US and World Politics

Ukraine Myths Used to Justify Putin’s Terror

By Michael Karadjis

Michael Karadjis has written a series outlining well-known assertions1 that have been spread about the situation in Ukraine since 2014. His review demonstrates that these assertions are “complete myths,” and his intention to “shoot them down because although they may have been invented by apologists for Putin’s war of neo-Tsarist conquest, unfortunately many of them are believed by a large number of western leftists, peace activists and fence-sitters, including many who are well-intentioned and who oppose Putin and simply want the war to end.” While the Ukrainian government can certainly be criticized for many things,” Karadjis writes, “like any government can, there is simply no ‘two sides’ story in a blatant and horrifically brutal act of 19th century style imperialist conquest.” We are printing Myth 1. —The Editors

Myth 1: The Maidan uprising of 2014 was a “U.S.-orchestrated coup:”

There was no “coup” in Ukraine in 2014, except in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk. When hundreds-of-thousands of Ukrainians marched in the streets in a sustained mobilization over many months from November 2013 through February 2014—against the uber-corrupt ruler, Victor Yanukovych—this is not the conventional definition of a “coup,” which normally refers to a conspiratorial action of a small but powerful group (e.g., a section of the armed forces or other state forces) carrying out a rapid and violent ousting of a government. There are dozens of examples to choose from, for example the U.S.-backed coups that ushered in bloody dictators like Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, Mobutu in Zaire, the Shah in Iran and the list is virtually endless—none of which look remotely like the popular uprising that took place in Ukraine.

Incidentally, since I called Yanukovych’s regime “uber-corrupt,” let’s just make an aside to back this up. We read that after his overthrow, “Ukrainian citizens who stormed his Mezhyhirya mansion discovered a palace of cartoonish opulence with gilded bathrooms, a private zoo, and a floating restaurant in the shape of a pirate ship. A good illustration of this extravagance is the $11 million he allegedly paid for a chandelier and his seven tablecloths worth a staggering $13,000.” Interesting the kinds of thieving capitalist rulers that some “socialists” have come to defend in this era of “geopolitical” rather than class analysis.

Yanukovych, like many unpopular despots, reacted first by bashing protestors with iron bars, then with a raft of anti-democratic anti-protest laws, then with guns, and hundreds were shot—but of course each upturn in repression only made the popular movement more determined to get rid of him, despite attempts by some of the opposition leadership in January-February 2014 to do a deal to allow him to stay as president until December 2014. In the end he made their deals pointless anyway, when he fled to Russia with his stolen billions (some estimates as high as $37 billion,) following which on February 22 the entire Ukrainian parliament—every member, including every member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions—voted to oust him as president.

If such a profoundly democratic process involving mass popular uprising and unanimous votes by a democratically elected parliament constitute a “coup,” then logically we should be in favor of more “coups.”

The mass uprising

For an excellent blow-by-blow account of the Ukrainian popular uprising of 2013-14, Ukraine Diaries by Andrey Kurkov is a must. Or better still, watch the amazing film, Winter on Fire (Netflix) but buying the book would give you a fuller picture. It covers the full three months of the uprising, the enormity of the demonstrations, the ongoing brutal repression. If after watching it you still think the events were a “coup” rather than truly massive genuine revolution, then we’re speaking a different language.

It is a sad moment when “leftists” decide that massive popular street protests against reactionary capitalist rulers are a bad thing. They thereby reject everything they have claimed to stand for throughout their lives. Unless they think that people have no agency (and no rights to agency) and that these kinds of numbers can all be manipulated by the CIA, Victoria Nuland, Hunter Biden, etc. Were all these hundreds-of-thousands of people in the streets, and every member of parliament, personally bribed?

That the U.S. (or others) will always attempt to influence, to co-opt, a movement, is of course a given, but that is not a reason to oppose a popular uprising or mass mobilization and hence essentially give support to a corrupt and repressive regime being overthrown.

Coup” in this case seems to be just an updated version of the infamous term “color revolution,” a nonsense concept invented by tankies2 who did not like watching the heroic Serbian working class overthrow bourgeois-nationalist butcher Milosevic in 2000, and so then extended its use to entirely different circumstances in Georgia in 2003 and different again in Ukraine in 2004. It is simply a term used for “popular uprising” when it is one disapproved of by this sub-set of western lefties who assume they know what’s best for other peoples, and/or when the regime it is directed against is allied to Russian or Chinese (rather than U.S.) imperialism or otherwise engages in some hollow “anti-imperialist” bluster.

U.S. orchestrated?

The idea that the popular uprising was “U.S.-orchestrated” stems from attempts by U.S. rulers to co-opt it. One might say, “what business do U.S. leaders have turning up to meet with protest leaders in another country?” I agree—they should keep their noses out of it, just as should the Russians—but the point here is not the political morality of this—it is nave to think powerful states don’t always try to co-opt movements—but rather the fact that they had remarkably little to do with what eventuated, and simply did not have this power.

The main charge is that U.S. advisors like Victoria Nuland played some role in choosing the caretaker who would temporarily become prime minister, after Yanukovych’s prime minister from his Party of Regions, Mykola Azarov, resigned on January 28 amidst the upsurge. Whether or not U.S. advice was decisive in this choice of caretaker is hard to say. The idea is based on leaked correspondence involving Nuland and U.S. ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, where they did say they preferred the candidate (of three options,) Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was indeed the one subsequently chosen by the Ukrainian parliament as interim prime minister. Is it not possible that the Ukrainian parliament made its own decision that they preferred him of the three options?

Just out of interest though, for those with short attention spans who think jumbling together “coup,” the U.S., “fascists” and “banning Russian language” explains anything, it is worthwhile briefly looking at the interim leaders chosen. It is clear from Nuland’s leaked correspondence that that candidate she preferred as prime minister, Yatsenyuk, was one of the more liberal ones, as opposed to Oleh Tyahnybok, from the far-right fringe. As Pyatt notes, “we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok and his guys.” For some reason, they also prefer Yatsenyuk over the other “moderate democrat,” Vitaly Klitschko; Nuland says “I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” and “what he (Yatsenyuk) needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside.” Clearly, they want to keep the far-right out, but as for “Yats” over “Klitsch,” the only clue is that Yatsenyuk was probably seen as more of a compromise candidate by Moscow, because Yanukovych had offered Yatsenyuk the prime-ministership on January 25 (before his own pm resigned!)

Indeed, in the same leak, Nuland and Pyatt also speak of the need for “some kind of outreach to Yanukovych.” So, far from the Nuland chat being part of a far-right, anti-Moscow coup, it appears that they preferred as interim Prime Minister the candidate who could best build bridges with Moscow. The only way I can read all this is that the famous “Nuland leak” is about Nuland and the U.S. government preferring to hatch a deal with Yanukovych, some kind of compromise government. After all, what most left conspiracists miss in all this is that Ukraine has both a president and a prime minister: Yanukovych was the president. The Nuland discussion did not concern his position at all, but rather who was going to be his interim prime minister! Unfortunately for Nuland, the U.S. and the “moderate democrats,” the deal stitched together to keep Yanukovych in power till December with a new prime minister was rejected by the Ukrainian masses. U.S. interference! Nuland advocates same interim prime minister for Yanukovych as does Yanukovych to aid the deal to him in power!

As for the interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov was appointed by the Ukrainian parliament on February 23 after it ousted Yanukovych the previous day, and there is no “Nuland story” about this appointment. But did the “coup” leaders (i.e., the entire elected parliament) choose some rabid Russophobe to heighten tension with Moscow and with Russian speakers in Ukraine? Well, when the post-Maidan interim government attempted to overturn the language law which Yanukovych had introduced in 2012, which gave Russian equal status to Ukrainian, this was vetoed by none other than interim president Turchynov. So, very much the moderate, the bridge-builder, trying to hold back the more virulent strains of west Ukrainian nationalism raising their head. Really, these pieces are not falling together very well for tankie fiction stories.

After all, the brief interim period was followed by presidential elections in May in which Ukrainians freely elected Petro Poroshenko; and parliamentary elections in October, in which a government was freely elected by Ukrainians, and chose Yatsenyuk, once again, to continue as prime minister (his party, the Peoples Front Party, received the highest number of popular votes, so I don’t think Victoria Nuland had anything to do with that.) Tankies thus can make up stories about the U.S. choosing the Ukrainian government, but what they really mean is that these fine people living in faraway lands disapprove of the choices democratically made by Ukrainians, and believe they have a right to demand they choose otherwise.

Regarding the parliamentary elections, the parties of Yatsenyuk and of Poroshenko received nearly half the votes between them and the majority of seats. The Opposition Bloc (i.e., the renamed Party of Regions, which tankies will tell you was banned from standing) received 9.43 percent of the vote and 27 seats; while neither the fascist right (Svoboda and Right Sector, with 4.71 percent and 1.8 percent of votes respectively,) nor the Communist Party of Ukraine (with 3.8 percent of votes) cleared the electoral threshold and thus got no seats.

As for Yanukovych, MPs from his own Party of Regions released a statement asserting “Ukraine was betrayed, and people were set against each other. Full responsibility for this rests with Yanukovych and his entourage.” As for the allegedly “pro-Yanukovych” populations of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, on the question of whether they consider Yanukovych “to be a legitimate President of Ukraine,” in an April 2014 survey only 32 percent and 28 percent respectively in Donetsk and Luhansk respectively said “rather” or “certainly yes” (and these were by far the biggest numbers in Ukraine,), compared to 57-58 percent who said “rather” or “certainly no.” Western tankies are well alone on this one, of defending the born-to-rule rights of a murderous, hyper-corrupt multi-billionaire oligarch.

Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis, June 2023

1 This list of myths is an ongoing project and new ones will be added as time permits. All suggestions welcome. To date, this is the list of myths that will be dealt with below, along with their specific Facebook links where each was originally posted:

Myth 1: The Maidan uprising of 2014 was a “U.S.-orchestrated coup.”

Myth 2: The new government in 2014 “banned the Russian language.”

Myth 3: The Crimean people voted in a referendum to join Russia, which was an act of national self-determination, and Crimea rightfully belonged to Russia historically.

Myth 4: There were popular uprisings of the ethnic Russian population of the Donbas, who established their own republics in an act of national self-determination.

Myth 5: The Ukrainian army killed 14,000 ethnic Russians in Donbas between 2014 and 2022.

Myth 6: The Minsk Accords offered a just way out of the crisis, Russia wanted to implement them, but the Ukrainian government refused to implement them, encouraged by the U.S.

2 A tankie is a leftist political insult for a communist who defends Stalinism or supports authoritarian or militaristic, anti-capitalist regimes.