Well-Known Canadian Journalist Visits Ukraine and Praises Neo-Nazis

One of Canada’s most known journalists was in Ukraine last month on reporting duty. Readers of mainstream media in Canada will be surprised to read Diane Francis’ observations of her visit. She has penned several articles in the World Post praising the extreme-right and neo-Nazi paramilitary forces that are allied with the Ukrainian government in waging civil war in the east of the country.

The World Post is an international collaboration by Huffington Post.

Francis is one of the more recognized names in Canadian journalism. She is Editor at Large at the National Post, one of two national dailies in Canada. She is a longtime editor and columnist with the Financial Post, now published as the business section of the National Post. She is Distinguished Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Francis is a renowned conservative and pro-capitalist ideologue, but open support for the far-right in Ukraine comes as an eye-opener. Her articles have received no attention or critique, an all-too common sign these days of the political impunity which proponents of war against the people of eastern Ukraine enjoy in Canada.

‘Poignant moments with Right Sector neo-Nazis’

In a July 13, 2015 article in the World Post, Francis sings the praises of Ukraine’s far-right, calling them “remarkable patriots”. The article is incongruously titled, We are all Ukrainians.

Francis’ evident mission in Ukraine is to warn the world of—you might guess—a creeping Russian takeover of Ukraine. She writes from Kyiv, “This trip, I saw more [Ukrainian] flags than ever and met some remarkable patriots who have realized that the public itself must rally to the cause of trying to stop, and eventually reverse, the steady takeover [of Ukraine] by Russia since independence in 1991.”

“The most poignant moment for me on this visit,” she continues, “was an interview in a Kiev hospital with a young member of the Right Sector, led by Dmytro Yarosh. Make no mistake: these volunteers and others made the difference last year and helped Ukraine’s rag tag army hold the Russians at bay…”

Right Sector “patriots” earn her praise. So do thousands more like them in other paramilitary forces. She calls all of them Ukraine’s “hidden army of volunteers”.

Francis laments the public relations problems which Ukraine’s neo-Nazi “army of volunteers” is facing. Though she does not mention it specifically, this would include the vote in the U.S. Congress in May saying it will deny arms and military training to one of the extremist paramilitary battalions–Azov.

In an understatement for the ages, she writes, “But recent publicity that some Ukrainian militias are comprised of neo-Nazis frightens some politicians and donors. And there’s concern about the corrupt army leadership and whether it’s under control.” And who is contesting control of the army? We are left to guess, but presumably she is talking about the ongoing incorporation into the army of the neo-Nazis.

Not to worry, though. Francis explains reassuringly, “As for militias, however, Canada’s Defense Minister Jason Kenney said in Lviv ‘We should not allow a small number of bad apples in one battalion to characterize the new Ukraine’.”

Ah, Jason Kenney, one of the most hardline of the neo-conservatives in the Canadian government assures us that the tens of thousands of far-right battalion legionnaires are but “a few bad apples”. Are you feeling reassured already, dear reader?

Francis explains the means by which the Ukrainian army and the battalions are trying to work their way around the ‘fright’ of potential foreign arms donors. She describes ingenious citizen “projects” in Ukraine which are manufacturing military equipment and calls this part of ongoing “reforms” of the armed forces. Somehow, such “reforms” are how Ukraine may solve the problem of corruption in its army and the embarrassing questions surrounding who, really, runs the institution and who, exactly, is being trained by the military training missions of the U.S., Britain and Canada.

Francis continues, “All of these military reforms [sic] and citizen activism must continue if Ukraine is to win the war against Russia and the war against corruption at home.

“But more Western help, in terms of military equipment and debt relief, must arrive soon.”

Interested supporters of Ukrainian extremism are encouraged by Francis (and inferentially by the World Post editors who published her article) to go to “a crowd funding site called peoplesproject.com — where interested donors from around the world can scan a shopping list of projects and causes [sic] for donors and use their credit cards to make donations. Millions have been raised so far.”

Francis ends her article in the heroic theme she has given to its title: “I am not Ukrainian myself, but we are all Ukrainians.”

“Free trade” between Canada and Ukraine

A July 17 article by Francis, this one written from Lviv, extols the “free trade” deal which Canada recently signed with Kyiv. By way of stressing the importance of the deal, she writes, “Ukraine remains the world’s biggest producer of grains, sunflower oils, mushrooms for Europeans and is now blanketed with apple orchards and processing plants to produce juice and cider.”

Francis gets her “sunflower oils” claim correct, and maybe she is correct about mushrooms. But she hugely exaggerates Ukraine’s cereals (“grains”) production, presumably for the sake of boosting her argument for more support to the Kyiv government and its present war in eastern Ukraine and a future war against Russia.

Ukraine is, indeed, an important producer of cereals in the world. If only it were not saddled with a vicious civil war and a venal ruling, capitalist class, the country’s agricultural potential could provide a huge boost to living standards and hope for the future.

In production of major cereals in the world, Ukraine is listed as a top-five producer in only one cereal commodity–it is fifth in the production of corn. Ukraine was ninth in the world in overall cereals production in 2013, according to the World Bank.

According to Index Mundii, Ukraine was eighth in the world by country in wheat production in 2014. But that placing is exaggerated because Index Mundii groups all 27 countries of the European Union as one in its agriculture charts. France and Germany each produce more wheat than Ukraine. EU wheat production in 2014 was just under seven times that of Ukraine.

As for the Canada-Ukraine “free trade” deal, Moscow-based writer and financial analyst John Helmer titled a July 15 analysis of the agreement, Free trade for the birds—How Canada forces Ukraine to repay $400 million in loans.

Helmer explains that the main features of the deal will see a surge of highly competitive Canadian food exports to Ukraine while offering little in return excepting, notably, a likely writing-off of a $400 million “loan” (payoff?) by Canada to the Ukrainian government earlier this year.

Helmer goes on:

“Harper is saving the Ukraine by damaging its farmers,” a Toronto source says, “and keeping Canada’s steel mills protected from one of the few exports the eastern Ukraine can still turn out. [The “free trade” deal maintains restrictions on Ukrainian steel and other metallurgical imports into Canada.–RA] If that’s not cynical politics for gullible voters, I don’t know what is.”

He cites an official of the Canadian Export Development Corporation:

She acknowledged that EDC recently issued a bulletin warning Canadian exporters of the “prohibitive” risks in doing business with the Ukrainians. “We haven’t issued a bulletin on the positive [opportunities of the trade deal],” she added. “Not yet.”

Helmer dresses a long list of Canadian products that will now have easier access to Ukrainian markets thanks to “the dismantling of Ukrainian protection for domestic agriculture”.

Financial advice to Ukraine and international bankers

Dianne Francis is a conservative economic analyst and a career financial writer. Even for a conservative, her suggestions to the Ukrainian government and the international governments and financial institutions backing it are unusual or downright zany.

An article by her from May 2014 bemoans what she considers the lacklustre support for post-Maidan Ukraine coming from some countries. “The defenseless country is under siege from Russia and next week, on May 25, an election will be held to determine its future. The prospects are far from propitious. The last President of Ukraine was driven out of power but managed to disarm the country further by selling its military equipment, for personal profit, to African dictators.

“Another nation-state culprit [for leaving Ukraine in the lurch] is Germany. The world’s most reluctant superpower has done nothing because it’s been politically and economically co-opted by Russia.”

Carrying forward this extreme interpretation of the crisis in Ukraine, her article highlights the views of an American commentator who recommends that the victor of the presidential election should immediately invite NATO military forces to occupy the country and simultaneously cut the flow of natural gas from Russia to Europe. The cutting of gas transport would “bring everyone [in Europe] to the table” to discuss Ukraine’s future and, presumably, open the floodgates of weapons’ supplying to Ukraine. This could then create a credible military threat to Russia. Francis called this “calling Putin’s bluff on Ukraine”.

Revealing the full scope of her plan–nothing less than regime change in Russia–Francis continued, “Tougher measures by Ukraine could eventually bring Putin down.”

Readers will know that such plans haven’t exactly worked out. President Putin is more popular than ever in Russia, in no small part due to the growing awareness by the Russian people of what Western governments and wacko advisers such as Dianne Francis have in mind for their country. And there is the pesky problem of Ukraine’s financially and politically bankrupt state and leadership.

A July 5, 2015 article on Ukraine’s debt situation by Francis explained that notwithstanding the country’s growing and apparently unpayable debt (now approaching 135 per cent of GDP, double the number of one year ago), its notorious corruption and the grim war against its population in the east of the country, the Ukrainian government should hold an honored place in the family of indebted nations.

The article is titled, ‘IMF holds key to helping Ukraine escape from Russia’s stranglehold’ and it argues, “Greece is a deadbeat nation, Puerto Rico is a party that lives beyond its means, but last year, war-torn Ukraine made more interest payments to its lenders than it spent trying to defend itself against Russia.” Ergo, this beleaguered country deserves much more financial support than “deadbeats” such as Greece.

Francis offers a novel approach for the Ukrainian government to offload its debts to international creditors: Ukraine should be declared an “occupied country”. Then the IMF could continue to provide loans to the country without the thorny provision that Ukraine display some will and capacity to pay them back.

Even better, Ukraine could then decide how much of its outstanding, “official” debt of $3 billion owed to Russia it will pay without having to worry about repercussions from international financial institutions of such a partial default. Presently, the money owed to Russia is “official” debt, meaning the result of a government-to-government agreement. That was made in 2013, including with a condition, long-since violated, that Ukraine keep its government debt lower than 60 per cent of GDP.

Being an “official” debt obligation, Ukraine’s $3 billion owed to Russia must be honoured or the country risks becoming an international financial pariah. A commentary in the May 25 Moscow Times explained, “Ukraine’s $17 billion IMF bailout [granted in March 2015] would be effectively frozen if the country is found to have defaulted on any official debt.”

Complicating the financial picture for the neo-conservative government in Kyiv is the huge, unpaid natural gas bills owed by Ukraine’s state-owned gas company, Naftogaz, to Russia’s giant gas producer Gazprom. Reuters reported, also in May, that according to Gazprom, that unpaid bill amounts to $29.5 billion. Naftogaz has taken the matter to an international disputes tribunal, but even a lesser amount will be extremely difficult if not impossible to pay under present circumstances.

According to Francis, Ukraine’s entire mess could find resolution provided Ukraine and its backers stick, quite literally, to their guns. She writes in the July 5 article, “The country’s populace is rebuilding its army, gutted by the previous administrations and corruption. An “army” of grassroots volunteers [sic] has taken up arms, millions in donations are being raised to replace equipment that went missing, and operations and corrupt practices are being addressed.”

Canada is at the outset of the most lengthy federal election campaign in more than 60 years, to wrap on October 19. Extremist views such as those of Dianne Francis are not uncommon in mainstream media and they are de rigeur within the halls of the House of Commons and the (appointed) Senate.

Most liberal columnists, even, are blind to the stakes of the war in Ukraine. The Toronto Star‘s Rick Salutin, for example, praised Liberal Party MP and incumbent candidate in Toronto Centre district, Chrystia Freeland, in his weekly column on July 31.

Freeland, Salutin wrote, “would make a fine [repeat] MP”. Freeland happens to be an ideologue in favour of the war in Ukraine and the hard-right forces prosecuting it, notwithstanding her paradoxical authoring of the 2012 book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.

Speaking of the House of Commons, there has not been a hint of opposition by a single one of Canada’s 308 (soon to be 338) parliamentarians to the pro-war course in Ukraine of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government.

But there are important voices in Canada questioning the pro-war course in Ukraine, including in mainstream media. A second article in this series will look at where the parties in Parliament stand and what prospects may exist to challenge their united, pro-war stand during the election campaign now underway.

Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker in Vancouver BC. He writes regularly for Counterpunch and compiles his writings on a ‘A Socialist in Canada’. He is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. He can be reached at rogerannis@hotmail.com.