Double Think on Ukraine and Russia From the Anti-American Left

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Brandon Martinez / Non-Aligned Media

In his essay “LEFTISTS, LIBERALS, AND UKRAINE: A TALE OF DOUBLE STANDARDS,” Stephen Velychenko, a Ukrainian-Canadian historian, author and research fellow at the Chair for Ukrainian Studies of the University of Toronto, critiques an anthology edited and published by Stephen Lendman on the 2014 Ukrainian Maidan crisis and its tumultuous aftermath.

Lendman’s book, Flashpoint Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III, features articles by a number of left-wing and/or “dissident” Western writers such as Paul Craig Roberts, John Pilger, James Petras and Lendman himself.

The main thesis of the book – which is merely an echoing and reprinting of official Russian state propaganda – is that after the Euromaidan uprising Ukraine was hijacked by “fascists” and “neo-Nazis,” and that Russia’s actions in response – the takeover of Crimea and support of Russian separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine – were legitimate counter-measures to the “fascist coup” in Kiev.

Velychenko in his essay deconstructs the double standards and doublethink of these writers, exposing their logic and arguments to be faulty, one-sided and hypocritical. He demonstrates that everything these writers criticize about the United States – its imperialism, breach of international law, aggression, propaganda, etc. – Russia is also culpable for, perhaps to a lesser degree. Yet, on Russia’s violations, they are either completely silent or outright defend the transgressions.

Velychenko notes the rise of,

distinctly anti- Ukraine and pro-Kremlin liberal and leftist publicists, journalists, commentators, and academics who, although ignorant of Ukraine, its history, and its language, as of 2014 began defending the foreign policy interests of Russia’s ruling class in its former de facto colony.

He continues:

Pro-Kremlin leftists and liberals seem to think Putin’s Russian neoliberal capitalism preferable to Anglo-American and European neoliberal capitalism and tolerate his imperialist drive to maintain Russian hegemony if not full control over Ukraine. Such people seem to think that the rapacious and destructive greed of big bankers and corporate owners/managers in Russia is preferable to that of their European and American counterparts, even though the former enjoy a degree of independence from governmental regulation that some of the latter can only envy.  They see no similarity between Putin and his Eurasianists and George W. Bush and his Neo-cons.  The pro Kremlin leftists do not condemn Putin for turning Russia into a neo-Soviet kleptocratic autocracy or label as imperialist his expansionist wars west and south.

This is the “lesser evil” phenomenon. The writers and pundits in question view everything through the lens of their anti-Americanism, and cannot see nor hear any other evil in the world. If it cannot be tied back to and blamed on Washington, they simply are not interested in discussing it. Hence, Velychenko notes, their total disinterest in the nefarious activities – including drag-net data collection, spying on and mass surveillance of the Russian population, kidnapping and torture of “terror” suspects, false flag provocations, assassinations, etc. – of Russia’s notorious GRU and FSB, contrasted with their intense preoccupation with the machinations of the NSA, CIA and various spy agencies in the US and West generally.

Velychenko scrutinizes the “anti-Americanism rather than anti-imperialism” of these writers, observing their comparative silence on the crimes and abuses of, if not strident support for, “regimes in China, North Africa, Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, the Congo, and, most recently, fundamentalist Islamists and fascist Arab Baathists.” These leftists condemn the alleged neo-Nazism present in some sectors of the Ukrainian far-right, but are mute on the gutter neo-Nazism of the Russian far-right, which includes gangs of Russian skinheads who have carried out dozens of heinous murders of Caucasian and Central Asian immigrants in Russia, even filming ghastly beheadings and executions of kidnapped victims.

“This attitude” – of one-sided anti-Westernism – “results in condemning Anglo-American and European neoliberal capitalism but not Russian neoliberal capitalism,” writes Velychenko.

He defines anti-Americanism as,

a set of beliefs that classifies imperialism as a singular specific American rather than global phenomenon and discounts or ignores competition between imperialists and intra-capitalist rivalries. Anti-Americanism bears little relation to Lenin’s concept of many rival imperialist ruling classes divided within and engaged in an unending struggle with one another. Instead, anti-Americanists restrict “imperialism” to a single US dominated bloc without fundamental intra-ruling-class differences.

This does not mean that their critiques of the American system and US foreign policy are illegitimate and invalid. Often those critiques are correct, and Velychenko doesn’t dispute that. But their myopic one-track thinking leads to a perennial neglect of rational analysis and censure of other imperialist and authoritarian regimes that are, at least domestically, worse than the US which has a robust constitution allowing unfettered freedom of expression, belief, association, and so on – civil rights that citizens of China, Russia, North Korea and myriad other global East and South countries can only dream about.

Specifically on the Euromaidan events, Velychenko points out how the writers in Lendman’s book ignore the “fact that EU negotiators and Maidan leaders were urging Yanukovych to remain in power and that he fled of his own volition.” They are “[a]ppalled at the prospect of Anglo-American corporations making money from Ukrainian misery,” but are “not appalled by the prospect of the Russian state and its ruling elite continuing to extract resources from its Ukrainian colony – as they have been doing since the 18th century.” And this is the big double standard. US business interests exporting their capital reach abroad is roundly condemned by these authors, yet when Russian business elites do the exact same thing, in Ukraine and elsewhere, there is no moral outrage or righteous indignation about it.

These writers are fierce critics of US capitalism, but not its Russian and Chinese equivalents. Never do they mention that, on the issue of wealth distribution, Russia is the most unequal country in the entire world. A Credit Suisse Wealth Report proved that 110 billionaires, many being close associates of Putin, control 35% of the Russian economy. Russia has an estimated total net wealth of $1.2 trillion, meaning that $420 billion of that belongs exclusively to Russia’s billionaire class. According to the same report, “93.7% of Russia’s adult population have less than $10,000 in wealth.”

Velychenko goes on:

These leftists and liberals, contrary to their avowed principles of anti-imperialism and self-determination, pen pro-Kremlin articles that identify the new conservative Ukrainian government containing Russians and Jews and Georgians and Lithuanians, as a fascist “regime” exploiting Russians and “invading” eastern Ukraine – not explaining how a government can invade its own territory and ignoring the Russian troops fighting on Ukrainian territory. These people consider Ukraine in Russia’s “sphere of influence” and that it should stay there. The fact that a majority of Ukrainian citizens prefer not to stay there, and that Russia’s drive for regional hegemony risks starting World War III by breaking international treaties and invading their country, is not considered by any of the Flashpoint authors.

Their hypocrisy is compounded when coupled with their atrocious support of and cheerleading for Russia’s brutal military campaigns to scuttle Chechen separatism in the 1990s. Today they champion Russian colonizers in Ukraine’s east that want to resurrect “Novorossiya,” a “Greater Russia” imperial state, yet at the same time slam Chechen nationalists who sought independence from Russian rule after suffering decades of abuse, occupation and ethnic cleansing under various Russian regimes. The double think is stunning.

“Millions of corpses attest to” the barbarity of US foreign policy, writes James Petras in Flashpoint, but he, notes Velychenko, “makes no analogous assertions about Moscow or Petersburg, their corpse count, or their longstanding [imperial] policies towards neighboring independent governments.” Velychenko adds:

Leftists and liberals who would not dream of claiming India or Ireland are “inseparable parts of England’s past” nor hesitate to use the term colonialism when writing about them, nonetheless, in this book write “Ukraine’s history is inseparably part of Russia’s past” and do not use the term colonialism in reference to Russian rule.

That’s because many leftists, especially Marxists and communists, have a historical love affair with Russia due to its communist past. Sympathy for Russia on the far-left is legendary. Who could forget the legions of communist Americans and Western Europeans charged with treason and espionage for the Soviet Union during the Cold War? According to these far-left ideologues, imperialism can only emanate from white, Western capitalist powers, never non-white Eastern or Southern powers. They condemn the US-led exportation of capitalism and democracy, and rightly so, but hypocritically embrace and defend the Soviet legacy of communist colonization of surrounding and even distant states (Cuba for example). These leftists exhibit amnesia when forced to recognize that Russia is itself a majority white Slavic country, is capitalist today, and is driven by a revanchist desire to become a great power again. Russia’s extreme nationalism, revanchism, chauvinism and ethnic and religious supremacism is all overlooked by its Western sycophants on the far-left. To maintain their mythical narrative that only the West produces imperialism and economic disadvantage, they must ignore and disregard anything that doesn’t fit.

Velychenko writes:

With the collapse of the USSR, it would have seemed that foreign leftists would no longer support Russia’s neoliberal capitalist government. In any case, most foreign leftists ignored Russia and Ukraine. They broke their silence in 2014 when they condemned Ukraine’s Maidan protests. The pro-Kremlin group does not condemn the Russian government’s annexation of the Crimea, or its sponsorship of separatist anti-Ukrainian Russian neo-Nazi armed gangs in eastern Ukraine. Condemnation of CIA involvement is matched by silence on GRU and FSB subterfuge. Today, pro-Kremlin foreign leftists support Russia’s neo-liberal capitalist government and imperial ambitions like earlier they had supported its declared socialist government. Purporting much concern about exploitation and despoliation, they, like all the Flashpoint authors, have no interest in any evil they cannot link to the US government or corporations, nor in any peoples who suffer from such evil.

This is part of the pro-Kremlin punditry’s ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to the wrongs and faults of Russia, China and other BRICS regimes that are said to be, on some level, counteracting US hegemony. No matter how dirty, corrupt or oppressive these governments can be, their offenses will be swept under the rug by the biased hacks of “alternative” media. They are playing a very clever partisan game. They are propagandists. Their much flaunted “principles” of anti-imperialism, non-intervention, defense of national sovereignty and international law, etc., quickly evaporates when a BRICS power is in breach of said principles. When that happens they shift the boundaries of debate, reconfigure their “principles,” and change their arguments to suit the new circumstances.

Velychenko posits that,

If all imperialisms and colonialisms are evil, then one should expect all leftists and liberals to condemn the Russian variant together with the American, British and French variants. But, as concerns Ukraine, what we see instead is a distinct pro-Kremlin group that supports the Kremlin’s neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism. Instead of calling attention to the role of the Kremlin in backing a puppet-regime that viciously exploited the majority of the population, ethnic Ukrainian and Russian,  avowed leftists and liberals express solicitous concern only for the interests of Ukraine’s politically Russophile ex-ruling minority, their Kremlin backers and even their neo-Nazi goon squads. While vociferously condemning Ukrainian “fascism,” which few bother to distinguish from Nazism, they remain silent about Putin’s neo-imperialism and the Ukrainian national question. Leftists who do  criticize Moscow’s authoritarian domestic clampdowns remain silent about the enormous political and economic pressure it exercised on Ukraine, thereby provoking the radicalization of Ukrainian liberal nationalism.

But that’s just it: the pro-Kremlin hacks are not against imperialism, puppet regimes, authoritarian statism, exploitative capitalism, etc. They are only against these things when the US or any Western country can be blamed for it. They are simply anti-Western, not anti-oppression. These people love imperialism, puppet regimes, coups, oppression, state surveillance and corruption, as practiced in the Eastern and Southern hemispheres by the so-called BRICS bloc. They are over the moon about the tyrannies controlling Syria, Iran, China, Russia, North Korea and myriad despots ruling over Africa and Latin America. They can’t get enough of oppression, tyranny and misrule when these Eastern and Southern players are the flag-bearers. In essence, these people are morally bankrupt deceivers and charlatans, a far cry from the “humanitarian” image they percolate to their gullible audiences.

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