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Oligarchs, Fascists and the People’s Protest in Ukraine

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Derek Monroe says the Ukrainian far-right, with the backing of local oligarchs, the US and the EU, hijacked popular protests against corruption.

Derek Monroe says the Ukrainian far-right, with the backing of local oligarchs, the US and the EU, hijacked popular protests against corruption.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

Western press reports are saying Russian troops are amassing on the Ukraine border. Russia says these are normal troop movements. There’s a war of words between Congress and the Kremlin. But it seems fairly clear now, as the dust more or less settles, the Russian annexation of Crimea will have to be de facto recognized by Ukraine and the West. And the strategy now of President Obama and Europe is to quickly try to integrate Ukraine into the E.U. orbit and the American orbit—$18 billion IMF loan is being promised to the Ukraine and more.

Now joining us to unpack all of this is Derek Monroe. He’s an independent journalist based in Illinois. He covered the Ukraine for Foreign Policy in Focus, a Washington-based publication for the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s also—recently has an article on Truthout about the Ukraine.

Thanks for joining us, Derek.


JAY: So let’s go back. You were in the Ukraine three weeks ago. Give us a picture of what you observe, what you know, in terms of the leadup to the change in government. Some people are calling it a coup.

MONROE: Well, actually, the direct cause of the problem, it stems from 2004 West-supported Orange Revolution, where the oligarch Tymoshenko, who actually happens to be returning to power right now—she announced to be running for the president yesterday—had actually won the election over Yanukovych with Mr. Yushchenko. When they took to power with the wild support of the Western powers, they made a lot of promises to the voters of streamlining, bringing economic prosperity to the nation, what have you. And the major point of frustration that actually brought people to the Maidan—and basically it’s a failure of the past ten years to really bring any change or any improvement in the standard of living for the majority of the population.

JAY: Maidan being the place where the protests broke out recently.

MONROE: That’s right, the Independence Square.

And ultimately what really started the movement itself was actually a very peaceful demonstration took place on 23 November which a week later was basically attacked by Berkut, which was the riot police of the Yanukovych government. And that galvanized the images of the very—pretty ferocious beatings of the students actually went pretty much viral all over the country. And that galvanized a lot of people from different political spectrum to actually go in, and in solidarity, to share the anger over the beating of the students themselves.

And all of a sudden, around 30 November, a variety of different groups came out of the woodwork which themselves were an extension of the political setup with the Verkhovna Rada, which is a parliament itself, where the groups came out very well organized, [incompr.] armed and funded from a variety of political spectrum on the right.

As it happens, to truly understand the political situation in Ukraine, one has to understand the situation within Verkhovna Rada, which is the parliament of Ukraine. As it happens, a majority of the opposition parties on the right, and including the party of regions, which was at that time ruling party of Ukraine, are founded and run by political oligarchs. And this basically comes from a geopolitical and economic setup within the new Ukraine, where basically it creates a system, almost a semi-feudal system, where five major oligarch families are running the whole economy. It’s gotten to a point where the people are simply shut out from any kind of policy-making and process. And this also galvanized the population in general to simply go in the street and base their frustration with the possibility of not being associated with the European Union, to which they were looking for, basically, much better standard of living, much better prospect for their future.

And as it happened, when the—I got to Maidan about second week of February during a sort of a lull in fighting. And what really galvanized the situation to come to the explosion was 18 February, at Yanukovych administration’s ultimatum to clear the government buildings within the square itself by 6 p.m. or face the repercussions and attack of the police, militsiya, and Berkut forces. And as some groups have taken the advantage of the amnesty and vacated the building, there have been a lot internal fighting between the variety of different nationalist, fascist, and basically neo-Nazi groups, which basically took over one building versus the other. And that created sort of—somewhat of a interesting razzmatazz of different political factions fighting over the territory and so on, so forth.

However, the consensus was taken within the Right Sector that they are not going to vacate. They simply do not trust the government. So, when the police attacked, it got to the point where there’s been a sort of a very interesting and very medieval warfare, almost positional warfare, with a variety of different weapons being used, mostly medieval style weapons. However, there were also guns brought to the place itself, which in itself—. Then there was a ceasefire, and then once again—which was broken up by the rebels. And in the end it got to the situation where the people on the right were able to get through the police barricades and basically took over the government buildings, and threatening the life of the president, Yanukovych, at that time, which basically fled—when he basically fled because of the threats to him and his family.

At that time, Verkhovna Rada basically had an extraordinary, late-to-the-night—basically a conference where they decided to basically remove Yanukovych from power, regardless of the constitution article 111, which specifically states they have to get a minimum 338 votes in order to—resolution [incompr.] to pass, not to mention all the impeachment processes, which hasn’t happened.

And also what’s really troubling is that there were Svoboda and the Pravyi Sektor fighters present at the time of the voting within the parliament itself, which basically are the lowest common denominator [incompr.] of the coup and paramilitary putsch.

So it got in a situation where the West has really gotten themself into a situation where it was supporting a government which was basically provisional, temporary government, which was basically not necessarily elected but selected.

JAY: Right. Now, just a couple of questions. First of all, Yanukovych—you know, one of the things that sparked all of this was that he did not want to move closer to the agreement with the E.U. and NATO. Where were the Ukrainian oligarchs in all of this?

MONROE: Well, I think [incompr.] of the oligarchs are looking at it from their own personal and economic interest. Yanukovych—the reason that Yanukovych would not go to the West, although there were certain indicators that he was willing to, is simply the Ukrainian economy was simply on the verge of bankruptcy and Russia came up with the very strong, persuasive amounts of money being given to bail out the economy, which means $15 billion plus the one-third of the discount on the gas, which Ukraine—is the major source of revenue for Ukraine itself, what then’s transported to the West.

While the European Union made a lot of promises, they really didn’t put any money on the table whatsoever. And it’s got in a situation where a lot of people, commentators in Ukraine, actually stating that it was actually done on purpose to sort of create much bigger anger within [incompr.] population just to remove Yanukovych itself. And there are a lot of accusations right now flying in the Ukranian media specifically on false spectrums [sic] that the European Union didn’t really bargain under good faith.

So as far as the economic interests of the oligarchs are concerned, a lot of them simply kind of stood on the sideline, although they were supporting a variety of different right-wing groups and fascist groups, what have you. But I think the idea was to simply maneuver the situation for a much bigger consolidation of their own power.

And what happened the 21st night of February was simply—when that coup took place, is that oligarchs basically directed their own supporters within Verkhovna Rada, even the ones of the ruling party, to vote against [incompr.], because they got into a situation that Yanukovych became sort of a much bigger, increasing liability to them [incompr.] simply a stalwart for their interests.

JAY: But in terms of their underlying interest, do the Ukrainian oligarchs want to join with the European oligarchs instead of the Russian oligarchs?

MONROE: Originally not, but as it happened, as the political pressure came to fore. Plus you also have to understand that there was a agreement worked out between European Union-U.S. government, which was heavily involved in the negotiation of Yanukovych departure, to have Yanukovych basically sit for another six months till the next election, and then it would have been a peaceful transition of power. And the right-wing sector, basically, and fascists and neo-Nazis, they broke that. They broke that. They basically sent the team to the Yanukovych residence threatening his life and his family; therefore, basically, he fled. So the agreement which was worked out together with the European Union and with the U.S. involvement simply was broken. It was not even worth the paper it was written to.

JAY: Now, are the groups you’re describing as fascist and far-right and such, are they connected with representing the interest of certain Ukrainian oligarchs?

MONROE: Yes, they are. And I actually got into a situation where, when I was based at a press center, I really felt, in the piece that I have in Truthout, follow the money: where is the money coming to basically fund [incompr.] different activities at Euromaidan?

And, actually, it’s not really big news, new news, actually. The Bloomberg wrote that Pinchuk, which is one of the largest oligarchs, together with another oligarchs, Poroshenko, who he actually—right now is actually running [incompr.] going to be running for the president, they did give quite a substantial amount of money to variety of [inaud.] So it was basically a sort of a palace coup, in the way you can actually say, which extended itself to the streets, with each individual faction supporting each individual group that they receive money from.

JAY: So when the Russians characterize this as a coup, they’re right.

MONROE: Yes, they’re—if you look at the letter of the law, letter of the Constitution, which I was able to read in the original Ukrainian, and also in translations just to make sure [incompr.] and look at [inaud.] steps which need to be taken, must be taken for any kind of removal of power to take place, they’re correct.

JAY: Okay. Now the role of the Americans in all this. There was that famous leaked phone call where the American ambassador is talking to the American undersecretary of state for Europe—or assistant undersecretary, I guess it is.

MONROE: Victoria Nuland, yeah.

JAY: Yeah. And they seem heavily involved in determining who’s going to come to power out of all of this. How big a footprint is the American footprint in this?

MONROE: I think it’s quite big in the way that—basically, you have to kind of follow the money: where’s the money going through? And it starts not only necessarily with the—even going back earlier, to a December 13 conference in Washington, the Press Club, where she actually announced that the U.S. invested over $5 billion into the, quote-unquote, positive democratic outcome in Ukraine, whatever that means. And also, she was standing right next to the huge corporate logo Chevron, and there is not a coincidence whatsoever. Despite a political razzmatazz, corruption, and all the different evils which American government actually gave as a justification to supporting the coup and also supporting the, quote-unquote, democratic movement, Chevron corporation was—a year before, went in and actually inked a very lucrative $10 billion agreement with Yanukovych government to exploit their shale gas, aka fracking. So this is basically very much a not necessarily political setup, but also very much economic setup, which is beneficial for one, in this case, Chevron corporation. So you’re really looking at—. And the one thing you also—it’s worth mentioning, is simply Victoria Nuland didn’t really show up simply out of nowhere. She’s married to Robert Kagan, which is basically a father of the Project for the New American Century.

So, despite of the political change which took place in 2008 when President Obama was elected, it seems very much that the same political powers that be during the Iraq wars and Afghanistan are currently playing the same chief role in formulating American foreign policy in Ukraine, or other places, for that matter. It seems in this case to be a sort of a family affair.

JAY: And for those who don’t know, Project for the New American Century was a document written by American neoconservatives—I guess it was essentially during the—near the end of the Clinton period—where they recommended, let’s recognize we are the world’s single superpower and we should project our power everywhere and shape the world as we please, as we’re no longer in a world where we have to deal with another superpower. But maybe they’re finding out that isn’t quite so true here. I mean, they’re not pushing Russia around quite as much as perhaps they thought they might be able to.

MONROE: Yes. And I think—first of all, I think what’s really missing from U.S. media coverage is simply understanding the Russian point of view. Russians are fully aware of dynamics which are taking place here. The one thing which cannot be really emphasized strong enough is basically Russia’s noninvolvement in the situation in Ukraine. They really want to simply—just from my observations, talking to a lot of different people, including the pro-Moscow camp and the Party of Regions, simply there are a lot of different appeals to Russia to even give military adviser, as well as police help, in order to quell the Maidan movement, and actually Russia refused. The fundamental change took place beyond the economic assistance, of course, which Putin extended.

This diametrically changed on the 21st night of the coup, which—basically, Russia felt it was basically an illegal coup and this goes against its whole primary well-being and their own self-interest. That’s the reason, I think, this whole—that the coup itself has started the process of not only a, basically, partition of Ukraine, which they’ve held that it’s taking place, but also putting into overdrive into protecting their own sphere of economic and political interests, namely their own bases within Sevastopol region, as well as the pipeline, because one cannot emphasize large enough that the pipeline that goes through from Ukraine, from Russia through Ukraine to Europe, actually goes through the Crimea region itself.

So looking at economic situations as well as the political, geopolitical situation, that it was changing basically hour to hour, Russia—justifiably so, I believe—have taken a move to basically—as a defensive move to protect their own—not only necessarily their own economic and geopolitical interests alone, but also its own population, to what’s being seen as a chaos, you know, increasing fascism and variety of different—complete chaos and razzmatazz in Kiev, which can then spread to other parts of the country.

JAY: Now, what I—off the top, what I said, do you agree with that, that it seems like where we’re headed now, their de facto recognition of Crimea, although the rhetoric will keep flying, that there seems to be no real strategic interest, given the potential repercussions for Russia to move into Eastern Ukraine? And Putin says they have no plans to do so, although that could get out of control if a local referendum’s organized. Then what? And a speeded-up attempt by—not attempt; they’re going to do it—of integrating Ukraine into E.U., and then the big deal will be: will that actually lead to NATO or not? ‘Cause that’s not the same thing. Integrating in E.U. doesn’t necessarily mean NATO.

MONROE: That’s true. Well, I think there are a lot of different things in the air right now, specifically from geopolitical [incompr.] They’re looking at the situation simply as a creation of basically a buffer state, which would basically—’cause one thing you have to also understand: the importance of the western border within the Russian psyche. They’ve been invaded—you know, Napoleon, World War I, World War II. And, actually, the western border itself has extremely very, I think, important role in their national psyche, how they look at national and international relations, and also their own political setup, as far as the dangers concerned. So they’re looking for specifically to preserve Ukraine more like a buffer state, just for its own preservation of its own geopolitical and economic interests.

When NATO, when they encroached on that, it simply—it’s gotten to the point where they’re really—do not—first of all, they feel betrayed, because there are many different allegations and proofs actually being presented by a variety of different scholars (and we can dig into it later) that during the final conversations and agreements when Soviet Union, at the time, allowed Germany to be reunited, there was an explicit promise made to Gorbachev at the time, which was the general secretary of the Soviet Party, that NATO would stop at the German borders and NATO would not simply extend towards eastward. And that promise has been basically broken so many times. When Russians basically feel that they’ve been lied to and cheated to for so many times, they basically had to draw their own line for both international as well as domestic purpose.

JAY: Right. Well, we’re going to dig into that whole history more later.

But would you agree with the characterization that in the final analysis these are Russian oligarchs fighting with Ukrainian oligarchs fighting with European oligarchs fighting with American oligarchs? This is all about who’s going to feast on the peoples of all these countries. And I guess what we don’t see out of Ukraine right now is any kind of independent politics that represents the—really represents ordinary people of the Ukraine.

MONROE: That is true. And I think when you’re going to—when I was at Maidan, it was not—this point was not reinforced strong enough that actually when you look at the overall—the structure of the conflict itself, there are not only [sides,] let’s say, between government and the rest of the people. Actually, there are three sides: there was the government, there was the opposition, and there were the people. So the situation had gotten to the point where although the official opposition have won and they basically got the major posts within their government to basically divide the spoils—and repercussions of that are still being felt to this day, for example with Mr. Muzychko, which was actually—which was a right-wing leader just killed three days ago, and what many presume to be a hit by some factions of the Ukraine government.

What happens is people—the Maidan still exists. People are not going anywhere. So it’s gotten to a situation where Western media simply shifted focus from what’s going on in the Ukraine to the Crimea and other issues, while Euromaidan still exists. There’s tens of thousands of people there. They’re basically stating that this is not our government and we’ve been hijacked, our power’s been hijacked [crosstalk]

JAY: It sounds a lot like Egypt.


JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, and we’ll do this again soon.

MONROE: You’re welcome. Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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