From Washington to Moscow, Everyone Is Lying About What’s Happening in Ukraine

Putin’s statement about the crisis was full of distortions and manipulations. But in an unusual paper meant to expose them, the U.S. State Department offered its own share of inaccuracies and half-truths.

Ariel Danieli
Ariel Danieli
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Ariel Danieli
Ariel Danieli

The U.S. State Department on Thursday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of lying about what is happening in Ukraine, and particularly regarding the circumstances leading to Russian military intervention in the Crimean Peninsula.

The paper the Americans issued is unusual in the diplomatic sphere, and refers to Putin’s statement two days ago to correspondents at his residence. It contains 10 points, about which, the State Department says, Putin lied. But apparently in some of the paragraphs they weren’t entirely accurate on the other side of the Atlantic either. They issued a version that suits U.S. interests. Especially grating, Washington ignored extreme right-wing elements in the new government in Kiev.

In Paragraph 3 the Americans seem to be choosing a very specific interpretation of the situation as it developed in Kiev late last month. “Mr. Putin says: ‘The opposition did not implement the February 21 agreement with former President Viktor Yanukovych.’ The facts: ‘The agreement presents a plan according to which the parliament must reinstate the 2004 constitution, as well as returning the country to a system that strengthens the legislative branch. Yanukovych was supposed to sign the legislation within 24 hours and to bring the crisis to an end peacefully. He refused to meet his commitment, and instead packed up the contents of his home and fled, and left behind evidence of extensive corruption,’” said the document.

In effect, there was chaos in the Ukrainian capital, and a substantial percentage of the anti-Russian opposition demonstrators rejected the agreement formulated by the warring parties with the mediation of the European Union. The developments from the moment of the signing until Yanukovych’s flight and his ouster from parliament is not entirely clear, nor is it clear why mention of his ostensible corruption is relevant to the question of the legitimacy of removing him by force.

In addition, the protest leaders still recognized him as president on February 25, and only said that he “is not actively leading the country as of now.”

In Paragraph 4 the Americans deal with the legitimacy of the new government, and with Putin’s claim that Yanukovych is still Ukraine’s legitimate leader. The document of the State Department in Washington notes that on March 4 Putin himself said that the ousted president “has no political future,” and that his party, the Party of Regions, voted in favor of removing him and installing the new government, and that the parliament in Kiev confirmed the swearing in of the government by a huge majority of 82 percent.

But the Obama administration ignored Paragraph 111 in the Ukrainian constitution, which states that parliament can oust the president only if he committed a crime. The initiation of an impeachment process must be approved by two-thirds of the legislators, with 75 percent of MPs voting in favor of the ousting itself. Those votes were not held, and therefore ratification of the new government, even with 82 percent support, was passed in contradiction of the constitution.

In Paragraph 8 the State Department wrote: “Mr. Putin says: ‘There were mass attacks against churches and synagogues in southern and eastern Ukraine.’ The facts: ‘The religious leaders in the country and activists who favor freedom of religion said that there were no attacks against churches. All the leaders of the Church in Ukraine support the new political leadership and called for national unity. Jewish organizations in southern and eastern Ukraine reported that there was no increase in anti-Semitic incidents.”

We found no evidence of attacks against churches in Ukraine, but in Haaretz we have already reported on a fear in the Jewish communities of an increase in anti-Semitism, as well as several incidents in which extreme right-wing gangs intensified their activity against synagogues and Jewish institutions. Our correspondent in Crimea, Anshel Pfeffer, reported that Jews were beaten in Kiev and a synagogue was vandalized there, and similar incidents occurred in the city of Zaporozhye in southeast Ukraine and in the Crimean capital of Simferopol.

Despite that, many pointed to the fact that Russia is trying to defame the new government in Kiev by portraying it as extremely rightist, anti-Semitic and Nazi in its entirety, and some people even wondered whether those incidents weren’t Russian provocations, in order to arouse opposition to the new government. Whatever the case, it can’t really be said that there were no anti-Semitic incidents at all in southeast Ukraine.

In the last paragraph, Paragraph 10, the United States claimed that Putin is lying about the fact that the Ukrainian parliament is influenced by extremists and terrorists. The Americans claim that the Rada (parliament) is the institution most representative of the Ukrainian public, and that extreme-right organizations that were involved in the clashes in Independence Square are not represented in it.

But the actual situation differs significantly from the picture Washington is trying to paint. It’s true that legislators from the pro-Russian parties voted in favor of the new government, but we cannot ignore the fact that many of their members fled from Kiev, so that it is hard to claim that the parliament provides optimal representation for the pro-Russian east. In addition, the far-right party Svoboda (Liberty) received 38 seats in the legislature in the most recent elections, and its members espouse extreme anti-Semitic and nationalist views.

In addition, the party received five portfolios in the new government, including justice minister and deputy prime minister. “The Right Sector, a small organization, armed and more extreme, which espouses a pro-Nazi ideology and is opposed to joining the EU, is not represented in parliament, but its leader Demytro Yarosh declared recently that his organization and Svoboda share many views and values," the paper stated. Incidentally, Yarosh was appointed in late February as the deputy head of the National Council for Defense and Security.

In Paragraph 6 the Americans tried to contradict the words of the Russian president to the effect that ethnic Russians in Ukraine live in fear of the new government in Kiev, and stated that there are no reliable reports on that. They also presented the fact that the interim president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, refused to approve a law limiting the use of the Russian language in the country, but forgot to mention that prior to that parliament had approved the law.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited Anshel Pfeffer as reporting that a synagogue in Kiev was destroyed, when in fact it was only vandalized.

Kerry and Lavrov meet at Russian Ambassador's Residence in Paris, March 5, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Vladimir Putin. November 14, 2013.Credit: AFP

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