By some accounts – primarily those of anti-neocons, anti-globalists, anti-Atlanticists, Trumpsters, Putinistas, run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorists, or any amalgam thereof – Victoria Nuland is, along with George Soros and Hillary Clinton, one of the most nefarious emanations of America’s satanic quest to police the world into its own likeness.
For those unaware, 62-year-old Victoria Nuland is the current US deputy secretary of state. She served in the Obama administration in various capacities, and by the time Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity exploded, she was assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
In the George W. Bush administration, she was initially foreign policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, which earned her a reputation as uber-hawk, after which she became ambassador to NATO.
In the 1990s Nuland worked in the Bill Clinton administration as chief of staff to Strobe Talbott, the deputy secretary of state, before taking the post of director for former Soviet Union affairs.
To say she has had her finger on the pulse of America’s response to the fall of the Soviet Union is an understatement. Indeed, conspiracy theorists like to drop her name whenever they feel a need to emphasize how NATO is responsible for Russia’s war on Ukraine. And the clincher, at least for the conspiracy theorists, is the fact that she is the wife of arch-neoconservative Robert Kagan, co-founder of the Project for the New American Century.
Nuland in Ukraine and the “F**k the EU” intercept
Victoria Nuland popped onto the radar of most casual Ukraine observers during the Maidan rallies in late 2013. She was famously pictured distributing cookies to the protesters. This was evidence for many that the CIA was behind the Maidan protests.
If the cookies weren’t enough for conspiracy theorists, then a speech she gave around the same time to the US–Ukraine Foundation was proof positive. Nuland admitted that the US had spent about $5 billion on democracy-building programs in Ukraine since 1991. (That would amount to a $272 million per year – a pittance compared to what Russia was spending on influence and active measures campaigns to draw Kyiv back into its fold.)
But it was the infamous “F**k the EU” phone intercept between herself and US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt from late January 2014 that settled the issue for those who still insist the Revolution of Dignity was a CIA-sponsored coup d’état.
Most sensationalist accounts interpreted Nuland’s comment as an expression of disdain for the EU trying to broker an agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the Maidan leaders, a deal that might circumvent the US’s attempt at manipulating the situation to its advantage.
Yet anyone who was following the events closely – on a day-to-day basis, paying attention to the timeline – knows just how far from the truth the conspiracy theorists were. If anything, the intercept reveals that the US was caught flatfooted by rapidly evolving events and tried to play catch-up in a manner that reflected a superficial understanding of Ukraine’s byzantine politics.
What actually happened – in a nutshell – was that opposition to Yanukovych increased dramatically after he had introduced the so-called “dictatorial laws” and had them rammed through parliament on Jan. 16, 2014. The protests turned violent.
On Jan. 25, in an attempt to take the wind out of the protesters’ sails, Yanukovych offered two of the three protest leaders, Arseniy Yatseniuk and Vitali Klitschko, the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively. On the heels of this surprise offer, the Americans tried to midwife a situation in which Yatseniuk became the effective leader and Klitschko – about whom Nuland sounded as if she had serious reservations (he was a novice to politics, a former boxer, and known to be backed by powerful oligarchs) – would stay out and “do his political homework.”
Yanukovych’s offer, if accepted, would have also had the effect of fracturing the pro-Maidan front by excluding the ultra-nationalist Oleh Tyahnybok, the third member of the pro-Maidan triumvirate.
What Nuland and the Americans failed to understand – a rather glaring failure – was that the offer was clearly a trap set by Yanukovych to neuter the opposition. The presidential system of government he had established in 2010 had effectively turned the post of prime minister into more of a ceremonial job than it is today, after a post-Maidan return to the previous reforms of 2004, which had tried to curb authoritarian aspirations. Basically, Yanukovych was hoping to decapitate the protests by dividing and co-opting its leaders into high-visibility low-influence positions.
From the intercepted phone call, one can infer that the US assumed Yatseniuk and Klitschko would jump at the opportunity to hold power, when in fact they recognized it as a trap and rejected the deal before the US could even begin to “midwife” it.
Ultimately, the facts themselves, along with a close examination of the timeline, reveal what all Ukrainians standing in the freezing cold on the Maidan understood down the marrow of their bones: that the popular revolution would not be deviated by any political forces hoping to corral it into a compromise – neither Russian, nor American.
Moreover, the phone intercept implies that the US felt the Russians would try to “torpedo” the deal, when in all likelihood it was the Russians who had suggested the trap-offer intended to get Yanukovych out of hot water and caponize the protest leaders.
So much for a CIA-sponsored coup. It was more likely yet another instance of inept American intelligence.
Reluctance to define victory for Ukraine
Despite her reputation and all the calumny she’s been subjected to, Nuland has always been a staunch supporter of an independent democratic Ukraine and has never had any illusions about Moscow’s intentions vis-à-vis Kyiv.
Today she is US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s point-person on Ukraine. It would be hard to find someone savvier or more experienced in navigating the shark-infested waters of Ukrainian politics.
So on Sept. 10, when Nuland spoke via video at the Yalta European Strategy Conference in Kyiv with a Q&A session entitled “Path to Victory: a View From the US Government,” she elicited subtle alarms of concern. Not so much by what she said, but rather how she said it – hesitant, circumspect, evasive – and what she strenuously tried not to say – that Ukraine must win, that Russia must be defeated, that Ukraine must join NATO.
Moderator Natalia Gumeniuk kept pressing Nuland to venture beyond the US party line of staying with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” in order to give a clearer picture of what “victory” looks like from Washington’s perspective.
Nuland focused on the verb “thrive.” A victorious Ukraine must be a Ukraine that thrives, she kept saying. Yet she qualified her vision by saying that the US must help Ukraine “accelerate the process of thriving in parts of Ukraine that are not occupied.” Several times throughout her talk, she referred to parts of Ukraine that were not occupied – as if to emphasize that Russia would be occupying some parts of Ukrainian territory for a very long time.
She also latched on to the adjective “clean.” A victorious Ukraine must be one that thrives, one that is “clean” – presumably meaning not corrupt.
To mitigate her waffling, she made sure to repeat that the US was in it for the “long term” – even though everyone knows that long-term commitments in the US often have trouble surviving a change of the guard, especially when that commitment becomes an election issue, as aid to Ukraine certainly will be in 2024.
Considering that Nuland has long been an ardent supporter of Ukrainian resistance to Moscow, the caution behind her statements seems to have been imposed from outside. Rumors (usually spread by anonymously quoted officials) suggest the US State Department is more hawkish than Biden insiders such as CIA Director William Burns and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Given the friction of a slow counteroffensive rubbing up against an election year that will likely pit Joe Biden again pro-Putin, anti-globalist Donald Trump, it would seem as if Nuland were preparing the Ukrainian audience for some sort of “midwifed” deal with Moscow.
For Ukrainians, the fear is that Nuland and her superiors are perfectly willing to throw Ukraine under the bus to preserve some perceived hegemonic edge (over China perhaps?) – or at least to preserve Biden’s poll numbers in the upcoming presidential election campaign.
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