A false Russian theory argues that Euromaidan was organized by the United States through Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.
by Massimo Introvigne
In the previous article of this series, we saw how, the day after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych had left Kiev as a consequence of the Euromaidan protests, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove him from office on February 22, 2014.
The Parliament decided not to follow the formal, and lengthy, procedure for impeachment. While Putin called this decision “unconstitutional” and a “coup,” the Parliament relied on legal opinions stating that the situation was different from the impeachment of a President in office. Yanukovych had self-impeached himself with his feet by leaving Kiev and his office, which also created a situation of urgency.
The Ukrainian Constitution allowed the Parliament to call for new presidential elections in case of need, and the fact that the President had deserted his duties had created this need. Both Western and Ukrainian experts have expressed different opinions about the nature of the February 22 vote, acknowledging at the same time that the situation of a President fleeing his country was unprecedented.
While constitutional questions can continue to be discussed, it is clear that what emerged on February 22 was the position of a large majority of the Parliament, which was in turn supported by a large majority of the Ukrainian citizens. The Parliament rapidly organized presidential elections, which were certified as fair by international observers, and led to the presidency of businessman Petro Poroshenko, who remained in power until 2019, when he failed to win re-election and was defeated by current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
It is somewhat strange that Russia and its fellow travelers, who are rarely experts of Ukrainian constitutional law, continue to this very day to discuss whether the interpretation by the Parliament’s legal advisors of certain provisions of the Ukrainian Constitution was correct. Many scholars believe it was. But even if it was not, Euromaidan was a revolution, and revolutions are rarely judged on the basis of their respect of the legal provisions of the previous order.
Revolutions create their own new legal order. The world is full of states born out of revolutions. New post-revolutionary governments are normally recognized by the international community based on several criteria, including the popular support for the revolution, which in Ukraine was obvious both during the massive participation in the Euromaidan protests and in the subsequent 2014 elections.
Russia considered the removal of Yanukovych invalid and reacted immediately, on February 22, by invading Crimea, where pro-Russian protesters had taken to the streets, and clashed with anti-Russian demonstrators. Russian-backed protests in a part of the Donbass region led in April to the proclamation of the pseudo-independent Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which were able to control a part of the region thanks to the help of both “unofficial” and regular Russian troops, starting the so-called “low-intensity war,” which became high-intensity in 2022.
Was there a foreign involvement in the 2014 events? “Events,” here, is plural, as the “Russian Spring” in Crimea and Donbass paralleled the Euromaidan in Kiev and in Central and Western Ukraine. There is no doubt that the “Russian Spring,” which was resisted by a part of the local population that was silenced and beaten, could never have happened in the form it did without continuous and substantial Russian support.
But what about Euromaidan? European and American personalities went to Kiev to support the protest. They included American Senators John McCain (1936–2018), a Republican, i.e., at that time part of the opposition (Democrat Barack Obama was the President), and Chris Murphy, a Democrat. McCain addressed the crowd in Maidan Square, expressing his sympathy for the protest and calling for a “peaceful transition.”
Although Murphy accompanied him, giving the trip a bipartisan flavor, McCain was a vocal critic of President Obama and his administration, and his speech was certainly not made on behalf of the U.S. government. Leaders of the Ukrainian opposition parties traveled abroad during Euromaidan. They met European political leaders and also U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Munich on February 1, 2014.
Russia showed a certain ability in 2014 in intercepting and recording phone calls and having them posted on YouTube or published by propaganda media. Just as a “snipergate” was created around the phone call of Estonian Foreign Minister Paet we discussed in the previous article of this series, the “smoking gun” offered for the theory that the United States had “admitted” they had organized a 2014 coup against Yanukovych was a leaked phone call whose recording was posted on YouTube in early February 2014.
In that call, Assistant US Secretary of State (and present Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Biden Administration), Victoria Nuland, who accompanied Kerry to his Munich meeting with Ukrainian opposition leaders, was talking to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt. The transcript was published by the BBC.
The conversation made headlines particularly for the coarse language of Nuland, who used a four-letter word to describe what she saw as the inaction of the European Union. In fact, Nuland also discussed different Ukrainian opposition personalities, expressing her preference for Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who would become Prime Minister on February 27, over other figures, and the possibility of mobilizing then Vice President Joe Biden in his favor.
In the conversation, Nuland favored Yatsenyuk because he was a competent economist rather than because he was more pro-American than other leaders. One can derive from the conversation that Nuland had a low opinion of the European Union diplomacy, and that the United States followed the Ukrainian crisis with great interest. What it does not prove is that the U.S. organized Euromaidan.
When they realized that the Nuland-Pyatt conversation was not the smoking gun they were looking for, Russian agitprops quoted a speech Nuland gave to the US-Ukraine Foundation in Washington DC on December 13, 2013, where she said: “Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as they promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over $5 billion to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.”
In Russian propaganda, this became the theory that the U.S. had invested $5 billion to create Euromaidan. One wonders why Nuland, if she was the sinister mastermind behind Euromaidan, publicly confessed the $5-billion investment in a speech that was published in official websites of the U.S. government a few days after it was given.
After Yanukovych escaped to Russia, a meme propagated by Russian propagandists went viral on Facebook, claiming that “President Barak Obama spent $5 billion paying Ukrainians to riot and dismantle their democratically elected government.” As evidence, Nuland’s speech at the US-Ukraine Foundation was quoted, and the claim has been repeated ever since.
The few journalists who cared to investigate determined that the figure of $5 billion was indeed accurate, but represented the total U.S. expenditures to support Ukraine in the twenty years between 1991 and 2011. The U.S. spent similar sums to support other Eastern European states where there were no revolutions, colored or otherwise.
This money did not go to support militias or protesting students. For instance, $1.1 billion went to promote start-ups and fostering economic growth. $40 million funded anti-AIDS programs and reproductive health (but also an anti-malaria campaign), which conservative Ukrainian Christians criticized as including support for abortion, but certainly had nothing to do with Euromaidan. A sum not disclosed for national security reasons supported the reorganization of the Ukrainian military and police—which at the beginning of Euromaidan largely sided with Yanukovych. And so on. Obviously, Nuland’s famous $5 billion figure referred to a different period of time and different projects, and had nothing to do with Euromaidan.
Did the United States and the European Union sympathize with the protests? Undoubtedly, as the protesters raised European Union flags and proclaimed their faith in a Ukraine that would look westward and emphasize its European and Western identity. Did the United States organize and direct Euromaidan? There is a lot of Russian propaganda, but no evidence. Was Euromaidan a coup? No, neither legally nor politically.
It was the removal by a vote of the Parliament of a President who had reneged his electoral program for obscure reasons, had ordered the police to mercilessly repress what was initially a peaceful protest, and finally had fled the country. Yanukovych was removed by a large majority of the Parliament, including members of his own party, which then organized new democratic elections as soon as possible—not the typical behavior of putschists.
On the other hand, what was clearly organized and directed from abroad was the “Russian Spring” in Crimea and Donbass, followed by Russian military invasion. The Russians came to believe their own propaganda on color revolutions directed from abroad—and created their own. Yes, the West supported Euromaidan and the opponents of Yanukovych, just as Russia supported the pro-Yanukovych camp. But it was not the West that created what was a popular revolution against what most Ukrainians perceived as a morally bankrupted government.