by Joe Lombardo, February 27, 2022
The propaganda of the US government and its media always looks at what is happening now and does not give us the whole picture. So, if the US and its allies bully a country until it can take it no more and strikes back, you only hear about them striking back not what came before. It is especially important with the present crisis in Ukraine to look at what came before.
In 2013, the president of Ukraine was Viktor Yanukovych. He was a leader of the largest party in Ukraine called the Party of Regions, which generally wanted better relations with Russia. The US and its European allies did not want Ukraine to have good relations with Russia and the US poured 5 billion dollars into Ukraine to support hundreds of NGO’s to move the country more towards the US and the West. Ukraine had been in a terrible economic crisis. The country, which once had about 53 million people shrank to about 41 million as people left to go mostly to European Union countries and to Russia to try and get a better life.
In 2014, Yanukovych was negotiating with both Russia and the EU for loans. The loan package from Russia seemed to be the best for Ukraine and he was leaning towards accepting it. The US and the EU were opposed to Ukraine accepting the loan package from Russia.
In 2014 protesters took over Maidan Square in the center of Kiev to protest government corruption and the general circumstances of life in Ukraine.
Ukraine had been divided with a portion of the population having strong nationalist and right-wing, neo-Nazi politics. The right-wing was mainly organized into the Svoboda Party and the extreme right-wing Right Sector. People from these organizations came to Kiev from around the country and joined the protesters in Maidan Square. Many were armed and violent. The US encouraged this. We may remember US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland coming to Maidan Square and offering the protesters treats. Also, Senator John McCain came to Maidan and spoke to the protesters encouraging them on. Imagine if Russian or Chinese officials came to Occupy Wall Street with treats and encourage us in our protests. The US would have called this interfering in US internal affairs and taken strong action.
Soon, the Maidan protest turned violent. The US and its Western allies claimed it was caused by the police shooting at the demonstrators. The Ukrainian government and the police claimed they did not fire on the protesters. When I was in Kiev in 2019, I was escorted around by people who had opposed the Maidan protests. We went to Maidan Square, and they pointed out that the trees around Maidan Square were all newly planted They told us all the trees were taken down in 2014 and an investigation of the violence was never carried out. They said the trees were taken down because they showed that the bullets were fired from a different angle than the US and the protesters claimed, and that they contained the bullets that were not police bullets, but ones fired from high powered rifles that the police did not have. Our Kiev hosts sent us videos that seemed to prove that the people were shot by snipers brought in from the country of Georgia. Most of those videos were eventually taken off of YouTube but this one has survived:
The Maidan protesters attacked government buildings and Yanukovych, fearing for his life, fled to Russia. The democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in a right-wing coup supported by the US. The question then arose of who would take his place. We may remember the hacked call between Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine. In that call she named the person the US choose to replace Yanukovych, it was Arseniy Yatsenyuk a hard right member of Fatherland, which was a right-wing, ultra-nationalist, anti-Russian formation.
It appeared that the Europeans, especially the Germans, wanted a more moderate figure to head Ukraine. They favored Vitaly Klitschko, a boxer turned politician with more moderate views than Yatsenyuk. During the hacked call, we heard Nuland say, “F— the EU,” and, of course, the US pick, Yatsenyuk became the first Prime Minister of Ukraine after the coup. The new finance minister in the coup government was Natalie Jeresko, from the US and Joe Biden’s son took a position on the board of the largest Natural gas company in the country earning a salary of $50,000 per month.
At the time of this coup, UNAC wrote in a statement,
“What are [the US] objectives and why is Russia so alarmed? Could it be the US-NATO campaign to militarily surround Russia and bring neighboring countries into the western military and financial orbit? It is clear that Russia will not passively sit by while the Western-backed coup, led by violent fascist forces …overthrows a democratically elected government and installs a puppet regime on its border.”
On the first day of the new coup government, they passed the Language Law. Although Russian had been one of the official languages in Ukraine and the primary language of about a third of the people in Ukraine it was removed as an official language. So now, schools would be taught only in Ukrainian, street signs and all official documents would be in Ukrainian, even in the Russian speaking area. The Party of Regions, which had been the largest party in Ukraine, was banned along with what some believe to be the second largest party, the Communist Party. This is the “democracy” that the US helped create.
Of course, Ukraine was not the first country on Russia’s border that the US and its NATO allies have moved into. Despite an agreement made by Secretary of State James Baker as the Soviet Union was dissolving that NATO would not move to any of the countries east of Germany, it is now in 14 of those countries. It has placed nuclear capable missiles near the Russian border (the Cuban missile crisis in reverse) and has held “war games” in these countries right at the Russian border. Now they want to move NATO into Ukraine, the country with the largest border with Russia of any of the other European countries. This will further surround Russia.
But it is not just that NATO will further surround Russia if Ukraine becomes part of NATO. It is also the fact that Ukraine has a vibrant neo-Nazi movement that is also part of the government. During World War II, there had been a Nazi movement in Ukraine. One of its central leaders was Stephen Bandera who was a leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and a Nazi collaborator. The OUN was accredited with supporting and organizing massacres of Ukrainian Jews during WWII. Today, Bandera has been named a “hero of Ukraine.” Groups such as the Svoboda Party and the Right Sector claim to be the heirs of Stephen Bandera.
The ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi movements are alive and well in Ukraine and in the Ukraine military. The Azov Brigade of the Ukrainian military openly uses fascist symbols like swastikas and uses fascist salutes. The Soviet Union including Russia lost more than 20 million people defeating the Nazis during World War II and are not happy to see fascism on their doorstep.
Members of the Azov Brigade showing their Nazi sympathies
Many areas in Ukraine did not go along with the 2014 coup and opposed it. This was especially true in the Eastern and Southern areas of the country where many of the Russian speakers live. In the city of Odessa, a largely Russian speaking city, people protested the Kiev coup and set up an on-going protest camp outside of the House of Trade Unions in the city. This was a big threat to the Kiev government. Not only was Odessa one of the largest cities in the country but it was their main port, located on the Black Sea. On May 2, 2014 there was a football game in Odessa that brought people from throughout the country to the city. The fascist mobilized for this football game. Before the game was over, the fascist got messages on their phones to leave the stadium and march to the House of Trade Unions to attack the anti-Maidan protesters there. A huge crowd of fascist attacked the anti-Maidan protesters, beat them and shot at them. Many protesters ran into the building for protection. After the fascist mob used Molotov cocktails and set the building on fire, some were killed by smoke and some jumped from windows to be beaten to death on the ground. The police stood by and did nothing. Though the fire station was only blocks away, the fire trucks did not arrive until an hour after the House of Trade Unions was burning. Forty-eight people were killed, and hundreds injured. Although there are many cell phone videos of the entire event, some even showing the people firing guns, and making and throwing Molotov cocktails, none were arrested. But several of the victims were arrested. The next morning when people saw what had happened at the House of Trade Unions and heard that the victims had been arrested, 30,000 Odessans marched to the police station and set them free.
Each year on May 2, the people of Odessa hold a memorial to the people who were killed. Each year on that date the fascist groups mobilize and come to Odessa to try and stop the memorial. So, the people of Odessa ask for international observers as protection. UNAC has sent delegations there on two occasions. I went to Odessa to be an observer in May, 2019.
There, we witnessed thousands come to the burnt-out House of Trade Unions building to lay flowers and commemorate those killed by the fascist mob. Groups of far right militants, some wearing swastikas and other fascist symbols came to intimidate the crowd. During the middle of the afternoon, the families of those killed arrived to address the crowd. But the police would not allow them to use their sound equipment. That night hundreds of fascists marched through the streets of Odessa and held a torch-light rally in the center of the city. The police allowed them to use their sound equipment. As they marched, they chanted “hang the communists from the trees.”
Additionally, our host, a woman who arranged for our visit had her name put on a fascist web site just as we arrived and had to leave the country out of fear that she would be beaten or killed.
Fascist rally in the center of Odessa ~ Video by Joe Lombardo
Protests of the coup in Kiev also occurred in many places in the country including Crimea and in the Donbass regions in the eastern part of the country. These are areas where there are predominantly Russian speaking people. In these regions there are many families that have members on both sides of the border with Russia. Crimea had actually been part of Russia for hundreds of years but in 1954, when Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier at the time, gave Crimea to Ukraine, since it was close to both countries. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Crimea was part of the independent Ukraine. After the coup the people of Crimea protested and called for a vote in which more than 95% voted to return to Russia. In the US news media, you will hear that Russia invaded Crimea and took it back. This did not happen. There was no invasion. There was a Russian military base in Crimea that had been there when it was part of the Soviet Union and remained there with the agreement of Ukraine. This was the only Russian warm water navy base and strategically important for the Russian military. These Russian military personnel were in Crimea, but there where fewer of them than their contract with Ukraine allowed. There was no invasion and no interference by the Russian military stationed there.
In the Donbass region there were protests against the Kiev coup especially in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk where the protesters took over government buildings. When the Ukrainian military came to stop them, they confronted the military. In most cases the military refused to fire on the people. Eventually, the People of Donetsk set up their own government called the Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) and the people of Luhansk set up the Luhansk Peoples Republic (LPR). These regions created militias to defend themselves from the Ukraine military and fighting persisted in the region. Russia, the Ukraine government and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), with mediation from France and Germany, set up the Minsk Protocols, which were then signed by the DPR, the LPR and the Ukraine government. This was supposed to stop the fighting in the Donbass, but the agreement was continually broken by the Ukraine military. Since then 14,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Donbass.
Over the past month or so we have heard that the Russians have been massing troops on their border with Donbass. But we have not heard that during this period the Ukrainian army had been massing troops in the area and had 150,000 troops there. The shelling of the independent regions in Donbass had greatly increased in the past month, and on the day before the Russian troops entered Ukraine, it had reached an intolerable level. The leaders of these two independent republics ask Russia for help.
We hear in the US media that there are civilians ready to fight the advancing Russian military, that many are leaving the country and perhaps there are civilian deaths in the hundreds. We have not heard the voices of people from Donbass and Crimea, or the many who opposed the 2014 coup. We heard President Biden proclaim, “Who in gods name gave Putin the right to invade Ukraine.” The hypocrisy is amazing. Who gave the US the right to invade, Vietnam? Yugoslavia, Iraq? Afghanistan? Libya? Syria?…or support the Saudi invasion of Yemen or Israel’s attacks on Palestine? Who gave them the right to sanction over 40 countries and create coups in one country after the next? The US has its military all over the world. It has 20 times the number of foreign military bases as all other countries combined. The country with the second most foreign military bases is its NATO ally Britain and the country with the third most foreign bases is its NATO ally France. What about the 4 million Vietnamese who died or the million who died in Iraq or the 14,000 in Donbass? Who gave the US or NATO the right to kill all these people?
The war in Ukraine may have been avoided simply if the US had agreed to not admit Ukraine into NATO. But they refused to do this. The US recognizes no legitimate security concerns of Russia.
The world is changing. The US hegemony in political, economic, and military spheres is being challenged, mainly by China. Yet the US refuses to recognize this and continues to bully the rest of the world. As the crisis in Ukraine is unfolding, the US provocatively sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait near China. On the first day of the war in Ukraine, there was also a US airstrike in Somalia, an Israeli airstrike in Damascus and 37 Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, but because the US supports these, we hear nothing in our corporate media.
The only way to end the fighting and perhaps future conflicts is for the US and its NATO allies to respect the legitimate security concerns of all countries; to respect the right of self determination of all people including those in Donbass and Crimea; to close US foreign military bases, to bring the troops home and to end NATO.
Joe Lombardo is a life long peace activist and union organizer. He is a co-founder of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and a member of the Administrative Committee.