Monday 5 September 2022

Who Do You Believe?

Who Do you believe? 

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of Tim Marshall's fascinating book, Prisoners of Geography:  Ten Maps that Explain Everything about the World. (Thanks Tom!)  In Prisoners of Geography, Marshall claims that "The Germans were involved in the machinations that overthrew Ukraine's President Yanukovych in 2014 [. . .] (102).  Out of curiosity, I googled "Germany involvement Ukraine overthrow."  Two websites came up as most relevant--World Socialist Web Site and Vox Ukraine--neither of which answered my question but they gave rise to another question:  Who do you believe?

What We say is information; what they say is disinformation

The article entitled "The 2014 coup in Ukraine" on the World Socialist Web Site begins:

The background and implications of the 2014 far-right coup in Kiev, which overthrew the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, is critical for understanding the current Ukraine-Russia war. This coup was openly supported by US and European imperialism and implemented primarily by far-right shock troops such as the Right Sector and the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party.

It represented the temporary culmination of long-standing efforts by US imperialism to install a puppet regime on the borders of Russia and brought the world a major step closer to a war between the largest nuclear powers, the US and Russia. Ukraine has since been systematically built up as a launching pad for a NATO war against Russia.

The second most relevant URL was a Vox Ukraine article entitled "The Maidan in 2014 is a coup d’etat: a review of Italian and German pro-Russian media."  The article is presented as "fact checking" and offers examples of "fake news" and "the truth" which contradicts this "fake news."

Fake: The Maidan in 2014 is a coup d’etat

Since 2014, the German publication RT.DE has mentioned Maidan in numerous publications as a place where a coup d’etat took place in Ukraine. A number of Italian media outlets, including and Glindifferenti, share this view.  [. . . .]

What is the truth?

Allegations of an alleged coup d’etat in the downtown of Kyiv are typical rhetoric of the Kremlin, which thus justifies its own aggression. Putin himself mentions it again and again [. . . .]

The Revolution of dignity [aka Maidan Uprising] has absolutely no signs of a coup d’etat .

 So, Who do you believe?

I have reviewed a number of articles, essays and polls in my modest search for my own modest version of the truth--what is coherent, based on the known and/or agreed-upon facts, and follows logically.  The challenge is to separate fact from opinion and, more importantly, fact from spin.

The Agreed-upon facts

Despite the semantic debate, hyperbole, the divergent characterization of the various agents, the word choices and loaded vocabulary, and the inclusion or exclusion of particular details, a number of agreed-upon facts do emerge:

  1. The President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in 2014. 
  2. Over one hundred people were killed in the process of overthrowing Yanukovych.   
  3. The USA supported the overthrow of Yanukovych. 
  4. The demonstrations, protests and eventual overthrow occurred when Yanukovych withdrew from a trade agreement with the EU. 
  5. What happened in 2014 and how it is interpreted matter:  they affect how we understand the war in Ukraine today.

Interpretations and Spin of the agreed-upon facts 

I can immediately imagine individuals disputing these "facts," suggesting alternative "facts," or dismissing these five facts as irrelevant.  However, based on my reading, these five facts are agreed-upon, self-evident, and unchallenged by both sides of the debate.  I highlight both sides to immediately point out that I am not talking about a Russian side or a Ukrainian side or a US side or a NATO or European or Communist or Democratic side.  There is a divergence of opinion in each of these cohorts and I immediately dismiss claims that "this is what all Ukrainians think" or "this is what all Russians think" or "this is what all Americans think."  The "sides" in this case are those that claim a coup in 2014 and those that deny a coup in 2014.  I have written on this blog that the evidence of a coup seems strong, even obvious and overt.  The fact that I now see significant effort to deny that the Maidan Uprising was "a coup" tells me that the question of a coup is an important one.   

1. The President of Ukraine was overthrown. Deniers of a coup will add that Yanukovych was a powerful oligarch, corrupt, a Russian puppet and showing signs of becoming a dictator.  What deniers leave unsaid is that Yanukovych was democratically elected.  Yanukovych's election was overseen by "Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [who] said there were no indications of serious fraud and described the vote as an 'impressive display' of democracy."

2. People died in the overthrow.  According to the National Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred Heroes' description of the "Revolution of Dignity," the Maidan began with 1500 protestors, mostly students, but grew to hundreds of thousands in response to Ukrainian security forces' beating some of the students. The National Memorial reports that 

On the 61st day of Maidan, at the place of protests, the first two activists were shot. As at that moment, there were already two dead outside the places of confrontation. It was around a month when the power structure tried to clean up the city centre from protesters.

Only in the night of 22 February 2014, President Yanukovich escaped to Russia by using a charter jet. The amount of 108 victims of the Revolution of Dignity was officially determined. Most of the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred died from fire wounds on 20 February 2014.

According to Wikipedia's "List of people killed during the Revolution of Dignity," there were 130 victims.  The Wikipedia list includes 18 police officers.  BBC news video reports show protestors being fired upon and police being fired upon by protestors.

3. USA supported the overthrow.  Over the last eight years, the USA's support for post-2014 Ukraine has been displayed in increasingly bold and frequent headlines.  We know that under both presidents Biden and Trump the USA has sent tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. We know that within weeks of the February 2014 overthrow, the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, was in Ukraine.  Two months after the overthrow, Vice-President Joe Biden was in Ukraine to give a press conference with the American choice to lead the government, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and to promise Ukrainians on behalf of the USA, "we’re in the struggle for your very future." We know that individuals from both the US government and the CIA have praised CIA collaboration in Ukraine.  But what about in February 2014 and earlier?  We know about the infamous Nuland/Pyatt telephone conversation planning the post-overthrow government and power structure before the overthrow happened.  And, of course, we know that Nuland and Pyatt made themselves available for various photo-ops with the Maidan demonstrators and the eventual over-throwers.  We also know of complaints in the Ukrainian parliament in 2013 about TechCamps being run in the US embassy in Kyiv to promote civil unrest.  In this context, what truly surprises me is that in the various denials of a coup I have read there is no mention of the USA or American involvement.

4. Uprising began when the President withdrew from a trade agreement with the EU. Withdrawal from a trade agreement seems an insufficient cause for the chaos and bloodshed which followed.  Clearly the failed negotiations of the trade agreement provided a context for the uprising but what were the underlying reasons?  One side argues that in addition to being friendly with Moscow, Yanukovych was making moves toward dictatorship enforced by his security apparatus.  The other claims that the uprising was a power grab spearheaded by ultra-nationalist Neo-Nazis.  Neither of these claims is a sufficient explanation for the sudden large-scale uprising. Both sides blame the other for the escalation in violence and bloodshed.  Both sides were prepared to use deadly force and eventually did.  

As a Canadian, I try to imagine a similar situation here, and there are some parallels between Canada and Ukraine.  Like Ukraine, Canada is often geopolitically divided between east and west.  More specifically the independence movements in the Donbas and Crimea are at least superficially similar to Quebec's aspirations for greater autonomy and even sovereignty.  In Canada, we have come to accept that in order for a Prime Minister and his party to be elected, they must have support in French-speaking Quebec.  As reported in the New York Times, President Yanukovych and his Regions Party depended on strong support from Ukraine's eastern provinces in order to be elected.  As in Canada, language tensions are a constant feature of Ukrainian politics.  28% of Ukrainians speak Russian, most living in the eastern regions; 22% of Canadians speak French, most living in Quebec.  The difference I see is there has, historically, been a strong movement to make Ukrainian the national language to the detriment of Russian and other minority languages.  Western Canadians may not always like it but, for the most part, have come to accept the French language and asymmetrical power-sharing with Quebec as facts of life in Canada.

Am I suggesting that the Maidan Uprising can be understood as a language issue?  Absolutely not.  I am suggesting a myriad of causes--no single one being sufficient-- which coalesced around the EU trade negotiations with the catalyst of US support and encouragement.

5. What Happened in 2014 matters

– unconstitutionality;
- violent character;
– a small number of organizers and participants;
- seizure of power as the main goal.

5.1 Unconstitutionality. At face value, the events of the Maidan Uprising satisfy each of these criteria.  However, the article argues that the overthrow of the democratically elected President was constitutional on the grounds that "the only source of power in Ukraine is the people."  The argument echoes Vice President Joe Biden's speech of 22 April 2014, "that all Ukrainians can agree on the core idea that government exists to serve the people.  The people do not exist to serve the government." It is, of course, a slippery claim that "the people" have the constitutional right to overthrow the elected government, especially for President Joe Biden, as he now presents the counter argument in the context of the January 6 attempts to overthrow the election results in the US.

5.2 Violent character. In denying the violent character of events, the National Memorial claims that 

The violent actions of the authorities forced the protesters to use means of self-defense, mostly homemade shields, helmets, batons, and "Molotov cocktails." Therefore, the use of self-defense by protesters was forced, provoked by the criminal actions of those in power [ . . .].

However in a paper entitled "The 'Snipers' Massacre' on the Maidan in Ukraine" presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in 2015,  Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa concludes

[ . . .] that the massacre was a false flag operation, which was rationally planned and carried out with a goal of the overthrow of the government and seizure of power. [The study] found various evidence of the involvement of an alliance of the far right organizations, specifically the Right Sector and Svoboda, and oligarchic parties, such as Fatherland. Concealed shooters and spotters were located in at least 20 Maidan-controlled buildings or areas. The various evidence that the protesters were killed from these locations include some 70 testimonies, primarily by Maidan protesters, several videos of “snipers” targeting protesters from these buildings, comparisons of positions of the specific protesters at the time of their killing and their entry wounds, and bullet impact signs.

In the detailed evidence and analysis of his 80-page report, Katchanovski makes a brief reference to the fact Globe and Mail reporter Paul Waldie was in the Hotel Ukraine, a stronghold of the Maidan protestors, during the massacre, and witnessed protestors carrying guns which were used to kill police and, according to Katchanovski, their fellow protestors in order to discredit the government.  In his report for the Globe and Mail, "Globe in Kiev: Yanukovych regime’s hold is shaken after a deadly day," Waldie recounts that

Some protesters had guns as well and at least one could be seen taking aim at officers. A group of protesters, some carrying guns, also rushed into the hotel in the morning to get a better vantage point to attack police across the street. At least 37 people died, with some reports putting the figure as high as 70. Several hundred were also wounded.

In the body of his study, Katchanovski claims that Maidan protestors were the first to use deadly force, i.e. "live ammunition": "analyses of various sources of evidence indicate that the cease-fire agreement was broken by the Maidan side in the early morning, when small groups of armed protesters started to shoot from the Music Conservatory building with live ammunition [. . . ]." 

5.3 A small number of organizers and participants. For deniers of a coup, the "Revolution of Dignity" (aka Maidan Uprising) was the will of the great majority of the Ukrainian people.  For example, both Vox Ukraine and the National Memorial claim that over 8.5 million Ukrainians, 20% of the population, took part in protests against the government during the Revolution of Dignity.  The evidence for these numbers is a poll carried out in Ukraine in October 2014.

According to a sociological poll conducted in October 2014 by the Ilko Kucheriv Foundation for Democratic Initiatives, about 20% of Ukraine’s population, more than 8.5 million people, took part in peaceful rallies. The poll showed that most citizens perceived participating in the protests as a conscious struggle for their rights.

However, the poll being referred to  did not claim "8.5 million people took part in peaceful rallies" nor did it show "that most citizens perceived participating in the protests as a conscious struggle for their rights." According to the poll data,11% of the 2,025 respondents (i.e., 223 people) claimed to have "participated in Euromaidan events" and 9% "helped the protestors" in some way. Given the context of the survey within celebrations of the Revolution of Dignity, it is perhaps more striking that 81.6% of interviewees responded "I did not participate."

Contrary to the claim that "The poll showed that most citizens perceived participating in the protests as a conscious struggle for their rights," the poll actually showed that 37.9% shared this perception and the great majority of them were from Western Ukraine; i.e., 70.5%.  According to the poll (being cited by coup deniers), 31.2% of respondents perceived the Euromaidan/Revolution of Dignity/Maidan Uprising to be a "coup d'état."

What, in your opinion, was Euromaidan? Regional differences







Ukraine in general

A coup d'état carried out with the support of the West







A coup d'état to be prepared by the political opposition







Spontaneous protest of the population







Conscious struggle of citizens united to protect their rights















5.4 Seizure of power as main goal.  In denying a coup, the National Memorial claims that the goal of the Maidan Uprising was not "seizure of power" but "the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU."  The claim is followed by a list of idealistic ambitions almost none of which were achieved following Maidan.  The "seizure of power" may not have been the intended goal in everyone's mind, but we know with certainty that the major figures behind the Maidan did come to power in the aftermath:  most notably, Petro Poroshenko became President, Arseniy Yatsenyu became Prime Minister, and Vitali Klitschko became Mayor of Kyiv.

And, of course, what is left out of denials of a coup is the role of western governments.  As outlined in the Globe and Mail, 20 February 2014--"Canada imposes new sanctions on senior Ukrainian officials"--Canada, the USA and the EU had shown their strong support for the Maidan Uprising in advance of the overthrow of the Viktor Yanukovych government.  Whatever your opinion of Maidan as a coup or not, we can agree that understanding the war means understanding Maidan.

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