On Wednesday the comedian and president of the Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House. The invitation to Zelensky was a booby prize handed out after Biden announced that he would not act against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will soon bring gas from Russia to Germany. The Ukraine is likely to lose money it currently gets for gas transfers through its pipelines from Russia to west Europe.
Zelensky is under pressure at home and his country will soon run out of money. He will have an endless list of requests but is likely to get nothing of value.
To prepare the scene for Zelensky the former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who is by the way wrong on everything Russia, wrote an oped for the Washington Post. It was published on August 23.
Opinion: The U.S. and Ukraine need to reboot their relationship. Here’s how they can do it.
Setting out a cold war 2.0 scenario McFaul argues to emphasize 'democracy':
Especially after the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, there will be little hope for Biden’s proclaimed democracy agenda and his democracy summits planned for this year and next if Ukraine’s democratic experiment falters. Its success will empower small-D democrats across the region and the world. Its failure will be a boon to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his autocratic allies from Minsk to Beijing.
On democracy, Zelensky and Biden also need a fresh approach. U.S. officials must stop lecturing the Ukrainians so publicly on corruption. Of course, fighting corruption must remain central; aid conditionality should be strengthened. But talking more broadly about our shared commitment to deepening Ukrainian democracy makes for a better public message — especially because anytime Biden mentions “corruption” and “Ukraine” in the same sentence, his opponents will add “Hunter Biden.”
That last part is actually good advice. Biden surely knows all about corruption in the Ukraine as his son signed the receipts for the hundreds of thousands the Biden family got from there.
So lets talk about democracy and here is where McFaul goes off the cliff:
When the aperture of this discussion is widened from anti-corruption to democracy more broadly, there is some good news from Ukraine.
Ukraine continues to hold free, fair and competitive elections. It maintains a vibrant civil society, and enjoys more competition among private media companies (even if the oligarchs own too many of them) than any other post-Soviet country other than the Baltics.
After initial hesitation, Zelensky himself is acting more forcefully. His decision to ban pro-Russia television networks, and to charge their owner and Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk with treason, was a daring act that needs U.S. support.
McFaul is lying by leaving out the bigger half of the story.
Viktor Medvedchuk is not a 'Putin ally' even though both have good relations. Medvedchuk is first and foremost a duly elected member of the Ukrainian parliament and the leader of its biggest opposition party. How is it democratic to accuse the leader of the opposition of treason and to put him under house arrest?
One might also ask why is, in a democracy, the president allowed to shut down TV stations? If Biden were to put Trump under house arrest and shut down Fox news would that be a sign of a democracy and a 'vibrant civil society'?
In fact Zelenski did not only shut down three TV stations which supported the Ukrainian opposition but also banned two website which were among the most read in the Ukraine.
The journalist of these stations and outlets delivered a protest letter to Biden to the U.S. embassy:
We would like to inform you in brief about the main circumstances of the closure of media in Ukraine:
In early February, three Ukrainian TV channels – "112 Ukraine", "NewsOne", and "ZiK" – were shut without any legal background. At the whim of President Zelensky's Office, almost 1,500 journalists were kicked out on the street. However, we did not give up and created a new TV channel – "Pershiy Nezalezhniy" ("The First Independent"), which united the staff of "112 Ukraine", "NewsOne", and "ZiK".
On February 26, the newly established TV channel launched its broadcasting, however, an hour later and under the pressure from the authorities, Ukrainian telecom providers were compelled to stop the satellite broadcasting of the channel, even despite the previously agreed arrangements. The TV channel did not survive a day, and again without any legal background, we were denied our right to work and deprived of the access to our audience.
Later, on August 20, similarly, the authorities blocked the work of two more popular in Ukraine online media "Strana.ua" and "sharij.net".
Ukrainian authorities have gone far beyond all reasonable bounds by violating legislation and international norms, and continue to purposefully destroy freedom of speech in the country.
We, as journalists, want to continue our job and convey the truth about what is happening in the country and beyond its borders. However, we were denied this legitimate right.
Thus, we urge you to respond to the present situation and to express your position concerning the events around our media.
The shutdown of the three opposition TV stations in February 2021 came at point where the 'Opposition Platform For Live' was for the first time leading in the polls over Zelensky's 'Servant of the People' party.
With the opposition TV stations closed down the polls reversed their trend and Zelenky's party again took the lead.
In a protest letter the European Federation of Journalists describes the lawless process of the closures:
On 21 August 2021, it was revealed that President Volodymyr Zelenskyj banned Strana.ua, one of the largest news sites in Ukraine, by decree. The authorities also announced sanctions against the outlet’s editor-in-chief, who has been living in Austrian exile since 2018.
The authorities cited the protection of national security and based the ban on a submission by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), which described Strana.ua journalists as “pro-Russian propagandists”. SBU head Ivan Bakanov said the measures were taken to protect the “information space”. Strana.ua is one of the few remaining opposition media in Ukraine.
Consider how that would look in the United States. The FBI would declare Fox news to be 'pro-Russian', the National Security Council would recommend to the president to shut it down and Biden would then do so by decree. This without a law that allows for such a process.
Would McFaul applaud that also as a 'daring act' that deserves international support?
Posted by b on August 30, 2021 at 18:35 UTC | Permalink