Distraction politics and the economic variables in Ukraine and the parallels with Syria, Libya and Iraq
As the conflict in Ukraine persists and as peace talks between Putin and western European leaders (Merkel and Hollande) continue, it is important to look at the economic actors/interests that benefit from conflict and regime change in the Ukraine and how this compares to situations like Syria, Libya and Iraq. There are under-reported angles and interests to these conflicts that we hear little about in western mainstream media and that many do not look for because they are too caught up in political or human dramas. For instance, mainstream media spend so much time demonizing a single enemy, be it Putin in the Ukraine situation, Assad in Syria, Gaddafi in Libya or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, etc., that they do not also critically explore how external actors may exploit or bolster such conflicts and situations in order to secure politic-economic motives such as access to oil, making way for destructively conditional IMF loans, or quashing domestic policies that undermine foreign imperial and economic interests.
In western media, a dangerously false binary exists; wherein opposition to western imperial and corporate agendas for a particular region equals support for “evil men” like Putin or Gaddafi, for instance. This is part of what I call distraction politics or conflation politics, where opposition to neoliberal and imperial policies—such as IMF loans with austerity conditions that devastate and impoverish a nation, its people and its agriculture—is conflated with support for certain tyrants (as defined by the west).
In the case of regime change and concomitant conflict in Ukraine, western media is so fixated on the demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin over annexation of Crimea that little attention is being given to what JP Sottile calls “the corporate annexation of Ukraine.” Commenting on the economic plan for the country Sottile notes that, “for American companies like Monsanto, Cargill and Chevron, there’s a gold mine of profits to be made from agri-business and energy exploitation.”
Some European lawmakers view the Ukraine conflict as a smokescreen to allow the IMF/World Bank/European Bank for Reconstruction financed agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology business to steal Ukraine’s highly valued and coveted farmland. The distraction politics around the conflict in Ukraine—e.g., the west versus the evil Vladimir Putin—hides the reality of massive farmland seizures that will greatly enrich western agribusiness corporations while ushering in poisonous policies and practices such as GMO crops. With Yanukovych ousted, the new government in Ukraine has agreed to austerity reforms in exchange for IMF and World Bank “aid.” In addition to the devastating impact these reforms will have on poverty levels and Ukrainians’ standard of living, the austerity measures will also allow western agribusiness corporations to side-step Europe’s hitherto tight restrictions on GMO production. As Lendman explains Ukraine has long been considered Europe’s “bread basket.” “It’s rich dark soil is highly valued” and “ideal for growing grain.” With one third of Europe’s agricultural farmland, Ukraine’s agricultural potential is vast, making it an ideal target for western agribusiness giants that seek to amass massive economic wealth through altering and poisoning the food supply of the region. For many analysts these economic prospects underlie the Ukraine conflict.
This is somewhat reminiscent of the economic motives for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the “war on terror.” It is now widely known that the Bush administration lied about Saddam Hussein—the US’s former ally and partner in (war) crime turned public enemy number one—having weapons of mass destruction in order to have a pretext to invade the country. As I explain in an upcoming book, the motives for war on Iraq were overwhelmingly economic, with US mega-corporations winning massive contracts—largely paid for by US tax payers—to “rebuild” a country (i.e., infrastructure, privatizations of public services, etc) the US military had just destroyed. In addition to development contracts, massive profits were made by US oil and oilfield services firms such as Halliburton and Chevron. Halliburton alone, which was once CEO-ed by none other than former vice president Dick Cheney, reportedly made $39.5 billion on the Iraq War.
Similarly, NATO’s involvement in Libya was largely for economic reasons. Like Saddam, Gaddafi was an ally—and former foe—of the west that fell back out of favour before the 2011 rebellion against him. While the US hypocritically claimed that NATO’s involvement in Libya was humanitarian, many analysts feel it had more to do with oil and protecting the global monetary system. Indeed, as Newman explains, Gaddafi’s regime went from a “a model” and an “important ally” of the west to an enemy and target of regime change in a period of just a few years. This sudden shift in popularity may have something to do with Gaddafi’s plan “to quit selling Libyan oil in U.S. dollars — a plan that would be “especially devastating for the U.S. economy and the American dollar.”
Similarly, is has been noted that the plan for intervention in Syria was/is fueled by oil interests, not humanitarian concerns. In his comprehensive analysis of the situation, Nafeez Ahmed explains that violence and the killing of civilians—by either side of the conflict—is “being exploited for narrow geopolitical competition to control Mideast oil” and gas pipelines. His report draws on numerous official sources, including leaked government documents, retired NATO officials and former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, to demonstrate how the situation in Syria is tied to long-standing western desires to secure control over Middle East oil and pipelines, with the US-UK training Syrian opposition forces since 2011 in order to elicit collapse of the Syrian regime “from within.”
While a western oil grab is a major factor in Iraq, Libya and Syria (in addition to protecting the dollar and European banks, in the case of Libya), in Ukraine it is largely about land grabs and western agribusiness’ GMO plans—ushered in through a $17 billion conditional IMF loan—for the rich and fertile soil of the country. It is interesting to note, as Joyce Nelson of the Ecologist does, that in late 2013, then president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected a European Union association agreement tied to a $17 billion IMF loan, opting instead for a Russian aid package worth $15 billion plus a discount on Russian natural gas. As Nelson explains, “his decision was a major factor in the ensuing deadly protests that led to his ouster from office in February 2014 and the ongoing crisis.” This means that the present-day IMF loan—and its voracious economic conditions—was on the table before the ouster of former president Yanukovych, and that regime change in the country conveniently made it possible for the loan to take hold.
In addition to opening up Ukraine’s rich farmland to western agribusiness giants and GMO production, IMF loans typically come with strict economic restructuring conditions in the form of structural adjustment programs (SAPs). These programs essentially force the borrowing nation to restructure its economy by cutting public spending and subsidies in areas such as employment, income support, health and education as well as privatizing (previously accessible) services such as health. If these IMF conditions are applied in Ukraine, it will devastate and impoverish the country.
Such important politico-economic issues and agendas in Ukraine are rarely covered at length, if at all, in western mainstream media. As the conflict in Ukraine continues and as western mainstream media focus mainly on the human and political dramas of the conflict and the Minsk 2 ceasefire agreement, one can only hope the people of Ukraine will not suffer the same long-term political and economic fate as the people of Iraq, Syria or Libya.