracy ..”

      I’d like that, too.

      The reality is that all powerful countries eventually turn into bullies. Large, ethnically (or economically) diverse countries have the added problem that it’s difficult to get the population to follow the leadership, so they tend to become repressive. Due to its size, China is an administrative nightmare, one with increasing wealth inequality. And, even if some of the trouble in the East China Sea is being stirred up by the U.S., ask the Vietnamese about what kind of neighbors the Chinese make. If China ever gets organized to get back into the imperial business, I predict that a lot of nations are going to be very sorry.

      What’s needed for democracy is reasonable levels of economic security, high levels of education, tolerance for diversity of ideas, and reasonable income equality. I hope China achieves those conditions. Right now it’s a top down society that seems more interested in preserving privilege than in creating a just society.

      • Vitaly
        June 17, 2015 at 17:44

        You have started these comments with the statement “One wishes that authors with more depth in the field had written such a book.”
        So, I advise you to go back to school and learn more about 26 centuries of recorded Chinese history. It will take some time but at the end you will be able to compare your current uneducated prognostications with reality.

      • dahoit
        June 18, 2015 at 10:47

        Document historical Chinese imperialism please?sheesh.
        The hatred for Russia by our state dept,is because our state dept. has been overrun by Zion,who hate all goyim for pointing out obvious Zionist corruption.
        And yeah,how did the shrub who permitted 9-11 to happen with absolutely no govt. interference when they were warned repeatedly,be made a hero from a zero,with absolutely no pushback on his obvious failure.And medals of freedom for his f*ckup underlings.What a colossal scam.

    • Gregory Herr
      June 19, 2015 at 22:12

      Why are people so clueless? Orwell’s “Notes on Nationalism” is full of insight. Sadly, many are limited by their habit of thinking in terms of “competitive prestige,” with all the attendant ramifications that Orwell so deftly describes.

  4. Abe
    June 16, 2015 at 16:02

    Myth #1: Russia started it.
    Myth #2: Yanukovich fled Ukraine due to a massive peaceful protest representing the majority sentiment in the country.
    Myth #3: The Donbas rebellion is a Russian contrivance with no indigenous support and no legitimate grievances.

    3 Western Media Myths About the Ukraine War
    By Natylie Baldwin

  5. Drew Hunkins
    June 16, 2015 at 14:31

    This sounds like marvelous book.

    Another excellent book on the Western orchestrated crisis in Ukraine is a book called “Flashpoint in Ukraine” by Stephen Lendman published by Clarity Press.

    “Flashpoint in Ukraine” was originally released in 2014, it’s a short yet incisive read. It’s actually a compendium of essays written by such intellectuals as Paul Craig Roberts, James Petras and Michael Parenti among others.

  6. June 16, 2015 at 14:23

    The mention of the Russian base in the Crimea is mentioned, but I wonder if the book covers the alliance Russia has with Syria. Saudi Arabia has a desire to lay a natural gas pipeline across Syria, and it would conflict with that nation’s plans for a similar pipeline. The value of the gas, to go to Europe, was said to be $24 trillion.

    The Saudis were trying to split Russia from Syria, and get monopoly. Saudi Prince Bandar negotiated and then threatened Putin in the summer before the events in the Ukraine. Cutting that base away from Russia was of prime importance to the pipeline plot.

    • Abe
      June 16, 2015 at 16:28

      Back in 2013, Putin responded to Bandar Bush by saying: “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles. Our stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters.”

      Washington responded by doubling down on liver eaters and neo-Nazis: the U.S. version of developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.

  7. Abe
    June 16, 2015 at 12:55

    Stanley Kubrick playing chess with George C. Scott in the “War Room” during production of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

  8. Abe
    June 16, 2015 at 12:00

    Deconstructing the Ukraine War: The Players and Their Interests
    By Natylie Baldwin

    • Abe
      June 16, 2015 at 12:05

      Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong “Grand Chessboard” checkmate

      June 14th Radio Interview — listen to 2nd hour

  9. Zachary Smith
    June 16, 2015 at 11:49

    I looked up the book, and since it’s so new, it’s also still expensive. That, plus the limited space remaining on my shelves, means it’ll be a while before I purchase it. Naturally my public library doesn’t have it either.

    So I’m left with the internet tubes.

    Ukraine became a failed state due to a coup d’état engineered by Barack Obama’s state department. US policy wonks did not like the prospect of Ukraine joining Russia’s regional trade group called the Eurasian Customs Union instead of tilting toward NATO and the European Union. So, we paid for and enabled a coalition of crypto-fascists to rout the duly elected president. One of the first acts of the US-backed new regime was to declare punishment of Russian language speakers, and so the predominately Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine revolted. Russia reacted to all this instability by seizing the Crimean peninsula, which had been part of Russia proper both before and through the Soviet chapter of history. The Crimea contained Russia’s only warm water seaports and naval bases. What morons in the US government ever thought Russia would surrender those assets to a newly-failed neighbor state?

    This short piece isn’t too kind to either Hillary or Jeb – the no-last-name candidate.


    • Abe
      June 16, 2015 at 15:59
    • Anonymous
      June 16, 2015 at 20:51

      Dont waste your money. The book is complete crap.

      • Abe
        June 16, 2015 at 22:59

        A devastating critique.

      • Vitaly
        June 17, 2015 at 17:30

        If you’re to be trusted then why you’re Anonymous?
        Ergo, you waste your time for money. Please share with us the name of your paymaster.

  10. Mark
    June 16, 2015 at 11:23

    The West, led by the US, is checkmating itself by having implimented plans that eventually, if successful, will make their desired’New World Fascist Order’ a reality.

    As people and counties slowly turn against the US for initiating so many of our own international crimes, while convincing or coercing others to join them, all for the selfish benefits of very few Americans intoxicated with weilding excessive power for it’s own sake — as they don’t need whatever income it will bring to those who’ve made these decisions while coercing, bribing and propagadizing so many others to be their accomplices.

  11. June 16, 2015 at 11:09

    One wishes that authors with more depth in the field had written such a book. Just from their biographies, I doubt this will persuade anyone who isn’t already persuaded. That doesn’t mean I dismiss it–I may well buy the book–but a Stephen Cohen or a James Carden needs to author a work like this for it to get much play.

    • Mark
      June 16, 2015 at 11:51

      Part of the world’s problem is listening to people with “credentials”.

      Instead of following idiots or those who intentionally mislead them, or even those who know the truth and have it right, people need to acquire the ability to read between the lines and determine the truth for themselves from the available evidence and information — and we know that’s not happening.

      It seems there is already enough people with credentials to have made the case against the American empire and all their nefarious deeds and actions to date. Why do you suppose it is the illegal empire has not been substatially impeded to date by common sense and what is in the best interests of the American people in consideration for plain morality and ethics as well as domestic and international law?

      My pwn belief is that there is so much moreinfluence that plays into all of this that is dictated by human nature and instinct — social and tribal instinct — that it is all much more complex than just having the truth available for anyone that wants it.

      • June 17, 2015 at 01:03

        Examining people’s credentials is hardly a problem. It’s a basic feature of rationality. It only becomes a problem when one stops at the credentials.

        Indeed, a real problem of the present age is that everyone wants to be a journalist without having some basic ideas about what that means. And so, left-wing (and right-wing) sites are plagued with paranoia posing as skepticism. Tha’s fine with those who would like to keep the people divided. As long as people are running in all directions, armed with half-truths and errors, and awash in their own sanctimony, they aren’t going to persuade anyone.

        It takes some wisdom to understand the difficult truths: that our opponents aren’t all scoundrels, that there’s often ambiguity, that it pays to stick narrowly to what is certain without overreaching into demagogy, and especially that when we aren’t experts in an area, we should be especially careful.

        David Swanson should, at the very least, discussed the credentials of the authors.

        • Mark
          June 17, 2015 at 04:22

          I would disagree. The book was reviewed not the authors.

          The authors could theoretically be masters of deceit but that would not negate verifiable facts and astute conclusions or valid opinions.

        • mark
          June 19, 2015 at 13:08

          And speaking of credentials — do you mean like those of the economist cult that gave us trickle down economics, deregulation and the most costly scam and rip-off in the history of mankind culminating in the world economic crash of 2008?

          People are still paying for the thieving committed and damage caused by those with perfect “credentials”.

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