In an interview with RIA Novosti, veteran US politician Dennis John Kucinich – who twice ran for president and served in the US Congress for 16 years – shared his vision of the role that NATO and its member states play in political crises of global significance, including the ongoing unrest in Ukraine and the civil war in Syria.
First of all I'd suggest discussing recent events in eastern Ukraine. Crowds of pro-Russian demonstrators stormed government buildings Sunday in two major cities of the region. Is it fair to say that this is the people's reaction to the coup in Kiev?
First of all everyone knows the junta in Kiev was installed by a coup and that you have nationalists, neo-Nazis who came to power as a result of that coup. One of the first things that happened was linguistic rights were attacked. And the population which had used the Russian language was suddenly aware the Russian language was under attack. And this of course created a backlash.
You know, when you have a country where so many people have Russian as their first language, this was something that threw a lot of fear into people. And who is going to protect the rights of people to be able to assert their cultural identity? That's really the question here. And that's why the people in Crimea voted not just to be formally considered part of the republic, but they also voted to protect their cultural identity. Because that was one of the things that was under attack.
But there is a much larger question here. As we speak, you have NATO training Right Sector. Now they are being brought into the military and trained with heavy weapons, and this can only be to engage in very violent military confrontation. This is very bad. And what is ominous is that we are speaking about neo-Nazis.
Why does the US not pay enough attention to the new Ukrainian government's close ties with radical groups?
I think that there is a lack of understanding in the United States of the significance of the neo-Nazis coming to power. Because anyone who is familiar with the history of World War II knows that Russia lost 30 million people. Anyone who is familiar with the battle of Moscow knows that two million people put their lives on the line to defend the city. And the memorial which is on the road from Sheremetyevo into Moscow of those tank barriers serve as a grim reminder of the millions of Russians who put their lives on the line to defend the city and the country against Nazis.
Russians did not give their lives so that 70 years later neo-Nazis could come to power, who were trained by NATO to attempt to camp out on the Russian border in Ukraine. That's simply not acceptable. And this lack of historical understanding is at the center of the inability to understand Russia's response to these recent events.
I pointed out as you’ve probably read, I was one of the first people in the West who actually dissected the so-called trade agreement that Yanukovych was being forced to sign. And I pointed out that it was actually a military agreement masked as a trade agreement that enabled NATO to go to the Russian border. And this of course has been NATO's dream, its justification for its existence. The only problem is that it's historically out of context. NATO doesn't really have a legitimate reason for a continued existence. So they are trying to create one by participating in this series of events which have captured the entire world's attention.
But people have to understand that what we are seeing here goes back to World War II and that for some people connected to NATO World War II is not over. Look at the people who were running NATO military operations in 1961 and their own connections to the Nazis. You have to ask yourself what's going on.
Some people think that this is just a continuation of the Cold war. No. This is a continuation of a hot war, of one of the worst tragedies the world had ever seen: World War II. There was a general who was, if I remember correctly, who was a Nazi chief of land forces that carried out operation Barbarossa and he ended up as a military chief of NATO appointed in April of 1961.
So when you look at this, for certain NATO elements, World War II never ended. When you have openly pro-Nazis who are rising in power, who are being given participation in a national army, Russia has every right to be concerned. And the US, our leaders, need to bone up on our history to understand what is at stake here. This whole conflict is not necessary.
And you know, there are many other elements to it, there are other outcomes that deal with trade, energy markets, currency. But the key to understanding this is to understand the suffering of the Russian people and the Ukrainian people at the hands of the Nazis in WWII.
And this whole exercise – which has been dressed as an attempt to give the people of Ukraine benefits of association with the European community – is in no way going to benefit the people of Ukraine, even given the trade agreement that Yanukovych rejected. There were no guarantees for the Ukrainian people of being able to get jobs in the EU. It's very clear the EU doesn't want Ukraine. The economy of Ukraine is in shambles. Not because of Russia but because of kleptocrats who have taken advantage of the people of Ukraine. You know – having high office there is like a license to steal.
Do you believe that the United States government was funding some of the violent rebel groups in Ukraine who overran the country?
What we know is this. It's on the record that the US sent $5 billion to help various groups in Ukraine. We know that USAID resources were involved. We know that the National Endowment for Democracy, which was involved in so many orange revolutions, was involved in these efforts.
Do we know that any of that money went to Right sector? I don't know. But try to imagine when billions of dollars are pouring into the streets, that this money does not end up in the hands of people who are violent.
The people in Ukraine had legitimate grievances against their government. And many people were sincere. The unemployment, low wages, the conditions in Ukraine have been very bad for people. So of course they are going to go and gather in a place where historically Ukrainians had come together to express their concern about what's going on in their country.
But what’s happening now is that these violent neo-Nazis effectively surfed that moment and used it to gain control of a number of seats in the cabinet, including those which are very security sensitive. So of course Russia would be concerned about that. Every country has its own interest.
And US policy which is guided by military, and by energy interest, and economic interest is sometimes just plain wrong. And this is an example. I don't think that President Obama is looking for any kind of military showdown with Russia. I do think that NATO is trying to justify its existence.
You know NATO's last big exercise was in Libya, which was a total disaster. What's NATO about? The North Atlantic is not on the Russian border, not on the Chinese border. And that's what we come to – NATO is an anachronism.
And because it's an anachronism it is trying to see how it can justify its existence by interposing itself in a conflict and stirring it up. Otherwise it wouldn't be training Right sector troops right now or bringing them into the military. This idea that somehow Kiev, and Washington, and NATO are going to tame Right sector is a myth. That is not happening.
There is a split between the new Ukrainian government and some radical groups. Is it possible to provide weapons for Ukraine under these circumstances?
I disagree with my friend Senator McCain. Because as we speak, Right Sector is getting access to heavy weaponry through NATO and being trained. That's very dangerous. And the government in Kiev, the junta rather in Kiev, has the idea that they are going to bring the Right Sector to work in the National guard on domestic matters, to bring them into the Ukrainian military.
But they are talking about the most violent people who helped to precipitate street violence. It again brings up a spectrum of things that came out of Nazi Germany and World War II. We need to be very careful not to continue to inflame this crisis because Russian-speaking people, particularly those in east, see the rise of neo-Nazis and feel a threat to their cultural identity.
How would you comment on Kiev's cooperation with foreign private security firms, such as Greystone?
We saw in Iraq how private security forces can get out of control. Whenever you are in a politically sensitive, a militarily sensitive situation, the last thing you want is private security out there, because they can actually profit by an expanded conflict.
They can stir up a war and then profit from it. And then they can leave and take their money with them. I'm totally opposed to private armies being involved in any actions anywhere. If oligarchs want to hire people to protect them, they have a right to do that.
But if nations bring in private armies you are looking at combustible material here because there is no control. The private armies will pursue private interests. Which is what they do, because they are private. They don't care about anything except making more money. And the more war there is, the more money they make. And when they walk away from carnage and all the dead bodies of people whose homes and lives have been destroyed, they go right to the bank. That's not acceptable.
Does Washington have any influence over them? Does the administration realize that these companies' actions can trigger a civil war?
It can set terms that establish that the armies will not receive any aid in any Western organization. They can set these terms. You know the only money that Ukraine is getting right now is from the IMF. Who is paying these private armies? And the IMF of course is going to make life even more miserable for the people of Ukraine. So you should ask who is paying these private armies. I don't know yet, but if it’s somebody in the West, that's a provocation. There is no control. And provocation leads to escalation.
Is it in the interest of the United States to impose further sanctions on Russia? Can Obama find any compromise or will it be hard for him to withstand the pressure of neoconservative groups?
Well, I think we first have to say that sanctions are counterproductive. Russia is going to defend itself against neo-Nazis no matter what kind of sanctions Washington puts up. And in addition to that, Russia has already demonstrated a willingness to firm up other alliances, with China for example, and move to establish new energy markets.
What's happening in the US by the way is that US is undertaking an unprecedented increase in the production of natural gas through a process called fracking, which is environmentally very damaging. We've done this in the name of energy independence. We've ended up with a tremendous surplus of natural gas, so much that a number of terminals have been built for the export of that natural gas.
The US energy interests are seeking new markets. The cutting off of Russia's access to Europe happens at a time when US energy interests are seeking new markets. That's a fact. So what will happen? The surplus of the natural gas that exists in the US right now, which is supposed to be our key to energy independence, is going to end up being sold to the EU at a high price. And the EU is encouraged to begin to frack. And energy prices in the US will go up because the supply will become artificially low as a result of the exports.
In the meantime, Russia understands that it's not going to play the game and it's going to seek other markets. But what's going to happen – the people in Ukraine will pay more for gas, for fuel, the people in Europe will pay more for fuel, and the people in the US will pay more.
What's this about? When you look at this all of Europe will end up increasing their arms budgets, the US will end up increasing arms budgets, and NATO will get more money. This is a racket. And any trade agreement that Ukraine signs will not end up benefiting the people of Ukraine. It will open markets for goods from Europe.
How do you assess US media coverage of the crisis? Why has US media not paid attention to claims the opposition was behind sniper fire in Kiev?
First of all it's generally accepted that people who stir things up can be found in the escalation of any crisis. This is how out-groups become in-groups, how they come to power. And the fact that there wasn't a thorough investigation of the fact that police and demonstrators have been shot – it's astonishing that it hasn't been pursued what's happened.
And a prevailing approach in the US has been to feed a narrative that ignored the fact that a coup took place, that ignored the fact that neo-Nazis came to power, that ignored the fact that there was evidence that people were shooting both police and demonstrators at the same time in order to stir up a conflict in Kiev. Because the focus is on a cartoon version of events which feed old Cold War narratives, which should have been discarded when the War came down.
Was it Washington’s ultimate goal to replace Yanukovych when the situation got out of control?
A State Department official was caught on tape before the coup stating exactly who would be put in power. How did that happen? It was already decided that Yanukovych was going to be out. It was decided when he refused to sign a six-thousand-page agreement that did not benefit Ukraine, that put NATO on Russia's border.
And that essentially was the end of the attempt of the Ukrainian people to have any kind of neutrality on these issues. Then you end up with Yatsenyuk, but even he has been careful about how far he can go. There will be an election. But no matter what the election brings, the fact that you have Ukraine being a staging ground for a contest between interests – that was precipitated by the West – you have to understand that the last people who can benefit from it are the people of Ukraine.
And this is a tragedy. One that was preventable. And one that does not have to escalate. Because I don't think that the Obama administration really wants to escalate this. And the people who are pushing for escalation in this country are the same people who took us into Iraq, who took us into Afghanistan and into Libya, all disasters that have to a great extent hurt the American people.
We need to rebuild, we need to make an effort to rebuild our relationship with Russia. We need a better understanding of the people of Russia and of their history. We need to stop playing Cold War games. And we need to treat each other with respect and stop the rhetoric which is designed to humiliate people.
Why does Europe, remembering the atrocities of World War II, support radical groups? Why does it support sanctions which can damage its own economy?
There is a combination of things going on here. One is that the US has been pushing. NATO has had a great influence. If you look at the member nations it coincides closely with the EU. So you have some of the same interest groups who are involved.
But I think that European leaders as NATO escalates have to be very concerned that ultimately their interests are going to be affected. If this crisis continues to escalate, it will have an impact on every single country in the European Union. And not just in terms of damage to the economy, but in higher prices – creating security problems which did not have to happen.
We need to expect that our political leadership will come to an understanding that we can no longer participate in the power politics of old. Look, Russia and the US have painstakingly built a friendship after experiencing a period of mistrust and potential for conflict.
We've forgotten the Cuban missile crisis? I haven't forgotten how as a child I and other children were sent to drills which we called “duck and cover” because we were taught that there was going to be a nuclear attack on America from Russia…
We have to find a way to reestablish a strong relationship, and the only way you can do it is through respect, knowing the strength that each country has in order to understand that we should not be about one country trying to dominate another.
And what is the main obstacle?
NATO. It's an anachronistic nightmare. It really ought to be disbanded. It has become a protection racket. That what the mafia did in the US in the 1930s.
Would you comment on the report that Turkey could be involved in using chemical weapons in Syria to provoke a US strike?
I think once President Obama established the red line every provocateur who wanted the US in was given an incentive to do so.
There is no question that the US was being set up and I think that President Obama finally realized that. And that's why he decided not to go forward. And where this came from we don't know yet. I saw Mr. Hersh's article in the London Review of Books. And it's worth reading. And it's worth considering.
But look, how many countries began to play in Syria, began to send jihadists into Syria. And why? There is a geopolitical case here. That Russia with its base in Syria... and Russia helped to bring the world away from the brink of a conflict over Syria, Russia which has a role with Iran, that Russia has somehow been made to pay the price by the neocons whose efforts to stir up a war in Syria were deflected by Russian involvement and diplomacy.
But who was trying to set it up? Maybe Turkey was involved. I don't know that. But it's worth considering that other nations' interest come to play and this is old thinking. We have to stop pretending that anyone is going to build an empire any more. No one can afford it. That's the bottom line. People have enough trouble managing their own affairs. The USSR is not going to be reconstructed. The British Empire is not going to be reconstructed. And frankly we are learning in the US the cost of empire building. We can't afford it any more. This is a time for diplomacy and a time for de-escalation.
This is also a time for understanding history. Because Crimea was not the Sudetenland. The Russian troops were already in Sevastopol. And they were there because of a treaty. We have to understand history here.
When I took my first trip to Russia 30 years ago and I went down the road between airport and the city I saw those tank barriers set up there as a memorial. That's a lesson. We must not forget the suffering of the Russian people and the Ukrainian people, we must not forget the role that the Nazis played trying to crush Russia. This was Hitler's plan and he did not succeed.
And it was the US and Russia which ultimately stopped Hitler's plan from being realized. We don't forget the price that Americans paid. And we don't forget the price that Russians paid. And it's absolutely wrong for anybody connected with America to in any way, shape or form help for neo-Nazis to come to power so that they can be aggressive against Russia. In America we believe in freedom and we cannot let these people, who want to destroy freedom, gain as a result of some geopolitical game.
The Office of Inspector General has identified significant vulnerabilities in the management of contract file documentation that could expose the State Department to substantial financial losses. In your opinion, is it just a bureaucratic issue or could it be evidence of corruption?
Any time money is missing in the government it goes somewhere; it goes into somebody's hands. No one is maintaining this is an accounting problem. It's a problem of accountability. The question is whose hands does it go into. What purpose has it been used for. That's the question. And that has not been determined yet. As a member of Congress I saw many occasions in which billions of dollars had not been accounted for.
When you have a nation that is spending trillions, a billion might not seem like a lot of money, but it is a lot of money. And when the State Department cannot account for money, we have to ask for what purpose it was directed.
Any time you are responsible for billions of dollars you have to say where the money is going. And when it disappears it's a huge problem. I mean – was it stolen, was it misappropriated, was it misdirected?
The American people are already paying too much in taxes. And every taxpayer has to be concerned about this. People are taxed heavily and when they see that kind of money disappear they become alarmed, they have every reason to be upset. We are cutting back a number of programs for social welfare and at the same time billions of dollars can disappear from the State Department account. Unbelievable!
What can the US and Russia do to overcome disagreements and improve relations?
As a member of Congress I traveled to Russia many times to meet with officials and to try to develop relationships, I worked with the Russian and American Chamber of Commerce to try to find ways in increasing commercial exchanges. I worked to build relationships and friendship.
And when I look at this I'm very concerned about relationships here which have been destroyed. We don't need to idealize each other. Each nation has its own challenges and own problems. But there needs to be respect and that's been lost. And that's a problem.
I'm continuing to write about this, to speak out whenever I have an opportunity, because what I see happening here is a totally unnecessary escalation of a conflict in which there will be no winners. We have to go back to working diplomatically.
I think it's very important to talk to you. I've served 16 years in the US Congress, I ran for the Democratic nomination on two occasions and I've been a very vocal supporter of diplomacy and of “strength through peace” and I continue to do so.
Hopefully this period is not going to escalate, but it's dangerous. People in Russia need to understand that there are some people in the US who know exactly what's going on, so that they know that not everybody here is just getting swept up in propaganda. I believe very strongly in the importance of a good relationship between Russia and the US.
Dennis John Kucinich is a former U.S. Representative from Ohio, serving from 1997 to 2013. He was also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
Reprinted with permission from RIA Novosti.