The Siege of Sevastopol: The New York Times on Ukraine

March 12, 2014   ·   0 Comments

Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Above: Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk will visit the White House on Wednesday. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

By Howard Friel:

A U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) “Resource Summary” for Fiscal Year 2013 says this:

The objective of the Endowment in most of the countries where it is active in the Europe region is “helping new democracies to succeed.” For Eastern and Southeastern Europe, this goal is best met through these countries’ accession to the European Union and NATO (italics added).

In the same paragraph, the NED lists Ukraine as its first priority in Europe as follows: “In the Europe region, the 2013 priority countries will include Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo.”

Likewise, a U.S. State Department “Budget Summary” for Fiscal Year 2013 says this about Ukraine:

U.S. assistance aims to promote the development of a democratic, prosperous, and secure Ukraine, fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community as it struggles to overcome the effects of the global financial crisis and worsening backsliding on democratic reform (italics added).

As of today: Crimea, that is, The Autonomous Republic of Crimea, is part of Ukraine; Sevastopol is a major city in Crimea, thus in Ukraine; and the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Sevastopol, that is, in Crimea, is part of Ukraine. The question is: Do Obama administration policymakers actually think that it would be possible to try to “integrate” the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea, into the NATO military alliance without threatening a major war with Russia?

Suppose Russian (or Soviet) policymakers had issued documents for Fiscal Year 1941 in which they asserted their intention to “attain” the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and “integrate” it into Russia’s economic, political, and military dominion. At the time, Hawaii was an American colony which, unlike Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia, had no ethnic, cultural, or historical affinity with the mainland United States. Wouldn’t most Russians have assumed that by simply issuing such goals it was risking a major war with the United States?

Suppose further that Russia had spent millions of dollars in FY 1941 on subversive activities in Hawaii under the guise of a “National Endowment for Democracy” and an “Economic Support Fund” to effect the economic, political, and military integration of the Pearl Harbor naval base with Russia?

Condoleezza Rice and Arseniy Yatsenyuk meeting September 2007. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Condoleezza Rice and Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk meeting September 2007. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, for FY 2013, the State Department, for Ukraine alone, budgeted $54 million for “An Economic Support Fund,” $7.9 million for USAID “Global Health Programs,” $4.1 million for “International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement,” $1.9 million for “International Military Education and Training,” and $7 million for “Foreign Military Financing.” This is in addition to the $9.5 million that the NED budgeted for its “Central & Eastern Europe” programs in 2013, of which Ukraine is the number one priority. This amounts to $75 million of U.S. involvement in 2013 alone, in addition to what the NED spent, in a country where the head of state was overthrown in early 2014 as explicitly supported by the United States.

Suppose also that you wake up one morning, say today (March 12, 2013), to the following headline in the New York Times: “Obama Team Debates How to Punish Russia.” This headline and story applies, bizarrely, to a situation where Team Obama was almost certainly involved in the destabilization and overthrow of the democratically elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and in the placement of the post-coup, de-facto head of state, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. In addition, Team Obama, ahead of any country in Europe, invited the unelected post-coup head of state to the White House for consultations about matters which, for the most part, will no doubt remain secret. Under the circumstances, who should be punishing who, yet the Russian government has refrained from issuing any such threats.

The question of the gross arrogance and stupidity of so closely identifying the United States with the post-coup, unelected Yatsenyuk, including a visit to the White House a mere eighteen days after the U.S.-supported street-ouster of Yanukovych, no doubt will lead to more such conformist reports, including this one in the Times from yesterday (March 11):

Apparently in an effort to portray the United States as the intransigent party [in post-coup talks], the Kremlin took the unusual step of televising a brief exchange between President Vladimir V. Putin and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in which they complained that Mr. Kerry had spurned an invitation to come to Russia for consultations. The State Department responded by rushing out a statement saying it was the Russians who were not prepared to engage in discussions on the United States’ proposals, especially the idea that they meet with officials from the new Ukrainian government.

Intransigence in The Twilight Zone of U.S. press coverage of Ukraine is not seen in the American effort to hold talks with Russia hostage to the demand that the Russians sit down with “Yats” after Victoria Nuland -- somehow shortly and presciently before the coup – plotted with her ambassador in Ukraine to have “Yats” take over, whereupon “Yats” took over. Instead, the Russians are described as intransigent for refusing to ratify the U.S.-supported coup by meeting with the U.S.-picked, post-coup head of Ukraine.

The fatal flaw here, journalistically speaking for the Times, and, literally for millions of “others” who pay the price as war dead, is the false patriotism of following the lead of the serial insanity of our war-making leaders. In August 1964, the government of North Vietnam denounced the Johnson administration’s claims that two U.S. destroyers patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by North Vietnamese boats as “a sheer fabrication by the United States imperialists.” China denounced the alleged Gulf of Tonkin incident as “deliberate armed aggression.” And the Soviet Union described the incident as “armed aggression” by the United States. The New York Times sided with the Johnson administration, as Richard Falk and I detail in our 2004 book, The Record of the Paper, but North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union were all correct in their denials and denunciations. Johnson, and to a great extent, the U.S. news media, subsequently led the country to full-blown war in Vietnam.

Journalistic variations on the clash between not wanting to support the assertions of U.S. “enemies” in opposition to official U.S. claims would present themselves repeatedly in the years and decades that ensued. Whether the clash involved post-9/11 assertions about Iraqi WMDs and Saddam Hussein’s denials, U.S. claims in the 1980s of a Sandinista arms flow to leftists in Central America and Sandinista denials, and U.S. claims in 2002 of non-involvement in the attempted overthrow of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and Chávez’s claims to the contrary — and many more such instances — the Times has never resolved or acknowledged this longstanding catastrophic defect in its news and editorial policies.

The problem is by no means limited to the New York Times. It’s arguably worse, for example, at NPR, not to mention the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But the Times is held to a higher standard, and it should resolve not to be complicit henceforth in foreign-policy propaganda campaigns that have led to needless war, as happened with Vietnam and Iraq, as its current coverage of U.S. policy toward Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea threatens to do.


Howard Friel is author with Richard Falk of The Record of the Paper: How The New York Times Misreports U.S. Foreign Policy (Verso, 2004) and Israel-Palestine on Record: How The New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East (Verso, 2007). Friel also wrote The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight about Global Warming (Yale University Press, 2010), and most recently Chomsky and Dershowitz: On Endless War and the End of Civil Liberties (Interlink Publishing Group, 2014).


Readers Comments (0)

Sorry, comments are closed on this post.

Read previous post:
Breaches of international law are a serious matter... when some country other than the United States is accused. (Photo: Reuters)
Heard the One About Obama Denouncing a Breach of International Law?

By Norman Solomon: Rather than striving for an evenhanded assessment of how “international law” has become so much coin of...