Charlie Wilson's War
This week I watched Charlie Wilson's War a second and third time on Netflix. Now I have to read the book: George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. The real-life story upon which the book and movie are based is that in the 1980s a Texas congressman, an evangelical Texas socialite, a group of CIA agents, the President of Pakistan and some Saudi financiers got together and funneled a billion-dollars worth of advanced weapons to the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The purpose of the operation according to the gleeful declarations of the CIA operatives in the film was "to kill Russians . . . to kill lots and lots of Russians." The irony, which most people are aware of today, is that those same weapons would eventually be used to kill Americans and their western allies in a war that lasted from October, 2001, until the Taliban declared victory over the USA in August, 2021.
Following the money . . .
Charlie Wilson's War seems oddly relevant today. The US is sending Ukraine 40 billion dollars in military and humanitarian aid, in addition to weapons being sent under the new Lend-Lease Act. Ironically, the original Lend-Lease Act was established during World War II to send military hardware to Russia. Although the aid packages are always presented as gestures of compassion toward Ukrainian widows and orphans, it seems obvious that the end result will be a lot more people dying, and the biggest chunk of these monies will end up in the coffers of the eight major US weapons manufacturers.
According to Servant of the People, Ukraine is so corrupt it's funny
Ukraine is frequently portrayed as a corrupt nation. Operation Odessa, the documentary about a Colombian drug cartel's attempt to buy a nuclear submarine, was truly gobsmack-worthy. In the Ukrainian comedy series Servant of the People, staring Volodymyr Zelensky, the underlying premise is endemic Ukrainian corruption. Even testimony before the US congress, though it was focused on whether or not President Trump should be impeached for his attempts to get the dirt on Hunter Biden's business in Ukraine, showed an underlying assumption that corruption in Ukraine was rampant. No doubt when the people of Ukraine elected Volodymyr Zelensky and his Servant of the People Party, in 2019, they thought he would take on corruption the same way he did as the fictional President of Ukraine in the TV comedy.
Russia's "unprovoked" invasion
Although we are bombarded with coverage of the war in Ukraine these days, the country's cloak-and-dagger history makes it difficult to grasp where we are right now and how we got here. Western legacy, mainstream media wants me to believe that Vladimir Putin, "unprovoked," decided to invade Ukraine because he's a nasty, immoral gangster, because he's an egomaniac and megalomaniac, because it might add to his personal wealth and prestige, because he wants the Soviet Union back. All these claims might be true but they don't add up to an explanation for the war at this point in history unless we add that Putin is irrational and insane, at which point the narrative really begins to lose credibility.
Russian Seizure of Crimea in February, 2014
Timelines explaining the war in Ukraine often begin in 2014. In 2014 Russian forces seized Crimea which was, at the time, part of Ukraine. According to the most recent census, 67.9% of Crimean residents consider themselves Russian. After the Russian invasion of Crimea, the USA and other Western governments began imposing sanctions on Russia. Why did Russia invade Crimea in 2014?
The "Maidan Uprising" and overthrow of Victor Yanucovich in January, 2014
In Ukraine, 2014 was the year of the "Maidan Uprising," also known as Euromaidan and the Revolution of Dignity, and the presumed cause of the timing of Russia's seizure of Crimea. Numerous sources I have encountered claim that the "Maidan Uprising" was a covert CIA operation. Why should I believe that this is true? And even if it is true, what difference does it make?
Does Anybody really believe the Ukrainian Revolution was a CIA coup?
Here is a short list of some of the people who claim that the "Maidan Uprising" was a CIA covert operation:
- Richard Black, retired colonel, U.S. Marines and U.S. Army JAG Corps and former Virginia State Senator, interviewed on the "Executive Intelligence Review" of the Schiller Institute
- Laurence Wilkerson, retired US army colonel and former Chief of Staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Jay Paul on The Analysis.news
- Eric Zeusse, "How and Why the US Government Perpetrated the 2014 Coup in Ukraine," in moderndiplomancy.eu
- On Quora, Kylee Smith, who describes herself as a "Social Science Major," has compiled a list of links and quotations in answer to the question: "Is there any credible evidence that Ukraine's 2014 revolution was a CIA coup?"
- Bryce Green. "What you should really know about Ukraine?" in Fair.
If it looks like a duck . . .
Part of the reason we might imagine that the 2014 Ukrainian revolution was a CIA op is because it looks like the CIA plots that we already know about: a riot bought and paid for by the CIA brought down Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in order to protect US oil interest, the overthrow of Allende in Chile to support US copper interests, the coup against Arbenz in Guatamala at the behest of the United Fruit company.
We know that one of the very first covert CIA operations was an attempt to infiltrate Ukraine in 1949, and the operation went horribly wrong. In 2004, the Orange Revolution, weeks of protests in Kyiv, led to the overturning of the presidential election won by Viktor Yanucovych and bringing to power his rival the the US-preferred, pro-European candidate, Viktor Yushchenco. In the presidential elections of 2010, Yushchenco, who, according to Western reports was the choice of the people of Ukraine, finished a distant third with 5.45% of the vote. And once again, Viktor Yanucovych won the presidential run-off vote. In 2014, for the second time in ten years, Yanucovych won the presidential election but lost the presidency because of demonstrations and riots in the streets of Kyiv.
Why Overthrow Viktor Yanukovych?
Why would the CIA want to overthrow Viktor Yanukovych, the democratically-elected President of Ukraine? The Western narrative is that Yanukovych was pro-Russian and corrupt. Neither claim is particularly accurate or meaningful. As reported on BBC, Radio Free Europe and the Kyiv Post, and compiled on Wikipedia:
Yanukovych said, "Ukraine's integration with the EU remains our strategic aim", with a "balanced policy, which will protect our national interests both on our eastern border – I mean with Russia – and of course with the European Union". According to Yanukovych, Ukraine must be a "Neutral state" which should be part of a "collective defence system which the European Union, NATO and Russia will take part in." Yanukovych wants Ukraine to "neither join NATO nor the CSTO".
Yanukovych's ambition was for Ukraine to be part of an EU trading block centered in Brussels and a Eurasian trading block run from Moscow at the same time. The world today continues to work according to a Cold War logic: either you are with the USA and its allies and alliances, ideologically, politically, militarily and economically, or you must be dealt with. Playing at neutrality, being a bridge, enjoying the best of both worlds, global collaboration and trade deals risk running counter to American interests and are simply not viable options.
Why did President Yanukovych break off negotiations with the EU?
The Western narrative is that Yanukovych was a Russian puppet and Vladimir Putin was pulling his strings. The metaphor is nicely succinct but not very informative. The beginning of the end for Yanucovych was when he broke off negotiations for a European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement. Reports of the negotiations from 2013 (before everything exploded in 2014) tend to offer more information. See, for example, the report from Reuters: "EU Talking to IMF, World Bank and Others about Ukraine Assistance." The gist of the situation was that Ukraine was facing bankruptcy, unable to make its loan payments to the IMF and the World Bank, among others. In order to join the EU, meeting EU standards and regulations, and to avoid defaulting on its loans, the Ukraine would need, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Avarov, a bailout of "20 billion euros." When the offer of financial support was not forthcoming from the EU, Russia offered Ukraine a 15-billion-euro bailout, and Yanukovych broke off negotiations with the EU in order to accept the Russian offer.
The "Maidan Uprising" begins 21 November 2013
When the breakdown of Ukraine's negotiations with the EU was made public, protests began in Maidan Square, they turned bloody, people were killed and, within months, Yanucovich was overthrown. After a number of threats and attempts on his life, Yanucovich fled Ukraine 21 February 2014, and Petro Poroshenco, the billionaire pro-EU, anti-communist became the new President, winning a snap election 25 May 2014. Poroshenco signed the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement 27 June 2014. Without the requested financial bailout, and with the Russian seizure of Crimea, and escalation of the civil war in the Donbas region, the Ukranian economy went into sharp decline and in the presidential elections of 2019, Poroshenco was defeated by Voldymyr Zelensky. In 2021, Poroschenco fled Ukraine after being accused of "high treason" and financing terrorists for buying coal from separatist regions of Ukraine. Russia launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine 24 February 2022.
Zelensky's First years in office
Zelensky was elected in 2019 in opposition to Petro Poroshenko, the pro-European, militarist, anti-communist incumbent. Zelensky came to power as a peace maker, promising to negotiate with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region. According to a Wilson Center online article:
Zelensky’s mandate allowed him to promote a peace settlement that would see Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed insurgents withdraw from the so-called “contact line” in eastern Ukraine. Zelensky’s opponents characterized the move as a capitulation that would do nothing but legitimize Russian aggression in the Donets Basin and Crimea, but he retained widespread support from a war-weary public.
Additionally, Zelensky's anti-corruption agenda
progressed well over his first year in office but
[. . . .] by March 2020 everything changed. Zelensky appointed as his new chief of staff Andriy Yermak, a person rumored to have business connections to Russia. Zelensky sacked his cabinet of ministers, and Denys Shmyhal, a former governor who had ties to oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, became the new prime minister. The Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament] also voted to remove prosecutor general Ruslan Ryaboshapka, a decision that concerned the West. In selecting his new cabinet, Zelensky appointed numerous figures who had ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk. Zelensky, it seemed, was surrounding himself with Ukraine’s old faces.
Why Invade when Zelensky was President?
Why did Russia launch a full-scale invasion in 2022 when Zelensky was President--a politician who, in contrast to Poroshenco, had come to power promising to negotiate with Russia to end the civil war in Eastern Ukraine and was surrounding himself with pro-Russian ministers? The hawkish theory is that Putin took Zelensky's willingness to negotiate as a sign of weakness. Additionally, the FSB (the Russian secret service) paid careful attention to polling in Ukraine and calculated that not only was Zelensky's approval rating dropping but Ukrainians were fed up with the civil war that had been going on for more than eight years and would be ready to accept an invasion and Russian hegemony if it meant peace.
A countervailing theory is that Zelensky really wasn't in control of the country. There were too many disparate elements working to control Ukraine: Europhiles, nationalists, NATO, oligarchs, Neo-nazi militias, and especially the USA through the CIA and NGOs likeTechCamp and the NED (the public face of the CIA). After 2014, the operation was no longer covert. The USA was providing a massive build-up of weaponry, military technology and training to Ukraine. The military build-up only made the headlines in the USA as an aside in the impeachment hearings against Donald Trump. Presumably, with Joe Biden, an old-time cold warrior whose son was heavily invested in Ukraine, taking office, the Russians felt compelled to move sooner rather than later to re-establish their hegemony over Ukraine.
What is a "CIA covert operation"?
In considering the question of the CIA involvement in the "Maidan uprising," it is useful to consider what a "covert CIA operation" is. How would we know one if we saw one? What should we be looking for as evidence? Yes, lots of people claim to know it was a CIA coup and share their opinions. Yes, from a distance, the prima facia evidence is that what happened looks like a CIA operation. But for the more skeptical among us, what empirical evidence is there? Okay, if it was a "covert" operation, we can't expect to see video of somebody with CIA printed on his flak jacket machine-gunning the Ukrainian parliament. And even if such a video existed, we would rightly assume it was Russian misinformation and propaganda. We need to keep in mind what is known about how the CIA goes about a covert operation in the overthrow of a regime. A recent article, entitled "The (Literally) Unbelievable Story of the Original Fake News Network," offers extensive, detailed historical research on how "a cocky American actor and two radio DJs" hired by the CIA were able to launch a revolution and oust the President of Guatemala. As the article points out:
[ . . .] the CIA didn’t just use media manipulation to turn a country upside down and install the president that the U.S. wanted. The agency wrote a six-stage, step-by-step playbook for exactly how to do it.
The agency playbook is written in allusive bureaucratize, so here is my bowdlerized, boiled-down interpretation:
Identify and confirm replacement leadership for the regime to be overthrown (e.g. the Shah in Iran, Pinochet in Chile, Castillo Armas in Guatemala)
Establish a narrative to justify the coup, spinning events to conform to the narrative.
Identify, manage, encourage or create a civil conflict.
Use resources on the ground to manipulate the media, creating panic and/or opposition within the general public.
Arrange mass demonstrations and riots as needed.
Bolster, support, finance, train and motivate opposition forces, infiltrating if necessary, to determine that they will take action when needed.
The CIA playbook in Ukraine
1. Identify replacement leadership. In the leaked telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland, assistant Secretary of State, and Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to the Ukraine, 4 February 2014 (17 days before Yanucovych was overthrown in the bloody coup), we can hear the Americans consulting on the make-up of the next Ukrainian government. We hear them considering that Vitali Klitschko (leader of the party named after Petro Poroschenco--who became president after the coup) as a problem for the position of deputy Prime Minister. Nuland says that "Klitch should not go into the government." He became Mayor of Kyiv after the coup. Nuland and Pyatt agree that Arseniy Yatsenyuk will run the new government, with conditions that have been explained to him. Yatsenyuk became Prime Minister of Ukraine after the uprising but was forced to resign by President Poroschenco two years later. Pyatt comments that "the problem is going to be Tyahnybok and his guys." Oleh Tyahnybok was a leader of the Social-National Party of Ukraine which would later become Svoboda. Interpretations of his speeches and politics label him a Neo-Nazi. Nuland's position, in the call, is that Yatsenyuk "needs Klitch and Tyahnybok [the extreme right-wing nationalists] on the outside." "He [Yatsenyuk, the new leader of Ukraine] needs to be talking to them four times a week." Why? Will the new government leader be giving instructions to right-wing nationalists outside of government, or will he be receiving orders from them? Step one of the CIA playbook seems confirmed: US representatives have decided what the leadership and power structure in Ukraine will be after the coup.
Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt with Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk
2. Establish a narrative. As we have seen, the narrative was that Yanucovych was a corrupt Russian puppet leading his people away from the promised prosperity of EU membership. The right-wing, ultra-ethnic-nationalist party, Svoboda (All-Ukrainian Union "Freedom" Party) was given credibility and even managed to gain 10% of the vote in the parliamentary elections in 2012. (After 2014 Svoboda virtually disappeared from the political landscape.) As we have seen in the Nuland-Pyatt phone conversation, the plan was to keep Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of Svaboda, out of government but for him to play a role as the power behind the throne to be occupied by Arseniy Yatsenyuk. At the same time, the narrative would be spread that EU and NATO membership, at any cost, were the true desire of the unified Ukrainian people (ignoring the fact that about a third of the population was Russian-speaking and likely pro-Russian). Yanucovych's neutralist discourse would go largely unreported. We will never know if Yanucovych intended to go back to negotiations with the EU after accepting the Russian bailout. On 24 January 2019, he was sentenced in absentia to thirteen years' imprisonment for high treason by a Ukrainian court.--and remains in exile in Russia.
Victoria Nuland with Oleh Tyahnybok, Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk
3. Identify and manage a civil conflict. Ukraine was the bloodiest battleground between Nazis and Communist in World War II. Some Ukrainians saw the Nazis as their saviors from the Soviet Communists. Some Ukrainians, especially Jews (more Jews were killed in Ukraine during the Holocaust that anywhere else in Europe), viewed the Communists as their saviors from the Nazis. The underlying, historical conflict has never completely disappeared. As reported by the New York Times, Ukraine is divided between its pro-EU west and pro-Russian east. Ukraine remains home to diehard Communists and avowed Neo-Nazis. They may be marginal extremes in the population but they represent a conflict that is easy for the CIA to exploit covertly and the USA to exploit publicly.
The BBC, Vice and Insider have done a number of reports on Neo-Nazis in Ukraine. When interviewed, participants often repudiate the label "Neo-Nazis" and describe themselves as "nationalists."
Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine: NEWSNIGHT
The far-right group threatening to overthrow Ukraine's government - Newsnight
Out of Control: Ukraine's Rogue Militias
Inside a Ukrainian nationalist camp where kids are trained to kill Russian invaders
4. Resources on the ground to manipulate the media. In a speech before the Ukrainian parliament in November, 2013, Deputy Oleg Tsarov claimed to have "proof of USA staging civil war in Ukraine." Tsarov was elected to the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, representing regions of Eastern Ukraine, on three separate occasions. He has been wanted by Ukrainian police since June 2014 for promoting separatism and violence. As you can see/hear in the Youtube video, Tsarov claims that the US embassy in Kyiv was using "TechCamp" in the support and preparation of a civil war in Ukraine. As recorded, he goes on to say . . .
American instructors explained how social networks and Internet technologies can be used for targeted manipulation of public opinion as well as to activate protest potential to provoke violent unrest on the territory of Ukraine, radicalization of the population and triggering of infighting.
TechCamp Ukraine (and others) is organized by the US Department of State and publicly promoted as supplying American technical expertise to Ukrainians (and other Eastern Europeans).
5. Arrange mass demonstrations. The irrefutable evidence that the anti-government forces were well trained and tech savvy was the speed and efficiency with which the Maidan Square demonstrations were organized. The breakdown of negotiations with the EU was announced 21 November 2013. By all accounts, the protest demonstrations with thousands of people gathering in the Maidan Square began the very same day. The BBC and others reported and videoed the demonstrations. (The man leading the crowd in the singing of the national anthem in this video is Vitali Klitschko, the right-wing nationalist who Victoria Nuland said should not be in the government but would remain a power broker. In the conversation, February 4, Pyatt tells Nuland, "He [Klitschko] is the next phone call you want to set up.") Lots of average Ukrainians were there to protest against the government and its policies, to support their preferred political party (there are 349 political parties in Ukraine), and to demand EU membership. Some were there to protest the protestors, but the uprising was clearly salted with right-wing militias (young men with faces covered who refused to identify themselves or their party or politics).
6. Motivate opposition forces to take action. One hundred and thirty people died, directly and indirectly, in the Maidan Uprising, including 18 police officers. BBC video includes footage of the shooting, an interview with Andriy Shevchenko, one of the organizers of the protests who is today Ukraine's Ambassador to Canada, and an interview with one of the protestors who confesses to shooting at police. While there is no doubt that police shot and killed protestors, protestors also shot and killed police. Protest organizers claim that the shooters were Russians trying to stir up the civil war in the east, and Russians claim the shooting was backed by the CIA, for, more or less, the same reason.
Is Ihor Lutsenko the "smoking gun"?
Who is Ihor Lutsenko? The very first name on the List of people killed during the Revolution of Dignity is Yuriy Verbytskyi and the explanation of his death is that he and his friend, Ihor Lutsenko, were kidnapped from a hospital, taken to the country side, questioned and tortured. Yuriy died, but Ihor survived. Ihor Lutsenko is, therefore, one of a small number of people who might give us some access to the most covert elements of the "Maidan Uprising." On Wikipedia he is described as a Maidan organizer, journalist and politician, who lost his seat in 2019, and is now "an adviser of the Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko" (that is, Victoria Nuland's power broker who figured so prominently in videos of the demonstration).
Continuing to search the name "Ihor Lutsenko," I came to this website: "C14 - Radical right-wing group with youth camps, paramilitary unit and history of violence" which lists Ihor Lutsenko as a "related" individual who collaborates with C14. (C14 and the "Right Sector" are featured in multiple BBC videos.) The website in question is called "Reporting Radicalism" and is partnered with Freedom House in Washington.
I could find only one article in English with the details of Ihor's and Yuriy's kidnapping and torture: "Abducted And Left To Die: Euromaidan Supporter Found Dead In Forest" in a blog published by Radio Free Europe. According to the article:
He [Ihor Lutsenko] told Ukraine's Hromadske TV: "This was definitely done in police style. These people effectively interrogated us. They repeatedly asked me, for instance, how Euromaidan was operated and who financed it."
"On the other hand, I don't think that [President Viktor] Yanukovych and those on his side lack this information, they can clearly obtain it from different sources."
Who would have reason to kidnap Ihor from the hospital when he went to accompany his friend who had been injured in a fight in Maidan Square? Who would dress and act like police, know how to effectively interrogate prisoners, yet ask questions that the police and the government would already know the answers to? If not the Right Sector and not the government, who then? If there was any hint that his abductors were Russian, wouldn't Ihor, the right-wing, anti-communist be quick to say so? Who would be motivated to kidnap two protestors, who had left the fighting to nurse their wounds, beat them up for a day while pretending to be police then release them to go back to the fighting at Maidan the next day, more motivated than ever to revenge themselves on the government and the police? According to the autopsy report, Ihor's friend, Yuriy, died of hypothermia. His death may well have been unintended.
What Difference does it make?
I've done a lot more work than usual preparing this post. If you have read this far, you have done a lot of work too. It shouldn't be this much work to get a clear picture of what happened eight years ago and brought us to the war and global turmoil we are facing today. Did the CIA imitate police, kidnap and torture Ihor Lutsenko and send him back to Maidan, motivated for bloodshed? Who knows? As I have researched the hypothesis, the greatest argument against the "Maidan Uprising" being a "covert CIA operation" is that there was so little effort to hide US intentions. The internet is littered with images of Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt at the Maidan demonstrations. Forbes reported that CIA Director John Brennan visited Ukraine in April, 2014. Does anyone care if the CIA was carrying out operations a few months earlier in 2013?
Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt at the Maidan demonstrations
The Tail wagging the dog
The discouraging realization for me is that the tail can still so easily wag the dog: a few minor, marginal characters--people whose politics and morality we would immediately repudiate if given the chance to know who and what they are--could snowball the chaos and catastrophe of Ukraine into a global cataclysm.
"Good against Evil": What more do we need to know?
In Charlie Wilson's War, the key to arming the mujahideen, was the approval of "useful idiot," Congressman Clarence "Doc" Long, Chairman of the subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the House Appropriations Committee. To convince him to sign off on the budget appropriation of weapons, Charlie Wilson, Joanne King Herring and the President Zia-ul-Haq, took him to visit an Afghan refugee camp in the north of Pakistan. There, Congressman Long's messiah complex took over and he gave a speech promising the requested weapons because, in his words, the Afghan war with Russia was "a battle of good against evil."
Today we know that US policy is to promote a lengthy war in Ukraine, to weaken Russia in a proxy war of attrition . . . "to fight to the last Ukrainian"--a rehearsal for the proxy war to come in Taiwan. No matter how obvious the chaos of competing interests, the Machiavellic games being played, the message remains the same: "it's a battle of good against evil." Our leaders and the dominant voices in our media have assured us that we are on the side of good. What more do we need to know?
Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat on the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, said in an interview that the relationships Ukrainian commandos developed with American and other counterparts over the past several years had proved invaluable in the fight against Russia.
While the U.S. government does not acknowledge that the C.I.A. is operating in Ukraine or any other country, the presence of the officers is well understood by Russia and other intelligence services around the world.