How the US Helped Set ‘Ukraine on Fire’
The documentary “Ukraine on Fire” from producer Oliver Stone tells the hidden story of how the ongoing conflict began, including the pivotal US role
Aaron Mate: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. The 2014 Maidan revolution in Ukraine set off a bloody civil war that continues today, but the impact has gone far beyond Ukraine’s borders. The ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych has escalated tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
Just last month, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia in part over its actions in Ukraine, and now there is news of a Pentagon plan to send advanced weapons to Ukraine in their fight against Russian-backed forces in the East.
As the conflict unfolds a new documentary is challenging the conventional understanding of how it began. The film, produced by Oliver Stone, is called Ukraine on Fire.
Reporter: More clashes in Ukraine’s capitol Kiev.
Reporter: What we saw here today was a revolution.
Oliver Stone: I’m an outsider to the situation, but I would like to jump into the action.
Reporter: In recent days, Kiev has turned into a full-scale war zone.
Speaker: [Translated] Kiev was overrun by radicals.
Vitaliy Zakharchenko: [Translated] At first they were peaceful, but radicals were among the protesters … members of ultra-right and neo-fascist organizations.
Speaker: [Translated] Glory to the nation! Death to our enemies!
Speaker: [Translated] The goal was to wreak havoc. We got the impression that the whole process was based in the U.S. Embassy.
Oliver Stone: To all Ukrainians, America Stands with you.
Speaker: Who was your highest level contact with the U.S. government in this period?
Viktor Yanukovych: Biden. Vice President. The problem was that Mr. Biden said one thing, but they did something different in Ukraine.
Reporter: Questions of credibility are being raised after a private chat between two top U.S. diplomats was leaked online.
Robert Perry: So you had this remarkable phone call, where you had these two senior officials of the U.S. government apparently talking about a coup, or how they were planning to restructure the government of Ukraine.
Viktor Yanukovych: It was already planned. The coup d’etat was inevitable.
Robert Perry: We saw in the 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency had been largely discredited because of scandals that had been exposed in the 1970s. They still want to get rid of certain governments. They wanted regime change in Syria, for instance, regime change in Iran. And they have a lot of allies now inside the news media, inside the government, and that means that they can do a lot to control the narrative. And it works with the American people.
Oliver Stone: NATO has expanded into 13 countries.
Vladimir Putin: Why do we react so vehemently to NATO’s expansion? When a country becomes a member of NATO, it can’t resist pressure from the USA. Soon, anything can appear in the country. Missile defense systems, new bases, new missile strike systems. What should we do?
Barack Obama: The United States is imposing new sanctions in key sectors of the Russian economy.
Speaker: After the third wave of sanctions hit Russia, the tensions between the two countries skyrocketed. So the question presents itself, “Are we truly witnessing the beginning of Cold War 2.0?”
Aaron Mate: That’s a clip from the trailer for Ukraine on Fire, produced by Oliver Stone, and I’m joined now by the film’s director, Igor Lopatonok. Igor, welcome.
Igor Lopatonok: Hi. Hi Aaron.
Aaron Mate: Let’s just do a brief summary of what the Ukraine crisis is all about, just to remind people. So in 2013, you have these protests break out against the president, Yanukovych, ostensibly over the fact that he neglected a trade deal with the European Union in favor of one that was offered by Russia. There was also anger over corruption allegations against his administration. And these protests culminate in February 2014 in Yanukovych being overthrown.
There’s a very famous intercepted phone call as this crisis is exploding between the U.S. Ambassador at the time, Geoffrey Pyatt, and the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland.
And so Yanukovych is facing all these protests and Nuland and the ambassador have this conversation.
Speaker: Questions of credibility are being raised after a private chat between two top U.S. diplomats was leaked online.
Victoria Nuland: I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the … You know, what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. I just think Klitsch going in, he’s going to be on that level working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not gonna work.
Geoffrey Pyatt: Yeah, no, I think that’s right. OK. Good. Well, do you want us to try to set up a call with him as the next step?
Victoria Nuland: Sullivan’s come back to me VFR saying “You need Biden?” And I said “Probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets to stick.” So Biden’s willing.
Aaron Mate: So that’s a phone call between Victoria Nuland, at the time the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, and they’re talking about Arseniy Yatseniuk, who they call Yats. And, low and behold, he became the leader of Ukraine after Yanukovych was deposed, not long after this phone call. So, Igor, talk about what is going on here.
Igor Lopatonok: That’s a very advanced operation. Who dispatch in Ukraine to organize the coup, to organize the regime change and talking to his supervisor. That’s very, very … I think that’s Russian Secret Service who intercept that call, and they make it available public, show in the light how to … how United States official just floating the result of coup d’etat in the country.
Aaron Mate: For you have interviews where Oliver Stone, who executive produced the movie, he interviews Yanukovych and also Putin. And when he talks to Yanukovych, Yanukovych tells him that his point man in the U.S., who he was talking to, was Biden.
Igor Lopatonok: Correct.
Aaron Mate: And he suggests very strongly that Biden was basically playing a double game with him. He was telling him one thing but doing another.
Igor Lopatonok: First of all, Biden’s son was involved in a business in Ukraine. He held a position in the board of company that’s named Burisma. Now that company accumulate up to 40 percent of all oil and gas exploitation in Ukraine as well, so Biden have an interest. And when Victoria Nuland delivering this speech, about $5 billion what the State Department United States spent on the promoting of democracy in Ukraine for the years. She talking on the ground of [Chevron], when Chevron tried to make the Shell oil pumping in Donetsk area.
So that’s follow the money rule working all the time. So Ukraine as usual was not only political battlefield, but also someplace when oil and gas involved. And don’t forget about pipeline from Russia to Europe was going through Ukraine, was giving them very big leverage against Russia.
So, that’s the big and complex situation. But that situation happened, and situation violently blow up. And is no way, no military solution for that war. And there’s a legit civil war going on in Ukraine and 10,000 people already killed. And it is no way, and only Minsk agreement when they tried to prevent the Ukrainians from attacking that. Because you cannot say there’s 3 million terrorists living in my country. This is your people who live in Donetsk. You cannot blame them to be terrorists because it’s like woman, older man, the kids …
Aaron Mate: OK, Igor, so you’re speaking to the division that exists inside Ukraine. And I think that this is part of the problem with Western media coverage, and it’s something that you point out inside your film, which is that, in terms of the grievances of people inside Ukraine, attention at least in the West, has mostly been paid on those who the U.S. has officially allied with, the parts of Western Ukraine like Kiev, the more nationalist parts of Ukraine that don’t want Russian involvement, that don’t want to speak the Russian language. Whereas you’re saying there’s a whole bunch of people who are being ignored who actually want ties with Russia, and, you know, who speak Russian as their, as a dominate language. But it’s those voices who have been silenced. So, if you can comment on that and also talk about then who are, who is the opposition who the U.S. supported who came to power? And your film suggests that there are, you know, far right Nazi elements inside this wing.
Igor Lopatonok: So first of all, of course it’s not Nazis who come to power, but in the Germany just before Hitler, during the Weimar Republic, that also was Nazi. They look on the Nazi and then that storm troops as in, like, you know, blunt, brutal force. So they using that brutal force until they understand, the brutal force grow up so big so you cannot control them.
So exactly same situation happened in Ukraine, all that free leaders from Maidan the Vitaly Klitschko, famous boxer, and the Yatseniuk, who was prime minister of Ukraine one day and the famous guy from a party, now Nazi party, Svoboda, Tyahnybok, they was on the stage. They was hungry for power. They was hungry for the ability to exploit my fellow country, to make some money on that, and they was very, very against idea just to go for election and to be elected. Because, if everybody’s saying that Yanukovych was bloody tyrannical dictator, blah, blah, blah, do not forget people, and the democratic election, and the election was accepted everywhere in the United States as well. They worked for that Yanukovych. They elect him as a president, and they put him in the power, that was the people of Ukraine.
So idea was to go to the power a different way because they know is that a lot of people who support the Russian influence and who are friends of Russia, they would never elect them to be a president. That was a problem. And that’s happened. They go, they go very violent way.
Before that, Ukraine already experienced a [kind of] revolution in 2004. In 2004, 10 years ago before Maidan. And it was kind of peaceful. But that was also technology, what was used and produced a result. And after the election they start blaming election on fraud, asking for [inaudible]. And against in violation of constitution of Ukraine that Yushchenko proceed to be president of Ukraine.
What’s happened after? Economy collapsed, people totally was disappointed by his presidency, and the next election he take 3 percent of electoral votes. So that’s what happened 10 years ago before Maidan. What we experiencing right now, the economy in collapse, in a free fall, the debt of country rose 300 percent and the GDP per capita diminished 180 percent and the exchange rate 300 percent.
So basically all that revolution, so-named revolution, and joining the European Union trade agreement was a huge mess and huge disaster for Ukrainian people. That why we experiencing now exodus of people from Ukraine. They leaving the country. They don’t want to stay anymore. They want to find a better way to live for them and their families.
Aaron Mate: But on this issue of a new Cold War, I want to talk a bit more about that phone call between Nuland and Pyatt because I hadn’t heard it … When I saw your movie I had not heard it since President Trump got elected. And since, the months since, have been dominated by this Russiagate narrative where Russia supposedly, you know, determined the outcome of the election and colluded with the Trump campaign. And hearing that phone call, hearing Nuland and the ambassador talk about which Ukrainian politician they favor to lead Ukraine, who, Yats, as they say, turns out to be the one who becomes the new prime minister, I was thinking that, you know, those investigating Russiagate and trying to find proof of Russian meddling would love to have a phone call like that between Russian officials talking about how they want Trump to lead the U.S. and how they’re organizing and making moves behind the scenes to ensure that that takes place. Igor, your thoughts on that?
Igor Lopatonok: Yeah, first of all I think, you know, in our movie, we have a direct question to President Putin, why he think he was positioned in the Western media like that, like he’s positioned now. And he had very, very interesting answer for that. He understand it. He said, you know, for some reason, they need – they would mean Western Civilization – they need an enemy to organize some discipline, because people are disorganized. They start trading, they start talking, they start exploring different ways.
So they need a perfect villain, and Iran not match that picture. But as I understand that, Putin thinks he is perfectly matched to that position to be villainest villain, like [inaudible], who have the nukes, who have that strong position defending interest of Russia. And that perfectly match that idea to organize one villain, the big and covert and meddling Russia who behind of American policy do everything, elect Trump, invade Ukraine and do everything bad that’s possible for international society. But reality is totally different because you can never find any evidence and you can only, like, you know, do that conspiracy theory and build some kind of fake ideas and try to implement the ideas in the brain of poor audience hoping that they not critically thinking. They not can check it and double check it.
So, you know, in United States now you can easily go to jail if you talk to Russian ambassador, but in Ukraine …
Aaron Mate: Well, Igor, Igor no one’s gone to jail yet, but somebody did get fired. Michael Flynn, yes. But quickly as we wrap, go ahead.
Igor Lopatonok: You can be under investigation for talking to Russian ambassador, especially if you’re related to the … And you know, what’s the function of ambassador, this function to represent the country. But in Ukraine, during the [inaudible]. The Pyatt was staying on the street and regulating the traffic. That was kind of micromanagement for the … Not only choose who will be president, who will be prime minister, who will be justices in the supreme court …
Aaron Mate: Right, Igor, and let me say quickly, Igor let me say someone in your film makes a point that imagine if the Russian ambassador had gone to Ferguson during the Ferguson protests and cheered on the Ferguson protestors, what would the reaction be?
Igor Lopatonok: That was Yanukovych. Yanukovych. President Yanukovych said that in our film, and yes, they even arrest, they arrest Russian correspondent who go to Ferguson. What you talking about ambassador? Ambassador [inaudible] he went. So meddling, this is real meddling. This is real collusion. This is really against any international law, and the neoconservatives very skilled in that. They do it all the way. They do it in Libya. They do it in Syria. They do it everywhere in Arab Spring. They do it before they do it in Iran. But before, CIA was like an action player, but after they understand, and the Reagan Administration with CIA exposed too much. They invent the NGO, they do the National Endowment for Democracy and other foundations, and also not only the government players but the private players like a George Soros emerge and they try to change the way of how people lead, how they elect, just for their own purpose. And Soros is like the biggest, biggest mastermind of the regime change in the new world.
Aaron Mate: OK Igor, very quickly, it’s hard to summarize and encapsulate a complex problem like Ukraine in an interview like this, and it’s also hard just to summarize the film itself, so how can people see the film?
Igor Lopatonok: First of all, we already on Amazon, we on Vimeo. You can go to our website ukraineonfire.com and can find the links on that. And, yeah, Amazon, iTunes and Vimeo, this is our outlets, and we selling the DVD and blu-rays on Amazon as well.
Aaron Mate: Igor Lopatonok, the director of Ukraine on Fire. Igor, thanks very much.
Igor Lopatonok: Thank you Aaron. Thank you.
Aaron Mate: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.