Nuland in Moscow: Squeaky bum time for Kiev?

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland (Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)
Victoria Nuland arrived in Moscow last weekend and declared that Ukraine’s government doesn’t intend to resume the civil war. Either Nuland was being mendacious or President Poroshenko is on a dangerous solo-run.

It’s all gone Lethal Weapon. Not in the sense of munitions, although some of those are definitely in play, but rather the movie series. Just as Danny Glover and Mel Gibson delivered four memorable performances in their good cop/bad cop roles, the US State Department is now deploying the tactic.

First John Kerry, who like Glover probably thinks he’s getting too old for this, turns up all smiles in Sochi. Convinced the straight man’s charm offensive has softened Russian resolve, the Americans then let Victoria Nuland loose on Moscow. The fact that the Russians were so pleasant about it, after she helped coordinate the 2014 Kiev coup, speaks volumes for their tolerance.

While Cold War 2 might have stalled in pre-production, spin-offs from the original remain box office.Just as Cheers led to Frasier, the first installment has left us with Ukraine. As the film director Baz Luhrmann once explained, channeling Mary Schmich, “real troubles are… the kind that blindside you at pm on some idle Tuesday." Ukraine is exactly that kind of thing. Thanks is no small part to Nuland, it’s become an albatross for both Washington and the Kremlin.

Nuland was adamant that she came in peace .

“There is no indication from our own information, or from my consultations in Kiev, that anybody on the Ukrainian side, anybody in leadership - and I spoke to President Poroshenko, I spoke to Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, I’ve spoken to security officials - has any intention of launching new hostilities,” she declared.

Given that Nuland was trying to cover every feasible base, her comments just might have been genuine.

Then just a day later, the Ukrainian army shelled Donetsk, killing at least one civilian. RT’s Murad Gazdiev, on the ground in the modern-day Sarajevo, described the attack as one of the worst for months. He also reported that the target was the north part of the city, where the previously contested airport is located.

Of course, the assault came just days after Poroshenko passionately vowed to “fight to the last drop of blood” against what he described as “Russian aggressors.” Furthermore, on Germany’s state-controlled ZDF network, the billionaire Oligarch called the Minsk peace agreement a “pseudo-peace” deal. Before that, Poroshenko said: “I have no doubt - we will free the airport (in Donetsk), because it is our land. And we will rebuild the airport."

Something doesn’t add up here. Let’s assume that the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs would not travel to Russia and knowingly lie. In that case, either Nuland has completely lost control of her Ukrainian proxies or those once-useful idiots are performing to a different script. If it's the former, expect more intense violence this week. If the US still calls the tune, Poroshenko and his cronies should fall into line with reasonable haste.

Perhaps, I’m naive but I’d really love to believe that Washington no longer commands the Kiev regime. It would mean that the US bears no culpability for the ridiculous anti-Communist laws and the appalling snub to brave, elderly veterans of WW2 on Kiev’s 70th Victory Day, when they were forced to accept parity of esteem with their Nazi opponents.

Assuming Nuland is being sincere, it’s then clear that the post-Maidan regime fear the US is washing its hands of them. If Washington is earnestly sacrificing its pet crazies in Kiev in order to secure Russian cooperation in more important areas, the world wins. Ultimately, Ukraine will also benefit. A bad peace for the failed state is still better than a good war. After 18 months of collective hara-kiri, the fractured lands need respite.

Interestingly, the Russian side denied that any deals had been done. The Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov said: “We focused on the problematic aspects of bilateral relations and some international problems.” As for the bilateral relations, he added “Russia said it was dissatisfied with their current form, but we are ready to continue dialogue and discussion of all the existing problems, whether in the military-political sphere or the humanitarian sphere."

The disastrous condition of Ukraine’s economy must also be focusing minds. The private intelligence company Stratfor, known as the ‘shadow CIA,’ noted that Nuland's visit to Moscow "is the latest indicator" that Washington's position on Ukraine and its role in the country's future "may be shifting.”

After 18 months of ludicrously soft-soaping the regime, even the US mainstream press is suddenly highlighting Kiev’s problems with corruption. This increases the likelihood that Nuland has had a Damascene moment. It’s hard to imagine the US’ lap dog corporate media straying too far from the State Department line.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L) greets U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland (Reuters / Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / Mikhail Palinchak / Pool)

The New York Times last weekend quoted Bruce Jackson, President of something called The Project on Transitional Democracies, once a side-project of the supposedly dissolved ‘Project For The New American Century (PFTNAC)’ who said: Poroshenko, whether you like him or not, he’s not delivering.” Jackson is former military intelligence officer. Additionally, he once ran the US Committee on NATO, dedicated to expansion of the alliance.

However, what is far more significant is the fact that, together with Robert Kagan, Jackson served as one of five directors of the PFTNAC, a neocon think tank that also involved Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Kagan is the husband of Victoria Nuland. It’s reasonable to assume that whatever Jackson is thinking isn’t far removed from Nuland’s thoughts.

Jackson further observes that “the Ukrainian government is so weak and fragile that it’s too weak to do the necessary things to build a unified and independent state.”

In British soccer, there’s a humorous expression, “squeaky-bum time,” attributed to the legendary Alex Ferguson. It relates to the exciting part of a game or season, particularly the last few actions. It’s fair to say that it’s now “squeaky-bum time” for Poroshenko. His American sponsors could well be abandoning him. If so, his future prospects are beyond grim.

Ukraine’s GDP plummeted by 17.6 percent in the first quarter of this year. The New York Times reports that officials in Kiev now believe that the $40 billion pledged by the IMF, US and EU will not be enough to keep the country afloat. The NYT further suggests that Yatsenyuk and his cabinet may have embezzled more than $325 million since taking office.

For his part, Jackson continues: “We don’t simply have Russian aggression against the victim Ukraine… Ukraine is now seen as not to be trusted. What the EU is saying is: Where is the decentralization? Where is the commitment? Where are the reforms?”

When somebody like Bruce Jackson, so close to US policymakers on Eastern Europe, to be talking this way, it is reasonable to assume that something has changed dramatically. While Nuland might revel in the role of bad cop, she’s also not a law onto herself.

President Obama has 18 months left in office. This crucial period when two-term US Presidents usually strive to finalize their legacy. You will remember that George Bush was much more enthusiastic about Georgia in 2003, than he was in 2008, when he seemed to regard it as an irritant? There’s a simple reason for this. By the time Mikhail Saakashvili launched his ridiculous war; Bush was furiously attempting to burnish his place in history.

Obama is now entering the same final lap. The key foreign policy issues on his table are Iran and Syria. On these he can realistically make headway and cooperation from Russia would be extremely useful in both situations. Devoting further time and effort to Ukraine would be as productive as banging his head off a wall.

Russia’s tabloid daily Moskovsky Komsomolets suggested on Monday that Nuland was “unlikely to be bringing with her a plan for how to resolve the conflict in Ukraine. It is unusual for a person who started a fire to be involved in the fire-fighting effort.”

While that’s true, I think it was Kerry who came to mend fences. Nuland’s public presence was rather an attempt re-assure Washington’s Republicans that Obama is not suddenly going soft on Russia, as they would perceive it. Good cop/bad cop, indeed. Squeaky bum time in Kiev.

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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.