Ukraine, Russia and the United States at the brink

Thirty-eight anti-fascist activists were murdered when a neo-Nazi militia set fire to a trade union building into which they had fled

By Brian Becker, ANSWER Coalition National Coordinator

Are we moving to civil war in Ukraine? Russia is trying to prevent such a catastrophe. A civil war in Ukraine would invariably draw into the conflict the United States and its NATO allies on the side of the right-wing Ukraine government that seized power in a U.S.-backed coup d’état on Feb. 22 and Russia on the other.

Since the United States and Russia both possess large nuclear arsenals that, if used, would lead to the deaths of many millions of people, it would seem impossible to overstate the potential danger of this newest military crisis. Yet, U.S. elected officials including the White House and Congress seem glibly unfazed by the far-reaching potential consequences caused by their own foolhardy and arrogant interventionist actions in Ukraine. This includes their actions between November and the Feb. 22 coup and in their subsequent “tough stance” against Russia for its refusal to accept the half-fascist coup government in Kiev.

The majority sentiment in the United States, according to most public opinion polls, is decidedly opposed to an escalation of the crisis by the U.S. government. That sentiment has been ignored as the White House has dispatched war planes and troops to the region, imposed new sanctions on Russia, and dispatched first Joseph Biden and then FBI agents and CIA Director John Brennan to Kiev to help the new government set up an internal security apparatus.

The fascist menace is real

The full U.S. embrace of the coup government in Kiev has emboldened it to launch a military offensive against its political opponents in eastern and southern Ukrainian cities. The fascist militias from the Right Sector, whose leaders occupy key positions in the new Ukrainian government, are so emboldened by the U.S. support that they openly murdered 38 political activists in the Black Sea port city of Odessa on May 2 by attacking their tent encampment outside of a trade union headquarters building and, after they fled into the building for protection, torched the structure. While the trapped activists were incinerated, the neo-Nazis sang songs and chanted taunts against Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister Avakov announced on May 6 that Ukraine’s military offensive in southern and eastern cities led to the death of 30 more anti-fascist activists, labeled “terrorists” by the U.S.-backed government.

The U.S. media and the Obama administration are assisting the government in Kiev in maintaining the fiction that those in Ukraine who oppose the government are strictly puppets of Putin and Russia. They claim that the protests and demands to vote in a referendum about the status of the eastern and southern regions are simply a Russian manipulation.

The dominant narrative in the media, following the line of the Obama administration, is that Russia's agitation in defense of the Russian-speaking people in eastern and southern Ukraine is just fake propaganda. That there is no threat to Russians, Jews and other minority peoples from the new central government. They assert that there is no fascist menace and that Russian state media has created a caricature of Ukraine's “pro-European” government merely as a pretext for Russia to separate that part of Ukraine and annex the region into Russia.

The massacre in Odessa, however, gives the clearest evidence of the role of re-born fascism in the unfolding struggle in Ukraine.

Journalist Robert Parry, a former Associated Press reporter now with Consortium News, has produced some of the most objective analysis of the Ukraine struggle. He published another excellent piece May 5 about the rising tide of neo-Nazi mobilization in Ukraine and the refusal by both U.S officials and the mainstream media to cover its significance.

Parry, who played a major role in examining and exposing the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration in the 1980s, put the Odessa massacre in context:

“This brutal Nazism surfaced again on Friday when right-wing toughs in Odessa attacked an encampment of ethnic Russian protesters driving them into a trade union building which was then set on fire with Molotov cocktails. As the building was engulfed in flames, some people who tried to flee were chased and beaten, while those trapped inside heard the Ukrainian nationalists liken them to black-and-red-striped potato beetles called Colorados, because those colors are used in pro-Russian ribbons.

“Burn, Colorado, burn” went the chant.

“As the fire worsened, those dying inside were serenaded with the taunting singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The building also was spray-painted with Swastika-like symbols and graffiti reading “Galician SS,” a reference to the Ukrainian nationalist army that fought alongside the German Nazi SS in World War II, killing Russians on the eastern front.

“The death by fire of dozens of people in Odessa recalled a World War II incident in 1944 when elements of a Galician SS police regiment took part in the massacre of the Polish village of Huta Pieniacka, which had been a refuge for Jews and was protected by Russian and Polish partisans. Attacked by a mixed force of Ukrainian police and German soldiers on Feb. 28, hundreds of townspeople were massacred, including many locked in barns that were set ablaze.

“The legacy of World War II – especially the bitter fight between Ukrainian nationalists from the west and ethnic Russians from the east seven decades ago – is never far from the surface in Ukrainian politics. One of the heroes celebrated during the Maidan protests in Kiev was Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, whose name was honored in many banners including one on a podium where Sen. John McCain voiced support for the uprising to oust elected President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was in eastern Ukraine.

“During World War II, Bandera headed the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-B, a radical paramilitary movement that sought to transform Ukraine into a racially pure state. OUN-B took part in the expulsion and extermination of thousands of Jews and Poles.

“Though most of the Maidan protesters in 2013-14 appeared motivated by anger over political corruption and by a desire to join the European Union, neo-Nazis made up a significant number. These storm troopers from the Right Sektor and Svoboda party decked out some of the occupied government buildings with Nazi insignias and even a Confederate battle flag, the universal symbol of white supremacy.” Read the whole article at Consortium News

What Obama, McCain, the CIA and Pentagon want in Ukraine

Wars do not necessarily start because the principal antagonists desire war. President Obama acknowledged to the media Russia’s opposition to a new war, with a provocative barb: "They’re not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians. We don’t need a war."

In this case, neither the United States nor Russia wants to go to war with each other. The U.S. goal is not war with Russia but regime change in Ukraine with the goal of absorbing all of Ukraine into a U.S.-dominated sphere of influence and eventually establishing Ukraine as a NATO country on Russia’s border.

Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president who was ousted by the Feb. 22 coup d’etat, wanted to integrate Ukraine into an economic arrangement with the European powers but publicly opposed Ukraine joining NATO. He sought a balanced relationship between Russia and the EU countries. The anti-government protests in downtown Kiev began in November 2013 on the day Yanukovych rejected an ultimatum from the EU that would have imposed a harsh austerity program on Ukraine as a requirement to get new financing from the IMF and Western bankers. He was thus labeled as “pro-Russian” by the Western media.

The anti-government “pro-Europe” protest movement that started in Kiev was an eclectic mix of right-wing, centrist and some left-wing opposition to Yanukovych's government. The movement grew with the active and vigorous support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the White House and from the EU countries. The imperialist backers of regime change in Ukraine turned a blind eye as the movement quickly came under the leadership of neo-Nazi parties that are virulently anti-Russian.

The February 21 Agreement – and the fascist-led coup

Under extreme pressure, Yanukovych agreed to meet with opposition leaders and sign an agreement, what became known as the February 21 Agreement, to end the crisis by making significant concessions to the demands of the right-wing opposition that were in turn supported by the United States and the EU powers.

The February 21 Agreement between Yanukovych and the opposition was signed in the presence of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland and a special envoy from Russia, Vladimir Lukin.

The February 21 Agreement guaranteed early presidential elections, included a diminution of the constitutional authority of the office of the president, and provided a basis for ending violence from both the government side and the armed protesters.

The agreement read in part: “Both parties will undertake serious efforts for the normalisation of life in the cities and villages by withdrawing from administrative and public buildings and unblocking streets, city parks and squares. Illegal weapons should be handed over to the Ministry of Interior bodies within 24 hours of the special law, referred to in point 1 hereof, coming into force. After the aforementioned period, all cases of illegal carrying and storage of weapons will fall under the law of Ukraine. The forces of authorities and of the opposition will step back from confrontational posture. The Government will use law enforcement forces exclusively for the physical protection of public buildings.”

The day after the February 21 Agreement was signed, the fascist-led militias violated the agreement by storming the presidential palace and the Parliament building. In a hastily-called rump session of the Parliament they declared a new government and neo-Nazis took five of the 11 cabinet posts of the coup government including the Defense Ministry.

When the fascists scrapped the February 21 Agreement by their armed takeover of government buildings on Feb. 22, the U.S. State Department could not conceal their wild exuberance.

Putin’s Orientation

The Putin government in Russia was stunned by the reckless and wildly aggressive support given by the United States to an armed and fascist-led coup toppling the government of Russia’s most populous neighbor, a country that was a strategic and historic ally of Russia.

Ukraine has nearly 46 million people and was historically one with Russia as the largest non-Russian republic in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The Crimean Peninsula was the home of the Soviet Union’s largest naval base and remained a Russian naval base after the dissolution of the Soviet Union based on a leasing arrangement between Ukraine and Russia. The absorption of all of Ukraine into NATO would inevitably have ousted Russia from its largest naval base.

Since the scrapping of the February 21 Agreement, the struggle has entered a new and highly dangerous phase. Putin has been searching for a way to blunt and mitigate the U.S.-backed offensive in Ukraine while simultaneously looking for a way find a settlement before a larger crisis fully emerges.

The speed of events is breathtaking. Crimea held a Russian-supported referendum that voted to affiliate with Russia. Other eastern and southern cities are mobilizing in opposition to the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev. Fascist militias are hitting back with a campaign of terror and murder. NATO is sending troops, equipment and fighter aircraft into the region. Even as the confrontation grows and assumes a life of its own that could  lead to an even greater struggle, the U.S. government and media continue with their smug arrogance. They approach the brink and no one in authority demands a pause and a sober evaluation of where this all ends.

The position today of the Russian Federation is to end the growing confrontation in Ukraine by going back to the February 21 Agreement, which would invalidate the legitimacy of the new semi-fascist coup government and reorganize nationwide elections following the end of the escalating armed confrontations initiated by Ukraine’s military in concert with armed attacks by the Right Sector militias. This position seems eminently reasonable. But it got no quarter in Washington where those who have become drunk with power demand that Russia and all others in the world accept their fate and simply bow and genuflect before the Empire.

Far from aggressively seeking to expand Russia’s power, Putin’s actions have been essentially defensive. His policy has centered on securing the Crimea from a NATO takeover and mitigating the Ukrainian offensive against the pro-Russian Eastern cities. Russia is not the driving force in the protests taking place in the south and east of Ukraine.

Fearing the recklessness of the U.S. and aware that some of the principal U.S. partners in NATO, and in particular Germany, are seeking for a way out of the crisis that Washington has been accelerating, Putin is emphasizing extreme prudence. Even now (as of May 7) he has announced that Russia has pulled its military forces back from its western border with Ukraine. He has also given a nod of approval to the May 25 elections in Ukraine that is being organized by the coup government in Kiev, reversing Russia’s official position from a few days earlier. Putin has now called on the eastern and southern cities referendum on their “status” within Ukraine to be postponed.

The next days will be of critical importance. Anti-fascist forces in Ukraine’s eastern and southern cities have felt the groundswell of support from Russia and the Russian people. They represent a real, indigenous political force that exists within Ukraine.

Some favor autonomy from Kiev but want to remain inside of Ukraine. Others want the area to be part of Russia. What unites them is their fear and hatred of the semi-fascist coup government in Kiev and the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian militias. They are not puppets of Putin or Russia, but the policy orientation of the Putin Administration cannot but have an impact on their struggle to defend their cities and towns.

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