The University of Montana presents many lectures to the public. I go to their lectures and have often enjoyed and learned a lot. I may not agree with everything said, but in general I get new and interesting ideas.
So when professor Robert English was to present the Ezio Cappadocia MemorialLe Lecture on Politics and History, “Ukraine, Russia and the West: Crisis, Causes and Consequences,” Monday, Dec. 1, I went. Since I was born in Ukraine and have family there still, I have been watching the situation carefully.
I was shocked, as I sat in the Dennison Theater, to hear not a scholarly, balanced review of the current situation, but a recitation of Russian propaganda that I have heard from pro-Russian sites and Russian mass media.
For example: English showed a picture of U.S. Sen. John McCain with leaders of two Ukrainian political parties who he characterized as leaders of two strong, right-wing extremist Nationalist parties: “Freedom” and “Right Sector.” He said these parties are influencing Ukrainian policies via their representatives within the Ukrainian parliament and in Ukrainian government ministries. This is absolutely false. “Freedom” has no representatives there and “Right Sector” has two.
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The Russian government strives to paint the current Ukrainian government as fascist, to justify their aggression in Ukraine. In fact, when synagogues in Odessa were covered with Nazi graffiti, it was the leader of the Right Sector who joined the Rabbi in painting over the offensive marks.
Also during his lecture, English showed a photo of a man with a swastika on a sign and a flag, to show how many Nazis are in Ukraine. But the flag was not a Ukrainian flag, it was the flag of the pro-Russian separatists of Donetsk.
English said that Russia was justified in invading Ukraine, both due to the "fascists" there and because NATO might bring Ukraine into their organization. What he didn't say was that when the Soviet Union fell apart, Ukraine was the third country in the world with the most nuclear weapons. And that Ukraine gave up those weapons in exchange for a promise of protection from Russia and the U.S. They promised that the Ukrainian border would be untouchable and unchangeable. Clearly, the land grab of Crimea and the Russian-fueled conflict in eastern Ukraine are an example of Russia’s broken promises.
English gave lip service to the Russian lie that the people in Crimea wanted to become part of Russia. They did not. The Russians blocked all Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, the referendum was carried out in only two days, and at almost every polling place were Russians with weapons making sure the vote went the way they wanted. And the largest ethnic group in Crimea, the Tatars, refused to vote at all.
If only Professor English had mentioned Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Russian parliament explaining the takeover of Crimea. More than half of his speech was a word-by-word repetition of Hitler’s speech justifying the takeover of the Sudentenland.
English said that Ukraine is being propped up, economically, by the West, because Ukraine is a completely poor, corrupted country without national resources. The Maidan protests a year ago were to stop corruption, gain freedom and turn away from Russian influence. And Ukraine is far from poor. Ukraine is rich with resources that Russian is anxious to control.
A few years of peace and some assistance from the West could bring Ukraine into an equal and independent partnership with Europe, and not need on-going support as the professor asserted.
Who will stand up against the bullies? Who will speak out for the voiceless? I stood up for Ukraine at the Dennison theater and I know I interrupted the talk. Nonetheless, please listen to my voice as well as the pro-Russian falsities in the interest of fairness and truth. This year, Russia has spent $100 million to lobby the U.S. Congress and sway U.S. public opinion.
If you would like to know more, I would be happy not only to provide more information, but also to seek out more unbiased experts (from the Ukrainian embassy or elsewhere) to say more about this travesty.
Boris Soukonnikov was born in eastern Ukraine to a Jewish family. In World War II, everyone in his family was killed except one aunt, his mother and himself. He worked in Kiev as a mathematician in an economic research institute before emigrating to the U.S. in 1993. He is a U.S. citizen, retired and living in Missoula since 2008.