[News] Siding With Ukraine's Far-Right, US Sabotaged Zelensky's Peace Mandate

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Sun Apr 17 11:17:31 EDT 2022

Siding With Ukraine's Far-Right, US Sabotaged Zelensky's Peace Mandate
By Aaron Maté - April 17, 2022.
In 2019, Zelensky Was Elected On An Overwhelming Mandate To Make Peace With

*As Stephen F. Cohen Warned That Year, The US Chose To Side With Ukraine’s
Far-Right And Fuel War.*

On a warm October day in 2019, the eminent Russia studies professor Stephen
F. Cohen and I sat down in Manhattan for what would be our last in-person
 (Cohen passed away in September 2020 at the age of 81

The House was gearing up to impeach Donald Trump for freezing weapons
shipments to Ukraine while pressuring its government to investigate Joe
Biden and his son Hunter. The Beltway media was consumed with frenzy of a
presidency in peril. But Professor Cohen, one of the leading Russia
scholars in the United States, was concerned with what the impeachment
spectacle in Washington meant for the long-running war between the
US-backed Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas.

At that point, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky was just months into an upstart
presidency that he had won on a pledge to end the Donbas conflict. Instead
of supporting the Ukrainian leader’s peace mandate, Democrats in Congress
were impeaching Trump for briefly impeding the flow of weapons that fueled
the fight. As his Democratic allies now like to forget, President Obama refused
to send
same weapons out of fear of prolonging the war
 and arming Nazis
By abandoning Obama’s policy, the Democrats, Cohen warned, threaten to
sabotage peace and strengthen Ukraine’s far-right.

“Zelensky ran as a peace candidate,” Cohen explained. “He won an enormous
mandate to make peace. So, that means he has to negotiate with Vladimir
Putin.” But there was a major obstacle. Ukrainian fascists “have said that
they will remove and kill Zelensky if he continues along this line of
negotiating with Putin… His life is being threatened literally by a
quasi-fascist movement in Ukraine.”

Peace could only come, Cohen stressed, on one condition. “[Zelensky] can’t
go forward with full peace negotiations with Russia, with Putin, unless
America has his back,” he said. “Maybe that won’t be enough, but unless the
White House encourages this diplomacy, Zelensky has no chance of
negotiating an end to the war. So the stakes are enormously high.”

In October 2019, Stephen F. Cohen (RIP) implored DC to support Zelensky’s
peace mandate.

“His life is being threatened by a quasi-fascist movement,” Cohen said. “He
can’t go forward with full peace negotiations unless America has his back.”
Siding with fascists, DC chose war. pic.twitter.com/hXkq270Shs

— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) April 10, 2022

The subsequent impeachment trial, and bipartisan US policy since, has made
clear that Washington has had no interest in having Zelensky’s back, and
every interest in fueling the Donbas war that he had been elected to end.
The overwhelming message from Congress, fervently amplified across the US
media (including progressive outlets) with next to no dissent, was that
when it comes to Ukraine’s civil war, the US saw Ukraine’s far-right as
allies, and its civilians as cannon fodder.

The Ukrainian battle against Russian-backed rebels, State Department
official and opening impeachment witness George Kent testified, was being
waged by the “Ukrainian equivalent of our own Minutemen of 1776.” In his
opening statement at Trump’s trial, Democratic impeachment manager Adam
Schiff approvingly quoted another Kent line: “The United States aids
Ukraine and her people, so that we can fight Russia over there, and we
don’t have to fight Russia here.”

If you don’t want Russia to fight Ukraine over there, don’t use Ukraine to
fight Russia from here.pic.twitter.com/6B4QVFSZvV <https://t.co/6B4QVFSZvV>

— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) February 26, 2022

Although Trump’s impeachment failed to remove him from office, it succeeded
in cementing the proxy war aims of its chief proponents
rather than support Zelensky’s peace mandate, Ukraine would instead be used
to “fight Russia over there.”

In using Ukraine to bleed Russia, the US has showcased its contempt for
everything in Ukraine that it claims to defend, namely its democracy and
security. By treating Ukraine as a depot for US weapons, the US has joined
Ukrainian fascists in sabotaging the 2015 Minsk accords that could have put
an end to the civil war triggered by a US-backed coup the year prior
<https://mate.substack.com/p/by-using-ukraine-to-fight-russia?s=w>. Minsk
called for granting Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population in the eastern
Donbas limited autonomy and respect for their language. This prospect was a
non-starter for the far-right nationalists and Nazis empowered by the 2014
US-backed Maidan coup.

“The uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kiev’s current
government — and the protesters who brought it to power — are, indeed,
fascists,” two specialists with prominent Western think tanks wrote in
Foreign Policy in March 2014
<https://archive.ph/lFRVs#selection-8505.0-8507.1>, one month after the

The fascists have blocked peace in the Donbas at every turn. When the
Ukrainian government voted on a “special law” advancing the Minsk accords
in August 2015, the Svoboda party and other far-right groups led violent
clashes <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34105925> that killed three
Ukrainian soldiers and left dozens wounded. Then-Ukrainian President Petro
Poroshenko, who had signed Minsk at a time when President Obama was
resisting heavy bipartisan pressure to arm Ukraine, got the message and
refused to uphold Ukraine’s end of the bargain.

In April 2019, Zelensky was elected with an overwhelming 73% of the vote on
a promise to turn the tide. In his inaugural address the next month
Zelensky declared that he was “not afraid to lose my own popularity, my
ratings,” and was “prepared to give up my own position – as long as peace

But Ukraine’s powerful far-right and neo-Nazi militias made clear to
Zelensky that reaching peace in the Donbas would have a much higher cost.

“No, he would lose his life,” Right Sector co-founder Dmytro Anatoliyovych
Yarosh, then the commander of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, responded one
week after Zelensky’s inaugural speech
“He will hang on some tree on Khreshchatyk – if he betrays Ukraine and
those people who died in the Revolution and the War.”

Along with the threats to his life, Zelensky experienced direct obstacles
to his peace mandate on multiple fronts.

When Zelensky travelled to the Donbas in October 2019 to promote elections
for the rebel-held areas, he was confronted
angry members of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion rallying under the slogan of
“No to Capitulation.” In one exchange caught on video, Zelensky sparred
with an Azov member over the president’s calls for a military drawdown.
“I’m the president of this country. I’m 41 years old. I’m not a loser. I
came to you and told you: remove the weapons,” Zelensky pleaded.

This video is from 2019. It shows a confrontation between Zelensky and a
member of Azov battalion in the Donbas region. Zelensky demands that the
neo-nazis lay down their arms. The fighter refuses.
Zelensky is NOT running the show. The neo-nazis are.
pic.twitter.com/738NMFyIY3 <https://t.co/738NMFyIY3>

— Denis Rogatyuk (@DenisRogatyuk) April 3, 2022

But Zelensky met continued defiance. The same far-right forces set up an
armed checkpoint to delay a Ukrainian military pullback. Thousands of
far-right and nationalist protesters, cheered by the liberal intelligentsia
and carrying flares as torches, also marched in Kiev.

When Zelensky’s press secretary, Iuliia Mendel, “drew attention to the
prevalence of civilian casualties” in the Donbas, “which she blamed on
government forces’ injudicious use of return fire,” she was greeted instead
with “a prosecutorial summons,” Katharine Quinn-Judge of the International
Crisis Group reported
April 2020, one year after Zelensky’s election. Mendel’s recognition of the
suffering in the Donbas, Quinn-Judge observed, resulted from “Zelensky’s
campaign pledge to treat residents of Russia-backed enclaves more like
full-fledged Ukrainians,” – a non-starter for the US-favored far-right
nationalists, who harbored no such interest in Ukrainians’ equality.

Although Zelensky dithered on Minsk, he nonetheless continued talks on its
implementation. The far-right continued to express its violent opposition
at every turn, such as in August 2021, when at least eight police officers
were wounded
<https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-right-protesters-zelenskiy/31410694.html> in
armed protests outside the presidential offices.

The far-right threats to Zelensky undoubtedly thwarted a peace agreement
that could have prevented the Russian invasion. Just two weeks before
Russia troops entered Ukraine, the New York Times noted
Zelensky “would be taking extreme political risks even to entertain a peace
deal” with Russia, as his government “could be rocked and possibly
overthrown” by far-right groups if he “agrees to a peace deal that in their
minds gives too much to Moscow.”

Yuri Hudymenko, leader of the far-right Democratic Ax, even threatened
Zelensky with an outright coup: “If anybody from the Ukrainian government
tries to sign such a document, a million people will take to the streets
and that government will cease being the government.”

Zelensky has clearly gotten the message. Instead of pursuing the peace
platform that he was elected on, the Ukrainian President has instead made
alliances with the Ukrainian far-right
<https://thegrayzone.com/2022/03/04/nazis-ukrainian-war-russia/> that
violently opposed it. As recently as late January, amid last-chance talks
to salvage the Minsk accords, Zelensky-appointed Ukrainian security chief
Oleksiy Danilov instead pronounced
“the fulfillment of the Minsk agreement means the country’s destruction.”
At the final round of Minsk talks in February, just two weeks before
Russia’s invasion, a “key obstacle,” the Washington Post reported
“was Kyiv’s opposition to negotiating with the pro-Russian separatists.”

Zelensky’s acquiescence to Nazi forces was most recently underscored on
April 7th, when an address to the Greek parliament was overshadowed by
his airing
of a video featuring a member of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion

“I think Zelensky found out very quickly that because of the Ukrainian
right, it was impossible to implement Minsk II,” John Mearsheimer, the
University of Chicago professor who has warned for years that US policies
were pushing Ukraine into a conflict with Russia, said in a public event
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hH3s7MRJkAI> the same day. “…Zelensky
understands that he cannot take the Ukrainian right on by himself. So
basically we have a situation where Zelensky is stymied.”

Echoing his late friend and colleague Stephen F. Cohen, Mearsheimer
stressed the centrality of the US role.

“The Americans will side with the Ukrainian right,” Mearsheimer said.
“Because the Americans, and the Ukrainian right, both do not want Zelensky
cutting a deal with the Russians that makes it look like the Russians won.
So this is the principal reason I’m very pessimistic about Ukraine’s
ability to help shut this one down.”

This week, John Mearsheimer, speaking to @KatrinaNation
<https://twitter.com/KatrinaNation?ref_src=twsrc^tfw>, noted the continued
alliance between DC and Ukraine’s far-right:

“The Americans will side with the Ukrainian right… Both do not want
Zelensky cutting a deal with the Russians that makes it look like the
Russians won.” pic.twitter.com/yxDOlEaBLG <https://t.co/yxDOlEaBLG>

— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) April 10, 2022

While claiming to profess concern for Ukrainian lives, NATO policymakers
have made plain their disregard for diplomacy. Instead, as retired senior
US diplomat Chas Freeman recently told me
they have pursued a policy of fighting Russia “to the last Ukrainian.”

“Everything we are doing, rather than accelerate an end to the fighting and
some compromise, seems to be aimed at prolonging the fighting,” Freeman,
the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security
Affairs, among a number of other senior positions, said.

Invoking Freeman’s warning, Noam Chomsky concurs that US policy amounts to
a “death warrant” for Ukraine.

Chomsky cites my recent interview with veteran US diplomat Chas Freeman,
who warned that US policy amounts to fighting Russia “to the last
Ukrainian.” (https://t.co/sNZGoPGFIL)

Flooding Ukraine with weapons & blocking diplomatic solutions is a “death
warrant”, Chomsky says. pic.twitter.com/l4AhVeJIA9 <https://t.co/l4AhVeJIA9>

— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) April 6, 2022

Indeed, on April 5, the Washington Post
clear the prevailing viewpoint in Washignton and Brussels: “For some in
NATO, it’s better for the Ukrainians to keep fighting, and dying, than to
achieve a peace that comes too early or at too high a cost to Kyiv and the
rest of Europe.” While rhetorically claiming to support Ukrainian agency,
in reality, the Post added, “there are limits to how many compromises some
in NATO will support to win the peace.” This is undoubtedly the message
being relayed to Zelensky from the White House in what National Security
Advisor Jake Sullivan described as “near-daily contact” with Zelensky’s
team about the negotiations with Russia.

In sabotaging Zelensky’s peace mandate to side with the Ukrainian
far-right, the US pushed Ukraine into a calamity that Professor Cohen
warned about nearly three years ago.

“There were moments in history, political history, when there’s an
opportunity that is so good and wise and so often lost, the chance,” Cohen
told me in October 2019. “So, the chance for Zelensky, the new president
who had this very large victory, 70 plus percent to negotiate with Russia
an end to that war, it’s got to be seized. And it requires the United
States, basically, simply saying to Zelensky, ‘Go for it, we’ve got your

By choosing to ignore the pleas of lonely voices like Cohen to instead have
the back of Ukraine’s far-right, Washington sabotaged a historic peace
mandate and helped provoke a catastrophic war.
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