As Glenn Greenwald, FAIR, and others have pointed out by now, a Washington Post oped mourning John McCain as a champion of human rights featured a December 2013 photo of the Senator addressing pro-EU protesters in the Ukrainian capital, standing next to Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the Neo-Nazi Svoboda party. At the time, western media more often than not ignored or denied the role of the far right in protests of the “pro-Russian” Yanukovych regime in Kyiv. It now acknowledges a threat posed by neo-fascist radicals to the “anti-Russian” Poroshenko regime, but remains confused as to where they came from. Unbeknownst to all, McCain’s several appearances with Tyahnybok that “bloody winter” were rather serendipitous, almost forty years after his father, John McCain Jr., highlighted a 1974 springtime plenary session of the first conference of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) to be hosted in the United States — with Yaroslav Stetsko, a western Ukrainian war criminal and Nazi collaborator whom Svoboda credits as its chief ideological inspiration. It is known that Stetsko visited the White House in 1983, but unknown, so too that morning in all likelihood for a scheduled WACL tour, just months before Richard Nixon’s resignation.
The WACL was largely a monster of Stetsko’s creation, and in the early 1980s, some thirty years before addressing protesters in Kyiv, House Rep. John McCain III advised the League’s US Council for World Freedom (USCWF), which was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal. In this capacity he may have met Stepan Bandera’s forever loyal deputy turned successor, Yaroslav Stetsko, who was well known to Oliver North’s man, retired Army Major General John Singlaub, founder of the USCWF and soon to be WACL chairman, at that time. In 1983, decades after he organized a pogromist militia in Lviv that Simon Wiesenthal remembered as worse than the Germans, Stetsko visited the White House and met Ronald Reagan. Two years prior, he asked an audience in New York City, “Is history to be our teacher in life, particularly this year, when Ukraine is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the reestablishment of an Independent Ukrainian State…?” that is, 1941 in Lviv, when Stetsko declared on the eve of the pogrom: “The newly formed Ukrainian state will work closely with the National-Socialist Greater Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler which is forming a new order in Europe and the world and is helping the Ukrainian People to free itself from Muscovite occupation.”
Throughout the Cold War, Stetsko (who died in 1986) all but advocated a first nuclear strike on Soviet Russia, given his long standing belief in the inevitability of World War 3 and the necessity of a “holy war of liberation.” He considered himself a spokesperson for the many tens of millions of people behind the Iron Curtain as the leader for life of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), a coalition of former Nazi collaborators in the Baltics, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus founded by the Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) in 1946, a major force behind the WACL’s founding twenty years later that represented the “captive nations” of the Soviet Union in the League. In 1953, two years before partnering with the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League (APACL), Stetsko denounced armistice in Korea as “nothing other than a blunder,” because the world can never be at peace until Communism is eradicated, and Russia obliterated. “There is Still Time,” he wrote:
It was not the time for half-measures. It was, much more, the time for Russia to experience its Pearl Harbor … The time demands that western commanders of the stature of General Patton place themselves protectingly before the revolutionaries with a few lightning panzer-divisions. The moment presses for military support of our [ABN] nations’ underground fight, by a simultaneous advance on the central point, the Kremlin … Moscow’s despotic rule would be eliminated more quickly than one has ever dared to hope. No armistice and no compromise with the Kremlin can bring peace on earth and free the world from fear, but only a resolute, offensive advance. It is still not too late.
And in 1960, by which time Stetsko had lectured the House Un-American Activities Committee, he gave a speech in fascist Spain: “We shall either be victorious together, or else we shall perish one after another!”
I am well aware that the objection is raised that there might be an atomic war. In this respect I should, in the first place, like to touch on a counter-argument connected with mysticism … Fear of atomic war as a means of universal destruction is unjustified in so far as we — provided that we fulfil our ethical duties to God and our fatherland — cannot possibly become the object of destruction!
And in 1981, at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City with, among others, the Mujahideen:
The essence of the matter is not in the tragic element of dying for an idea, but rather in the element of human greatness manifested by [one’s] death, by this manifested apogee of heroism! We do not believe in the illusion that the epoch of wars for one’s Fatherland has long since passed, erased by the dawn of a new thermo-nuclear era. With the spectre of a thermo-nuclear Armageddon notwithstanding, we must remember, that the world is ruled by the irresistible will of the Providence of God … Liberation wars are holy wars … [and] have God’s blessing, because they are just … Will the present leaders of the West learn from their past mistakes? Is history to be our teacher in life…?
Twenty years before Senator McCain drew flack in October 2008 for his former affiliation with the USCWF, and two years after Stetsko’s death, the first Bush-Quayle campaign suffered a minor scandal when a US leader of the OUN-B resigned as the national vice-chair of Ukrainians for Bush. President George HW Bush was likely referring to Bandera’s ilk three years later, several weeks after the 50th anniversary of Stetsko’s declaration in Lviv, when he made his infamous “Chicken Kyiv” speech in the summer of 1991, lecturing the Soviet Ukrainian parliament on the difference between freedom and independence: “Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.” Apparently John McCain did not get the memo.
“I’m ashamed of my country, I’m ashamed of my president, I’m ashamed of myself,” the Arizona Senator told Face the Nation in early 2015 because of the Obama administration’s refusal to arm the staunchly pro-western, debatably crypto-fascist Poroshenko regime in Kyiv. That was around the time that McCain met with a lifelong white nationalist and neofascist cult worshipper of Stepan Bandera’s memory in Washington DC, that is, Andriy Parubiy, Oleh Tyahnybok’s former partner and co-founder of Svoboda’s more explicitly Neo-Nazi predecessor, the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU). It is likely they met before, considering Parubiy was the Commandant of the Maidan Self Defense Forces, in which capacity he may have been guilty of crimes against humanity, particularly for his apparent role in the 2014 Kyiv (Feb 20) and Odessa (May 2) massacres, which put together were probably no less responsible for the civil war in Ukraine than Russia’s annexation of Crimea or any of Putin’s attempts to destabilize the country. McCain and Parubiy met again in the summer of 2017, also in the US capital, by which time the latter was made Ukraine’s Speaker of Parliament, and the Nation reported that “John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been urging Ukrainian soldiers to break the Minsk cease-fire agreement.”
Perhaps most serendipitous of all, the day before Senator McCain died, for the first time I met someone from Ukraine who participated in protests against Yanukovych and was present during the “sniper’s massacre” of February 20, 2014 in Kyiv that precipitated the beleaguered president’s decision to flee the country. With some prying, my Uber driver shared his belief that the martyred protesters were killed not by government snipers, but right-wing provocateurs (in fact, according to Ivan Katchanovski the real shooters were based in rooms, some rented by Svoboda parliamentarians, in the opposition-controlled Hotel Ukraine overlooking downtown Kyiv) and he agreed that Parubiy, a man with “crazy ideas,” had something to do with it. Ievgenii predicted another, far more bloody Maidan is in store for Poroshenko (or perhaps Tymoshenko) within the next year or two, from which a new leader for Ukraine will emerge from the war in Donbas.
Since McCain’s death, I watched Game Change for the first time, a star-studded dramatization of the 2008 McCain campaign’s decision to tap Sarah Palin as the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee. In retrospect, the film’s conclusion is impossible to ignore as a harbinger for the Republican Party’s capture by radical right fanatics. Palin, not Trump, was the Goldwater of our times who, no matter how self destructive on Election Day, lit a fire under the “conservative” movement. It’s something to consider that few beard more responsibility for opening Trump’s Box than the man who replaced Barry Goldwater as Senator of Arizona, the same who liberals have come to deeply admire in the Trump era. Game Change depicts McCain’s apparent horror at Palin’s radicalization of his crowds, to have questions like “Who is the real Barack Obama?” answered with jeers such as “a terrorist,” “a Muslim,” and “an Arab,” instead of, perhaps, “a socialist.” The obvious implied takeaway is that McCain refused to read the writing on the wall, rather than embraced the far-right, but both of these things can be true. At any rate, he refused to watch the movie, or at least admit that he did, in part owing to his stalwart defense of Sarah Palin up until the end. He was not one for deep self-reflection, or scrutiny of anticommunist comrades; he was, after all, likely a war criminal himself.
Senator McCain certainly came to regret his decisions in 2008. For one thing his former proximity to the WACL and the Iran-Contra scandal only came to light after his running mate went after Obama’s Bill Ayers connection. Perhaps above all, Sarah Palin breathed new life into the US radical right, which turned on McCain at Trump’s command. However there is little to no evidence he ever blinked when it came to lending support to Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, a fringe element to be sure. Peering up from typed notes to greet his audience on the Maidan, the Senator must have noticed the large red and black flag waving before him, which could hardly be further from the blue and yellow colors he had come to support. The menacing flag belonged not to anarchists (who already denounced the far-right’s takeover of protests), but the Right Sector, an extremist coalition that cropped up in November 2013; and before that, the OUN-B’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which most concerned itself not with fighting Nazis or Soviets during World War 2, but the ethnic cleansing of Poles. After the war, the US and British governments tried and disastrously failed to covertly utilize the UPA as a stay-behind army and source of intelligence behind the Iron Curtain through the early-to-mid 1950s, all the while taking their denial of war crimes and Nazi collaboration at face value. As told by Christopher Simpson in 1989, author of Blowback: The First Full Account of America’s Recruitment of Nazis, and its Disastrous Effect on Our Domestic Foreign Policy,
the [UPA] guerrillas … were used as martyrs — some of whom died bravely; some pathetically — and grist for the propaganda mills of both East and West … In hindsight, it is clear that the Ukrainian guerrilla option became the prototype for hundreds of CIA operations worldwide that have attempted to exploit indigenous discontent in order to make political gains for the United States … There is every indication, however, that such affairs have often produced serious blowback problems because their actual results have almost always been the exact opposite of what was originally intended …
“People of Ukraine, this is your moment!” beckoned McCain, standing aside Oleh Tyahnybok. “This is about you, no one else,” he told many tens of thousands of liberal protesters in Kyiv whose cause for a better life in Ukraine was actively being hijacked by oligarchs and the far-right, and made the catalyst for a “New Cold War” between Russia and the West. “The free world is with you, America is with you, I am with you!” All that was missing was a resonant Slava Ukraïni! For all his efforts to fashion himself as Ukraine’s militant champion on Capitol Hill, it appears that McCain never publicly uttered the OUN/UPA greeting popularized by the 2013–2014 “Revolution of Dignity.” The question is: did he know better?