By Nebojsa Malic
Published on RT, November 24, 2014
Just over a year ago, thousands of Ukrainians took to Kiev’s main square, angry at oligarchs and corruption. But instead of “Europe” and prosperity, they got a coup, more oligarchy, and war.
During the three-month “people power” spectacle in Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) that began on November 21, 2013, one of the protesters’ favorite chants was “Who doesn’t jump is a Moskal” (a derogatory term for Russians). After three months of “jumping” – which involved attacking the police, attempting to storm government buildings, and cheering US and European officials who came to support them, the protesters overthrew the legally elected president and establish their own government on February 22, 2014. It has been nine months since then – and a whole year since the “Maidan” protests began; let’s try to see what they’ve been “jumping” for.
Much like the 2004 “Orange Revolution,” the Maidan protest was an exercise in perception management. Officially, the reason the protesters gathered was the government’s balking at signing the EU accession treaty. A TV, internet and social media campaign – the very name “EuroMaidan” was a Twitter hashtag coined by some clever PR professional – got the people riled up against the government presented as corrupt, incompetent and selfish.
Was this so? Part of the problem with the EU treaty was that it demanded Ukraine restructure its entire apparatus of state and society to the Union’s standards, which would have cost something like $19 billion a year for the next decade (per The Telegraph). But Brussels was willing to offer a paltry $750 million (€610 million) in loans. Ukraine needed much more just to stay solvent. It was, by all metrics, a bad deal for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia was offering $15 billion in favorable loans – and warning that if Ukraine signed a treaty with the EU, that would mean breaking the free trade treaty it had with Russia (and several other countries), causing further economic losses. But the Maidan organizers spun this as Russia trying to “steal Ukraine’s European future.”
Early in December, EU’s Foreign Policy Commissioner Catherine Ashton and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland came to Kiev and met with the protesters, giving them encouragement – in Nuland’s case, distributing biscuits as a publicity stunt. President Yanukovich’s cabinet was challenged in the legislature – but survived a no-confidence vote easily. But the Maidan refused to accept the outcome of this democratic process. Yanukovich tried to appease them, offering the premiership to one of the protest leaders, Arseny Yatsenyuk. The “Maidan” said no, as the original protesters gave way to masked, helmeted and armed thugs dubbing themselves the “Right Sector” and wearing Nazi insignia.
On February 18, the protests turned violent. After two days of violence that saw dozens of dead protesters and police – videos of “peaceful democratic protesters” butchering police officers and setting them on fire were quickly banished from public view in the West – Yanukovich gave in. On February 21, he signed an agreement with the Maidan leaders, brokered by German, Polish and French foreign ministers, to call early elections and give a general amnesty to rioters. The “Right Sector” refused to accept the surrender, and its “activists” stormed government offices the next day.
Celebrated in the West as a popular revolution for liberty and democracy, the Maidan was nothing of the sort. Research by independent journalists has revealed that the funding for various “non-governmental organizations,” “citizen initiatives,” and “free media” instrumental in mobilizing the Maidan rebellion came from the United States. Moreover, Nuland herself admitted in December 2013 that Washington had spent $5 billion since 1991 to “secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.” What that translated to in practice is best described by columnist Brendan O’Neill, writing three days after the February 22 coup: “we have just witnessed European and American leaders remove an elected politician and replace him with a friendlier new government.”
In late January, Nuland would be caught discussing how to “midwife this thing” with the US Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt, and having some choice words for the EU. Yet even though “our man Yats” was indeed appointed Prime Minister after the February coup, Nuland’s admission about her country pulling the Maidan’s strings has gone persistently unmentioned in the Western press.
The coup was not the end, but just the beginning of Ukraine’s agony. As “Right Sector” thugs went around brutalizing dissenters and intimidating legislators and the media, the new government proposed a law outlawing the use of Russian. Crowds gathered in multiple cities in the south and east of the country to protest the coup. Crimea seceded in mid-March, and was admitted to the Russian Federation within days. In the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, the local population declared independence. But while Washington and Brussels previously demanded Kiev refrain from violence against the Maidan, they fully endorsed a violent crackdown on these protests.
On May 2 in Odessa, pro-junta militants attacked demonstrators protesting the coup, surrounding them at the Trade Union House and setting it on fire. Official reports tell of 42 people who died in the blaze. Amateur video footage showed junta supporters shooting and beating to death people who tried to escape. Western and junta-loyal media spun this as “clashes” with “pro-Russian protesters.” A week later, junta militants opened fire on civilians in Mariupol.
On May 25, in this atmosphere of terror and intimidation, the presidential election called by the junta was won by Petro Poroshenko – an oligarch. Donetsk and Lugansk didn’t vote – they had held their own independence plebiscites earlier, with the overwhelming majority in favor. Poroshenko promised Ukraine would get massive aid from the West – “$15 to $25 billion” from the IMF, as he said in a Washington Post interview in April. All Kiev actually got was $1 billion in US loan guarantees.
Just days after Poroshenko was anointed president, Kiev began a massive military offensive to crush the rebels in the east. Tanks, airplanes, artillery and eventually missiles were used against cities and civilians. Thousands have died. Yet the military could not crush the rebels’ militia, prompting anguished cries of “Russian invasion” by Kiev’s spokesmen every week and dutifully echoed by the Western press and governments.
In mid-July, a Malaysian passenger jet routed over Donetsk by the air traffic control in Dnepropetrovsk (seat of the notorious oligarch and junta supporter Igor Kolomoisky) was shot down. Kiev and the West immediately blamed Russia outright, and then the “pro-Russian rebels”, then abruptly fell silent after Moscow presented radar and satellite evidence showing the plane could only have been shot down by the government forces.
In August, the Kiev forces suffered a catastrophic defeat, with their trapped units surrendering en masse to the rebels or even escaping across the border to Russia. By early September it looked like the rebels might take Mariupol. The advance was halted by the September 5 ceasefire signed in Minsk. An adviser to President Poroshenko has since stated that Kiev ought to follow the example of Croatia in 1995, and storm the rebel republics once it had enough American political and military support.
Officially, the Minsk ceasefire has been holding. Both Kiev and the rebels have held parliamentary elections earlier this month; as usual, the West praised the former and condemned the latter. But the war continues: over 300 people had died since the ceasefire went into effect, according to a UN report from early October. The same report cites the fighting had claimed “at least 3,660” lives, while 8,756 people had been injured and 375,000 displaced. Some 40,000 businesses were forced to shut down. These estimates are almost certainly too low.
Recently released official figures put Ukraine’s GDP as down by 7-8% in 2014. However, considering that most of the country’s industrial and mining output was in the now-disputed regions in the east, Kiev has literally destroyed its revenue stream. Ukraine has unpaid gas bills, mounting loans, and almost no gold left (as recently admitted by the Central Bank Governor Valeriya Gontareva) – credible reports indicate all of Kiev’s gold was taken to the US shortly after the February coup.
And what of the fabled EU agreement that supposedly started it all? The junta government signed the political part of it in March, while Poroshenko signed the economic portion in June – but the whole thing has been put on ice till December 2015. Far from the promised phantom prosperity, it always stood to cause “a great deal of pain and disruption” (a BBC description). Ukraine wasn’t able to handle it a year ago, before its society, economy and politics were destroyed by the coup and the civil war.
Leaders of the Maidan protests and their Western backers wanted a united Ukraine dominated by the anti-Russian ideology of Stepan Bandera and his heirs. Instead, they got a smoldering wreck, terrorized by Nazi militias, oligarchs and their private armies, and a government in Kiev entirely out of touch with reality.
All “color revolutions,” from Serbia to the so-called “Arab Spring” and now the Maidan, have only created a wasteland and called it democracy. Whether they knew it or not, that’s what the Maidan supporters were “jumping” for.
Nebojsa Malic for RT
Nebojsa Malic is a foreign policy analyst and blogger, working in Washington, DC. A columnist for Antiwar.com and Strategic Culture Foundation, he occasionally appears on RT.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.