A Tale of Two Cities

Last night I was having a discussion about a topic that causes me significant irritation. I’ve written in the past about the very widespread belief in a sort of national determinism in Russia, whereby people are expected to be representatives of their nation and therefore government, and whatever opinions they might have supposedly derive from that nationality as well. To be fair I’ve also encountered the same from some Ukrainians (Some!), who upon reading my comments suspect me of being Polish. Take a guess why this happens (Click for hint!).

This other thing that grates on my eyes and ears is a similar behavior, where someone assumes that your opinions or views can be determined by the country that you live in. As you might have guessed, I’ve had numerous accusations about being pro-Moscow because I live in, you guessed it, Moscow. Usually this happens on Twitter, where people can quickly pull up my info that shows my location, but rarely take the time to read dozens of tweets that they’d most likely agree with. I suspect that fewer still actually follow the link to this blog and read any of it.

Speaking briefly for myself, yes, I’ve been living in Moscow and the Moscow oblast since 2006. However, there were several occasions when I had considered jobs in Ukraine, and once in Belarus. When I say “considered” I don’t mean simply “thought about.” I’d had interviews and invitations in several of these cases. I have been formulating plans to leave Russia since late 2013, around the time this blog was started, in fact. In the end of 2014 I nearly made it out, and I pursued that same option through about half of 2015. I’m still technically pursuing the option now, but it’s unfortunately a job with very few openings. I have also tried applying for jobs in Ukraine since last November. So while I can say that I definitely don’t hate Russia or Moscow, which has definitely improved in some key areas in recent years, I’m not exactly here by deliberate choice alone. Far more important is that this is by no means an endorsement of the Kremlin’s political line. Besides, when I moved here in 2006, it was a very different country.

Now that I’ve given my own abridged explanation, I’m going to deal with the article that prompted me to write this post. As if by coincidence, I saw it maybe a few hours after that Twitter exchange on the same topic.

The article is by Paul Niland with Kyiv Post, and let me first state that it’s not nearly as bad as the kind of people on Twitter who accuse you of being pro-Moscow simply for living there. In fact he’s not really saying that at all. His thesis, that living in Moscow can lead to bias in favor of pro-Kremlin narratives is a good one. My only problem is it’s a bit oversimplified, one-sided, and doesn’t account for some important exceptions.

Before I tackle some of his specific arguments I should recap part of last night’s Twitter conversation, where I was explaining why so many of these correspondents from major publications are based in Moscow. I know from personal experience that these media companies don’t seem to want their people in Kyiv. The truth is that without the war, having your Eastern Europe correspondent in Kyiv would be like having them in Bucharest or Bratislava. Many Westerners know very little about Ukraine and frankly don’t care. What is more, if your correspondent is in Moscow and something happens in Kyiv or say, Riga, they can hop on a plane and get there with no need for a visa in most cases. The opposite is not true. Like it or not, Russia is a major player in world affairs and while most Westerners, particularly Americans, care about Russia far less than Russians would like, news from Moscow is far more likely to attract their attention than news from Ukraine or any other former Soviet Republic or ex-East Bloc country. Believe me, I have tried to use a correspondent position as a ticket out of Russia, with Kyiv being the destination. I’d spend weeks at a time in Avdiivka or some other front-line location if need be. The problem is they just aren’t buying.

So now that I’ve explained what I think is the most likely reason why there are so many correspondents in Moscow, let me get into the meet of Niland’s article and rebut some of his arguments.

“It’s unfortunate that much of the international writing about Ukraine is done by people based in Moscow. I have noted elsewhere that this peculiarity can lead to Ukraine not being given fair representation because whether they like it or not the international correspondents resident there are all exposed to the constant drip, drip, drip of disinformation stories hitting them from various sides.”

This is certainly a valid concern, but there are a couple comments I could make on this. First, my experience is that the further one is from Russia and Ukraine, the more susceptible they are to Russian propaganda. If you exclude those who have sweet careers with the Russian state media or similar organs, the most rabid anti-Ukrainian, Sputnik-meme spitting Kremlin dupes are typically Americans and Brits.

A lot of correspondents who live in Russia are far more informed about what goes on here, ergo they’re much less susceptible to bullshit from the state media and pretty much anything the Kremlin says. This is why it’s no surprise to see that some of the rabid pro-Kremlin cheerleaders who do work for the Russian media usually either had no background in journalism, or knew nothing about Russia before they came here for a few years and started living the lovely expat life.

“Whether it is at the Dacha BBQ with uncle Vanya, or whether it is listening to opinions from local friends and colleagues which are more formed by the full on information assault, Ukrainian affairs can get painted in all sorts of weird ways.”

Alright a few problems with this. The first is that when we talk about Russian narratives on Ukraine, the kind of pro-Kremlin attitudes and memes you’d hear from those friends and colleagues today are relatively new. In late 2013-2014 I noticed this bizarre “reversal,” where people who would laugh at “patriotic” propaganda and Putin’s image suddenly started spouting pro-regime talking points. It was really bizarre how they’d do it to; when they espoused anti-government views, their points and opinions were varied and diverse. Then they’d just start regurgitating the same talking points word for word until it seemed like you could predict what they would say at any given time.

Next, just as I mentioned that the people most susceptible to Russian propaganda often live far from Russia and have little to no experience in the country. Well sometimes you can have a similar but opposite situation. In my case, I admittedly had a very anti-Maidan attitude, due in large part to poor coverage from the Western media (who made it all about “joining Europe”), but mainly because I had been deceived by a Ukrainian “leftist” group which I first encountered in 2012. Given my experience with “left” groups in Russia, I was naturally suspicious about Russian chauvinism and I was reassured by members again and again that this group was anti-Putin. I was initially concerned about the success of the Svoboda party when I heard about them in 2013, prior to Maidan, so when they made their presence very noticeable during the movement I was justifiably concerned. And not to digress too much on this point, but part of me fears that had I actually moved to Ukraine back in 2007, I might have been duped completely into taking the wrong side. As it turns out, living in Russia the whole time helped me build up an immunity to bullshit, so that it took Ukrainians to put one past me.

Lastly on this point, I think the author seems to be unaware that the same process he describes here, that is personal contacts with friends, family, and colleagues influencing a journalist’s views, can happen just as easily to a foreigner in Ukraine as in Moscow. In fact, many of the assumptions he makes here, including that very statement about “Uncle Vanya,” friends, and colleagues, demonstrate this quite well. There’s already an assumption that someone in Moscow must be surrounded by vatniks regurgitating Kremlin talking points. I’ll be the first to admit that you will here at least some of those talking points from people who really ought to know better, usually getting them second or third hand from people they know, but this doesn’t mean that those of us who do know better just sit there and absorb this without saying anything.

The truth is that foreigners in Ukraine can be just as susceptible to false narratives and talking points for the exact same reasons, colleagues, friends, family members, and so on. Idealistic American goes to Kyiv because he was “inspired” by Maidan. He meets some nationalists, who explain that they’re just “patriots” and not racist or anything like that. They explain to him that Stepan Bandera, a name our American expat friend first heard in 2014 or 2015, was really just a liberal democratic patriot who only wanted to free Ukraine. Anything bad you hear about him is nothing but Soviet propaganda. Oh…Polish propaganda too. Poles and Russians have been engaged in a decades long conspiracy to frame this innocent nationalist leader.

What do you think happens when our hypothetical Kyiv expat sees me write something negative about Bandera from my Moscow-based account? “Hey maybe you should stop reading Russian propaganda! Or are you a paid Kremlin troll!” Little does he know that I started reading on the topic of Bandera and Ukrainian (and many other including Russian) collaborators since 2002, starting with sources that were unapologetically pro-Bandera/nationalist.

I don’t bring up that last bit just flaunt my Bandera cred, but to demonstrate an important point. When it comes to being susceptible to certain narratives, one really important factor is how much a person knows about a country prior to moving there. A lot of times you get these people that come to Russia or Ukraine with no prior interest or study, and then they’re an empty vessel ready to be filled with bullshit. In Russia they have an advantage in the form of a more unified, focused propaganda machine. In Ukraine the nationalist con-men and their apologists take advantage of the extreme obscurity of certain topics.

There are a few more points where Niland shows a close affinity for his surroundings which seem to have induced a bit of bias, but I’ll save that for later. For now let’s move on to his case study, an article by Shaun Walker of The Guardian.

“I most admire is Shaun Walker of The Guardian.

I often find myself agreeing with his analysis, I find his observations to be generally accurate and often the way that he puts them across can be quite funny, I disagree with him from time to time but have found him open to being reasonably challenged. In my last exchange with him he tweeted photos of Azov Regiment fighters inside Boryspil Airport, apparently placed there by non-other than Interior Minister Arsen Avakov himself, to arrest non-other than super-oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

My simple response to that tweet was; “Bullshit!”

At the end of that exchange, I offered to buy Shaun a beer next time he’s in Kyiv, because as it turned out he was largely correct.You see, from my perspective, there were a few things wrong with the proposed scenario. Number one was just the mention of the name Azov.”

Niland goes on to explain the reason he went off at the name Azov is that it has been a got-to bad guy for Russian propaganda stories. I sympathize with this feeling because we all seem to get “triggered” by the mention of certain phrases, names, or words, but come on- Shaun Walker? The Guardian? You’re not reading Sputnik here, and we’re not talking about someone who would read something from Sputnik or RT and seriously submit it for publishing. Besides, Azov and similar groups are a problem and if Western journalists ignore or downplay this they’re only going to leave an orchard of low-hanging fruit for the Russian propaganda machine.

Later on Niland posts some very legitimate complaints, which is why I recommend reading them, particularly those regarding the characterization of people’s motivations for coming out to the Maidan and the politics surrounding it. For example, I like that he helps debunk the notion that Yanukovych was not only rejecting the “European path” but also choosing a “Russian” one, that is toward the Custom’s Union and perhaps the Eurasian Economic Union. But again, to be fair to Walker there are some die-hard Maidan supporters not based in Moscow who have helped popularize that impression.

What better example than this famous article from Timothy Snyder, certainly not and as far as I know never Moscow-based, describing the story of Maidan. Not only is there a clear implication that this was a choice between going with the EU or Russia, in this article that is supposed to cut through the “haze of propaganda,” the chronology of events is idiotically butchered and tons of red herrings are inserted in a condescending, horribly unsubtle way. If you want to understand Maidan better, this is not the article for you. Oh and by the way…It was published in the Kyiv Post as well. This goes the same for the idea of US sponsorship of the revolution. Of course it wasn’t spurred by American puppet masters, but with folks like John McCain shaking hands with Maidan leaders including Tyahnybok, would it be entirely unreasonable for an observer to surmise that the US was strongly backing one side? Nuland and McCain very stupidly created an image which was a boon to pro-Russian propagandists.

Getting back to the subject of biases one acquires living in a certain place, I took some issue with this line, which is rephrased in other ways throughout the article:

“The Ukrainian people have proven several times that they will dictate their own destiny. Their future is not decided for them, but by them.”

Again I sympathize with the author here, because if he’s like me he’s probably sick of Ukrainians, or more specifically those who were involved in Maidan, being stripped of their agency, particularly by people who espouse pro-Russia viewpoints. Chomsky, Ames, Cohen, and a whole host of others, often with radically different views, all treat Ukrainians as pawns who could either side with Russia or be dupes of the US. In reality many people had their own personal motives for going out to Maidan, some noble, some terrible, some possibly mundane. What matters is that they made personal choices and they can take responsibility for them, whether the results were good or bad.

Now that being the case, this sentence is extremely romantic and a bit patronizing. Maybe if it were coming from an actual Ukrainian it wouldn’t come off that way. But I have a problem with Westerners, especially those with no hereditary connections to a country, speaking on behalf of the entire people. I mean suppose I move to say, Namibia, I fall in love with the place, I have lots of friends there, and then I presume to write about what the Namibian people does and who decides their future. I think in that case the problem ought to be clear. It may be in Ukraine and the skin color is the same, but this really, truly smacks of the so-called “Mighty Whitey” trope we see in movies from The Last Samurai to Avatar. I seriously hope I’m not being unfair to Mr. Niland here, but let me just say that these kind of statements sound a lot better when you’ve got a nice noticeable Slavic surname (if not Ukrainian or Russian) to go with it. That, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Shaun Walker making statements on behalf of “the Russian people.”

The other problem with this claim is that it ignores the fact that “the Ukrainian people” is rather abstract, considering the fact that, whether we agree with them or not, there were plenty of Ukrainians who either opposed Maidan in some way or at least expressed disdain for it. Now if you’re about to say that they’re all traitors and they don’t count, well then you’re going against the opinion of the first post-Maidan government, which went to great lengths to make it possible for citizens in Russian-occupied territories to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014. Clearly they thought that large segment of Ukrainian society deserved a voice, however much they disagreed with them.

Lastly, the Zradamania that has taken place since the election of Poroshenko, which one day led to a bomb being thrown at the Rada and the death of several national guardsmen, tells us that even on one side we have deep political visions and different ideas as to what Ukraine should become, enough to justify toning down the romantic talk about the will of the “Ukrainian people.”

The idea here isn’t to beat up on Niland, but simply to show that one shouldn’t be so quick to assume that the city where one lives is going to automatically influence their work to such an extent. And to the extent which it can, it can go both ways, whether you’re in Moscow or Kyiv. It’s good to call out these narratives that strip Ukrainians of their agency or which explicitly or implicitly support Kremlin talking points, but looking at all the information out there and where it comes from, it’s simply not evident that living in Moscow or Russia is necessary to come under the influence of said talking points.

In the polarized discourse surrounding Russia and Ukraine, we will probably never eliminate these snap judgments whereby we suspect people of being propagandists or dupes of propagandists based on illogical reasons. But we need to work harder to avoid escalating this kind of behavior; in fact we should work to minimize it. One way to do that is to stop judging people’s positions or opinions based on their nationality, and especially the city they live in.






28 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities

  1. Asehpe

    “In late 2013-2014 I noticed this bizarre “reversal,” where people who would laugh at “patriotic” propaganda and Putin’s image suddenly started spouting pro-regime talking points. It was really bizarre how they’d do it to; when they espoused anti-government views, their points and opinions were varied and diverse. Then they’d just start regurgitating the same talking points word for word until it seemed like you could predict what they would say at any given time.”

    I find this fascinating. What do you think happened to those people? Did they truly change their minds, and now believe in the whole Putin worldview (perhaps due to propaganda?), or are they afraid and thus repeating the Kremlin party line to feel safer while keeping their true opinions to themselves? Or is it something else entirely? What actually happened, in your opinoni?

    1. Asehpe

      In fact, I was wondering what happens when you confront them with the change in their opinions. How do they react when you point out that what they say now differs greatly from what they were saying a couple of years ago? Is there any chance that any of them would really speak frankly and honestly about their motivations?

      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Hard for me to say, because in my own personal experience these were often people expressing these new opinions online, not knowing that we were well acquainted. One was a co-worker who I’d actually dated once (horrible personality, wouldn’t recommend). In each of these cases I didn’t want the person to remember who I was, so I just observed or tried to draw out more of their new opinions.

        One thing I found funny is that these people were often women, and usually women who were either married to Westerners, had Western fiances, were planning on moving to the States or the UK, or at least when I knew them they were always flirting with foreigners at expat events and asking me questions like “Why did you come to RUSSIA? We all want to leave!”

        So yeah, think about that the next time you encounter a vatness online.

        But in answering the bigger question, why this happened, I have seen many other answers. Many Russians who fall for at least some talking points really don’t buy into most of them.

        In one case I met a woman who protested in 2011-2012. She simply gave up concern for opposition and democracy because she said that they all knew what they were against, and nobody knew what they were for. There’s actually a lot of truth to that and it’s probably one of the best explanations as to why the opposition movement failed.

        She never really espoused pro-government opinions but she did have this friend in Ukraine who, during or after Maidan, became a total vishivatnik, probably a case of overcompensation. This turned her off to Ukrainian viewpoints in general.

        I think Ukrainians and their supporters should take note of this- Putin’s support is nowhere near as deep as polls suggest. There’s actually a lot of people who would be receptive to the Ukrainian POV if more Ukrainians made efforts to contact these people.

        In fact, this whole topic alone really makes me wonder what would have happened if Maidan and the Russian opposition rallies had been occurring around roughly the same time.

      2. Asehpe

        The one case I have personally observed was my mother-in-law, who went the opposite direction, from pro-Putin (she, an avowed atheist, would even light candles for him, thereby hoping to shield him from assassination attempts) to anti-Putin (she now calls him ‘that midget’) just because she lives in Ukraine and was affected by the events there (she lives in Kyiv and went to Maidan square to bring sandwiches to the protesters). Despite being originally quite dismissive of Ukrainian culture or Ukrainness in general (even though she speaks fluently Ukrainian, I remember her laughing and making jokes about a translation of Pushkin into Ukrainian, which she thought was a ‘bastardization’ of his work), has now embraced it (she now ‘loves’ Taras Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka).

        For her, I think what prompted the sudden change was seeing people she knew be affected by the events — my wife’s cousins who live in Crimea, a friend’s son, a civilian, who was shot dead while delivering supplies to a Ukrainian army group in the Donbass…

        I wonder if some of the Russians who used to say ‘why did you come here? — we all want to live’ may also have suffered from this mixed ‘inferiority-superiority’ complex, and as soon as it became psychologically effective to blame the West for Russian problems then everything else in the Putin package became easier to swallow. Maybe some of the Westerns they were flirting with were not interested in them? Besides, Putin brought Crimea back — Ihat may have caused at least some people to switch sides.

  2. Asehpe

    “In reality many people had their own personal motives for going out to Maidan, some noble, some terrible, some possibly mundane. What matters is that they made personal choices and they can take responsibility for them, whether the results were good or bad.”

    It is often difficult to find more balanced information sources on Maidan. Which made me think, would you perhaps consider writing at length about it, maybe even writing a book on the topic? You seem to have given a lot of thought to the Maidan, and your own personal journey from a more clearly anti-Maidan position to a more nuanced one would, I imagine, make for very interesting reading if described in detail and with supporting evidence.

  3. John Haskell

    Niland got it exactly wrong. The absurd and unremitting anti-Western hostility from official Russian sources basically guarantees that no Western reporter is going to absorb, consciously or unconsciously, the official Russian viewpoint.

    On the other hand, the Ukrainian “damsel in distress” narrative (We want to be just like you but evil Putin won’t let us) is highly seductive.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Not entirely. There are reasons why even the most seasoned Russia journalists can be susceptible to influences.

      What many people have been doing since Putin went insane back in 2014 is trying to avoid bringing up politics in any sphere or conversation. This is actually hard to do in Russia because if you don’t bring it up, many times they will.

      In line with this, there’s also a strong desire to be as balanced as possible, or at least try to show these people that you’re being fair. Remember that people like Walker often have comments sections full of people calling him a shill, neocon, etc. Today I saw one comment writer refer to him as “Bandera Boy.” I found that funny because he actually wrote one of the best takedowns of Bandera and his supporters for a Western journalist. I know because I wrote about it on this site.

      Of course if you’re not careful, you can fall into the trap of balance for balance’s sake. And this is really bad because in actuality, the hardcore Kremlin supporters, just like the Ukrainian nationalists and their cheerleaders, don’t give a shit how many times you’re fair to them and present their viewpoint in their own words. If they’ve decided you’re a Kremlin troll or CIA agent, you’ll be that forever. At most if you happen to write something they agree with, they’ll deem you credible on that note and that note only. The rest of the time you’re just a paid propagandist.

      Also another factor can be long held relationships with one nationality or the other. For example, Stephen Cohen has been working with Russians for decades. No doubt he must have felt strong personal connections and mutual respect for a lot of Russians he met over that time. Now he may be letting those emotional connections blind him to the truth that Russia just isn’t what it was back then; it’s sliding towards something very bad.

      Lastly, when it comes to something subtle like the topic of US support for Maidan, we all know that the US supports movements which are favorable to US interests. With the kind of blanket endorsement the US was blindly providing Maidan, plus grants to certain NGOs(which really had nothing to do with trying to overthrow governments), it’s not entirely unreasonable for people to question exactly what the connection was and to what extent. If anything the public endorsements that the US gave not only helped Russia’s narrative, but also hurt Ukraine by giving the impression that the US and West would stand by them. In reality, the US was advising the Ukrainian military to stand down as Russian troops started to spread out from their bases in the Crimea, seizing objectives. Then of course the US took over a year to consider providing weapons to Ukraine while Russia was pouring them into the Donbas.

      Judging by that, any Ukrainian ought to have a right to take a swing at John McCain.

      1. AnonymousExpat

        “Of course if you’re not careful, you can fall into the trap of balance for balance’s sake”

        Pretty sure that’s SOP for all of major Western media[1], especially on topics they don’t care about enough to do in-depth-investigation on (e.g. basically anything involving Ukraine — and in US, even stuff in domestic politics that’s not surface trivia facts) — which means they feel obligated to report “the Russian perspective” even when it’s clearly lying, and is being told from the same official sources that have previously lied on similar topics[2]. For instance, pretty much every MH-17 article will have “but Russia insists it was shot down by Ukrainian Fighter Jet” — (could have at least called it less misleading “Ground Attack Jet”) — even though the theory is about as plausible as it having been shot down by a Martian Flying Saucer. Perversely, of course, these are also the topics on which clarity[3] is most needed, since an audience that doesn’t care much about Ukraine isn’t generally going to do independent research on T-72 revisions to figure out the extent of Russian military involvement, and so simply are not going to care about their politicians’ positions on Russia about something seemingly unclear happening about a country they barely heard about before.

        (Also, never mind US support — I am *really* worried about the reaction when some EU
        kleptocrat like Sarkozy scuttles sanctions to make some extra cash, especially after Minsk —
        Russia being an enemy and Europe’s hypocrisy being made blatant[4] sounds scarily like the sort of scenario where crazy nationalists may actually succeed)

        [1] Except Fox news, of course.
        [2] Why do Russian officials lie? Why not, there is no downside.
        [3] Clarity isn’t the same as unconditional support, of course… but I think a big source of frustration by many Ukrainians on various Western journalists is that they seem a lot more blunt when identifying flaws of current Ukrainian politicians then when identifying Russian aggression — sometimes in very condescending tone, while simultaneously showing poor understanding of basics, like, say, being unable to identify the Head of Government accurately.
        [4] On Ukraine, that is, it’s plenty blatant on Syria.

  4. John Haskell

    The net result of Maidan was to move Poroshenko’s election up about 15 months at the cost of Donbass and Crimea.

    There’s nothing wrong with being against that trade.

    1. Dave

      The problem is that only those people who know very little about the Yanukovych regime and Ukrainian history during the Euromaidan period believe that there could have been free and fair elections. No one who lived through the Euromaidan believes that the opposition would have won that election, probably not even Yanukovych’s supporters. You see in January 2014, the Party of Regions held an illegal and anti-Constitutional vote in the Parliament and adopted a set of laws popularly known as the “Dictatorship Laws” which basically enacted all sorts of anti-democratic laws which basically made Ukraine into a dictatorship. This would have effectively prevented any opposition politician from being able to run an effective presidential campaign. But the biggest problem that everyone understood was that none of the opposition leaders and Maidan supporters would be left to freely vote either being dead or imprisoned. Even before the adoption of the “Dictatorship Laws” Euromaidan supporters were being attacked, kidnapped and even killed by Yanukovych’s Berkut and/or Titushky. One more piece of evidence that shows that there is no way in hell that Yanukovych would have allowed free and fair elections is that while the Euromaidan protests were going on there was a by-election for 5 seats to the Parliament on December 15, 2013. Although Yanukovych’s people were projected to lose, nonetheless, his candidates won 3 of the 5 seats. These elections were extremely dirty and showed that even when the country was rising up against Yanukovych, he was still unwilling to play fairly. This episode proved to the protesters that there was no way that Yanukovych could be trusted to hold free and fair elections EVER.

      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        But suppose he didn’t leave on the night of 21-22 February. The agreement had been signed, most protesters basically stopped(accounts say nobody knew what was going on), etc. Wouldn’t there be no choice then to either re-ignite things again or take chances with the new, probably rigged elections?

      2. Dave

        Hi Jim,

        Well this is all a hypothetical “what if” situation, of course, but let me say this. The “opposition” (Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tyahnybok) discredited themselves far in advance of the Euromaidan protests. They also showed themselves as a bunch of weak, ignorant and disorganised losers DURING the protests. Very, very few people trusted them. At the very beginning of the protests, there were actually 2 protest camps: one on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, which was organized through Facebook by an ethnic Pashtun Ukrainian journalist, Mustafa Nayem (see!!! Afghanistan was behind the Euromaidan protests!! 🙂 ) and another one on European Square (300m away) called by the opposition parties. The protest on the Maidan was populated by typical and concerned Ukrainian citizens and it was much larger than the one on European Square which was populated by opposition party supporters and their typically paid “flag carriers” (in Ukraine, political parties pay people to hold their party flags at political protests. They all go home at an exact hour, so, it’s quite easy to tell a real protest from one organized by a political party). The reason there were 2 camps was because the people on the Maidan wanted NOTHING to do with the political parties. However, after some negotiations and promises from the opposition parties including that they would not bring their silly flags, they were allowed to join the Maidan protest. This is all extremely important in understanding the Euromaidan protests as well as the situation in Ukraine today. The opposition did NOT lead the protests. But the Euromaidan protests did not produce any immediate leaders that could be sent to negotiate with Yanukovych which is why the old opposition leaders did the negotiating. However, during the entire protests, people worried that those opposition leaders would betray the ideals of the Maidan. And the further that time went on and the more crimes or excesses that Yanukovych committed (First it was the brutal beating of mostly students on November 30 after which no one was punished, the brutal beating of protesters near the Presidential Administration, the shooting of 3 protesters on European Square, the kidnapping, beating and sometimes death of protesters by Titushki, passing of the “Dictatorship Laws” , etc., etc., and finally the shooting of over 100 protesters on the Maidan. Yanukovych. During the entire period, Yanukovych NEVER ONCE tried to negotiate in any meaningful way. Instead, it was always obvious that he was trying to manipulate and cheat the opposition leaders that sometimes met with him. So, Yanukovych kept losing more and more credibility and, given all the deaths, beatings, kidnappings etc., it would have been impossible to allow him to continue ruling Ukraine. By the way, I personally feel that the real reason he finally decided to flee was that very few people in his party and inner circle supported him. WIth every death, beating and kidnapping, people were leaving his party. In the end, he probably understood that he had practically no remaining support. Therefore, I honestly can’t see how he could have continued ruling the country. This is why, the agreement signed by the European ambassadors, the Ukrainian opposition leaders and Yanukovych (though NOT by the Russian ambassador who refused to sign it), was considered to be a complete farce by the protesters. And since there was a lack of respect and distrust of the opposition leaders, as well as, of course, Yanukovych, there was absolutely NO belief that the signed deal would work and was thus rejected by Maidan supporters. Moreover, after all the deaths, signing a “deal with the devil” made the opposition leaders look even more like a bunch of unethical losers.
        Now, back to your question. First of all the protests did not stop after the agreement was signed. Signing the agreement with Yanukovych was considered to be outrageous by most people. Yes, there was a great deal of confusion at all times during the protests, that is true. Given everything I have said above, I don’t think that he could have continued as president since he lost the support of most of his party members. However, if he had not run away, I have no doubt that the protests would have continued until Yanukovych quit. However, then, the opposition leaders would have been totally distrusted by the protesters. Having said all of this, no one forced Yanukovych to flee. No one stormed his residence or Presidential Administration. No one put a gun to his head or arrested him. He just picked up and hauled ass, as we say in Kiev. Everyone was quite surprised, though happy, that he left! Though I think most people wanted him arrested. So, after he left, the parliament had no choice but to replace him and form a new government. Obviously not much of a “coup” really. By the way, as for Russian propaganda stating that Yanukovych had “support” in the east and south, if this was true, don’t you think that he would have fled there and ruled Ukraine from Donetsk or Crimea? Yes, that would make sense, but please note that when demonstrations started in Crimea and then eastern and southern Ukraine, NO ONE called for Yanukovych to return, instead, they were yelling “Russia!” “Russia!”. That, of course, makes no logical sense whatsoever. If they liked Yanukovych so much wouldn’t they be demonstrating for him to return? Yes, he was elected by the east and south but after 4 years, the whole country was sick of his criminal rule. What does make sense is that those demonstrations where people were yelling “Russia!” “Russia!” were organized by Russia. In fact, literally thousands of Russians from Russia were bused in to Ukraine as “tourists” to participate in these “demonstrations”. There is a quite a bit of evidence about this, some of it quite humorous. And when the Ukrainian SBU (Sluzhba bezbeky Ukrainy) started deporting them and closing the border, the protests died. After the protests failed, Girkin was sent in. Anyway, that’s another story and I’ve said quite a lot! Sorry for “talking” too much!

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Don’t worry, it’s not too much at all. I’d been told about the separate Maidan thing by Tetyana from Stopfake, but the extra details are all the more interesting because they just poke more and more holes in the Kremlin “color revolution” narrative.

        After all, there was some foreign support and contact with the opposition party, so if this whole thing were planned, why would there even be such conflict from the beginning? If I were a lowly CIA agent (we Illuminati types always look down on those dorks) trying to overthrow a government by sponsoring a mass protest movement, I’d involve the opposition parties from the beginning and make sure there was a massive, unified protest from square one. Of course the really hard part would be making sure Yanukovych’s Berkut police brutally suppress the initial protest, and then making sure he didn’t order some kind of investigation or arrests in connection with the beatings. Actually when you mention it, it sure is convenient how Yanukovych basically did everything necessary to make the “color revolution” protest continue. Perhaps HE was working with the CIA (bunch of dorks)!

        Also your point about the Crimea and Donbas not calling for Yanukovych is a really good one that I’ve never seen raised. It’s something they sort of slip past you with all the other stuff that was happening at the time. I mean if this is civil war, why would the people in the Donbas be appealing to Russia and never to Yanukovych? Why was the DNR first ruled by a Russian citizen and not Yanukovych? The Crimean situation is a bit different but not very.

      4. Dave

        Hello again, Jim!

        I ‘ve been drinking lots of wine but I’ll write this anyway!
        I’ll say a couple more things about the Euromaidan protests which you may find interesting. First of all, while it was all happening, everyone in Kiev was also paying attention to Russian TV reports and were rather pissed off because the Russians were lying about everything. We were all on the Maidan seeing with our own eyes what was going on and when we would come home in the evening, Russian TV would give us reports “from the Maidan” which had nothing to do with what we had witnessed. The Russian reports seemed more like something from a totally different planet. We were experiencing one thing and they were telling us a completely different story. This is important since when the events in Crimea happened followed by events in the Donbas, we knew that Russian TV was lying through their teeth. While Russian TV was lying about the events on the Maidan, we didn’t know what they were up to but there was this gut feeling that once the Sochi Olympics were over, Putin would do something nasty. But what? Nobody knew. I have friends from Crimea who were also protesting on the Maidan and they admitted that if they had not been in Kiev at the time, they may well also have been duped by the Kremlin’s propaganda. This is important since it shows that the people who were on the Maidan knew exactly what was going on and knew exactly how Russian news sources were lying about it. This meant that NO ONE believed any garbage about Nazis and fascists since we were all there. However, people in Ukraine who rely on Russian news, could be duped by Russian lies. This brings me to another issue, which is that the Kremlin was preparing something in Ukraine far in advance of the Euromaidan protests and I mean the invasion and annexation of Crimea and possibly other parts of Ukraine. The protests simply gave Putin right moment to act. In April 2008, there were news reports in various international English (and possibly in other languages too, though I monitored the English ones), that a Ukrainian toy maker was making “Hitler Dolls” for Ukrainian children. These Hitler dolls were supposedly very popular among Ukrainian children and the toymaker was planning on making dolls of other Nazis. There were various other lies mentioned like “between 2 and 3 million Ukrainian died during WWII, 1.5 million of whom were Jews”. The real figure of deaths during WWII is more than 8 million. This entire “story” was, of course, a complete hoax. However, some serious English language news sources published this information including the BBC which made a TV report, Deutsche Welle, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and many others. You can find information about this incident by Googling “Hitler Dolls Ukraine”. The Halyna Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Groups wrote a very good article about this: http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1209570049 I personally followed this whole thing and wrote letters to the editors of various newspapers while it was happening. Some answered. Some did not. Some wrote retractions. Most did not. The damage was done. Whoever read this bullshit went away believing it. How the Western press could write such garbage without verifying it, is beyond me! Of course, Russian government news sources were behind this disinformation campaign.
        Anyways, the point is that as far back as April 2008, the Kremlin was already trying to convince people that Ukrainians were “Nazis” and “fascists”. I couldn’t understand why they would try to do something to utterly stupid against their Ukrainian “brothers” but after the invasion and annexation of Crimea, it all makes sense. I always thought that it would be absolutely impossible for Russians and Ukrainians to go to war against each other, but Putin found a way to do it: convince the Russian people that Ukrainians are “fascists” and “nazis”! By the way, I also noticed during the last many years that even Russian cinema portrayed Ukrainians in a very negative way. Very often, Ukrainians were portrayed as Nazis, or Nazi collaborators or in various other negative ways. A pathetic movie called Матч came out in 2012 and starred Sergey Bezrukov. The movie really is “fascist propaganda” without exageration. The movie is about a mythical football (soccer) match in Nazi occupied Kiev between a local team and Nazi officers. Although told by the Nazis that they should lose, the Kiev team nonetheless wins, after which they are shot by the Nazis. Everyone in the movie who speaks Ukrainian is a Nazi, Nazi collaborator, worm or loser. Ukrainians are portrayed as “untermenschen”. Take a look at the movie to see what I mean. Movies like this – and there are more than a few – are funded by the Russian Ministry of Culture and therefore I don’t find it a coincidence that such movies really do espouse “fascist” propaganda against Ukrainians.
        One more thing with regards to the Euromaidan protests. For anyone living in Ukraine who was a critical thinker, the Euromaidan protests were not a complete surprise. There were a number of incidents prior to the Euromaidan which showed that people were getting seriously fed up with crimes and abuses of Yanukovych and his party. One event happened in Mykolaiv in early 2013, if I am not mistaken. A beautiful young woman met 3 young men, who happened to be the kids of Party of Regions officials and went back to their apartment to party. They got her drunk and raped her. Realizing that what they did was wrong, they decided to cover their crime by strangling her to death. Then they dumped her body at a construction site ( I believe), pour gasoline over her body and set her on fire. Of course, they thought she was dead. However, a few hours later, a passerby heard groaning and found the girl badly burned but alive. He called an ambulance and she was taken to a hospital. She was able to identify her attackers by she ended up dying a few weeks later. This incident, of course, caused an uproar and people started demonstrating. It was an extreme example of who Yanukovych and his party and their kids were totally abusing the country and pissing everyone off. Another, more serious incident happened in a place just off the highway between Kiev and Odessa called Vradiyivka. A young woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten practically to death and then her body dumped in the woods by 2 police officers and a taxi driver. The police officers had family members high up in the Party of Regions hierarchy. She survived and identified her attackers. The townspeople were so enraged (and apparently similar abuses had happened previously) that they physically attacked the police station where the 2 officers were hiding. There was a mass uprising in the town! The police actually had to fire shots at the demonstrators so that they wouldn’t enter the building. These are 2 examples which showed that Ukrainians were quite fed up with Yanukovych’s rule. These 2 incidents showed me, at the time, that the country was moving towards something more serious. Therefore, anyone who thinks that the USA, CIA or EU created a “Colored Revolution” is a complete imbecile who has absolutely no idea about what was happening in Ukraine before the protests erupted. By the way, one other factor which lead to protests was that the economy was going to hell. Foreign banks were already leaving Ukraine more than 6 months BEFORE the Euromaidan protests! Austrian “Erste Bank” is a good example.

      5. Jim Kovpak Post author

        As far as I can tell the only negative effect of drinking wine and typing is a lack of paragraph breaks. That’s all.

        Unfortunately some people involved with Maidan helped the Kremlin build their narrative by waving red and black flags and other symbols of the UPA, OUN, and other collaborationist formations without understanding what they meant.

        I can’t tell you how many times I ran into Maidan supporters or participants online, during the protests, who would talk about how it wasn’t nationalist, and me, simply going off of numerous crowd shots and other photos, would ask about those flags and symbols. Then I’d get this ignorant answer, almost word for word:

        “Nothing wrong with the UPA! They were patriots who fought for independence.”

        No, no my friend they were not. In fact, recently I found my estimate for UPA strength was actually high. I thought the highest they ever had was 40,000 people at one time, but in fact it was about 20,000. But let’s ignore the problem of who represented Ukrainians back then for a second.

        The OUN-B and M both worked closely with the Germans and helped them get into Ukraine. They set up the militias and auxiliary police that would take part in some of the most gruesome massacres of Jews in the early years of occupation. Later on, these people would later make up a large percentage of the UPA, as much as 50% or more. That they deserted made it impossible to indict or try many of these people for war crimes. Well that and the fact that thanks to the Cold War, the US and Canada were hiding these people and working with them (including, for a time, Bandera).

        Of course in reality, most of the Maidan protesters are simply guilty of historical ignorance, something which is quite widespread. My only problem with this, however, is the readiness of so many people to believe “patriots” telling them fairy tales about Bandera, plus the uneven response of the Western media to this kind of activity in comparison with how they respond every time some group of private citizens puts up a Stalin bust in some podunk town somewhere in Russia.

        As for that movie, it’s supposed to be based on this event: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_Match

        I cannot say too much about it since I, like most Russians, tend to avoid modern Russian films, but I am aware of the complaints.

        As in other Ukrainian cities, the Germans would have used their collaborators to try to organize the local population on their side, but the fact is that they never had much success in this endeavor outside of the West, and even there it is less than people realize. People show you these photos of people in traditional Ukrainian dress with portraits of Hitler and Ukrainian flags, but they forget that these were deliberately organized photo-ops.

        And of course, one can find plenty of such photo-ops with Russians, as well as Russian Orthodox clergy.

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Now I see what the problem is:

        “The film Match (2012) by the Russian director Andrey Malyukov also ignores the reports of Ukrainian witnesses and scholars and repeats the Soviet propaganda version. In the film Russian communists are fighting against the German occupiers. All the collaborateurs speak Ukrainian.”

        First, actual Ukrainian collaborators probably wouldn’t be speaking Ukrainian all the time in Kyiv. This was one of the problems the OUN had when they started to come east with the Wehrmacht. According to one source I read, Ukrainian villagers heard their accents and mistook them for Poles.

        Second, they make all the heroes Russian. I first encountered this bullshit back when I moved here and saw this film called First After God. It’s INCREDIBLY loosely based on the life of Aleksandr Marinesko, the highest scoring sub ace for the USSR in WWII. The real Marinesko was Ukrainian and Romanian, as is evidenced from the surname Marinesko. In the film the character is renamed Aleksandr Marinin, i.e. a Russian name.

  5. Alex Podell

    Don’t want to be a spoiler here as I really like your posts – but I know Paul and he is a straight shooter who loves Ukraine. A good guy who is totally passionate about how Ukraine is getting fucked over by it’s own people and Putin. Paul (like me) was on Maidan and saw the good things happening there and (in my opinion) is attempting to correct the insane amounts of bullshit spin about what really happened there.

    In my opinion – cut Paul some slack as he is trying to fight for Ukraine and may get things wrong from time to time.

    AND move down to Kyiv !!! An amazing City. It will never be as exciting or cultured as a Moscow – but totally liveable.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Believe me I didn’t want this to be an anti-Niland piece. He raised some good points and there’s nothing wrong with criticizing the work of people you generally respect. I have major ideological disagreements with some of my best friends, fellow bloggers, from time to time.

      And even with all the negative things I’ve seen here and in Ukraine, I do assume good faith when it comes to what he’s saying about Maidan and “the Ukrainian people.” It’s just that from an argument point of view, I think the thing about Ukrainian agency could have been phrased better.

      Unfortunately moving to Kyiv, or anywhere, poses certain logistical problems for me at the moment. If there was a good enough opportunity for employment I would certainly take it.

      I used to assist in child crucifixion in Slovyansk, teaching the soldiers how to use nail guns instead of the backward hammer and nails method (I mean what is this? Passion of the Christ? They’re just kids!), but then of course the problem with jobs like that is you eventually run out of Russian-speaking kids. Oh sure, you could start splitting hairs about dialects, but where’s the fun in that?

      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        This is interesting. I read this editorial today: http://www.kyivpost.com/article/opinion/op-ed/poroshenko-becoming-another-yanukovych-407378.html

        In it, Bonner writes:

        “His chutzpah is amazing, considering the fate of predecessors who betrayed the national interest, most recently Moscow resident Viktor Yanukovych, who couldn’t get out of Ukraine fast enough on Feb. 21, 2014, once he realized that flight was the only way to save his life.”

        Couldn’t this be characterized as at least a slightly Russian narrative, somewhat on par with suggestions about US backing for Maidan?

      2. Asehpe

        🙂 🙂

        Don’t forget to tell them to use rusty nails, so the tetanus germ can survive. Ecology…

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Nah forget that. Even nail guns are dinosaurs in the rapidly evolving innovative field of child crucifixion. These days we’re already talking about nano-nails which can work independently of the operator, smart billboards that are designed to show up on a special app for your cellphone, and more!

      4. gbd_crwx


        btw, what about Health and safety concerns when crucifying? Isn’t there a significant risk of carpal tunnel problems? Have you considered Cable ties instead?

  6. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning)

    Just on your comment about the worst pro-Kremlin trolls being from UK/USA. People I know would disagree and cite other Europeans, especially Germans. I don’t read the language but I have seen this cited a lot and can be extrapolated from the support for Putin from politicians from those countries.

    I followed back from your comment about being misled by a Ukrainian leftist party to discover it was Borotba. Sorry! Wasn’t reading you then :/ You may be interested to know that Borotba are the people who most influenced the leftist support for the ‘Peoples Republics’ in the UK. This UK left group has, sadly, not insignificant support and has led to some ridiculous situations such as the UK National Union of Mineworkers being called ‘pro fascist’ for solidarity work with comrade miners unions in Ukraine. Borotba are now, as I understand it, almost totally marginalised having failed to find a home in Donetsk (surprise, surprise) and also being accused of ripping off money from their deluded supporters in Western Europe.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Yeah it was them. And long after I’d figured out how corrupt they were I saw one of them trying to convince unwitting Westerners that Borotba had “commissars” in the DNR forces and were struggling with Duginite groups there. Sure they were.


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