(Article changed on March 14, 2014 at 11:15)
"The principles here are inviolable and they are starkly clear,"
Obama spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters about the crisis in Ukraine.
But the Obama administration clearly didn't stick to its guns. On one hand it
renounced the upcoming referendum on Crimea's
future, proclaiming that "it will not be viewed as legitimate because it
is inconsistent with the Ukrainian constitution." Then days later, Obama
met in the White House with Arseny Yatsenyuk, the new Ukrainian prime minister
who came to power by extra-constitutional means. Why was the constitution
important in one case, but not in the other? Apparently for the Obama
administration, the word "inviolable" is not inviolate. It's flexible
enough for Obama to welcome a neo-Nazi collaborator at the White House. Here's
The rise to power of Yatsenyuk and president Olexandr Turchinov was unconstitutional because someone else was still the legal president. That was Victor Yanukovych, the wildly unpopular figure who was the target of the spectacular Maidan Square demonstrations that started back in November of last year.
The crowd demanded Yanukovych's resignation, ostensibly over the president's failure to sign a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU. But there was also an undercurrent of complaints about monumental corruption, a dwindling economy, and unfulfilled campaign promises. And all this happened amid whispers that the U.S. and the EU were inciting discontent from behind the scenes.
Ultimately the crowd turned violent, hurling fire bombs and bricks at the police. A crescendo was reached when sniper fire broke out, killing and injuring many. At first demonstration leaders blamed the government for that. Then an Estonian government official raised suspicion that the snipers were hired by the protest leaders. After that the protest leaders switched their story, now blaming Russia. There still isn't a definitive answer.
Underneath all this there may have been the germ of a good idea in calling for Yanukovych to go. And it's quite possible that a legal impeachment action would have succeeded. But, despite widespread media reports to the contrary, there was no impeachment. Instead the leaders of the marathon street demonstrations just imposed themselves and took over. There was nothing constitutional about it. Yanukovych said his life was threatened and sought refuge outside the capital, hoping that things in Kyiv would calm down.
According to the protest leaders, though, the rule apparently is "out of town, out of office," because they claimed that Yanukovych's flight to safety was tantamount to resignation. But it wasn't. The constitution requires that a resigning president personally appear before the parliament to tender his resignation. That never happened. Nonetheless, the new regime astonishingly represents their actions as being constitutional.
Why didn't they simply admit to being revolutionaries, and ask Ukrainians and the world for approval?
So now what we're left with is a new government that threw out the president and threw out the constitution -- and then got invited to the White House to meet with Obama. That invitation represents some dedication to inviolable principles, doesn't it.
The White House welcome had another troubling side to it. You see, the coalition government Yatsenyuk formed includes fascist and neo-Nazi factions that played a strong role in the street demonstrations. What I believe is especially controversial about this meeting is that the president has in effect invited a neo-Nazi collaborator into the White House.
Two factions, "Svoboda" and "The Right Sector," have come under particular international scrutiny. The Anti-Defamation League's Andrew Srulevitch has said that Svoboda has "a history of anti-Semitic statements to overcome, and a clear political program of ethnic nationalism that makes Jews nervous." In 2012, the EU parliament passed a resolution calling Svoboda "xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic." Members of this faction were seen marching through the demonstrations wearing Hitler-era Nazi symbols. Now Svoboda faction member Oleh Makhnitsky serves as the Prosecutor General of Ukraine and member Ihor Tenyukh is the Minister of Defense.
The Right Sector was a focus of a BBC documentary titled "Neo-Nazi Threat in New Ukraine." The report says it is perhaps the largest of the groups. Members have been seen in Maidan Square carrying baseball bats and guns. BBC's reporter interviewed a representative about the group's political beliefs. The man responded saying "National Socialist themes are popular amongst some of us." That means, he said, "a clean nation ... not like under Hitler ... but in our own way, a little bit like that." The Right Sector's leader, Dmytro Yarosh, is now the Deputy Secretary of National Security in Ukraine.
Following Yatsenyuk's White House meeting, he gave a public presentation at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. There he was asked about Russian president Vladimir Putin's strategy vis-a-vis Ukraine. In his answer Yatsenyuk complained that, "probably president Putin doesn't know that this is the first government where a deputy prime minister represents the Jewish community. Then president Putin said some stuff about fascists, protesters. No evidence at all. And we are the government who will fight with anyone who proclaims anything that resembles fascists or Nazis."
Given the background of the Svoboda and The Right Sector factions in the government, it is hard for me to interpret Yatsenyuk's comments as anything but a bold lie. The new Ukrainian regime has been dishonest about its unconstitutional rise to power. And it has swept under the rug the presence of fascist and neo-Nazi factions in its coalition.
I don't know what Obama talked about in his closed door meeting with Yatsenyuk. But I think he owes Americans an explanation of how he handled the Ukrainian extremist and dishonesty issues.
And what about the reporters who listened to Carney's specious claim of inviolable principals, heard Obama's report on his meeting with Yatsenyuk, and observed Yatsenyuk's preposterous public presentation? Why haven't they called a spade a spade and signaled that something smells bad in all this?