by Jeff Klein
First published in the Dorchester People for Peace Update, March 25, 2022
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second month, the peace movement in the US and much of the world continues to demand a ceasefire and negotiations for the withdrawal of Russian troops. Regardless of the events which led up to this war – which was not “unprovoked” as the US mainstream narrative maintains – we insist that armed intervention against sovereign nations is a crime, whether committed regularly by the US in many instances or by Russia in Ukraine.
But many of us are also rightly skeptical of the mainstream narrative of US support for plucky democratic Ukraine as the innocent victim of aggression. In fact, the fighting in Ukraine began not with the Russian invasion but in 2014 with a violent US-supported coup against an elected president (admittedly corrupt) who opposed Ukrainian integration with NATO and the EU. Ukrainians – primarily Russian speakers in the big cities of Eastern Ukraine and the Donbass region – refused to accept the coup and the post-coup Ukrainian governments. With Russian support large areas in the east of Ukraine effectively succeeded from the country and were faced with military attacks the had resulted in 14,000 deaths according to the UN, the vast majority among inhabitants of the breakaway republics. None of this is reported in our media.
Is the US defending democracy in Ukraine? If this were true we would have to forget the well-known record of the US since the end of the Second World War in overthrowing democratic governments (the list is long!), multiple illegal military interventions, and unconditional support for dictatorial regimes around the world. The list of US interventions is long, and if it is forgotten by most people in the US, the rest of the world is well aware of this. As Stephen Kinzer (author of the essential book Overthrow about US regime change interventions) tweeted: “If #Putin is a war criminal, he’s the kindergarten version compared to George W. Bush”
Despite lopsided votes in the UN to condemn the Russian invasion, countries representing a majority of the world’s population have refused to accept the one-sided US and NATO narrative and abstained from these votes: China, India, South Africa (and many other African countries), Mexico, Brazil, etc. who are aware of the history of Western colonialism and US interventions around the world which have never been effectively condemned in the UN.
Moreover, the US at home can be considered only partially democratic. Consider that the electoral college which installed Presidents who received fewer popular votes (Bush, Trump and almost in 2020); the huge influence of big money in our politics; the US Senate and Republican-led gerrymandering have led to effective minority rule and a mainstream media, which is virtually unanimous in promoting elite opinion. This is especially on foreign affairs, as shockingly illustrated in the unremitting one-sided establishment coverage of Ukraine and other foreign policy issues where there is usually bipartisan agreement.
Russia, which launched the invasion of Ukraine, is even less democratic. Though it seems that Putin was elected by a decisive majority and continues to enjoy the support of most Russians, opposition media and opposition activists are under increasing repression.
But is Ukraine a democracy? After a far-right President served in the first post-coup Ukrainian regime, in 2019 Vladimir Zelinsky (now invariably referred to as “Volodymyr Zelensky” in the current environment of mandatory Ukrainization) was elected by a decisive majority. He ran on a peace program of support for the Minsk accords and better relations with Russia. After his election Zelinski changed his tune, under violent pressure for the internal (and armed) far-right forces and oligarchs in Ukraine and the US. Instead of making peace with Russia and the millions of Russian speaking Ukrainians, the Zelenski government continued the war against the separatist region in eastern Ukraine, banned the Russian language in public, lionized as heroes Naza-collaborating fascist leaders, closed opposition media, arrested many Ukrainian dissidents and recently banned 11 opposition “pro-Russian” parties, including the party which had the second most number of representatives in the Ukrainian parliament. So, Zelensky’s Ukraine, is no democracy either.
In the United States (and Europe) Ukraine clearly is winning the war in terms of perception management. Since the war’s outbreak, Ukraine’s ex-actor president Volodymyr Zelensky has displayed an unerring feel for influencing American opinion. He successfully has cast Ukraine as a defender of democracy in what President Joe Biden has called (even before the war) as a global struggle between democracy and autocracy. It is now routine to see American journalists describe Ukraine as a democracy. This is remarkable. Freedom House, recognized as the authority, classifies Ukraine’s domestic political system as only “partly free.” Similarly, Transparency.org, which ranks 180 countries from least to most corrupt pegs Ukraine as 122, which makes it one of the world’s more corrupt governments. Both Freedom House and Transparency note that corruption is rampant in Ukraine. Whatever Ukraine is it is far from a model of democracy. Yet Zelensky, and Kyiv’s supporters in the United States, have successfully whitewashed Ukraine’s governance flaws and transformed it into the embodiment of democratic virtue. (source)
The huge flood of US and NATO arms into Ukraine, starting under Trump and hugely increased under the Biden presidency are aimed at confronting Russia and, since the Russian invasion, with bleeding the Russian forces to the maximum — not supporting non-existent Ukrainian“ democracy.” Despite the impossibility of an outright military defeat of the Russian forces in Ukraine, “the West” is determined to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian rather than pursue a diplomatic solution and an end to the fighting. If the Russian invasion was a crime, this policy of the US and its Ukrainian client government are also criminal. It fuels a tragedy that will haunt the region in years to come, as innocent Ukrainians as well as soldiers on both sides continue to pay the price.
— Jeff Klein is a member of Massachusetts Peace Action’s board of directors