Talk about a contrived crisis. NATO, in its ongoing struggle to create enemies and thereby provide itself with a reason to exist, is now calling Russia its greatest threat. In other words, there really is no threat, unless NATO provokes Moscow and in doing so, creates one. In the current period—one that was preceded most recently by almost complete military domination of the world by the United States—Russia’s recent and relatively mild reactions to its growing encirclement by US client regimes and NATO military forces has been ratcheted up to what NATO is calling the greatest threat faced by NATO since that its heyday. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the Soviet Union (SU) was ever the threat US citizens were told it was by their government, this recent statement by NATO is overblown and, more importantly, potentially quite dangerous.
During the final years of the Soviet Union, numerous discussions took place between officials of the SU under Mikhail Gorbachev and officials of the US and Germany. These discussions intensified after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. A part of these discussions focused on the continuing existence of NATO and its eastern European counterpart, the Warsaw Pact. Although NATO survived the dissolution of the so-called Soviet Bloc, the Warsaw Pact did not. An undertone of the ongoing discussions between Moscow and Washington was an understanding that NATO would not attempt to recruit nations that were previously in the Moscow-led alliance. According to the NATO newsletter NATO Review, this understanding was never written down and was therefore essentially meaningless. In fact, here is a quote detailing this perception from the journal’s spring 2015 edition:
Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the “2+4 Treaty” ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe. It is these conversations that may have left some Soviet politicians with the impression that NATO enlargement, which started with the admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999, had been a breach of these Western commitments.”
In other words, Washington lied, again. Consequently, NATO began to invite/entice several nations from the defunct Warsaw Pact into its orbit, beginning with Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999. This resulted in NATO forces moving closer and closer to Russia’s eastern flank. Anyone who suggests that there is no strategic element to the incorporation of these and several other nations bordering (or much closer to) Russia is a liar. Anyone who believes this is a fool. The facts seem pretty clear. Washington and its western allies saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its alliance as an opportunity to further intimidate Moscow by moving its military forces closer to Russian borders while simultaneously incorporating the economies of the new NATO nations into the neoliberal fantasy then being constructed in the banks and legislatures of the United States, Britain, and Germany.
It is now 2015. After a US-sponsored coup in Ukraine that installed a government favorable to Washington and its plans, various separatist movements coalesced in regions of Ukraine where the majority of the population favors Moscow. The coup itself was preceded by a reasonably popular movement among Ukrainians that was partially funded by western NGOs and US government agencies fronting as pro-democracy organizations. The movement organized a series of protests following election results they did not agree with. After weeks of these protests, armed elements provoked an insurrection in Kiev that resulted in the aforementioned coup. It was only a matter of days before the separatist elements opposed to the new Kiev government held protests that were attacked. The protests turned quickly to armed rebellions, most likely funded (at least partially) by Moscow. A referendum on secession from Ukraine was held in the Crimean region of Ukraine that went overwhelmingly for secession. Despite the election’s non-recognition by most of the west, Crimea remains separate from Ukraine. In the Ukrainian east, battles continue to rage between Ukrainian military units and separatist militias. Estimates of the dead from this conflict range from 6000 to 50,000.
Europe is understandably concerned. The continent fears the battle may spread and wants the war to end. Meanwhile, Washington seems to be pushing for it to intensify. NATO is sending a total of 30,000 rapid-reaction forces to its easternmost members’ borders. In Washington, legislators from both sides of the aisle together with Secretary of State John Kerry and others in the government are lobbying to send lethal weapons to Kiev’s forces. It is fairly certain that Moscow is already arming the separatists. The possibility of a greater war is genuine.
There are those who see the conflict in Ukraine as evidence of a new “cold” war, like that between the Soviet Union and the United States after World War Two. This comparison is misleading. There were genuine ideological and economic differences that fueled the dispute between the United States and Soviet Union. These differences do not exist in the current moment. The United States operates under a monopoly capitalist economy; so does Russia. Both nations are also nominally democracies that are in reality governments run by oligarchs and banks. A better template to utilize when examining the conflict between Washington and Moscow can be found earlier in history. It is the template of inter-imperial rivalry.
To put it simply, Washington does not want its planetary hegemony challenged. Meanwhile, Russia desires to maintain its domination of the world near its borders, while perhaps also playing with the idea of its own “sphere of influence.” The encirclement of Moscow’s western flank by NATO threatens that domination in a very real way. So, Moscow is fighting back. Russia’s position is not merely a defensive one, but it is certainly the weaker player in this game. If Washington begins to arm Kiev, the stakes for Moscow become even greater.
Meanwhile, Kiev refuses to call the conflict a war. Instead, it is being termed a terrorist operation. Naturally, the reason is related to the neoliberal IMF loans Kiev has coming; such loans would be much more difficult to obtain if it was officially at war. The will of those being conscripted to fight in Ukraine’s military is less than enthusiastic, with draft resistance growing. Antiwar protests in both Russia and Ukraine are also growing in size. However, in the United States are the citizens allowing their politicians and generals to involve their nation in the conflict without any sizable protest.
There are no good guys in this conflict. The people of Ukraine are fighting battles in which they are ultimately pawns. Arming either side is cynical and manipulative and paves the way for an expansion of the war perhaps even beyond Ukraine’s borders. A truce should be agreed to that leaves all forces in place while the warring sides and their sponsors negotiate an end to the armed conflict. The motivation for this war resides in the desire to control resources and territory, directly and otherwise. Those Ukrainians desiring independence from Russia are seeing that desire being manipulated by Washington and local politicians with their own designs. Those desiring independence from the new Kiev government are experiencing a similar scenario. The longer the war continues, the more it will be influenced by Washington and Moscow. And the more blood will be spilled.
Ron Jacobs is the author of a series of crime novels called The Seventies Series. All the Sinners, Saints, is the third novel in the series. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground . Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. His book Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies will be published by Counterpunch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.