If the only people you listen to are TV talking heads or government spokesmen in Kiev, you’d think that rebel-held provinces in eastern Ukraine are groaning under the yoke of Russian oppression – occupied, ripped off, and tortured at every turn.
After all, it was only four years ago that then-Vice President Joe Biden told the Ukrainian Rada, or parliament, that “Russia continues to send its thugs, its troops, its mercenaries across the border” and that “Russian tanks and missiles still fill the Donbas.” Russian-backed rebels “deny humanitarian aid,” he said, they “keep out organizations like Doctors Without Borders,” and they steal “lifesaving medicine to sell on the black market. That’s not a future. That’s not a future I believe any Ukrainian wants for their children.”
So Biden said, but it’s not what people who live in such areas report. Not only do they not blame Russia for their woes, but they consider themselves lucky to live in rebel-held territory, far away from the incompetents and fascist sympathizers who are making a mess of things up elsewhere in the country.
This is not Kremlin propaganda. Rather, it’s the findings of a new poll conducted by New Image Marketing, a private research firm in Kharkiv, some three hundred miles east of Kiev, and Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (Weekly Mirror), a nonpartisan Ukrainian and Russian-language broadsheet that the BBC has described as “Ukraine’s most influential analytical weekly” and one “widely read by the Ukrainian elite.”
The survey, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 1,600 people in rebel-held portions of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, found that 76 percent view the conflict as a civil war rather than a Russian invasion and that 86 percent believe that it was not the Kremlin that started it. Roughly the same percentage defend Russia’s 2014 takeover of the nearby Crimea as an effort to “legally defend Russian-speaking citizens alienated by Ukraine.”
Instead of Russia, the three groups respondents blame, according to the Kyiv Post, are the Ukrainian government, the United States, and protesters who took part in the fascist-spearheaded 2014 coup d’état that toppled Viktor Yanukovych, the legally-elected president, and brought in a replacement regime hand-picked by Washington. Asked who should pay for the cost of rebuilding, 64 percent said it should be the Ukraine, but that reconstruction should take place under local control.
Finally, only five percent said they would consider moving to Kiev-controlled areas, mainly because they think economic conditions there are stagnant or worse. (Per-capita income in the Ukraine has fallen by better than 25 percent since the February 2014 coup according to the World Bank.) The two people they said they most respect are Vladimir Putin and Russian TV personality Vladimir Solovyov, a Putin supporter who has denounced Kiev as a “Nazi regime.”
This is not what the corporate media want us to believe or, for that matter, Democrats like Biden or Adam Schiff, the neoconservative in charge of impeachment in the House, who was an early voice in favor of lethal military aid for anti-Russian forces. No less hawkish, Biden pushed for lethal aid as well and strongly championed Petro Poroshenko when he took over as president two months after Yanukovych fled the country, but who recently suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Volodymyr Zelensky.
Biden, of course, is fiercely anti-Trump and has attacked for, among other things, his remark that there “were very fine people on both sides” of a fatal clash between leftists and white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Such words “shocked the conscience of this nation,” Biden said in a campaign video, because they imply “a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”
Quite right. But it begs the question of why Biden didn’t speak up when the same forces were rampaging through Kiev. After all, Oleh Tyahnybok, a leader of the anti-Yanukovych protests, is notorious for railing against the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” allegedly squeezing the Ukraine dry and for leading torchlight parades in honor of Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, a Nazi collaborator whose forces killed thousands of Poles and Jews during World War II. Tyahnybok’s followers and other neo-fascists hoisted Nazi SS insignias and white-power signs and for good measure hung a Confederate flag inside Kiev’s occupied town hall.
So why didn’t Biden denounce them the same way he denounced ultra-rightists in Charlottesville? Why, in fact, did he praise as “peaceful patriots” reigniting a “flame of hope”?
“Amidst fire and ice, snipers on rooftops,” he said in his December 2015 speech before the Rada, “the Heavenly Hundred paid the ultimate price of patriots the world over. Their blood and courage delivering to the Ukrainian people a second chance for freedom.
So why blame Trump for saying nice things about ultra-rightists in Charlottesville while dishing out even more extravagant praise for neo-fascists in Kiev? If it’s wrong to attack Jews and blacks in one locale, why is it permissible to attack Jews and Muscovites in another? Trump is currently going through the fires of hell for temporarily withholding $391 million in military aid for the Ukraine’s fascist-tinged government. But his real crime was not holding the money up, but relenting and eventually allowing it to go through.
If don’t believe it, ask people in Donetsk and Luhansk who are on the receiving end of US-supplied bullets and Javelin missiles. They’ll give you an earful about what Ukrainian government forces they call “Naziki,” or little Nazis, are doing. And it won’t be what the parade of State Department witnesses are saying in the impeachment hearings on CNN or MSNBC.