If you’ve been following any of the mainstream media outlets—from Fox to NBC to the New York Times—you’re probably convinced that the so-called revolution in Ukraine is about democracy and rescuing the country from its Russian-aligned former president’s efforts to bring it under the domination of the Putin regime. As such, it would be yet another instance of democratic revolution in the great wave of such revolutions that began with the “Arab Spring.” Although this sort of thing makes for compelling public-relations narratives in our “info-tainment”-oriented news media, anyone with even a little awareness can see right through it. The Egyptian revolution saw the establishment of an Islamist-led government that was itself overthrown by a military coup working on behalf of entrenched power, with tacit US-support; the Syrian revolution turned out to be yet another sectarian conflict. Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organizations became the leading military actors, which was stoked by the US in pursuit of its economic and political interests—and so on for the other “democratic” revolutions of the past few years.
What they have not been, obviously, are expressions of the desire of the people of the world (“people” always meant in the abstract) for “democracy” (again, in the abstract). This might be how the media conceives of the wave of “revolutions” sweeping across the world, but it is not reality. The fact is, as with every revolution I can think of, they are the manifestations of conflicts among opposed specific economic and political interests, whether situated in the countries themselves or outside them as with the United States, Europe or Russia, each with their particular geostrategic aims which, in turn, serve the interests of narrow layers of their populations.
The unrest in Ukraine is no different, although the cynicism of the US and Europe’s purported support for democracy seems even more acute this time around. The fact is that the conflict is basically between two rival factions of oligarchs. Some of them see their interests as best served by an alignment with the West, and some would be better off if the country were in league with Russia. The power of the former lies in their ability to whip up nationalist sentiment among the people. Rallies in Kiev often began with the speaker exclaiming, “Glory to Ukraine!” the crowd responding, “And to its heroes!”
Of the three main opposition parties, two—“Fatherland,” led by oligarch Julia Tymoshenko, and UDAR, led by the boxer-turned-demagogue Vitali Klitschko—are chauvinistically nationalist and hard-right, and the third, Svoboda, is explicitly fascist. Svoboda represents basically the same current as France’s National Front and Greece’s Golden Dawn. It is led by one Oleh Tyahnybok, a vicious anti-Semite who is famous for making comments such as (speaking to a gathering of nationalists), “You are the ones that the Moscow-Jewish mafia ruling Ukraine fears most!” and “They [WWII-era insurgents] were not afraid and we should not be afraid. They took their automatic guns on their necks and went into the woods, and fought against the [Russians], Germans, Kikes and other scum who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state."[i]
Not surprisingly, and unfortunately, none of this has stopped the US from openly supporting Tyahnybok, Svoboda and the other rightwing parties. John McCain met with all three opposition leaders as did Victoria Nuland, the State Department official embarrassed by the leaked phone conversation between her and US Ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Platt, in which they discussed fomenting nationalist unrest and supporting the far-right (the US media, however, focused on Nuland’s use of the F-word and the possibility that it was Russia that bugged her phone).
The unrest began in November when the democratically-elected president Viktor Yanukovich reneged on an Association Agreement with the EU, an arrangement that would have involved the imposition of Greek-style austerity on the Ukrainian people, which Yanukovich saw as politically unsurvivable. After over two months of protests in Kiev, during which the government showed tremendous restraint, the conflict was brought to a head when fascist militias were formed to initiate violence against the state security forces, resulting in scores of deaths among both the police and protestors. The best known among the militias is “Right Sector,” a militantly neo-fascist group which was publicly thanked by opposition “icon” Julia Tymoshenko for the pivotal role it played in the “revolution.” It is little wonder that an influential Ukrainian rabbi has gone so far as to suggest that Jews might want to think about leaving the country.[ii] Now that Yanukovich has been overthrown in a putsch, the next crisis is the possibility of civil war and perhaps even military conflict between Russia and the West, which could have disastrous consequences.
It takes an awful lot of work to arrive at an understanding of what is really going on in such a conflict. One interpretation of events that we can usually reject right away is that of the major corporate media, which is always just a relaying of the public-relations spin put out by US government or corporate sources. If the media were really interested in carrying out their function, they would make an effort to understand the interests at play in such a conflict and explain them to us in a way that makes sense so that we could judge whether the actions of our government are appropriate or not. Instead, we are left to puzzle out on our own why what is presented to us as democratic forces fighting against oppression so often turns out to be the opposite.
Also starkly absent among the warring sects and clashing interests is any tendency that represents the common good. The masses are manipulated by the parties and other political forces that represent narrow sectors of power—in this case, the oligarchs. They are able to exploit the desperation of the people to get them to line up behind various nationalistic and fascist schemes, in turn serving the interests of the ruling elite. At the same time, major powers like the US and Russia themselves exploit the situation to further their own ends, which always means the interests of their own ruling elite. European-style austerity will benefit no one but the rich, just as it has in Europe itself. If there is civil war, the oligarchs will not be forced to kill each other—it will be the people deluded by demagoguery. The price of a military conflict between Russia and the West will be paid not by the elites of either side but by the poor who serve in their militaries and by the bystanders caught in the middle. All of this shows the practical need for a movement among the people of the world, as opposed to those who hold power over them, directed toward cooperation versus conflict and the common good versus the good of a few.