Europe’s Credulity on Display: Were Ukrainian Snipers Backed by Maidan Leaders?

The BBC, al Jazeera, and other outlets are reporting on a leaked phone call between Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and EU foreign affairs head Catherine, Ashton in which Paet reports that the snipers who shot at police and civilians on the Maidan in Kyiv may have been hired by Maidan leaders, rather than the government of Ukraine as has been commonly reported.

The most important parts begin in the recording at 8:20. “There is now [a] stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet said. (Estonia has confirmed the authenticity of the call.) Ashton responded, “I think we do want to investigate. I mean, I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh,” Ashton responded.

Paet’s report, which was apparently made after he returned from a February 25 visit to Kyiv, comes from on-the-ground interviews, especially with doctors treating the wounded. One of those doctors, apparently one Olga Bogomolets, apparently told Paet that “evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and then people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides” and that “the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”

Bogomolets was the main doctor for the Maidan mobile clinic when the protests turned violent; she treated many of the gunshot victims. She also turned down the position of Vice Prime Minister for Humanitarian Affairs offered by the new regime.

That mistrust between the protesters and civil society groups linked to the protests and the new regime (likely because they are the same people who drove Ukraine’s economy into the ground amidst rampant corruption in the last decade) was another eye-opening moment in the call.

But the second-biggest bombshell after the first was the coalition government’s apathy about determining who ordered the snipers to shoot. “The investigators must find out what really occurred in Kyiv. Many people want an independent investigation to be carried out in Ukraine. The people responsible for the crimes committed on the Maidan Square in Kyiv must be punishable by law,” Paet continued. “And still, people are seriously concerned about the fact that the new coalition is unwilling to investigate what really occurred there. The understanding of the fact that somebody from the new coalition, not Yanukovych, was behind those snipers is becoming more and more strengthened with every passing day.”

The effect of this report is to call into question almost everything the world believes it knows about Ukraine’s current political situation. Were the snipers hired by the Maidan’s leaders, including the far-right elements of Svoboda and its aligned groups? Did coalition leaders order the shootings? If Kyiv is determined to have an accounting of the events on the Maidan, why is it reluctant to undertake an investigation?

Former Prime Minister and future Presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko has demanded an investigation as well; the new regime’s refusal to heed that call as well is disturbing.

Can a government that came to power on the strength of the images in the streets have legitimacy if it arranged those images?

The questions go as deep for the EU. Despite this report, made over a week ago, EU leaders met with members of the new coalition government yesterday. Yet as Paet says in the recording, if all of this is true, “it discredits from the very beginning this new coalition.” Was this the triumph of willful blindness over even minimal due diligence, or crass cynicism for political ends?

Ashton has refused all comment on this conversation even though we know it was authentic, and even though she herself said there must be an investigation. More broadly, this call was over a week ago, yet this is the first we have heard of it. Why is the EU hiding the “more and more strengthened” conclusion that the very people in power in Kyiv were behind the events that brought them to power?

Is the EU propping up the coalition against claims by Yanukovych’s supporters? To make the new regime look good to quell the protesters? To prevent a firestorm from breaking loose with Russia on the doorstep? Or is this simple naiveté, compounded to the highest possible level?

The West has a pre-made formula for these things, set during the fall of the Eastern Bloc. The government is always in the wrong, the heroic protesters always in the right. Yet the events of the last three months have seen protesters attacking police with small arms, Molotov cocktails, and crude weaponry; black-and-red armband wearing Svoboda fascists leading the occupations and charges at the police; and now revelations that the seminal moments of the protests may have been arranged by the protests’ beneficiaries.

Today, all eyes are on Russia flexing its muscles to the East. Yet even now, though Europe clearly wishes otherwise, we must turn back to the events of the last few weeks, to know once and for all how the past unfolded into the present.

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons