Exclusive: In an interview with Oliver Stone, Russian President Putin explained his take on the Ukraine crisis, one that contrasts with what the U.S. mainstream media has allowed the American people to hear, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
A prime example of how today’s mainstream media paradigm works in the U.S. is the case of Ukraine, where Americans have been shielded from evidence that the 2014 ouster of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych was a U.S.-supported coup d’etat spearheaded by violent neo-Nazi extremists.
As The New York Times has instructed us, there was no coup in Ukraine; there was no U.S. interference; and there weren’t even that many neo-Nazis. And, the ensuing civil conflict wasn’t a resistance among Yanukovych’s supporters to his illegal ouster; no, it was “Russian aggression” or a “Russian invasion.”
If you deviate from this groupthink – if you point out how U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland talked about the U.S. spending $5 billion on Ukraine; if you mention her pre-coup intercepted phone call with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who the new leaders would be and how “to glue” or how “to “midwife this thing”; if you note how Nuland and Sen. John McCain urged on the violent anti-Yanukovych protesters; if you recognize that snipers firing from far-right-controlled buildings killed both police and protesters to provoke the climactic ouster of Yanukovych; and if you think all that indeed looks like a coup – you obviously are the victim of “Russian propaganda and disinformation.”
But most Americans probably haven’t heard any of that evidence revealing a coup, thanks to the mainstream U.S. media, which has essentially banned those deviant facts from the public discourse. If they are mentioned at all, they are lumped together with “fake news” amid the reassuring hope that soon there will be algorithms to purge such troublesome information from the Internet.
So, if Americans tune in to Part Three of Oliver Stone’s “The Putin Interviews” on “Showtime” and hear Russian President Vladimir Putin explain his perspective on the Ukraine crisis, they may become alarmed that Putin, leader of a nuclear-armed country, is delusional.
A Nuanced Perspective
In reality, Putin’s account of the Ukraine crisis is fairly nuanced. He notes that there was genuine popular anger over the corruption that came to dominate Ukraine after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 and the selling off of the nation’s assets to well-connected “oligarchs.”
Putin recognizes that many Ukrainians felt that an association with the European Union could help solve their problems. But that created a problem for Russia because of the absence of tariffs between Russia and Ukraine and concerns about the future of bilateral trade that is especially important to Ukraine, which stood to lose some $160 billion.
When Yanukovych decided to postpone the E.U. agreement so he could iron out that problem, protests erupted, Putin said. But — from that point on — Putin’s narrative deviates from what the U.S. government and mainstream media tell the American people.
“Our European and American partners managed to mount this horse of discontent of the people and instead of trying to find out what was really happening, they decided to support the coup d’etat,” Putin said.
Contrary to the U.S. claims blaming Yanukovych for the violence in the Maidan protests, Putin said, “Yanukovych didn’t give an order to use weapons against civilians. And incidentally, our Western partners, including the United States, asked us to influence him so that he did not give any orders to use weapons. They told us, ‘We ask you to prevent President Yanukovych from using the armed forces.’ And they promised … they were going to do everything for the opposition to clear the squares and the administrative buildings.
“We said, ‘Very well, that is a good proposal. We are going to work on it.’ And, as you know, President Yanukovych didn’t resort to using the Armed Forces. And President Yanukovych said that he couldn’t imagine any other way of dealing with this situation. He couldn’t sign an order on the use of weapons.”
Though Putin did not specifically finger blame for the sniper fire on Feb. 20, 2014, which killed more than a dozen police and scores of protesters, he said, “Well, who could have placed these snipers? Interested parties, parties who wanted to escalate the situation. … We have information available to us that armed groups were trained in the western parts of Ukraine itself, in Poland, and in a number of other places.”
After the bloodshed of Feb. 20, Yanukovych and opposition leaders on Feb. 21 signed an accord, brokered and guaranteed by three European governments, for early elections and, in the meantime, a reduction of Yanukovych’s powers.
Ignoring a Political Deal
But the opposition, led by neo-Nazi and other extreme nationalist street fighters, brushed aside the agreement and escalated their seizing of government buildings, although The New York Times and other U.S. accounts would have the American people believe that Yanukovych simply abandoned his office.
“That’s the version used to justify the support granted to the coup,” Putin said. “Once the President left for Kharkov, the second largest city in the country to attend an internal political event, armed men seized the Presidential Residence. Imagine something like that in the U.S., if the White House was seized, what would you call that? A coup d’etat? Or say that they just came to sweep the floors?
“The Prosecutor General was shot at, one of the security officers was wounded. And the motorcade of President Yanukovych himself was shot at. So it’s nothing short of an armed seizure of power. Moreover, one day afterwards he used our support and relocated to Crimea (where he stayed for more than a week) thinking that there was still a chance that those who put their signatures on the (Feb. 21) agreement with the opposition would make an attempt to settle this conflict by civilized democratic legal means. But that never happened and it became clear that if he were taken he would be killed.
“Everything can be perverted and distorted, millions of people can be deceived, if you use the monopoly of the media. But in the end, I believe that for an impartial spectator it is clear what has happened – a coup d’etat had taken place.”
Putin noted how the new regime in Kiev immediately sought to limit use of the Russian language and allowed extreme nationalist elements to move against eastern provinces known as the Donbass where ethnic Russians were the vast majority of the population.
Putin continued, “First, there were attempts at arresting them [ethnic Russians] using the police, but the police defected to their side quite quickly. Then the central authorities started to use Special Forces and in the night, people were snatched and taken to prison. Certainly, people in Donbass, after that, they took up arms.
“But once this happened, hostilities started so instead of engaging in dialogue with people in the southeast part of Ukraine, they [Ukraine government officials] used Special Forces, and started to use weapons directly – tanks and even military aircraft. There were strikes from multiple rocket launchers against residential neighborhoods. … We repeatedly appealed to this new leadership asking them to abstain from extreme actions.”
However, the civil conflict only grew worse with thousands of people killed in some of the worst violence that Europe has seen since World War II. In the U.S. mainstream media, however, the crisis was blamed entirely on Putin and Russia.
The Crimea Case
As for the so-called “annexation” of Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that was historically part of Russia and that even after the Soviet break-up hosted a major Russian naval base at Sevastopol, Putin’s account also deviated sharply from what Americans have been told.
When Stone asked about the “annexation,” Putin responded: “We were not the ones to annex Crimea. The citizens of Crimea decided to join Russia. The legitimate parliament of Crimea, which was elected based on the Ukrainian legislation, announced a referendum. The Parliament, by an overwhelming majority, voted to join Russia.
“The coup d’etat in Ukraine was accompanied by a surge in violence. And there was even the threat that violence would be perpetrated by nationalists against Crimea, against those who consider themselves to be Russian and who think Russian is their mother language. And people got concerned — they were preoccupied by their own safety.
“According to the corresponding international agreement [with Ukraine], we had a right to have 20,000 people at our military base in the Crimea. We had to facilitate the work of the Parliament of Crimea, the representative government body, in order for this Parliament to be able to assemble and affect actions in accordance with the law.
“The people had to feel they were safe. Yes, we created conditions for people to go to polling stations, but we did not engage in any hostilities. More than 90 percent of the Crimean population turned out, they voted, and once the ballot was cast, the [Crimean] Parliament, based on the outcome of the referendum, addressed the Russian parliament, asking to incorporate it into the Russian Federation.
“Moreover, Ukraine lost the territory, not due to Russia’s position, but due to the position assumed by those who are living in Crimea. These people didn’t want to live under the banner of nationalists.”
Stone challenged some of Putin’s concerns that Ukraine might have turned the Russian naval base over to NATO. “Even if NATO made an agreement with Ukraine, I still don’t see a threat to Russia with the new weaponry,” Stone said.
Putin responded: “I see a threat. The threat consists in the fact that once NATO comes to this or that country, the political leadership of that country as a whole, along with its population, cannot influence the decisions NATO takes, including the decisions related to stationing the military infrastructure. Even very sensitive weapons systems can be deployed. I’m also talking about the anti-ballistic missile systems.”
Putin also argued that the U.S. government exploited the situation in Ukraine to spread hostile propaganda against Russia, saying:
”Through initiating the crisis in Ukraine, they’ve [American officials] managed to stimulate such an attitude towards Russia, viewing Russia as an enemy, a possible potential aggressor. But very soon everyone is going to understand, that there is no threat whatsoever emanating from Russia, either to the Baltic countries, or to Eastern Europe, or to Western Europe.”
A Dangerous Standoff
Putin shed light, too, on a little-noticed confrontation involving a U.S. destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, that steamed through the Black Sea toward Crimea in the middle of the crisis but turned back when Russian aircraft buzzed the ship and Russia activated its shoreline defense systems.
Stone compared the situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Soviet ship turned back rather than challenge the blockade that President John Kennedy had established around the island. But Putin didn’t see the confrontation with the U.S. destroyers as grave as that.
Putin said, “Once Crimea became a full-fledged part of the Russian Federation, our attitude toward this territory changed dramatically. If we see a threat to our territory, and Crimea is now part of Russia, just as any other country, we will have to protect our territory by all means at our disposal. …
“I wouldn’t draw an analogy with the Cuban Missile Crisis, because back then the world was on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse. Luckily, the situation didn’t go so far this time. Even though we did indeed deploy our most sophisticated, our cutting-edge systems for the coastal defense,” known as the Bastion.
“Certainly – against such missiles as the ones we’ve deployed in Crimea – such a ship as the Destroyer Donald Cook is simply defenseless. … Our Commanders always have the authorization to use any means for the defense of the Russian Federation. … Yes , certainly it would have been very bad. What was the Donald Cook doing so close to our land? Who was trying to provoke whom? And we are determined to protect our territory. …
“Once the destroyer was located and detected, they [the U.S. crew] saw that there was a threat, and the ship itself saw that it was the target of the missile systems. I don’t know who the Captain was, but he showed much restraint, I think he is a responsible man, and a courageous officer to boot. I think it was the right decision that he took. He decided not to escalate the situation. He decided not to proceed. It doesn’t at all mean that it would have been attacked by our missiles, but we had to show them that our coast was protected by the missile systems.
“The Captain sees right away that his ship has become the target of missile systems – he has special equipment to detect such kinds of situations. … But indeed we were brought to the brink, so to speak. … Yes, certainly. We had to respond somehow. Yes, we were open to positive dialogue. We did everything to achieve a political settlement. But they [U.S. officials] had to give their support to this unconstitutional seizure of power. I still wonder why they had to do that?”
It also remains a question why the U.S. mainstream media feels that it must protect the American people from alternative views even as the risks of nuclear confrontation escalate.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).