Oliver Stone’s opinion that the US engineered some skullduggery in Kyiv in February 2014 has attracted some outraged howling. As to the actual mechanics of what went down, there is room for disagreement. I myself am something of a Maidan truther (see my piece from February 24, 2014 attached to this post which, if I may say so, looks pretty darn prescient) but teasing what really happened in the square out of the hopeless evidentiary and procedural muddle created by New Ukraine ™ may be impossible.
As to the broader question, Would the United States destabilize Ukraine? I have to admit I find it amazing that there are doubters on this issue. In US foreign policy, anti-communism/anti-terrorism/national interest/universal human rights can always trump respect for national sovereignty and expression of the popular democratic will.
And since Ukraine, according to Brzezinskian grand mal strategic theorizing, is The Big Kahuna, the difference between an assertive Russian empire and a demoralized Europe-bereft Little Russia miserably snuggled between Italy and Spain in the GDP league tables, it would seem almost irresponsible for the United States not to intervene.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Timothy Weiner’s history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes. It’s a pretty major piece of debunking which depicts the CIA as an over-funded, under-powered, and over-matched clown college that has been viewed with suspicion and disdain by most modern American presidents with the exception of George H.W. Bush. President Obama, I believe, also falls into this camp, being much more enamored by the resources and capabilities of the military embodied in JSOC, which probably also explains his willingness to let the CIA endure a public reaming over its detention/interrogation program while the military’s bigger effort gets to skate.
Looking at the history of CIA shenanigans over the decades as described in Weiner’s book, some interesting conclusions present themselves.
First, it is generally recognized that, although Commie rollback was the agency’s raison d’etre, the CIA’s intelligence/covert operations operations against the Soviet Union and its satellites (and against the People’s Republic of China, which included a $180,000 per year stipend for the exiled Dalai Lama until Nixon, I think, pulled the plug) were largely ineffective. Maybe a dozen effective high level humint sources developed during the history of the Soviet Union, thousands of agents and assets killed or burned by effective Soviet counterintelligence and penetration of the CIA, and US policy crippled by the Agency’s politically tainted and/or clueless guesswork about Soviet capabilities and intentions. Not a pretty picture.
Second, the CIA was much more of a factor in open societies, thanks largely to money. The CIA had a lot of money—in the 1950s it was allowed to skim unaccountable millions off various countries’ local currency contributions to the Marshall Plan according to Weiner, and I recall reading in Sterling Seagrave’s Gold Warriors that there was a similarly massive slush fund available to the US in Japan.
That money was used to recruit pro-US politicians/spooks/military officers and support or even create pro-US parties, most famously in Italy. It also made the CIA the world’s largest worldwide purchaser of crap i.e. fake intel and incompetent and/or disloyal assets which, according to Weiner, the Agency massively leveraged through its own incompetence, helter-skelter planning, and managerial dysfunction.
The money also ensured that, when it was deemed necessary to go beyond the electoral process and engage in some extra-legal destabilization or regime change activity, there were always some locals ready to pitch in and help out.
I direct interested readers to Weiner’s book for an impressive list of US regime-change activity in the post-war era. The usual suspects are there: Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, the assassination of Lumumba in the Congo, and the epic cock-up at Bay of Pigs. There are also some less-renowned activities. For instance, I was not aware that the CIA had engineered the fall of the government of Chad in 1982, so that the United States would have a comfortably pro-US regime in place on Libya’s border to assist in the anti-Qaddafi effort.
Another, much more massive effort that I didn’t know about was the attempt to mount a coup against Indonesia in 1958 at the order of President Eisenhower in response to Sukarno’s perceived transgression in organizing the Bandung non-aligned conference, and the emergence of the Indonesian Communist Party or PKI as a political force.
Legacy of Ashes describes the elaborate and expensive but ultimately futile preparations:
Wisner [head of the CIA’s clandestine service] flew to the CIA station in Singapore, just across the Malacca Straits from northern Sumatra to set up a political-warfare operation. Ulmer created military command posts at Clark Air Force Base and the Subic Bay naval station…Ulmer’s Far East operations chief assembled a small team of paramilitary officers in the Philippines…They made contact with a handful of the Indonesian army rebels on Sumatra and another contingent…seeking power on…Sulawesi…. Mason worked with the Pentagon to put together a package of machine guns, carbines, rifles, rocket launchers, mortars, hand grenades, and ammunition sufficient for eight thousand soldiers, and he made plans to supply the rebels on both Sumatra and Sulawesi by sea and by air. The first arms shipment came ou of Subic Bay on the USS Thomaston…on January 8, 1958. Mason followed the ship in a submarine…
On February 10, the Indonesian rebels broadcast a stirring challenge to Sukarno from a newly established CIA-financed radio station on Padang…Meanwhile the CIA readied new weapons shipments…and awaited the first signs of a nationwide popular uprising.
Which didn’t materialize. Instead, the armed forces, loyal to Sukarno, vigorously attacked the rebels on Sumatra. The US dispatched a Navy battle group led by the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga to the north coast of Sumatra, and US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made a statement calling for revolt against “Communist despotism”.
By the end of April, the battle on Sumatra was lost to the Indonesian government, leaving the only US hope the rebels remaining on Sulawesi. To help things along, the CIA initiated a covert bombing campaign. Weiner again:
For…three weeks…CIA pilots hit military and civilian targets in the villages and harbors of northeastern Indonesia. On May Day, Allen Dulles told Eisenhower that these air strikes had been “almost too effective, since they had resulted in the sinking of a British and of a Panamanian freighter.” Hundreds of civilians died, the American embassy reported…
To maintain deniability, the US claimed the bombings were carried out by “dissident planes” but that story unraveled on May 18, when a plane was shot down and a CIA officer, Al Pope, was captured. The US finally threw in the towel.
In an interesting harbinger of John Kerry’s “I was for it before I was against it” statement, the US government then declared that it was against overthrowing Sukarno after it was for it.
Seven years later, in 1965, things worked themselves out as enough of the Indonesian military finally had sufficient doubts about Sukarno to overthrow him and massacre several hundred thousands of the unnervingly strong PKI. While claiming it had not fomented this particular coup, the U.S. backed Suharto and the rebel generals enthusiastically. I was struck by a statement by Bob Martens, a political officer at the Jakarta embassy.
According to Weiner’s account, Martens received a visit from an emissary of the rebels. In case the rebel spooks were even less plugged in than the CIA, Martens helpfully delivered a list of sixty-seven PKI members that he had compiled out of press clippings. “It was certainly not a death list…”
The most telling epitaph for the CIA’s regime change agenda was perhaps provided by the CIA pilot shot down and captured in Indonesia in 1958. As recounted by Weiner:
“They said  Indonesia was a failure,” Al Pope reflected bitterly. “But we knocked the shit out of them. We killed thousands of Communists, even though half of them probably didn’t even know what Communism meant.”
A lot of US regime change activity, in other words, was not against Communist regimes or Communist clients or allies. It was against executed against unreliably independent non-aligned types whose loyalty and responsiveness to US needs was not assured.
What do the names Trujillo, Diem, and Noriega have in common?
These were US allies and clients, our own guys, but we decided they had to be overthrown anyway because their activities were deemed too incompetent, corrupt, or inconvenient.
In other words, the United States had so much money, and got so addicted to throwing unaccountable money at its overseas problems, covert action became something of a default in dealing with our own allies, not just our enemies.
Have things changed? Is America learning? Working smarter not harder? Ditching the easy solution of throwing black budget money at our growing legion of intractable problems?
As to whether “regime change” in the service of American interests and not necessarily directed against US enemies is an artifact of the Cold War, and we’ve moved into a new, post-subversion nirvana of Hope, I’ve got to say Nope.
There’s Qaddafi in Libya. It is, I suspect, little remembered in the United States that Qaddafi made a colossally expensive deal with the West to assure his survival—in fact Libya was a rare triumph of George W. Bush coercive diplomacy and Libya’s denuclearization was supposed to serve as the model for bringing refractory dictatorships like North Korea back into the family of nations—before the US and NATO greased the skids for his overthrow and murder under President Obama.
The elements of the deal bear repeating:
Qaddafi revealed and decommissioned Libya’s nuclear and chemical weapons programs in 2003 in response to the Iraq War and, in the same year, privatized much of the Libyan oil industry so that foreign majors could invest $40 billion and slurp at trough of the sweet Libyan crude. In order to close the books on the Lockerbie bombing, the Libyan government paid over $2 billion in compensation (without admitting guilt) as “the price for peace”.
Qaddafi met with Tony Blair in 2004 and the EU lifted sanctions in the next year. Qaddafi cooperated in the Global War on Terror and the United States obliged by repatriating to Libyan custody several anti-Qaddafi Islamists detained in Pakistan (in the requisite ironic aside, according to Human Rights Watch several of them were savagely tortured at US facilities and actually received better treatment in Libyan custody).
But these dealings, of course, availed Qaddafi little when push final came to fatal shove.
If you want to understand why North Korea has little appetite for the US and its demands to denuclearize, look at Libya, not The Interview.
As to whether Libya was just a one-off and the Obama administration has moved beyond crude subversion, and is limiting itself to the legally colored subtleties of sanctions, diplomacy, information freedom, and encouraging independent NGOs to deal with its designated adversaries–mainly vulnerable countries that don’t do a good job of toeing the US line–well, consider the hijinks US AID has been pulling on Cuba and the carnival of destabilization inflicted upon Venezuela and ask yourself: would Yanyukovich get better treatment than Castro? And Maduro? And I haven’t gotten to the coup in Honduras yet. And I believe we are once again f*cking with Haiti.
Moving to the ex-Soviet bloc—the focus of $1 trillion in US covert, intelligence acquisition, and analytic efforts over the last half century–there is a powerful and to me inordinate determination to emphasize the solely indigenous character of the color revolutions that swept the ex-Soviet republics, perhaps assisted by some well-heeled foreign freedom-loving NGOs. But at least in remote Kyrgyzstan, the open assistance of the United States embassy to the Tulip Revolution is well-documented.
In Ukraine, Victoria Nuland has thrown around some big numbers, declaring that the United States spent $5 billion to help Ukraine shed the incubus of its pro-Russian and or infuriatingly incompetent pro-Western regimes since 1991. Here, by the way, is Nuland’s defense of the $5 billion statement (“Not a penny for Maidan!) , her cookie-deliverin’ ways (“I came in peace!”), and that whole awkward “F*ck the EU” (actually, the “The US will determine the composition of the post-Yanyukovich junta”) megilla.
Given the intense US interest in Ukraine and its commitment to getting its way by any means necessary, I don’t see support for any a priori assumption on the grounds of US respect for sovereignty/democratic process or aversion to violence that the U.S. would not f*ck with the Yanyukovich government, violently or otherwise, in February 2014. Oliver Stone, to my mind, is not a “useful idiot”. He’s a guy who co-authored an important book on US foreign policy and whose opinions can carry legitimate weight.
As to CIA sending snipers, my main reservation would be that, judging by the Weiner book, there is no way the Obama administration would entrust so sensitive and dangerous a mission to the Agency. Maybe the US gave a nod and a wink, maybe it stirred the pot in Maidan, but if so maybe it was something local/provocateury or MittelEurop/Baltic subcontracty. Time, maybe, will tell.
As to whether some overall ratf*cking actually went on, well, here’s an excerpt from my contemporaneous take, which either reveals the ability of pro-Russian disinfo to travel back in time to cloud the minds of “useful idiots”, or shows that for people who read the papers and paid attention there were always ample grounds for suspecting US machinations in Ukraine:
When the EU mediated a deal between the opposition and the government, I thought Yanukovich had dodged the bullet.
In parsing the circumstances of Yanukovich’s downfall, it is interesting to look for the machinations of Victoria Nuland, the State Department neo-con (wife of Robert Kagan) who was apparently given a free hand in matters Ukrainian by President Obama.
The background of Nuland’s notorious Fuck the EU audio was her feeling that the EU was insufficiently confrontational with the Ukranian government, especially on the issue of sanctions.
As to what “sufficiently confrontational” might look like, consider this AFP report from back in January that showed up in the Yahoo! Sports feed, since its subject, R. Akhmetov, is the owner of Ukraine’s most successful football outfit :
Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of the Shakhtar Donetsk football club, is having a possibly decisive influence on Ukraine’s standoff between the security forces and protesters.Akhmetov has long been seen as a leading ally of President Viktor Yanukovych. He has bankrolled the ruling Regions Party which he formerly represented in parliament as an MP, and harks from the eastern Donetsk region that is the president’s stronghold.
But in a possible turning point in a crisis that has raised fears of a prolonged civil conflict, Akhmetov on Saturday issued a strong statement warning that the use of force against protesters was unacceptable and the only way forward was negotiations.
…his reasons for being so strongly against the use of a state of emergency to forcefully end the protests may not be entirely altruistic.According to the influential news site Ukrainska Pravda, visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland warned Akhmetov at a secret meeting when she visited Kiev in December that he and other wealthy backers of the Regions Party could face EU and US sanctions if the police used force against the protesters.
For a businessman with an international reputation and properties outside of Ukraine, including a luxury town house in London, this was clearly an unwelcome prospect.
…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand more please:
Akhmetov was able to control a group of at least 40 MPs from the ruling Regions Party in the Verkhovna Rada parliament.
So what happened after the EU brokered a transitional, power-sharing sort of deal with the EU?
The truce broke.
Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine’s embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 70 people dead and hundreds injured, according to a protest doctor.…A truce announced late Wednesday appeared to have little credibility among hardcore protesters. One camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, told the AP even after the alleged truce, protesters still threw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police then began shooting at them, he said.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand what happened in the parliament?
Ukrainian Parliament Deputy Speaker Ruslan Koshulynsky has announced that more parliamentarians have withdrawn from the Party of Regions faction.
In particular, Oleksandr Volkov, Yuriy Polyachenko, Vitaliy Hrushevsky, Volodymyr Dudka, Yaroslav Sukhy, Artem Scherban, and one more parliamentarian, whose name Koshulynsky pronounced unintelligibly, had left the Party of Regions faction.
Koshulynsky later announced the names of four other deputies who left the Party of Regions faction, i.e. Viktor Zherebniuk, Ivan Myrny, Hennadiy Vasylyev, and Nver Mkhitarian. He later added Larysa Melnychuk and Serhiy Katsuba to this list.
Hence, the Party of Regions has lost 41 deputies, including 28 on Friday and the other 14 on Saturday.
Don’t know if any of these were among Akhmetov’s 40 people. Would be interesting to find out. In any case, enough Party of Regions deputies bailed to give the pro-EU forces a majority and a free hand in parliament to undertake some sweeping initiatives, like unilaterally impeaching the president, repudiating a previous constitutional revision, and releasing Yulia Timoshenko from prison.
So, by a less-than-generous view, it might be suspected that the United States encouraged demonstrators to break the truce, with the expectation that violence would occur and Yanukovich’s equivocal fat cat backers, such as Akhmetov, would jump ship because the US had already informed them that their assets in the West would be at risk under US and EU sanctions.
If this is the case, the EU perhaps has additional reason to feel sore and resentful at the US. By blowing up the truce and the transition deal, Nuland got Yanukovich out and “Yats”—the preferred US proxy, Arseniy Yatsenyuk—in, but at the cost of terminally alienating the Ukraine’s pro-Russian segment—a segment, it might be pointed out, was actually able to elect Yanukovich in a free and fair election a while back.
In any case, through some creative interpretation of the Ukrainian constitution, the now West-friendly parliament has constituted itself as the primary legitimate organ of government, selected a new prime minister, and scheduled elections for December.
Since this new government is flat-busted, needs somewhere north of $30 billion in fresh loans to make it through the year, one might think the West didn’t get much of a bargain. However, it seems that everybody in the new government is gung-ho on accepting an IMF package through which, I suppose, the Ukraine will be comfortably chained in debt vassalage to the West for the foreseeable future and incapable of returning to the welcoming arms of Russia.
Whether the eastern and southern Ukraine—strongholds of pro-Russian feeling—will put up with the wrenching IMF restructuring that their western comrades appear so eager to implement is another question.
Don’t be surprised if this miraculous offspring of Obamian righteousness and neo-con callous bravado yields another nation-building triumph along the lines of Libya and South Sudan, but this time with the fiasco squarely in the lap of the Ukraine’s discombobulated EU neighbors.