Imagine you are a young woman walking down a street in the US when a group of young men starts hooting and whistling at you. It’s probably annoying, even infuriating, but you keep walking and ignore them. Now imagine the same thing happening on a street in Kiev or Odessa. You should probably run for your life because you may have just become a target to be kidnapped and sold as a sex slave in a distant land.
That is the reality faced every day in Ukraine, where a repudiation of the descent into a mafia state is likely the main issue at the heart of the recent rebellion and interference by neighboring Russia. But you’d never know that reading the mainstream media here in the US. This important story has been largely ignored because everything, everywhere in the world is reported as if it is about the US somehow – no matter how ridiculous this perspective is.
Our inability to simply get over ourselves is the main reason our press is so terrible, not some liberal/conservative bias. It is well demonstrated by the complete miss on this important story shaping the world today.
There is little doubt that the rebellion in Ukraine started when President Yanokovych reneged on a pledge to sign a treaty with the European Union (EU) on 21 November. Subsequent reporting in the US has largely failed to look at the genesis of the entire conflict, usually referring to the treaty as a trade agreement. But the story has an obvious flaw at the heart of it. Since when has anyone, anywhere, been willing to die for free trade with the EU?
The depiction in the mainstream media has focused on an emotional explanation revolving around ethnic identity. Somehow, the situation can be explained by the easy and unthinking label of “ethnic tension” between the divisions in Ukraine. The implication is that those wacky foreigners just can’t get along. While this does sometimes happen in other nations it’s not an excuse for missing a critical, if more difficult economic and criminal story that obviously explains the situation much better.
Worse yet, the story that this is ethnic in origin plays into Russia’s hands so well it is practically propaganda.
There is considerable evidence that the influence of organized crime, run out of Russia, has become utterly intolerable in Ukraine – and that this has driven the people to risk their lives to change it. As the center for an international trade in sex slaves, Ukrainian women are indeed disappearing off the streets to be sold into a fate worse than death. A recent survey showed that 9% of Ukrainians have been directly affected by this problem, or nearly 1 in 10. The anger that must reasonably result from the inability to protect a generation of women has to be an incredible force for change.
But that isn’t the story the US. The simple narrative of “ethnic tension” is handy largely because it has allowed the story to shamefully be played for local politics. The implication is that the Russian occupation of Crimea is about our particular weakness, blamed on Obama, utterly ignores the fact that Putin did the same thing in 2008 and clearly got away with it. Why would he not think he could do it again? Insistence that this is about the US has gone as far as to try to link it to weakness showed in Benghazi, a point so utterly laughable that no credible news outlet would have ever given it any airtime.
But US outlets did give it airtime. And this demonstrates they are simply not credible.
Meanwhile, Putin continues to play his hand with great impunity. He does so not as much because of weakness on the part of the EU or US but because this is his primary role. He is a bully, yes. But he has to act like a bully because he himself is not the great force in the world that he portrays. He exists to the extent that he is useful to the Bratva, aka “Russian Mafia”, which operates with great impunity in the burgeoning kleptocracy that his nation clearly has become. Putin’s assignment is to be their enforcer, not their Don, and that is what he does.
But to describe Putin as nothing more than the cheap hoodlum he really is would destroy the narrative he is given by the US media. We are used to the Cold War, where Russia is staring us down and ready to pounce at the slightest sign of weakness. That story has a place for the US, one that is central to defending freedom and justice around the planet – not as much as a global cop but something more like Superman.
The real story doesn’t have a central role for us, so it is easily ignored.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is struggling to cast aside the Bratva and become a modern nation based on the rule of law. In order to do so, they have to look to the West and turn away from Russia. With the arrival of Russian troops presence of organized crime is no longer a matter of corruption but a matter of Russian foreign and military policy.
If we want to be effective in the world we have to start in reality, and the obvious truth is that not every story in the world is about us. We have to get over ourselves. The first step is to demand much better from our mainstream media which is utterly incapable of seeing the world from anything other than the stupidly narrow perspective of conventional US politics.
This story relies heavily on a piece I recently did for Mint Press News that I believe is well document. Please read and consider it. Thank you.
There are many layers to Putin’s challenge to the US and Europe. I have no qualms with today’s blog.
However, related to Ukraine, I want to salute Boris Yeltsin, as noted by Strobe Talbot, in an article in Yale Global online
“Yeltsin held the line on the status quo: There would be no territorial adjustments to align the political map with the ethnographic one or to correct historical anomalies. In effect, Yeltsin made what became the borders of an independent, post-Soviet Russia a red line that neither he nor his successors should ever cross.
By that decision alone, he helped spare the USSR as it disbanded the mayhem, ethnic cleansing and civil war that ravaged Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosević, leading to NATO’s military intervention and Kosovo’s eventual secession from Belgrade’s rule.”
Crimea will be part of Russia in two weeks. Let us all watch this very carefully. Let’s ask China –what is your position on the annexation. Can you help us on this?
Thanks. I do not think this is all there is to the story, but it appears to be one of the most important parts and certainly the genesis of this round of rebellion. I cannot believe how it has been ignored.
As for China, I just saw this today – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/world/asia/china-torn-between-policies-and-partnership.html?_r=0 Apparently, not everything is about China, either – and they also don’t know quite what to do about it. This will have to develop, I’m sure, but the certainly don’t want to back away from Russia. Interesting problem for them.
And great call on Yeltsin, thank you for that link.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so angry from you. I like it. Wasn’t there a poll that showed that people who watch a lot of news are even less informed than people who watch nothing? I believe it too.
I’m pretty steamed, but I must have written something pissier. The poll showed that people who watch only partisan nooze (Fox, MSNBC) are indeed misinformed, meaning those outlets are worse than useless.
Maybe I’ll be more angry for a bit. I’m really sick to death of how awful our media is generally. I don’t know how we can call ourselves a free people when we are terribly misinformed.
Your version makes more sense, but isn’t it also true that there is ethnic tension? Whoever drew the boundaries obviously didn’t care about the people who lived there.
There is indeed ethnic tension, but its importance is mostly related to how it is being exploited. I’m sure ethnic Russians would rather not go too Western, but there have to be ways to give them what they really want in terms of language righs, etc. Crimea was always an autonomous province for this reason.
The boundaries largely reflect the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1917), when Germany set out to punish Russia as severely as possible. They are artificial. Don’t think that Russians don’t know where the Ukrainian border came from, either, so it is a big sore point. I covered this before: https://erikhare.com/2014/03/02/ukraniana/
I beg to differ, there is a role for USA in this. A lot of the women sold into prostitution are brought here to work in strip clubs and pornography in addition to being slaves for the sex industry. The FBI must know about this and must be able to do more to stop it. If we are going to be the police to the world we should do more policing and less shooting.
You make an excellent point. If we want to get serious about combatting the Bratva, there must be many things we can do without having to take out Putin or anything else rash. And we should.
One of the things that bothered me in all this is the tepid response from UK PM Cameron. London is the main destination for Bratva money that has been laundered and seeks a safe haven away from Russia, and that money appears to have bought Cameron.
We can’t let that happen. So yes, let’s have a “War on Crime” like our “War on Terrorism” and all that. We can start by using all the tools at our disposal to cut off their money, because a lot of the laundering through Miami into the Caymans and BVI is somewhat well known.
An excellent point, thank you.
Ba Ki Moon could host a televised round robin debate on the topic
“That Crimea should be a part of Russia.”
Round 1) Angela Merkel vs. Vladimir Putin held in Berlin
Roun 2) Vladimir Putin vs.Arseny Yatsenyuk held in Moscow
Round 3) Barack Obama vs. Vladimir Putin held in Minneapolis MN, IDS Center
Then a party in Kiev, featuring Russian vodka., German sausage and American meatloaf
Congratulations, you found a way to update the old fashion way of dealing with this for a TV and Internet age.
Thanks for this very enlightening conversation! Much appreciated!
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