One of the horrible things about Covid was that we were forced to confront the reality that humans are just awful contrary asses who would rather swim in a bilge of conspiracy theory, than act or think rationally. And no, this is not an attack on Trump Supporters or Covidiots, as moronic and fascistic as those jerks are. This time, we’re seeing it in Russia’s war on the Ukraine, wherein people who really should know better on both the right and left are embarrassing themselves.
I bring you THE LIE OF THE DAY: The US engineered a coup in Ukraine in 2014, overthrowing a legitimately elected President, and thus setting in motion the events leading up to today. So it turns out the current situation is all America’s fault.
The chain of logic to get from here to there is sort of like that of the underwear gnomes. If you haven’t heard of it, the Underwear Gnomes scheme is as follows: 1) Collect Underwear; 2) ——; 3) PROFIT!!! I wouldn’t have thought that would be convincing, but a lot of people have bought into it.
This lie is premised on a very important assumption: That the Ukrainian people are sheep, or perhaps automatons, they have no will, no ideas, no wishes of their own. Their opinions don’t matter. They are simply mindless pawns without agency, seduced and abused by the ‘Evil Americans’ / NATO / The International Monetary Fund & World Bank / ‘teh West!’ George Soros or whatever the villain du jour is in populist or leftist circles. Honest to god, it’s so arrogant and condescending that if it was spoken about an African or Latin American or Asian nation, it would be racist as hell. But whatever, if it’s one thing that populists and leftists have in common, it’s that Ukrainians are mindless brutes without an opinion of their own.
Except for Donbass. Apparently, some form of Agency is allowed for the Brave Donbass People’s Republic, bravely forging and ethnically cleansing their new micro-state with only a little help from the Russian Army. The rulers of Donbass are allowed to have opinions, but not the rest of the Ukrainians. I’d like to call this sarcasm, but golly gee, nope, that’s just what they think. Go figure.
I’m going to advance a revolutionary proposition.
The Ukrainian people kicked Yanukovych out in 2014 all by themselves. It was their choice. Not the Americans, not some vague international conspiracy. It was them.
Now to explain this, I’m going to have to take a little dive into recent Ukrainians history, just to talk about how Ukrainian politics works, and who this guy Yanukovych was, and how he managed to get himself kicked out of the country.
Ukraine emerged as a country in 1991.
It has a lot of history before that, going back to the Kyivan Rus, the Mongol invasions, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, nationalism emerging in the 18th and 19th centuries, a short lived independent state in 1918-1922, Russian genocide on them in 1931-33, the Nazi invasion 1942-44, the Ukrainian guerilla insurgency, 1946-1954, forced population relocations, Russian settlement and Russification. Not going to get deep into that, but just kind of mention it, and note that a lot of Ukrainians had a lot of reasons not to like the Russians.
Definitely didn’t like the Russians. So back in 1991, when the Soviet Union was a thing, the first chance to leave that the Ukrainians got, they took it. They voted 90% to leave the USSR. The Agreement of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to go their separate ways was the end of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine was a brand new country, and like most of the former Soviet states, it was a mess. A basket case of inefficiency and corruption, thrown unprepared into the world, and not swimming well at all.
The first President of the Ukraine was a guy named Leonid Kravchuk, from 1991 to 1994. He wasn’t elected, he just sort of inherited the job as part of the separation. Kravchuk tilted the Ukraine towards the west and away from Russia. Unfortunately for him, the bottom was dropping out of the country. Ukraine’s economy collapsed, and it lost 60% of its GDP, the shift to capitalism meant runaway corruption, robber barons, all the awful things. Ukraine’s voters tossed him out.
The next guy in was Leonid Kuchma, elected in 1995 and winning 52% to 44%. He ran on a pro-Russian platform, but mainly, he ran on the platform of eliminating corruption and getting the economy back on track. To his credit, he did get the economy back on track, and the Ukrainian economy rebounded growing by about 7% per year. That probably got him re-elected in 1999, winning 56% of the vote. But he also had some downsides, like runaway corruption, major scandals, clamping down on the press. Certain journalists ‘disappeared’ conveniently. Let’s be blunt, he flat out murdered people, including a bodyguard who made cassette recordings of a lot of his crimes. In the end, he was very unwelcome, and his time was up in 2004.
Now roll around to 2004, things get interesting. There are two candidates: Victor Yanukovych, Kuchma’s pick, and pro-Russian; and Victor Yuschenko, pro-Western. First Leonids, now Victors, I don’t know what that’s about. By this time, the economy was somewhat stable. This was the first Election where there were two major serious candidates duking it out.
It got interesting, because at first, it looked like Yanukovych won. But as it turned out, there was a lot of fraud and corruption involved. It was pretty obvious, so blatant in fact, that Kuchma refused to endorse Yanukovych. Instead, there was a national uproar, it went all the way to the Supreme Court, the election was invalidated and they held it all over again. Second time around Yuschenko won. Second election, by all accounts was honest, and Yuschenko won fair and square. Even so, it was a pretty close run. Yuschenko won with 52% of the vote to Yanukovych’s 44%.
I want to mention though, that during the campaigns, the Russians tried to kill Yuschenko, poisoning him with dioxin. Apparently, they were all for interfering in the election to make sure their boy won, even if it involved attempted murder. Anyway, neither here nor there, just mentioning it in passing, in case you thought their hands were clean.
Things didn’t go well for Yuschenko. Ukraine had long term economic problems and long term corruption problems, and both of these were beyond his abilities, or beyond the abilities of his successors. So the trend was politicians would come in with expectations, they’do their best, but either they couldn’t solve the problem, or they turned out to be part of the problem, and the voters would turn on them. They’d start out popular, and usually end up in the doghouse.
Our pal Yuschenko came in with 52% of the Ukrainian vote in 2004. By the time the Election rolled around in 2009, he got 5%. He didn’t even make the run off.
Instead, the Election of 2010 came down to a contest between our other pal, Yanukovych – he of the fraudulent election, pro-Russian, and a pro-western woman named Yulia Timoshenko. She’d been an ally of Yuschenko, but they’d had a huge falling out, and she spent most of her campaign fighting with him.
With the pro-western politicians bitterly divided and at war with each other, Yanukovych squeaked out a win, 48% to Timoshenko’s 45%, with Yanukovych once again being accused of cheating. So here we are at 2010, the revolution is four years away.
Now, at this point, I want to make some comments about Ukrainian politics. First, Ukrainians seem to be pretty evenly divided. About 45% are pro-west, pro-Ukrainian ethnic nationalism, 45% are pro-east, pro-Russia. There’s about 10% of the population that seems to be in the middle and goes back and forth.
Second, Ukrainians aren’t only concerned with East vs West. Their politics are a lot more complicated. They’re concerned about the economy, jobs, particularly good jobs, the cost of living, integrity, corruption, government honesty, oligarchs, free press, all that kind of stuff. They’re not that different from the rest of us, and what they really want, as a whole, is a government that will deal with all that stuff. And what turns them off is a government that doesn’t, or that screws up, or harasses journalists, imprisons the opposition, murders people, etc.
Like I said, because Ukraine’s problems are really hard to solve, the Ukrainian population tends to vote people in, and then gets pissed off and lose faith in them. Yuschenko went from 52% popularity to 5%. That’s the pattern. Sometimes the hold onto a decent minority, sometimes they’re practically run out on a rail.
By the way, I’m incredibly simplifying things here. There are parliamentary elections. There are a lot of political parties; there are a lot of Presidential candidates. Ukraine has a lot of politics
Another thing to keep in mind is that Ukrainian politics are actually democratic. The place is a democracy. This is fairly unusual. A lot of the former Soviet Republics like Belarus and Kazakhstan went straight to hard dictatorships. In contrast, the Ukrainians kept on having elections.
But it’s a pretty wild west Democracy. You have Presidents killing journalists and whistleblowers, obvious attempts at election fraud, Russians trying to assassinate Presidential candidates, uprisings, demonstrations, alliances, falling outs, lots of shenanigans.
So, here we are in 2010, and we have President Viktor Yanukovych. The guy who lost in 2004 because he got caught ham-handed cheating. The guy with a 48% mandate.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s not going to turn out well.
And you’d be right, because in power, he turns out to be just as much the corrupt asshole as everyone feared. Even bigger. Let’s go through the list of how he screws up:
For instance, Yulia Timoshenko, the woman he ran against in 2010? She’s thrown in jail on fake charges by 2011. She got 45% of the vote, and he threw her in jail. Imagine how her supporters felt about him. In fact, he throws a lot of his opponents in jail, or opens up criminal investigations on them, so he’s waging a real campaign of suppression and intimidation.
Going by first round and Parliamentary elections, Yuschenko’s real support was probably only around 35%. So throwing his opponents in jail or starting high profile witch hunts, probably alienates around 65% of the voters who are fond of those politicians.
Next it’s the usual shenanigans – aggressive intimidation and harassment of journalists. Ukraine drops all the way down to 126th in the world for Press Freedom. Amnesty international also notes harassment and beatings of protestors and dissidents, police abuse, and there are even stories about murder and accusations of mass murder. The sort of crap that gets around, even if you want to keep it quiet.
Then there’s social policy, where he cuts benefits for war veterans, Chernobyl workers and victims, small businesses, and refused to raise pensions for low income. So already, he was pissing off very photogenic constituencies, the sort of constituencies that popular opinion gets mad over when you screw them. He also stagnated the economy, which may or may not have been his fault, but when people don’t have jobs or money and the cost of living is going up, the leader gets the blame.
Literally, a year after he takes power by 2011, thousands of people are out demonstrating and protesting against him. What this means is that the people who didn’t like him and didn’t vote for him to start with, they’re starting to really really hate him. Two years later, in the 2012 parliamentary elections, his support is down to 30%. What this means is that the 48% who voted for him two years earlier, over a third of those people have stopped liking him, or even finding him tolerable. His support is dropping, his hatred is going up.
Finally, there’s the corruption. We’re talking epic corruption. Full bore, double barrelled, jet propelled, afterburner kicking in corruption.
Literally, Yanukovych is an old school kleptocrat, massively into cronyism and nepotism. 45% of government budgets are going into just two small districts, Donbass and Luhansk, with the rest of the country having to make do. These same regions end up packing his cabinet, with the rest of the country told to go pound sand. Not only is Yanukovych robbing the government blind, he stole 12 billion, and transferred 70 billion out of the country into accounts of cronies, family and friends, he’s robbing the rest of the economy, using his muscle to take over other businesses and loot the private economy – he raided 7,000 businesses.
I’ll repeat that. He stole 12 billion dollars from the government he ran, and that wasn’t enough. He raided and shook down 7,000 businesses. Seven thousand businesses!
Where did he find the time!
And with that money, he lived the life of a Colombian drug lord. He bought himself a 75 million dollar mansion with hundred thousand dollar chandeliers, its own private zoo, tennis court, bowling alley, underground shooting range, 18 hole golf course and a collection of 35 cars (27 of them vintage), seven motorbikes, a yacht.
Look at it this way: Yuschenko was a run of the mill screw up, and he went from 52% to 5%. Yanukovych barely managed his 48% under a cloud, and turned out to be an insanely kleptocratic, oligarchic, murdering gangster-thug, stealing from everyone in sight and running the country into the ground.
By 2014, there’s a long list of people who hate the guy: The entire political opposition, representing 70% of the population, minimum, Chernobyl survivors, war veterans, old age pensioners, poor people, rich people, small business owners, big business owners, journalists, human rights workers, the middle class, the working class, men, women, ethnic minorities, the ethnic majority. Pretty much everyone in the Ukraine, except the few handfuls of his most corrupt cronies was hating the guy.
How is there not going to be a revolution?
The revolution starts, quietly enough, on November 21, 2013, when a bunch of people start protesting his decision that day to switch from European ties to Russian ties. They have a lot of other demands, like freeing jailed opposition leaders, resign, etc. It’s basically your standard “stop screwing around with us” demonstrations.
Yanukovych sends in the cops and they bust a lot of heads. Big mistake, because all those busted heads, the beatings and bloodlettings get on TV and in the newspapers, people are telling their friends and relatives, and instead of the whole thing fading away or getting squashed, a lot more people all over Ukraine start taking to the streets.
Basically, Yanukovych’s publicly violent attack on a peaceful demonstration just sets the whole fire going, like he poured lighter fluid on it. That’s on him, and only him. No one forced him to do that.
Things keep getting out of hand, and Yanukovych on January 16, 2014, signs a dozen “Anti-Protest” laws to shut the whole thing down. That doesn’t work. People just get angrier, more and bigger demonstrations and occupations. Meanwhile, the Parliament, which is also fed up with this guy, turns around and repeals most of his Anti-Protest laws. By January 28, 2014, the Prime Minister under him is resigning in protest.
All that crap about the ‘Anti-Protest’ laws and the baby dictatorship shtick, that’s all on Yanukovych. He didn’t have to handle it that way. But he just kept pouring gasoline on a fire, behaving like an out of touch, kleptocratic thug who figured his problems would go away if he punched down hard enough. All it did was burn away any confidence or faith that anyone might have in him.
By February, 2014, 36 people have been killed, hundreds have been injured, and pretty much the entire country is mad. This is the point where he realizes being a thug isn’t working for him, and he tries to negotiate with his national opposition in hopes of staying on, offering to appoint opposition members to his cabinet. Only he’s so burned his bridges by this time that it’s not even funny.
February 21, he agrees to early elections. February 22, he flees the Capital ahead of an impeachment vote in Parliament. They impeach him anyway, with a vote of 73% to 27%, including his own party throwing him under the bus. He goes on television and refuses to recognise the impeachment. Okay, that speaks for itself.
But he had no intention of sticking it out. His personal guard is Russian Spetsznatz, on loan from Putin. He hangs around the Ukrainian city of Kharkov for just a couple of days. Then on February 24, 2014, he leaves Ukraine, checking into a hotel the next day, and on February 26, he buys himself a nice little cottage in Russia for 52 million. Goodbye, so long, don’t forget to write.
Now, a word about this ‘revolution.’ We’ve seen it before. With minor variations, this is exactly the sort of ‘people power’ revolution that got rid of the Shah of Iran in 1979. It’s the same thing that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986. Or Mubarak in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Or Babydoc Duvalier in Haiti.
We see it over and over – a thuggish, repressive, kleptocratic government alienates every single constituency in the country and stumbles along finally triggering a demonstration, the demonstration snowballs. The kleptocratic thugs resort to brutality, doing exactly the wrong thing every step of the way, until the whole country kicks them out.
This is what it is: The Ukrainians did it themselves.
No Americans required. No NATO required. No George Soros / Trilateral Commission / IMF / World Bank / EU / ‘teh evol Westurn Umparialists!’ None of that. Just an entire nation pissed off beyond all reckoning, and a thuggish clown repeatedly shooting himself in the dick.
Were the Americans around? Sure thing. Did they try to meddle? Sure thing. So did the Russians. The Russians were so deep in meddling, they were trying assassinations. So big frigging deal. Were there foreign powers and foreign interests swirling around? Yeah. Cheerleading? You betcha!
So what? It’s everywhere. It’s all around us. It’s the water we swim in, and that the fish piss in. But it’s not significant.
The Americans didn’t make 45% of the population since 1991 want to get away from Russia and build ties to the west.
The Americans didn’t make Yanukovych a thuggish kleptocrat, or force him to systematically alienate and enrage every constituency in the country. The Americans didn’t force him to engage in half assed, ham-handed, escalating repression until even his own political party was throwing him under the bus. He did all that himself.
Yes, I’m sure that the Americans were cheerleading, and they were congratulating themselves, and the CIA was all perky and proud and all that. But, and I’m sorry but this is going to offend my American readers, the Americans lie – if there’s a wedding, they want to take credit for the bride, and if there’s a funeral, they want the credit for the corpse. No matter what happens anywhere in the world, it’s all about them one way or another. It’s like the Americans invented narcissism. That’s their thing, the way paranoia is the Russians thing. Doesn’t mean they did it.
And frankly, it’s not their fingerprints.
Look, let’s be honest. The Americans have a long history of international sleaze; they’ve overthrown many a government. Iran, 1953, Guatemala, 1954, Vietnam, 1963, Chile 1973, Venezuela attempted 2002, and many attempts all over. They have fingerprints, they’re obvious, they’re ham-handed, and it’s always the same trail of slime.
Venezuela is typical. They look for a likely replacement, typically some opposition member or military, they cozy up, make a lot of promises, stuff them full of money and hype, and hype and then try and make it happen, a nice little decapitation, with the new bosses in place, the levers secure, and a tidy little (or large) purge. In Venezuela, they even had a warship off the coast, ready to help make Hugo Chavez disappear. This is their absolutely standard shtick. When it works, that’s the profile. When it fails, it’s still the profile. It’s what they do and how they do it.
Venezuela poses a problem for the “Americans made the Ukraine Revolution” theory. Because, let’s face it. The Americans hated Hugo Chavez passionately. They hate his successor Maduro. They actually got caught trying to overthrow him. They’ve been hating the Venezuela regime for twenty years… and it’s still standing.
So the argument is that the Americans have spent nigh on a generation passionately hating and wanting and trying to overthrow Venezuelan regimes in their own back yard, and accomplishing precisely nothing… But with a wave of their little finger, they managed to upend Yanukovych.
Look, this is the politest way I can frame it, but… my dog’s ass.
Look, set aside American narcissism, and Russian paranoia, set aside the loopy populist and leftist conspiracy theories, set aside the Russians embarrassment and fury and their need to blame anyone else but themselves for their own failures, set all that aside.
It was the Ukrainians. They got fed up with Yanukovych, he was a thuggish asshole that wore out his welcome, and they rose up and got rid of him. That’s all.
It’s not even particularly out of the ordinary for the Wild West of Ukrainian politics.
The Americans have done all kinds of things. They’ve done slimy awful things before, they’ll do slimy awful things in the future. But they didn’t do this.
The fraudulent narrative of America blaming, has taken on a life of its own. Blaming America gives the Russians an excuse for their own incompetence and mismanagement. It allows them to just ignore all the historical issues and present day antipathies and paint themselves as victims. It allows them to build a shlock case that it’s really self defense, that they aren’t really invading a country, they’re not really bombing hospitals, they’ve been forced into it by ‘teh evol west!’ All their crimes are someone else’s fault.
They just want to live in peace. All they want is security and protection and not have to worry about enemies on their borders, because they’re sad and scared and vulnerable.
WTF? Seriously. The Russians have enough nuclear weapons to incinerate every city on the entire goddamned planet. But they’re forced to invade Ukraine if they don’t, Ukraine might do something that makes them feel threatened.
Well, here’s some truth: The Americans did not overthrow Yanukovych. The Ukrainians did that. They did it because he deserved it. They did it because they have that right. It’s their country, and they have the right to make their own choices, regardless of who it pleases or pisses off. And if the Russians couldn’t make their case, or be persuasive, or make an acceptable offer, if they couldn’t sell themselves and their vision to the Ukrainian… well, that’s not the Ukrainians problem.
EDIT: Just to bring you all up to date, following the ‘Peoples Revolution’ and the impeachment of Yanukovych on February 22, 2014, Russia invaded Crimea on February 26, 2014. That’s pretty much the same day that Yanukovych is buying his 52 million dollar retirement cottage. Don’t know if there’s a connection, maybe he got a discount from Putin or something. The Russians basically sent in their army wearing plainclothes, pretending to be Crimeans and took over. Or maybe Putin just felt he was entitled to it as a consolation prize or participation trophy or something. While under Russian occupation, the Russians held a referendum in Crimea on March 16, and gosh, it turned out that over 95% of the votes were to join Russia.
In March or April, Putin advisor Sergey Glazyev starts pitching to former Russian intelligence officers in the Donbas region, that they should take over the region and set themselves up a mini-state.
Also in early March or April, 2014, there are demonstrations in Luhansk and Donbas, demanding autonomy. April 12 and 14, 2014, the separatists, funded by the Russian government, and with the assistance of non-uniformed Russian troops, begin putting the plan in action, taking over police stations and municipal buildings and proclaim the Donetsk Peoples Republic. Shortly after taking over one town, the ‘Peoples Republic’ executes five people, including a 19 year old. The region plunges into a minor civil war. The People’s Republics ethnically cleans or purge 50% of the population out of the territories they control with Russian assistance.
May 25, 2014, Peter Poroshenko wins the new Election with 55% of the vote. Yanukovych decides not to run. Nobody else gets more than 13%. The people under occupation by the new Luhansk and Donbas People’s Republics aren’t allowed to vote. The People’s Republics had their own referendums on separation, and lo and behold, the vote was 90% to separate.
Ceasefires are signed in September 2014 and February 2015. Both sides accuse each other of violations. Ukraine experiences a long spell of Russian funded terrorism within its borders. Within the new Peoples Republics, the usual purges, executions, kidnappings, rapes, tortures, and arbitrary arrests go on. Elections in the Peoples Republics are discusssed, but not much in evidence.
Poroshenko, sadly for him, does not make much progress on the Crimea, or the People’s Republics, or relations with Russia, or the economy, or corruption, etc. He has trouble working people, there are accusations of corruption. True to the usual pattern of Ukrainian politics, his popularity dwindles away to almost nothing, as people get fed up with him and lack of accomplishment. By the time the next election rolls around in 2019, he’s only able to win 24% of the vote.
Next up is Volodmyr Zelensky, a Russian speaking jew whose grandparents died in the Holocaust. He wins the election by an astonishing 73%, which is epically unheard of in Ukrainian politics. He’s the guy that Donald Trump tries to blackmail and gets impeached over. Like his predecessors, Zelensky faces intractable problems, and like all his predecessors, his popularity drops steadily, eventually down to 38%.
Then Russia invades, and he’s a national hero.