Western leftist conspiracy narratives: or, the devil in the details
An article is circulating in the western left that alleges that Ukraine’s new president Poroshenko has been a “mole” for the U.S. State Department since 2006. The article is just one example of the kind of narrative I’ve seen circulating widely in the western anti-American left that overstates the U.S.’s role in Ukrainian affairs. Notably, the writers of these narratives tend to eagerly swallow up the “information” being spread by an authoritarian, right-wing state — Russia — in order to prop up their theories.
Here are some comments in response.
(For the record, plenty of articles circulate that have propaganda value but little factual value. I have previously shared, on this blog, some of those produced by Russian propaganda sources. One that seems to be produced by Ukrainian propaganda sources, or at least that seems to be spreading among anti-Russian bloggers, claims that the recent UN human rights report alleges that Russian security services, or Russian special forces, were behind the Odessa deaths of June 2. The UN report says no such thing.)
The article in question, written by someone who goes by the pen name of SCG News, consists monstly of a long string of unsupported or poorly supported claims and innuendos.
1) “The evidence that the U.S. was behind the toppling of the Ukrainian government early this year is so overwhelming at this point that the subject really isn’t up for debate.”
The source for this claim is an article by the same author, which strings together several other claims, most of which are easy to refute. A little research on this blog and other sources I’ve linked to in the past is enough for most of them.
2) The author suggests that calling Poroshenko “Our Ukraine (OU) insider Petro Poroshenko” is somehow sinister — i.e., that Poroshenko must have been “our” man, i.e., the U.S.’s. In fact, it’s a straight statement of fact. As anyone who knows Ukrainian politics is well aware, Our Ukraine is a political party. Poroshenko had a high ministerial position under Our Ukraine (OU) party leader Viktor Yushchenko and was therefore an “OU insider.” I’ll be generous with the author and assume that he or she knows this and that this innuendo is unintended. The alternative is that the author is plainly ignorant of the country he or she is writing about, which would suggest we needn’t read any further. But many readers are reading and sharing, so I’ll keep going.
3) The article takes it as problematic that Poroshenko was “tainted by credible corruption allegations.” I can’t think of a single member of Ukraine’s political elite who is not tainted by corruption allegations. The credibility of those allegations is in some cases debatable, in others irrefutable. If they are “credible” in Poroshenko’s case, at least they aren’t irrefutable.
4) Several Wikileaks conversations are referred to, including one between Poroshenko, who was Foreign Minister at the time, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, with the author claiming that these show that Poroshenko was an “informant for the U.S. government,” a “mole” who leaked top-security information to the U.S.
The conversations themselves show nothing of the sort, at least in my reading of them. (Someone please enlighten me as to where they show something incriminating.)
Rather, they reveal a Ukrainian politician speaking with one side of his mouth, as politicians do, to a powerful foreign politician. If these conversations were juxtaposed with any conversations Poroshenko was having at the time with other government representatives — from Russia, the EU, et al. — I suspect they’d just show some shrewd manuevering to be in everyone’s good graces.
That would be consistent with Poroshenko’s actions and words for years now: play all sides (e.g., the pro-Western Yushchenko, the pro-Russian Yanukovych), but lean west, i.e. toward a European style polity. It’s now essentially his foreign policy. For a country as economically and politically weak as Ukraine, it’s a realistic and reasonable policy.
5) The idea of a “U.S. diplomatic presence in Crimea” is specifically highlighted as somehow indicating Poroshenko’s corruption and/or toadying to the U.S. It’s not stated why. In fact, Crimea was an Autonomous Republic of Ukraine at the time — and still is, on paper, as far as the UN is concerned, despite Russia’s having taken it over. It would have been a very good idea to have a US consulate or some kind of diplomatic presence there — it would even have been prescient, given what’s happened since then, as it could have helped prevent Russia’s takeover of the peninsula. (Too bad the U.S. didn’t listen to its “mole”!) That Poroshenko supported the idea merely shows that he was a good judge of a reasonable idea.
There is more, but I think that’s enough.
Again, I’m only bothering to deconstruct this piece because it’s so similar to many other articles I’ve seen circulating in the western left that overstate the U.S.’s role in Ukrainian affairs. This is a weakness on the left not because there isn’t a kernel of truth to what’s being said — there is — but because it leads to mistaken and rather muddy-headed thinking, and further, because it enables an authoritarian, right-wing state (Russia) while disabling potential alliances with radical democratic activists in Ukraine (as well as in Russia) who would be more natural allies to the western left.
(One must of course distinguish between the authoritarian and the libertarian left. In general, the ones who spread these narratives lean — in effect, if not necessarily in intent — toward the authoritarian end.)
None of this is to suggest that the U.S. does not have an oversized role in world affairs; of course it does. Nor is it to suggest that U.S. intervention has not been responsible for some awful things over the last century; of course it has. It’s just to suggest that because the U.S. has been responsible for A, B, and C, this doesn’t mean it’s also responsible for the entire alphabet.
Nor are my comments meant to suggest that Petro Poroshenko is not an oligarch billionnaire with the interests of capital at his heart (though hopefully not just those interests). But he has plenty of pressure “from below” right now to do something good for the country, and there wasn’t any other reasonably hopeful presidential candidate who had as much trust from as much of the country as he did. He won the election not only in western and central Ukraine, but in southern and eastern Ukraine as well. That may make things easier for the U.S. (among other countries), since it steers Ukraine more solidly on the path toward stabilization. But that doesn’t prove much, if anything, of what this author is alleging.
The author strikes me as an anti-US-imperialist “true believer” who doesn’t know what he or she is looking at, or does but is trying to make a case that’s not really there. Like a fundamentalist religious believer, the author believes the devil — U.S. imperialism — is everywhere, and so that is what s/he finds everywhere.
Unless I’m missing something. If I am, someone please let me know what it is.