IMHO: Origins, myths, and perpetrators of the Ukrainian crisis

13:31 13.04.2022 • Anton Storchak , Financier, Master of Internationals Relations, University of Geneva

Despite the fact that warfare has never been straightforward and there are many reasons that usually lead to direct military confrontation between nations, the Ukrainian crisis seems to be overlooked by western mass media. In its most simplistic form, the current war is portrayed as an act of aggression of Russia who all of a sudden decided to conquer the World.

In this essay I will rely on naked facts and open sources of information (like official interviews) to prove just the opposite – the Ukrainian crisis was driven by a collection of factors including 1) military 2) economic 3) historical 4) ideological / religious / ethnical 5) geopolitical 6) outside (interference of other interested nations) 7) personal (betrayal), and others.

Let me start by my demystifying some of the classical western “fairy tales” I came across:

1) Russia’s autocracy is undermining Ukrainian democracy and statehood

The starting point of the crisis was the so called 2014 “Euromaidan” during which a bunch of riots tried to overthrow the officially elected president Yanukovich, who got wide support during 2010 presidential elections. This was not democratic in nature and definitely not the choice of the Ukrainian nation. To me this looked more like the Bolsheviks who during revolution occupied major cities and took power by force, but had minor population support. Even though YouTube did a very good job in an attempt to clean the ugliest at Maidan you can find lots of videos with policemen humiliation, Molotov cocktails, and street fights.

Moreover, protestors were well organized, used weapons, and clearly were receiving funding from the outsiders (another analogy with the Bolsheviks). George Soros openly admits that he pumped in significant resources to make it happen and the Russian intelligence reports that the office of the orange revolution was based at the US Embassy in Kyiv.

A crucial combatant role was played by neo-Nazis in the face of “Pravy Sector”, these are football hooligans and most radical elements of the local society. Surprisingly, they got support from the West and even Victoria Nuland encouraged them with her sudden appearance right at the heart of Maidan assault!

The mechanics of orange revolutions and who stands behind them in reality were very well described by Edward Snowden, who probably for his “excessive honesty” had to flee to Russia. At least, now he can benefit from freedom of speech!

To summarize, democracy and statehood ≠ armed Nazi revolution financed by outsiders with vested interest. Western media and State officials played an ugly role in it by providing full support, which is totally intolerable in foreign affairs and clearly indicates “skin in the game”. I can hardly imagine that Sergey Lavrov (Russia’s foreign affairs Minister) would run around somewhere in the Capitol and distribute vodka and caviar to support protestors in Washington or truckers in Canada. Moreover, Russia has enough evidence of who was shooting at Maidan and how it was organized by people related to the current government. Does Europe want to investigate?! Silence.

The consequences of the orange revolution were up-rise of radical nationalistic / Nazi movements, terror, ban of Russian as a national language, ban of pro-Russia media, exclusion of pro-Russian parties from the parliament. Interestingly, advocates of liberal democratic values in the face of Washington and Brussels embraced this policy with open arms.

The idea of building “democracy” by absolutely undemocratic means sounds ridiculous to me. When Stephen Cohen, Professor of History at Princeton University, tried to highlight all the points above for CNN saying the Ukrainian government and parliament are absolutely illegitimate and unconstitutional, he was aggressively cut off. Another example of “freedom of speech” at work, the US public simply doesn’t need to know.

Crimea, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Kherson, Zaporozhie officials all condemned governmental coup and urged to restore legitimate order. No wonder that under such circumstances separatist republic of Donetsk and Lugansk emerged, more 80% of people their supported Yanukovich!

2) NATO is a defensive alliance that has a legitimate right to expand and it represents no threat to Russia

Since ancient times, world order was based on a simple concept of balance of power. The idea being very intuitive that if there is equilibrium of power no nation will have an incentive to attack as it runs the risk of being eliminated. 

NATO was created in the aftermath of WWII in an attempt to counterweight the Soviet Union and achieve this kind of equilibrium in Europe. Initially things seemed to work well and European warfare slowed down as two opposing blocks (NATO – Warsaw Agreement) matched each other. Nonetheless, NATO has experienced three waves of expansion eastward and equilibrium has been clearly disrupted. Moreover, with the inclusion of the Baltic States NATO’s infrastructure has reached Russia’s border.

Russia has many times expressed concerns about NATO eastward expansion (first discontent was already in the 80’s under Gorbachev who clearly stated that it was unacceptable!) and there is enough evidence that such promises were made and documented. Here is how the situation was seen by Germany’s foreign Minister after the latter joined the block: "Whatever happens to the Warsaw Pact, there will be no expansion of NATO territory to the east and closer to the borders of the Soviet Union."

On many other occasions US, UK, Germany signaled to the Kremlin that NATO membership for Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic was out of question. In 1991, during his visit to Moscow British Prime Minister John Major clearly stated that “nothing of the kind would happen”. The US acting through their Minister Baker affirmed the following: “ironclad guarantees that NATO’s jurisdiction or forces would not move eastward" and “not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction”. There are plenty of videos, official meeting minutes, interviews, etc. that confirm West promises, promises that turned out to be simply lies. (Deutsche Welle and Der Spiegel have done a good job in highlighting this).

Ironically, when the Ukrainian crisis started to emerge the West cynically denied any sort of guarantees basically saying that no official documents in-between Russia and NATO was signed. This is precisely why V. Putin said that they “cheated us shamelessly” and called the West “Empires of LIARS”. A good summary of Russia’s concern about NATO expansion and security is in Putin’s speech at Munich conference that took place in 2007. This conference turned out to be prophetic.

Another dubious argument that I often hear in western media is that being independent each country can decide for itself what alliance it would like to be part of. Firstly, taking into account the previous “myth” there is hardly anybody in Russia that believes that Ukraine is an independent country. Secondly, security of one nation cannot come at the expense of another nation and it is only possible to talk about “Indivisible European Security”. Thirdly, Ukraine is not seen by Russia as a foreign country: most of its population speak Russian, Russia is the largest investor, the largest trade balance and exchange of labor is with Russia, pretty much the whole Ukrainian infrastructure (roads, hospitals, nuclear plants, schools, canals, bridges, arenas, etc) was created by the Soviets, many Russians have relatives in Ukraine after decades of common history. Ultimately, the Russian war fleet has been for centuries based in Crimea (everybody knows about the Crimean wars, last of which was fought by the Russians!) and aspirations to send NATO troops there is just nonsense and direct road to WWIII.

A good example of how quickly things can turn sour is the Cuban 1962 missile crisis. When it became apparent that Cuba has aligned with the Soviets and there is risk of deployment of Russian missiles, US troops tried to resolve its security issues by organizing a revolution (looks as though the US have strong traditions to resolve issues by means of revolution). When this attempt failed, they simply decided to invade it, failed again. Thankfully, the crisis was resolved when Nikita Khrushchev accepted to remove Soviet missiles in exchange of removing US missiles from Turkey. Today Cuba is still under American embargo and the West simply doesn’t care about it.

Regarding defensive nature of NATO alliance one can also say that it’s an illusion. NATO forces were involved thousands of kilometers away from its borders that represented no threat to the alliance under absolutely extraordinary pretexts like sudden discovery of weapons of mass destruction, promotion of democratic society, fight against discrimination, etc. NATO seems to be very active in places where the US has its own economic or military interests and spreading of democracy is just used as a pre-text to settle in. There are so many undemocratic places in Africa or Asia, for instance, nonetheless, nobody is interested in restoring democracy there unless there is something material at stake (like pipeline, oil, sea ports, agricultural resources…).

Taking into consideration that over the course of the last 20 years NATO killed over 11 million civilians in 9 different countries and the current US president Biden was openly suggesting to “bomb Belgrade and blow up all the bridges and arena” Russia is fairly raising  the question about its own security. Having lost over 30 million people in WWII and being fought by some nations that today constitute the core of NATO there is clearly a trust problem. Surprisingly, nobody in the West seems to acknowledge it.

3) There is no discrimination / genocide in Ukraine and Russia used it as a pre-text to launch the invasion

I can barely imagine that in any civilized society a language that is bespoken by the majority of the population would be banned (you can speak it, but in some areas, it has become dangerous and it has lost its governmental status). Nonetheless, this is precisely what happened in Ukraine since the arrival of president Poroshenko. Moreover, besides passing the language law Ukrainian policy makers went even further – introduction of the so-called Core Nation Law was the cherry on the cake. The idea of it was an attempt to portray the Russians as invaders that never inhabited the Black Sea coast. This is just nonsense. The first large Slavic government dating the X century was a Union of Novgorod and Kyiv. Russian and Ukrainians are ethically absolutely the same and all attempts to prove the opposite are just ugly political games deliberately played to detach Ukrainians from Russians.

The funny bit is that there is no such a thing as standard Ukrainian language and as you can imagine Zelensky doesn’t speak Ukrainian with his parents (he has only recently learned to speak it). The same goes for most members of his government who just play in the show. Ukrainian is very different in every region. An analogy can be drawn with the Swiss German. In Switzerland this problem was easily overcome by using of “Hochdeutsch” as the official language and Switzerland has four national languages. What about the “democratized” Ukraine?! It looks as though “democratization” has led to ban of everything related to Russia. Is it really the choice of Ukrainians not to speak their mother tongue?! Again, nobody in Europe seems to notice.

Despite the fact that officially Zelensky denies any fascist ideology in his government it is the pro-Nazi forces that played a huge role in his uprising. If you take a look at such army units as Azov, Aydar, Pravy Sector, Dnepr, Volyn, etc. all somehow associate themselves with the Nazis: the uniform, SS symbolics, sieg heil, swastika, hater of all Russian and Soviet. An embarrassing fact for the Ukrainian history is that part of it supported the Nazis during WWII. Galichina was the 14th Waffen Grenadier division of the SS that was formed from Ukrainian volunteers to fight with the Soviets. These traditions are still very strong in the western part of Ukraine where regularly torch Nazi marches take place and praise is given to Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian ultranationalist known for his involvement in terrorist activity. You can now see how in Kyiv and other cities WWII memorials are being replaced with Bandera artifacts. The current government is just letting this ideology re-flourish by allowing Nazi marches right at the Center of Kyiv, destroying Soviet monuments and symbols, and sending radicals to the battle field in the East. What seemed absolutely unimaginable under Yanukovich presidency became racist nightmare reality under Poroschenko and then Zelensky.

Some politicians claim that initially Zelensky wanted to strike a deal with Russia by executing the Minsky agreement indeed, but neo-Nazis have become such a powerful and uncontrolled force that simply he cannot cope with them and he had to accommodate their extreme right views. If you are in Donbas and consider yourself Russian or pro-Russian “it would be a mistake to stay at Donbas” claims Zelensky inviting all Donbas Russians to find home somewhere else. Had this been said somewhere on public TV in Europe probably this would be the last thing for Zelensky as a politician. Nonetheless, western mass media seem to be blind to that one again.

4) Information provided by Russia is propaganda

We often hear that. It is obvious that during war all sides would try to produce some kind of fakes. So far, I have the impression that Russia is not in a position to compete in terms of fakes since the US pretty much control the global sources of information including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and currently western opinion is “massaged” to show Russia as a cruel invader that came to destroy everything around.

How easily public opinion is manipulated is the subject of the movie “Wag the Dog” with Robert De Niro. It talks about a Hollywood producer who fabricates a war in Albania to distract voters from presidential sex scandal. Likewise, there are tons of badly fabricated fakes like missiles hitting center of Kyiv, aerial bombardments of maternity hospitals, WWII tanks overrunning cars and civilians or serpent Island soldiers bravely dying (turned out that they surrendered) the list is just countless. The aim is clear – create as much negativity about Russians as possible, so that severe sanctions can be introduces and Russia is cut from the world economy.

My point here is not to say that war in Ukraine was fabricated, it’s real, but many Europeans would be surprised to figure out that by the time Russia decided to launch the offensive more than 13k (as of June 2021, official UN data) people already died. Why is it so? Simply because western press avoided talking about it. All probably heard of Mariupol, but what about Donetsk, Debalcebo, Lugansk, Gorlovka or ethical massacre in Odessa where lots of Russian civilians died over the course of last eight years?!

One needs to understand that newspapers, TV, radios, internet resources – all have owners that pay them and often times the idea is not to reflect reality, but to fulfill your master’s requirements. So as in the famous quote: “if you don’t read news you’re uninformed, if you do, you’re misinformed”. One thing is certain – Russia has lost the information war and I don’t believe that it is in a position to do anything about it. And there isn’t much you can do, when you open up Facebook or YouTube it already tells me “exactly” what I need to know. Don’t forget, Big Brother is watching you!

From time to time there are educated people like Professor Mearsheimer from University of Chicago that would challenge the conventional wisdom on YouTube, but then again how many people in Europe or the US would watch him?!

5) Russia didn’t stick to the Minsky agreements

The Minsk agreements were aimed at ceasefire and included provisions like withdrawal of all heavy weapons, stationing and verification by the OSCE, exchange of hostages, amnesty, etc. These are standard points that one would usually see after active military actions end up. Besides those standard points, the Minsk agreements envisioned direct dialogue with Dontesk and Lugansk representatives and Constitutional Reform in Ukraine including decentralization and elections in the republics.

My impression is that the last two points poised a very serious problem for Mr. Zelensky and he never really tried to enforce them. This is obvious since how you can win regional elections and allow decentralization when you constantly bomb your own population, stop paying pensions / providing social security, and exclude official language of locals from governmental. Moreover, the eastern part of Ukraine has always been pro-Russian with very little interest in joining NATO or EU. If you take a look at voting patterns in cities like Dontesk, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk (in 2004 and 2010 >80% pro-Russian) they are very different from what you see in Lvov or Ternopil. Technically for Zelensky decentralization in a badly East-West divided country along with quickly deteriorating standard of living (expensive gas, all economic ties with Russia broken, unhappy population in war mood) meant defeat in the next elections. At some stage Zelensky admitted “I do not like the Minsk agreements”, they were structed in a “clumsy way” almost blaming his predecessor for wrongdoing. Putin backfired at his meeting with Macron: “either you like them or not, you will have to respect them”, back then nobody knew that the enforcement will be military, but the degree of tension was already very high.

Taking into consideration the Ukrainian government over the course of the whole eight years never bothered to conduct direct negotiations with separatists, never acknowledged their special status (even though it is part of the agreements), and judging by amount of heavy arms and fortifications found at the conflict border line one would conclude – the Minsk agreements were simply used to gain time. This also explains the sudden rush to NATO even though the absolute majority of Ukraine’s population never supported it.

Now that the full-scale military operation is on Zelensky admits that his country should have held another referendum on NATO membership before making it in the country’s constitution. Again, looks as though Zelensky ultimately is trying to make Poroshenko responsible for his sins, very smart indeed!

6) Putin dreams of re-storing a greater Russia and unilaterally decided to launch the offensive

This would be an exaggeration since decisions in a State cannot be taken by a single person. Clearly in his doings Putin is influenced by the conservative military wing of the government that is suspicious about the West in general. Many of them lost their relatives in WWII and they served at the Soviet government and remember the aftermath of cold word / collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin witnessed how Miloshevich, Kadafi, Hussein were dismantled and he might think the he would be the next one. Same for many Russians, it didn’t take much to bomb Belgrade after all, is Moscow the next “totalitarian” city on the list?! Putin also feels betrayed by European politicians who provided guarantees that Maidan would not escalate. Once Yanukovich agreed not to bring in the army, the guarantors in the face of Poland, Germany, France simply “forgot” about the terms of the deal.

There were also attempts to reproduce Maidan in Kazakhstan and Belarus, in the modern world of information technology orange revolutions can be easily orchestrated to the benefit of their masters. A simplified model of unipolar liberal World ruled by the US is easily achievable by execution of the following steps: you print money; you finance an orange revolution; you place your own puppet government; you get all resources and the whole market; you find another target and repeat the whole story until the World is yours – very simple and very efficient. Also, very justifiable from the public since a “noble” cause is achieved.

 

I hope that demystifying has given the reader a slightly different picture of the landscape than before. Now returning to the main subject of this essay to me there are really two different questions: 1) Who is responsible for the escalation of the conflict? 2) Was the military operation really necessary?

It’s very difficult to answer the second question since: firstly, I’m not a military person, secondly, ordinary people simply have no access to correct information. I have no idea what capabilities Ukraine has to create a nuclear bomb (many experts claim they do), what is Ukraine’s biological program and how the US were involved there, and what it means from a military standpoint to have NATO troops at your border (and what true NATO intentions are). I can only judge as a historian that when the US were in a similar situation in Cuba it almost led to a nuclear war. I also believe that Ukraine, having the largest border with Russia, lots of human and other resources, and massive military potential poses for Russia what historians call “existential threat” if it becomes part of any alliance.

I have made it clear many times that I do condemn any warfare in general and I think best effort should be made to find a diplomatic solution in any conflict. So, was Russia doing “enough” diplomatic effort? And who is really responsible for the escalation of this crisis. I will be direct on that one – the West is responsible and, in my opinion, the US played a very negative provocateur role.

Since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact Russia made it very clear that NATO mindless expansion eastward was intolerable and there is more than enough evidence that NATO leaders have given “not an inch eastward” promises. Numerous warnings were made throughout the 90’s / 20’s and culminated with Putin’s speech at conferences in Munich and Buharest. Moreover, when the Ukrainian crisis was deep on track to defuse tension Russia presented in December 2021 security guarantee proposals to NATO. Russia also came with the initiative for prohibiting the US and Russia from placing intermediate and shorter-range missiles within striking distance of each other's territory. However, all proposals were rejected by NATO and the US and no alternative was proposed.

For eight years Russia was trying to make Ukraine respect the signed Minsk agreements. During this period, Ukraine officials twice made attempts to launch the offensive and used available time and tons of resources to fortify the front making it almost “ligne Maginot”. Zelensky’s sarcastic grin during Putin’s speech about special status for Donbas, in my opinion, best reveals his attitude to the Minsk agreement and shows his true plans.

As early as in March 2019, Alexei Arestovich, military aid to Zelensky, affirmed that a full-scale war with Russia is unavoidable and would start in February 2022. In his interview to Apostrof TV he denies possibility for neutral status for Ukraine in principle since “neutrality” is very expensive (ten times more expensive than war) and unbearable. In my opinion, his arguments are just ridiculous and absolutely unproven. According to him, Ukraine has only one choice – to become part of the NATO block. This pretty much shed light on the approach advocated by Ukrainian military minds back then. This also reinforces my position that actually Ukraine was never ever going to stick to the Minsk agreements and effectively marks the point of no return.

I think history itself has proven just the opposite of Arestovich’s doctrine: Ukraine and Russia have peacefully co-existed for centuries, shared common values and goals, fought side by side in the same wars, their economies and populations are deeply interlinked (few Europeans probably would know that Nikita Khrushchev , Leo Brezhnev were Ukrainians, as pretty much a vast bulk of the Soviet elite). So, what led to a shift in policy with such dramatic consequences?

When we put all information together and analyze facts, I think the old balance of power theory and concept of competition of Great Powers provide the best explanation. The US is using old Roman tactic called “divide and conquer” trying to detach Ukraine from Russia and bring it into western orbit. Technically this is done by overthrowing pro-Russian president Yanukovich (finance of orange revolution governmental coup), arming and training Ukrainian army, pushing Ukraine into NATO, and integrating it with the EU. Russia having close economic, historical, cultural, and military ties (war fleet at Back Sea) and being de facto surrounded by NATO simply cannot tolerate it. Ukraine being stuck in-between the TWO becomes hostage and the battle field of the competing supreme powers.

Finally, I often hear an absolutely extraordinary argument in the western society: since Russia is an authoritarian and retarded country its security and economic interest can be ignored. The ultimate wisdom comes from the US that is trying to promote exclusive liberal and democratic values. The problem with this approach, however, is, that, firstly, we’ve witnessed little democracy in Ukraine so far (myth 1), secondly, one cannot exclude one of the largest economies in Europe and a nuclear power for collective security system, thirdly, there is enough evidence (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc.) that it takes a very long time to build truly democratic institutions / societies and many attempts to artificially export democracy have miserably failed.

I can barely imagine that a second-rate actor with no appropriate education and zero experience in state affairs can become President in a truly democratic society. Especially if he wants to ban the mother tongue of its population! Competition, freedom of speech, and check and balances institutional system in place would likely give way to a more educated and worthy choice (maybe debatable, since somehow George W. Bush made it to the very top, but this is the subject of another essay). This is definitely not the case of Mr. Zelensky and in the context of the presented analysis it’s not very difficult to figure out who stands behind. Ultimately, an actor as President, a heavy weight boxer as the capital Mayor (Klichko), and ex-President of neighboring State of Georgia as governor of Odessa (Saakashvili) are sold to the World as the legitimate democratic choice of the Ukrainians.

Many Europeans would be probably surprised to find Mr. Zelensky on YouTube with his hands up and playing the piano in a very uncomfortable and peculiar way. After that he was nicknamed “The Pianist”. Nonetheless, this is precisely what he was doing before his presidency and ironically this is exactly what he is doing right know. Sadly, the only exception is that a tragedy and not a comedy is being played!