A toxic operation

Paul Houston shines a light on the murky origins of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign

As the war seems to have entered a phase of a bloody attrition, Ukraine’s media battle to secure the high moral ground and gain further military support has gone into overdrive.

The propaganda onslaught in the North American and European media has been unrelenting, with embedded reporters faithfully retelling the Ukrainian state’s authorised version at every opportunity. The BBC in particular has distinguished itself in its sterling support for ‘plucky little Ukraine’ and all in all furthering US interests. Few journalists have been able to stand against the smothering consensus or make any sort of critique of the role of Nato and the geopolitical strategy of the American hegemon towards Russia.

Meanwhile, much of what passes for the organised left has clung to social-pacifism, upholding the virtues of diplomacy and international law - eg, the Morning Star’s CPB, Peace and Justice, Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire. Of course, there is a widespread popular sentiment which simply wants to see an end to this grizzly war. That is welcome and perfectly understandable. But the role of the left should be to join the popular desire for peace with the struggle for socialism and putting an end to the capitalist system which breeds war. The social-pacifists not only fail to do that, they serve to fool people into believing that there can be a lasting peace while capitalism survives.

However, there are also the social-imperialists. The Leninist position of refusing to fall in behind ‘our’ ruling class and support their foreign policy in time of war has been replaced by the demonisation of Vladimir Putin, calls for sanctions on Russia and arming Ukraine (by implication including those ‘patriotic boys’ in the Azov battalion). Typically there has been a falling in behind the current wave of hero-worship for Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky (thus dovetailing with the Nato propaganda war).

Here pride of place must surely go to the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. Affiliations include the train drivers’ union, Aslef, and the rump NUM, and there is also the Haldane Society of socialist lawyers. But the true political nature of the USC is exposed by support from outfits such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Anti-Capitalist Resistance, the Labour Representation Committee, the Scottish nationalist Emancipation and Liberation grouplet and Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (the latter being a split from the SWP which has clearly evolved far to the right). Despite proclaiming ‘Neither western imperialism nor Russian expansionism’ in fact the USC provides ‘left’ cover for supporting Zelensky’s regime and using Ukraine as a weapon to bring about regime change in Moscow and reduce Russia to a US neo-colony.

Although it took its current form in 2014 as a loose coalition in support of the so-called Euromaidan movement and the US/Nato-backed coup that overthrew the Yanukovych government, the USC’s origins actually go back rather further. Whilst the role of the Right Sector and the neo-Nazi Svoboda party in the colour revolution of 2014, along with the subsequent significance of the far right, such as the Azov battalion in the Donbas, has been well-documented, there is, in fact, a much murkier world behind this type of ‘solidarity with Ukraine’.1 Despite the USC’s ostensibly left positions, the milieu from which it emerged is intertwined with all-manner of American state agencies and NGOs, openly pro-imperialist currents and far-right Ukrainian nationalists and fascists.

In the mid-1980s some comrades on the Trotskyist left were actively involved in smuggling a range of equipment and political materials into Poland and the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine. As one comrade involved in this activity recalls, they were genuine leftwingers who wanted to support an independent workers’ movement and thought that they were in contact with Ukrainian leftwingers and Polish supporters of Solidarnosc.

However, all was not as it seemed. During their activity these comrades remember meeting Taras Kuzio, who would later become an academic advisor to the American government on ‘democracy, governance and human rights in Ukraine’, and director of the Nato Information and Documentation Centre in Kyiv.2 His prodigious academic output and media activity confirms his pro-imperialist position and support for Nato expansion into eastern Europe.3

Moreover, Kuzio’s own account of his role in the 1980s confirms the smuggling of books, journals, money and printers to Ukrainian opposition groups, but, according to him, this was not part of any socialist or working class initiative. Rather Kuzio headed the Ukrainian Press Agency in London - a CIA-funded operation - and was a member of the external representation of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council, which campaigned for an independent capitalist Ukraine.4

What emerges from the declassified CIA and other US government material is a very shady world of former Nazi collaborators turned CIA assets, émigré politics and unwitting useful idiots, who were used to promote US interests during the disintegration of the USSR and the sponsored birth of the post-1991 Ukrainian state.5 The role that Ukrainian nationalists and academic assets like Kuzio played for the US state was as ‘agents of influence’ shaping media reporting and establishing a dominant consensus favourable to Washington. This was very much standard procedure and was typical of many American ‘soft power’ strategies during the cold war and after.

The CIA has clearly been at work in the same way in the past 30 years or so in Ukraine. Under the general heading of ‘QRPUMB’ in the 1970s and 80s, these operations had a particular focus on such media work and coordinating the activities of what it describes as ‘unwitting agents’, although it was not averse to directly recruiting ‘witting agents’ from this media and campaigning milieu, as a report noted in 1989:

We plan to assess the director of the London affiliate for possible recruitment as a witting agent. He has unique contacts and capabilities, which suggest that, in addition to his present role, he would be an excellent FI [foreign intelligence] agent.6

All of this rather Le Carré-esque world might now seem like ancient history, but the current crisis has once again drawn attention to the role of the US and its Nato allies in shaping Ukrainian politics and attempts to influence media reporting.

Moreover, for those comrades which felt they had been duped in the 1980s into working for an organisation funded by the CIA and which was actually headed by Ukrainian Nazis, questions still remain which are of more than historical interest. There is a continuum between these shadowy CIA fronts of the 1980s and the current USC. Chris Ford, the leading light and convenor of the USC, worked in the London office of these Ukrainian support groups in the late 1980s and, although he has denied the allegations about Nazi links, he has hardly been forthcoming about the CIA funding, let alone apologised about being one of the CIA’s many useful idiots.

Given the enthusiastic pro-Nato pronouncements of the USC’s most prominent cheermonger, Paul Mason, formerly of Workers Power, now New Statesman, the open social-imperialism of the AWL and the shady history of Chris Ford, one thing is abundantly clear. No one on the left should touch the USC with a barge pole. It is a toxic operation.

  1. www.thetimes.co.uk/article/fighting-russia-takes-focus-off-azov-battalions-nazi-roots-x07lkjl7r.↩︎

  2. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taras_Kuzio.↩︎

  3. taraskuzio.com/books.html.↩︎

  4. For details of these CIA operations and activities see www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/QRPLUMB VOL. 4 %28DEVELOPMENT AND PLANS%2C 1982-88%29_0021.pdf; taraskuzio.com.↩︎

  5. archive.org/details/QRPLUMB_CIA/QRPLUMB VOL. 1_0001/page/n1/mode/2up; www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2018/sep/18/mykola-lebed-and-the-cia.↩︎

  6. www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/QRPLUMB VOL. 4 %28DEVELOPMENT AND PLANS%2C 1982-88%29_0021.pdf.↩︎