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A Class Act

Putin on the Ritz

by NORMAN POLLACK

Forgive the word-play; colossal demonization notwithstanding, I’ll go with Putin and Russia over Obama, the US, Rasmussen, Cameron, friends and allies everywhere.  America has an unerring nose for smelling Fascism and quickly joining ranks.  Today Putin used the political “F” word correctly, and for that I honor him.  Consider, for example, Stephen F. Cohen’s article in The Nation, “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities,” (June 30, updated July 7), time enough for Obama, Rice, Power, Biden, Rhodes, Brennan, the whole War Cabinet/National Security Advisors to absorb its contents—known anyway if also suppressed by the military and intelligence communities as disclosures to the general public—before charging Russia with the Invasion of a Sovereign State.  The holier than thou attitude is breathtakingly absurd and laughable, as though America was the exemplar of international justice, rather than chief sponsor of a coup which precipitated the current crisis.  And yes, today the Ukrainian prime minister has made formal request for admission into NATO, a pro forma move because NATO forces, the major purpose behind the coup, would in any case be positioned on the Russian border.

Cohen is not Thomas Friedman or Peter Baker (among The Times’ Swiss Guards of the Vested Interests, as Veblen would have it) but a distinguished scholar of the region, whom we all may take seriously.  He writes: “For weeks, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians.  While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to ‘save our compatriots.’  Both the atrocities and the pressure on Putin have increased even more since July 1, when Kiev, after a brief cease-fire, INTENSIFIED ITS ARTILLERY AND AIR ATTACKS ON EASTERN CITIES DEFENSELESS AGAINST SUCH WEAPONS.” (Emphasis, mine)  I stress the timing, two months ago, because the situation has only gotten worse.

Given the administration’s “silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev,” Cohen adds, this “shameful complicity” marks “the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades.”  One can “honorably disagree about the causes and resolution” of the crisis, “but not about deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not already done so.”  As early as mid-April the Kiev government declared an “anti-terrorist operation” as rationale for wiping out political-social protest in southeastern Ukraine.  Cohen: “Considering those preceding events [protesters mimicking “the initial Maidan protests in Kiev in 2013,” such as occupying official buildings], but above all the country’s profound historical divisions, particularly between the western and eastern regions—ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural, economic and political—the rebellion in the southeast… was not surprising.  Nor were the protests against the unconstitutional way (in effect, a coup) the new government had come to power, the southeast’s sudden loss of effective political representation in the capital and the real prospect of official discrimination.  But by declaring an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ against the new protesters, Kiev signaled its intention to ‘destroy’ them, not negotiate with them.”

He describes the May 2 Odessa massacre (no other word will do), in which “[a]n organized pro-Kiev mob chased protesters into a building, set it on fire and tried to block the exits.  Some forty people, perhaps many more, perished in the flames or were murdered as they fled the inferno.”  As Cohen notes, this “awaken[ed] memories of Nazi German extermination squads in Ukraine and other Soviet republics during World War II.”  Is Kiev the Nazification of Ukraine?  US supporters of the government flatly deny that.  (When I had earlier commented in The Times on the Odessa tragedy and on Rightist elements in the Kiev government, readers were quick to reply that not everyone was like this—something Cohen himself points out when stating that the “parliamentary majority are aspiring European-style democrats or moderate nationalists.”)  Yet fascist groups, as is, or should be, well known, were key elements in the new government.  Cohen continues: “Members of the infamous Right Sector, a far-right paramilitary organization ideologically aligned with the ultranationalist Svoboda party, itself a constituent part of Kiev’s coalition government, led the mob.  Both are frequently characterized by knowledgeable observers as ‘neo-fascist’ movements.”  This charge of Nazi-like actions, values, statements is not mere fairy tale; even the symbols prominently displayed (as well as on the Odessa building) resembled the swastika.

We are now at the end of August.  The “anti-terrorist operation” has been going on since early May, the totality of repression swept under the rug by the USG and a fawning national media, a rug with bulges high enough to hide “armored personnel carriers, tanks, artillery, helicopter gunships and warplanes,” directed to southeastern cities—the list includes Mariupol, scene of today’s fighting, and many others, including Donetsk and Luhansk—large sections of which have been reduced to rubble.  And when local police proved unreliable, “Kiev hastily mobilized Right Sector and other radical nationalist militias,” who, along with a National Guard, “escalated the ethnic warfare and killing of innocent civilians.”  The “anti-terrorist” campaign moved from “rebel checkpoints on the outskirts of cities,” to systematic destruction via artillery attacks on city centers, including “residential buildings, shopping malls, parks, schools, kindergartens and hospitals,” so that “[m]ore and more urban areas, neighboring towns and even villages now look and sound like war zones, with telltale rubble, destroyed and pockmarked buildings, mangled vehicles, the dead and wounded in streets, wailing mourners and crying children.”

Enough!  I’m sick of using that term when describing atrocities, the grimness of the scene with us here but also practically word-for-word in the Israeli invasion of Gaza, as though a universalized fascist modus operandi defines a new era in world history, in this case, for both, with the generosity and support of the US and complicity or pattern of evasion of the West in general.  I honor Putin because there are few leaders today who stand up to Fascism as a world trend.  In the case of Ukraine (statements that can be easily duplicated, with a change of referent, in Israel’s political leadership) we see, from Right Sector and Svoboda, the following (again, Cohen): “Both movements glorify Ukraine’s murderous Nazi collaborators in World War II as inspirational ancestors.  Both, to quote Svoboda’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok, call for an ethnically pure nation purged of the ‘Moscow-Jewish mafia’ and ‘other scum,’ including homosexuals, feminists and political leftists.  And both hailed the Odessa massacre.”  For Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, it was “’another bright day in our national history.’”  A Svoboda deputy leader: “’Bravo, Odessa…. Let the Devils burn in hell.’”

***

The equation of Putin with Hitler—Hillary is not alone in America in making the accusation—opens a can of psychological worms, at the very least a projection onto another of precisely the war crimes of which we are guilty and whose suppression from memory and understanding is critical to our self-image as a nation, lest the whole bottomless well of militarism, intervention, torture, support of dictatorship, squandering of the national wealth to appease a numerically small elite while ensuring a sabotaging of the social welfare, continues unimpeded.  Putin’s brother was killed and his father wounded in the war against the Nazis; American officials, from Obama to Nuland and McCain, just to name three in the news connected with buttressing the Kiev government, are in process of rehabilitating the horrific experience of times past perhaps now under the more engaging label of liberal humanitarianism.  Better get used to it!  America has entered a downward curve into the ideological swamp of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, counterterrorism as the catch-all for the destruction of, not simply radicalism, but independent critical judgment.  Our boy, Arseniy Yatsenuk, Ukraine’s PM, refers to protesters as “’subhumans,’” we hear in Israel the same for Palestinians; when will our political-military-economic leadership admit to the same view for whomever crosses their path?

The Guardian (Aug. 29) captures the growing sense of tension between America (the EU largely by its side) and Russia over Ukraine in an article by Shaun Walker, Leonid Ragozin, and Matthew Weaver, “Putin likens Ukraine’s forces to Nazis and threatens standoff in the Arctic,” in which “[h]ours after Barack Obama accused Russia of sending troops into Ukraine and fuelling an upsurge in the separatist war, Putin retorted that the Ukrainian army was the villain of the piece, targeting residential areas of towns and cities like German troops did in the former Soviet Union.”  I’m somewhat surprised by the Guardian’s tone, not only accepting the view that Russia has invaded the area (despite using “alleged”), but also a muted disparagement of Putin.  The NATO meeting (same date), secretary general Rasmussen issuing a strong statement about an illegal border crossing, appeared orchestrated to coincide with the convening of Obama’s national security council meeting the previous day and news conference which featured even stronger language: “’Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine….’”  Putin’s response: “’It is necessary to force the Ukrainian authorities to substantively begin these talks—not on technical issues… the talks must be substantive.  Small villages and large cities [are] surrounded by the Ukrainian army, which is directly hitting residential areas with the aim of destroying the infrastructure… It sadly reminds me the events of the second world war, when German fascist… occupants surrounded our cities.’”  These two days (Aug. 28-29) have seen a UN security council meeting, the British repeating the NATO charges, then the US State Department charge of major military involvement, and finally US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, “’It [Russia] has outright lied.  In these acts… we see Russia’s actions for what they are: a deliberate effort to support, and now fight alongside, illegal separatists in another sovereign country.’”  Not a word on what I termed the Nazification of Ukraine, nor the atrocities committed by Ukrainian forces.

We are all indebted to the New York Times for stoking the fires of war, its editorial “Mr. Putin Tests the West in Ukraine” (Aug. 29) a remarkable display of one-sidedness (implied by us vs. them in the title).  It states that “President Obama was right in his news conference on Thursday to rule out military action, but new, tougher Western economic sanctions are obviously needed to make clear to President Vladimir Putin of Russia that the West views HIS LIES AND ESCALATING AGGRESSION AS A MAJOR THREAT.” (Emphasis, mine)  How long military action will be ruled out, is another question.  The Times referred to his comments as “relatively restrained,” and the address at the UN by Power as “more blunt,” praising it as that which “should be the reality guiding Mr. Obama when he meets with NATO allies in Wales next week.”  The editorial describes Russia’s motivation as gaining “effective control of Ukraine’s industrial heartland,” then goes on to say: “But Russia’s motive is not the issue here.  It is Russia’s violation of a cardinal principle of the international order since World War II—states do not seize territory by force.”

Of course, absolutely right.  Several years ago the famous article of Gallagher and Robinson on “The Imperialism of Free Trade” made clear that territory per se was passé, that instead intervention and war, as practiced by the US, concerned, beyond generalized market penetration, spheres of influence holding geopolitical and geostrategic potential, and counting on both hands from World War II the number of invasions through Iraq and Afghanistan, and using an adding machine to tabulate the much larger number of American military bases worldwide, one can see that there has been force aplenty yet not for territory in its own right.  Still riding Putin, as playing “his dangerous game in Ukraine with cunning and deceit,” The Times does all it can as international cheerleader in containing and isolating him and Russia: “Comments from European leaders on Thursday [the 28th] showed they recognize the danger of this moment.  European Union leaders meeting on Saturday must join the United States in expanding the economic sanctions…. And when NATO leaders gather next week, they should give strong reassurances to NATO members along Russia’s borders that they will be protected should Moscow turn its attention on them.”  The Soviet bear is hungry and obviously wants to gobble up nations.  Or so NYT insinuates.

My New York Times Comment on the editorial, same date, follows:

I commend The Times on its intellectual honesty. Here it is unabashedly given to warmongering. For some time, inexplicably, it has been egging on Obama, raising the prospect of World War 3. Its contempt for Putin and Russia appears without limit, just as is its myopic view of US foreign policy, as though interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan never happened.

As the presumed gold standard for journalism, it yet cozies up to Obama, who conducts the greatest surveillance system on the American public in US history. Since the days of A.O.S. and Reston, it has become pathetic, soldiering on behalf of a crypto-fascist administration whose militarism is only if at all exceeded by its contempt for civil liberties and its devotion to wealth concentration and deregulation. Someday, even The Times will feel the pinch, because authoritarianism is a cumulative wave rolling over everything in sight. One false step and even The Times will not be immune.

***

The situation is heating up as I write.  With near-geometric purity one can say: Ukraine is to its southeast part what Israel is to Gaza, indiscriminate shelling and destruction being intended to crush the will of the people.  Rubble everywhere, Luhansk and Donetsk interchangeable with Jabaliya and Beit Hanoun in the authoritarian heavy-handed demand for submission, America in support of both governments’ missions. The Times’ reporters, Neil MacFarquar and Andrew Kramer, shed further light on the growing conflict in their article, “Praising Rebels, Putin Toughens Tone on Ukraine,” (Aug. 30), in which Putin finally speaks the language of power Obama and the EU/NATO leadership understand.  Whether this has any effect on their actions and judgment is another matter.  The reporters adopt the NYT party line, “Russian-backed rebels” standard journalistic procedure as introduction to Putin, who “bluntly strengthened Moscow’s hard-line position that the government in Kiev must be compelled to negotiate regional autonomy,” a position, however, hardly one of annexation.  Insinuation plays a large role in the Ukraine analysis, and for Obama and his beribboned ally Rasmussen of NATO, the scarier the picture the tighter the sanctions and matching expressions of insolent hatred.  (So much for Obama’s “cool,” when he describes Putin as a liar and Russia as an aggressor.)  From my vantage point, it is none too soon that Putin should declare his resistance to American hegemony on the Continent and the West’s (under US leadership) effort to isolate Russia in the world community.  Even the reporters recognize a possible sea-change in progress: “Abandoning his more frequent conciliatory stance, Mr. Putin issued a rare, open, congratulatory message to the insurgents.  They had ‘achieved a major success in intercepting Kiev’s military operation,’ he said on his website.”

Here The Times makes reference to (anonymous) experts, necessary to guiding the discussion on lines favorable to Washington: “Behind the message, and the wider military operation, analysts saw several Kremlin goals.”  (The looming shadow of Stalin.)  All three mentioned suppose Russian aggrandizement, to which a military response logically or ideologically follows: a) “weaken [Ukraine’s] central government authority and ensure that the country cannot escape Moscow’s orbit—and certainly never join NATO or other important Western alliances”; b) reinforce “the increasingly beleaguered rebel forces in Luhansk and Donetsk, which were at risk of capture by government forces, hence robbing Moscow of important leverage”; and c) try “to establish a land route to Crimea.”  Not bad for Pentagon, CIA, and think-tank analysts, yet none of the enumerated points of critical importance to Russia’s security, and that Putin cannot counter through means other than intervention and/or invasion.  As I noted, NATO will get to Russia’s borders whether or not Yatsenuk’s overture to join NATO and the EU is taken up.  Kiev bears watching, whether or not it stays nonaligned, and whether or not in Russia’s orbit.  (Frankly, without de-Nazification, it will always, once beyond the Southeast, remain so.)  As for so-called “rebel forces,” Putin’s emphasis on Kiev’s refusal of substantive negotiations (a federal structure affording language and other rights) must be faced whatever the conditions on the ground.  If Putin wanted to, the battle tide would quickly turn in Donetsk and everywhere under threat.  Finally, “a land route to Crimea” is hardly worth risking World War Three, except, if tried, which is improbable, the US might well seize the opportunity for an Armageddon-type showdown, vainly seeking to recoup its World Empire.

Putin must be scratching his head about what next.  For the reporters, the putative arch-villain did what was otherwise unexplainable: “In one conciliatory gesture, Mr. Putin suggested in his statement that the militia groups open a humanitarian corridor to allow surrounded Ukrainian soldiers to escape and to avoid further loss of life.”  (The rebel leader, Zakharchenko, agreed, provided the Ukrainians abandon their weapons.)  However, “Ukraine rejected [Putin’s] proposal and said no such corridors had been established.”

My New York Times Comment to the MacFarquar-Kramer article, Aug. 30, also follows:

Quotations from Putin’s education forum fail to mention the significant point, his accusation (correct, I believe) that the Ukrainian government is fascist in ancestry, word, and deed. That Russia wants to prevent Ukraine from becoming part of the West’s orbit, is only partially true. It would be a relief to let EU and NATO welcome Ukraine as befitting the West’s own animus toward Russia. Clear the air. Except for one thing: no NATO presence on Russia’s borders.

Ukraine resembles the Spanish Civil War: a dress rehearsal for global Fascism. The rubble, the indiscriminate bombings of cities, towns, villages–here Putin in his statements is 100% accurate–is a black day for international law and peace.

The US applauds the Kiev government, and looks the other way as Right Sector and Svoboda exercise disproportionate influence on Kiev’s conduct and decisions. Putin stands alone among world leaders to oppose the spread of Fascism. For that, the US demonizes him. Obama, despite pre-election smoothness, will no doubt find the means for intervention. Kiev is our blood brother, as Victoria Nuland and John McCain made clear. Freedom Fighters to the barricades! Put the Russkies in their place!

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.