For weeks the Russian and Ukrainian governments have been pushing the narrative that the opposition movement in Ukraine is nothing but a creature of the United States. That the movement is nothing more than a US backed coup.
Today that narrative took a far more sinister turn. Kremlin advisor Sergei Glazyev announced that the US involvement justified a direct Russian intervention in Ukraine:
Protesters expressed their fears as a senior U.S. diplomat arrived in Kiev to try to help find a resolution to the country’s political crisis, and an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Ukraine with attack.
Sergei Glazyev accused the United States on Thursday of funding the Ukrainian “rebels” by as much as $20 million a day for weapons and other supplies. He urged the Ukrainian government to put down the “attempted coup,” or Russia may have to intervene under the terms of a 1994 agreement between the United States and Russia, according to the Ukraine edition of the Russian daily Kommersant.
Glazyev was alluding to the Budapest Memorandum, a treaty in which Ukraine agreed to turn over a nuclear arsenal on its soil left over after the fall of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part until it dissolved in 1991.
In return, the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, nuclear powers all, guaranteed to respect the independence and the borders of Ukraine and reaffirmed their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action should Ukraine become a victim of an act of aggression.
The memorandum, which is not binding, refers only to “nuclear aggression” and it requires the signatories to consult each other if other unspecified aggression arises.
Glazyev said the agreement binds Russia and the United States “to intervene when conflicts of this kind arise. And what the Americans are doing now, unilaterally and crudely interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine, is a clear breach of that treaty.”
Many in the west hastened to say that Glazyev does not speak for Putin. That sounds like whistling past the graveyard to me.
It is especially dangerous to discount his statement given that it occurred almost simultaneously with the release of a recording of a conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. Nuland and Pyatt discussed US conversations with opposition figures, strategies regarding the opposition, and frank assessments of the opposition and its leadership. More than enough to be twisted to fit the Kremlin narrative, and to provide a justification for direct Russian intervention along the lines of what Glazyev advocated.
There are no coincidences, comrades. The Glazyev message and the leak of the Nuland tape complement each other perfectly.
Notably, the Russians were not shy about making plain that they were the ones that recorded the conversation. The first news about the tape was tweeted by the Russian government: it’s as if they were saying, “yeah, we taped you and we’re releasing the tape. Whatcha gonna do about it?”
Astoundingly, the State Department-and eventually the White House-laid blame for the recording on the Russians. Will miracles never cease? Yes, it’s more than I would have expected, but more is needed. (And I have to say. What the hell were Nuland and Pyatt doing communicating in this fashion on an insecure line that they had to have known the Russians were monitoring? Sometimes our stupidity-or is it naïveté?-drive me around the bend.)
Maddeningly, virtually all the headlines and story ledes about the Nuland tape focused on her frustration at the EUnuchs’ fecklessness in Ukraine: “Fuck the EU,” she said. Unfortunately, she apologized later. Unfortunately, because the EU deserves to be heaped with scorn. Maidan-which consciously refers to itself as EuroMaidan-is looking to the EU for help. In return, they get tepid rhetoric. EC Council President de Rompuy said that “time is on our side” with respect to Ukraine. Herman: The opposition does not have the luxury of time. They are being brutalized by nightriders and daily face the prospect of a crackdown.
But by focusing on the “Fuck the EU” quote, and overlooking the symbiosis between the Glazyev broadside and the leak of the tape, too many journalists and editors are playing right into Putin’s hands. They are sowing further dissension between the US and its allies. Relations are already frayed due to Snowden, and this just exacerbates that.
I don’t believe that the primary reason for the Russians to release the tape was to drive deeper the wedge between Europe and the US. That’s a bonus. They could no doubt release a tape a day that would have some American official venting at the EUnuchs. Surely, the Russians are hardly upset that the “Fuck the EU” quote is dominating coverage, but that wasn’t the main reason they released the recording, IMO.
Instead, Russia is laying the predicate for direct intervention in Ukraine. That is the main reason to release this tape, with little effort to conceal the source. The “Fuck the EU” fallout is just gravy to the Kremlin. And journalists clueless about Russian active measures-including now the use of social media-are playing right into that. Journalists who focus on this aspect of the story are like the carriers of a contagious disease. Unwitting vectors of harm. Obscuring the true message of the leak, and advancing Russian agitprop that sows dissension among the US and its allies.
A little historical perspective is in order.
If you recall the lead-up to the Russian invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the day that the 2008 Olympics began on 8/8/8, you will remember a crescendo of propaganda, including repeated accusations that Saakashvili was an American puppet. In the lead up to war, the Russians assiduously constructed a narrative about Georgian misdeeds in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They raised the rhetorical and physical pressure, and when Saakashvili buckled in response they leapt in with both feet. Indeed, as I wrote at the time, I am still convinced that the Russians were on the move before the Georgians fired a single artillery piece at the Russian “peacekeepers.” Once the invasion occurred, the Russians used the narrative that they had constructed so carefully in the weeks and months before to justify their actions.
And sadly, it worked.
The same thing is happening now in Ukraine. A hypothesis: Glazyev mentions the US spending $20 million per week in Ukraine, including money spent on arms. What are the odds that if the protests persist, a cache or caches of American weapons is “found” in Ukraine, and Yanukovych appeals to the Russians for “brotherly assistance” to resist an impending US-backed coup?
The only question is: during Sochi, or after? But I would lay pretty high odds that this will eventually come to pass. And looking back, the events of February 6 will be viewed as the ominous harbinger.
And the basis for that was laid today, and the Russians will continue to weave that narrative tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the day after that.
Would that western journalists look beyond the f-bomb dropped by Victoria Nuland, and see what is really happening here.