Paul Craig Roberts on Crimea, US Foreign Policy and the Transformation of Mainstream Media
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 13:47
By Harrison Samphir, Truthout | Interview Original Here
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?
"What has happened in Ukraine is the United States organized and financed a coup."
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 was 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 there is not an independent media. It cannot take positions on any important issue contrary to the government's propaganda."
In your latest writings you've discussed the failure of the so called mainstream or American media in reporting about Crimea objectively - that is, without displaying a bias toward one side or the other. Can you discuss the role alternative media has played in relation to the crisis in Ukraine?
A very important part of it has to do with something that happened toward the end of [Bill] Clinton's second term. He permitted five mega companies to consolidate the formerly independent and dispersed US media. What were once independent networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, they all became cogs in a larger media empire. The value of these big media companies is their federal broadcast licenses: They can't go against the government and expect them to be renewed. Another big change is these media companies are no longer run by journalists. They're run by corporate advertising executives and former government officials. And their only interests are protecting the net worth of the company and the flow of advertising revenues. So there is not an independent media. It cannot take positions on any important issue contrary to the government's propaganda. That's part of the problem right there.
Another part of the problem is that during the long Cold War, the Soviet Union, which is Russia in most people's minds, was demonized effectively. This demonization persists. Remember, the initial collapse of the USSR worked very much to the West's advantage. They could easily manipulate [Boris] Yeltsin, and various oligarchs were able to seize and plunder the resources of the country. Much Israeli and American money was part of that. When Putin came along and started stopping this and trying to put the country back in place, he was demonized. Also, just as Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state [for European and Eurasian Affairs], admitted when she spoke at the National Press Club last December, the United States has invested $5 billion aligning Ukraine with its interests since the failed Orange Revolution . They've probably spent many times that on NGOs inside Russia. There are at least 1,000 non-governmental organizations in the country that are financed by Washington. This has persisted for a long time, and it was only last year when Putin finally said that these organizations that are financed by US money must register as foreign agents. This is, of course, American policy. If you operate here with foreign money - unless you're Israel - you must register as a foreign agent. Yet when Putin applied the same rules, he was demonized. So you have everywhere this exposure across American generations of people to propaganda that diabolizes every aspect of Russia. So if someone tells you the Russians sent the tanks into Crimea, it just fits a pre-existing narrative.
"The Soviet Union and Communist China existed, and these were huge constraints on American power. The US couldn't go waltzing in blowing up countries throughout the Middle East for example."
Looking back on your time as assistant secretary of the treasury under Ronald Reagan, how have the global politics of brinkmanship changed? Are foreign conflicts perceived differently now than ever before?
Oh, yes, it's changed tremendously, in two critical ways. One is the Soviet Union and Communist China existed, and these were huge constraints on American power. The US couldn't go waltzing in blowing up countries throughout the Middle East, for example. Those constraints on American power no longer exist. The Cold War is gone, and the alliances that were part of it have disappeared. When I was in the Reagan administration, the neoconservatives had not emerged as the ideological force that they are today; they had not written their position papers calling for American world hegemony. So there was not an agenda in Washington or in the Reagan administration of American hegemony over the world. Reagan's approach toward Gorbachev was not to win the Cold War, he told us repeatedly. The point was to end it. The neoconservatives did emerge first during that time, but they had nowhere near the same power or influence that they did under Clinton, George W. Bush and now Obama. In fact they caused so much trouble for [Reagan], he fired every one of them. They were behind the Contras in Nicaragua. Some of them were actually prosecuted and convicted - such as Elliot Abrams, who was assistant secretary of state. He and others were later pardoned by George H.W. Bush, but the Reagan administration itself took very strong action against neoconservatives. They were fired, thrown out of the government. Richard Perle was even thrown off of the [President's Intelligence Advisory Board]. The neoconservatives emerged with the American attacks on Serbia - what we call the NATO attacks - and the theft of Kosovo from Serbia and its setup as an American protectorate. Their influence then exploded in the first years of George W. Bush. The entire national security apparatus, the entire Pentagon, the entire State Department were all staffed-up by neoconservatives. The agenda was there. It had been set out in papers from the Project for the New American Century, and much of the government was run by its representatives. The Obama administration has many of the same people, but now they're able to go further because they have more resources to fund dissent groups like we've seen in Ukraine.
"There's no evidence that the American people support Washington's meddling in Ukraine. And they should get out and protest it, because it could mean a major war and even the use of nuclear weapons."
What can average people do to voice their concerns about the issues you've raised? How will the crisis evolve from here?
They ought to get out into the streets. There's no evidence that the American people support Washington's meddling in Ukraine. And they should get out and protest it, because it could mean a major war and even the use of nuclear weapons. The US government has violated every norm of international law and almost the entirety of American law. It is tyranny. Another point: according to Obama and Kerry, and the mainstream media, Russia is to be damned for intervening in the Crimea. This we've all heard since the situation began. Well, [March 11] Obama and Kerry demanded that Russia intervene in Crimea and block the self-determination of the Crimean people. They asked Russia to stop the referendum! So now, out of one corner of its mouth, Washington is damning them Russia for an intervention they didn't make, and out of the other corner of its mouth, it's demanding they intervene and deny the people of Crimea the right to self-determination. And if they don't do that, Kerry said, We will make you pay. This is blatant. And there isn't a word about it in the major newspapers.
Harrison Samphir is an editor and writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) in history from the University of Manitoba. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HarrySamphir.