U.S. whitewashes Odessa massacre, shifting blame to Russia

In a classic case of blaming the victim, the United States has been making a concerted effort this week to gloss over – if not rewrite – the facts surrounding last week’s tragic events in Odessa, Ukraine, trying to portray the “pro-Russian separatists” as responsible for their own deaths.

Despite the emergence of numerous YouTube videos, as well as photographic evidence that has been posted on blogs and circulated in chain emails, clearly showing that the fire in the Trade Union Building which killed dozens of anti-Kiev demonstrators was intentionally started by Western-backed pro-Kiev militants, the U.S. has been asserting — baselessly — that Russia was somehow responsible.

In rather ghoulish testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland stated that

Friday [May2] also saw the deadliest tragedy of this conflict: the death of more than 40 in Odesa following an afternoon of violent clashes reportedly instigated by pro-Russian separatists attacking an initially peaceful rally in favor of national unity – similar to many that have happened in Odessa since the start of the Maidan movement.

With no mention of the actual culprits who set the building on fire, she went on to reprimand the Russian Federation for failing to use its influence to promote stability in Ukraine. In other words, Russia, Russia, Russia.

“Today, Russia claims it has ‘no influence’ over the separatists and provocateurs rampaging in eastern and southern Ukraine,” she said. However,

as Secretary Kerry told this committee in April, we continue to have high confidence that Russia’s hand is behind this instability. They are providing material support. They are providing funding. They are providing weapons. They are providing coordination, and there are Russian agents on the ground in Ukraine involved in this.

This, amazingly, is all that Nuland had to say about the tragedy last week that claimed the lives of at least 42 people. (Unofficial estimates from eyewitnesses place the casualties far higher, with some claiming that as many as 300 people may have been killed.)

Although Nuland went out of her way to point out that last week’s violent clashes were “instigated by pro-Russian separatists,” she neglected to assign any blame for the actual atrocity that took place later in the day, in which pro-Kiev militants were clearly responsible for throwing Molotov cocktails into the Trade Union Building in Odessa where anti-Kiev individuals were seeking refuge from the violence on the streets.

While initial reports indicated that it was “unclear” how the fire started, the evidence that was captured on camera phones and disseminated via social media was enough to force even the Western media to grudgingly acknowledge that the atrocity at the Trade Union Building was in fact committed by the pro-Kiev side, the side Western governments have aligned with.

Typical was this report from the BBC, “How did Odessa’s fire happen?,” which took pains to explain that the anti-Kiev side may have instigated the street clashes earlier in the day, but that when it came to the fire at the Trade Union Building, it was pretty apparent who was responsible.

“Pictures clearly showed pro-Ukrainians throwing Molotov cocktails,” the BBC reported, although noting that some on the “pro-Russian” side may have also thrown firebombs from the building to the ground below – exactly how those might have started fires inside the building is not explained.

Nevertheless, it was clear that many people died at the hands of the pro-Kiev militants that day. As BBC noted,

One survivor told Russia Today: “We couldn’t go down, we were seeing people from other floors being brought down and then those rioters down there attacked them like a pack of wolves.”

But other eyewitness reports, for example in the Kyiv Post, said pro-Ukrainian activists rescued dozens of people from the burning building.

Some people got to ledges and were helped by ambulance ladders. Some fell.

Some people were reported to have shouted “die” as people fell.

Independent investigators and bloggers have spelled out the evidence more straightforwardly, placing the blame for the tragedy squarely with the pro-Kiev thugs of Right Sector. One viral blog post lays out gruesome photographic evidence that not only implicates the Western-backed neo-Nazis with starting the fire, but also purports to demonstrate that some of the pro-Ukrainian militants must have gotten inside the building to individually kill those who had sought refuge there.

This photograph, for example, seems to indicate a gunshot wound to the head. “Judging from clearly visible blood puddle, the murderer fired at point-blank so the bullet passed through the skull,” the blog alleges.

odessa 1

This photo graphically depicts an apparent victim of rape:

odessa 2

“Dead woman near the elevator with clothes absent below her waist,” the blog explains. “Most likely, she was raped, then doused with a flammable mixture and set aflame.”

This horrifying picture shows a pregnant woman who was strangled by an electric wire:

odessa 3

The following video supposedly captures the cries of this woman, starting at 0:20, who called for help while being murdered.

Despite the grave nature of the atrocity that was committed by the pro-Kiev militants in Odessa last week, the U.S. response has been muted, to say the least.

Besides Nuland’s victim-blaming testimony at the Senate this week, the White House has also gone on record tacitly absolving the actual culprits of their responsibility and shifting the culpability to Moscow.

“We remain extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation in both eastern and southern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants who are armed have escalated their already violent behavior and taken over additional government buildings in yet more towns,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday.

Carney added that the “violence and mayhem” in Odessa was “unacceptable.”

“We’re going to continue to call on Russia to live up to its commitments in Geneva and to use its influence over these groups, these pro-Russian militant groups, to urge them to disarm and to instead engage in Ukraine’s political process,” Carney said.

For its part, Russia is emphatically making clear where the blame truly lies for this tragedy, refusing to allow the West to whitewash the facts.

“What happened in the city of Odessa on May 2 is a sheer act of fascism and we will not permit to sweep the facts under carpet as the ruling coalition tries to do so, concealing the investigation from the public,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

“We will seek for the truth, will seek for all evidence which was produced by eyewitnesses and which show that current Kiev authorities are hushing up consciously the scale of tragedy and will seek for all the truth to be investigated and made public,” Lavrov pledged.

The Russians were joined in this call for an investigation by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which issued a joint statement Thursday calling for the Ukrainian government to conduct an investigation into the violence in Odessa that “should be thorough, impartial, and capable of ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.”

The HRW-AI statement also criticized the police in Odessa for failing to take action to prevent the violence, with video footage showing police officers standing by while preparations are made by members of both groups for acts of violence.

This inaction may indicate that the authorities are failing to comply with Ukraine’s international human rights obligations to protect the right to life, the joint statement noted.

“International human rights and law enforcement standards underline that police have a responsibility to maintain public safety and protect all persons against illegal acts, and must maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons,” said HRW and AI. “In particular, police play a vital role in the protection of the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.”

“In the context of the events which took place in Odessa on May 2, it is not clear why the police failed to take adequate action, in compliance with these obligations, to prevent the serious injuries and loss of life,” the statement went on.

For these reasons, “it is essential that whatever precise form the investigations take, they are truly effective and independent and carried out by individuals of recognized competence, integrity, and independence,” said the human rights groups.

The U.S., on the other hand, appears intent on shielding the authorities from criticism. At a press briefing Monday, U.S. State Department press spokeswoman Marie Harf defended the role of government in Kiev and its fascist allies.

Harf praised the Kiev government in particular for its “great restraint” in dealing with the anti-fascist groups in the south and east of the country and attempted to blame the Odessa massacre on the victims and Russia. She implicitly justified the mass killing of civilians by declaring that the Kiev government has “a responsibility to maintain law and order for their own people.”

“Any loss of life is horrible,” she said, “and we understand that there will be an investigation. The prime minister has actually taken punitive action against some of the police folks who led the police forces in Odessa after this horrific incident. So – but again, that started because pro-Russian forces and separatists started basically mob action attacking protesters. So going forward we think that restraint is important, but so is keeping law and order.”

When a reporter followed up by asking, “it doesn’t matter how many people die; those people brought it upon themselves, it’s their fault. Is it what you are saying?” Harf backtracked a bit and said, “No, I’m not saying that at all. In no way am I saying that. I’m saying that the fact pattern of what happens here matters.”

But looking at the pattern of U.S. statements – admonishing the Russian Federation for any and all actions in Ukraine that could in any conceivable way be traced back to some alleged conspiracy directed by the Kremlin while simultaneously absolving neo-Nazi thugs and their allies in the Kiev regime – it appears that the United States is systematically engaging in a whitewash of atrocities.

It should be noted that even as details emerge about these  crimes, the authorities in Kiev are apparently raising “volunteer armies,” or what may be more accurately referred to as paramilitaries, consisting of the Euromaidan militants who helped topple the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych in February.

As the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, Kiev’s interim government began shoring up security forces as some leaders made urgent calls for volunteers to take up arms against “pro-Russian separatists.”

“Andriy Tiron, battalion commander of the National Guard, told reporters in Kiev that demonstrators who helped oust the previous pro-Russian government were being urged to volunteer for military duty. But there was confusion about who would command them and what their duties would be,” the Post reported.

The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, however, reported that some 4,000 combatants supporting the Kiev authorities have already arrived in Odessa.

“Very alarming reports are coming in from our friends in Odessa,” Georgy Fyodorov, deputy head of the Russian Civic Chamber’s Committee for Coordination of Aid to Residents of Ukraine said Wednesday. “We have reports that armed militants of the Right Sector, fighters of the Dnipr and Kyiv-1 special task force battalions, and ultras of the FC Dnipro have been brought into the city and the overall number of the combatants propping up the Kiev regime exceeds 4,000 there now.”

If true, it’s worth noting that considering reports of the CIA advising the authorities in Kiev, there is a good chance that these policies are coming directly from Washington. This is worth keeping in mind in the event of any further atrocities committed in Ukraine.

Thankfully there are at least a few voices in Congress being raised questioning the wisdom of aligning the United States government with violent neo-Nazi extremists, as this clip of Victoria Nuland’s testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday makes clear:

Hopefully those sorts of hardball questions become the norm rather than the exception, as U.S. policy in Ukraine comes under greater scrutiny.

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