How anti-Putin war hysteria is kept alive by concealing the harsh facts about Ukraine – and by active collusion with Ukraine’s neo-nazis
By Stephen F. Cohen, May 2, 2018
First published on The Nation
Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussion of the new U.S.-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fifth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen begins: The orthodox American political-media narrative blames “Putin’s Russia” alone for the new U.S.-Russian Cold War. Maintaining this (at most) partial truth involves various mainstream media malpractices, among them lack of historical context; reporting based on unverified “facts” and selective sources; editorial bias; and the excluding, even slurring, of proponents of alternative explanatory narratives as “Kremlin apologists” and carriers of “Russian propaganda.” An extraordinary example appeared on May 1, when Jim Sciutto, CNN’s leading purveyor of Russiagate allegations, tweeted that “Jill Stein is … repeating Russian talking points on its interference in the 2016 election and on U.S. foreign policy.” To the extent that Sciutto represents CNN, as he does almost nightly on air, it is useful to know what this influential network actually thinks about a legitimate third party in American electoral democracy and its presidential candidate. And also about many well-informed Americans who have not supported Stein or her party but who strongly disagree with CNN’s orthodox positions on Russiagate and U.S. foreign policy. No less important, however, is the highly selective nature of the mainstream narrative of the new Cold War, what it chooses to feature and what it virtually omits. Among the omissions, few realities are more important than the role played by neo-fascist forces in U.S.-backed, Kiev-governed Ukraine since 2014. Not even many Americans who follow international news know the following, for example:
— That the snipers who killed scores of protestors and policemen on Kiev’s Maidan Square in February 2014, thereby triggering a “democratic revolution” that overthrew the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, and brought to power a virulent anti-Russian, pro-American regime — it was neither democratic nor a revolution, but a violent coup unfolding in the streets with high-level support — were sent not by Yanukovych, as is still widely reported, but instead almost certainly by the neo-fascist organization Right Sector and its co-conspirators.
— That the pogrom-like burning to death of ethnic Russians and others in Odessa shortly later in 2014 reawakened memories of Nazi extermination squads in Ukraine during World War II has been all but deleted from the American mainstream narrative even though it remains a painful and revelatory experience for many Ukrainians.
— That the Azov Battalion of some 3,000 well-armed fighters, which has played a major combat role in the Ukrainian civil war and now is an official component of Kiev’s armed forces, is avowedly “partially” pro-Nazi, as evidenced by its regalia, slogans, and programmatic statements, and well-documented as such by several international monitoring organizations. Congressional legislation recently banned Azov from receiving any U.S. military aid, but it is likely to obtain some of the new weapons recently sent to Kiev by the Trump Administration due to the country’s rampant network of corruption and black markets.
— That storm troop-like assaults on gays, Jews, elderly ethnic Russians, and other “impure” citizens are widespread throughout Kiev-ruled Ukraine, along with torchlight marches reminiscent of those that eventually inflamed Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s. And that the police and official legal authorities do virtually nothing to prevent these neo-fascist acts or to prosecute them. On the contrary, Kiev has officially encouraged them by systematically rehabilitating and even memorializing Ukrainian collaborators with Nazi German extermination pogroms and their leaders during World War II, renaming streets in their honor, building monuments to them, rewriting history to glorify them, and more.
— Or that Israel’s official annual report on anti-Semitism around the world in 2017 concluded that such incidents had doubled in Ukraine and the number “surpassed the tally for all the incidents reported throughout the entire region combined.” By the region, the report meant the total in all of Eastern Europe and all former territories of the Soviet Union.
Americans cannot be faulted for not knowing these facts. They are very rarely reported and still less debated in the mainstream media, whether in newspapers or on television. To learn about them, Americans would have to turn to alternative media and to their independent writers, which rarely affect mainstream accounts of the new Cold War. One such important American writer is Lev Golinkin. He is best known for his book ‘A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka,’ a deeply moving and highly instructive memoir of his life as a young boy brought to America by his immigrant parents from Eastern Ukraine, now the scene of tragic civil and proxy war. But Golinkin has also been an unrelenting and meticulous reporter of neo-fascism in “our” Ukraine and a defender of others who try to chronicle and oppose its growing crimes. (Many of us seeking reliable information often turn to him.)
The significance of neo-Nazism in Ukraine and the at least tacit official U.S support or tolerance for it should be clearly understood:
— This did not begin under President Trump but under President George W. Bush, when then Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s “Orange Revolution” began rehabilitating Ukraine’s wartime killers of Jews, and it grew under President Obama, who, along with Vice President Joseph Biden, were deeply complicit in the Maidan coup and what followed. Then too the American mainstream media scarcely noticed. Still worse, when a founder of a neo-Nazi party and now repackaged speaker of the Ukrainian parliament visited Washington in 2017, he was widely feted by leading American politicians, including Senator John McCain and Rep. Paul Ryan. Imagine the message this sent back to Ukraine — and elsewhere.
— Fascist or neo-Nazi revivalism is underway today in many countries, from Europe to the United States, but the Ukrainian version is of special importance and a particular danger. A large, growing, well-armed fascist movement has reappeared in a large European country that is the political epicenter of the new Cold War between the United States and Russia—indeed a movement that not so much denies the Holocaust as glorifies it. Could such forces come to power in Kiev? Its American minimizers say never because it has too little public support (though perhaps more than has Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko today). But the same was said of Lenin’s party and Hitler’s until Russia and Germany descended into chaos and lawlessness. And a recent Amnesty International article reports that Kiev is losing control over radical groups and the state’s monopoly on the use of force.
— For four years, the U.S. political-media establishment, including many prominent American Jews and their organizations, has at best ignored or tolerated Ukrainian neo-Nazism and at worst abetted it by unqualified support for Kiev. Typically, the New York Times may report at length on corruption in Ukraine, but not on the very frequent manifestations of neo-fascism. And when George Will laments the resurgence of anti-Semitism today, he cites the British Labor Party but not Ukraine. When Ukrainian fascism is occasionally acknowledged, a well-placed band of pro-Kiev zealots quickly asserts— maybe, but the real fascist is America’s number one enemy, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Whatever Putin’s failings, this allegation is either cynical or totally uninformed. Nothing in Putin’s statements over 18 years in power are akin to fascism, whose core belief is a cult of blood based on the alleged superiority of one ethnicity over all others. As head of a vast multi-ethnic state, such statements by Putin would be inconceivable and political suicide. There are, of course, neo-fascist activists in Russia, but many of them have been imprisoned. Nor is a mass fascist movement feasible in Russia where so many millions died in the war against Nazi Germany, a war that directly affected Putin and clearly left a formative mark on him. Though born after the war, his mother and father barely survived near-fatal wounds and disease, his older brother died in the long German siege of Leningrad, and several uncles perished. Still more, there is no anti-Semitism evident in Putin. Indeed, it is widely said, both in Russia and in Israel, that life for Russian Jews is better under Putin than it has ever been in that country’s long history.
— We are left, then, not with Putin’s responsibility for the resurgence of fascism in a major European country, but with America’s shame and possible indelible stain on its historical reputation for tolerating it even if only through silence.
At least until recently. On April 23, a courageous first-term congressman from California, Ro Khanna, organized a public letter to the State Department, co-signed by 56 other members of the House, calling on the U.S. government to speak out and take steps against the resurgence of official anti-Semitism and Holocaust denialism in both Ukraine and Poland. In the history of the new and more perilous Cold War, “Ro,” as he seems to be known to many in Washington, is a rare profile in courage, as are his co-signers. We will see what comes of their wise and moral act. In a righteous representative democracy, every member of Congress would sign the appeal and every leading newspaper lend editorial support. But not surprisingly, the mainstream media has yet even to report on Rep. Khanna’s certainly newsworthy initiative, though, also not surprisingly, he has been slurred — and promptly defended by the inestimable Lev Golinkin.
The previous 40-year experience taught that Cold War can corrupt even American democracy — politically, economically, morally. There are many examples of how the new edition has already degraded America’s media, politicians, even scholars. But the acid test today may be our elites’ reaction to neo-fascism in U.S.-supported Ukraine. Protesting it is not a Jewish issue, but an American one. Nonetheless, it is fitting to paraphrase again the Jewish philosopher Hillel: If not now, when? If not us, who?
Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University and a contributing editor of The Nation.