Last August, I met former Belarusian Presidential candidate Yaroslav Romanchuk at a libertarian conference near Lviv, Ukraine. He was a businessman-turned-politician advocating radical free market reforms in Belarus. The consequences of being a libertarian in or near Russia arerather severe; ultimately he had to give up the import-export business he had spent years building. We joked about America’s RT (Russia Today) news service — that the United States government should sponsor a Russian language libertarian channel in Russia and Eastern Europe. I was angry at the libertarian coverage of events in Ukraine, which evolved into uncritical repetition of Kremlin propaganda devoid of journalistic integrity and such a betrayal of libertarian principles. The media covers numerous examples that attempt to delegitimize Ukraine’s protests, whether by labelling the opposition as fascist or by praising the now-deposed Yanukovych regime. But the corruption and savagery of Ukraine’s police is neither secret nor new. It’s one thing to oppose intervention; it’s another to mischaracterize the barbarity of the Yanukovych regime. The Kremlin’s propaganda towards Ukraine is centered on three main ideas that I will discuss in this article:
I. CRIMEANS VOTED OVERWHELMINGLY TO SECEDE.
Though I am in favor of secession, what happened in Crimea wasn’t it. The eyewitness accounts and reports during the referendum leads me to question the staggering 96% of the referendum, on top of which was that over 123% of Sevastopol residents voted; or that a Russian journalist demonstrated she could vote with a Russian passport. To top this off there were numerous reports of kidnappings and arrests of Pro-Ukrainian activists and Ukrainian journalists. Therefore, having a headline read “Crimea overwhelmingly votes to leave Ukraine for Russia” is far from accurate.
Historic data further supports my argument. IRI conducted surveys in Crimea in 2009, 2011 and 2013 revealed the following figures: 40 to 45% of Crimeans considered their identity to be Russian and 23 to 33% favored joining Russia. One can accuse IRI of bias, though they are consistent with Ukrainian surveys. The 2001 census, which measured ethnicity, not identity, showed that Crimea was 58% Russian. Moreover, in Crimea’s first referendum for Ukrainian independence in 1991, a narrow majority of Crimeans (54%) supported becoming part of independent Ukraine. So, while the views of the substantial minority should certainly be taken into account, the 96% result is absurd. For what it’s worth, when Ukraine gave up the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world in 1994, the agreement required Russia and other countries to recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
II. THE PROTESTS ARE ORCHESTRATED BY FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES.
I have no illusions that Western intelligence agencies aren’t heavily involved. In fact, I can’t imagine a scenario in which they wouldn’t be. It is correct to say that Western intelligence/ EU/NATO/globalists/World Bankers have worked to bolster and direct Ukraine’s revolution, but it is incorrect to claim they orchestrated a coup. There is a long list of headlines on Western involvement. Let’s start with Western politicians making phone calls with local opposition (to myself, this is foreign powers hijacking the revolution, not orchestrating it). Other headlines suggest that the US and EU paid Ukrainian protesters; this was based on anonymous readers and bloggers claiming that protesters received what corresponded to EUR15-25. However, many of the protesters were scientists, university lecturers and young professionals, so would they be really motivated by a mere thirty Euros?
Also consider this historical context: Somewhere between 3 and 12 million Ukrainians were exterminated by the Soviet Union in a single man-made famine from 1932-1933, and the Great Famine was neither the first nor the last great slaughter of Ukrainians. In Western Ukraine, armed resistance to the Soviet Union, arguably the most brutal regime to have ever existed, lasted until 1955 — for a full decade after WWII ended. This was at a time when the United States provided material aid to the Soviet Union. So, obviously the resistance was homegrown. Is it so hard to believe that the inheritors of this legacy are resisting what they perceive as the kleptocracy descended from the Soviet Union?
III. VIOLENT UKRAINIAN NAZIS THREATEN ETHNIC MINORITIES.
First, it is wrong to characterize the protests as “violent.” They remained as peaceful as typical Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street protests even after five protesters were killed and dozens kidnapped. No stores were smashed or looted despite this being the most expensive commercial real estate in Ukraine. On January 16th the Yanukovych government, passed legislation nearly identical to a Russian law, which criminalized virtually every form of protest. Protesters began receiving SMSs from their cellular phone companies telling them they’ve been listed as having taken part in illegal mass disturbances. This was a pivotal moment for the revolution.
Second, concerning ethnic minorities, what evidence suggests that the protesters or new government is hostile to ethnic minorities? All of their animosity was directed at toppling a corrupt government. There has been no analogous violence toward pro-Russian demonstrators from pro-Maidan or pro-Ukrainian activists who so many libertarians have been accusing of fascism and neo-Nazism.
This leads me to the final point, the issue of Neo-Nazism. Much to the delight of the Kremlin, there are photos depicting SS symbols among the protesters and the opposition politician Oleh Tyahnybok. But this concerns a very (very, very) small minority of Ukrainian protesters who have SS symbols as a symbol of resistance to Moscow. They do so because the Galician SS Division is viewed as a heroic last stand against the Soviets, who exterminated up to 25% of all Ukrainians in the two decades prior to WWII. The division was formed in 1943 to form the core of an eventual Ukrainian Army dedicated to fight the advancing Red Army. Realize that for seventy years, the Kremlin’s domestic propaganda was centered on convincing Russians that they are surrounded by Nazis poised to invade and that the only defense is offense. This propaganda did not end with the Soviet Union. Russia imagines Nazis everywhere, and when it can’t find them, it creates them. There are several media sources discussing Russian intelligence agents creating “Nazi” groups in Finland and Estonia, even in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution as a way to disregard the opposition movement.
Libertarian coverage of Ukraine has been characterized by misinformation, repetition of Kremlin propaganda and the abandonment of journalistic integrity and libertarian principles. I have respected and looked up to some of these authors for a long time. I corresponded with several of them. Appealing to them was like speaking to a brick wall. I was either ignored or lectured and scorned for my “blindness”. I have previously lived in the Soviet Union and experienced social and political revolution first hand through the Estonian Singing Revolution. On top of that, I’m Ukrainian and have lived in Ukraine for two years. I know the people, the culture and the historical context. But I am not alone; my libertarian friends from Russia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Belarus and all over Ukraine, who, after years of looking to America’s libertarian community as a light of knowledge and inspiration, now feel utterly betrayed. In the words of my good Russian friend and co-author Dr. Yuri Maltsev: “I am glad that there is a growing opposition to Putin’s regime in Russia itself. The list of eminent Russian intellectuals against aggression in Ukraine is much longer than those confused libertarians who support “Russian national interests” (Mises and Hayek would detest such an expression).”
Roman Skaskiw is an American writer residing in Ukraine. His diverse background as a former engineer and infantry officer are reflected in his writings.