Ukraine and NATO Threats Against Russia Continue

A recent edition of The Current on CBC Radio One in Canada featured a panel discussion of respected, liberal journalists discussing how mainstream media should report on Donald Trump and his campaign for the U.S. presidency. Among those on the panel was Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail daily in Canada. The panelists agreed that journalists have a duty to explain how Trump’s views are racist and worse.

Ten days earlier, the same program featured a panel discussion of two scholars discussing ‘Is Donald Trump a fascist?’ An article which I wrote summarized that episode of The Current and included an open letter I sent to producers of the The Current. In my letter, I concurred with the views of the two scholars that Donald Trump has the markings of an incipient fascist (though to clarify, I don’t think his election campaign is a fascist movement).

Extreme-right in the U.S. and extreme right in Ukraine

As my letter to the CBC commented, there is much irony to a CBC broadcast voicing concern over Trump’s extreme-right views. CBC and the rest of Western, mainstream media have spent the past 21 months ignoring or downplaying the rise of fascism and extreme, right-wing nationalism in Ukraine. Some CBC journalists, including the very host of The Current, have strongly-held, anti-Russia prejudices which they do not hide from their audiences and which obviously influence their decisions to hide the news about Ukraine from their viewers and listeners.

In Ukraine, the extreme right has succeeded in permeating the institutions of government, the military and police. It has played a key role in bringing these institutions into line with extreme-nationalist, social and political ideologies, including deepgoing racism and hostility to immigration.

With respect to Crimea, the extreme right has scored great success in cajoling or assisting the governing regime in Kyiv to institute blockades of commercial, road-transport and electricity supply against the peninsula.

The road blockade was formally declared by Kyiv on November 23. It was preceded by a food-transport blockade which the extreme right initiated on September 20 and which it was able to conduct with impunity.

The electricity blockade was initiated by terrorist bombings of the transmission lines from Ukraine to Crimea on November 20 and 21. The Ukrainian government has refused to reconnect the lines and Western governments and media haven’t uttered a peep of concern.[1] Sadly, too much of the political left in the West has also been silent.

Permanent NATO occupation in western Ukraine

Simultaneous to the Crimea blockade, NATO has turned western Ukraine into a permanent training ground of the Ukrainian army and National Guard by NATO forces. The former, paramilitary battalions of the extreme right have been integrated into Ukraine’s army and National Guard, thus helping to deflect public relations embarrassments and strictures against arming the extreme-right that may arise.[2]

The U.S., Britain and Canada have several thousand troops in western Ukraine conducting permanent training in the how-to’s of modern warfare. Ukraine’s police and armed forces are engaged in civil war against the country’s civilian population, notably the people of the Donbas region (Donetsk and Lugansk) in the east of the country, while a more effective Ukrainian army may someday prove useful for NATO in its historic ambition to weaken and attack the Russian Federation. The September 1 ceasefire-within-the Minsk-2 ceasefire of Feb 12, 2015 has seen a reduction of shellings and attacks by the Ukrainian army against the rebellion in the east of the country, but only to a degree. Meanwhile, the ongoing military training by NATO speaks volumes of the long-term intentions of Kyiv and NATO to subjugate the rebellion and continue to threaten Russia.

The scope of the NATO occupation and military training in western Ukraine is well described in a November 26 article by German journalist Ulrich Heyden. Titled, ‘West Ukraine is now a permanent playground for NATO forces’, the article is translated to English here by New Cold War.org.

Ulrich Heyden co-produced a 45-minute documentary film (sub-titled in English, released in February 2015) on the Odessa atrocities of May 2, 2014 when at least 48 people who were protesting the right-wing, ultra-nationalist government in Kyiv were murdered in an arson attack by extreme-right gangs. Heyden’s book on Ukraine was published earlier this year (in German): War of the oligarchs: The tug of war over Ukraine’.

Revisiting Crimea’s “annexation”

Coincidental to the erecting of the Crimea blockade is the recent publishing of an interview with Ilya Ponomarev, the one deputy in the Russian Duma who voted ‘no’ in the vote of the Russian Duma (Parliament) on March 20, 2014 to accept Crimea’s application to join the Russian Federation. The interview was conducted and published by a blogger on the left-wing website and news service in Canada, Rabble.ca. Ponomarev calls Crimea’s secession referendum from Ukraine an “annexation” by Russia.

Crimea’s application to join (or more accurately, rejoin) the Russian Federation[3] followed a referendum on March 2014 to secede from Ukraine. The vote was conducted by the elected and constitutional government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, as today’s Republic of Crimea was constituted under Ukraine. At the time, Ukraine’s elected president had been overthrow in a right-wing coup on February 21, 2014. Crimeans feared that the declared goal of Ukraine’s new rulers to violently suppress any opposition in Crimea and the rest of the country to their coup was more than boasting. What’s more, unlike in Crimea, the new coup regime in Kyiv had no constitutional authority.

Ponomarev has lived in exile in the United States since May 2014. He fled Russia when criminal charges of corruption and bribery dating from events in 2013 were threatened against him. In April 2015, the Russian Duma voted to lift his immunity as a Duma deputy from criminal prosecution.

Since the Crimea secession, Ponomarev has been a darling of the neo-conservative right-wing in the U.S. He is regularly featured by neo-conservative outlets such as the Heritage Foundation, Atlantic Council, Washington Post and New York Times. He also gives lectures advising how Russia’s elected and constitutional government might best be overthrown by the Western powers. To wit, the lightweight interview with him in Rabble.ca was conducted while he was a guest of the annual, pro-militarism Halifax International Security Forum, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Ukraine’s prospects

Writing on November 28, Russia Insider correspondent Alexander Mercouris catalogued the recent deterioration in Ukraine-Russia relations. Ominously titled, ‘War returns to Ukraine’, his article listed recent increases in ceasefire violations by Ukraine in the east of the country, the blockade of Crimea, the cessation by Ukraine of air travel links with Russia beginning October 25, and a rising drumbeat of demands by ultra-nationalists in Ukraine to sever all ties with Russia.

Since Mercouris’ article, U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden has made another visit to Ukraine on December 7 and 8, promising ongoing financial and military support to the beleaguered and financially bankrupt government and urging it to keep up its hostile posture towards Russia.

Mercouris argued that it’s no coincidence that the hardening of Ukrainian attitudes comes at a time when European attentions are preoccupied with the crisis in the Middle East and some German leaders as well as many business interests are calling into question the ongoing economic sanctions against Russia. He wrote:

For the Maidan movement, any sign Russia is gaining credit with the Western public is like a red rag to a bull. There is no need to look for calculation in Ukrainian behaviour in order to understand it.

The underlying problem – as we have said many times – is that the Maidan movement is inherently incapable of the sort of compromise that Minsk II envisages. To see how that is so, consider what has happened since the October summit in Paris where the Europeans in effect ordered Poroshenko to implement Minsk II within a revised timetable.

The Ukrainians have done nothing of the sort, and the new timetable for carrying out the terms of Minsk II is already slipping.

Any discussion of the internal aspect of the Ukrainian conflict – as opposed to its external aspect – has to proceed from the fact that the present Ukrainian government is simply incapable of compromise unless overwhelming external pressure is brought upon it.

Should the Russian intervention in Syria turn the tables on the ‘regime change’ intentions of the imperialist powers, the desperation in Kyiv and also in NATO can be expected to grow. There are early signs that thwarting of regime change could be in the offing, namely in the ceasefire reached in the city of Homs on December 9 and in the cautious but hopeful view of the Russian intervention by Kurdish forces, at least those in Syria and Turkey.

These signs may auger broader ceasefires and political agreements between the government and opposing forces in Syria. A new national government in Syria capable of addressing the deep and longstanding grievances of sections of the population would be a very welcome thing.

A lessening or cessation of war in Syria would not put eastern Ukraine and eastern Europe out of the danger zone of NATO war threats and planning. But it would make the sales job for that more difficult for Western capitals.

[1] After the bombings of the electrical transmission lines to Crimea on November 20 and 21, Crimea’s emergency electrical backup began providing approximately 30 per cent of normal electrical supply. Russia was already planning to construct large-capacity electrical transmission lines as well as a natural gas pipeline across the Kerch Strait that would make Crimea electricity-independent of Ukraine by later in 2016. That work is now proceeding at breakneck speed. The first of the transmission lines went into service on December 3, providing 200 megawatts of power. A second, 200 MW service will commence on December 20. Crimea’s average electricity usage is 900 MW daily. That that will rise as a result of the significant investments being made by the Russian state and entrepreneurs in transportation, tourism, agriculture and industry. Crimea’s economy stagnated during the 23 years that the region was part of post-Soviet Union Ukraine.

[2] The U.S. Congress voted in June 2015 against any supplying of weapons or other assistance to the ‘Azov Battalion’, one of the many extreme-right paramilitary battalions in Ukraine. Voilà, several months later the ‘battalion’ became a constituent unit of Ukraine’s National Guard.

[3] In 1954, Crimea’s political status in the Soviet Union was changed by an administrative decision of the country’s leadership. The region’s administrative and political affiliation was switched from the Russian Soviet republic to the Ukraine Soviet republic. Government leaders in Moscow argued at the time that this would facilitate post-World War Two reconstruction, but the decision took no formal account of the attitudes and wishes of the Crimean people. A supreme, contemporary irony is that the noisy cabal of ultra-nationalists in Ukraine and warmongers in NATO (not to speak of many left-wing voices internationally) who cry “annexation” of Crimea are effectively upholding the ill-considered and undemocratic decision in 1954 of the Soviet Union whose legacy they profess to hate so much!

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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.

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