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20 Feb, 2020 17:09

US wants to spend $38mn raising a generation of Euro-Atlantic Ukrainians, but it has to fight Ukraine to do it

US wants to spend $38mn raising a generation of Euro-Atlantic Ukrainians, but it has to fight Ukraine to do it

USAID wants to spend $38 million on reimagining the Ukrainian identity as something bigger than language, ethnicity and place of birth. And the biggest obstacle is not ‘Russia’s malign influence,’ in spite of what pundits claim.

Taking Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and into the Western fold is a goal worth paying a lot for. Victoria Nuland mentioned the $5 billion price tag before the 2014 Maidan coup, so what’s a few more million? One of the latest programs to gently steer Ukraine was rolled out by USAID last week and aims to spend up to $38 million over the course of five years on explaining to young Ukrainians what it actually means to be a Ukrainian.

Get ’em while they’re young

We can’t really know if the money will be spent on the stated goals. After all, USAID is not called ‘US regime change agency’ for nothing, considering how it is quick to prop up violent far-right groups as long as they seek to topple some socialist leader in Latin America or elsewhere. But at least on paper, the plan looks benign.

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A Ukrainian should be skilled, responsible for his or her life, engaged in civic activities, tolerant to minorities and supportive of democratic form of governance. And of course, make sure his country breaks away from its “Soviet past” and becomes part of the big happy Euro-Atlantic family. It’s Uncle Sam’s class, so no surprise here.

The targeted age group is 10 to 35, with kids getting special attention because — who said “because it’s easier to brainwash teens?” It’s because early adolescence is “when young people begin to set their lifelong attitudes as well as social and behavioral patterns.”

It’s the economy, stupid (and neo-Nazis)

The accepted narrative in the Western mainstream media is that the one big obstacle in Ukraine’s path to realizing its dream is big bad Russia with its ‘malign influence’ and ‘propaganda’. But USAID gives a dissenting analysis of the problems that pose a threat to Ukraine’s future.

Young people in Ukraine see a profound detachment from the people in charge of the country and lack a sense of agency. They see the country’s economy in shambles and tend to go to stable countries like Poland and Russia for their livelihood. And they are not keen to treat fellow Ukrainians of different background as allies in improving the situation. This benefits some of the worst forces in the country.

The Maidan patriotic surge, as USAID puts it, has “metastasized into an accentuation of regional differences, compounded by growing far-right nationalist and anti-democratic movements within Ukraine that take a hardline stance against any vision of the country’s future that clashes with a narrow ethno-nationalist conception of Ukrainian identity.”

Who could have predicted this?

Who could have thought that choosing the path to democracy and European integration makes you dirt-poor, depopulated and in the grip of bigoted nationalist thugs?

In Ukraine’s case, the answer is “any intellectually honest observer.” This mess started when Ukrainians were told that European integration will bring them European lifestyle and that their corrupt Kremlin sellout of a president was standing in the way. Of course, Ukraine’s economy depended on Russia, which warned that the proposed decoupling would hurt, but street protesters brushed it aside.

The divorce with Russia turned out to be as bitter as they come both politically and economically while the benefits are a far cry from the rosy promises. It’s really difficult to be an agricultural superpower profiting from European markets when your national annual quota for honey, for example, expires by the end of January. It’s anyone’s guess when and if Ukraine becomes part of the EU. Now the best chance for a Ukrainian to integrate is on an individual basis — cheap migrant labor is in demand.

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Divisive narratives

The divisions are also the natural outcome of Ukraine’s own policies. When the country went independent in 1991, it was a cultural patchwork lacking a national consensus on its own past or vision of a common future. Incidentally, a nation where whether you were born in Lvov, Dnepropetrovsk or Donetsk determines your allegiances is very convenient for oligarchs to cement their feudal grip on power.

The Maidan pumped latent disagreements to a deafening level. Suddenly Ukrainians had to embrace toppling all old Soviet monuments or be deemed traitors to their country. Rebels in the Donbass were branded terrorists, while civilians living in territories under their control were called a Russian fifth column who don’t deserve voting rights. Russian language was declared an instrument of Russian aggression that has no place in Ukraine’s public life.

Those hateful opinions became mainstream on Ukrainian national television and often guided government policies. OK, Ukraine is presumably a country at war, or at least that’s what its public was being told. But when hatred for all things Russian is encouraged and even enforced, why expect tolerance for gay or HIV-positive people, the Roma or other minorities?

Neo-Nazis need not apply

And all those far-right groups that, as USAID warns, threaten to “erode the democratic, pluralist values that form the bedrock of Ukraine’s stability and European future?” They didn’t come out of the blue. They are the ‘brave defenders of the Maidan,’ who then ‘went to fight against Russian aggression’ and were ‘smeared as neo-Nazis by the Russian propaganda.’

Their rise was dismissed by Ukraine’s Western backers based on a lack of electoral successes. Guess what, the ballot box is not the only source of power. In modern Ukraine right-wing groups get government funding, positive media coverage and, more often than not, impunity for the crimes they commit. One can literally get away with live-streaming a murder on Facebook — all it requires is the right patrons and a veneer of patriotism to cover behind. 

The USAID is apparently aware of that. The $38 million is supposed to mostly go to local Ukrainian organizations, and the agency warns that vetting subcontractors will require “outstanding judgment and awareness regarding the political/social orientation” of the recipients, who “must be fully aligned with the democratic, inclusive civic values described above.”

Writing “Hitler fans and Aryan Ubermensch wannabies are a no-no” would have been too crude.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.