Whataboutism is a propaganda technique formerly used by the Soviet Union in its dealings with the Western world, and subsequently used as a form of propaganda in post-Soviet Russia. When criticisms were levelled at the Soviet Union, the Soviet response would be “What about…” followed by an event in the Western world. It is a case of tu quoque (appeal to hypocrisy), a logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument.
“Follow the money.”
– Jesse “the Governor” Ventura
As we have seen, whenever events do not go well for the RosneftTrump Administration, they immediately try to deflect and shift blame somewhere else. As the details of Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with Russian nationals in Trump Tower get worse, and worse, AND worse, the story has shifted from “it didn’t happen” to “nothing bad happened” to “we asked for information but we didn’t get it, so therefore nothing happened”, just like if I met a guy over the Internet who said he could score me cocaine, and I met up with him, and I didn’t get the cocaine because he was an undercover cop and I got arrested, BECAUSE I never got the cocaine, I am therefore NOT guilty of procuring illegal drugs.
That doesn’t stop the Trump team from justifying their actions. When in Paris, Donald Trump, Viceroy for Russian North America stated, “I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting”. But if you were only following “the lamestream media” you might not know about the counterattack line that Trump’s followers are pushing: that not only would anyone else have acted in the same way under the circumstances, but that the real election interference was when a Ukrainian national “gave guidance” to journalists and the Hillary Clinton campaign about Paul Manafort, who at one point managed the Trump campaign and was at the Trump Tower meeting, a point that Fox News host Sean Hannity explicitly made when he interviewed Donald Trump Jr. on July 12.
Memo to both Republicans and Democrats: Whenever you say things along the lines of “everybody does it”, that is a pragmatic rationalization, and not a legal defense.
For one thing, let’s be real. This is all distraction. Like how the Viceroy “just found out” Obama was wiretapping Trump Tower. You notice he isn’t pressing that issue? Why was there no followup? Because there’s nothing there to investigate. He was blowing it out his ass, just like the Trumpniks are doing with this story, to distract a mainstream media that has the attention span of the dog from Up, and a conservative media that has less attention span than that.
For another thing it’s of a piece with Trump’s usual tactic, which goes beyond projecting. He is consistent in that the more vehemently he attacks something, the more vehement he is in promoting that exact thing when he’s in charge. Like when he praised Canadian health care in the 2016 campaign, and when he called the House healthcare bill “mean” and said we should repeal and replace Obamacare, then endorsed the Senate bill and said that if that couldn’t be passed, we should just repeal Obamacare anyway. Or when he ridiculed Hillary Clinton for speaking to Goldman-Sachs, and ridiculed “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” because his wife worked with Goldman-Sachs, and as soon as Trump got elected, guess what he did.
But the “conservatives” are bringing Ukraine up as though it was just another smoke grenade to throw out, without researching exactly what the parallels are, and why the invocation of Ukrainian antipathy to Vladimir Putin matters.
The Atlantic, referring to an earlier article in Politico that Hannity also referred to, did what Hannity suggested and “followed up” on the story. The Politico story implied that Ukrainian private and government efforts to help Clinton backfired because Trump won the election. Specifically, a Ukrainian-American operative for the Democratic National Committee, Alexandra Chalupa, did personal investigations of Paul Manafort, researching publicly available information, and shared her findings with Democrats. (Note that conservatives are immediately assuming that Chalupa is tied to the Ukrainian government but dismiss any suggestion that Natalia Veselnitskaya or Rinat Akmetshin have any active association with Moscow.)
The other fact mentioned in the stories is that an anti-corruption probe in Ukraine investigated the former government’s financial ties to Manafort. Last summer, The New York Times reported that the Ukrainian Party of Regions had ledgers showing $12.7 million in undisclosed payments to Manafort’s firm. This was also mentioned in the January 2016 Politico article. This shady activity was supposedly the reason that the Trump campaign removed Manafort as campaign manager.
The implication, at least from the Atlantic author, is that while Ukrainian attacks on Manafort and Trump were real, they were not nearly as substantial and sustained as Russian-directed attacks on the DNC and the Clinton campaign, which “U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded with confidence that Russia’s cyber campaign was intended to hurt Clinton and help Trump.” The other distinction between the Ukrainian anti-Manafort campaign and the mysteriously obtained Democratic National Committee leaks is that the Ukrainian information was publicly available through a government report. The Atlantic article also pointed out that the Ukrainian investigation into Manafort’s payments ended after the US election, raising the question as to whether this was a general corruption probe and more a targeted investigation of a Trump insider that was deemed no longer useful.
Some of this requires a wider context.
Ukraine is a nation that like Poland and Lithuania was a national community under control of the Russian Empire for centuries, had its own identity and bitterly resisted Russian domination and mistreatment under both czars and commissars. Unlike Poland, it only became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, Eastern European communities were very intermixed, especially in the USSR, so when that country broke up, it led to certain problems. For one thing, in the early history of the Soviet Union, the Russian-majority Crimean peninsula was part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, but in 1954, it was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR. This meant that when the Ukrainian state became independent, it contained a large population that was more loyal to Russia than “their” country. Moreover, immigration during the Soviet period meant that the eastern territories in the Donblas region (which unlike Crimea had always been considered Ukrainian) also became Russian-majority by the time of independence.
In 2004, one of the political parties of the new Ukrainian republic was called the Party of Regions, representing mainly the Russian-speaking plurality in the east. In Ukraine’s 2004 presidential campaign, the Party of Regions candidate was Viktor Yanukovych, an ethnic Russian who spoke Ukrainian as a second language at best. He won the presidency by a slim margin after a runoff vote, but his political opponent, Viktor Yuschenko, challenged the result due to reports from outside observers of ballot fraud and voter intimidation. (In September 2004, Yuschenko was visibly disfigured and hospitalized for a mysterious illness that was later confirmed to be dioxin poisoning.) A second runoff was held in December 2004 which Yuschenko narrowly won. In the later stages of the race leading to the second runoff, Yanukovych’s party hired Paul Manafort, a lawyer and political consultant whose clients included not only many national Republican candidates but dictators like Ferdinand Marcos and Mobuto Sese Seko.
Manafort remained Yanukovych’s political advisor through 2014 and helped prepare him for the next presidential campaign in 2010. Yanukovych defeated politician Yulia Tymoshenko. While some of President Yanukovych’s policies (including expanded trade and diplomatic relations with Russia) were popular, there were reports of press censorship from his administration. In May of 2010, Tymoshenko was prosecuted for various crimes including misuse of public funds as a government official. In 2011 she was sentenced to seven years in prison. By January 2013, more than half of Yanukovych’s appointees were from the Donblas region or financially tied to it, and almost half of infrastructure development was to this region. Yanukovych set up a police force under his personal command.
What really brought things to a head was in 2013, when Yanukovych abruptly reversed course on an “Association Agreement” expanding ties to the European Union in favor of greater ties to Russia, after Russian leader Vladimir Putin threatened Ukraine by engaging in a trade war and using gas supplies as a bargaining tool. Protests against Yanukovych reached up to 100,000 in Kiev that weekend. The protestors formed in the Maidan (city square) and reached almost a million in strength as the “Euromaidan.” In January 2014, Yanukovych forced “Anti-Protest Laws” allowing intensified actions against dissent. This only increased public outrage and the country’s Prime Minister resigned. In February, the parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from office. This was on February 22, the day after Yanukovych fled Ukraine with assistance from Russia’s government. The government set up new elections, revoked the Anti-Protest Laws and released Tymoshenko from prison on the same day that Yanukovych was officially ousted.
Paul Manafort, along with several individuals, holding firms and “John Does 1 through 100” is listed as a defendant in a racketeering case filed by Tymoshenko with regard to “the arbitrary prosecutions, arrests and detentions of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other political opposition members” with the defendants “representing a collection of private and public figures that stand to benefit politically and/or financially by eliminating Ukraine’s political opposition.”
An August 2016 article in Politico detailed how Manafort relied on a local contact in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, an ethnic Russian who was trained as an intelligence translator by the Russian Army. According to the article, Kilimnik was instrumental in helping Yanukovych (through Manafort’s team) rehabilitate his image after 2004, using Western-style campaign tactics and talking to Western media. After 2006, Kilimnik and Manafort used their business connections to create a private equity fund in the Cayman Islands with funds from a Russian investor, an investment that collapsed before 2014. A petition requesting a “wind down” of the partnership after the money disappeared states that “The Petitioner made further repeated attempts to contact (both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates personally) requesting updates on the progress of the Wind Down but these requests were left unanswered. It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared.” Rick Gates is a Trump insider who, among other things, is blamed by some for “writing” Melania Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention. After Viktor Yanukovych left Ukraine, Kilimnik and Manafort helped develop the Opposition Bloc, which has inherited the anti-EU position of the technically extant but effectively defunct Party of Regions.
After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, his mansion outside Kiev was stormed by the protestors, who discovered a 340-acre estate, a mansion roof of pure copper, Lebanese cedar doors, paneled staircases, a pavilion decorated in gold paint with a marble floor, a gilt and crystal chandelier worth $100,000, a golf course, a private zoo, and a replica Spanish galleon (to go with the yacht club on the river). Ridiculous, but a not unprecedented example of what some call Dictator Style.
However, after this, things escalated. After there was no longer a pliant government in Ukraine, the Putin government in Russia started moving forces into Crimea, less than a week after Yanukovych left Ukraine. The Russian takeover of Crimea is a fait accompli, but is still not legally recognized by the United States or the United Nations. Meanwhile, private citizens in Donblas- some of whom were known Russian nationals and others who just happened to have Russian military supplies, took over various eastern towns, leading to an undeclared and sustained civil war. The United States under the Obama Administration responded to Russian aggression with various sanctions. Previous sanctions included the Magnitsky Act, which is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who exposed collusion between police and organized crime, was arrested by the authorities for allegedly participating in said collusion, and died in prison at the ripe old age of 37. The law prohibits Russians (specifically those implicated in Magnitsky’s death) from entering the United States or accessing its banking system.
According to Donald Trump Jr. himself, Natalia Veselnitskaya wanted to address the Magnitsky Act during their meeting at Trump Tower. That Jared Kushner was also in. With Paul Manafort.
That would bring us back to Do.
So, to review: A pro-Russia politician with dubious taste in home decor is barely elected head of state by gaming the system with the help of Paul Manafort, he used his position to enrich himself far beyond the capacities of his office, committed numerous and escalating violations of human rights, and ended up fleeing the country under the protection of his Russian masters, leaving a wake of corruption that is still being investigated.
And while Russia has legitimate territorial and security concerns about post-Soviet Europe, those concerns are not synonymous with the neo-imperialist goals of Vladimir Putin, and when his indirect manipulations fail to work on a sovereign nation, he resorts to more direct measures.
This history provides a bit of context to any Ukrainian attempts to get involved in the US presidential campaign, not for the sake of Trump or Clinton, but more to undermine Vladimir Putin.
And Sean Hannity would know this, if he didn’t suffer from an advanced case of cranial-rectal spatial inversion.
So now that we’ve gone over the issue of Ukraine, I have two questions for the three and a half people reading this blog:
One, does all this in any way remind you of anyone else at all?
And Trumpniks – is what happened to Ukraine really what you want your country to turn into?
Because it will.