Friday, March 07, 2014

Why the Paet/Ashton Phone Call Matters

As readers may know—a necessary caveat because the story has not received wall-to-wall play as, for instance, the resignation of Liz Wray from RT has attracted—the audio of an intercepted phone call between the Foreign Minister of Estonia, one Urmas Paet, and Baron Ashton, the EU poobah in charge of foreign relations and, by extension, the Ukraine mess, made its way onto the Internet.

Paet is reporting on what he saw and heard in Ukraine near the height of the crisis, shortly after the sniper attack of February 21 and the precipitous collapse of the Yanyukovich government.

The contents of the phone call are pretty damning.  

I will turn to the notes on Paet's comments in the tape as posted by Moon of Alabama:

·  here is no trust of the people in the new government (2:35)
·  all of them in the new government have a dirty past (2:50)
·  the trust level (towards the new government) is absolutely low (3:20)
·  enormous pressure against (party of the region) members of parliament (3:40)
·  "uninvited visitors" enter in the night on party members (3:50)
·  journalists who were with me saw during the day that one member of parliament was just beaten in front of the parliament (4:00)
·  people will not leave the street before *real* reforms start, it is not enough that there is just change of government (4:20)
·  the same Olga (from a civil society group) told me that people killed by snipers on both sides, among policemen and people on the street, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides, she showed me some photos and said she has a medical doctor and that it is the same handwriting and the same type of bullets and it is disturbing that the new coalition now don't want to investigate (8:25)
·  There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovich but it was somebody from the new coalition. (8:55)
·  it discredited itself from the very beginning this new coalition (9:20)

“The same Olga” is Olga Bogomolets, apparently a very nice, very idealist leader of the peaceful Maidan protesters, who was in charge of first aid and medical issues in the square.  Not just an anonymous do-gooder, she was a symbol of the protest hagiographized by The Daily Beast as “The Mother Teresa of the Maidan”.  At one point, the West and the new government were keen to lure her into the new regime as Health Minister, in order to claim some of that idealistic Maidan glow for the rather unappetizing collection of pro-IMF technocrats, refurbished oligarchs, and ultra-nationalist thugs currently calling the shots.  To date Bogomolets has declined, presumably for the reasons described above.

After the tape was released, the Daily Telegraph tracked down Bogomolets, who gave this rather parsed denial:

"Myself I saw only protesters. I do not know the type of wounds suffered by military people," "I think you can only say something like this on the basis of fact. It's not correct and its not good to do this. It should be based on fact."

She added that the new government in Kiev had assured her that a criminal investigation had begun although she had not direct contact with it so far.

"I was a doctor helping to save people on the square. There were 15 people killed on the first day by snipers. They were shot directly to the heart, brain and arteries. There were more than 40 the next day, 12 of them died in my arms," she concluded. 

In the Paet/Ashton tape, Paet told Ashton that Olga told him she had seen photos (apparently of shot policemen) and “as a doctor” it was the “same handwriting” and same type of bullets.  I would infer that by “handwriting” Paets meant “signature” i.e. the same pattern—accurate shots to vital parts of the body—characterized the wounded and dead on both sides.

So, by limiting herself in her reply to the Telegraph to what she had actually witnessed, Bogomolets was leaving out the issue of what she had seen in photographs and videos of the February 21 bloodshed, which exist in huge numbers, including HD video of the shootings and close-ups of the victims.

In other words, Bogomolets is hedging a bit here in retreating to a rather lawyerly “I can only vouch for what I personally witnessed”.

But she certainly wants an investigation, an investigation that the new government is apparently dragging its feet on.

The intercepted tape provides significant support for the thesis that the snipers were provocateurs.

As to why provocateurs might come in handy, I refer you to Victoria Nuland’s warning to pre-Yanyukovich oligarchs that their assets in the West would be at risk “if violence was used against protesters”.

After the shooting, Yanyukovich’s support in the parliament, presumably including the oligarch-backed deputies, evaporated, Yanyukovich fled, and the new government moved in and tried to put an EU-brokered transition agreement (which would have kept Yanyukovich in power until a new election) behind it.

Moral issues aside, one might say, so the new government shot its way into power, possession is nine-tenths of the law, suck on that, Vlad, etc.

There’s a little more to it, thanks to the Russian power play in Crimea.

Russia hopes to cast the shadow of illegitimacy over the Kiev regime, thereby legitimizing its own actions to protect ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in general.

Russia not only hopes to legitimize its actions, in my view, it wishes to legalize them.

And that brings us back to Kosovo, the Albanian enclave that was separated from pro-Russian Serbia.  Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, after Russia and its allies had dragged their feet on the new, foreign-drafted constitution that was intended to give a veneer of legality to Kosovo’s de facto and, after a decent interval, de jure independence.

All this happened while Kosovo was essentially a UN protectorate.

According to the West, since Yugoslavia had “dissolved”, all sovereign bets were off and there was no need to respect Serbia’s claims of sovereignty over Kosovo.  For bonus points, the Office for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the same OSCE now being bruited about as observers in Ukraine, observed the Kosovo elections to the parliament that unilaterally declared independence.

So Kosovo declared independence under rather dodgy circumstances in order to sidestep Russian attempts to influence the process on behalf of the Kosovar Serbs and brushing aside the UN mandate in the process.  The United States, the EU, and their allies promptly recognized the new government despite the apparent legal holes in the case, thereby considerably rankling the Russians.

In the matter of Ukraine, therefore, the Russian government is giving great weight to what it regards as the criminality inherent in the seizure of power in Kiev by the new leadership, as indicated by the Paets/Ashton tape.  

If the new government isn’t legitimate, then Russia has leeway to adopt the Kosovo formula—a legal reorganization of new republics out of a dissolved state—for its Crimea shenanigans.

And they are saying that the Crimean parliament has as much right to determine the region’s future with Russian support as Kosovo’s parliament did with the support of the West.

Unsurprisingly, the US government and prestige media, particularly in the United States, have shown little appetite for delving into the rather explosive accusation that the new Kiev regime climbed into power on a ladder of corpses they themselves created.

The Western powers, to their considerable discredit, are quite keen to sweep the revelations under the rug and prop up the oligarch-heavy, IMF-friendly current government as a legitimate expression of the democratic yearnings of the Ukrainian people, as somewhat metaphysically if not politically expressed by the Maidan demonstrators.  The gymnastics of Western diplomats and journalists to present the current Kiev outfit as anti-oligarch populists, in particular, I think has Putin rolling his eyes in some combination of exasperation and admiration.

At the same time, the Russians are ostentatiously refusing to any legitimacy-enhancing contacts with the Kiev regime even when Kiev representatives are brought along to a meeting, as Secretary of State Kerry did in Paris.

It may give heartburn to the neo-liberal quadrant, but the Russians are closer to the truth here.

Dissatisfaction of the Maidan activists with the new government is palpable, and it is no coincidence that, when the Crimea crisis emerged, government representatives visited Maidan and told the activists to please go home now, since the key issue now was national unity in the face of the Russian threat and not their picky problems about corruption and governance.

Putin, who I expect had heard the intercepted phone call prior to its release, repeatedly alluded in his press conference to the nobility of the Maidan demonstrators and sympathized with their clear distaste for the neo-oligarchical government (now with genuine oligarchs running the eastern provinces) as well as Yanyukovich (the relish with which Putin threw Yanyukovich under the bus was noteworthy.  Nothing irritates an imperial boss more than an inept proxy).

And I would not be surprised if accusations that the mysterious outburst of sniper fire (which instead of strengthening the purported perpetrator, Yanyukovich, actually catapulted the neo-oligarchical opposition into power) was a black job executed by extremist neo-nationalists gain traction among the genuinely reformist Maidan activists.

Activists such as Obomolets perhaps do not want to give Russia public aid and comfort by endorsing the sniper narrative, at least as long as Russia is threatening Ukrainian sovereignty.  But don’t expect the activist mood to improve if the new government, in addition to entrenching oligarchs instead of removing them, concludes an excruciating austerity agreement with the IMF.

Both the West and Russia have ample experience in delaying embarrassing investigations, and then producing long-after-the-fact whitewashes of their skullduggery—and the new Kiev regime has the added advantage of having ultranationalist thugs on tap to intimidate witnesses and nosy bureaucrats--so I don’t have any particular hope that justice will break out and the full story of “snipergate” will come to light.

But by the same token, I don’t expect the Russians to let up on the allegations, since they strike at the very heart of the new regime’s legitimacy.  The accusations—and demands that Ukraine return to the February 21 transition arrangement-- probably won’t go away, at least on the Russian side, until the Russians gain satisfactory international recognition of the status of Crimea, whatever that turns out to be.


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