Say; did you ever notice that when the west overturns a government, re-orders the political stage to its liking, pumps in a bit of money to get things perking, and it’s a complete success….the western leadership is content just to let the beaming press tell its story of how the miracle came about? Before the regime-change effort gets rolling, there is – naturally – a campaign of demonizing the leader the west wants gone, setting him or her up as The Appalling Destroyer of Democracy and Trampler of Freedom. But that’s for the mouth-breathing masses, the clodlike peasantry out in Tee-Vee Land., who will sooner or later be asked to throw their weight behind regime change and ardently support it. For the government, who will execute this deft (which is only one letter away from ‘daft’) sleight-of-hand which hopefully results in the target country becoming a loyal ally of the regime-changers, there are reports. Lots of them. These reports are written by – allegedly – experts in their various fields, and offer their government commissioners what is presumably an accurate picture of various elements of the target country: how capable is its military? Are they likely to back the existing government, or betray it and get on the bandwagon? What kind of shape is the economy in? National health? Agriculture? Manufacturing and industry? You get the picture.
So if the effort is successful, the press picks up the narrative, and beams lots of good-news stories about the happy thriving people of Newcountry and how their success is all owed to the defenders of democracy and the forces of good. And that’s actually happened a few times; I wouldn’t want to create the impression it’s never successful, although the western regime-change success rate has been pretty much 0 for however-many over the last few decades.
But if it turns out to be a shit-show and a complete sweaty, floundering embarrassment – and especially if there was a well-established camp which warned that it would – what you get are more reports. Lots of them. These reports analyze what went wrong or is still in the process of going wrong, and look about for somebody to blame. So that, you know, nobody will actually put the blame where it belongs. All of them are saying, essentially, “Wahhhh!!! We stepped on our dick!!! But the plan was perfect! We’re victims!!! Someone shall pay for this.”
Exemplary is Chatham House’s “The Struggle For Ukraine”, hot off the press; you can smell the ink. One hundred and twenty-six pages of blame-shifting and redirection, seasoned withal by tropes which have been deemed to be facts via repetition, and nothing else. You’ll recognize some of the authors right away – Timothy Ash is regularly tapped for comments on Eurasian affairs with a Russian component, and he is reliably on the side of whoever is opposing Russia. The talking chancre known as James Nixey was featured here, running his chip-hole about how Britain needs to get tough with Russia. Have you ever seen James Nixey? This is he. He looks about as tough as an apple dumpling. Granted, you do not have to be Vin Diesel to give advice on how to punch a country into submission, but hasn’t everyone had enough of paunchy middle-aged bespectacled white guys laying down the hard line? We’re also passingly familiar with James Sherr – he’s the one who wrote a report (another report!) on Ukraine way back following the Orange Revolution, in which he criticized Yulia Tymoshenko for having the fiscal policy understanding of a gnat. He didn’t say it in so many words, but he made it clear her go-to policy placebo was just to give everyone a raise, as if the money were being knitted in the basement by The Little People. John Lough is an energy guy, former foreign-affairs advisor for TNK-BP. Janet Gunn is a trustee for the BEARR Trust, a liaison for NGO’s which promote healthcare reform. Orysia Lutsevych is a longtime advocate for Ukraine, and has recently been doing research into how Russia uses ‘proxy NGO’s’ to achieve its foreign-policy objectives. I’d be interested in what constitutes a ‘proxy NGO’ since Russia has one real NGO in the USA and not a lot of them around the world. Needless to say, she is also an advocate for a burgeoning NGO-managed civil society in Russia, since that is the west’s back door to the protest community. And wrapping up the panel, Kataryna Wolczuk is a longtime think-tanker and policy wonkette.
I kind of like this report stuff. It looks like fun. And I like fun. But instead of steering you further away from what actually happened, I’d like to try steering readers back on, with my own report, based on their report. So let’s look at it. Because writing a report is a bit of an art, particularly when you are trying to put lipstick on the pig the west has made of Ukraine so that it looks as progressive as a bunch of progressive things in a sack, while spelling out the improvements you would like to see as if you were merely taking note of some minor deficiencies instead of trying to shovel guts back into a chest-to-crotch incision.
Let’s start with the Executive Summary, because it contains a few of those truth-by-repetition gems I mentioned earlier. We learn right away that Ukraine is a mess, ‘fighting for its survival as an independent and viable state’. That’s not where its western handlers expected four years ago that it would be today. Because if there’s one thing you learn in the regime-change game – or would, if the west ever learned anything from it – it’s that the initial sunny estimates always blow up in your face, and it’s always a whole lot harder than the sellers make it sound. Oh, and those who say “Don’t do it – you’ll be sorry” are right at least twice as often as those who say “This is a brilliant plan, it’s all going to fall into our laps like an overripe plum”.
Just before we really dig in, let’s look for something that sets the tone, because official reports like to do that right away. They rarely contain surprises, because politicians don’t…uhh… like surprises. And we won’t have to look any further than the photo which kicks off their report. It shows members of Ukraine’s Rada putting up an inspirational banner behind the speaker’s rostrum, which reads, “Crimea is Ukraine”. Don’t worry if you can’t read Ukrainian; like so many of Ukraine’s messages, this is intended for its western backers as well, and is also written in English so the west can enjoy sloganeering along with its Ukrainian friends.
Imagine if members of the Democratic party in the United States hung a banner in Congress which read “Elvis is not dead”. Or, “Barack Obama was born in Kenya”. “Lance Armstrong never cheated”. You see, when you start out from a premise that the earth is flat, or that something everybody in the world knows to be untrue is true or vice-versa, you are establishing yourself as unreasonable right out of the gate. You are serving notice that further negotiations are likely to be accompanied by a deepening sense of unreality and futility. Ukrainians can write, and say, “Crimea is Ukraine” until the clap of doom if they want, and saying it and writing it will never make it reality. What can we say about their western backers, who continue to encourage them in their simpleminded faith? It’s kind of like saying “Step out in front of that train. I bet you can stop it with your mind”.
Ukraine is never going to get Crimea back. Not ever. There is no rhetorical device they could employ which will convince Russia to hand it back, no bauble or concession they could propose which would persuade Russia to exchange it. If Ukraine tried to take it back by force of arms, it would be crushed like a soap bubble in a beartrap. If it persuaded its NATO friends to help it take it back militarily, a war would ensue so destructive that nobody involved in it would ever remember it was about Crimea in the first place. Crimea is Russian. It was never really Ukrainian, and it never will be again.
Now that we have hopefully cleared that up, on with the report. And it is definitely a report, which tells you something about how things are going, and it is not well. I won’t be able to quote it paragraph by paragraph and pick it apart at that level. or we’d be here all week. But let’s try one, just for fun.
Four years since the start of its ‘Euromaidan’ revolution, Ukraine is fighting for its survival as an independent and viable state. Ukrainians took to the streets in late 2013 in protest at their government’s suspension, under pressure from Russia, of plans for a closer relationship with the European Union. While their activism forced President Viktor Yanukovych from power and heralded a more EU-aligned foreign policy under a new government, it also prompted a hostile response from Russia, which annexed Crimea in early 2014, started a territorial conflict in eastern Ukraine, and continues to try to fragment and enfeeble its neighbour.
Notice how they slipped that ‘under Russian pressure’ in there? The Yanukovych government caved in to Russian pressure, and suspended the plan for a close and comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union. Was that what happened? it sure as fuck is not.
I guess Putin must have flown to Kiev, to put the screws to Yanukovych. No? What, Yanukovych went to Moscow? And came back with an agreement to sponsor Ukraine with billions where the EU was offering $600 million in immediate aid, with maybe more if Yanukovych toed the line? I’ll tell you what, Mr. Putin. Let me know when you will be free for an hour or so, and I’ll fly to Moscow at my own expense so you can pressure me like that. Sarcasm aside (regretfully), it is kind of hard to believe Yanukovych went to Moscow of his own free will to ask for help, and got it…and that’s ‘pressure’. In fact, I can show you – for the umpteenth time – what pressure looks like. Pressure is when you take your concerns, all nicely typed up for you by your own economic team, and the Commissioner for European Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy will not even look at it. Especially when all of the concerns expressed by your economic team – from Germany, not Ukraine, so about as arms-length as you could imagine – came to pass, and were every bit as disastrous as they predicted. Ukrainian GDP has been reduced by half since the Glorious Maidan. Half. Which of the European union’s charter members could survive that?
The question the report addressed is what it would cost Ukraine if Moscow were to cut its facilitation of trade with Kiev. The document included tables, bar charts and explanations about the customs union. In the end, though, only one thing interested politicians in Ukraine. On page two, under the heading “summary,” the report states that “Ukrainian exports to Russia would decrease by 17 percent or $3 billion per year.” It provided a solid figure, from Germany, telling the Ukrainian government what it would have to sacrifice for the sake of closer relations with the EU. Should not Kiev be compensated for such a sacrifice?…
…Shortly after his visit to the IMF, Arbuzov headed for Brussels to present Enlargement Commissioner Füle with the numbers calculated by the German advisory group. He believed that the numbers spoke for themselves, but Füle didn’t take them seriously. “Did you also request calculations,” he asked smugly, “about what would happen to the Ukrainian economy in the case of a meteorite strike?”
Stefan Fule, you cut-up – no matter how many times I hear that meteorite line, I still laugh. You are wasted on European Engorgement, or whatever it was you used to do, when you could have been killing them with stand-up on Evening at the Improv.
This report recognizes Ukraine’s considerable achievements since the Euromaidan. The country has not succumbed, despite grievous loss of life and territory, to Russian military aggression. It has sealed a landmark Association Agreement with the EU, opening up economic opportunity and making it clear that it sees itself as a fundamentally ‘European’ country rather than a Russian satellite or tributary. And it has undertaken deeper and more extensive reform in the past four years than in the previous 22 of its post-Soviet life.
What’s that funny smell? It’s like…decomposing hay, or something. Oh, right: it’s horseshit. What are Ukraine’s ‘considerable achievements since the Euromaidan’? It has signed an economic cooperation agreement – which its previous and democratically-elected leader refused to sign – which ‘opened up economic opportunity’ that saw its GDP fall by half. It has made it clear it sees itself as a fundamentally European country, although more than three-quarters of its GDP is still controlled by an oligarchy headed by a billionaire president who refuses to sell any of his business assets, although he promised to do so during his election campaign. That’ll fit right in in Brussels, won’t it?
Here are the trade figures for Ukraine-EU trade for 2015 and 2016. Don’t let all that bunk about total turnover and increasing trade obscure an essential fact for you – in both 2015 and 2016, Ukraine spent more on goods it bought from the EU than it earned in goods it sold to the EU. That’s nothing new; Ukraine has always run a trade deficit with the EU. But the Ukraine we’re talking about today has had its GDP cut by half and its reserves looted. It is broke, and living on handouts from the IMF, which the IMF pretends to pay while Ukraine pretends to reform. Yes, I can see economic opportunity yawning wide before Ukraine. Or perhaps that’s the gates of hell; I often confuse the two. The EU allows Ukraine to sell it raw materials for further processing, some piece goods and textiles, a bit of machinery. For these, the EU graciously allows Ukraine a preferential-tariff arrangement, called GSP (Generalized System of Preferences). This is roughly similar to the tariff privilege Ukraine enjoyed with Russia. although the Russian arrangement recognized a wider range of goods. But don’t bother to start printing up “I Heart GSP” stickers. The arrangement expires at the end of this year.
I’m sure you noticed that clever head-fake in there, in which ‘the country has not succumbed, despite grievous loss of life and territory, to Russian aggression’, just as if the former was caused by the latter. Ukraine’s loss of territory was completely and wholly its own fault; it allowed its nationalist instincts to override caution, and announced the withdrawal of official-language status for Russian in a country in which nearly half the population uses it routinely in business and social transactions, and in which nearly all can speak it. Crimea was and is majority ethnic Russian, and they were not interested in being made to learn and speak Ukrainian. They voted with their feet, a concept the west has cheered often in the past when it worked to its advantage. Similarly, the very great majority of deaths of Ukrainians in Ukraine have come at the hands of other Ukrainians, in a civil war the west allows Kiev to call an Anti-Terrorist Operation, because otherwise it would have to confront the reality that President Poroshenko is Killing His Own People, a venial sin the west has jumped upon reliably in the past as an excuse to carry out regime change. Not one Ukrainian has died as the result of ‘Russian aggression’. Russians may have helped prevent the Donbas from being overrun by the Ukrainian military, although Ukraine has never proven any Russian military presence beyond a couple of intelligence officers it captured. Preventing the military annihilation of the civilian population – when it is specifically in violation of the national constitution to use state military forces against the civilian population – does not qualify as aggression.
The west’s credibility and cohesion are also at stake.
For the west, that’s true. And do you know why? Because the west made it that kind of game, with its swaggering and smirking, its “Ukraine – Hey, Russia; We’ve Got a New Best Friend, Get Used To It” headlines, Vicky Nuland handing out cookies on the Maidan, the whole process stiff with western diplomats. All the time shouting that Russia must back off, must stop pressuring Ukraine and let it make up its own mind, when the Russian presence at the Maidan was zero. You did not see so much of that Ukraine-must-be-allowed-to-make-up-its-own-mind talk when Ukraine was choosing help from Russia, so apparently Ukraine must only be allowed to make up its own mind when it is making an approved choice.
The west has already failed. It was going to turn Ukraine into a prosperous western-leaning market democracy just like snapping its fingers, and moreover, Russia was going to pay for it. But Ukraine lost the Russian market, exactly as Yanukovych’s economic team had forecast, and it has been in a downward spiral ever since. Its oligarchy has correctly perceived that while western agencies and leaders might make a lot of noise about corruption, they are not really going to do anything serious about it because, while they might be able to make something out of a united Ukraine minus Crimea, Ukraine minus Crimea and the Donbas industrial heartland is a non-starter. Therefore the west must look the other way and pretend to be intensely preoccupied with something important, while Poroshenko tries to wrest back the Donbas militarily. Then the west would pretend to be surprised, but delighted that Ukraine is happily whole once again. But that effort is going nowhere, and the war drags on and on without the lines on the map ever changing very much. Without regular injections of cash from the IMF, Ukraine would collapse, and once Europe’s gas no longer crosses Ukraine and it loses its transit fees, that will wipe out its largely illusory ‘growth’, even though that is achieved only through regular loans which Ukraine can never pay back. It might as well all be written next to “Failure” in the dictionary. Textbook.
At this point, we’re up over 3000 words, and just got to the end of the Executive Summary. But there is still ever so much bullshit ahead, it just will not be possible to tabulate it all in a single session. Therefore, this is going to have to be a multi-post effort. Stay tuned, and if you’d like to read ahead and help me out, I’d be grateful.