Matthew Rojansky is the head of the Kennan Institute, a notable think tank at the US government-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Despite his well-established expertise on Russia and lengthy record of leadership on the issue, he has been judged “too soft” to work in the Biden White House.
An increasingly influential element within Washington’s powerful anti-Russian lobby is taking a victory lap after Politico credited it for helping to block Rojanksy’s appointment to Russia director at the National Security Council. It is the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), an organization with close ties to the extremist Banderite movement.
The UCCA made its opposition to Rojansky known in the form of an “emphatic request” to President Joseph Biden, accusing the veteran Russia hand of making unspecified “incendiary comments over the years” which supposedly indicated that “Ukraine is expendable to secure closer U.S.-Russia relations.”
Meanwhile, the Chicago-based leadership of the Illinois Division of the UCCA fired off indignant letters of protest to President Biden and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, which was founded in 2015 on the initiative of the UCCA.
The Chicago leaders objected to Rojansky’s seemingly benign observation that “peaceful coexistence [with Russia] remains an imperative,” likening the statement to “appeasement.” They also baselessly suggested that Rojansky might be “influenced because of overt or covert financial support from Russia.”
As the director of the Kennan Institute since 2013, Rojansky is far from the pro-Kremlin boogeyman he’s been made out to be by his most rabid antagonists. If anything, he represents the legacy of the man his employer is named for: George Kennan, the architect of the post-war US policy of containing the Soviet Union. But in a Biden administration dominated by anti-Russia hardliners, it appears even Kennan – who criticized NATO’s eastward expansion after the Soviet Union’s collapse as a “fateful error” – would be unwelcome.
It is also no secret that the UCCA has for decades been led by cult-like followers of the late Ukrainian fascist Stepan Bandera, a Nazi collaborator whose devotees carried out numerous genocidal pogroms against his country’s Jewish population.
Bandera’s “Revolutionary” faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B a.k.a. OUN-R) participated in the Nazi “Holocaust by Bullets” in western Ukraine. Since then, it has hijacked the organized Ukrainian diaspora, and cozied up to much of the US foreign policy establishment, not to mention the far-right in Ukraine.
In 1980, a coordinating body of OUN-B “facade structures” formerly known as the “Ukrainian Liberation Front” staged a divisive coup in the UCCA, from which the organization has never fully recovered.
The Banderites continue to play a leading role in the UCCA under the umbrella of the U.S. Division of the so-called “International Council in Support of Ukraine,” the successor of the “Liberation Front,” which relocated its headquarters from New York to Toronto in 2013. (The Grayzone previously reported on the Canadian Division’s ties to the Conservative Party of Canada.)
Days before he passed away in August 2019, Jaroslaw Fedun, a 45-year member of the UCCA and the chairman of its audit committee, filed a complaint with the New York State Charities Bureau about the “egregious improprieties” of the UCCA.
A self-described “son of pioneers” of the Ukrainian community in New York City received Fedun’s complaint just before he died and submitted it on his behalf.
In a second complaint to the Charities Bureau dated September 28, 2019, Fedun’s anonymous confidant further alleged in a sensational manifesto that “most of [the] UCCA Board members and all of its employees are OUN(R) members.” He described the Banderites as a “group of individuals with a hidden extremist agenda.”
Throughout the Cold War, the UCCA waged war on Kennan’s containment strategy, condemning it as a form of appeasement while advocating a policy of rollback that could have resulted in all-out war.
“The collapse of Kennanism in this country is a good sign,” Lev Dobriansky, a former president of the UCCA and co-founder of the right-wing Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, once remarked. Dobriansky was a close ally of Yaroslav Stetsko, a notorious Nazi collaborator who succeeded Bandera as leader of the OUN-B.
In the 1960s, Dobriansky and other UCCA leaders even lambasted a rival OUN faction that had been backed by the CIA as too soft on communism. Despite its history of extremism, the UCCA has apparently attained considerable influence over the Biden administration, while realists like Rojansky have been effectively blacklisted.
On April 10, 2021, Axios broke the news of Rojansky’s potential appointment in the form of a hit job, prompting fugitive vulture capitalist Bill Browder to assert that jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny “is as good as dead” if the Biden administration appointed Rojansky.
The Axios article also triggered outrage from Banderite circles. Ihor Dlaboha, editor of a UCCA publication and formerly the National Tribune – the official Banderite newspaper in the US – tweeted that “#Biden is making a big mistake… @POTUS would lose [Ukrainian] voter favor. Stay the course.”
Meanwhile, the DC and Chicago-based leaderships of the Congress Committee wrote to President Biden and Senator Durbin within 48 hours of the Axios article’s publication. For his part, UCCA communications director Andrij Dobriansky (no relation to Lev) condemned Rojansky’s appointment as “disastrous.”
These are some of the supposedly controversial statements made by Matthew Rojansky, according to Axios:
In 2017, Rojansky decried America’s “Cold War style paranoia about the Russian bogeyman,” acknowledging that Putin “is a huge problem for the United States” while arguing that escalation carries “unacceptable risks.” He has consistently called for managing competition with Russia in a way that protects U.S. interests and minimizes risks.
“Russia is not going to go away,” Rojansky wrote in a National Interest op-ed last year criticizing what he characterized as the overuse of sanctions. “Peaceful coexistence remains an imperative, no matter how unsavory Putin’s regime might be.”
The Axios attack piece also recycled a Ukrainian nationalist smear campaign against Rojansky and the Kennan Institute.
In 2018, Ukrainian alumni of the Kennan Institute issued an angry open letter after Rojansky hired a new Ukraine director, Mykhailo Minakov. Among Minakov’s sins, according to the Ukrainians, was writing that “the [2013-14] ‘Revolutionary of Dignity’ had led to shameless corruption, militant nationalism and a decline in freedoms.” While this seemed like a fairly objective assessment of a post-Maidan Ukraine that has become the poorest country in Europe, the letter’s signatories accused Rojansky of presiding over “growing pro-Kremlin policies.” The campaign against Minakov ultimately prompted the Kennan Institute to close its office in Kyiv.
Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko has characterized the open letter cited by Axios as “a disgusting attack on academic freedom.” Canadian historian David Marples similarly protested that “the attack on Minakov, which is ad hominen, has no substance or merit. He is a brilliant scholar who does not follow the masses.”
Ishchenko, Marples, and more than 50 other academics from around the world signed a letter of support for Mykhailo Minakov, which went unmentioned by Axios, and concluded:
At issue is the assumption, implied in the Letter and all-too prevalent in the current climate, that public discourse is a zero-sum game, in which a contrarian view necessarily places someone in the opposing camp, namely, with the Russian state.
We wish to stress that respecting intellectual freedom to critique policies and urge reforms without being called an agent of the Kremlin is not only a right in the open and liberal society that Ukrainians wish to live in but also a condition of its existence.
We have no doubt that Professor Minakov is deeply devoted to a vision of Ukraine as a free, democratic, inclusive and open society and that his life-long commitment to the study of Ukraine and to advancing the Ukrainian cause internationally is unquestionable.
As it were, George Kennan, the namesake of the think tank that Matthew Rojansky runs, and the architect of Washington’s anti-Soviet “containment strategy,” made many enemies in his day in the nationalist UCCA.
“The collapse of Kennanism in this country is a good sign,” once declared Lev Dobriansky (1918-2008), a co-founder of the infamous Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and the longtime president of the UCCA, who hailed from Manhattan’s once-vibrant, nationalistic Little Ukraine neighborhood.
By 1966, the CIA began to grow concerned, reporting that “Dobriansky has become more and more under the influence of the Bandera people.” In fact a key US ally of the OUN-B, and probably the most influential Ukrainian American in the militant “New Right movement” in the Republican Party, Lev Dobriansky was connected to numerous radical anticommunist networks in the US and abroad.
As the de facto spokesperson for Ukrainian nationalists in the United States, Dobriansky denounced Kennan’s containment strategy as an “intrinsically policyless policy of quasi-appeasement” that was “founded on the discredited belief that the two worlds – that of Soviet tyranny and the non-communist world – can live in a mutual state of co-existence.”
In 1982, two years after Dobriansky helped orchestrate the OUN-B takeover of the UCCA, he was appointed as US Ambassador to the Bahamas by President Ronald Reagan. By all indications, the Biden administration will be the most amenable to the UCCA since Reagan opened the door to the Banderite movement.
A March 2021 policy conference in Washington highlighted the growing bond between the Banderite movement and belligerent Beltway foreign policy figures tied to the Democratic Party.
Called, “Divining the New Administration’s Approach to Ukraine’s Most Pressing Security Issues,” the gathering was co-sponsored by the UCCA and organized by the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations (CUSUR), which is tied to the hip of the Banderite OUN-B.
Several “experts” from the NATO-funded Atlantic Council participated in the Banderite-run event. They included Anders Åslund, the neoliberal and often clownish economist who participated in the US-organized looting of Russia’s economy during the 1990’s. True to form, Åslund smeared Rojansky as not only an uninformed Putin apologist, but as a potential Russian agent.
Meanwhile, Atlantic Council senior fellow Melinda Haring warned of “impending disaster and disfunction,” predicting that Rojansky would “clash” with the “very hawkish,” “savvy operator” Victoria Nuland. In other words, he might balance the notoriously neoconservative tendencies of the former Obama State Department advisor who is widely seen as having stage managed the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine.
Haring and her Atlantic Council colleague, former US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, sat silently while retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the former commander of the U.S. Army Europe in 2014-18, denied that millions of Russians died in World War II.
During a previous panel, Atlantic Council senior fellow Daniel Fried also said nothing in response to his co-panelist, the nationalist Ukrainian politician, Hanna Hopko, sharing her goal of balkanizing Russia as Nazi Germany once aspired to do.
During the CUSUR event, Fried explained why New Cold Warriors like himself could never accept the appointment of someone like Rojansky. On issues related to Ukraine and Russia, Fried said the Biden administration “will not be a return to the Obama administration. It will be a return to the best sides of the Obama administration, without some of the disheartening debates that happened internally.”
Pointing to anti-Russia hardliners like Nuland and Secretary of State Tony Blinken as the “best sides of the Obama administration,” Fried articulated what has been made crystal clear by the Rojansky controversy. Having taken US-Russia relations to its post-Cold War nadir, the Russia hawks and their Ukrainian nationalist partners will be satisfied by nothing less than total control over Joe Biden’s foreign policy.
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