BBC Imagines World War III

Believing their own propaganda about “Russian aggression,” Western leaders are building up NATO forces in the Baltic states, which treat ethnic Russians as second-class citizens, possibly provoking a nuclear showdown that no one wants and that a searing BBC documentary imagines, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The documentary film “World War Three: Inside the War Room was described in advance by the BBC as a “war game” detailing the minute-by-minute deliberations of the country’s highest former defense and security officials facing an evolving crisis involving Russia.

What gave unusual realism and relevance to their participation is that they were speaking their own thoughts, producing their own argumentation, not reading out lines handed to them by television script writers.

The mock crisis to which they were reacting occurs in Latvia as the Kremlin’s intervention on behalf of Russian speakers in the south of this Baltic country develops along lines of events in the Donbas as from summer 2014. When the provincial capital of Daugavpils and more than 20 towns in the surrounding region bordering Russia are taken by pro-Russian separatists, the United States calls upon its NATO allies to deliver an ultimatum to the Russians to pull back their troops within 72 hours or be pushed out by force.

This coalition of the willing only attracts the British. After the deadline passes, the Russians “accidentally” launch a tactical nuclear strike against British and American vessels in the Baltic Sea, destroying two ships with the loss of 1,200 Marines and crew on the British side. Washington then calls for like-for-like nuclear attack on a military installation in Russia, which, as we understand, leads to full nuclear war.

The show was aired on Feb. 3 by BBC Two, meaning it was directed at a domestic audience, not the wider world. However, in the days since its broadcast, it has attracted a great deal of attention outside the United Kingdom, more in fact than within Britain. The Russians, in particular, adopted a posture of indignation, calling the film a provocation.

In his widely watched weekend wrap-up of world news, Russia’s senior television journalist Dimitri Kiselev devoted close to ten minutes denouncing the BBC production. He cited one participant (former UK Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton) expressing pleasure at the idea of “killing tens of thousands of Russians.” This segment was later repeated on Vesti hourly news programs during the past week. Kiselev asked rhetorically how the British would react if Moscow produced a mirror image show from its War Room.

For its part, the world broadcaster Russia Today issued a harsh review which castigates the British broadcaster for presenting Russia as “Dr. Evil Incarnate, the villain that regularly plays opposite peace-loving NATO nations.” It saw the motivation of the producers as related to “the military-industrial shopping season.”

RT alleges the BBC was trying to drum up popular support for the modernization of Britain’s nuclear Trident submarines at a cost to taxpayers of some 100 billion pounds ($144.7 billion).

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said it was low grade, translated by some as trash, and that he didn’t bother to watch it. If so, that is a pity for the reasons I will set out below.

The program also generated a great deal of emotion in Latvia, on both sides of the fundamental issue. The country’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics tweeted that he found parts of the program to be ‘’rubbish’’ while other parts had lessons to be studied. Public Broadcasting of Latvia was concerned over the scant support the country appears to enjoy in Britain and other NATO member states, judging by the deliberations in the War Room.

For their part, members of the Russian speaking community were deeply upset by the way the program provides grist to the mill of those who view them as a fifth column ready to be used by the Kremlin for its aggressive purposes.

Examination of the British print media’s reaction to World War Three results in a very different impression of the film. Reviews in the British press mostly directed attention to the program’s entertainment value. The Telegraph called the film “gripping and terrifying.”

The Independent reviewer tells us: “It started out as quite a dull discussion but as the hypothetical situation escalated and boy did it escalate quickly it fast became compelling, if not terrifying, viewing. It was a little clichéd the Russians were the bad guys, the UK set lots of deadlines but ultimately wouldn’t commit to any action and the US went in all guns (or nuclear weapons) blazing but then clichés are always clichés for a reason.”

In a reversal of roles, the tabloid Daily Mail ended up doing the heavy lifting for the British press with thoughtful in-depth reporting.

The Daily Mail expressed deep surprise at the way World War Three ends, with the War Room team voting overwhelmingly to order Trident submarine commanders not to fire even as Russian nuclear ICBMs have been launched and are on their way to targets in the West, including England. The paper noted, correctly I might add, that this puts in question the value of the Trident deterrent, which the Cameron government is planning to renew. The newspaper sent out its reporters to follow up on this stunning aspect of the BBC film.

The Daily Mail especially wanted elucidation of two remarks at the very end of the film, just prior to the final vote. One was by Sir Tony Brenton, UK Ambassador to Russia, 2004-2008, who says in the film: “Do we pointlessly kill millions of Russians or not? To me it’s a no-brainer we do not.”

This quote deserves special attention because it was made by Brenton right after his widely cited and seemingly scandalous statement which has been taken out of context, namely that he wouldn’t mind killing tens of thousands of Russians in response to the destruction of the British vessel in the Baltic by Russia at the cost of 1,200 British lives.

The second remark from the end of the film cited by The Daily Mail which they in fact follow-up was more surprising still, coming as it did from a top military official, General Sir Richard Shirreff, who served as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 2011-2014. Shirreff declared on camera: “I say do not fire.”
When asked about it, Shirreff gave the newspaper a still better sound bite that bears repeating in full: “At this point it was clear deterrence had failed. My feeling was it had become a moral issue that the use of force can only be justified to prevent a greater evil if the UK is going to be obliterated, what is going to be achieved if we obliterate half of Russia as well? It was going to create an even worse evil.”

It is a great pity that the Kremlin has chosen to vilify the BBC’s producers and overlook these extraordinary open text signals from the very top of the British political and defense elites.

If nothing else, The Daily Mail reporting knocks out the easy answers and compels us to ask anew what did the British broadcaster have in mind when it produced the pseudo-documentary World War Three. Moreover, why did top former British diplomats, military officials and politicians agree to participate in this film?

In one sense, this film is a collective selfie. It might be just another expression of our contemporary narcissism, when former top government officials publish their memoirs soon after leaving office and tell all. But several of the participants are not even former office holders. They continue to be active and visible.

One can name the Liberal Democrat Baroness Falkner, spokesperson for foreign policy. Also, Dr. Ian Kearns who remains very much in the news as the director of the European Leadership Network, partner to the leadership of the Munich Security Conference and a member of teams that are invited to Moscow from time to time to talk international security issues with the Russians. Surely these VIP participants in the film had no intension of cutting off contacts by antagonizing the Kremlin. So there is something else going on.

What that something else might be can be teased out if we pay close attention to their deliberations on screen. I believe they earnestly sought to share with the British public the burden of moral and security decision-making, to present themselves as reasonable people operating to the best of their knowledge and with all due respect for contrary opinions to reach the best possible recommendations for action in the national interest.

In the War Room, we are presented with two very confident hardliners, General Richard Shirreff, mentioned above, and Admiral Lord West, former Chief of Naval Staff; and with two very confident soft-liners, Baronness Falkner, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman, and Sir Tony Brenton. The others seated at the table do not have firm views and are open to persuasion.

It is noteworthy that argumentation is concise and apart from the occasional facial expression showing exasperation with opponents, there is a high level of purely intellectual debate throughout. Though one of the reviewers in the British press calls Falkner a “peacenik” in what is not meant as a compliment, no such compartmentalizing of thinking appears in the video. And the counter arguments are set out in some detail.

The voting at turning points in the developing scenario of confrontation with Russia is open. When the participants consider Britain joining the United States-led coalition of the willing ready to use force to eject the Russians from Latvia, they insist they will not be passive in the relationship, will not be Washington’s “poodle.” This is in clear reference to criticism of the Blair government’s joining the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Baroness Falkner is allowed to question the very logic of NATO. She calls the early decisions taken by the majority of her colleagues “sleepwalking,” an allusion to the group think that brought all of Europe into the suicidal First World War. With further reference to WWI, she says that the British government must look after the security of its people and not blindly submit to the wishes of an Alliance when that spells doom, such as happened in 1914.

At each turn of the voting on what to do next until the very last, the hardliners win out. But positions can and ultimately do flip-flop. In the end the overwhelming majority around the table decides not to press the button.
However, if the participants want to show themselves as open-minded and sincere, that does mean that the facts they work from are objective and equally well vetted. Here we come to a crucial problem of the video: Narration of the pre-history to the crisis over the Baltics, namely the archival footage on the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, the Russian “annexation” of Crimea and the Russian “intervention” in Donbass, is an unqualified presentation of the narrative from Washington and London, with Russia as “aggressor.” The narration of the crisis events as they unfold is also the unqualified, unchallenged view from the Foreign Office.

The pseudo-reporting on the ground in Daugavpils which is the epicenter of the crisis gives viewers part of the reason for the fictional Russian intervention, but only a small part. One Russian speaker tells the reporter that she is there in the demonstration because Russian-speakers have been deprived of citizenship since the independence of Latvia and this cannot continue.

But we are not told what the former diplomats in the War Room surely know: that Britain was complicit in this situation. In fact, the British knew perfectly well from before the vote on accession of the Baltic states to the European Union in 2004 that Latvia and Estonia were in violation of the rules on minorities of European conventions.

However, in the back-room negotiations which led to the final determination of the list of new Member States, the British chose to ignore the Latvian violations, which should have held up admission, for the sake of getting support from other Member States for extending E.U. membership to Cyprus.

The unfolding scenario of Russian actions and Western reactions does not attempt to penetrate Russian thinking in any depth. We are given the usual generalizations about the personality of Vladimir Putin. The most profound observation we are offered is that Russian elites only understand strength and would not allow Putin to back down, so he must be offered face-saving gestures even as his aggression is foiled.

The objectives of Russian moves on the geopolitical chessboard are not debated. The question of how the Baltics and Ukraine are similar or different for Russian national interest is hardly explored. Simply put, as the British press reviews understood, the Russians are “bad guys.”

Moreover, the authors of this war game assume that the past is a good guide to the future, which in warfare of all kinds is very often a fallacious and dangerous assumption. There is no reason to believe that the Russian “hybrid warfare” used in the Crimea and Donbass would be applied to the Baltics, or that escalation would be gradual.

Given the much smaller scale of the Baltic states, each with two million or fewer inhabitants, and the short logistical lines, it might be more reasonable to consider the Russians moving in and occupying the capitals in one fell swoop if they had reason to do so.

At present, they do not. But if the build-up of NATO troops and materiel along the Western frontiers of Russia and in the Baltic Sea continues as projected in President Obama’s latest appropriations for that purpose, reason for Russian action might well appear.

In this case, the confrontation might proceed straight to red alert on strategic nuclear forces without any intermediary pinpricks that this film details, much as happened back in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The British, as well as other NATO countries would then be totally sidelined as talks went on directly between Moscow and Washington.

The tragedy in our times of “information warfare” is that well-educated and sincere citizens are blind-sighted. We have an old maxim that when you cannot persuade, confuse. The fatal flaw comes when you start to believe your own propaganda.

If nothing else, the BBC documentary demonstrates that for Western elites this is what has happened. The reaction to the film from the Kremlin, suggests the same has happened to Eastern elites.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to eastwestaccord@gmail.com  © Gilbert Doctorow




How Crimeans See Ukraine Crisis

Two years ago, the Maidan uprising ousted Ukraine’s elected president, prompting resistance in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, with Crimeans voting overwhelmingly to reunify with Russia, a move that then sparked a new cold war. As propaganda enveloped this issue, Natylie Baldwin went to see for herself last fall.

By Natylie Baldwin

We had boarded the bus that would transport us from the gates of Moscow’s Vnukovo airport to the plane waiting on the tarmac to fly us to Simferopol, Crimea, when a friendly blonde in her late 30’s asked us in accented English if we were from “The States”?

When we answered that we were, she told us she currently lived in Texas but was going to visit relatives in Crimea. As we chatted more and my travel mate and I explained our reason for going there – to see Crimea for ourselves and find out from the people living there what they thought about the Ukraine war and the peninsula’s reunification with Russia – it became apparent that this lady had a few things she wanted to get off her chest.

“You cannot separate Ukraine from Russia, there is too much culture and history together,” she said.  Choking up on her words, she continued, “American people are good people I have many friends in the U.S. – but their government leaders are not because they interfere too much in other places. I worry about Hillary [Clinton], you know. When [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi was killed, she said ‘We came, we saw, he died. Ha ha.’ What kind of leader is that? Is she going to be the next president?”

She felt that, due to the violence on the Maidan and Washington’s interference in the form of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland’s manipulations, Putin’s intervention in Crimea was correct:  “Putin did the right thing for Crimea, he is a good leader.”

When we landed in Simferopol, it was clear that the small airport had been recently renovated as everything was clean and freshly painted. After haggling down the price to something reasonable with the proprietor of a taxi service, we loaded ourselves into a cab in which stale cigarette smoke hung thick in the air.

My travel mate, who spoke functional Russian, asked the driver what he thought about Crimea’s reunification with Russia. He replied in broken English, “Historically and ethnically we are Russian, so it is better to be with Russia than Ukraine.” He acknowledged, however, that there were still many problems to be addressed and it would take time, but with Russia they now had hope.

His sentiments would be echoed throughout our stay in Crimea. Tatyana, a professional tour guide from Yalta, told us the next day that, in terms of road repair and airport renovation, there had been more infrastructure investment in one year under Russian governance than there had been in all the 23 years with post-Soviet Ukraine.

Looking around Simferopol, more such investment would obviously be needed. The roads and buildings had not been sufficiently maintained and it gave the place an air of being run down. Alongside that, however, were parks and trees, roads filled with people in cars and packed mini-buses during commute hours, and parents walking on sidewalks clutching the hands of their small children. Everyone was dressed in the typical Western attire one would see in the U.S. and most young people fingered smart phones.

On the bus ride from Simferopol to Yalta, there were many small houses in various stages of disrepair and frozen construction. My travel mate, who had been going in and out of Russia since the 1980s, remarked that it looked like the Soviet era.

As we approached the Yalta coastline, however, the lush trees and sparkling blue water that reflected a sunlit sky, emerged from the mountainous journey, dissipating the gloom. We toured Livadia Palace, the seasonal home of the czars from Alexander II to Nicholas II. It was also the location of the famous Yalta Conference of 1945 where Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin met as WWII was winding down.

Afterwards, we walked down a lane littered with lovely and well-cared for “stray” cats that now took up residence on the grounds of the palace. Then we came to a small two-story restaurant where we had lunch with Tatyana, who articulated the feelings of many Crimeans about the Maidan protests that rocked Kiev in early 2014:

“No one asked us if we wanted to go along with Maidan. There are Russians as well as people who are a mix of Russian and Ukrainian here. We are not against Ukraine as many of us have relatives there, but Maidan was not simply a spontaneous protest. We are aware of the phone call with Victoria Nuland and [U.S. Ambassador] Geoffrey Pyatt, we saw the photos of her with [opposition leaders] Yatsenyuk, Tiagnibok [leader of Svoboda, the neo-fascist group that was condemned by the EU in 2012], and Klitschko on television. We saw the images of her handing out cookies to the protesters.”

We returned to Simferopol that evening and talked to a group of local small business entrepreneurs. They spoke of the many disruptions that the political upheaval with Ukraine and the subsequent reunification had caused. Kiev stopped paying salaries and pensions and even cut off electricity, which prompted Russia to provide generators to hospitals and other establishments where there were significant numbers of people in need.

In fact, Crimea had been dependent upon Ukraine for 70 percent of its power since reunification. Consequently, Russia is in the process of laying a power cable beneath the Kerch Strait from the Krasnodar region, which is now partially operational and will be fully operational by summer of 2016.

In the meantime, Russia had been paying Ukraine $211 million to supply Crimea with energy through the end of 2015. In what is perceived by many to be retaliation for seceding, Ukraine had seriously cut energy supplies to Crimea without notice numerous times throughout 2014 and raised prices by 15 percent. Similar issues with water supply have also been reported.

“Kiev claims they want us back, but then they alienate us even more with these kinds of actions,” said one of the entrepreneurs, shaking his head.

Crimeans are also dealing with high inflation due to a combination of sanctions and transportation difficulties. Until the permanent land bridge to Russia is completed in December 2018, transportation between the mainland and the peninsula are limited to temporary bridges, ferry service and flights to and from Crimea’s one airport in Simferopol. (A second airport is due to be built in Sevastopol by spring 2016).

More and stricter business regulations under Russia’s governance have also proved to be a challenge. The entrepreneurs acknowledged that some people had lost businesses due to either the political transfer or the sanctions. But this did not change their conviction that the reunification with Russia was worth the short-term cost in order to save themselves from the extremist elements who had taken power in Kiev, immediately introduced legislation threatening the status of the Russian language, and fueled episodes of violence that ensued against ethnic Russians in Crimea.

The subsequent “anti-terrorist operation” employed by Kiev to deal with similar concerns of ethnic Russians in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, instead of negotiation, has only cemented this view.

“We are suffering under the sanctions, but the sanctions will not make us go back to where we don’t want to be,” said one entrepreneur. “There are still many Crimeans willing to fight if it were to become necessary.”

The next day we took another bus ride, this time to Sevastopol, where Russia has had its naval base since the reign of Catherine the Great in the Eighteenth Century. In fact, Crimea had been part of Russia from Catherine’s time until Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev decided to give it as a gift to Ukraine in 1954. Since both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union at the time, the possible consequences of this decision were not considered.

Viktor Vasilievich Savitskiy, a retired Russian naval officer and resident of Crimea who served as an election monitor during the referendum, recalls being asked by British naval officers after the dissolution of the USSR, how having their naval base in a different country would work out. Savitskiy said, “I thought it was a strange question at the time. We had a long history and cultural ties with Ukraine. Now I realize those questions were not so strange.”

Not only is Sevastopol Russia’s only warm water port, it is the place where the Soviets stopped the German advance for eight months during WWII. By the time the siege had ended, around 90 percent of the city had been devastated.

One of the first places we visited in Sevastopol was a hostel run by Yuriy Mishin and his wife Manita. Born in Chita in the Lake Baikal area of Russia near the border of Siberia, Mishin was nostalgic for the days of the Soviet Union in which he’d grown up and said he would like to see a voluntary commonwealth consisting of the former republics of the USSR.

In February 2014, Mishin was a participant in Crimea’s resistance to the post-coup regime in Kiev, a resistance movement variously referred to as the “Crimean Spring” and the “Third Defense of Sevastopol.” He believes the events of the Maidan culminated in an illegal change of government in Kiev.

Although he says that under Viktor Yushchenko’s rule from 2005 to 2010, Ukrainian ultra-nationalism enjoyed a resurgence, there had been no substantive threat to Russian speakers in Crimea until the Maidan protests were hijacked by extremists who chanted threatening slogans [“Ukraine for Ukrainians”] and turned to violence. He said that after Maidan, “friends I’d had in Ukraine called and threatened to kill me because I was the director of a Russian historical club.”

Mishin said the people of Sevastopol began to have meetings to discuss ways to defend themselves from the growing upheaval that the events in Kiev had set in motion. He made a point that we would hear repeatedly from Crimeans we spoke to — that they did not expect Putin to intervene or to accept their requests for reunification due to the numerous times since the 1990s when Crimeans voted, either directly or through their parliament, for reunification, which Russia had always ignored. But they are very grateful that he did.

“Putin’s move was a pleasant surprise,” Mishin said. “He is a strong and brave politician.”

When asked what he thought should be the top priorities for Crimea going forward, he said “peace – no bombs or missiles – and develop infrastructure and tourism.”

As we hurried from one appointment to another in Sevastopol, we walked along a narrow cobbled road studded with ruts. Manita lamented how many times over the years there had been money allocated by the Ukrainian government to fix the roads but the repairs never happened because of the abiding corruption.

After about a five-minute walk in the morning chill, we arrived at a small office where a banner with the St. George colors draped one wall. A tall barrel-chested man with short dark hair and a full beard greeted us with a hardy handshake. His name was Anatoly Anatolievich Mareta and he was the leader (ataman) of the Black Sea Hundred Cossacks. He offered us hot tea as we sat down at a large table.

He then spoke at length about the events leading up to the Crimean resistance in early 2014. After the Feb. 21, 2014 agreement between embattled President Viktor Yanukovych and three European nations allowing for early elections, the armed ultra-nationalists who had hijacked the Maidan protests rejected the deal and led an uprising on Feb. 22 that forced Yanukovych to flee and his government to collapse. When the Europeans then abandoned their role as guarantors, a turning point was reached.

A one-day meeting of anti-Maidan supporters was held in Sevastopol as 30,000 Crimeans gathered in the center of the port city to declare that they didn’t recognize the coup government in Kiev and would not pay taxes to it. They then decided to defend Sevastopol and the Crimean isthmus with arms. They chose a people’s mayor, Aleksai Chaly, and checkpoints were set up. After extremist Tatars and Ukrainian ultra-nationalists showed up in Simferopol, throwing bottles, teargas, and beating busloads of ethnic Russians with flag poles, he said the group’s help was requested.

As the situation deteriorated further, with a standoff between local residents and local police officials who were beholden to and taking orders from Kiev underway, Mareta admitted that the Cossacks realized that theirs was a revolt that amounted to a suicide mission if Kiev gave the order to put it down with full force. “Their hearts were in it, but their minds knew they might lose,” Mareta said.

From Feb. 28 – 29, Cossacks from parts of continental Russia, including Kuban and Don, began to arrive to reinforce the isthmus. Ukrainian planes were blocked from landing at the local airport as Russian soldiers, stationed legally in Crimea under contract, manned the gates.

Crimeans told me that it was understood at the time that the “little green men” who quietly appeared on the streets in the coming days were Russian soldiers under lease at the naval base who had donned unmarked green uniforms. The people viewed them as protectors whose presence allowed them to peacefully conduct their referendum without interference from Kiev, not as invaders.

Savitskiy described the sense of joyful surprise among Crimeans in Sevastopol regarding the eventual Russian intervention: “The Russian military was very cautious and waited for the order to intervene. It was an unexpected gift.”

Our driver in Sevastopol, who shall remain unnamed due to the fact that he has relatives in central Ukraine that he does not want to endanger, drove us to our next destination. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked us what part of the U.S. we were from. When I told him we were from San Francisco, he proceeded to serenade us with a few lines from Scott MacKenzie’s “If You’re Going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair.”

Born to a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father, he told us that he had served in the Ukrainian Navy until 2013, but he supported the reunification with Russia.

We parked in a lot near the dock at the naval base and were led a short distance over to a light beige van. A slight man with a rugged face, decked out in crisp khaki fatigues and a Putin t-shirt appeared. Nicolai Kachin gave us a tour of the interior of his taxi van which was adorned with images of places and people relevant to the “Third Defense of Sevastopol.” There were a number of photos of the Russian president.

Kachin was born in the Urals in continental Russia but had been attracted to Crimea since early childhood and considered it his “second home.” He had been working as a guide and driver when the Maidan protests were underway.

“I watched the news as the situation became more difficult in December (2013),” he said, recalling meetings among the Russian population of Crimea as things in Kiev degenerated into violence. After the events of Feb. 21, “the situation had changed. By February 23rd, the men and women of Sevastopol came out to defend the city. Chaly was elected mayor (after the Ukrainian appointed mayor was removed), seven checkpoints were set up and residents volunteered.”

He stressed his belief that, if Crimeans hadn’t taken the initiative to defend themselves against the coup in Kiev, and Putin hadn’t backed them up, their fate would have been far worse. He said, “Sevastopol was the first city to rise up in Crimea. If residents hadn’t stood up to defend themselves, war would be raging in Crimea worse than in the Donbass.”

Kachin was awarded medals by the Russian government for his role in guarding the checkpoint outside the Ukrainian naval site until the referendum was concluded. He displayed his medals with great pride, but emphasized that the people of Sevastopol did not have glory in mind when they defended their city:

“When originally we enrolled into the self-defense units, we had no idea about awards. We did not think about it. All the city – women, men, youth – stood up to defend Sevastopol and our dignity.”

He was very pleased to be able to relate his story to Americans as most of the people who’d sought him out were Russians, along with some Ukrainians and a few Europeans.

Expressions of gratitude toward President Putin could be seen throughout Crimea in the form of billboards with his picture alongside the words “Crimea. Russia. Forever.” I asked several residents if this reflected the general sentiment of the population. They confirmed enthusiastically that it did.

A Pew poll from April 2014 revealed that 91 percent of Crimean respondents believed the referendum was free and fair, 93 percent had confidence in Putin, and 85 percent believed Kiev should recognize the results.

Another poll in June 2014, this one from Gallup, showed 94 percent of ethnic Russians in Crimea thought the referendum reflected the views of the people and 68 percent of ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea agreed. The poll found that 74 percent believed that joining Russia would make life better.

A GfK poll from February 2015, sponsored by a pro-Ukrainian group in Canada, revealed 93 percent of Crimeans endorsed the referendum.

The Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority comprising approximately 12 percent of the population, is divided on reunification. Surveys reflecting the view of Crimean Tatars specifically, or which break down opinion by ethnicity to include the Tatars, are difficult to find. Russian media has reported that 30 percent of Crimean Tatars voted in favor of reunification but it is unclear where this figure originates from.

One survey conducted jointly by Open Democracy and the Levada Center, published in March of 2015, did include Tatar opinion. Their results revealed that 50 percent of Crimean Tatars supported the referendum (30 percent generally and 20 percent absolutely) while 30 percent opposed it and 20 percent did not express support or opposition.

There are reports from Western media and organizations that Crimea has been repressing Tatars since the reunification. The most recent report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights discusses claims of “people who were dismissed or threatened to be dismissed from their posts for refusing to take up Russian Federation passports”; concerns about due process in the trials of two high-profile defendants accused of extremism and/or terrorism; informal designation of the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Simferpol as an “extremist organization”; and, the apparent abduction, separately, of three Crimean Tatar men who have gone missing. A criminal murder investigation has been opened by Russian authorities in one of the cases.

No doubt there have been tensions since the coup in Kiev exacerbated pre-existing political and ethnic divisions across Ukraine; however, as journalist Roger Annis has pointed out, there were no repercussions when up to 20,000 Tatars took part in a rally on May 18, 2014, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of their expulsion by Stalin.  This gathering was held in Simferopol in defiance of a temporary ban on mass rallies at the time by the Crimean authorities. Both The Guardian and AP reported on the rally.

However, Girey Bairov, a Tatar activist who works as a dentist in Crimea and refused to participate in the referendum, which he saw as illegitimate, explained the historical plight of the Crimean Tatars and the consequent distrust of living under Russian governance:

“Before Stalin repressions in 1944, Crimean Tatars lived in their own territory called Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Almost all names of Crimea villages and cities were of Crimean Tatar origin.  We lived in our own houses. All land in collective farms belonged to us. We lost it all. While Crimean Tatar men were fighting with the Red Army against Fascists, Stalin made an order to deport all Crimea Tatar children, women and old people. All their belongings were taken away and they were thrown onto the hungry steppes of Central Asia where half of Tatar people died. From 1944 to 1989, we lived in exile, but were dreaming to return back to Crimea and everything we lost.”

In an attempt to facilitate reconciliation with Crimean Tatars, Putin issued a decree on April 21, 2014, reiterating previous public condemnations of the Stalin-era expulsion of the Tatars for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis, and calling for measures to rehabilitate the Tatars and “to restore historical justice and remove the consequences of the illegal deportation and the violations of their rights.”

Along with Russian and Ukrainian, the Tatar language is now an official language in Crimea – something the Tatars had never achieved while under Ukrainian governance.

Putin subsequently met with representatives of Crimean Tatars on May 16, 2014.  Moreover, members of the leadership of Tatarstan, a republic of the Russian Federation with approximately 4 million citizens, have met with the Tatar population of Crimea.

But Bairov said Russia is only “trying to solve the Crimean Tatar question on paper.” He said the everyday reality for Tatars is very different, including a 90 percent reduction in the number of Tatars who hold positions in authority and Tatar activists being jailed and deported.

The most visible representative of the Tatar opposition to the Crimean referendum and reunification (and most cited by Western media) is Mustafa Dzhemilev, a Soviet-era dissident and current member of the Ukrainian parliament. Some of Dzhemilev’s public statements and actions, however, would seem to call his credibility into question.

For example, he has dismissed any concerns about the neo-fascist and ultra-nationalist elements in the post-coup government in Kiev and declared that all parties in the Ukrainian parliament are “ten times more democratic” than Putin’s government.

Dzhemilev’s latest activities include a blockade of Ukrainian goods into Crimea, which is being enforced at the border in partnership with neo-fascist members of Right Sector since September. The aforementioned UN human rights report expressed concern about these blockade enforcers who were described as “uniformed men sometimes wearing masks and balaclavas [who] reportedly have lists of people considered to be ‘traitors’ due to their alleged support to the de facto authorities in Crimea or to the armed groups in the east.”

Incidents of beatings and property damage are cited, adding that these events occurred in the presence of police and border guards on the Ukrainian side who declined to intervene.

During that same month, Dzhemilev’s close colleague, Refat Chubarov, promised to have electricity to Crimea cut off, foreshadowing the Nov. 21, 2015 sabotaging of power lines into Crimea which caused partial or full blackouts for almost 2 million Crimeans.

The convoluted logic behind these actions is reflected in the fact that the blockade has likely caused more damage to Ukrainian producers than Crimean consumers (who have been substituting Russian and Turkish imports) or the Russian government.

Dzhemilev has a history of allying with and expressing support for dubious parties in his years’ long role as the chairman of the Majlis, the unrecognized Crimean Tatar Assembly. In fact, Dzhemilev admitted in a 2012 interview with the magazine, The Ukrainian Week, that the Majlis had largely been ineffective in resolving the main problems of naturalization, enfranchisement and legitimization of land acquisition for the thousands of Tatars who have returned to independent Ukraine since the 1990s.

Many Tatars have returned from Uzbekistan where they already had citizenship, creating obstacles to repatriation, such as requirements to return to Uzbekistan to pay a duty and renounce Uzbek citizenship.

The Majlis’ ineffectiveness contributed to a public row in 2011 with a segment of Crimean Tatars represented by a group called Sebat, which, according to the private Ukrainian television station Ukrayina, accused Dzhemilev and his deputy, Chubarov, of “betraying national interests, misappropriation [of] money and procrastinating the settlement of the land issue.”

Moreover, a network of Tatar social organizations formed in 2006, known as the Milli Firqua People’s Party of Crimea, denies the Majlis speaks for all or even most Crimean Tatars, citing 15-20 percent support for each of their respective organizations, with the majority of Crimean Tatars non-aligned.

The UN Refugee Agency’s timeline on Crimean Tatars in Ukraine chronicles the problems that Tatars faced throughout the 1990s in newly independent Ukraine, including high unemployment, lack of access to water and electricity in homes, and the absence of paved roads in their communities. The Majlis’ subsequent support for the “Orange Revolution” government of Viktor Yushchenko in 2005 yielded many promises but still no real action in the resolution of these issues.

Bairov acknowledges that the hopes of Crimean Tatars were not realized under Ukrainian governance: “While we lived in Ukraine from 1991 to 2014, we were waiting for 23 years that the Crimean Tatar question would be solved fairly. Our Ukrainian leaders convinced us that once Ukraine becomes a truly democratic state, we will have at least 36 percent of Crimean Tatars in power, as it was earlier [in 1944], the flag and coat of arms will be Crimean Tatar. But Ukraine failed to restore the rights of Crimean Tatars.”

Dzhemilev claimed in 2010 that most Tatars had supported Yulia Tymoshenko in that year’s elections, but also said that the Tatar community did not oppose the winner, Viktor Yanukovych, and would work with him. After supporting the coup in 2014, both Dzhemilev and Chubarov were granted appointments to the Ukrainian parliament as part of the Poroshenko Bloc, which is considered “the electoral machine of the [current] Ukrainian president,” Petro Poroshenko.

Following this admittedly ineffectual pattern, it is unclear how implementing a blockade or advocating for the cutting of electricity to Crimea will help fellow Tatars there or put them on the road to progress. Perhaps realizing this, some leaders of the Majlis consented to the resumption of power to Crimea and allowing repairs to the lines, a move Right Sector continued to block until the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy “Yats” Yatsenyuk announced  on Dec. 16 that the blockade was now being officially endorsed by the Kiev government. Subsequently, President Poroshenko admitted to regularly meeting with Dzhemilev and Chubarov to “coordinate” the blockade.

It remains to be seen how the Crimean Tatars ultimately fare under Russian governance. Many hope that the initial gestures of reconciliation immediately after the reunification will be followed up on with substantive steps toward political and economic integration.

Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. In October of 2015, she traveled to six cities in the Russian Federation and has written several articles based on her conversations and interviews with a cross-section of Russians. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Consortiumnews, OpEd News, The New York Journal of Books, The Common Line, Santa Fe Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, Energy Bulletin, Newtopia Magazine, and the Lakeshore. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and blogs at natyliesbaldwin.com




Saudis Goad Obama to Invade Syria

Exclusive: Syrian rebels, including dominant jihadist elements, torpedoed Geneva peace talks by setting preconditions to come to the table. But the maneuver also renewed pressure on President Obama to commit to a “regime-change” invasion of Syria alongside Saudi and other Sunni armies, as Joe Lauria explains.

By Joe Lauria

The Russian-backed Syrian Army’s encirclement of Aleppo, the battle that could determine the outcome of the five-year-old war, has sparked a Saudi plan with allied Arab nations to hold a war maneuver next month of 150,000 men to prepare for an invasion of Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s desire to intervene (under the cover of fighting Islamic State terrorists but really aimed at ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) has been welcomed by Washington but dismissed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander and some Western analysts as a ruse.

Iranian Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari told reporters in Tehran, “They claim they will send troops, but I don’t think they will dare do so. They have a classic army and history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces.”

“The Saudi plan to send ground troops into Syria appears to be just a ruse,” wrote analyst Finian Cunningham on RT’s website. “In short, it’s a bluff aimed at pressuring Syria and Russia to accommodate … ceasefire demands.”

But I don’t believe it is a bluff or a ruse and here’s why: It appears instead to be a challenge by the Saudis to get President Barack Obama to commit U.S. ground troops to lead the invasion. The Saudis made it clear they would only intervene as part of a U.S.-led operation.

After meeting Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said: “The coalition will operate the way it has operated in the past, as an international coalition, even when there is a ground-force contingent in Syria. There would be no international coalition against ISIS [an acronym for the Islamic State] in Syria if the U.S. did not lead this effort.”

Riyadh knows better than anyone that it doesn’t have the military capability to do anything beyond pounding the poorest Arab country into dust, that would be its neighbor Yemen. And it can’t win that war either. But when Saudi Arabia’s ambitions outsize their capabilities, who do they call? The “indispensable nation,” the United States.

President Obama has so far resisted direct U.S. combat involvement in the Syrian civil war despite longstanding Saudi, Israeli and neocon pressures. They clamored for intervention after the chemical weapons fiasco in Ghouta in the summer of 2013. The attack supposedly crossed Obama’s “red line,” (although there is growing evidence that the sarin attack was a “false flag” provocation by the rebels to draw the U.S. military into the war on their side).

Obama came close to acceding to that pressure. On Aug. 30, 2013, he sent out a breast-beating John Kerry, playing the role normally reserved for the president, to threaten war. However, after the British parliament voted against intervention, Obama threw the issue to Congress. And before it acted, he accepted a Russian deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons (though Assad continued to deny any role in the sarin attack).

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh contends Obama backed away because British intelligence informed him it was the rebels and not the Syrian government that carried out the chemical attack.

Even earlier in the conflict, Obama resisted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pressure to set up “a no-fly zone” inside Syria (which would have required the U.S. military destroying Syria’s air defenses and much of its air force, compromising the government’s ability to battle Sunni jihadist groups, including those associated with Al Qaeda).

Obama also defied the Saudis, Israelis and the neocons in pushing through the Iranian nuclear deal over their strident opposition in 2015. But Obama has not shown the same resolve against the neocons and liberal interventionists elsewhere, such as in Libya in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014.

Regarding Saudi Arabia’s new offer to intervene in Syria, the Obama administration has welcomed the Saudi plan but has not committed to sending in U.S. ground troops, preferring instead to deploy some air power and a limited number of Special Forces against Islamic State targets inside Syria.

However, the Saudi plan is being discussed at a NATO defense ministers’ summit in Brussels this week. In Istanbul last month, Vice President Joe Biden hinted at a possible Obama change in position when he said if U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva failed, the United States was prepared for a “military solution” in Syria. (In making that comment, Biden may have given the rebels an incentive to sink the peace talks.)

The talks collapsed last Wednesday when Syrian rebel groups set preconditions for joining the talks, which were supposed to be started without preconditions. (However, the U.S. mainstream media has almost universally blamed Assad, the Iranians who are supporting Assad, and Russian President Vladimir Putin who has committed Russian air power to the offensive around Aleppo).

So, with the Syrian government now realistically viewing victory in the war for the first time, the panicked Saudis appear to be prodding Obama on whether he’s ready to be remembered as the president who “lost” Syria to the Russians and Iranians.

Like most leaders, Obama is susceptible to his “legacy,” that vain concern about how ‘history will view him.” It is an attitude that can conflict with doing what’s best for the country he leads and, in this case, would risk direct confrontation with Russia. Even embedding only hundreds of U.S. Special Forces with Saudi and other Arab troops inside Syria could lead to disaster if they are struck by Russian warplanes.

The Saudis are counting on U.S. domestic criticism to motivate Obama, such as this from New York Times columnist Roger Cohen: “Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame, a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements. Aleppo may prove to be the Sarajevo of Syria.”

Emile Hokayem, a Middle East scholar at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote that it’s understandable for Obama to seek a negotiated settlement of the war. “But to do so while exposing the rebellion to the joint Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught and without contingency planning is simply nefarious.”

It is up to Obama to resist such pressure and not commit the folly of risking a direct confrontation with Russia by committing U.S. ground forces to what would amount to an illegal invasion of Syria. It might be in Saudi Arabia’s interests, but how is it in America’s?

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.




Hillary Clinton’s Very Bad Night

Exclusive: The magnitude of Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire drubbing has establishment Democrats wringing their hands as it dawns on them that no candidate in modern U.S. political history has bounced back from a 22-point loss in that first-in-the-nation primary to win the White House, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s stunning 22-point loss to Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire is even more devastating when looked at in the context of the modern history of this first-in-the-nation primary: No one has ever lost by such a margin and gone on to win the presidency.

Among Democrats, no one who lost by even half that margin in New Hampshire has recovered to win the party’s nomination. In 2008, Barack Obama lost to Hillary Clinton by 2.6 percentage points; in 1992, Bill Clinton lost to Paul Tsongas by 8.4 percentage points; in 1984, Walter Mondale lost to Gary Hart by 9.4 percentage points; in 1972, George McGovern lost to Edmund Muskie by 9.3 percentage points.

In two of those cases, New Hampshire did favor neighboring politicians Sen. Tsongas from Massachusetts and Sen. Muskie from Maine but Tuesday’s 22-point margin for Vermont Sen. Sanders cannot be explained simply by making the “nearby-favorite-son” argument. Sanders swept nearly every demographic group, including women, losing only to Clinton among New Hampshire’s senior citizens and the state’s small number of non-white voters. Sanders’s margin among young voters was particularly impressive, 82 percent, roughly the same proportion as the Iowa caucuses last week.

If Hillary Clinton hopes to overcome her New Hampshire drubbing, she would have to look for encouragement from the legacy of Republican George W. Bush who lost the 2000 New Hampshire primary to Sen. John McCain by a margin of 49 percent to 30.2 percent, but even Bush’s landslide loss represented a smaller margin of defeat than Clinton suffered on Tuesday.

A Worried Establishment

Clinton’s failure to generate momentum or much enthusiasm in her pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination presents the Democratic Party establishment with a dilemma, since many senior party leaders fret about the risk that Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” might lead the Democrats to the kind of electoral disaster that Sen. George McGovern did in 1972.

Though the Democrats rebounded in 1976 with Jimmy Carter’s victory amid Republican disarray over Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, the Republicans soon reestablished their domination over presidential politics for a dozen years with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. For the Democrats to reclaim the White House in 1992, it took a “New Democrat,” Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, to repackage the Democratic message into one proposing “neo-liberal” (anti-regulatory, free-trade) economics, embracing Republican tough-on-crime tactics, and rejecting “Big Government.”

President Clinton also emphasized “micro-policies,” best illustrated by his call for “school uniforms,” rather than proposing “macro-policies” for addressing poverty and other structural problems facing Americans. Though the economy performed fairly well under Clinton his success lessening pressures from liberal groups he also opened the door to Wall Street and other corporate excesses (by supporting deregulation of the financial and media industries).

At that point in the 1990s, the “neo-liberal” strategies had not been tested in the U.S. economy and thus many Americans were caught off-guard when this new anti-regulatory, free-trade fervor contributed to a hollowing out of the Great American Middle Class and a bloated Gilded Age for the top One Percent.

The full consequences of neo-liberalism became painfully apparent with the Wall Street Crash of 2008 and the resulting Great Recession. The suffering and hopelessness now affecting many Americans, including the white working class, has led to an angry political rejection of the American Establishment as reflected in the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Sanders.

A Legacy Campaign

Hillary Clinton (like Jeb Bush) faces the misfortune of running a legacy campaign at a time when the voters are angry about the legacies of both “ruling families,” the Clintons and the Bushes. Though Sanders is a flawed candidate faulted for his muddled foreign-policy prescriptions, he (like Trump) has seized the mantle of fighting the Establishment at a time when millions of Americans are fed up with the Establishment and its self-serving policies.

In some ways, the Iowa and New Hampshire results represented the worst outcome for establishment Democrats. Clinton’s razor-thin victory in Iowa and her slashing defeat in New Hampshire have left Democratic strategists uncertain as to whether they should rally behind her despite her lukewarm to freezing-cold reception from voters or try to recruit another candidate who could cut off Sanders’s path to the nomination and represent a “more electable” choice in November.

If Clinton continues to stumble, there will be enormous pressure from Democratic leaders to push her aside and draw Vice President Joe Biden or perhaps Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the race.

If that were to occur — and, granted, the Clintons are notoriously unwilling to admit defeat — the Democrats could experience a political dynamic comparable to 1968 when anti-Vietnam War Sen. Eugene McCarthy challenged the prohibitive favorite President Lyndon Johnson and came close enough in New Hampshire to prompt Sen. Robert Kennedy to jump into the race — and to convince Johnson to announce that he would not seek another term.

Many idealistic Democrats who had backed McCarthy in his seemingly quixotic fight against Johnson were furious against “Bobby-come-lately,” setting up a battle between two anti-war factions of the Democratic Party. Of course, the history of the 1968 campaign was marred by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and then Robert Kennedy, followed by the chaotic Chicago convention, which handed the nomination to Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Then, after Republican Richard Nixon secretly sabotaged Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks, Nixon managed to eke out a victory over Humphrey.

While Campaign 2016 reflects a very different America and the key Democratic issue is “income inequality,” not the Vietnam War some parallels could become obvious if the presumptive nominee (Johnson in 1968 and Clinton in 2016) is pushed out or chooses to step aside.

Then, the Democratic choice would be plunging ahead with a back-bench candidate (McCarthy in 1968 and Sanders in 2016) or looking for a higher-profile and more mainstream alternative, such as Biden who (like Humphrey) would offer continuity with the sitting president or Warren who shares many of Sanders’s positions (like Robert Kennedy did with McCarthy) but who might be more acceptable to “party regulars.”

A Warren candidacy also might lessen the disappointment of women who wanted to see Hillary Clinton as the first female president. At the moment, however, the question is: Did New Hampshire deal a death blow to Hillary Clinton’s campaign or can she become the first candidate in modern U.S. political history to bounce back from a 22-point loss in the first-in-the-nation primary?

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).




Inventing the Right’s ‘Metanarrative’

For decades, the Koch Brothers have funded a massive propaganda operation to disparage what democracy can do when a society pulls together and to glorify a “greed is good” narrative promising great benefits if capitalism reigns free. But the results have been good only for a privileged few, as Michael Winship describes.

By Michael Winship

Gather round for the word of the day: metanarrative. Definitions vary but let’s say it’s one big narrative that connects the meaning of events to a belief thought to be an essential truth, the storytelling equivalent of the unified field theory in physics.

Now use it to define what’s being done to America today — our Big Story. Journalist and activist Naomi Klein did just that a couple of weeks ago when she and I talked at Finger Lakes Community College in upstate New York about the Koch brothers’ resistance to the reality of climate change.

“The Charles Koch metanarrative, and he’s said it explicitly, is that he is challenging collectivism, he is challenging the idea that when people get together they can do good,” she said. “And he is putting forward the worldview that we’re all very familiar with that if you free the individual to pursue their self-interest that will actually benefit the majority. So you need to attack everything that is collective, whether it’s labor rights or whether it’s public health care or whether it’s regulatory action. All of this falls under the metanarrative of an attack on collectivism.”

In other words, Koch and his brother David and the extraordinary machine they have built in cahoots with fellow billionaires and others, have spent hundreds and hundreds of millions to get their way, “the great wealth grab” in the words of Richard Eskow, all part of one long story told in pursuit of a specific end: to make the needs of the very, very few our nation’s top priority and to thwart or destroy any group effort among the poor and middle class to do or say otherwise.

The Kochs have spun their tale with a singular, laser-like focus, carefully taking their time to make sure they get it right. Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, recently wrote in Politico Magazine that “Charles Koch might claim that his entry into politics is new, but from its secrecy to its methods of courting donors and recruiting students, the blueprint for the vast and powerful Koch donor network that we see today was drafted four decades ago.”

Mayer reviewed papers, including one written by Charles Koch himself, presented at a Koch-sponsored Center for Libertarian Studies conference in 1976 and concludes, “It’s not hard to recognize the Koch political movement we see today, a vast and complex network of donors, think tanks and academic programs largely cloaked in secrecy and presented as philanthropy, leaving almost no money trail that the public can trace.

“And it’s these techniques Charles first championed decades ago that helped build his political faction, one so powerful that it turned fringe ideas William F. Buckley once dismissed as ‘Anarcho-Totalitarianism’ into a private political machine that grew to rival the Republican Party itself.”

And so we see their creation of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council posing as a non-profit while entertaining state legislators and plying them with templates for laws that favor restrictions on voter eligibility, public sector unions and the minimum wage while supporting freedom for the gun lobby and deregulation.

The Kochs shower cash on candidates and elected officials who do the bidding of the Right, fund programs at historically black colleges and universities that preach free-market economics and deregulation, bankroll the Libre Initiative that hands out holiday turkeys and Easter baskets to Latino families while, in its own words, “informing the U.S. Hispanic community about the benefits of a constitutionally limited government, property rights, rule of law, sound money supply and free enterprise through a variety of community events, research and policy initiatives that protect our economic freedom.”

As Naomi Klein said during our conversation, “The Koch brothers set out to change the values, to change the core ideas that people believed in. And there is no progressive equivalent of taking ideas seriously.”

She then asked, “So what is the progressive metanarrative? Who funds it? Who is working on changing ideas that can say, ‘Actually, when we pool our resources, when we work together, we can do more and better than when we only act as individuals.’ I don’t think we value that.”

In fact, there is a progressive metanarrative, one that needs to be valued and not obscured by arguments over who is or is not sufficiently progressive or who did what to whom and when. The metanarrative’s lead has been buried in divisiveness, by trolling from every side and by despicable, old-fashioned redbaiting. What’s more, goals and purposes have been diffused with a scattershot approach when we should be vectoring in on what really counts.

The progressive metanarrative is the opposite of the fight against collectivism: it’s the struggle against inequality.

The Harvard Gazette reports, “Though the wealthiest 20 percent earned nearly half of all wages in 2014, they have more than 80 percent of the wealth. The wealth of the poorest 20 percent, as measured by net worth, is actually negative. If they sell all they own, they’ll still be in debt.”

Labor organizer and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Marshall Ganz tells the Gazette, “I think the galloping inequality in this country results from poor political choices. There was nothing inevitable, nothing global. We made a series of political choices that set us on this path.”

He continues, “Inequality, it’s not just about wealth, it’s about power. It isn’t just that somebody has some yachts, it’s the effect on democracy I think we’re in a really scary place.”

But it’s not a place from which escape is impossible. To make our metanarrative come true, we must embrace both community and government that effectively can protect and provide for all.

In a 2014 article at the ideas.ted.com website, philosopher T.M. Scanlon wrote, “No one has reason to accept a scheme of cooperation that places their lives under the control of others, that deprives them of meaningful political participation, that deprives their children of the opportunity to qualify for better jobs, and that deprives them of a share of the wealth they help to produce

“The holdings of the rich are not legitimate if they are acquired through competition from which others are excluded, and made possible by laws that are shaped by the rich for the benefit of the rich. In these ways, economic inequality can undermine the conditions of its own legitimacy.”

And so it can, if progressives work together, mobilize, dare to take risks and keep the faith in the face of cynicism and weary resignation. Such a metanarrative could have a different, and happy, ending.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story previously appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/the-kochs-are-ghostwriting-americas-story/] 




Rightists Sell Anti-Government Message

Since Ronald Reagan, the Republicans have rallied many Americans around the notion that “government is the problem.” And, despite disasters for the middle and working classes, right-wing intellectuals like Charles Krauthammer continue to sell the same message, as Lawrence Davidson describes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Charles Krauthammer is the most celebrated contemporary conservative thinker in the United States. But let it be known that he is not just a theorist. He is man of political action who wants a conservative in the White House to line up with those already in control of Congress.

He wants to win. Thus he supports Republican candidates such Marco Rubio and Chris Christie (Ted Cruz, while a “genuine conservative,” is too “radical,” and Jeb Bush isn’t mentioned at all) as potential presidents who “would give conservatism its best opportunity since Reagan to become the country’s governing philosophy.” Those are the words of an unapologetic ideologue: what is good for the country is the Krauthammer philosophy of conservatism in control of the government.

What does this mean? For Krauthammer, as for so many other conservative thinkers who have never really evolved away from Nineteenth Century capitalist economic theory, conservatism in power means the “reform” of big government, or as he still describes it, “the Twentieth Century welfare state.” Reform essentially means significant downsizing of government in the name of individual “freedom,” primarily in the marketplace, and, of course, a corresponding cut in taxes for the business class.

There are several things dangerously wrong about Krauthammer’s simplistic approach to “conservative governing.” One is that, in a country like the U.S. with approximately 320 million people (a considerable number of them getting steadily poorer), doing away with welfare state services and regulations seriously risks further impoverishment, increased economic exploitation in the workplace, an erosion of state and local infrastructures, and an explosion in business corruption.

While Krauthammer would never agree, it is simply historically untrue that capitalism, without widespread government regulation and significant financial support for basic services, has ever brought prosperity to the majority of any population.

The second thing wrong with Krauthammer’s thinking is his apparent inability to understand the difference between inefficiency and government size. Big government is necessary for the social and economic health of big societies. But increased size does not automatically translate into government inefficiency.

The need to monitor the efficiency of all bureaucracies so that they perform their jobs in a smooth and timely fashion is one thing. Downsizing to the point of near dismantlement of necessary government bureaus based on the conservative ideological assumption that they are chronically inefficient and overly expensive dead weight is quite another. The former will make things better. The latter will risk societal collapse.

Populism and Socialism

Nonetheless, it is this downsizing “reform” of the welfare state that Krauthammer tells us is the answer to the “deep anxiety stemming from the secular (sic) stagnation of wages and living standards that has squeezed the middle and working classes for a generation.” He juxtaposes this ideologically dictated answer against those he believes come from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The former offers “ethnonationalist populism.” Krauthammer tells us what is already obvious, that Trump blames the nation’s problems “on foreigners, most prominently those cunning Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, and Saudis who have been taking merciless advantage of us.” (How anyone can put the Mexicans in with the Saudis is beyond me.)

However, while debunking Trump’s xenophobia, Krauthammer fails to mention that it is those conservative ideologues of his own camp who have pushed hardest for the sort of free trade agreements that have allowed Donald Trump to focus on outsiders.

Then there is the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders. As far as Krauthammer’s understanding goes, Sanders is preaching socialism, and the apparent positive response to this baffles him.

It is hard to believe that the U.S., having resisted the siren song of socialism during its entire 20th century heyday should suddenly succumb to its charms a decade after its intellectual demise,” Krauthammer writes.

Only from behind the walls of Krauthammer’s conservative ideology can socialism be considered “intellectually dead.” It is certainly alive and politically competitive in western and northern Europe.

Of course, despite Krauthammer’s failure to make the distinction, Sanders is nowhere near the kind of socialist found in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. In truth Sanders is closer to the prevailing social democrats of Western Europe or even the liberal wing of the Democratic Party prior to the coming to power of the Bill Clinton crowd.

And, it can be argued, the success of Sanders’s message is in direct proportion to the failure of Krauthammer’s conservatism to bring lasting economic prosperity and secure social services to the people of the United States. Nonetheless, Krauthammer cannot see this relationship. For him, Sanders’s ultimate success is unimaginable.

The Dems would be risking a November electoral disaster of historic dimensions” if they nominated Sanders, he says. Actually this might be so, but not because of any real socialist program on Sanders’s part. Rather, disaster would be the product of relentless Republican red-baiting, to the point that the reality of Sanders’s policy proposals becomes irrelevant. Indeed, Krauthammer’s characterization of Sanders may well be the first shot in such a red-baiting campaign.

Charles Krauthammer’s conservative ideological outlook is every bit as destructive as Trump’s “ethnonationalist populism.” The reality is that Krauthammer’s conservatism has been the guiding light of the U.S. economy since its inception and produced a history of continual booms and busts, the latter coming as ever deeper and prolonged depressions.

This went on throughout the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth and into the Twentieth Century, culminating in the Great Depression of 1929. So disastrous was that crash, along with the fact of competition from the young Soviet Union, that there was finally some soul-searching on the part of the smarter capitalists, who then made the effort to rationalize their system.

In the U.S., this came in the form of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Roosevelt brought the necessary regulation and government expansion to semi-stabilize the economy and bring a modicum of security to the common citizen. Depressions were held down to periodic recessions while Social Security, unemployment insurance and other commonsense social programs made their debut.

It is a mark of the ahistorical nature of their ideological worldview that Krauthammer conservatives have been complaining about big government ever since, while apparently forgetting all about capitalism’s original sins. Just to juice up their argument, they throw in talk of “individual freedom” in the marketplace while disparaging other freedoms and rights, such as those relating to healthcare, education, equal opportunity, and gender equality and the like as if they were not part of the mix that should make up a modern civilization.

There is something truly inhumane in the Krauthammer perspective. But that does not mean that those politicians such as Marco Rubio and Chris Christie who espouse such bankrupt ideas are incapable of winning local, state and national elections. Never underestimate the ignorance and gullibility of conservative-minded voters.

For them there will always be the siren song of a Charles Krauthammer. One is reminded of the description of a British conservative politician given by the English philosopher Gilbert Ryle, one that fits America’s celebrated conservative thinker pretty well: “He stood like a light out to sea, firmly beckoning ships on to the rocks.”

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




A Look at Ukraine’s Dark Side

Exclusive: Americans have been carefully shielded from the ugly underbelly of Ukraine’s Maidan uprising in 2014 that overthrew the elected president and installed a U.S.-backed, fiercely anti-Russian regime which has unleashed armed neo-Nazis. But a French documentary has dared to expose this grim reality, as Gilbert Doctorow describes.

By Gilbert Doctorow

A new French documentary depicts a long-denied truth that Ukraine is in the grip of extreme right-wing nationalists who seek to impose what the British scholar Richard Sakwa has called a monist view of nationhood, one which does not accept minorities or heterogeneity. Rainbow politics is not what the Maidan uprising was all about.

Like the Communism which held power in Ukraine before 1992, this new extreme nationalism can impose its will only by violence or the threat of violence. It is by definition the antithesis of European values of tolerance and multiculturalism.

This intimidation is what Paul Moreira’s Canal+ documentary, “Ukraine: The Masks of Revolution,” shows us graphically, frame by frame. That this repression happens to take place under an ideology that incorporates elements of fascism if not Nazism is incidental but not decisive to the power of the documentary. [Click here for the documentary in French; here for a segment with English subtitles.]

But what Moreira shows as surprising as the contents may be to a Western audience actually represents very basic journalism, reporting on events that are quite well known inside Ukraine even as this dark underbelly of the Maidan “revolution” has been hidden from most Europeans and Americans.

Moreira is a professional documentary filmmaker, not an area specialist. He has done films in many countries including Iraq, Israel, Burma and Argentina. He says at the start of this Canal+ documentary that he was drawn to the subject of Ukraine’s Maidan uprising because he “felt sympathy for these people who demonstrated day after day on the streets in winter conditions.

“They wanted to join Europe, to move away from Russia. They wanted the corrupt President [Viktor] Yanukovych to leave. They hoped for more justice, fewer inequalities. But I was struck by one thing the images of the American diplomat [Victoria] Nuland on Maidan distributing bread. The Free World, its cameras, sided with the insurgents.”

There were also the discordant images of neo-Nazi symbols and flags. To assess the post-Maidan Ukraine, Moreira decided to go see for himself.

The documentary draws upon his interviews with leaders of the rightist paramilitary groups and extreme nationalist politicians as well as other Ukrainians on both sides of the conflict. He shows the attacks on police by Maidan street fighters before Yanukovych’s overthrow on Feb. 22, 2014, and the May 2, 2014 massacre in Odessa of 46 Russian-speaking demonstrators who opposed the new regime.

He shows a violent protest by nationalist extremists outside the parliament in Kiev and the recent blockade by the Right Sektor militias stopping food and other goods crossing into Crimea, which voted overwhelmingly after the 2014 putsch to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia. The Crimean blockade was in violation of Ukrainian government policy but was not stopped by the Kiev authorities.

Secretary Nuland’s Cookies

During the course of the film, Moreira intersperses footage of the controlling hand of U.S. officials both before and after the February 2014 coup. Twice we see Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Nuland handing out cookies on the Maidan to encourage the demonstrators in December 2013. We see U.S politicians including Sen. John McCain with neo-Nazi Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyahnybok on a podium in Maidan.

In another scene, Nuland testifies before Congress in May 2014 and is asked by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, if she knew there were neo-Nazis in the street violence that led to Yanukovych’s removal. When Nuland was evasive, Rohrabacher asked whether besides the popular Maidan images of mothers and grandmothers with flowers there were very dangerous street fighters and neo-Nazi groups.

Nuland responded, “Almost every color of Ukraine was represented including some ugly colors.” Rohrabacher said he took that as a “yes.”

In September 2015, Moreira covered the annual Yalta European Strategy Meeting in Kiev and tried to get impromptu interviews with prominent Americans, such as Nuland and former CIA boss General David Petraeus, the author of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and currently a strong advocate for sending offensive weapons to Ukraine.

Moreira succeeded only in getting a sound bite from retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who said the task of the day was to improve the militias and strengthen their ties to the Ukrainian government. Moreira asked McChrystal if he knew that the paramilitaries had attacked the Verhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) the week before. With a dismissive smile before he made his getaway, McChrystal responded, “That’s a problem”

Though Moreira’s documentary presented material that was undeniably true much from the public record it was revelatory for many Westerners familiar only with the pro-Maidan images and commentary carried by the West’s mainstream news media. Because the documentary clashed with this “conventional wisdom,” it immediately became “controversial.”

On Jan. 31, one day before the documentary appeared on Canal+, Le Monde issued a stern rebuke under the title “Paul Moreira gives us a distorted vision of the Ukrainian conflict.”

Benoit Vitkine, the newspaper’s reporter for Ukraine, wrote that the extreme nationalists were only one part of the armed uprising and accused Moreira of focusing too much on their role in the Maidan and its aftermath. Vitkine noted that the Right’s “electoral results are laughable” and denied that they are “the new masters of the Ukrainian streets.”

Key Nazi Role

But there is little doubt that the neo-Nazis and other extreme nationalists played a key role in escalating the Maidan protests into the violent uprising that drove Yanukovych from office. For instance, Andriy Parubiy, the commandant of the Maidan “self-defense forces,” was 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.

After the Feb. 22 coup, Parubiy was one of four far-right Ukrainian nationalists given control of a ministry, in his case, national security, and he integrated many of the right-wing militias into the National Guard, sending neo-Nazi units such as the Azov Battalion into eastern Ukraine to crush ethnic Russians who resisted the new order in Kiev.

Moreira’s documentary also shows footage of right-wing paramilitaries demonstrating aggressively in the streets outside the parliament and scenes of their illegal blockade at the Crimean border, where they literally did control the streets and roads.

Le Monde’s other argument about how poorly the rightists have fared in elections misses the point about the significance of the Right’s large-scale disruptions and violent attacks thus intimidating the parliament and the government. But that reality is downplayed in the West.

Vitkine also accuses Moreira of omitting “the Russian aggression” against Ukraine, which Vitkine says explains the radicalization of part of the Ukrainian population and the decision of Kiev to arm the battalions of right-wing volunteers. But the neo-Nazi role in the Maidan protests predated any Russian intervention in support of the embattled ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin held a key strategy session on how to respond to the Maidan putsch on Feb. 23, 2014, the day after the coup. Putin and Russia were responding to what they saw as a U.S.-backed overthrow of a democratically elected government on their border; they didn’t instigate the crisis.

Similarly Vitkine rejects Moreira’s charge of U.S. complicity in the rise of the neo-Nazis and Moreira’s acceptance of the Crimean referendum in which 96 percent of the voters favored leaving Ukraine and rejoining Russia. But the results of that referendum have been supported by polls both before and after the referendum, including public opinion samples organized by the U.S. government. There can be no serious doubt that the vast majority of Crimeans wanted out of Ukraine and saw practical benefits in rejoining Russia. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Crimeans Keep Saying No to Ukraine.”]

Bolstering Propaganda

In other words, Le Monde’s key reporter on Ukraine is attacking Moreira from the standpoint of a narrative written in Washington that is more propaganda than reality. In this sense, the French center left as reflected by Le Monde is no less under the spell of neoconservative ideology than many Democrats in the United States.

That being said, Vitkine does toss one bouquet to Moreira for his treatment of the May 2, 2014 “events” in Odessa, the slaughter of anti-Maidan protesters who sought safety inside the Trade Union Building, which was then set ablaze:

“Even if he overestimates the role of Pravy [Right] Sektor and assigns responsibility for this drama too peremptorily, the film performs a salutary piece of work by dwelling at length on this episode from the post-Maidan days that is often neglected.”

But Vitkine condescendingly mocks Moreira’s self-presentation as “the white knight who is exposing past truths that have been passed over in silence [which] just doesn’t work. This experienced documentary filmmaker has taken up a real subject. He has chosen to ‘see for himself,’ as he tells us. But he only saw what he wanted to see.”

Moreira’s response to Le Monde and two other critics appeared in French on the site blogs.mediapart.fr and in English translation on the website of newcoldwar.org. He cited the pressure from the Ukrainian authorities for Canal+ not to air the documentary.

He also reasserted his thesis that the right-wing paramilitaries are a great threat to Ukrainian democracy and that to deny their existence and the danger they pose simply to avoid playing “into Russian propaganda is to become a propagandist oneself.” Moreira accused Vitkine of “unusually violent writing.”

After the airing of the documentary, an “Open Letter to Paul Moreira” was published on the website of the French weekly Nouvel Observateur, which has been described as “the French intellectuals’ parish magazine.”

Seven of the 17 journalists who signed the Open Letter work for French state media France 24 and Radio France International. The letter starts and ends with stinging reproaches to Moreira, but the contents in the middle are muddled.

For instance, the letter acknowledges the reality of the central issue raised by Moreira’s documentary: that there is a problem with paramilitaries in Ukraine. However, like Vitkine, the authors wanted to shift the discussion from that reality and find excuses in the war that rendered these paramilitaries heavily armed and a danger to the country’s future, i.e., blaming “Russian aggression.”

Rejecting a Referendum

Like Vitkine, the authors reject the results of the Crimean referendum, pointing to the presence of Russian troops on the peninsula. But they themselves ignore the repeated polls and news reporting by disinterested third parties in the past year validating the results of the 2014 referendum.

They acknowledge that the right-wing paramilitaries were a problem but claim they were brought under control during 2015. This is a dubious assertion given the continuing political instability in Kiev and the apparent extremist influence on the parliament, frustrating the government’s efforts to implement the terms of the Minsk II accords. The authors are silent about Moreira’s footage of the rightists’ blockade at the Crimean-Ukrainian border.

Most emphatically, the authors reject the “theory of overthrow of the government in February 2014 by the paramilitary groups of the extreme right.” In doing so, these journalists claiming expert knowledge of the recent history willfully ignore the substantial evidence indicating that the Maidan snipers who escalated the violence on Feb. 20, 2014, were rightist false-flag provocateurs intent on enraging both the demonstrators and the government’s Berkut police, some of whom were also targeted and killed.

The letter writers also overlook the critical role of right-wing leader Dmitry Yarosh and his forces in shredding the European Union’s Feb. 21, 2014 agreement with Yanukovych in which the embattled president agreed to reduced powers and new elections.

They do salute Moreira’s coverage of the Odessa massacre, but say vaguely it was not the only incident in Ukraine that has not been adequately investigated. And they say that the French and international press has covered extensively the atrocities in Ukraine, which is not a credible claim.

We might conclude that these 17 journalists have written their Open Letter to safeguard their jobs with the French state media and their continued travel rights to Ukraine, which is essential to their careers. But the story does not end there.

One of the 17 signatories, Gulliver Cragg, who works for the France24 television channel, also published a very curious article on the Moreira documentary in other venues. His side essay was written for the Kyiv Post and put online by the still more dubious stopfake.org, a website devoted to the “struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine,” especially any evidence that puts the U.S.-backed regime in a negative light.

Cragg’s essay opens and closes with harsh words for Moreira. However, in the middle, he has harsh words for the Ukrainian authorities, whom he blames for creating their own public relations disasters by misguided policies, such as: “by naming a suspected neo-Nazi, Vadim Troyan, to be police chief in Kyiv region in Autumn 2014. Or appointing the Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh an official Defence Ministry adviser.

“Or allowing the Azov battalion, now integrated into the National Guard, to use the Wolfsangel [neo-Nazi] symbol on their logo. Or failing, as Moreira points out in his documentary, to punish any Ukrainian nationalists for their role in the Odessa tragedy.”

Cragg acknowledges that this might lead outsiders to conclude that the far right has too much influence in Ukraine. Moreover, he blames directly President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk for simply not understanding all of this and for not changing their behavior and appointments.

And while Cragg comes back to his conclusion that Moreira is blowing things out of proportion, he agrees that far-right groups in Ukraine wield influence and that their weapons are cause for concern, “a legitimate topic for foreign reporters.”

Some Criticism of Ukraine

Cragg continues: “Ukraine’s leaders and media should engage with this issue and encourage a national debate. How do we define far-right? Where does patriotism end and bigotry begin? Where do we draw the line between activist and extremist? Politicians should be addressing these questions and speaking out against those whose views are not compatible with the European values Ukraine claims to espouse. And, crucially, they should be heard doing so on foreign media.”

And so, grudgingly, even some of Moreira’s critics have come out of their crouches and put forward constructive suggestions. By prompting this, Moreira has performed a praiseworthy service.

Yet, while the French mainstream journalists found the need to chastise one of their own for breaking with the pro-Maidan “group think,” the U.S. mainstream media simply continues to ignore Ukraine’s ugly realities, all the better to fit with the State Department’s prescribed narrative.

Nothing like Moreira’s documentary has appeared on U.S. television or in mainstream U.S. newspapers. The dark side of the Maidan and in particular the role of neo-Nazi groups and other violent extremists in fomenting and achieving the coup d’etat have been discussed almost exclusively at alternative and independent outlets, mostly on the Internet.

The editorial boards of the country’s newspapers of record The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal ensured that newspaper columns and op-ed pages set out almost exclusively Official Washington’s narrative day after day. Opposing views were increasingly choked off, finally getting no space whatsoever in mainstream outlets.

One of the few exceptions in print media was The Nation, where contributing editor and Professor of Russian History emeritus at Princeton and New York University Stephen Cohen delivered detailed critiques of the factual and interpretational errors of the mainstream narrative.

Otherwise heterodox views became accessible only to determined truth seekers exploring the alternative media portals. I name here in particular one devastating critique of the one-sided mainstream narrative that Jim Naureckas published at the media criticism site, Fair.

Needless to say, critical views of the Maidan and its neo-Nazi components got almost no attention in American broadcast media. No American channel so far has shown the civic courage of a Canal+.

Ukraine’s Diversity

Much as I admire the courage and dedication of Paul Moreira to produce such a valuable documentary focusing on very troubling aspects of the post-Maidan political realities in Ukraine, he is an outsider to the subject matter who has missed some very relevant facts about Ukrainian society before his eyes. His critics have missed the same points due to their ideological persuasions or lacking analytical skills.

The fact is that the population of Ukraine is very diverse. The major split between native Ukrainian speakers in the West of the country and native Russian speakers in the East of the country remains unchanged. It is more than ironic that four of the five leaders of extremist Ukrainian nationalists whom Moreira interviewed or otherwise featured in the documentary were speaking native Russian. Such was the intermix of family traditions and ethnicity in Ukraine until recently. Add to this the very many minorities of other nationalities, including Hungarians and Romanians who are especially numerous in territorial pockets.

The ambition of the post-Maidan government in Kiev and of the nationalist extremists who are maintaining pressure on it through intimidation by their paramilitaries is to forge a monist national identity. This suppression of non-Ukrainian-ethnic minorities can be achieved only by violence and threats of violence.

In this sense, the paramilitaries are only the tip of the iceberg.  Violence and intimidation today permeates Ukrainian society across the whole geography of the country. It takes the form of murder of journalist and newspaper editors. Meanwhile, there have been changes in the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as well as to street and city names. Further demonstrating hostility toward ethnic and political diversity, Ukraine has witnessed forcible destruction of war memorials to the “wrong” heroes to erase the shared Russian-Ukrainian traditions and to impose a new politically correct consciousness on a hitherto diverse country. Had Moreira sought to document this, he would have needed another one-hour segment or more.

Instead, Moreira focused on the existence of the aggressive nationalist and neo-Nazi armed movements in present-day Ukraine, a reality that his critics in France don’t deny even as they try to forgive it by alluding to “Russian aggression” and the war in the Donbass.

Their insistence that these extremists are just a small part of the paramilitary battalions, not to mention the general population, as revealed by electoral results, is intentionally misleading. That point would have relevance if Ukraine were a functioning democracy. But the ability of these nationalist extremists to intimidate parliament and operate illegal blockades as they do at the Crimean border proves that Ukraine is not a functioning democracy.

Those are the essential points which emerge from the Canal+ documentary and its aftermath. For this we must express our deep appreciation to Mr. Moreira and the management of the television channel.

Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to eastwestaccord@gmail.com. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2015




How Fox News Undercut Trump

The Republican Establishment, led by powerful media boss Fox News’ Roger Ailes, undercut Donald Trump’s anti-Establishment campaign with some last-minute maneuvers in Iowa, including baiting Trump to boycott a Fox debate, as JP Sottile explains.

By JP Sottile

Something really strange happened on the way to the Iowa Caucus.

The strange thing is not that Duck Dynasty devotee and much-despised Establishment nemesis Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leapfrogged Donald Trump to take the top spot. Ted’s excellent adventure, which includes winning in spite of  his stance against ethanol, was far more likely than it might have seemed.

First of all, predictive polling has become notoriously imprecise and that’s particularly true in the case of Iowa’s caucuses. As TIME pointed out, the “byzantine” nature of the caucus process makes it harder to get an accurate snapshot from a simple poll because it doesn’t account for precinct-level ebbs and flows in voter turnout.

Secondly, the Iowa GOP is all about the Evangelicals and Brother Ted bore the cross like no one else could, meaning completely without shame. He also secured the endorsement of Iowa’s Christian kingmaker and failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats.

And Ted’s father, Pastor Rafael, is both an outspoken preacher and a cheerleader for the Apocalypse. These assets offered a stark contrast with Trump, who doesn’t know his Bible or the proper etiquette for tithing.

Ted also benefited mightily from the predictable deflation of Dr. Ben Carson’s bland balloon. And it didn’t hurt that “someone” in Cruz’s operation spread last-minute rumors about the good doctor’s sudden exit from the campaign.

Not for nothing, Carson came a close second to Cruz in displaying considerable cross-bearing prowess. Thus, there was a lot of “crossover” among their supporters.

Finally, Iowa is actually something of a “kiss of death” for Republican candidates because it is such a demographic and ideological bubble, even in the rarefied world of homeschooling duck hunters, End Times enthusiasts and good ol’ fashioned fans of the old time religion.

As Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum showed in 2008 and 2012, a win in Iowa acts more like disqualification for the general election than a momentum builder on the way to a glorious victory. And have no doubt that GOP “insiders” are just fine with the idea that Ted will wear his Iowa victory like a pair of concrete galoshes.

No, the truly strange thing is that, according to entrance polling by CBS News (yes, there is such a thing), Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, got a late boost from late-deciding voters. It was a big reason why he closed the gap on Trump. And it may be why Trump didn’t hold his lead with caucus-goers as they turned out in record numbers, many for the first time, to finally render judgment and pass the baton onto the voters of New Hampshire.

The key here is that despite months upon months of campaigning, retail politicking and a staggering $43 million spent on just television advertising, a significant portion of Hawkeye State Republicans made up their minds in the final week.

And the CBS poll shows that many of late-breakers broke for the Neoconservative’s Boy Wonder in “the last few days” following the much-discussed FOX News debate that Donald Trump notably skipped.

Of course, correlation is not necessarily causation. But there is absolutely no doubt that the GOP Establishment has struggled mightily to find a candidate or an attack that will derail the Trump juggernaut since he quickly and efficiently steamrolled its first choice, Jeb Bush.

Really, Trump’s terse dismissal of The Next Bush In Line hit the GOP right in its softest parts, the lingering fallout of its cataclysmic War on Iraq and on its deeply corrupting ties to its deep-pocketed donor class.

When Trump called Jeb a “puppet of his donors,” he summarily cut the strings between post-Citizens United puppeteers and their marionette of the moment.

And when Trump hammered the stupidity of the Bush family’s legacy (and therefore the GOP’s legacy) in Iraq he also blew open the rift between the Neocons and the GOP’s latent Libertarian cadre of anti-imperial America-Firsters.

Trump’s candid attacks made him a far more problematic option than their other antagonist, the aforementioned Cruz. That’s because Cruz is a heavily-stringed candidate with ties to both Wall Street and Big Oil. Trump’s freedom to turn on the GOP’s bevy of big donors is a really big problem.

But perhaps most shockingly, Trump also engaged in a series of skirmishes with the GOP’s most important organ, its most direct conduit to “the people” and its most effective mechanism for “changing narratives” and/or refocusing “the optics” to massage the perceptions of the American people.

That’s right. Trump danced on the true third rail of GOP politics. Trump took on FOX News, repeatedly.

While the initial dust-ups with Megyn Kelly, the exceptionally bright, perfectly-crafted centerpiece of the network’s smorgasbord of biased bloviators and fake experts, did little to derail Trump’s momentum, the last episode ended up with Trump bowing out of the final, pre-caucus debate.

He did so ostensibly on the grounds that Megyn Kelly was unfair and because Trump was, according to prevailing narratives on both the unreflective Left and on the quietly ecstatic Establishment Right, afraid to face “tough questions” from a big, bad blonde named Megyn.

On its surface, that spin is inherently sexist. It presupposes that a woman cannot be intellectually intimidating and that a man who might be intimidated by a woman is a wimp or, at least, not very masculine. It was a favorite of storyline of self-identified progressives, by the way.

More importantly, though, this narrative completely missed the even stranger thing that happened on the way to the debate, the issuance of an Onion-style faux press release that taunted Trump with bogus, supposedly tongue-in-cheek accusations about his weakness in the face of international challenges. Even more strangely, the little missive insulted his supporters, many of whom are likely to be FOX viewers.

Sources told Politico that the unprecedented “teasing” of Trump was FOX Chairman Roger Ailes’ attempt to “redirect the heat” away from the network’s rising star. But long-time observers of the mainstream media will struggle to find another instance of a major news network mocking a major candidate of a major political party with a fake press release.

With the GOP Establishment wringing its hands raw over their party’s hostile takeover by a stringless and seemingly anti-interventionist candidate, it does stand to reason that Ailes, who is, for all intents and purposes, the de facto chairman of the GOP, saw an opportunity to “redirect” Trump away from the debate and, perhaps, derail the head of steam Trump was building in a series of polls leading up to the Iowa Caucus.

Make no mistake Trump was moving on up in the days before the debate.

According to RealClearPolitics’ poll tracker, Trump was up between 7 percent points and 10 percentage points in three different polls and he’d hit 31 percent, 31 percent and 32 percent to take the lead away from Cruz, who stalled in the mid-twenties.

Those numbers were released on the day of the debate in question and in those polls Rubio languished at 10 percent in one poll, and sat at 14 percent and 18 percent in the others.

At the time, many speculated that Trump was pulling a fast one on the field by bowing out and letting the circular firing squad retrain its sights on his closest competition, Ted Cruz. But Trump was also very clear that his final, terminal objection to the FOX debate was not the presence of Megyn Kelly. Instead, the final straw was that sophomoric attempt at shaming him with that ham-handed attempt at humor.

Really, it is amazing that the “journalists” at FOX News didn’t walk out of the newsroom in protest of such a decidedly unprofessional and unprecedented ploy. Well, then again it is FOX News, right?

But maybe that “it is FOX News, after all” sense of the network was all the cover Ailes needed to throw a wrench into the Trump machine, right?

Once again, correlation is not causation. Unless someone comes forward with a memo or an on-the-record admission, we may never know the machinations that led to the press release. Just like we may never fully know if Rubio’s surge of late support was a response to Trump’s glaring absence from the debate. Trump certainly thinks his absence, along with a lackluster ground-game, may have cost him the top spot.

We do know, however, that Rubio was widely seen as the clear winner of that debate and among the rest of the uninspiring field he was able to stand out like Luke Skywalker in the bar scene from Star Wars.

Megyn Kelly followed up with an effusive post-Iowa interview of the third-place “winner” and Rush Limbaugh called him a “full-throated” conservative. That “throatiness” and his humble roots, perfectly programmed oratory skills, soft-focused good looks and “just-enough” ethnic flavor make him a made-to-order alternative to the abrasive, smirking, pedantic and almost car salesmen-like timbre of Ted Cruz.

Apparently, Iowa’s Republicans, at least, those who don’t make Evangelicalism the Alpha and the Omega of their political decision-making, felt the same way as the Establishment.

Whether it is the culmination of a cunning plan to stump Trump or just the outcome of buyer’s remorse in front of their peers, their late choice of Rubio gave him a spin-able third place and gave the GOP’s cadre of cavernously pocketed donors a new lease on their lives of investing in politicians.

It’s a big deal for the biggest dealmakers, 500 of whom just attended another Koch Brothers conclave and, for the most part, bemoaned the lack of viable options on the shelves in their personal supermarket of democracy.

As Leigh Ann Caldwell of NBC News reported, there is widespread discomfort with both Trump’s stringless candidacy and with the large sums of money still wadded-up in their pockets. The Kochs’ “network” of donors has an $889 million budget for the 2016 election cycle. Thus far, reports Caldwell, “they’ve spent less than half of it, $400 million, in 2015” and none of that amount on presidential politics.

They want to spend. Just not yet.

And those big donors who went ahead and poured over $100 million into Jeb’s empty vessel campaign just watched it get spent with an almost unprecedented ineffectuality. They’re ready to jump to a viable alternative.

And Rubio, who may have gotten a little bank-shot help from Roger Ailes and even from his campaign’s part in ginning up the Dr. Ben Carson rumor-mill, is certainly the guy with the demonstrated willingness to soak-up cash from billionaires and toe the neoconservative lines they want to draw in Middle Eastern sand.

And his team is adept at playing fast and loose with IRS restrictions on non-profit status to wash campaign cash through their well-developed laundry machinery.

And that’s the kind of gold coin-operated political machinery that makes the GOP Establishment feel at home and feel like giving. Some are even holding their noses to dip into their pockets and prolong the candidacy of former Trump “bromancer” and unlikely nominee Ted Cruz as he escalates his feud with the counter-attacking Trump.

It’s yet another possible bank-shot that illustrates the extent to which Trump has broken up the Grand Old Party and, thus far, nullified their grand old game of gaming the system in their favor.

As big-time donor and Rubio enthusiast Frank VanderSloot told Bryan Clark of Idaho Post Register, “I don’t even want to talk about Donald Trump. He’s a disaster.”

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, radio co-host, documentary filmmaker and former broadcast news producer in Washington, D.C. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa and is available online. He blogs at Newsvandal.com or you can follow him on Twitter, http://twitter/newsvandal, where this article first appeared.




Shaking Up the Democratic Party

By demanding a “revolution” to shift power away from Wall Street, Sen. Sanders is attracting millions of young Americans who want fundamental change. He’s also upsetting the Democratic establishment which favors only incremental “reforms” acceptable to corporate interests, as Norman Solomon notes.

By Norman Solomon

Forty-eight years ago, a serious insurrection jeopardized the power structure of the national Democratic Party for the first time in memory. Propelled by the movement against the Vietnam War, that grassroots uprising cast a big electoral shadow soon after Sen. Eugene McCarthy dared to challenge the incumbent for the Democratic presidential nomination.

When 1968 got underway, the news media were scoffing at McCarthy’s antiwar campaign as quixotic and doomed. But in the nation’s leadoff New Hampshire primary, McCarthy received 42 percent of the vote while President Lyndon B. Johnson couldn’t quite get to 50 percent — results that were shattering for LBJ. Suddenly emboldened, Sen. Robert Kennedy quickly entered the race. Two weeks later, Johnson announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Although the nomination eventually went to Johnson’s vice president Hubert Humphrey — a supporter of the war who was the choice of Democratic power brokers — the unmasking of the party’s undemocratic process led to internal reforms that aided the Democratic Party’s second modern insurrection. It came four years later, when Sen. George McGovern won the presidential nomination, thanks to grassroots movements involving young people and activists of color. But any sense of triumph disappeared in the wake of President Nixon’s landslide re-election in November 1972.

The third major insurrection came in 1988, when Jesse Jackson led a dynamic, multiracial “rainbow” campaign for president that had major impacts on the national stage. (His previous campaign, in ’84, had been relatively weak.) The 1988 primaries and caucuses were hard-fought, state by state, with rainbow activists working shoulder-to-shoulder, whether focused on issues of class, race or gender. (Back then, Jackson was a gutsy voice for social justice, for human rights and against war — much more willing to confront the Democratic Party establishment than he is now.)

At the contentious Democratic National Convention that summer in Atlanta, where Jackson delegates were highly visible as 30 percent of the total, the old guard closed ranks behind nominee Michael Dukakis.

Now, as the delegate selection process for 2016 gets underway, we’re in the midst of the first major insurrection against the Democratic Party power structure in 28 years. The millions of us who support the Bernie Sanders campaign — whatever our important criticisms — should aim to fully grasp the huge opportunities and obstacles that await us.

Of the three previous insurrections, only one gained the nomination, and none won the presidency. Corporate capitalism — wielding its muscular appendage, mass media — can be depended upon to take off the gloves and pummel the insurrection’s candidate to the extent that the campaign has gained momentum. That happened to McCarthy, McGovern and Jackson. It’s now happening to Sanders.

The last days of January brought one big-daily newspaper editorial after another after another attacking Bernie with vehemence and vitriol. The less unlikely his winning of the nomination gets, the more that mega-media assaults promoting absurdities will intensify.

Meanwhile — at least as long as her nomination is threatened from the left — Hillary Clinton will benefit from corporate biases that wallpaper the mass-media echo chambers. The Sunday New York Times editorial endorsing Clinton could hardly be more fanciful and hagiographic if written by her campaign.

Many of the same media outlets and overall corporate forces that denounced Eugene McCarthy in 1968, George McGovern in 1972 and Jesse Jackson in 1988 are gunning for Bernie Sanders in 2016. We shouldn’t be surprised. But we should be ready, willing and able to do our own messaging — widely and intensely — in communities across the country.

At the same time, we should not confuse electoral campaigns with long-term political organizing. Campaigns for office are quite different matters than the more transformative task of building progressive infrastructure — and vibrant coalitions — that can endure and grow, year after year.

Genuinely progressive candidates can inspire and galvanize — and sometimes they can even win. But election campaigns, especially national ones, are almost always boom/bust. Sometimes they can help to fuel movement momentum, but they aren’t the engine.

Election campaigns are distinct from movements even if they converge for a while, no matter what pundits and campaign spinners say. Candidates often want to harness social movements for their campaigns. But our best approach is to view electoral campaigns as — at best — subsets of movements, not the other way around.

The Bernie campaign could be a watershed for progressive organizing through the rest of this decade and beyond. That will largely depend on what activists do — in the next weeks, months and years.

Norman Solomon is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

 




Seeking More Cold War with Cuba

The neocons who dominate Official Washington speak most loudly through their flagship newspaper, The Washington Post, almost always seeking confrontation rather than cooperation in addressing the world’s problems, such as Cold War-era hostility toward Cuba, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

A Washington Post editorial proclaims in its headline, “Failure in Cuba,” with a bank head that declares, “Mr. Obama’s opening is not leading to positive change.” One should not expect anyone, including editorial boards, who have been opposed to a policy departure to change their own position quickly. But what the Post has to say about Cuba illustrates some unfortunate tendencies that have warped policy debate on other issues as well.

The biggest problem is the failure to ask, “What’s the alternative?” And to ask as well, “Why should the alternative be expected to bring any better results, especially on the very criteria on which the policy at hand is being criticized?”

This failure was quite apparent in much of the opposition to the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, an agreement that was clearly superior to the only real alternative, which was the absence of an agreement, on most of the very topics that opponents themselves were raising, from the size of uranium stockpiles to the frequency of international inspections.

With regard to Cuba, this deficiency of the argumentation is even more glaring because the alternative to Mr. Obama’s opening, i.e., a continued attempt to isolate and ostracize Cuba, has had an enormously long time to show what it can, or cannot do. In fact, it’s had half a century to show that; the United States instituted a full economic embargo on Cuba in 1962.

The U.S. embargo and attempted isolation of Cuba are the archetype of a failed policy. That policy has failed to bring about hoped-for change either small (the Post editorial talks about rates for wi-fi service in Cuba) or large (fundamental political change in the Castro regime) or much in between (including various human rights issues).

The inconsistency of the standards being applied in the editorial, as far as time and expectations are concerned, is ludicrously large. Evidently half a century, through ten different U.S. administrations, is deemed insufficient time to judge whether the policy of isolation can ever achieve any useful results. But the editorial criticizes President Obama’s opening for not bringing about a “sea change in Cuba” during the brief time it has been in effect. The announcement of the move to restore diplomatic relations was barely more than year ago, and embassies were reopened only six months ago.

Another flaw in the argumentation that we have seen before is to pin everything on one policy change and to fail to take account of other important conditions. The big, important condition regarding U.S.-Cuban relations is that the economic embargo is still in effect. The Obama administration has been limited to changes it can make through executive action; the embargo stays in effect as long as a majority in Congress refuses to end it.

When the Post editorial writers complain about meager Cuban purchases of U.S. goods and little evidence of opportunities coming to the private sector in Cuba, that is properly considered an indictment of the continuing embargo rather than, as the editorial portrays it, a deficiency in the steps the administration has taken.

Repeated references in the Post‘s piece to “unilateral concessions” made to Cuba reflects another unfortunately all-too-common tendency, which is to consider any hardship in a country with a regime we don’t like to be good in its own right, and thus any lessening of economy-damaging sanctions or embargoes as a loss for the United States.

Damaging someone else’s economy is of value only if helps to bring about some other desirable change in the other country’s policies or behavior, which the embargo of Cuba has manifestly failed to do. The embargo has hurt ordinary Cubans most of all, and that hurt is of no positive value to the United States. Neither has it done any good for U.S. credibility worldwide, given that it is the United States, not Cuba, that has been isolated politically on the issue.

Before President Obama started to redirect it, U.S. policy toward Cuba had been (and with the embargo, still is) like an ugly and embarrassing time capsule. The embargo and attempted isolation are as antiquated as those 1950s-era American-made cars that the Cubans somehow manage to keep running.

The policy has been the political remnant of one particular generation of Cuban-Americans who have had legitimate grievances against the Castro regime but have gotten stuck making one big gesture and never moved on to think about what works and what doesn’t. The gesture lives on in the next generation most conspicuously in the person of Marco Rubio, whose stubborn defense of the embargo is inconsistent and illogical.

It would be good both for the United States and for the Cuban people if further generational change and political evolution can move this issue out of the 1960s and into the Twenty-first Century, where it belongs.

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.)