by Robert Romano
With all of the trade deals underway between the United States under the leadership of President Donald Trump, it is hard to believe that the civil war in Ukraine that began in 2014 actually started out as a policy disagreement over a pair of competing trade agreements with the European Union and Russia.
But that’s the story former Vice President Joe Biden tells in his book, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose,” published in 2017.
“A popular demonstration,” Biden wrote, “which started at a square in Kyiv in late 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych reneged on his promise to take the country into the European Union, had grown from a spontaneous eruption to a real political movement — one President Yanukovych mishandled badly.”
Here, Biden is referring to the pro-Europe, anti-Russia trade agreement, the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. It was a trade deal Yanukovych’s then-adviser Paul Manafort had advised him to adopt, but in 2013, he rejected Manafort’s advice, pulling out of the deal. What followed was a revolution in Ukraine that ultimately ousted Yanukovych from power in 2014, embroiling Ukraine in a civil war that led directly to the annexation of Crimea by Russia and several separatist uprisings in eastern Ukraine. Yanukovych then fled to Russia on Feb. 22, 2014, and the trade deal was signed in March 2014 by interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
By Biden’s account, it was his pressure that prompted Yanukovych to flee: “I made the last of many urgent calls to Yanukovych in late February of 2014, when his snipers were assassinating Ukrainian citizens by the dozens and we had credible reports that he was contemplating an even more vicious crackdown. I had been warning him for months to exercise restraint in dealing with his citizens, but on this night, three months into the demonstrations, I was telling him it was over; time for him to call off his gunmen and walk away. His only real supporters were his political patrons and his operators in the Kremlin, I reminded him, and he shouldn’t expect his Russian friends to rescue him from this disaster. Yanukovych had lost the confidence of the Ukrainian people, I said, and he was going to be judged harshly by history if he kept killing them. The disgraced president fled Ukraine the next day…”
This event sounds a lot like Biden’s description of getting Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, fired in 2016, when he threatened then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko with $1.2 billion of loan guarantees if the firing was not completed, with Biden bragging to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2018 that Shokin was fired the same day. Shokin says he was investigating a natural gas firm, Burisma Holdings, who Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the board of directors of and that that’s why he was fired.
Biden appears proud of his role in deposing both the prosecutor general in 2016 and the President of Ukraine following the bloodbath in the streets of Kiev in 2014.
Here, in his book, Biden is referring to the infamous Maidan Massacre that took place on Feb. 20, 2014, the flashpoint of the civil war in Ukraine. What began as peaceful protests in favor of the trade deal turned bloody when snipers began firing and killing dozens of protesters and police officers. At the time, per Biden’s account, within hours of the shootings the U.S. was blaming Yanukovych and his police forces, who was impeached within two days and then promptly fled the country to Russia.
In April 2014, the interim post-Yanukovych government issued a report that mirrored the U.S. position, blaming the preceding administration for the shootings.
A 2018 investigative report by the New York Times outlined the efforts of Ukrainian prosecutors and reconstructing what happened in the square, also finding the police responsible.
But, other accounts have pinned the blame on, variously, the protesters, Russia or even anti-Yanukovych neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine that were in favor of the protests, as “Ukraine on Fire,” a controversial documentary by Oliver Stone and Igor Lopatonok does, suggesting a tie-in to these right-wing extremist groups who opposed Yanukovych.
This account mirrors an investigation led by the University of Ottawa professor Ivan Katchanovski, who wrote in a 2015 paper the attacks were, “rationally planned and carried out with a goal of the overthrow of the government and seizure of power. It found various evidence of the involvement of an alliance of the far-right organizations, specifically the Right Sector and Svoboda, and oligarchic parties, such as Fatherland. Concealed shooters and spotters were located in at least 20 Maidan-controlled buildings or areas. The various evidence that the protesters were killed from these locations includes some 70 testimonies, primarily by Maidan protesters, several videos of ‘snipers’ targeting protesters from these buildings, comparisons of positions of the specific protesters at the time of their killing and their entry wounds, and bullet impact signs. The study uncovered various videos and photos of armed Maidan ‘snipers’ and spotters in many of these buildings.”
These, in turn, mirror the accounts of Yanukovych and the Russian foreign ministry.
A 2015 BBC report interviewed a man who said he was one of the snipers and was recruited to do the shootings, and that he was operating out of a building that was in the control of the anti-Yanukovych, pro-Maidan protesters. After the shooting, he said those responsible came to escort him from the building, saying, “They ran up to me and one put his foot on top of me, and said, ‘They want a word with you, everything is OK, but stop doing what you’re doing.’”
In 2018, Ivan Bubenchyk, a Maidan protester, was arrested for the shootings after reportedly admitting to the shootings in a 2016 interview with another reporter with identical details to the BBC report (he appears to be the same man), only to be promptly released by the prosecutor general’s office. He was then brought up on separate charges but in August, those charges were dropped, too.
The same 2015 BBC report quoted, on the other hand, Andriy Parubiy, at the time deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and former “Commandant of Maidan,” saying it was Russia who organized the snipers, “The shootings on the 20th were carried out by snipers who arrived from Russia and controlled by Russia. The fact that the shooting was aimed at both Maidan self-defense units and at riot police… leads me to believe that those shooting were aiming to orchestrate a bloodbath.”
Biden’s version of events, the official U.S. position, is that it was Yanukovych who had ordered the police to shoot on his own people, including apparently police, but the differing accounts call into question what really happened that day.
Very clearly, there appear to have been shooters on both sides, for and against the protests. Those shooters in favor of the protests remain a mystery as, to date, nobody has been prosecuted for the shootings by the snipers from the buildings, like Bubenchyk. However, members of the police were tried and convicted with separate shootings that had occurred on the ground amid the chaos and gunfire in Kiev as police were withdrawing from the scene.
Leaving that aside, President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden, who was put in charge of U.S. policy in Ukraine, wanted Yanukovych out and EU trade deal adopted, and the siege of the capital and the shootings certainly gave them the blood in the streets they needed to get it done.
Within days of the shootings Yanukovych was gone and within a month the trade deal was signed by the U.S.-backed interim government that the State Department had helped to install, documented by the BBC with a phone call by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland that was apparently intercepted outlining U.S. efforts to put in place a new government in early 2014. Nuland stated a preference for Arseniy Yatseniuk to be in the new government, and was ultimately made Prime Minister and signed the trade deal in March 2014: “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience.”
Biden wrote in favor of the armed overthrow of the government in his book: “The protesters in the Maidan found themselves in a war zone, enduring a brutal three-month siege in the dead of winter. They refused to back down, even in the face of death and transformed the square where the protest began into an armed camp. Demonstrators seized government administration buildings and erected barricades so they could set up command centers, mess halls, and aid stations for people beaten and bloodied by Yanukovych’s uniformed police and his secret plainclothes thugs. The crowds of protesters grew to more than fifty thousand and just kept growing. By the middle of February 2014, they were inching toward the Parliament building.” Then, the shootings happened, Yanukovych was removed and the new U.S.-backed government was installed.
Biden was bragging about removing the prosecutor general in 2016 because, in his mind, he was small potatoes compared to the overthrow of Yanukovych in 2014 to muscle the EU trade deal through, which rhymes with separate U.S. interventions in the Obama years in Libya, Egypt and Syria. This was simply how the Obama administration did business.
It was a coup in Ukraine, and one that the U.S. unquestionably supported, with Biden emerging as the key player akin to a Roman territorial governor from antiquity bossing tributary cities around. What followed the revolution and the trade deal was more corruption, reports that Ukraine participated in its own election interference operations in 2016 in favor of Hillary Clinton and ultimately, the landslide election of comedian Volodymyr Zelensky on an anti-corruption platform in 2019.
And now, with House Democrats threatening the impeachment of President Donald Trump for simply asking the newly elected President Zelensky about Ukraine’s potential role with the U.S. in the phony Russiagate investigation by intelligence agencies and the Justice Department in 2016 that falsely accused Trump of being a Russian agent, and also raising Biden’s role in the country including having the prosecutor general fired, they want to do the same thing here.
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.