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The Ukraine Game

Putin is Playing Chess, While the West Plays Checkers

by JOHN WIGHT

The abiding arrogance of the West when it comes to its contemptuous disregard for the rest of the world has never been more evident than its role in the Ukrainian crisis over these past few days. The coup which brought down the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was the catalyst for a dangerous rise in tensions that show no sign of abating, with Russian troops continuing to cement their control over the Crimea, where Sevastopol is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, seizing control of the regional parliament, airports, and other strategic points.

The role of the EU in fomenting this crisis, with more than a little help from US ‘champions of democracy’ such as Senator John McCain – a man who belongs to the yee-ha! school of US foreign policy – qualifies as criminally irresponsible and politically reckless. The sight of those same political figures now attempting to claim the moral high ground vis-à-vis Moscow after ramping up tensions in Kiev and giving the protesters who occupied Maidan Square – many of them members of far right neo Nazi organisations – their unequivocal support has been embarrassing to behold.

No amount of dissembling and propaganda can alter the fact that a democratically elected government was overturned by an armed mob, with fascists and neo Nazis playing a key role, thus revealing that where the West is concerned democracy is not an end but merely a means to an end. This end is focused on the creation of governments pliant to western interests, regardless of whether those governments come by way of the ballot box or the mob. The hypocrisy in this regard is clear.

It is also clear that there is a compelling geopolitical context to these events, revolving around the struggle between the continuation of a unipolar world, wherein the writ of Washington and its allies runs anywhere it so decides regardless of international law or national sovereignty, or the multipolar alternative that the emergence of Russia, China, and other rapidly emerging economies demands.

When it comes to Russia, the re-emergence of Moscow as a global player post the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in the early nineties qualifies as a remarkable success story in Russian terms and a huge strategic and foreign policy failure by Washington and its allies. Russia’s ability to project hard power as well as soft power, utilising its oil and gas deposits as a political weapon, has been increasingly evident over the past few years, enabling it to defeat western objectives in Georgia in 2008, Syria last year, and now sees it in direct and open conflict with the West in the Ukraine. Clearly, hawks in the US and Europe have proved consistent when it comes to failing to learn the lesson that Russia is no slouch when it comes to protecting its interests.

Oil and gas is a key factor in this unfolding crisis. At the start of 2009 Russia temporarily cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in response to allegations by the Russian government that Ukraine was siphoning off gas destined for Europe. A section of the Ukrainian political and business class has been determined to turn Ukraine to the West ever since, which if successful could set in train a ripple effect that would hurt Russia economically and pose an increased security threat from Nato expansion up to its border.

That said, the relationship between Russia and Europe is by definition one of interdependence. Europe receives over 60% of its gas from Russia and Moscow depends on the revenue it receives in the process. What Putin has done by acting so decisively in sending Russian troops into the Crimea is to create that all important fact on the ground. In any negotiations that will subsequently ensue over the crisis will necessarily revolve around this key fact. The bombast being bandied around in western capitals regarding the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty is hot air, akin to a bully in a school playground accusing the boy who beats him at his own game of not fighting fair.

The sight of Russian soldiers in the Crimea is evidence that western hegemony, long held as the sine qua non of global affairs, is no longer a given. It is also further evidence that when it comes to foreign policy, Vladimir Putin is playing chess while his counterparts in Washington, London, and throughout the EU are playing checkers.

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1