The Ukrainian crisis may have seen a flickering light at the end of the tunnel, as politicians from the great powers collided over the former Soviet state are now bringing up the idea of having four-sided talks between the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine itself. But with the east of the Ukraine boiling with new wave of protests, and Kiev's government being fed with unreasonable promises from Washington - whatwill tomorrow hold for the Ukrainians themselves? Are talks a real possibility? Will there be any use of them? To find this out, Sophie talks to Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst turned whistleblower.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst, whistleblower, political activist, it's really great to have you on our show today. So, we're going to talk about Ukraine as usual. Just recently the US, Russia and the EU have agreed to sit down with Ukraine, in an attempt to resolve this crisis. But, is this a problem to be solved internationally, or is it an internal Ukrainian issue? As a matter of fact, was it ever Ukraine's internal problem?
Ray McGovern: Well, Ukraine, obviously needs to be involved intimately. We can't have the EU and the US and Russia deciding the future of Ukraine, so the answer is Ukraine needs to be involved intimately, but all of them, East and West, and I'm really glad that the adults have taken over now, and what should have happened several weeks ago is happening now. People getting together to figure out how to do this, when no one's security is endangered.
SS: But, like you've said, all these "adults" have different goals, and it seems like finding common ground isn't really among them...What's the real point of these talks?
RM: Well, if this was a matter of security for the USA that would be true. It is not a matter of national security, it's a matter to living up to a promise that was made to Gorbachev, and your grandfather Shevardnadze in 1990, when James Backer said "the US and NATO would not leap-frog over Germany, would not move NATO one inch eastward." That was a solemn promise, and unfortunately it wasn't written down, but when your leaders, Russian leaders saw, that NATO started infringing, started going eastward, and then of course, when NATO leaders decided 6 years ago in Bucharest that Georgia and Ukraine would become members of NATO, that was sort of the last straw until the provocations that happened on Maidan in Kiev.
SS: I think NATO is a point that Russia will never negotiate on. So, if all sides are not willing to compromise, could talks eventually make things worse? Because from what I understand, there are some un-negotiable points...
RM: Yes, Russia has un-negotiable point: NATO will not subsume Ukraine under NATO's wing - that is entirely understandable. As Helmut Schmidt, the former German Bundeskanzler said, it is "du haus verständlich" - "it is thoroughly understandable", that Russia is not going to let Ukraine became part of NATO, and I think what the Administration here in Washington decided, was "we will try it anyway" and they got a bloody nose. So I think there are no security interests of any importance on the US side. Finally, Obama, is able to say, "yes, we will talk, we will negotiate, we will include, of course the Ukrainians, but EU, Russia, we and the Ukrainians will figure it all out" - it's not difficult to figure out, unless you want to make regime change in Ukraine, and that was of course the casus belli, so to speak, when our Assistant Secretary of State made it clear in that intercepted telephone conversation that "Yatz"is our guy and that he used to be, or still is, the head of the central Bank, he knows about austerity, he'll know what needs to happen for the IMF..." the whole business about subsuming Ukraine into the EU or its economic umbrella - you know, they would end up just like workers in Greece: cheap labor with incredible debt to have to pay off. So, I think, people are sort of calming down now, I really fear for what Putin called the "neo-nazis" and the "Banderan" groups - they are still around so we need to make sure that jointly we don't let them disrupt whatever peace negotiations transpire.
SS: Right. So, you've touched upon couple of different points that are involved in the Ukrainian crisis. Let's start from the financial problem. The Western financial help comes with conditions, like you've said, and they are likely to hurt average Ukrainian, at least, in the nearest future. Do you see a danger of another social explosion after austerity starts?
RM: If things go through, I'm not at all sure that this interim government is going to last very long. But, if Russia sits back and says "alright, well, no more discounts on our natural gas, and if the West wants to come through with 18 bln dollars to bail out Ukraine - that's fine with us" - the Russians, your people, still have incredible power that comes of the economic leverage, that comes from the natural gas and oil, and the very close ties between Russia and, for example, Germany, that are new; and if the US thinks that they can leverage these things, I think the US is in for said awakening.
SS: Since you've touched upon the gas, the US is actually telling Ukraine that it can make that country independent from Russia in terms of gas. But the US shale gas project is something still to come in the future, it's not there yet. Do you feel like they are giving them empty promises?
RM: Well, this not going to happen anytime soon. The idea there is that "you, Ukrainians, get extra blankets now, and if you could just last for a couple of years with extra blankets, we'll get this liquefied natural gas ships built, and we will get the shale oil going, and you'll be alright, just wait a couple of years" - it's ridiculous on its face. Russia has the high cards here, the Ukrainians have to know that, so does the EU, the rest of Europe.
SS: So you don't think that America can actually follow through its promise to make Ukraine independent from Russian gas?
RM: It's physically impossible for the next few years.
SS: Here's another thing - only one out of six Americans can actually point Ukraine on the map. Some even think they live in Ukraine, according to recent Washington Post survey. So why would someone take action in place they know nothing about?
RM: Well, that's very simply. It's the media in our country which is beating the drums for the hostile attitude towards Russia. Now, the background of that, of course, is that the people who control the media are the ones who profiteer from arms manufacturing and sales, and also the people who do not want decent relations between Russia and the US, Victoria Nuland, for example. The cardinal sin that Vladimir Putin made was to help the US out of a very difficult situation with respect to Syria. The point is, Putin bailed out the president, and the people who wanted the war to continue in Syria, the neo-cons, were destroyed about that, and so they don't like Putin one bit, and they want to cause a hostile relationship between Russia and the US, but Obama and Putin do have a relationship, and I can see that working out for the better, as people sit down as adults and negotiate this crisis.
SS: But, it's funny that you've mentioned the neo-cons, because I was talking to Ron Paul recently and he also told me kind of a same thing, he said it's the hardliners at home who are influencing Obama, and they are the ones who want heavy American involvement in Ukraine. But why would they want that?
RM: Well, for two reasons. One is, because they want to create this hostile environment between Moscow and Washington: that helps arms sales to the former East European countries, it helps to stir up the kind of spirit that makes defense expenditures even more. The other reason is they do not like to have the relationship where Vladimir Putin and our president, Barak Obama, are able to negotiate behind the back of their favorite neo-con, and their favorite neo-con is the fellow I mentioned before - John Kerry, who has the neo-con attitude, where they think that the strategic interest of Israel on the one side are identical with the strategic interests of the US on the other side. Now, everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I just don't think those kinds of people should be running US policy, and I think, the president Obama should fire John Kerry, now that it's very clear that he lied 35 times on August 30th, by saying that Bashar Assad was responsible for those chemical attacks. That was a lie. Vladimir Putin had it right.
SS: Do you think that American politicians now dealing with the Ukrainian crisis are fully aware of how divided the nation is?
RM: No, of course they aren't. To the degree they take any interest. Now, your allusion to the recent poll which shows that the very few Americans can identify where Ukraine is on the map - it was very interesting, not only does that go for American citizens, it goes for our Congress people as well, and there was a direct correlation: those who thought the Ukraine was perhaps in Asia or in the Middle of the Sea, thought that yes, we should take a very strong attitude and maybe even consider military action against it. But those who knew, where the Ukraine is, right in the shadow of Russia, were much more judicious, much more enlightened and saw that we have no need to mess around, to cause regime change in Kiev, and so they are much less in favor of a strong military-type response.
SS: There is five billion dollars that's been invested in Ukraine through the National Endowment for Democracy over the years - do you believe Washington has the result it was actually looking for?
RM: It was a good try. In other words, Victoria Nuland, the Assitant Secretary of State apparently thought that if she gave chocolate-chip cookies on Maidan then everything would turn out alright with the "Yatz"coming in as the interim prime-minister. Now, Yatz did become an interim prime-minister, but not everything turned out alright, and she should have known better. And, I think she did know better, that's why I keep saying that her ultimate intention was to create a very hostile environment between Moscow and Washington.
SS: But, I think you are referring to the conversation that we've all heard between Victoria Nuland, when she was actually laying out the plan of how the Ukrainian government should look. It does seem like, it looks a lot like what she wanted it to look, no? Or is it a coincidence?
RM: Well, it does for the time being. One would have thought that once this conversation which shows direct American meddling in Ukrainian affairs, once that was on YouTube, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind would have prevented Yatsenuk from becoming prime minister - but it didn't. That's how blatant it was. And that's why I say that it's just as much an effort to create enmity between our two countries.
SS: Establishing legitimacy is Kiev's greatest challenge now at home and abroad, especially in Moscow, but how can it achieve that - keeping in mind the striking similarity of the government line-up with Mrs. Nuland's instructions?
RM: I don't think Mrs. Nuland is going to have a final say here. I think everybody's interests need to be respected, and that's why I welcome so much the idea of Russia, the US, the EU and the Ukrainians sitting down at the table to work it out. It's not terribly complicated once US gives up the idea of regime change. My favorite outcome is to make the Ukraine something like Finland, where it could be neutral and a threat to no one, where NATO wouldn't go near the Ukraine - I think Russia will be satisfied with that.
SS: Victoria Nuland was also heard to dismiss EU's role in this whole crisis - has Ukraine caused a rift between European NATO members and Washington?
RM: She used a very vulgar term, which I won't repeat on air here... But, you know, what surprises me still, and I've been watching this for over half-a-century, is how servile are the West Europeans and the East Europeans are to Washington's demands. I think that's a transitory thing now, and I think this crisis will make the West Europeans, particularly the Germans think twice about whether they should always say "how high you want me to jump" when Washington says "jump".
SS: NATO's Secretary General has also warned Russia against the "historic mistake" in Ukraine, threatening to further isolate Russia internationally - but what more can be done? I mean, they already suspended all cooperation..
RM: On neseryezni chelovek (Он несерьезный человек) - that fellow, Fogh Rasmussen, is not a serious person. He was that the guy that said on March 18th, one day before the invasion in Iraq, "we don't believe there are weapons of mass destruction there - we know they are there!" He was at that point the prime-minister of Denmark. He is not a serious person, don't pay any attention to him.
SS: He may change in the years to come, and another head of NATO will arise - but do you think it's still in NATO's plans to actually eventually take Ukraine in as a member state?
RM: I think that what's just happened over the last couple of months should spell the death now to NATO's plans to incorporate Ukraine. It may take a little while to that to sink in, but that's clearly the outcome of all this, and whether they will reverse their Bucharest declaration of 6 years ago or not on paper - is another question, but I think sober-minded people in Europe, if not in the US, have realized that this was a bridge too far, this was one regime change too many, and that the Russians are not going to permit, certainly not going to permit Ukraine to become part of NATO.
SS: What about this whole sanctions business - there is a lot of talk about who it's going to hurt more, is it worth introducing sanctions when you consider the likelihood of boomerang effect?
RM: Boomerang...well, you know, this is a real consideration. Here, in my view, the Russians have all the high cards, you've got the natural gas delivery not only trough the Ukraine and to the Ukraine, but to the rest of Europe. You've got oil, you've got lots of factors in play, the very close trade relationships that exist now, that didn't exist 20 years ago; so these sanctions are, in many respects, laughable, and when they become - or if the US presses for more serious sanctions - they will meet very strong resistance from countries like Germany, countries that are very important in Europe.
SS: What about the political dialog, in general - can the West afford to stop political dialog with Russia?
RM: There is the outward dialog between Kerry and Sergey Lavrov; Kerry is fulminating, he's acting like a senator that has all kinds of power - but he doesn't have a lot of power, and just as what happened in Syria, Obama and Putin - thank goodness, slava Bogu! (Слава Богу!) - have a personal relationship, and as with Syria, Obama can go behind Kerry's back, deal directly with Vladimir Putin, and I see great hope in that.
SS: And, if we get back to sanctions, just a little bit - you've called them laughable, and some would say that there is only been a token effort to introduce them, so does this all mean it is just a hot air to impress voters?
RM: Yes. I'd say "bolshoi shum (большой шум)" - a lot of hot air. This is playing to domestic constituencies. Obama wants to appear like he's taking a strong stand here. But the more he resorts to these token sanctions, the more transparent it is that he really doesn't have a lot of leverage here, and he should have known that going in. He was in a large sense mouse-trapped by the neo-cons, as they almost mouse-trapped him into the war with Syria.
SS: We're really impressed by your knowledge of Russian. Our foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov - Russia's foreign minister says American mercenaries are now acting on the ground in the Eastern Ukraine, something US saying it cannot confirm. Would this surprise you?
RM: It wouldn't surprise me. I guess what surprised me is that Lavrov most recently said that he accepts the assurances of Kerry that this is not the case. If it is the case, this would be "sumashedshi (сумасшедший)", it would be crazy on the part of Americans. One thing I would point out here is that the press is ridiculous on our side of the ocean here: they talk, for example, about the pro-Russian Ukrainians singing "Katuysha, katuysha" from World War Two, and everybody in the US said "oh, those are those rockets!"... But they don't know it's a love song! "Rascvetali yabloni I grushi, proplili tumani nad rekoi... (Расцветали яблони и груши, проплыли туманы над рекой...) - you know the rest of it.
SS: Yeah, I know the rest. Not only you know the Russian, you also sing well..
RM: Well, thank you. I'll sing the rest of it later, if you wish.
SS: Okay, if we get back to Ukraine, do you feel like Ukraine's forces need help in containing protests in the East, or can they handle it on their own?
RM: I think they can. I think that there is probably some reason to believe that what Kerry and White House spokesman are saying is that the Russians have a great deal of assets, a great deal of influence of what happens in the eastern Ukraine, and I would think that if people sit down at the table, this would be one of the cards in play: "We will not stir up problems or trouble in the Eastern Ukraine, and you will not put Blackwater or whatever they call themselves these days in the Western Ukraine" - it is all imminently work-outable, it just has to involve mature, adult negotiators, which are rather premium, at least on our side.
SS: And what are your thoughts about US Navy deployments in the Black Sea?
RM: We talk about pre-planned appointments, and as you know, the treaty of Montreaux allows these kinds of things; so, I think this is another gesture where Kerry can say "Oh we have some warships right there in the Black Sea" - I don't take it very seriously, I would be surprised if the US Navy were not ordered to show the flag at the Black Sea at this point.
SS: 2013 has actually been a really good year in US-Russia relations. If you think about it, because, you know, they had this accord on Iran movement, also you've mentioned Syria - Presidents Obama and Putin were able to come to an agreement, a common deal. Do you think that all has just ruined right now?
RM: I think there is a great incentive on a part of the so-called neo-cons in our government to wreck that. But I don't think they are going to succeed, there is going to be a period of less-cordial relationships, but now there that we're sitting down at the table, I see that this will come back into proper focus, and I don't think Obama is so dumb that he will jettison the relationship that he has with Vladimir Putin, which Putin as said in September last year, was marked by, quote "growing trust", end of quote. I think there is a modicum of trust there, and I think Obama realizes by this point that he probably more trust eastward that in the neo-cons that want to get him on to a pack of trouble, in Syria and elsewhere.
SS:All right, thank you very much for this great insight. Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst turned whistleblower. We were talking about Ukraine, whether it's an internal or external problem, and also will President Obama and Putin continue to collaborate on certain issues. It's been great having you with us today. That's it for this edition of Sophie&Co, we'll see you next time.