Sanctions: How did we get here?

The US State Department has published a video entitled “Sanctions: How did we get here”. It”s on You Tube.

The claim is made in the video that the referendum in Crimea contained two choices “secede from Ukraine” or “join Russia”. In fact the referendum paper contained two choices; more autonomy within Ukraine or join Russia. More autonomy does not mean the same thing as “secede”. That part of the video at any rate is a lie. It is propaganda. But it is not the only lie. Others include:

A claim that “after months of peaceful protests in Kiev” there was a single bloody clash which resulted in at least 88  deaths. That isn’t true. In fact there were days of extreme violence by protesters all over the country prior to this particular event. Even the Western press covered some news about this. It is a palpable and checkable lie.

No mention of course that the foreign minister of NATO ally Lithuania suggested to EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton that the deaths may have been caused by groups of radicals and not the police.

They do mention the peace deal of 21 February but claim that it broke down because President Yanukovych “fled to Russia”. (This is accompanied by a spoof poster “Have you seen this man?”). In fact with thousands of violent protesters howling for his demise it is perhaps hardly surprising that Yanukovych fled. They then say that President Yanukovych left behind “his opulent residence and a trail of corruption”. Since there has been no formal process this is no more than tittle-tattle. At any event corruption is not usually regarded in the West as grounds for a coup. (Westminster would not have survived if that was the case. In the “expenses scandal” many British MPs were exposed as using state funds to fund their opulent residences). Even if President Yanukovych was “corrupt” then that does not justify a coup. This is just a smokescreen. 

Next lie. A shot of the Ukrainian parliament voting peacefully to remove Yanukovych from office. (This was shown with a misleading graphic that he was impeached. Such a move was not in fact made). They did not publish shots of Ukrainian MPs being physically threatened. You don’t need to watch the clips on (though they are there if you wish) to realise that in the circumstances of a violent and bloody overthrow of the existing government the atmosphere was likely to have been one of fear and intimidation. It is intrinsically implausible that after a bloody street battle at the gates of the parliament and the departure of the President the parliamentary sessions would have been conducted in the atmosphere of peaceful democracy represented by the State department in their video. You can tell that they must be lying even without looking at the videos on showing Ukrainian MPs being intimidated.

Next lie. They claim that the new parliament organised elections. But they forgot to mention a) that elections were in fact scheduled under the Ukrainian constitution for early 2015 anyway and b) the deal of 21st February had already agreed to new elections. (Here are the details of the deal). This is just blatant lying. They are trying to give the “new government” the credit for organising elections when in fact elections were already scheduled in anyway. 

Next lie. “Under the shadow of 20,000 Russian troops an illegal referendum was hastily pulled together” in Crimea. Together with a graphic with arrows showing Russian troops arriving in Crimea of the kind usually used to denote an invasion the impression is created of an outside force arriving to intimidate the people of Crimea. This is not true. The vast majority (if not all) of the Russian troops in Crimea were there legally under an agreement with Ukraine. There was no large-scale invasion. Russian forces did provide security at key points to defend the actions of the Crimean assembly. Even if you dispute that interpretation of their role the fact remains that there was no invasion of 20,000 troops which is the sense an uninformed viewer will take from this clip. Whether or not the referendum was “illegal” can obviously be argued over by lawyers. The Russian side refers to the judgement by the UN International Court of Justice on Kosovo”s independence from Serbia as setting a precedent. This would appear to be a strong case. At any event “illegal” is a point of view not a piece of information.

Next lie. The Crimea referendum was “immediately condemned by the International Community”. There was a UN vote. The result was 100 supporting the resolution condemning the referendum, 11 against the motion, 58 abstentions and 25 countries avoided showing up for the vote. So in fact half the International Community condemned the referendum. Half “the international community” does not equal “the International Community”. A straightforward lie. The Russians have claimed that the US used strong-arm tactics – threatening to withhold loans or contracts – from several small countries to help skew the vote their way. Since it is a matter of public record that the US spies on UN representatives this seems plausible. Why spy if you don’t also try to strong-arm?

Absent from the video is a single word of acknowledgement of any part the US or EU has played in Ukraine. No mention of the acknowledged US funding for “pro-democracy” groups in Ukraine. No mention of the supportive visit to the protesters in Kiev by the senior US official Victoria Nuland when she distributed cakes to protesters and embarrassed looking policemen. (In fact the video carries a shot of an ordinary woman, probably Ukrainian, handing out cakes to Ukrainian policemen – a distorting reference to this event). No mention that the EU has rushed ahead and signed the disputed trade deal with the “new government” without even waiting for an election. No mention of the points raised by Russia about the role of violent radical groups in the take-over in Ukraine despite the reality that the basic facts (leaving aside the scale of it) are incontestable. No mention that in the “illegal referendum” 80% of Crimeans and nearly everyone who voted voted to join Russia. No reference to the fact that even Western mainstream media who freely observed this event showed pictures of people voting in peaceful conditions free of intimidation.

The video culminates with a direct threat that sanctioning the Russian “oligarch class” will have knock-on effects and cause “a price higher than the Russian people can bear”. This is a kind of terrorism.  Finally, the video ends with an image of a Red Russia detaching from the continent of Europe and vanishing into nothingness.  This is a kind of terrorist threat that one would expect from Al-Qaeda. We will annihilate you into nothingness…. The US loves publishing these simplified “fact sheets” to “inform” the American public. In fact they are just issuing the official and correct narrative. It is straight out of George Orwell”s 1984 with Big Brother telling the proles what to believe.

How did we really “get here”?

So. What are sanctions really about. How did we really “get here”? In essence sanctions are an essential part of the narrative. The US does not want a dialogue with Russia or anyone (at least anyone outside the circle of Western capitalism). They won”t have a dialogue with Russia but need to explain to their public why not. Sanctions serve to tell the story of a “badly behaving” Russia. If they just said that “Russia is aggressive/sinister/evil” without doing something no one would believe them. Sanctions prop up the “Russia” is “aggressive” narrative. That narrative, constantly repeated, though it defies political and historical analysis, is the cover for their own expansionism in Ukraine. (Billions of dollars of US funding for pro-Western NGOs; the visits of EU and US officials to nurture the coup in Kiev; signing of the contested EU trade association with an unelected government; unceasing support for everything the “new government” does while unceasingly refusing to acknowledge that their opponents may have even a point; comments by the NATO Secretary General that make it clear that NATO membership is only a matter of time; the leaked phone call in which the EU’s Catherine Ashton revealed the behind-doors meetings where business leaders were already being invited to carve up the pie before an electoral process has taken place etc.). It is the West who is repeating the strategies of the cold war. Sanctions are just part of the cover story.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer