Manufactured crisis in Ukraine

O, For a New Cold War! 

Posted on 1-May-2014

Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle

For Tweedledum said Tweedledee had broke his nice new rattle.

     If I was a Russian with a minimal interest in international affairs and a wish for a peaceful Russia in which my interests would be reasonably secure, I would agree with Anatoly Dobrynin's criticism of Mikhail Gorbachev that he did not insist on a watertight guarantee from the USA--the USA and not west Europe was the relevant interlocutor--that in return for his agreement to withdraw the Red Army from east Germany, NATO would either be disbanded or that it would not expand eastward. One consequence has been the relentless drive, since the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, by the USA and its west European followers to include all the non Russian former soviet republics within western security systems. In this drive, Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia became special targets. Of these Belarus has remained completely beyond reach, not for want of the west not trying. In Georgia, already in the mid-1990's joint military and air force exercises with the USA were being organised--during one visit to Georgia in 1996 my wife and I found that we were probably the only people in the hotel we used to stay in who were not connected to the US Air Force. Ukraine had by the mid 1990's a constant stream of western politicians visiting Kyiv, preaching the virtues of closer ties with the west. A notorious one was that of Malcolm Rifkind, the British defence secretary of the time who openly expressed the hope that Ukraine would one day join NATO. Georgia under Edouard Shevarnadze played along with the west without treading too heavily on Russian toes. Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine did likewise. His successors, the duo of Viktor Yushchenko and Julia Tymoshenko, managed to maintain reasonably good relations with Russia in spite of Yushchenko's clearly pro-Western leanings and the Russians created no great problems for them. Viktor Yanukovych, routinely described as pro-Russian in the western media, came to power after a fair election when the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko regime floundered.

     To western strategists and politicians eager to restrict Russia to its present day frontiers Georgia and Ukraine have looked tempting. Georgia ever since the days of its first post-Soviet leader, Gamsakhurdia has nursed a number of extreme nationalists ready to take Georgia into any anti Russian camp. Shevardnadze's successor in Georgia, Mikhail Shakashvili had some of Gamsakhurdia's leanings and had ever since he had gone on a US State Department fellowship to study in the USA developed close ties with a number of US groups and personalities including the hawkish Senator John Mc Cain. In Ukraine, unlike the Eastern and Southern regions which had been part of Russia since the days of Catherine the Great, the Western regions had at different epochs in history been under the control of Lithuania, Poland or Austria-Hungary. People in the east and the south are orthodox christians and their church until 1991 was under the Moscow patriarch. The west is Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic or was for a short while part of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. Ukrainian settlers in Canada and the USA with their roots in western Ukraine constitute at least an emotional link between the western regions of Ukraine and the USA and Canada. The fact that Viktor Yushchenko's wife, originally from western Ukraine was a US citizen until Yushchenko became President of Ukraine is a telling example of these links with the western powers. As in Georgia in Ukraine also it has been possible to incite anti-Russian feelings among sections of the population. On the other hand emotional as well as economic links with Russia have continued to be strong, particularly in Ukraine.

     Russia, even the weakened, chaotic Russia of Boris Yeltsin, has made no secret of its uneasiness at the expansion of NATO up to its frontiers. Having been unable to stop the Baltic republics, Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics or Rumania and Hungary from joining NATO it has steadfastly opposed the idea of Ukraine or the transcaucasia becoming part of NATO. It was opposed to the construction of a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech republic. When Mikhail Sahakashvili seemed bent on taking his country into NATO, Russia seized the opportunity foolishly created by Shakshvili to permanently detach South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia and it had to be entreated to withdraw its troops from the Georgian port of Poti. There has been since then no talk of Georgia joining NATO. Against this background it is difficult to believe that people in Washington, London or Paris would not have known that Putin's Russia would react strongly if an attempt was made to drag Ukraine into the embrace of the West. Yet such an attempt was made in February this year not only through a deal between Ukraine and the European Union but also by the bait of Ukraine joining NATO at some future date. When Yanukovych reportedly under Russian pressure balked at signing the deal, his Ukrainian opponents--many based in western Ukraine-- were openly incited by western politicians and diplomats in their protests against one who was the duly elected President of the country. John McCain, Catherine Ashton and Victoria Nuland among others stood with the protesters at Independence Square in Kyiv and the protests continued, certainly with covert  western support though how much is not yet clear, until Yanukovych left the country to go into exile. But also a red line drawn by Russia had been crossed. Russia swiftly moved to detach Crimea from Ukraine to incorporate it into its territory, never to return it to Ukraine. It warned the hot heads in Washington that it had the capacity to reduce the USA to a radio active waste and the hotheads in Kyiv that it would intervene to protect its citizens if that became necessary. It has stationed its troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border as a hedge against any foolhardy adventure by any group in the west. Its proposals for a federated, unified and neutral Ukraine have not yet been heeded. In the mean time anti Kyiv people--routinely described as pro-Russian in western media-- in eastern Ukraine have been seizing control of one eastern town after another. In the earlier phase of the crisis anti-Yanukovych crowds had similarly seized control of cities in the west. At this writing the acting President of Ukraine has said that his troops are unable to reestablish his government's authority over the regions in the east taken over by the crowds.

     Whatsoever may be the final denouement in Ukraine, it is unlikely to start any armed conflict between a US led west and Russia. Even as Crimea was slipping out of Ukraine's control Jo Biden found himself in Warsaw reassuring Poland and the Baltic republics that the USA would defend them against any aggression. The USA has announced plans to send some troops and equipment to Poland and the Czech republic. On the other hand Barack Obama has rejected any possibility of sending any troops to Ukraine. The west has made it clear that beyond rhetorical and symbolic economic support and perhaps some covert support it will do nothing to defend the new regime in Ukraine. And against a post Soviet Russia where the west has considerable economic interests and prospects there can be no really hurtful sanctions. Everything the USA has done since the Russian take over of Crimea suggests that its main interest has been to corral NATO and for that Putin's Russia has become a convenient bully in the neighbourhood. In brief the USA has worked to create the conditions for a new cold war in Europe. If we consider that the three main ingredients of the last cold war were ceaseless propaganda against the enemy that was the Soviet Union, emphatic calls for western solidarity and ever increasing expenditure on armaments, it is already possible to discern at least two ingredients of the new cold war: propaganda against Vladimir Putin and renewed calls for western solidarity which had been frayed during American adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third will follow soon or to put it differently, the third is a necessity that provides the impetus for a new cold war. It is interesting that soon after the Russian move on Crimea the NATO Secretary General appealed to the members of the organisation to increase their military budgets. The Economist of London wrote that by his actions Vladimir Putin had given a push to the cause of transatlantic solidarity and increased the chances of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which the USA has been pursuing with not always very enthusiastic Europeans--that Russia felt its vital security interests had been threatened is something conveniently elided in western media. Soon thereafter there appeared an article in one of American newspapers to say that the USA contributed three fourths of the NATO military budget. I forget which major American figure reiterated the old appeal to Europe to do more for its defence.

     Ever since Eisenhower's warning at the end of his presidency against the dangers of the military industrial complex driving American policy, different people at different times have spoken of the power wielded by and the lobbying of politicians done by American manufacturers of engines of war. Nothing stirs them more than the prospects of cuts in the American Defence budget. In the present circumstances, when a war weary American public will not countenance another American military engagement abroad and when there is widespread discontent among those who suffered during what is being called the Great Recession, new justifications have to be found to make sure that there are no real cuts in defence expenditure. If the USA through strengthening transatlantic solidarity ensures its influence in Europe continues undiminished, that will always be an important bonus. A new cold war serves all these ends admirably. Once launched, the cold war will produce its army of political scientists, area experts, university professors and journalists to write reams of theoretical justifications. If this turns out to be the case, the profits of Boeing, Nortrhrop, Lockheed Martin, sundry manufacturers electronics, special materials and oil companies will increase and so will the earnings of members of the US Congress. And if a new cold war in Europe does start, the dupes in this game will be the people of the USA and of other western democracies which enroll in this venture, the poor Ukrainian politicians who seized power in Kyiv in March and the westward looking elites in Asia and Africa for whom the most obvious and blatant propaganda in the supposedly free western press, radio and television is nothing but cool, dispassionate analysis, nothing but truth, only truth.       


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