The United States condemns, blah, blah…

March 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Crimea has a complicated history, we are told—a peninsula repeatedly subject to the machinations of outside powers—and those who believed “the forces of Western-style democracy had prevailed over Yanukovych’s Kremlin-led repression” were bound to be frustrated. Russia’s exports of oil and natural gas, on which several countries in the region are partly dependent, surely go some way in providing leverage. Putting aside the fact that “Western-style democracy” is undefined here, we could question whether or not it is actually a good thing—and whether or not we indeed do have something called “democracy” in the West, beyond a “useful rhetorical line,” and if so, what shape it is in (some would say pretty bad). We could consider what Thomas Carothers, State Department legal advisor under Ronald Reagan, wrote regarding the particular conception of democracy among U.S. government planners, who envisage it “as something like an off-on switch in which the holding of elections and the coming to power of an elected government was the crucial transition from off to on,” where formal institutions are privileged over substance (see Carothers, In the Name of Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years, 1991):

The institutions of U.S. democracy are equated with the ideas and principles behind them. Thus, for example, the idea of a representative government has become identified with a three-part government consisting of executive, legislative, and judiciary branches with the former two elective and the third not. The U.S. version of democracy has come to be thought of by Americans not merely as one of many possible versions, but the very essence of democracy itself. As a result, when the United States sets about to try to promote democracy in a foreign country, it tends not to think about how the general ideas and principles of democracy might take form in that society but to assume that the other country should devote itself to establishing the institutional configuration the United States associates with democracy. 

tank Sochi mascots Russia intervention Crimea

Furry friends mean well! (image:

As with most conflicts, we have been subjected to a barrage of propaganda from both sides, some announcing a reemergence of the Cold War, some networks cheering the feisty freedom fighters of Euromaidan, slinging their rocks at the Russian Goliath, while Kremlin outlets like RT (Russia Today) would have you believe that President Putin just wants everybody to get along, as he orders his Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol to join in the humanitarian intervention underway in Crimea, thereby protecting defenseless ethnic Russians from the hordes of raving brutes roaming the streets… The usual jingoist loudmouths and foreign policy “intellectuals,” who have a talent for not noticing when their own country commits some awful atrocity, have suddenly discovered the evils of military intervention, this time the wrong flavor; severe, doctrinaire Marxists have uncovered the imperialist, neoliberal plot fomenting revolt to usher in another phony “color revolution.” It is true that the recent uprising has had its share of unsavory characters (as well as pseudo-fascist groups), if we can believe the reports, but it is typically the most aggressive and violent elements who tend to seize opportunities like this—and on whom television cameras and photographers tend to focus their attention—to the detriment of the rest of the population, which may have legitimate grievances. It is also true that anyone who orders troops into an area should have to explain himself.

We were also told that funds from the U.S., funneled through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), may have contributed to the political crisis by supporting various political opposition groups and front organisations, as well as promoting the usual teams of “experts” and businessmen who are “developing a vision” for Ukraine, one slogan at a time. This would be nothing new, of course, as the U.S. has since the 1950s worked to extend its influence abroad by funding and promoting various political and cultural activities, propagating values and ideas which further its interests, both overtly and covertly. Shaping perceptions through propaganda has been another component of that broader effort, Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) being obvious examples; RFE/RL is broadcast presently from its headquarters in Prague to 21 countries in 28 languages, including 14 affiliates in Iraq, 17 in Afghanistan, 55 in Serbia, 43 in Kosovo and 16 in Ukraine. It would indeed be surprising if the U.S. weren’t trying to influence the politics of a country like Ukraine, as such has been the norm throughout the post-WWII era. As the U.S. government wished to conduct certain anti-Communist activities covertly, these radios initially operated as projects of ostensibly independent committees—cover organisations—to conceal the extent of government involvement. RFE was initially a project of the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE—later the Free Europe Committee), a corporation established in 1949, mostly funded and directed by the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); RL the vehicle of the non-profit organization American Committee for Liberation of the Peoples of Russia, Inc. (AMCOMLIB—later the Radio Liberty Committee), a “front” based in New York City used by the CIA as part of its Project QKACTIVE [PDF].

State Department Policy Planning Staff Director George Kennan drafted a 30 April 1948 memo [PDF] to the National Security Council outlining his ideas for establishing a policy for what he called “organized political warfare.” Political warfare took two possible forms—overt and covert. Viewing it as “the logical application of Clausewitz’s doctrine in time of peace,” he broadly defined it as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives,” entailing “such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP), and ‘white’ propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of ‘friendly’ foreign elements, ‘black’ psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.” Kennan claimed that U.S. planners had been “handicapped” by the notion of “a basic difference between peace and war,” a conception of war as “a sort of sporting context outside of all political context,” rather than recognizing a broader struggle which continued both “in and out of war.” Several projects were proposed to support the activities of Soviet émigrés, among which: the creation of a public organization to sponsor selected refugee committees and “outstanding political refugees,” particularly “enabling selected refugee leaders to keep alive as public figures with access to printing presses and microphones”—these leaders would “act as foci of national hope and revive a sense of purpose among political refugees from the Soviet World,” provide inspiration for “continuing popular resistance,” and “serve as a potential nucleus for all-out liberation movements in the event of war”; sustaining underground movements behind the “Iron Curtain” through “remote and deeply concealed official control of clandestine operations,” with funds channeled through private organizations acting as intermediaries; support for indigenous anti-Communist elements within Soviet countries, again though private intermediaries; and preventive “direct action” in non-Soviet countries, such as anti-sabotage activities. Similarly, Soviet expert Robert F. Kelley recognized that Russian political refugees represented “a tremendous weapon of political warfare” against the Soviet Union in a May 1949 memo [PDF]. He recommended the formation of a central organization to coordinate anti-Communist activities, provided with clandestine radio facilities to broadcast programs into Soviet countries. An October 1949 memo [PDF] outlines the relationship between the CIA/OPC and the NCFE—the purpose of the NCFE being to offer support to the “political and intellectual leaders” who have come to the U.S. “seeking the freedom denied them in their own lands,” with the OPC providing direct policy guidance and funding. These leaders were to be aided in their efforts “to keep alive among their fellow citizens in Europe the ideals of individual and national freedom,” notably through radio, press and other media, as well as establishing a network with other “like-minded European leaders” in the U.S. and abroad.

By 1951, a “political center” of Russian émigrés based in West Germany was being established in view of organizing radio programs and publications to be directed at the Soviet Union, as well as political activities and a research institute, outlined in a memo [PDF] from OPC Deputy Director (Plans) Frank Wisner. The overall objective of the Radio Liberty broadcasts, according to a March 1952 OPC policy paper [PDF], was “to deepen and widen the gulf between the peoples of the Soviet Union and their Communist rulers”; the broadcasts “should seek to increase … the tensions which exist in the Soviet Union and sow the seeds of dissaffection where it does not now exist,” while encouraging non-cooperation and obstructionism among the population. Of paramount importance was that the broadcasts, emanating from Russian émigrés “who enjoy freedom abroad,” not appear to be the machinations of a foreign power, but the genuine appeals of “fellow countrymen.” Major objectives were the “destruction of the Soviet government’s monopoly of information” and its “monopoly of intellectual education and guidance”; the “destruction of the myth of the inevitable victory of Communism”; touting the superior aspects of Western culture, as well as encouraging defection. Another 1953 memo [PDF] gives similar but more specific guidance and themes. As of 1953, RFE was broadcasting from Munich and Portugal to Soviet satellite countries, while RL also broadcast from Munich. Both RFE and RL were funded and overseen by the CIA until 1971, when they became overt operations; they were merged into RFE/RL, Inc. in 1976. (see document collection at the Wilson Center pertaining to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in the Cold War International History Project)

A June 1953 report to President Eisenhower from the Committee on International Information Activities judged “psychological activities” not separate from the “main body of diplomatic, economic, and military measures by which the United States seeks to achieve its national objectives,” but rather “an ingredient of such measures.” Propaganda was considered “most effective when used as an auxiliary to create a climate of opinion in which national policy objectives can be most readily accomplished,” its objective “seeking to arouse in [foreign peoples] an understanding and a sympathy for the kind of world order which the United States and other free nations seek to achieve.” These examples illustrate some principles still active today; “exporting democracy” is but one tool in a large palette of measures at the state’s disposal, which complement and reinforce each other. Washington, however, as the leading global military interventionist since World War II—with ample wreckage to prove it—has very few lessons to give on the virtues of restraint and moderation. Over time, though, one lesson has been fairly clear: Only we—and our clients—get to act like hoodlums; everyone else plays by the rules. In that spirit, this March 1 statement from Secretary of State John Kerry expressing his disapproval of the Russian incursion into Crimea—to be considered in light of not-so-distant past events—will impress you with its brazenness, if you don’t die laughing:

The United States condemns the Russian Federation’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory, and its violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in full contravention of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. This action is a threat to the peace and security of Ukraine, and the wider region.


Update (March 5): To substantiate claims of U.S. intervention in Ukraine since WWII, as but a small sampling, a 2011 study by professors Richard Breitman and Norman J. W. Goda, Hitler’s Shadow, contains some information on CIA and British MI6 operations involving Ukraine during the post-war era. Under the direction of the National Archives, the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (IWG), established by the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act [P.L. 105-246], has declassified around 8 million pages of documents since 1999; these records, particularly from the CIA and the Army Intelligence Command, provided source material for Breitman and Goda’s excellent study [PDF]. Chapter five concentrates on the Allied cooperation with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) under Stephen Bandera, founded in 1929, and exiled proponents of the underground government, Foreign Representation of the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council (ZP/UHVR).

Initially throwing in their lot with the Germans, OUN leaders were housed in occupied Krakow in 1939. Bandera’s deputy Jaroslav Stetsko trained with the Gestapo; Ukrainian battalions under German command moved into East Galacia (western Ukraine)—where 12,000 Jews were murdered in pogroms at the start of the war—and auxiliary police units engaged in “anti-partisan” operations, often targeting Jews. Ukrainians from the auxiliary units and members of the OUN/B joined the ranks of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a guerrilla organization engaging in terror operations, formed to engage “all political and ethnic enemies including Germans and Soviets.” Although its leaders were imprisoned in 1941 by the Germans and eventually held in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp because of their militant nationalist tendencies—threatening the Nazis, who wished to consolidate their control over Ukraine—the OUN/B (Bandera) wing of the OUN was an openly fascist organization whose ideology merged with that of the Nazis: the territory was to be ethnically cleansed of “impure” (non-Ukrainian) elements in the drive for national independence. Stetsko lamented from Lwów in 1941 the “undeniably harmful and hostile role of the Jews, who are helping Moscow to enslave Ukraine,” supporting “the destruction of the Jews and the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine…”; historian Yehuda Bauer wrote that Bandera loyalists “killed all the Jews they could find”; OUN/B leader Mykola Lebed proposed in 1943 to “cleanse the entire revolutionary territory of the Polish population,” which they did, killing as many as 10,000 Poles in a single day in 1943; according to Moshe Maltz, Bandera loyalists were “literally hacking Poles to pieces,” whose bodies could be seen “with wires around their necks, floating down the river Bug.” Asserting his authority over the Ukrainian émigré community after his release from Sachsenhausen, Bandera formed the Foreign Section OUN (ZCh/OUN) in 1946, a group which routinely engaged in terror and intimidation against its political opponents; plans envisaged a dictatorship formed in exile which would establish control over Ukraine, once liberated.

Bandera loyalists quickly developed an effective network of recruiting agents among the postwar displaced person camps of the American, British and French zones. Owing to their generally anti-Communist stance, U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) agents used them to identify Soviet spies, who had penetrated UPA refugee groups. The UPA foresaw “an end to communism within the very near future,” hoping to eventually “fight either as front shock troops or gain in their old capacity, as guerilla fighters behind the Russian lines”; Bandersts similarly portrayed themselves as the “heroic Ukrainian resistance against the Nazis and the Communists,” a struggle “misrepresented and maligned” by “Moscow propaganda.” Although the CIA discouraged collaboration with Bandera and his organization, considering him “a political intransigent of great personal ambition” and “politically unacceptable to the US Government,” MI6 saw them as potentially useful for “engaging in clandestine operations in the Soviet Union other than those of a purely intelligence-gathering character,” and assisted in inserting them into western Ukraine to gather intelligence. He was seen as “a professional underground worker with a terrorist background and ruthless notions about the rules of the game. … No better and no worse than others of his kind…” West German intelligence (BND) similarly reported that it was receiving “good [foreign intelligence] reports on the Soviet Ukraine” through its collaboration with him, until his assassination by a Soviet agent in 1959.

The U.S. collaboration with Lebed—considered by the CIC a “well-known sadist and collaborator of the Germans” and a “ruthless operator” by the CIA—was more fruitful; he was personally protected from Soviet extradition requests and resettled in New York, where he was eventually granted U.S. citizenship. Lebed’s group was seen as more “moderate” and stable, of utility for intelligence and resistance activities behind Soviet lines. The CIA—whose authorities were expanded under NSC 10/2 in June 1948 to include covert operations such as “subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world”—began providing funds, supplies, training and facilities, as well as parachute drops into Ukraine under the codename CARTEL, later AERODYNAMIC:

AERODYNAMIC’s first phase involved infiltration into Ukraine and then exfiltration of CIA-trained Ukrainian agents. By January 1950 the CIA’s arm for the collection of secret intelligence (Office of Special Operations, OSO) and its arm for covert operations (Office of Policy Coordination, OPC) participated. Operations in that year revealed “a well established and secure underground movement” in the Ukraine that was even “larger and more fully developed than previous reports had indicated.” Washington was especially pleased with the high level of UPA training in the Ukraine and its potential for further guerrilla actions, and with “the extraordinary news that … active resistance to the Soviet regime was spreading steadily eastward, out of the former Polish, Greek Catholic provinces. …

Beginning in 1953 AERODYNAMIC began to operate through a Ukrainian study group under Lebed’s leadership in New York under CIA auspices, which collected Ukrainian literature and history and produced Ukrainian nationalist newspapers, bulletins, radio programming, and books for distribution in the Ukraine. In 1956 this group was formally incorporated as the non-profit Prolog Research and Publishing Association. It allowed the CIA to funnel funds as ostensible private donations without taxable footprints. To avoid nosey New York State authorities, the CIA turned Prolog into a for-profit enterprise called Prolog Research Corporation, which ostensibly received private contracts. Under Hrinioch, Prolog maintained a Munich office named the Ukrainische-Gesellschaft für Auslandsstudien, EV. Most publications were created here. The Hrinioch-Lebed organization still existed, but its activities ran entirely through Prolog.

Prolog recruited and paid Ukrainian émigré writers who were generally unaware that they worked in a CIA-controlled operation. Only the six top members of the ZP/UHVR were witting agents. Beginning in 1955, leaflets were dropped over the Ukraine by air and radio broadcasts titled Nova Ukraina were aired in Athens for Ukrainian consumption. These activities gave way to systematic mailing campaigns to Ukraine through Ukrainian contacts in Poland and émigré contacts in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, and elsewhere. The newspaper Suchasna Ukrainia (Ukraine Today), information bulletins, a Ukrainian language journal for intellectuals called Suchasnist (The Present), and other publications were sent to libraries, cultural institutions, administrative offices and private individuals in Ukraine. These activities encouraged Ukrainian nationalism, strengthened Ukrainian resistance, and provided an alternative to Soviet media.

In 1957 alone, with CIA support, Prolog broadcast 1,200 radio programs totaling 70 hours per month and distributed 200,000 newspapers and 5,000 pamphlets. In the years following, Prolog distributed books by nationalist Ukrainian writers and poets. One CIA analyst judged that, “some form of nationalist feeling continues to exist [in the Ukraine] and … there is an obligation to support it as a cold war weapon.” The distribution of literature in the Soviet Ukraine continued to the end of the Cold War. …

Prolog’s leaders and agents debriefed travelers on their return and shared information with the CIA. In 1966 alone Prolog personnel had contacts with 227 Soviet citizens. Beginning in 1960 Prolog also employed a CIA-trained Ukrainian spotter named Anatol Kaminsky. He created a net of informants in Europe and the United States made up of Ukrainian émigrés and other Europeans travelling to Ukraine who spoke with Soviet Ukrainians in the USSR or with Soviet Ukrainians travelling in the West. By 1966 Kaminsiky was Prolog’s chief operations officer, while Lebed provided overall management.

In this guise, AERODYNAMIC was one of the most effective CIA operations in approaching disaffected Soviet citizens. In the 1960s Prolog’s leaders provided reports on Ukrainian politics, dissident Ukrainian poets, individuals connected with the KGB as well as identities of KGB officers, Soviet missiles and aircraft in western Ukraine, and a host of other topics. Official Soviet attacks on the ZP/UHVR as Banderists, German collaborators, American agents, and the like were evidence of Prolog’s effectiveness, as were Soviet crackdowns on Ukrainian writers and other dissidents in the mid to late 1960s. By that time Prolog influenced a new Ukrainian generation. By 1969 Ukrainians traveling from the USSR were instructed by dissidents there to take informational materials on Soviet repression in Ukraine only to ZP/UHVR personnel. Travelers to Ukraine even reported seeing ZP/UHVR literature in private homes. Prolog had become in the words of one senior CIA official, the sole “vehicle for CIA’s operations directed at the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and [its] forty million Ukrainian citizens.” …

Lebed retired in 1975 but remained an adviser and consultant to Prolog and the ZP/UHVR. Roman Kupchinsky, a Ukrainian journalist who was a one-year-old when the war ended, became Prolog’s chief in 1978. In the 1980s AERODYNAMIC’s name was changed to QRDYNAMIC and in the 1980s PDDYNAMIC and then QRPLUMB. In 1977 President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski helped to expand the program owing to what he called its “impressive dividends” and the “impact on specific audiences in the target area.” In the 1980s Prolog expanded its operations to reach other Soviet nationalities, and in a supreme irony, these included dissident Soviet Jews. With the USSR teetering on the brink of collapse in 1990, QRPLUMB was terminated with a final payout of $1.75 million. Prolog could continue its activities, but it was on its own financially.

—h/t @jeffkaye


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