In a must-read article, journalist Aaron Maté argues that, in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. sided with Ukraine’s far-right – thereby sabotaging President Zelensky’s mandate for peace.
Contrary to what you might assume based on his ‘Churchillian’ stance during the war, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky was elected in 2019 on a platform to make peace with Russian-backed separatists in the East. The war in Donbas had been going since 2014, leaving more than 14,000 dead.
As Maté notes, in Zelensky’s inaugural address he said was willing to “do everything” to make peace:
I can assure that in order for our heroes to stop dying I am ready to do everything. And I am definitely not afraid to make difficult decisions, not afraid to lose my own popularity, my ratings. And if there’s a need I’m prepared to give up my own position – as long as peace arrives.
He also said that, although it “wasn’t us” who started the war, “it’s our job to end it” – and stressed that “we’re ready for dialogue”.
Unfortunately, these overtures towards a diplomatic solution did not go down well with Ukraine’s powerful far-right. The head of “Right Sector” warned that Zelensky “will lose his life. He will hang on some tree on Khreshchatyk – if he betrays Ukraine and those people who died in the Revolution and the War.”
Even the New York Times wrote in February of this year that Zelensky’s Government could be overthrown by far-right groups if he “agrees to a peace deal that in their minds gives too much to Moscow”.
What Zelensky needed to face down the far-right, Maté argues, is support from the U.S. If America had backed his pledge to broker a peace deal, he’d have been able to do so without fear of threats or intimidation. But the U.S. didn’t back him, and Zelensky’s pledge went unfulfilled.
Why on earth would the U.S. not want peace in Ukraine? Because there was a more important goal: to weaken Russia (which also happens to be America’s stated objective in the current war). Those in charge of U.S. foreign policy want to “overextend and unbalance” Russia, so they can focus on confronting China.
Is this plausible? Would the U.S. really side with far-right paramilitaries over a democratically elected president? If history’s anything to go by, it’s entirely plausible.
In the 1980s, the U.S. armed and funded the Contras – a right-wing rebel group in Nicaragua that carried out various atrocities during its guerrilla war against the country’s socialist government. They also armed and funded the Islamist mujahideen of Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War.
More recently, the U.S. armed and funded various rebel groups in Syria, some of which carried out atrocities. What’s more, these groups fought side-by-side with radical Islamists like al-Nusra and even Al Qaeda. As Jake Sullivan told Hillary Clinton in a leaked 2012 email: “AQ is on our side in Syria.”
In light of these examples, it doesn’t stretch the imagination to believe the U.S. intentionally refrained from backing Zelensky, in the knowledge that this would empower his far-right opponents.