Ukraine and How the West Treats Comparable Events in Satellite and Non-Satellite Countries Differently

By Stephen Gowans

The uprising in Ukraine represents a struggle between the West and Russia to integrate Ukraine economically, and, ultimately, militarily, into their respective orbits. I take no side in the struggle. All the same, each side wants me, and you, to take sides. Since I live in the West, and have greater exposure to the pronouncements of people of state in the West, and to the Western mass media than I do to their Russian counterparts, I’ll concentrate herein on analyzing Western efforts to shape public opinion to support the Western side of the struggle.

First, a few points by way of background.

• Ukraine is divided nationally between ethnic Ukrainians, who are concentrated in the West, and Russians, who are concentrated in the East, and especially in Crimea. Russians in Crimea and the East lean toward integration with Russia, while ethnic Ukrainians in the West tend to resent Russia’s historical domination of Ukraine.
• Crimea, a peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, is the home to the Russian Black Sea fleet. The current president, Yanukovych, extended the Russian lease on the naval base.
• Russian gas bound for Europe transits Ukraine.
• Russia does not want Ukraine to be integrated into NATO, which it views, for sound reasons, as an anti-Russian military alliance.

For the West, integration of Ukraine into its orbit means:

• Expansion of Western business opportunities.
• Growing isolation of Russia, one of the few countries strong enough to challenge US hegemony.
• Influence over transit of Russian gas exports to Europe.
• Military strategic advantage.

It’s instructive to contrast the treatment by Western states and mass media of the uprising in Ukraine with the concurrent uprisings in Egypt (which the West opposes) and Syria (which it supports.)

The Syrian uprising, contrary to its depiction by Western forces as a battle for democracy, is the latest, and most violent, eruption of an ongoing Islamist insurgency dating back to the 1960s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to oust the “infidel” non-sectarian Arab nationalist government. The insurgency has since mutated into one dominated by salafist, takfiri, and al-Qaeda-aligned fighters backed by hereditary Muslim tyrannies, the Qatari and Saudi royal dictatorships, and former colonial powers, Turkey, France and Britain. The Western narrative makes obligatory references to the Syrian government as a “regime”, complains about its authoritarian nature, insists the insurgency springs from the peaceful protests of pro-democracy activists, and celebrates the “moderate” rebels. The moderate rebels are, in the main, Muslim Brothers. To be sure, they’re moderate compared to the Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but they’re not the secular liberal- or social-democrats so many in the West would like to believe they are.

In contrast, the uprising in Egypt against a military dictatorship that ousted an elected Muslim Brother as president is treated very differently. The dictatorship is not called a “dictatorship”, nor even a “regime”, but neutrally, a “military government.” The Muslim Brothers, who have taken to the streets in protest at the coup, and have been gunned down and locked up for their troubles, are not called “pro-democracy activists”, as the Muslim Brothers in Syria are, or even moderate rebels, but an “emerging Islamist insurgency.” Nor is the dictatorship which shot them down and locked them up called a “brutal” dictatorship. The Egyptian dictatorship calls the insurgents “terrorists”, which is dispassionately noted in Western news reports, while the Assad government’s depictions of Syrian insurgents who set off car bombs in crowded downtown streets as terrorists is dismissed as patent propaganda. Egypt’s military dictatorship has banned political parties, tossed political opponents in jail on trumped up charges, and arrested journalists. Over the weekend the Egyptian military killed somewhere between 50 and 60 demonstrators. This is mechanically documented in major Western newspapers. There are no calls for Western intervention.

The recent events in Ukraine are treated very differently. The deaths of a few rioters in Ukraine sparks fevered media coverage and denunciation in Western capitals, while the president’s attempts to quell the disorder by invoking laws restricting civil liberties is treated as a major assault on human rights. Compare that to the relative silence over the deaths of many more demonstrators in Egypt and the suspension of all political liberties in that country. If we should be exercised by the state of affairs in Ukraine, surely we should be incensed on a far grander scale by the state of affairs in Egypt.

Foreign governments stand in relation to the West as satellites, in which case they’re called allies, or non-satellites, in which case they’re “enemies”, or, if they’re large enough, “rivals.” Comparable events in any two countries will be treated in Western mass media differently and using different language depending on whether the country is a satellite (ally) or non-satellite (enemy or rival). Hence, in Syria (a non-satellite) an elected government (elected, to be sure, under restrictive conditions) is called a “regime” headed by a “dictator”, while in Egypt (a satellite) a military-appointed government is not called a “regime” but a “government” and the de facto head of state (a dictator) is simply called “the head of the military.” In Egypt, an emerging insurgency led by Muslim Brothers and Islamist fanatics is called “an emerging Islamist insurgency”, but in Syria, an insurgency reignited by Muslim Brothers and now dominated by Islamist fanatics is called a “rebellion against dictatorship.” In Ukraine (a non-satellite so far as the government goes ahead with plans to align itself with Russia and not the EU) a crackdown on dissent which is mild compared to the crackdown in Egypt (or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf monarchy satellite of the United States) is treated as a major transgression on human rights, one warranting some form of Western intervention. However, no intervention is called for to stay the hand of Egypt’s military. Through the deft use of language and selective emphasis and silence, Western states concoct and spread through the mass media an understanding of events in far off places that comport with the pursuit of their own interests (which, more narrowly, once you parse them out, are the interests of their wealthiest citizens as a class.)

Efforts to integrate Ukraine into the EU are motivated by the desire of Western states to secure advantages for their economic elite, while efforts to integrate Ukraine into Russia are aimed at garnering benefits for Russian enterprises and investors. The interests of the bulk of Ukrainians do not, however, enter into the equation. Their role is simply to produce wealth for investors—Russian or Western or both—while doing so for as little compensation in wages, salary, benefits and government services as possible to allow the investors to make off with as much as possible. The interests of the bulk of Ukraine’s citizens lie, neither with the EU nor Russian elites, but with themselves.

20 thoughts on “Ukraine and How the West Treats Comparable Events in Satellite and Non-Satellite Countries Differently

  1. So UGP..Would you describe the recent events in the Ukraine as representing social progress?[a yet to be described by you,phenomena]What do you think it means for the Russian speakers of the Ukraine.?[do you care].Do you think its socially progressive for NATO to move to the very borders of Russia and Belarus and do you think NATO[under the guise of the EU] should intervene in any political scenario/conflict in the region,including Russia itself ?

  2. urbangardeningproject.Please enlighten me on how to create social progress.Should i support intervention in the Ukraine from the armies of the EU wich you favour ?Is that social progress,and yes i would have been with the Spanish communists and you ?,Franco ?perhaps Chamberlan,maybe Hitler,They all wanted a united europe .Of course you would,you have no other choice.Spanish communists patronising ?hhmmm,please curious…

  3. No doubt you would be with the communists in the Spanish Civil War, too busy sniping at each other to recognise the real enemy of authoritarianism, and too busy patronising people to recognise how to actually create social progress.

  4. Dream on !!.Why shouldnt Russia protect its interests and why shouldnt capitalists [financial elites]push for new markets,profits and zones of influence?[wich will include military options]Then you come with your second paragraph wich is almost like asking for a socialist world order.Continue with the gardening and in between harvests try to add a little class understanding to your thinking and apply it to the driving interests of the EU a capitalist [financial elites]formation with distinct class interests and you may inch closer to reality.I wonder if you would die in the streets to see your views become a reality ?

  5. I couldn’t disagree with this more strongly. You dismiss people’s motivation for dying in the streets as the results of geopolitical meddling to an agenda set by a financial elite, or as the result of Ukrainian ethnic division. Headlines may be made by a largely right wing press, but news isn’t. The EU moved not only to implement sanctions against the Ukrainian government, but also the leaders of the opposition. Russia’s only contribution has been to try and keep such an inflexible hold over their oil pipe lines that civil war was set to be inevitable, without European diplomatic intervention.

    As I see it the only way to truly move beyond coldwar polarisation is to move from power blocks focused around coalitions of /states/ inc satellite ones, governed in the end by the decisions of one person, to a world where blocks of /nations/ with equal voices, which work for collective benefit rather than only that of the central power of a block, take on the former superpower role – like Europe, the worlds largest economic zone.

    Is it it anti-Russia to be pro-democracy and pro-human rights? Yes, and that’s Putin & his collaborators fault.

  6. I think this article is less about Egypt and the Ukraine and more to do with the double standards that the western media and its wealthy owners spin against countries that have independent development programs as opposed to those that open their doors to the wealthy elite,s of the west[and all the implications that come with that].Libya and Bahrain could just as easily have been used.I think S Gowans makes this point in the first paragraph when he speaks of being a resident of a western country and being subject to the types of spin and propaganda that inspired him to write the article.Its not rocket science.

  7. The problem is, EU doesn’t want Ukraine in EU. All rumble started when Yanukovich refused to sign trade agreement with EU (association agreement) in november. This agreement with EU has such countries: Mexico, Palestina, Tunis, Egypt, South Korea. I don’t think anybody in clear mind say that these countries has joined the EU.

    Why Yanukovich refused to sign such agreement? Because Ukraine asked 160 billions euro for 10 years, EU agreed to give Ukraine only 1 billion euro. Also if Ukraine sign this trade agreement, it loses russian market. In 2012 export in Russia for Ukraine is about 30% of all export – it is the largest ukrainian trade partner.

  8. I think, perhaps, you haven’t given this sufficient thought.

    Let me tell you why.

    There was no revolution in Egypt. For a short time, the government changed, but since the state is more than the government, the MB could never be said to have captured the state. That should be clear in the reality that Morsi was so easily ousted by the coercive apparatus of the state, which remained in the hands of the same forces that had ruled the army and police under Mubarak.

    The most decisive force in Egypt—under Mubarak, through Morsi’s brief presidency, and today—is the officer class, which controls a large chunk of Egypt’s economy and stands at the head of the army. At the same time, this ruling class is under the considerable sway of the Pentagon, which provides its training and equipment and maintains close contact with it, and is therefore severely constrained in its actions by Washington’s political agenda.

    There was no chance of Egypt’s military attacking Syria, absent the officer class’s concurrence, and therefore absent Washington’s blessing. Morsi was not so dimwitted to delude himself otherwise.

    To believe that Egypt’s current military dictatorship is better than the Morsi government, is to believe that there’s some difference of substance between a military dictatorship with Morsi as president, and a military dictatorship with a military-appointed government, for with or without Morsi, the military has always been in the driver’s seat.

    Indeed, a case can be made that the military ousted Morsi because Morsi recognized this, was unwilling to live with it, and tried to change it.

    The idea that Sisi deposed Morsi to prevent the latter from ordering the Egyptian army into combat on the side of the Syrian insurgency is, quite frankly, without merit. There were far more compelling reasons to overthrow Morsi—not least of which is Sisi clearing the way for his own presidential bid—than the possibility that Morsi might order an intervention in Syria, which the military could have easily rebuffed anyway.

    Finally, Brian, I must say, that the idea that Sisi cares one iota about the well-being of Syrians, or even Egyptians en masse for that matter, is astonishingly naïve.

  9. Oh yeah. I’ve been waiting for this one long time now, always wondering where you stood on Egypt.
    But if you could provide us with a background behind the US support for military regime in Egypt we’d appreciate it. The comments above by the top class “thinkers” are barely worth going through. So far I managed to find only one article worth considering, written by comrade Ajamu Baraka

    Well done comrade Gowans, and greets from Serbia.

  10. better a dictator who doesnt want war than a elected leader who does.Good for al-Sisi putting the well being of syrians and egyptians first, because Morsi wanted to send the army to war, and was allowing people to go to syria on jihad…your first big miss Steve!

  11. Take a deep breath. I said nothing about whether the army’s ouster of Morsi was good or bad, only that Morsi had been elected, the army ousted him, the current government is appointed by the military, Sisi is a de facto dictator, the MB has been banned, opposition figures tossed in jail on trumped up charges, journalists arrested, and 50-60 demonstrators killed by the military over the weekend. The reasons behind these events may or may not be defensible, but the question of whether they are or not was not taken up in my article. What’s interesting, from a psychological point of view, is why you (and “a long time reader” above) thinks it was.

  12. Yeah, okay fine. But this doesn’t change the reality of the dual way the West treats the Muslim Brothers depending on whether they’re opposing a satellite or non-satellite.

  13. Very interesting about mass media. It’s almost “Newspeak” there.

    About Ukraine:
    “The interests of the bulk of Ukraine’s citizens lie, neither with the EU nor Russian elites, but with themselves.”

    How about historical connections with Russia of most part of Ukraine? In modern state Ukraine is only 20 years. There was no such country for centuries.
    1000 years ago there was Kiev Rus not Urkaine on that territory.
    17% of ukranian population are russians. Moreover, for example, in Crimea there are 97% russians.

    I don’t think that people in EU have much personal connections with Ukraine. As for me, my grandfather moved from Ukraine (from eastern part). My father and my aunt speak ukranian. I don’t see Ukraine as an investment project.

    What I want to say:
    For most people of Ukraine in perspective it will be better to make union with Russia. There are no such regions in Russia as Greece, Latvia, Portugal – where industrial production was destroyed when investors come and contries just became market for german goods.

  14. I thought this was an informative, and well-balanced view of the situation in all these countries, and along the lines of my own thoughts about what is going on in Ukraine.
    Regards from England, Pete.

  15. The murderous US-backed Muslim Brotherhood also murdered protesters while they were in power. Their “democratic” election was a complete sham, where they excluded all sorts of candidates from running. They barely beat the Mubarak’s chosen Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik. They were completely on board NATO bombing of Libya, and threatened to have the military intervene in Syria.

    The only reason Washington hasn’t decisively come out against Sisi is the hope they can retain Egypt in their orbit. That’s it.

  16. I wish you would look deeper in the events that took place in Egypt during the last three years to come to the right conclusions. Your views on what is happening in Egypt is unfortunately distorted. The military’s intervention to oust the Brotherhood’s president Morsi upon huge demonstrations demanding their departure (About 33 million people according to google’ estimates and other observers) was to save Egypt from returning to the dark ages. There is a road map being implemented now which will lead to the results a respectful analyst like yourself will be pleased to see.

  17. Methinks that the only thing that will bite me on the ass is the insistence of some readers of treating my descriptive statements as normative ones.

  18. Methinks this one may come to bite you in the ass, Gowans. The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt has long been a Western puppet force, and only their violent unpopularity is what allowed the Egyptian military to do away with it. Washington is sending mixed signals out about Egypt because it is trying to court the military back into its orbit. I don’t think they will be fooled, and it is only a matter of time before Washington does unambiguously turn against the Egyptian government.

    Don’t give those damn fascists in Egypt any legitimacy.

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