With CIA advising Ukraine’s government, should U.S. be held responsible for violence?
For the past two months, virtually every troubling development in Ukraine has been blamed on the Russian Federation, which the United States and its Western allies have consistently accused of meddling in the eastern part of the country.
With no real evidence to back the accusations up – other than a few grainy photographs purportedly proving a Russian hand in the violence, which were later debunked as hoaxes – the U.S. has repeatedly alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin has stoked the crisis by backing the pro-Russian separatists who have occupied government buildings in eastern cities such as Luhansk, Slavyansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv.
President Obama said that it was “absolutely clear” that Russia violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by annexing Crimea in March and that it was continuing to do so by supporting “non-state militias” in eastern Ukraine.
“Each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, there are going to be consequences,” Obama said last month in an interview with CBS News. “Mr. Putin’s decisions aren’t just bad for Ukraine. Over the long term, they’re going to be bad for Russia.”
More recently, Obama has attempted to lay the blame for the apparent collapse of the April 17 Geneva agreement, which called on “all sides [to] refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions,” at the feet of Putin, while absolving the Kiev government for any role it may have played in the deterioration of the situation.
“The Ukrainian government in Kiev has followed through on the commitments that it made in Geneva,” said President Obama at a press conference on Friday. “We need Russians to do the same.”
This is despite the fact that the pro-Russian militants have openly boasted that they do not take orders from diplomats in Washington or Moscow. After the Geneva agreement was reached, Denis Pushilin, a leader of a group calling itself the Donetsk People’s Republic, said that he and his men had no intention of abandoning their positions as long as the new government in Kiev still stood.
Pushilin said that nobody from the pro-Russia groups in Ukraine were at the negotiating table in Geneva and that, because they were not consulted, they had no obligation to adhere to the agreement.
“It is an illegal junta,” Anatoliy Onischenko, another separatist leader, said of the Kiev government. “They should leave their buildings first.”
Putin, for his part, sees the authorities in Kiev as at least partially responsible for the breakdown of the Geneva agreement, with a spokesman saying it was no longer viable after Kiev launched a military operation against the rebel-held city of Slavyansk last week.
As the Guardian reported on Friday,
The Ukrainian military launched its first serious offensive to retake the city, which is being held by pro-Russia militia, early on Friday morning. The rebel militia said Ukrainian troops had launched attacks on several checkpoints. Ukraine’s defence minister, Arsen Avakov, said his forces had taken control of nine checkpoints to form a “tight ring” around the city. …
“Basically, at the same time that Russia is taking pains to de-escalate and regulate the conflict, the Kiev regime has begun shooting up peaceful towns with military helicopters and has started a punitive operation, essentially destroying the last hope for the viability of the Geneva agreement,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.
“Earlier, when he was still in Minsk, Putin called the possible operation a criminal action. Unfortunately, the development of events completely confirms this appraisal.”
Also on Friday, in Odessa, pro-Kiev and pro-Moscow demonstrators fought in the streets, hurling rocks, loose flagstones and Molotov cocktails as overwhelmed riot police made a hasty retreat.
The violence culminated in 42 people killed when a union hall was set ablaze by Ukrainian loyalists throwing firebombs at the building.
According to the Washington Post, the violence kicked off after marchers calling for Ukrainian national unity encountered a rival pro-Russian group. “Barricades were set up and buildings set aflame,” reported the Post. Dozens of people died “after pro-Kiev demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails into a building where a pro-Russia contingent was holding out.”
Corroborating the claim that the union hall was set on fire by the Western-backed forces rather than pro-Russian activists, USA Today reported that the pro-Kiev demonstrators cheered as pro-Moscow activists were burned alive inside the building:
The Trade Unions House was set on fire after being occupied by pro-Moscow demonstrators, the Kyiv Post reported.
Witnesses and journalists reported that as the building burned with people inside, a crowd shouted, “Glory to Ukraine!” and “Death to enemies!”
The latest violence comes as new reports emerge that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, along with the FBI, is directly advising the government in Kiev on counter-insurgency tactics and on establishing a security apparatus. As AFP reported yesterday,
Dozens of specialists from the US Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation are advising the Ukrainian government, a German newspaper reported Sunday.
Citing unnamed German security sources, Bild am Sonntag said the CIA and FBI agents were helping Kiev end the rebellion in the east of Ukraine and set up a functioning security structure.
AFP notes that while the CIA has been advising the Kiev government, “Fierce battles between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east have left more than 50 people dead in recent days.”
The revelations of CIA involvement come following a visit to Kiev by CIA director John Brennan last month, which the White House described as “routine,” but was condemned by Moscow as more U.S. meddling in the country.
If the same standards were applied to the U.S. as are being applied to Russia, the responsibility for all the violence now being perpetrated by the authorities in Kiev, as well as the illegal armed groups such as Right Sector, would fall squarely on Washington.
Further, it’s worth bearing in mind that the CIA is a notoriously lawless agency that has been implicated in serious violations of international law in recent years, including torture, secret “black site” prisons, extrajudicial assassinations, and forced disappearances euphemistically known as “extraordinary rendition.”
If the government in Kiev is now being advised by this agency, it does not bode well for human rights, international law or the prospect of resolving the Ukraine crisis peacefully.