Of all the aspects of the current crisis over the NATO/Russia standoff in Ukraine, the determined intervention into Ukrainian political affairs by the United States has been the least reported, at least until recently. While new reports have appeared concerning CIA Director John Brennan’s mid-April trip to Kiev, and CIA/FBI sending “dozens” of advisers to the Ukrainian security services, very few reports mention that U.S. intervention in Ukraine affairs goes back to the end of World War II. It has hardly let up since then.
The fact of such intervention is not hard to find. Indeed, it’s hard to know where to start in documenting all this, there is so much out there if one is willing to look for it. But the mainstream U.S. press, and their blogger shadows, are ignoring this for the most part. Some exceptions at the larger alternative websites include Jeffrey St. Clair’s Counterpunch and Robert Perry’s Consortium News.
Even these latter outlets have almost nothing to say about the approximately 70 year history of U.S. intervention in Ukraine. The liberals and progressives avoid the subject because otherwise one would have to address the full reality of the intensive U.S. Cold War against the Soviet Union, and the covert and overt crimes and operations conducted by the U.S. against the USSR. Because the liberals share an anti-communist consensus, not far removed from Ronald Reagan’s view of the USSR as an “Evil Empire,” they have little to no interest in addressing the full history of the period.
But the current crisis in Ukraine, which pits a U.S.-backed coalition, which includes neo-Nazis, in Ukraine against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern regions of the country, threatens to turn into a hot war between not just Ukraine and Russia, but between two nuclear-armed foes, NATO and Russia. Indeed, in the past six months, besides Brennan’s visit, the U.S. Vice-President and the head of NATO have all visited and consulted in Kiev with the current Ukrainian regime.
And now, the U.S. has announced it is sending military “advisers” to Ukraine, as the current government there prosecutes a major military operation against separatists in the East, which human rights groups say has included indiscriminate shelling, killing of civilians, torture, and kidnappings on both sides. The bulk of indiscriminate shelling, according to Human Rights Watch, has come from the U.S.-backed government forces. Amnesty International has documented that human rights violations and war crimes are committed by even a member of the Ukrainian parliament with total impunity.
Return of the Repressed: Recruiting Fascists as Anti-Soviet Allies
Back on March 28, The Nation and Foreign Policy in Focus published jointly an excellent article pulling up some of the relevant history, “Seven Decades of Nazi Collaboration: America’s Dirty Little Ukraine Secret.” The article does a good job showing how the right-wing, fascistic Svoboda Party in Ukraine has its roots in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN], which was one of a number of East Europe parties that allied at various points with the Nazis, and had their own racist, ethnic, nationalist doctrines.
After WWII, the U.S. made a pact with many of these leaders, ostensibly recruiting them as allies against the Soviets in the Cold War. Indeed, in the early years after World War II, the U.S. and the British hired Ukrainian nationalists, many of them associated with fascism, to parachute and conduct guerrilla war in Ukraine and the USSR. When doing so, they turned a blind eye to many of these leaders’ war crimes, including participation in the Holocaust. When these links were revealed years later, beginning in the 1980s, the CIA and State Department worked assiduously to deny these links to Congress and the press.
Almost all of these men were rounded up and shot. When the Soviets offered an amnesty to members of the Ukrainian Insurgents Army (UPA) in January 1950, 8,000 anti-Soviet guerrillas still fighting within Ukraine turned in their arms. The U.S./CIA operation to use Ukraine as a base for war against Russia and the bulk of the Soviet Union ran out of steam. (See Stephen Dorril’s MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, The Free Press, 2000, pp. 242-243.)
It has taken many years, and the dedicated work of people like John Loftus, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, Linda Hunt, Christopher Simpson, Tom Bower, and many, many others who fought governmental inertia and lies to get out the truth. Much of that truth still needs to get out, but slowly, surely, it is trying to find its way into the public’s consciousness, as this Daily Beast article on Operation Paperclip taken from Annie Jacobsen’s new book on the same subject demonstrates so well.
One important article, by Joe Conason in the Village Voice in 1986, examined the role OUN leader Mykola Lebed played for U.S. intelligence. I’m going to take up the controversy about the VV in the near future, looking at how the CIA continued to operate to protect its Ukrainian intelligence assets, even into the early years of the Clinton administration (and likely beyond). Such protection included lying to politicians, consulting with those under investigation for war crimes how best to deal with the political fallout, and in general falsifying history to protect their covert anti-Soviet program.
Yet can the truth stand up to the daily drumbeat of lies and anti-Russian propaganda coming at a feverish pace out of the White House? The U.S. has stepped up its overt intervention in Ukraine, and it would do well for everyone to know as much as possible the lead-up to this moment, as the pending NATO/US/Russia confrontation could threaten the very world we live in, that we all live in. The U.S. is clearly ratcheting up the political and military pressure against both Russia and China, and more than even what is happening in the Middle East, it is this renewed aggressive stance towards those two countries that will dominate the news and our lives in the coming decade.
U.S. National Archives Documents U.S. Collaboration with Fascist Ukrainian Nationalists
In a remarkable book published by the United States National Archives a few years ago, historians Richard Breitman and Norman J.W. Goda have examined recent declassified documents and put together an initial history of Army and CIA collaboration with some of the most important Ukrainian fascist leaders after World War II. Hitler’s Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War (PDF) attempts to document “the Allied protection or use of Nazi war criminals; and documents about the postwar political activities of war criminals.”
Hitler’s Shadow was preceded by the 2005 publication, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis, a Cambridge University Press book based on the earliest examination of new documents released as part of the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. While the history of Ukrainian nationalism shows that nationalist movements were squeezed between the policies — and sometimes invasions — of foreign states, the book makes clear that today’s EuroMaidan heroes of yesteryear were in fact trained by the Gestapo and took part in the Holocaust.
Chapter Five of Hitler’s Shadow, “Collaborators: Allied Intelligence and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists,” examines recently declassified documents in regards to how US intelligence agencies recruited, paid, protected and used war criminals who collaborated with the Nazis. In particular, it looks at the careers Stepan Bandera and Mykola Lebed, two WWII “heroes” of the Ukrainian nationalist movement.
These Ukrainian fascists — Lebed turned “democratic” once in U.S. hands after the war — had their careers rehabilitated by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko. When Putin points to the pro-fascist tendencies and Nazis within Ukraine, he is referring at least to this kind of evidence.
However, Putin cannot really address the full history of the U.S. and CIA campaign because 1) the crimes of the Stalin government is not something the Russians like to talk about, and 2) the long history of U.S intervention in Ukraine is tied up with the decades-long Cold War against Soviet communism. Putin and his allies are antagonistic to Communism, and ambivalent, at best, about the Soviet period (even if many of them were in fact former Communists or Soviet officials themselves).
Like the dilemma of the U.S. liberals mentioned above, to fully embrace a history of U.S. Cold War intervention against the Soviet Union would mean assessing what the role of the Soviet Union was, and in this, Putin and his anti-Soviet allies within Russia (like the oligarchs in Ukraine and other former Soviet states), who got rich off the corpse of the USSR de-nationalization, are not interested in dredging up Cold War history. They all shared an animus against the Communists that matched that of the CIA.
Breitman and Goda describe how the CIA’s Ukrainian operation, codenamed “Aerodynamic,” worked (this is taken from a National Archives government document and the extensive quote is not subject to copyright restrictions):
AERODYNAMIC’s first phase involved infiltration into Ukraine and then ex-filtration of CIA-trained Ukrainian agents. By January 1950 the CIA’s arm for the collection of secret intelligence (Office of Special Operations, OSO) and its arm for covert operations (Office of Policy Coordination, OPC) participated. Operations in that year revealed “a well established and secure underground movement” in the Ukraine that was even “larger and more fully developed than previous reports had indicated.” Washington was especially pleased with the high level of UPA training in the Ukraine and its potential for further guerrilla actions, and with “the extraordinary news that… active resistance to the Soviet regime was spreading steadily eastward, out of the former Polish, Greek Catholic provinces.”97
The CIA decided to expand its operations for “the support, development, and exploitation of the Ukrainian underground movement for resistance and intelligence purposes.” “In view of the extent and activity of the resistance movement in the Ukraine,” said OPC Chief Frank Wisner, “we consider this to be a top priority project.”98 The CIA learned of UPA activities in various Ukrainian districts; the Soviet commitment of police troops to destroy the UPA; the UPA’s resonance with Ukrainians; and the UPA’s potential to expand to 100,000 fighters in wartime. The work was not without hazards. Individual members of teams from 1949 to 1953 were captured and killed. By 1954 Lebed’s group lost all contact with UHVR. By that time the Soviets subdued both the UHVR and UPA, and the CIA ended the aggressive phase of AERODYNAMIC.99
Beginning in 1953 AERODYNAMIC began to operate through a Ukrainian study group under Lebed’s leadership in New York under CIA auspices, which collected Ukrainian literature and history and produced Ukrainian nationalist newspapers, bulletins, radio programming, and books for distribution in the Ukraine. In 1956 this group was formally incorporated as the non-profit Prolog Research and Publishing Association [CIA cryptonym: QRPOOL]. It allowed the CIA to funnel funds as ostensible private donations without taxable footprints.100 To avoid nosey New York State authorities, the CIA turned Prolog into a for-profit enterprise called Prolog Research Corporation, which ostensibly received private contracts. Under Hrinioch, Prolog maintained a Munich office named the Ukrainische-Gesellschaft für Auslandsstudien, EV. Most publications were created here.101
…. Beginning in 1955, leaflets were dropped over the Ukraine by air and radio broadcasts titled Nova Ukraina were aired in Athens for Ukrainian consumption. These activities gave way to systematic mailing campaigns to Ukraine through Ukrainian contacts in Poland and émigré contacts in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, and elsewhere. The newspaper Suchasna Ukrainia (Ukraine Today), information bulletins, a Ukrainian language journal for intellectuals called Suchasnist (The Present), and other publications were sent to libraries, cultural institutions, administrative offices and private individuals in Ukraine. These activities encouraged Ukrainian nationalism, strengthened Ukrainian resistance, and provided an alternative to Soviet media.103
In 1957 alone, with CIA support, Prolog broadcast 1,200 radio programs totaling 70 hours per month and distributed 200,000 newspapers and 5,000 pamphlets. In the years following, Prolog distributed books by Ukrainian writers and poets. One CIA analyst judged that, “some form of nationalist feeling continues to exist [in the Ukraine] and … there is an obligation to support it as a cold war weapon.” The distribution of literature in the Soviet Ukraine continued to the end of the Cold War.104
Prolog also garnered intelligence after Soviet travel restrictions eased somewhat in the late 1950s. It supported the travel of émigré Ukrainian students and scholars to academic conferences, international youth festivals, musical and dance performances, the Rome Olympics and the like, where they could speak with residents of the Soviet Ukraine in order to learn about living conditions there as well as the mood of Ukrainians toward the Soviet regime. Prolog’s leaders and agents debriefed travelers on their return and shared information with the CIA. In 1966 alone Prolog personnel had contacts with 227 Soviet citizens. [pp. 88-89]
This is the first in a series of articles examining the history of U.S. and CIA intervention in Ukraine, from World War II to today.
Photo by Ivan Bandura under Creative Commons license