Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 25, 2019

Hunter Biden and geopolitical myopia

Filed under: Biden,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 9:33 pm

Hunter Biden

Ever since the Euromaidan protests began in 2014, there have been thousands—maybe millions—of articles in outlets like The Nation, Consortium News, World Socialist Website, etc. making the case that a New Cold War pitted Washington, Wall Street and NATO against Russia. For the rather hysterical people gathered into the Socialist Equity Party’s ranks, there were even worries that this would not remain Cold but likely transformed into a nuclear holocaust.

While most of the attention has been paid in the last couple of days to Trump’s private foreign policy for cleansing Ukraine from corruption, my interest was less in his obviously hypocrisy but how Hunter Biden’s board membership in Burisma, an oil and gas company run by a Yanukovych ally, makes American designs on Ukraine less about the Cold War and more about making money.

In the sort of analysis you get from the Putinite left, the opposition to Euromaidan came from Russian-speaking workers in Eastern Ukraine who wanted to prevent Western corporations from attacking the wages and social benefits that were a legacy of the USSR. This meant making common cause with the oligarchs who backed Yanukovych. With their ownership of mines and smokestack industries in the East, they had a stake in keeping American and Western European corporations out. When Yanukovych decided against joining the EU, that confirmed in the eyes of many leftists that he was a fellow “anti-imperialist” even if he had his foibles, just like Bashar al-Assad.

That being the case, how does the son of the American vice-president end up on the board of Burisma, the symbol of pro-Russian, oligarchic resistance to Euromaidan? Just six months after the protests against Yanukovych began, Hunter Biden was added to the board of directors of Burisma, a post that would eventually pay him $50,000 a month for doing nothing. This would not be his last lucrative gig based on connections to people in high places. In 2013, he formed a private equity firm called Bohai with Chinese partners that relies heavily on cash infusion from the Bank of China. Among its investments is in a Chinese company that developed Face++, facial recognition software currently being used to finger Uyghurs.

Hunter’s successes appear to have serendipitous ties to his father’s foreign policy initiatives. The Washington Post reported on July 22nd this year:

Since then, much of Hunter Biden’s career has coincided with his father’s work as a senator and vice president. He has been a lobbyist for clients with interests before Congress; a senior vice president at a bank, MBNA, that was a major contributor to his father; and a board member of a company backed by Chinese entities, joining the firm just after his father met with leaders of that country.

All of those positions have led to criticism from Republicans, but it was Hunter Biden’s decision to join the board of Burisma Holdings that has drawn the heaviest fire.

While other people with a long-time cocaine habit like Hunter Biden’s tend to face obstacles in career development, especially when it leads to being discharged from the navy as happened to him after a 2014 drug test, his connections to the White House continued to open doors. While Fox News and other rightwing sources have been howling for his head, a careful reading of the liberal press, such as the Washington Post article above, will reveal that there is a lot of nervousness about the nepotism afforded a crack addict, especially a man who knows nothing about Ukraine. In a 28-page July 1, 2019 New Yorker article titled “Will Hunter Biden Jeopardize His Father’s Campaign?”, Adam Entous recounts the problematic character of the father and son’s interaction with both the government and Burisma:

Several former officials in the Obama Administration and at the State Department insisted that Hunter’s role at Burisma had no effect on his father’s policies in Ukraine, but said that, nevertheless, Hunter should not have taken the board seat. As the former senior White House aide put it, there was a perception that “Hunter was on the loose, potentially undermining his father’s message.” The same aide said that Hunter should have recognized that at least some of his foreign business partners were motivated to work with him because they wanted “to be able to say that they are affiliated with Biden.” A former business associate said, “The appearance of a conflict of interest is good enough, at this level of politics, to keep you from doing things like that.”

Making things even more dicey, Joe Biden put pressure on the Ukrainian government to fire the country’s top prosecutor Viktor Shokin who was looking into Burisma’s shady dealings. While Shokin had a well-deserved reputation for looking the other way when it came to oligarchic corruption, including in his slow-walking the Burisma investigation, there is always the suspicion that the VP wanted to short-circuit it. In fact, the over-arching reality is that Burisma cultivated imperialist figures despite its connections to the Eastern Ukraine oligarchy. In addition to Hunter Biden, it added Joseph Black to the board in February 2016. Black was a CIA director under George W. Bush, something that made no difference to Burisma.

Hunter Biden is not the only example of how foolish it is to use geopolitical reductionism to understand strange bedfellows in Ukraine. Generally, those who share a bed with someone supposedly on the other side of the barricades are more interested in making money than having sex.

Exhibit B would be Paul Manafort who is identified in many leftists’ mind with his ties to Yanukovych and hence to Putin. Much of Russiagate was based on the notion that Trump was being hounded by Democratic Party liberals because he sought rapprochement with Putin. With Manafort being an ally in this realignment, no wonder Robert Mueller went after him with a vengeance. He must have been watching Rachel Maddow every night.

But it turns out that Manafort was just a gun for hire. In 2014, during the heat of Euromaidan, he went to work for Yanukovych’s nemesis Petro Poroshenko as reported in a Ukrainian publication:

Paul Manafort, former campaign manager to US President Donald Trump, helped Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during the 2014 presidential elections.

This was revealed during Manafort’s former partner Rick Gates’ cross-examination in court on August 7, according to Ukrainian journalist Natalka Pisnya, who was at the Virginia court where the trial is taking place.

For all of the nonstop liberal attacks on Trump’s influence-peddling, nepotism, corruption, etc., is there much difference between donkey and elephant on business as usual? Trump talked about draining the swamp in 2016 but it will require a revolution rather than drainpipes to bring ruling-class exploitation of their control over the state power to end.

Adam Entous’s New Yorker article takes Peter Schweitzer’s investigations into the Bidens seriously even if he works for Breitbart News. In 2015, Schweizer wrote “Clinton Cash,” a book that dug into the Clinton Foundation’s dirty deals. There is little doubt that his reporting was exploited by Trump’s allies in Fox News. We can expect more of the same with respect to the Bidens this go-round. Here is Entous on Schweitzer:

In March of last year, Peter Schweizer, a conservative researcher and a senior editor-at-large at Breitbart, published “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends.” Schweizer is best known for “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Clinton Rich,” which was released in May, 2015. Research for that book was funded by the Government Accountability Institute, which Schweizer co-founded, in 2012, with Stephen Bannon.

“Secret Empires,” which details Hunter’s activities in China and Ukraine, focusses on what Schweizer calls “corruption by proxy,” which he describes as a “new corruption” that is “difficult to detect” and that, though often legal, makes “good money for a politician and his family and friends” and leaves “American politicians vulnerable to overseas financial pressure.” Schweizer often relies on innuendo to supplement his reporting. At one point, he describes “one of the few public sightings” of Hunter in Beijing, when Hunter, “dressed in a dark overcoat,” followed Biden into a shop to buy a Magnum ice cream. “Intentionally or not,” Schweizer writes, “Hunter Biden was showing the Chinese that he had guanxi”—connections.

In the event that Biden is the nominee in 2020, you can expect the rightwing press to be harping on all this. If the Democratic Party, including its “democratic socialist” wing ends up trying to defend Biden from such smears, it will leave many young radicals as demoralized as they were in 2016. Our only hope is that the revolutionary-minded among us can rise to the occasion and yell bloody-murder at the electoral farce that will only end up leaving humanity and mother nature on the fast path to oblivion.

 

April 2, 2019

How class mattered in the Ukrainian and Turkish elections

Filed under: Turkey,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 4:05 pm

Volodymyr Zelensky: the Jewish comedian likely to be Ukraine’s next President

In the 1930s, when fascism was on the march everywhere, it was fueled by both nationalism and medieval-like religious fanaticism. Germany and Italy obviously represented the first trend while Spain and Portugal’s mixture of fascism and Catholicism the second. Now, 80 years later, we are seeing the same kind of toxic brew. All across Europe, nationalism has fueled the rise of fascist-like regimes while as you head eastward, it is political Islam that has helped prop up reactionary rulers. While elections are not generally an reliable barometer of mass consciousness, those that took place this week in Ukraine and Turkey indicate that nationalism and religion will not suffice in keeping the working class quiescent.

For the past couple of years, I have seen constant references to Ukraine being the closest thing we have today to a fascist regime. We are continuously reminded that the government has officially recognized Stephen Bandera as a national hero and that the military is riddled with neo-Nazi Azov Battalion members. To a large extent, this narrative has gained traction on the left because of the tireless efforts of websites like Consortium News, Grayzone and what Jeff St. Clair calls the Sputnik Left.

If anti-Semitism is the hallmark of neo-Nazism today, it certainly did not figure in the calculations of Ukrainians who cast twice as many votes for the Jewish comedian Volodymyr Zelensky then they did for the incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the first round of Presidential elections. Since neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a second round on April 21. With Zelensky receiving 30 percent of the vote over Poroshenko’s 16 percent, it seems likely that he will be the next president.

Zelensky played Ukraine’s president in a hugely popular TV series in 2015 titled “Servant of the People”. Kiev political strategist Olexiy Golobutskiy said: “People imagine what they want in Zelensky. Liberals think he is a liberal, patriots think he is a patriot, leftists think he is a leftist. This amorphousness is really helping him at this point.” In other words, he sounds like a typical politician. There’s not much information on “Servant of the People” online but a Foreign Policy article describes a show that can hardly sit well with Bandera admirers:

In the third season, crazed Ukrainian nationalists (with the slogan “Freedom, Surname, Country”) stage a coup that leads to his arrest. As one of the usurpers says while asking prison inmates to reveal their last names (and, hence, their nationality), “Ukraine is not for everybody”—so much so, apparently, that even “Ukrainian prisons will only hold patriots.”

The Foreign Policy article was written by Alexander J. Motyl, a Rutgers historian who feels that “Servant of the People” was insufficiently critical of the Russians. Zelensky probably yearns for an end to the war that a politician like Poroshenko kept going because it helped to unite the people around his nationalist agenda. Accusations that Zelensky is a secret Kremlin asset fail to engage with his political practice. Wikipedia states: “After the Ukrainian media had reported that during the War in Donbass Zelensky’s Kvartal 95 [his comedy troupe] had donated 1 million hryvnias to the Ukrainian army, Russian politicians and artists petitioned for a ban on his works in Russia. Unlike them, Zelensky spoke out against the intention of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture to ban Russian artists from Ukraine.”

My expectations for Zelensky are minimal. Probably the best thing that can be said about him is his distance from the Ukrainian oligarchic business class. Poroshenko is worth close to a billion dollars while the Donbass rebels have close ties to the bourgeoisie whose wealth is derived from mining and manufacturing companies in the east. If nothing else, Zelensky’s presidency is about as close to the original promise of Euromaidan that is possible right now. That is certainly a step forward.

On Sunday, my wife and her sister were glued to online TV reporting from Turkey. By mid-afternoon, it had become apparent that the municipal elections had resulted in a clear repudiation of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP (The Justice and Development Party; in Turkish Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi). The capital city Ankara voted for the opposition Kemalist candidate as did Izmir. While the votes had not been finalized in Istanbul, the Kemalist lead was insurmountable.

The loss of Istanbul would be especially painful for Erdoğan since his initial electoral success was becoming its mayor in 1994. The AKP is similar to Christian Democratic parties in Europe except that its ideological base is drawn from Islam rather than Christianity. It had ties to a rising bourgeoisie in Anatolia, especially in the textile industry, that did not share the secularism of the traditional Kemalist bourgeoisie and its bureaucratic and military officialdom.

In the early years of AKP rule, it was able to win over many Kemalist voters because it benefited from a relatively flourishing economy and its generous social measures, especially in health care. It also seemed willing to bury the hatchet with the Kurdish population and to move toward integration with the EU, just as was the case in Ukraine.

On January 6, 2017, CounterPunch published an article of mine titled “What Turkey Has Become” that might be a useful introduction to AKP rule. I wrote, in part:

By the 1950s, the progressive aspects of Kemalism had long disappeared. Except for the Kurds and the beleaguered socialist groups in Turkey, there was not much resistance until the Islamists began to emerge as a bourgeois power with its own agenda. Largely based in the Anatolian region and in the textile industry, they began asserting themselves in the 1980s.

For many Turks who had little sympathy for Islamism as an ideology, the AKP was a welcome alternative to decades of Kemalist misrule. In the early 2000s, I took Turkish language classes with Etem Erol at Columbia University, who died much too young exactly a year ago from a heart attack. Like many progressive-minded Turks, Erol voted for the AKP in the 2002 elections and again in 2007. For him, the charitable work of the Islamists and their seeming willingness to bring the Kurds in out of the cold was reason enough to vote for the party.

Now a ferocious critic of the AKP that he would now have you believe is responsible for much of Syria’s miseries, Stephen Kinzer was of a different mind in 2006 when he praised Turkey’s bid to join the EU and the government’s relaxation of tensions with the Kurds. In a New York Review of Books article dated January 12th, Kinzer quoted a Kurdish writer named Lutfi Baski: “Before, we were afraid to speak out. The government was insisting that there were no Kurds, that there was no Kurdish language or culture. They arrested us and closed our organizations. Now, so much has changed, especially in the last few months. Our problems haven’t been solved, not at all, but at least we can talk about them honestly. It’s a huge difference.”

Not only did much of the left admire Erdoğan for a more enlightened stance toward the Kurds, he appeared to be on our side when it came to the Palestinians. In 2010 the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was an important initiative that had the full support of the AKP. That was the same year as the infamous “low sofa” interview he gave to Israeli television, one in which he was seated far below his interviewer—a sign of disrespect.

Between the time of the article’s publication and today, Turkey’s economy has gone into a steep decline. My friend Ahmet Tonak, who I have interviewed twice on Turkish political developments, had an article “The Turkish economy: worse than a recession” published on MR Online just a couple of weeks ago that confirms that the Turkish voters were in such economic distress that their Islamic beliefs were not deep enough to keep the wedded to the Islamic party. One hopes that this pattern might be repeated in other MENA states as the contradictions that produced the Arab Spring continue to mount.

During the final quarter of 2018, consumption fell by 8.9%. How significant is this? A comparison with corresponding figures reported for the United States during the economic crisis of 2007–2008 is quite revealing. At its worst, American household consumption declined by 3% and 3.7%, respectively, during the third and fourth quarters of 2008. In Turkey, by contrast, the drop during the fourth quarter of 2018 alone was nearly three times as bad as each quarter in the U.S., and more significant than even the two quarters combined. This testifies to the depth of the crisis in Turkey, and the tangible ways in which ordinary people are affected by it. The situation is fast becoming intolerable.

The situation is becoming intolerable? Except for what Bernie Sanders calls the billionaire class, that is true for most of humanity. Hold on to your hats, comrades. The ride will be rocky.

January 11, 2019

Gauging the power of Ukraine’s neo-Nazis

Filed under: Fascism,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:55 pm

Over the past few months I have noticed a steady stream of FB posts that make the case that Ukraine is the motherlode of neo-Nazism globally. Some of it comes from obvious sources like RT.com but you can also find such reports in ostensibly more authoritative sources like Newsweek, which published an article titled “Ukraine Makes Birthday of Nazi Collaborator a National Holiday and Bans Book Critical of Anti-Semitic Leader”.

Another well-publicized report maintains that the USA is arming and training the notorious Azov Battalion. The Grayzone boys, as might have been expected, jumped on this in a Max Blumenthal article titled “The US is Arming and Assisting Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, While Congress Debates Prohibition”. It begins: “Known as a bastion of neo-Nazism, Ukraine’s Azov Battalion has received teams of American military advisors and high powered US-made weapons.” Interestingly enough, Blumenthal cites a source that in other instances would have been described as an untrustworthy:

Finally, this January, the transfer of the lethal weapons to Azov was confirmed by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL). Aric Toler, a DFRL researcher, asserted that “the US Embassy did absolutely help facilitate this transfer, and I’m not sure if they were aware that Azov would be the first to train with them.”

This is the same think-tank, which after forming a partnership with Facebook, was characterized by Blumenthal as “the merger of the national security state and Silicon Valley.”

In any case, everybody would describe the Azov Battalion, Svoboda and Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) as fascist. The same with Bandera’s role as Nazi collaborator who murdered Jews.

The bigger question, however, is how much political influence such neo-Nazis have in Ukraine. There is some statistics that can help us understand the degree to which Ukrainian nationalism overlaps with Bandera-style neo-Nazism.

In fact, a poll was conducted among the Ukrainian population about their attitude toward the various armed forces and political leaders who fought over their country during WWII. Those affiliated with the USSR received support by 69 percent of all those between the ages of 18-29, while Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) garnered only 14 percent. As for political leaders, the UPA’s commander Roman Shukhevych was rated one percent lower than Joseph Stalin. Considering the fact that Stalin had been responsible for the death of millions of their countrymen in the early 1930s, that should give you a good idea of how much support there was for Bandera’s politics in 2012. For a full presentation of the statistics culled by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, go here.

Meanwhile, let’s review the kind of votes neo-Nazi candidates get in Ukraine. In the 2014 Rada elections, Svoboda won 6 seats. That meant out of 450 deputies, its percentage was .013. By contrast, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) just won 97 seats in the Bundestag, which made it the third largest party. With the Bundestag consisting of 598 seats, this means that AfD now represents sixteen percent of elected parliamentarians.

As for the Pravy Sektor, it managed to elect only a single member to the Rada in 2014 but he ran as an independent. This probably reflects the crisis that has beset the party in the post-Euromaidan period. In November 2015, its best-known figure Dmytro Yarosh quit the party, taking 20 percent of the membership with him.

Given the tendency by people such as Blumenthal, Stephen F. Cohen, and just about everybody writing for Consortium News to make an amalgam between the ruling party in Ukraine and groups like Pravy Sektor, you are dealing with propaganda, not responsible journalism. On August 3, 2015, the Financial Times published an article titled “Ukrainian far-right force puts Kiev in its sights”. It is this perspective that is sorely missing in Grayzone type articles:

Dmytro Yarosh, Right Sector’s leader, called last week for a nationwide no-confidence referendum in President Petro Poroshenko . He was addressing a rally in Kiev of up to 5,000 Right Sector activists, angry over what they say is the government’s slow progress in fighting corruption and excessive concessions to Moscow as it attempts to reach a settlement over eastern Ukraine. “We are an organised revolutionary force that is opening the new phase of the Ukrainian revolution,” Mr Yarosh told the rally.

Earlier this month, two people were left dead in a shootout between off-duty Right Sector fighters and police near Ukraine’s previously peaceful western border – 1,500km away from the eastern conflict. The group claimed it was acting to destroy an illicit cross-border cigarette trade. Some observers suggest Right Sector was trying to take it over.

This leaves us with the worst of the lot, the Azov Battalion that has just spawned a political party with the innocuous title of National Corps. It organized a parade honoring Stephen Bandera on January 1 and is generally regarded as the most dangerous of the three far-right groups. Led by Andriy Biletsky, it could hardly be further from the political agenda of the ruling party that people like Stephen F. Cohen castigate for being a tool of the EU and NATO. In fact, Andriy Biletsky and the professor emeritus are not far apart when it comes to Western imperialism as Anna Nemtsova reported in the Daily Beast:

The commander of the Azov Battalion, the former founder of ultra-nationalist movement “Social-National Assembly” Andriy Biletsky, also known as “White Leader,” personally took the oath from members of the militia for “faithful service to the Ukrainian people.”

Biletsky’s party, the National Corps, is against Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO. He says he thinks the EU wouldn’t let Ukraine join, and that he is “not a fan of NATO.” Among other things, both demand Western European democratic standards for membership.

Given the minuscule votes for these neo-Nazi groups, it is virtually ruled out that they could ever replace the pro-EU and pro-NATO government in Kyiv as has been the case in a number of other Eastern European countries, especially Hungary. This does not mean that they don’t pose a threat. They have increasingly functioned as shock troops attacking the Ukrainian left and various social movements. With a sympathy for the ultraright in the police and the top ranks of the military, they are analogous to groups like those that showed up for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Nobody would expect such groups to ever win elections but they are capable of being used as a battering ram against the left. This is true of every country in Europe as well. There is a symbiotic relationship between right-populist parties following the letter of the law and the semi-clandestine bands that will resort to murder to achieve its goals.

The lynchpin of this far-right constellation of forces in Ukraine is the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov who has close ties to Andriy Biletsky. Avakov is a member of the People’s Party that is in a coalition with President Poroshenko’s party called Solidarity. If he fired Avakov, he would lose his slim majority in the Rada and Ukraine would be forced to call new elections.

Right now, Poroshenko is extremely unpopular. It is difficult to say which political force could replace him except to rule out the possibility of anybody resembling Viktor Orban becoming president. In a complex situation filled with contradictions, there is no mass right-populist movement in the wings even though there is a sizable neo-Nazi movement that could become a much more serious threat is such a movement took shape.

If you are at all concerned about Ukraine’s future and want to keep on top of developments there, I recommend bookmarking https://ukrainesolidaritycampaign.org/ that is based in England. It is there that you will find a class analysis of the country as well as some promising developments in an overall grim situation. This one stands out:

June 29, 2018

Two new books on Ukraine

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 1:48 pm

For most people on the left, knowledge of the Ukraine is limited to a few well-trodden factoids. Victorian Nuland made a phone call that led to the overthrow of the democratically elected government and its replacement through a pro-EU, pro-NATO coup. The coup relied on a combination of neo-Nazi violence and false flag incidents to succeed. Once in power, the anti-Communist government and its rightwing supporters began tearing down statues of Lenin. And all of this could have been anticipated because Stephen Bandera collaborated with the Nazis during WWII.

This micro-narrative eliminated the need to understand the country’s history or the economic contradictions internal to the country that have led to chronic instability ever since it became independent in 1991. For those who want to dig beneath the surface, there are two new books by Ukrainian scholars that put the country’s ongoing turmoil into perspective. Stephen Velychenko’s “Painting Imperialism and Nationalism Red: The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist Rule in Ukraine 1918-1925” points out in painful detail how an emancipatory project in 1917 led to the preservation of Czarist type domination but in the name of proletarian internationalism. Put succinctly, if you want to know why Lenin statues (that never should have been erected in the first place per Lenin’s aversion to idolatry) were torn down, Velychenko’s book is a good place to start. As for Euromaidan and its consequences, Yuliya Yurchenko’s Ukraine and the Empire of Capital: From Marketization to Armed Conflict is the very first attempt to apply a Marxist analysis to Ukraine’s chronic oligarchic rule. Despite her support for Euromaidan, Yurchenko makes the case that it was hijacked by a wing of the ruling class that sought to preserve its narrow profit-seeking goals by exploiting nationalist resentments.

Continue reading

April 10, 2018

Russiagate, Victor Pinchuk and the Ukrainian kleptocracy

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm

Victor Pinchuk paid $150,000 to Donald Trump for 20 minutes worth of bullshit at a conference he organized

Victor Pinchuk (l) also gave between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation. That’s how Ukrainian oligarchs operate.

If you’ve ever heard the doddering old fool Stephen F. Cohen being interviewed by the creepy, reactionary John Batchelor on his WABC radio show, you will get the same talking points repeated over and over–the same sort of dark warnings about Russiagate being a McCarthyite witch-hunt that you can hear from Max Blumenthal on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.

For Cohen and Blumenthal, a key part of this “leftist” defense of multipolarity keeps coming back to Ukraine that is depicted as a geopolitical chess game between the evil NATO/EU forces on one side lining up with Kiev and the good guys in the Donetsk People’s Republic on the other. From their rhetoric, you’d think it was 1940 and that an invasion of Russia was on the agenda. If you are even vaguely up to speed on historical materialism, you’d realize that the German bourgeoisie wanted to destroy Bolshevism. And what would the motivation of the owners of Mercedes-Benz be today? To bust down the walls blocking it from the Russian market?

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 12.42.53 PM

Today’s NY Times has a report on the ramifications of the FBI raid of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen’s office:

The special counsel is investigating a payment made to President Trump’s foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter, as part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election.

Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by Mr. Trump that month through a video link to a conference in Kiev.

So who is this oligarch that is seeking to make an alliance with Trump, our dastardly president that is being described by Rachel Maddow as being in bed with Putin? You’d think that he would be one of Yanukovych’s pals. Remember Yanukovych? He was the former President of Ukraine who was overthrown by fascist mobs who were being deployed by Victoria Nuland as the first stage of a new World War intended to turn Russia into a colony of NATO and Wall Street banks.

Well, it turns out that Victor Pinchuk was a major advocate of the policies associated with Euromaidan, NATO, the EU, etc. The Tablet, a left-Zionist magazine, described an oligarch that in Cohen and Blumenthal’s eyes would be the embodiment of pure evil:

One breezy evening last September, Viktor Pinchuk, Ukraine’s second-richest man, stepped onstage at the Livadia Palace in the Black Sea resort of Yalta to introduce the star speaker of the annual international conference he hosts to promote his country’s ties with the West: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Nearby, at a table set for an exquisite five-course meal, sat her husband; they were joined in the hall by Shimon Peres and Tony Blair, as well as a number of former European heads of state, top diplomats, and business tycoons. “Mr. President, you are really a super star,” Pinchuk told Bill Clinton in a seemingly apologetic tone, “but Secretary Clinton, she is a real, real mega star.”

But as you continue reading the article, you will discover that this was only the latest permutation of Pinchuk’s opportunist brand of capitalist deal-making. There was a time when he would have been hoisted on the shoulders of Cohen and Blumenthal:

In the fraud-ridden election that triggered Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, Pinchuk backed Kuchma’s handpicked successor—Viktor Yanukovych, who eventually won the presidency in 2010 and whose recent decision to shelve a key treaty with the European Union and instead embrace Russia triggered the demonstrations that have seized Kiev in recent weeks.

Getting the picture? The Ukrainian oligarchy’s only loyalty is to its personal fortunes. Perhaps the clearest example of that was former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who came to power as a Euromaidan type politician in 2005. Widespread discontent with her policies led to her being replaced by Yanukovych in 2010. Oddly enough, after she lost office she was charged with abuse of power and embezzlement and sent to prison. So what was her crime? Conspiring with the Rothschild bank?

Actually, it was conspiring with Gazprom—Putin’s petroleum piggy bank. In the sentencing, the court decided she deserved seven years in the can for abusing her power in forcing through a gas deal that saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas. She might have pissed off Ukrainians but she was his choice in the first election following Yanukovych’s departure despite her nationalist rhetoric as the Moscow Times reported:

Putin made it very clear that Moscow would like to see former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko become that country’s next president. He alluded to this twice recently, using almost exactly the same wording each time and wistfully recalling their productive working relationship.

Why is Putin endorsing Tymoshenko? Does he want to undermine her chances of winning the presidential elections on May 25 by casting her as the Kremlin favorite? Or does he have just the opposite plan in mind — to help Tymoshenko win the support of the pro-Russian voters who previously stood behind former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?

The second theory is bolstered by the fact that Tymoshenko holds very close political ties to Viktor Medvedchuk, once the head of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s administration and a man who has long and unabashedly been Putin’s personal agent for influencing the situation in Ukraine. Also, Medvedchuk’s long-time political and business partner, Andrei Klyuyev — a pro-Russian politician and former head of Yanukovych’s presidential administration — was one of the main advocates for unifying the Party of Regions with the bloc supporting Tymoshenko into a so-called “broad” coalition in 2009.

Yesterday I began reading Yuliya Yurchenko’s new book “Ukraine and the Empire of Capital” from Pluto Press. As far as I can tell, this is the first attempt to present a Marxist analysis of Ukraine’s miseries. After seeing the article on Pinchuk in the NY Times, I decided to see what she had to say about him.

To start with, Pinchuk’s billions were the result of his early inside track in the transformation of state-owned enterprises in Eastern Ukraine into private property. In this, he was enjoying the instant wealth that both Yeltsin and Putin’s cronies enjoyed. Furthermore, he linked up early on with Tymoshenko who became a partner of his in 1994 along with Pavlo Lazarenko in a business importing gas from Turkmenistan. Lazarenko was Prime Minister of Ukraine just like Tymoshenko and just as crooked. He was put on trial in the United States for money-laundering, corruption, and fraud where he began serving a 9-year prison term in 2006. Wikipedia states that he now owns a luxurious mansion in Marin County, California that was bought with money looted from the Ukrainian budget.

In an analysis of the different fractions of Ukrainian capital, Yurchenko links Pinchuk to one that is in partnership with Western investors and criminal elements, among them one Dmitry Firtash who had close ties to Paul Manafort as well as the deposed Yanukovych. In 2008, Manafort’s firm was involved with Firtash in a plan to redevelop the Drake Hotel in NYC for $850 million. One of the other partners working with Manafort on the deal was the former exclusive broker for Fred Trump’s properties, Brad Zackson. What a coincidence. Firtash is facing bribery charges in the USA for a deal he secured to extract titanium from mines in India and is now fighting extradition to the USA from Austria.

I’ll have much more to say about Yurchenko’s book but will for the time being conclude with the last two paragraphs:

Maidan of 2013-2014 was against the injustice brought on by the neoliberal kleptocracy, corruption of the judiciary, predatory militia, and widespread state asset embezzlement in the midst of deteriorating conditions of life. It was a culmination of a discontent that brewed for over 20 years and both in east and west of the country it had the grass-roots origin and included organised labour, miners too. The discontent over rising prices for food (58 per cent) and commonal housing fees (54 per cent), loss of work (34 per cent) and wage and pension arrears (32 per cent), corruption (27 per cent) and crime (20 per cent) – that is what unifies Ukraine’s people. Neither the EU, nor NATO; despite their growing popularity as a response to the current crisis. Ukraine-EU association agreement is a carrot that now does n4•1 match the stick anymore.

The combination of neoliberal marketisation and politically empowered kleptocratic and the internally heterogeneous ruling(/capitalist) bloc of Ukraine have created the combustive atmosphere in the country that has not gone away with Yanukovych’s escape. Instead, the rule of neoliberal kleptocrats entrenched even deeper. The war in the east of the country now serves as a sanction for further anti-social austerity reforms that will further untie the hands of the oligarchs while they will keep the IMF and the EU satisfied. All this comes at the expense of further state dependence on foreign debt and effectively makes Ukraine’s government more susceptible to external meddling in domestic policy-making in addition to making the economy increasingly vulnerable. The above developments are underlined by growing public disapproval of the official Kyiv manifest in the ongoing and growing number of protests the country as the Centre for Social and Labour Research surveys show. The second Maidan has not brought the change that many have already died for, yet it was only the beginning, not the end of the dispossessed fighting back. Ukraine is pregnant with the next, more violent Maidan.

 

 

March 2, 2018

Breaking Point

Filed under: Film,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 9:49 pm

Opening today at the Cinema Village in NY, “Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine” makes an interesting contrast to “A Sniper’s War” that I reviewed on February 9th. Both films begin with an introduction to soldiers fighting on either side of lines in the Donetsk breakaway republic. In “A Sniper’s War”, it was a Serb volunteer and a self-described communist who joined up with separatists because he hated NATO, especially for the destruction it wrought in his native country. In “Breaking Point”, it is a children’s theater workshop director who tells us that it is “beauty, art and love” that will save the world. Those ideals convinced him to risk his life trying to recapture Donetsk just as the Serb’s devotion to communist ideals, no matter how compromised, convinced him to risk his.

Unlike “Winter on Fire”, the Netflix cinema vérité that is focused exclusively on Euromaidan, “Breaking Point” begins with the protests and takes us nearly to the state of affairs that prevails today, which leads one Ukrainian to ask toward the end of the film: “What did people die for?”

The documentary was co-directed and co-written by Mark Jonathan Harris, a 77-year old professor in the School of Cinematic Arts of the University of Southern California, and Oles Sanin, a multi-talented 45-year old Ukrainian who obviously was instrumental in getting the film to accurately represent historical events. Harris is no stranger to conflicted territory and beliefs. His 1997 “The Long Way Home” dealt with the experience of Jewish refugees after World War II but erred in serving up what amounted to Israeli propaganda according to Spike Lee. Apparently, Lee’s criticism had an impact since Harris followed up with “A Dream No More” that was intended to show Israel with warts and all. Commissioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the film was scuttled for obvious reasons after it was finished. An angry Harris complained that the Center wanted a “feel-good Diaspora jubilee film” and were unwilling to accept an honest accounting of Israel’s history.

Although my perspective on Ukraine differs from Harris and Sanin’s, I encourage my readers to see the film since it is a cohesive and largely reliable presentation of the last 5 years of Ukraine’s tortured history, including a war that has cost 10,000 lives and the displacement of more than a million of its citizens, mostly in the east for obvious reasons.

The film is best when it presents the views of ordinary citizens like the children’s theater director who said that he had little interest in politics but simply wanted to act in the interest of Ukraine’s national honor. Or a physician who volunteered his services both at Euromaidan and in Donetsk. He is a middle-aged, overweight man seen in the trailer above with little to offer in the way of analysis but critical for how he represents of the decent and ordinary Ukrainian citizenry who tend to get slandered in the left media as tools of the CIA.

The problem lies in the expert presentations, which include the former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk who offers platitudes about how democracy cannot be built in a day, etc. He claims that the “rule of law” is Ukraine’s salvation but does not go near the more urgent question of how the “rule of capital” will be Ukraine’s undoing, as the Serb sniper believed. We also hear from Anne Applebaum, the Washington Post pundit, and Yale professor Timothy Snyder who have impressive credentials as Ukraine experts even though their analysis of Ukraine’s problems tends to put all the blame for its woes on Putin.

In reality, Ukraine is impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Euromaidan was inspired by the hopes that Ukraine could become “normal” by joining the European Union. Ukrainians who worked in the Netherlands or Sweden must have been deeply envious of countries that could provide a decent standard of living and police departments that weren’t filled with thugs demanding bribes when they weren’t assaulting blameless citizens. What they didn’t count on was how the Netherlands and Sweden got there. It was by extracting super-profits from colonial peoples that helped create the conditions for the social democratic Eden that had been lusted after in Eastern Europe for generations.

Unlike Ukraine, countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have freely elected presidents that reject the EU and are adopting policies even more authoritarian than Putin, the man they consider their leader in the same way that Poroshenko looked to Obama. They had a taste of Washington Post type neoliberalism and spat it out. There is no Putinite waiting in the wings in Ukraine for obvious reasons.

Another failure of “Breaking Point” is its unwillingness to address the question of the country’s fascist elements. In an oblique way of addressing it, it includes a Jew who had trained to be a rabbi at one point in his life but became totally committed to the nationalist cause, so much now that he leads a battalion in Donetsk. When he asserts that there was no anti-Semitism in Maidan Square, he was certainly correct insofar as that was a reference to those who spoke from the platform. However, nobody can deny that some of the defense guards that protected the crowds from police attack did include anti-Semites, especially the neo-Nazis who would later on fight with the Azov Battalion in Donetsk. Ironically, the party its leader founded now opposes both EU and NATO, which, according to Putin’s apologists like Stephen F. Cohen, were supposedly the chief goal of the Ukrainian fascists.

This absence was most glaring when the film depicts the shoving match that took place in front of the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) when it signed a treaty that left Donetsk in Russian hands two years ago. The protesters were members of Right Sector and Svoboda, the two main ultra-right parties in Ukraine that needed to be identified by Harris and Sanin in the interests of transparency. After all, that is the main job of the documentary filmmaker—to tell it like it is.

February 22, 2018

How Ukraine’s neo-Nazis came to oppose NATO and the European Union

Filed under: fashion,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 6.15.31 PM A conference that unites Russian and Ukrainian fascists

Putin’s propagandists, including Boris Kagarlitsky, Roger Annis, Stephen F. Cohen and Daniel Lazare, would have you believe that Washington is using Ukrainian fascists as a battering ram against Russia. The overall strategy is to encroach militarily through NATO while using the EU to weaken Russia economically. Euromaidan was a conspiracy to further these aims, especially in light of the protests being triggered by Yanukovych’s refusal to join the EU. The next step would be for Ukraine to join NATO using the excuse that it had to protect itself against Russian designs on its territory, with Crimea and Donetsk being the prelude to further advances. Of course, everybody on the left must understand at this point that Russia had the right to protect its territorial integrity just as JFK did back in 1963 by demanding the removal of missiles from Cuba.

Of the three principal fascist organizations in Ukraine—Svoboda, Pravy Sektor and the Azov Battalion—the last of the three is the most clearly neo-Nazi. Russia Insider, whose editor Charles Bausman blames the Jews for being America’s worst warmongers, published an article titled “Media Ignore 20,000 Nazis Marching in Kiev, Obsess Over Charlottesville” on October 30, 2017. It states “Ukrainian Nationalists are being used as useful idiots in an ancient plan to divide and conquer Russia, starting with the destruction of Russia’s birthplace – Kiev. Western powers have been trying to do this since before the Austrian Empire.”

The organizers of the protest were the National Corps and the Pravy Sektor, both of which are banned in Russia. Most people are familiar with Pravy Sektor but what was the innocuous sounding National Corps? It turns out that this is a political party formed by Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov Battalion that earned a reputation for being little more than a death squad in the Donetsk Republic. Just look at its insignia to get an idea of how closely tied to neo-Nazism it is:

Given this nefarious history, you’d have to believe that the National Corps would be gung-ho for NATO and the EU. Well, maybe not. In an article titled “The Frightening Far-Right Militia That’s Marching in Ukraine’s Streets, Promising to Bring ‘Order’”, the Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova reported:

Biletsky’s party, the National Corps, is against Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO. He says he thinks the EU wouldn’t let Ukraine join, and that he is “not a fan of NATO.” Among other things, both demand Western European democratic standards for membership.

While not neo-Nazi, the nationalist Aidar Battalion (now disbanded), which Amnesty International accused of “using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”, agrees with Biletsky, as its former leader Serhiy Melnychuk made clear in a Huffington Post interview:

I am against Ukraine’s potential accession to NATO. I think that Ukraine should pursue common military objectives with NATO, like counter-terrorism. Ukraine’s official position right now is to become a member of NATO, which violates the Budapest memorandum’s calls for Ukrainian neutrality. We want to have some of the benefits associated with closer integration with Europe, like a visa free regime, but we should resist becoming part of the NATO security bloc. Instead, Ukraine can lead a new system of collective security, which will include all neutral countries.

These developments should not be that surprising. Despite their hatred of Russia, the far right in Ukraine has plenty in common with pro-Russian fascist organizations spreading up all over Europe. Anton Shekhovtsov, the author of Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir tweeted about a conference in Germany shown above that seeks “a strong Europe that protects and promotes its peoples, their cultures and their idiosyncrasies. The Occident, with its millennia of history, is the foundation on which the Europe of the future is built.”

Among the guest organizations is the Russian Imperial Movement, a right-wing political group united around reverence for the Russian Empire, the czar and Russian Orthodoxy.

And guess who is a guest speaker. None other than Olena Semenyaka from Ukraine who is speaking on “Beyond the ‘Wall of Time’: Ernst Jünger and Martin Heidegger on the New Metaphysics”. I am sure you know who Martin Heidegger is but Ernst Jünger might not ring a bell. He was not a Nazi but had beliefs that dovetailed with theirs. Wikipedia states that he criticized the Weimar Republic, stating that he “hated democracy like the plague.” He portrayed war as a mystical experience that revealed the nature of existence. Jünger considered total military mobilization as the life-blood of Germany. Nice.

And who is this Olena Semenyaka? She was the press representative of the Azov Battalion who was asked in an interview whether Euromaidan was about joining the EU. Her answer:

It should be stressed that the Maidan protests were not “pro-EU” per se. Although, before the beginning of war with Russia, a big percentage of Ukrainian citizens idealized the EU as an embodiment of civilization and higher living standards, the failed EU association agreement, which was probably not even Yanukovych’s fault, was only a trigger for expressing a wider public discontent with his regime in general. Of course, ignorance and the work of the mass media and international funds, above all, are to blame for the uncritical and unconditional support for the EU that still may be found among Ukrainian citizens. But experience has had a sobering effect on them as well, The EU’s friendly relations with Putin and the Russian Federation, in spite of sanctions, its disapproval of nationalism and demands for the federalization of Ukraine, which under current conditions means nothing but separatism, the lack of real political and military aid, and more, have led to growing disillusionment with the EU.

Also, I have to add that, although Yanukovych is believed to have been a puppet of Putin, he, in no way, can be considered “anti-Western” or “anti-EU.” As in Russia’s case, the anti-Western rhetoric is only a disguise for selling out the country to the West while claiming to “raise it from the ashes.” All high-ranking Ukrainian officials, the same as the Russians, keep their funds in Western banks while their children study abroad, so confrontation with the West is just a populist fiction. The reality is with the struggle for territories, like the Ukrainian Crimea, and resources.

It was Yanukovych’s regime that initiated Euro-integration, and during his rule the Berkut riot police, which tried to disperse the “pro-Western” Maidan, also protected the first gay parade held in the Ukraine that was attended by the Mayor of Munich. So, the mass pro-EU sympathies expressed during Maidan can be better interpreted as the first attempt of Ukrainians to escape from the yoke of post-communist oligarchic capitalism that flourishes both in Ukraine and Russia.

Fleeing the “the yoke of post-communist oligarchic capitalism that flourishes both in Ukraine and Russia.” Who can argue with that? Sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Boris Kagarlitsky might have written, or Ernst Röhm for that matter if he were alive today.

February 9, 2018

A Sniper’s War

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:48 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, February 9, 2018

“A Sniper’s War” just premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and will next be seen at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana on February 23rd. Although I doubt that many of my readers will be in Missoula for the festival—or for any other purpose—I still want to call attention to a film that should eventually and hopefully make it into theatrical distribution before too long. This is a first-time work by a young filmmaker that shows remarkable courage, talent and perseverance in painting a portrait of a Serb volunteer who came to the Donetsk People’s Republic to defend his socialist beliefs. Whether or not those beliefs were grounded in reality is not really a question the film sought to answer. Director Olya Schechter simply wanted to tell the story of a man nicknamed Deki who was poised on the razor’s edge between duty to a higher cause and murder.

Early on in her powerful documentary, we see Deki showing photographs on his smart phone of the devastation wrought by NATO in Belgrade. There are bombed out buildings that by any definition were the result of war crimes. Behind him on the wall is a banner from the former Soviet Union of a hammer and sickle poised above a red star. Later on, we hear him and fellow separatist fighters mourning over the loss of Communism that they blame on NATO and Western imperialism. Deki is nostalgic for a system that provided free health care and education in Yugoslavia, as the militia members nod in agreement. The men are not ultra-nationalist special forces “volunteers” hoping to reabsorb the whole of Ukraine into a new Russian empire. Instead, they are the salt of the earth of Eastern Ukraine: middle-aged schoolteachers and coal miners.

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January 29, 2018

Taking stock of Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Yesterday, Nat Parry announced the death of his father Robert Parry on Consortium News, a website he created in 1995 as an alternative to the mainstream news. While Robert Parry had announced to his readers on December 31, 2017 that a stroke would inhibit his ability to provide the kind of content to which they had become accustomed, the underlying ailment responsible for his untimely death was cancer of the pancreas that he had unknowingly been suffering from for the past 4 to 5 years.

Nat Parry’s article summarizes his father’s considerable accomplishments that date back to Reagan’s war against the Sandinistas. I recommend it as an indication of a career that any journalist could be proud of, as long as the cut-off date is 2011 or so.

He credits his father with digging beneath “the reality of the chemical attack in Syria in 2013” and for defying the mainstream media’s consensus on Putin and the war in Ukraine. We are told that:

Bob regretted that, increasingly, “the American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’” Indeed, he said that to even suggest that there might be another side to the story is enough to get someone branded as an apologist for Vladimir Putin or a “Kremlin stooge.”

This reduction of the parameters of the discussion on these matters to Robert Parry on one side and the NY Times and Washington Post on the other is a bit of a Hobson’s choice. As bad as the bourgeois press is with its inside-the-beltway mindset, are we any better off with the inside-the-Kremlin orientation of a whole range of highly respected leftwing reporters since 2011, including Parry, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and Stephen Kinzer? Neither the mainstream media nor the “anti-imperialist” websites like Consortium News could take the trouble to learn and write about the people Obama dismissed as “farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn’t have a lot of experience fighting”. Obama, his supporters in the bourgeois press, and Robert Parry all failed to engage with the humanity of those who find themselves on the opposite side of the barricades from Putin or Assad.

I have my own ideas of how that should have been done and credit my friend Anand Gopal with doing the kind of reporting that never would have occurred to the much more well-known figures above. Harper’s published Gopal’s article “Welcome to Free Syria” in August 2012 . Unlike Cockburn or Fisk, he was not embedded in the Syrian army. Instead, he was transported from Turkey into Syria in a car that “avoided the highway and hopscotched from village to village along back roads.” With his mobile-phone system disabled, it was impossible to know about government troop movements and the location of army checkpoints.

The pay-off was being able to interview people who Obama never had any intention of putting into power. Just consider how they saw themselves and how similar they were to those rising up in the Arab Spring as well as the Occupy movement in the USA:

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

Except for Anand Gopal’s article and those written by the Syrian left, including Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila al-Shami, and Joseph Daher, this was a perspective utterly missing in Parry et al. Instead, we were expected to choose between the mainstream media that featured articles on Assad’s brutality and Parry’s attempts to minimize or deny it. Syrian voices were omitted.

Parry could have been less interested in the people of a shithole like Binnish. Like most men who had made careers at Newsweek, Time, the NY Times, and the Washington Post, his focus was on “foreign policy”. Syria was just some real estate that the USA and its rivals were quarrelling over. On April 29, 2013, he expressed dismay over Obama’s failure to enter negotiations with Assad:

In 2012, there appeared to be a chance for a breakthrough both in talks with Iran over its nuclear program and with Syria’s Assad regime over a power-sharing arrangement with the country’s disaffected Sunni majority. Some people involved in those initiatives thought that after the U.S. election, a victorious Obama would have the political space to make concessions as well as demands. Then, when nothing happened, some thought he was waiting to install a new national security team and didn’t want to risk Senate obstruction of his nominations.

That disaffected majority was hardly worth Parry’s consideration since it was made up of “murderous Sunni fundamentalists.” How did he know that the Sunnis were so evil? Well, he read it in the N.Y. Times. So, you see, the mainstream media is to be shunned unless it serves your own ideological preconceptions.

Only five months after he wrote his article, he became just another Assadist propagandist claiming that Assad was innocent of the charge of killing over a thousand people in East Ghouta in a sarin gas attack. Shockingly enough, Parry backed up his claims by citing Carla Del Ponte, a UN functionary that Alexander Cockburn charged with running a kangaroo court to prosecute Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. If that wasn’t the bottom of the barrel, Parry sunk even lower to rely on the allegations found in former Defense Department official F. Michael Maloof’s article for World Net Daily (WND), which alleged that the rebels used sarin gas on their own supporters. I guess you can say that WND.com is an alternative to the Washington Post but what kind?

WND was founded in 1997 by “birther” Joseph Farah as part of the Western Journalism Center that he formed 6 years earlier. Besides WND, the Western Journalism Center created NewsMax, another ultraright outlet. If you are looking for comparisons, they should be grouped with Breitbart News. Besides Maloof’s dubious reporting on sarin gas, WND had run a six-part series claiming that soybean consumption causes homosexuality as well as one that pointed to a secret 20-point Muslim plan “for conquering the United States by 2020.”

As for Maloof, a Mother Jones investigation revealed that he was key to providing a fake story that helped paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2002. When Maloof worked for the neoconservative warmonger Richard Perle, he cooked up evidence that the Soviet Union was stealing Western technology. And this is the guy that Robert Parry wanted us to trust?

Turning to Ukraine, it is just as bad—maybe worse. This time it was the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 over Ukraine. He even tied the two “false flag” incidents to each other:

Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.

Like Seymour Hersh, Parry refers to unnamed spooks in the “intelligence community”. Who knows? Maybe the aforementioned F. Michael Maloof was one of them.

Demonstrating a laughable departure from the rigorous norms of investigative reporting, Parry wrote:

According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site.

No, this is Parry and not Onion.com. I love the bit about beer bottles scattered around the site. You’d think that he would have mentioned vodka in order to make it sound more plausible. Those Ukrainian troops were just like Bluto and Otter getting into trouble in “Animal House”. They must have gotten loaded and shot down a civilian airliner.

Parry also casted doubt on the possibility that the separatists had a ground to air missile capable of reaching the plane. Supposedly, they had MANPAD’s that were only capable of bringing down low-flying airplanes or helicopters. But in fact, just days before the Flight 17 shoot-down, a separatist missile had brought down a Ukrainian military transport, an AN-26 that was flying four miles above the ground and well beyond the reach of a MANPAD.

All of this demonstrates that one of the greatest collateral damages of the past seven years of conflict in Syria and Ukraine, besides the loss of lives, is its tendency to turn accomplished investigative reporters into shoddy propagandists.

After Trump’s election, Parry posed the question whether Trump would decide to be a great president in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt or someone more of the caliber of Calvin Coolidge. I am not sure whether Parry’s illness had some effect on his ability to clearly assess Donald Trump but it had already been established by then that Trump was a shameless liar who treated his workers like slaves. In 1980, he used undocumented Polish workers to clear the future site of Trump Tower, forcing them to work 12-hour shifts in unsafe conditions and paying them $4 per hour. To imagine that someone with a record like Trump could have been anything like FDR was as much a failure to do the proper job of an investigative reporter as was his articles on sarin gas and Flight 17. If Parry had read David Cay Johnson, he could have never considered this in the realm of possibility.

It is too bad that Parry did not retire in 2011. A book could be written about the decline of investigative journalism over the past 6 years. Let’s hope that the next generation of reporters can take their cue from Anand Gopal who is continuing in the tradition of the pre-2011 Robert Parry as well as all the other journalists who I held in great esteem until the awful assault on the truth and humanity that began under the combined power of Assad and Putin’s air force and their respective propaganda machines.

March 24, 2017

What Caused the Holodomor?

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:31 pm

 

Mark Tauger: famines are caused by nature, not colonialism

COUNTERPUNCH, March 24, 2017

Three weeks ago, Grover Furr charged me with spreading fascist propaganda on CounterPunch because my film review of “Bitter Harvest” held Josef Stalin accountable for the famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933. Like the Australian theology professor Roland Boer who blogs at “Stalin’s Moustache”, Furr’s political life revolves around celebrating Stalin’s greatest achievements—such as they were. I advise my readers, especially younger ones, to visit “Stalin’s Moustache” and Furr’s website to get a handle on a school of thought that has largely died a natural death.

Instead of answering Furr’s attack, I will turn my attention to the historiography of Mark Tauger who he describes in a prefatory note as being a “world authority” on the famine. Since Tauger blames a severe drought for the deaths of between 2.5 to 7 million Ukrainians, it is understandable why he would be hoisted on the shoulders of both Grover Furr and Roger Annis, a Canadian leftist and occasional CounterPunch contributor who endorsed Tauger on his “New Cold War: Ukraine and Beyond” website as “One of the world’s leading scholars on the development of agriculture in the Soviet Union”. So, you get the picture. If you are in the business of representing Ukraine as a victim of Stalinist or Putinist colonial brutality, Tauger is essential for turning that victim into a criminal.

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