The Crimean peninsula was controlled by the Russian Empire from the 18th to 20th centuries until it became part of an independent Ukraine following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now the country is fractured after months of protests, and Crimea has become the reluctant focal point of a nascent civil war dividing east and west. Fueled by aggressive posturing by the United States and a defensive-minded Russia intent on protecting the interests of Ukraine's ethnically Russian population, the situation has escalated quickly. The future of the European continent hangs in the balance.
Even to the most astute observer, the current crisis in the southeastern region of Ukraine is difficult to interpret. The view can be blurred by geographic distance, muddled by inconsistent reporting and blinded by prejudice. Because of treacherously unremitting digital and social media, an understanding of the complex sociopolitical elements is diluted; independent inquiry loses legitimacy and critical voices enter an anarchic fray. How can one make sense of this dilemma?
Paul Craig Roberts is a former assistant secretary of the treasury and associate editor of The Wall Street Journal. He has been following the situation in Ukraine closely and spoke to Truthout about the long history of the crisis, the influence of the mainstream media (in which he worked for decades) and the dangerous provocations of Western leaders. The author of more than ten books, his most recent work is called The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism. This interview took place on March 12, 2014.
You have written extensively about the current standoff between Russia and the West over the situation in Crimea. How do you assess the current situation? What power struggle is currently unraveling?
Well, I think it would be a mistake to represent the events in Crimea as a power standoff between Russia and the United States. What has happened in Ukraine is the United States organized and financed a coup. And the coup occurred in Kiev, the capital. Either from intention or carelessness, the coup elements include ultra-right-wing nationalists whose roots go back to organizations that fought for Hitler in the Second World War against the Soviet Union. These elements destroyed Russian war memorials celebrating the liberation of the Ukraine from the Nazis by the Red Army and also celebrating Gen. Kutuzov's defeat of Napoleon's Grande Armée. So this spread a great deal of alarm in southern and eastern Ukraine, which are traditionally Russian provinces. Crimea and eastern Ukraine were added to the Ukraine in 1954 by Khrushchev, the general secretary of the Communist Party. Both of these Russian areas have been part of Russia for longer than the United States has existed. This may have been done to water down the pro-Nazi elements in western Ukraine, because it added a substantial Russian population to Ukraine that tended to balance out the ultra-nationalists in the west. Also, Khrushchev himself was a Ukrainian. It didn't make a difference at the time because it was all part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed as a political entity and the weak authorities there - under [US] pressure – agreed to its breakup, the Ukraine became independent, but it retained the previously Russian provinces. The population in Crimea is predominantly Russian, and so is eastern Ukraine. These people said, "We don't want anything to do with this government in Kiev, which is banning our language and destroying our war monuments and threatening us in many ways." They followed the same legal steps; the same UN procedures, the same international court procedures. So everything that has occurred is strictly legal. And when John Kerry and Obama say the opposite, they're lying through their teeth. It's just blatant, shameful, bald-faced lies. This is not debatable or a question of opinion. It's a matter of law.
So the Parliament in Crimea followed these procedures and has now declared Crimea to be independent. The vote that [was] given to the people on [March 16] . ... So there has been no Russian invasion. That's easily provable. The Russian troops in the Ukraine have been there since the 1990s. It has to do with the lease arrangements it has on its Black Sea naval base [Sevastopol], because when Ukraine was granted independence, Russia certainly wasn't giving up its warm-water port. The terms of the separation state that Russia has a lease there until 2042. Sixteen thousand troops were there, and under the agreement with the Ukraine they can have up to 25,000 along with a certain number of planes, tanks and artillery. All this is specified and well-known, but it is subject to lies from Washington - and they are repeated endlessly in the so-called American media. The remaining problem is in eastern Ukraine, because there the people are also in the streets demanding their local governments separate from Kiev. Having realized its incompetence in Crimea, Washington has rushed in and appointed Ukrainian multi-billionaire oligarchs [Igor Kolomoisky and Serhiy Taruta] as governors of these Russian regions [Donetsk and Dnepropetrovs]. Where the issue will be drawn is in eastern Ukraine because Putin has said he will make no military intervention unless violence is used against the Russian population in eastern Ukraine. There isn't much Kerry and Obama can do about this. But if the result is that eastern Ukraine returns to Russia, western Ukraine will be captured, subject to an IMF [International Monetary Fund] austerity plan, looted by the Western banks and stuck in NATO while US anti-ballistic missile bases will be put in western Ukraine. This is intensifying the strategic threat to Russia that Washington has been pursuing since the George H.W. Bush regime when he violated the agreements that Reagan had given not to take NATO into eastern Europe. These same agreements were violated when Washington withdrew from the ABMT [Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] in 2002 so it could construct an anti-ballistic missile defense. These are extreme provocations, and they are reckless. It's the same kind of behavior that gave us the First World War.