Tuesday, May 6, 2014


By Ronald Fox

Are you like me wondering what’s really going on in Ukraine? Russian president, Vladimer Putin, is steadfast in claiming that the CIA was behind the unrest that brought down Viktor Yanukovych and replaced him with a government favorable to the West and is still calling the shots of the Kiev government. The Obama administration has been unequivocal in denying Putin’s claim and blaming him for the unfolding crisis. The mainstream American media has wholeheartedly accepted the Washington version; the media in Moscow, not surprisingly, has sided with Putin's position. 
Which claim is correct? I can’t answer this question. What I can say is that I have little trust in the jingoistic coverage that has dominated mainstream media in the U.S, or what President Obama and Secretary of State, John Kerry, are telling us. I also have no reason to believe Putin’s account. So like any critical thinking person, I am left confused as to what’s going on.
What might lead one to believe the CIA is calling the shots? In my previous Phronesis post (The Ukraine Crisis: NEOCONS Resurgent), I cited journalist Robert Parry’s reporting that American operatives helped fan the flames of the unrest against Yanukovych, leading to his ouster. While a few other journalists have made similar claims, definitive proof has yet to surface. Nevertheless, the unfolding events have raised my suspicion that Washington is playing a larger role than Americans are being told.  The long history of clandestine CIA involvement in the internal affairs of states lends credence to my suspicion.   Why be skeptical about the official Washington line? Let's see. 
Why did CIA Director John O. Brennan visit Kiev, under an assumed name, on the weekend of April 12-13? OK, clandestine visits are what spooks do, but why so soon after Putin delivered his blistering attack about CIA involvement? The New York Times reported that some former intelligence officers privately expressed criticism of the visit, arguing that it bolstered Russian claims that the CIA was behind the Ukraine unrest. Washington had to know Brennan would be recognized and that his presence would provide propaganda ammunition for Moscow, which it did as Russian television reported that the CIA director had snuck into the country to direct government operations. What was the Obama administration thinking?
One can’t say for sure, but it appears there was more to the Brennan visit than fostering “mutually beneficial security cooperation,” as White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters. Was it just coincidental that Kiev launched a military drive in the east shortly after visits by Brennan, and later Vice-President Joe Biden? Such a coincidence is hard to believe.
It is well known that many, if not most, Ukraine soldiers have been reticent about attacking their own countrymen in the east.  After all, many of the soldiers are Russian-speaking and were committed to the previous regime. Questions have been raised about the military's loyalty to the new temporary government. So if the Kiev government was unsure of the military's willingness to use force against the rebels, why did it decide to deploy them so quickly after the Brennan and Biden visits?  Could it be they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse?
The government in Ukraine is between the proverbial rock and the hard place. Using extensive force could inflame public support in the eastern Ukraine for the militants, not to mention inciting a Russian military response. At the same time, attempts to calm the situation might embolden the pro-Russian rebels. Meanwhile, escalating violence between pro-Russian and pro-Kiev activists has compounded the tensions and diminished prospects for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.  This is not an unusual state of affairs when regimes are forcibly changed and sectarian violence ensues.
So, considering what has transpired, what explains the Kiev military move? It seems to me the most reasonable explanation is that the temporary Ukraine government bowed to U.S. pressure to take forceful action, if for no other reason than to boost the credibility of the new regime, which has been drawing growing criticism for its ineffectiveness and general incompetence. It may also be that Washington wants to push Putin to overplay his hand, which would help drive Kiev to join NATO, a long-standing neocon obsession.
Brennan and Biden must have also impressed upon Kiev the importance of validating claims of direct Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine, since this is the main rationale in the West for intervention. This meant they needed to show “proof” that the mayhem in Donetsk and neighboring provinces involves Russian soldiers, or at least their agents and money. Sensing this, I waited for “evidence” to appear. 
Sure enough, a collection of photographs surfaced two weeks ago that Kiev says show Russian soldiers operating in the eastern part of the country. The photos, which were shown and reported on by Michael Gordon in the New York Times on April 20 (yes, the same Michael Gordon who co-broke the bogus aluminum tube story in the run up to the war in Iraq), allegedly show: Russian special forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk during the assault on administration buildings; a group photo of what Kiev claimed was a “sabotage reconnaissance group” allegedly taken in Russia of soldiers Kiev said were operating in the eastern Ukraine; and, a bearded man in military uniform photographed this year in Slaviansk and Kramatorsk, whom, the Ukrainians claim was previously photographed in combat operations in Georgia in 2008.
The photos, which the NYT and the White House claimed were legitimate, looked impressive, except for one big problem: they were bogus, and the Times quietly retracted the story a few days after it was published. The special-forces photo was taken in Russia, the group photo was proven to have been taken not in Russia, but in Slovyansk, as the photographer who took the picture acknowledged, and serious doubt was raised as to whether the beaded man photographed in Georgia was in fact the same person in the eastern Ukraine photo (the BBC raised doubt when it compared high resolution photos).  (For a comparative analysis of the photos, go to:  http://goo.gl/Klqsww.)
This does not prove the CIA is calling the shots, as Putin is claiming. However, it does, seem to point to a heavier U.S. hand in the unfolding crisis than has been acknowledged in the West. It also underscores that establishment press coverage of the crisis in the U.S. is not to be trusted. In addition, it lends credence to suspicions that the real Washington target is the Putin regime.
It appears Ukraine has become a pawn in a superpower geo-political game.  If so, this is a deadly gambit.  With both superpowers mobilizing forces, conducting conspicuous combat drills, imposing tit-for-tat sanctions, and ramping up the rhetoric, and sectarian violence escalating, events seem to be spinning out of control. We muddled through the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Will we be so fortunate this time?

1 comment:

  1. As critical as I have been about the endless cycle of our interference into the internal affairs of other countries to play power games, there is little reason to believe that is the case in the Ukraine. I am sure the US would love to see the Ukraine as part of NATO, but given the Putin's history of looking for any excuse to annex previous parts of the old Soviet Union / Russia it would seem pretty stupid to provoke them in this way. It seems far fetched that the Obama Administration would think they could get away with such a gambit. I think (hope?) they are a little smarter, a little more wise than that.


Thank you for commenting!