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What Obama Can Do to Save Ukraine

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

President Barack Obama uncomfortably accepting the Nobel Peace Prize from Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (White House photo)
If President Barack Obama is to help defuse the worsening crisis in Ukraine, he will have to show a level of leadership on foreign policy that he has not demonstrated in his five-plus years in office. In particular, he will have to repudiate the one-sided narrative that has been created by his own State Department and the mainstream U.S. media.

Obama will have to recognize the complex reality of Ukraine, a society deeply divided between the west and east, and acknowledge that the U.S.-backed Maidan revolt overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych was indeed spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias who continue to brutalize political opponents, including the May 2 massacre in Odessa that killed dozens of ethnic Russians.

What makes Obama's position so politically difficult in the United States is that the political/media elite has adopted a narrative that excludes the nasty reality of what has actually occurred in Ukraine over the past six months. Instead, the simplistic U.S. narrative made first Yanukovych and then Russian President Vladimir Putin the cardboard villains, and conversely, the Maidan protesters the idealistic heroes.

The black-hat/white-hat narrative has systematically distorted the depiction of Ukraine reaching the American people. So, Obama would have to start back at the beginning and explain how the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev is not all sweetness and light and how the ethnic Russians in the east, who were the political base for Yanukovych, are not just mindless pawns of Moscow.

Not only would Obama have to come down off the U.S. "high horse" and admit that his own administration has been guilty of spinning the facts -- waging "information warfare" -- but he'd have to recognize that Putin's cooperation is essential to bringing this increasingly bloody crisis under control. Obama would also have to admit that Putin was not the cause of the Ukraine mess.

That would challenge a powerful "group think" in Washington that has formed around the idea that the Ukraine crisis is just a Putin ploy to reclaim land lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. To believe that conspiracy theory, however, one has to suspend all sense of logic.

For Putin to have created the Ukraine crisis, he covertly would have had to get the European Union to dangle an unrealistic offer of membership to Ukraine, then get the International Monetary Fund to demand draconian "reforms" that forced Yanukovych to back away, then arrange massive demonstrations in the Maidan in support of a European future, then organize neo-Nazi militias to carry out the putsch, and then just pretend to help his ally Yanukovych survive while really having engaged in this grandiose scheme to drive him from office.

The fact that supposedly serious thinkers in Washington are even suggesting such a preposterous analysis indicates how far the political/media elite in Washington has strayed from sanity, a process that has been underway for decades but has accelerated in the neocon-dominated era since the run-up to the Iraq War.

Whose Disinformation?

One of the worst offenders in this deviation from reality has been the New York Times, whose coverage of Ukraine must be read like you might read a newspaper in a totalitarian society, gleaning a few facts here and there but understanding that they have been assembled as propaganda, not truth.

For instance, on Tuesday, the Times offered up this example of biased journalism:

"The [Ukraine] government seemed to be stepping up its efforts to counter the pro-Russian disinformation campaign that has flooded the television airwaves in the country's east and portrayed the central authorities as illegitimate. [Acting President Oleksandr] Turchynov's office released a number of statements, including one that criticized efforts by those it called terrorists to enlist miners from eastern Ukraine in antigovernment actions."

So, the Times has determined as flat-fact that the TV news reaching eastern Ukraine is "pro-Russian disinformation," citing as the only example the portrayal of the Kiev regime as "illegitimate." But the question of legitimacy is not a question of fact but of opinion.

And, there is no factual doubt that Yanukovych was ousted via extra-constitutional means. There was a violent takeover of government buildings by neo-Nazi militias on Feb. 22 and there was no impeachment that followed the provisions of the Ukrainian constitution. Indeed, much of the constitutional court which is supposed to have a role in an impeachment was disbanded in the coup.

I was told by one senior international diplomat who was on the scene that after the Feb. 22 putsch, Western officials scrambled to help the shaken parliament cobble together a new government to avoid having a bunch of unsavory right-wing thugs become the de facto rulers of Kiev. The niceties of constitutional order were thrown out the window amid the crisis.

However, that means that the legitimacy of the acting government in Kiev is open to debate, not a flat-fact, as the Times would have you believe. But in the world of Official Washington, anyone who details this more complicated history is engaging in "pro-Russian disinformation."

The other hypocrisy here is that it has been the U.S. government and the U.S. media that have actually practiced the dissemination of what appears to be disinformation, such as highlighting an anti-Semitic leaflet that was an apparent hoax falsely attributed to ethnic Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine to discredit them.

The Times also fell for a photographic hoax in which the Kiev regime and the State Department were palming off photos that purportedly proved that Russian troops, who had been photographed "clearly" in Russia, were later seen operating in eastern Ukraine (except that a key photo allegedly taken in Russia was actually snapped in Ukraine, destroying the story's premise).

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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