Unlike many observers, I am not surprised at Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. Without being sympathetic to the regime in Moscow, it is fair and reasonable to write that Washington’s determined refusal to reject the possibility of NATO membership for Ukraine pretty much determined the course Moscow would take. As Washington has proved over and over in the post-World War II era, superpowers turn to military action when their patience runs thin. In Washington’s case, that patience has usually been much shorter than that of Moscow.
Moscow’s military intervention is wrong. Unlike its interventions, while it was the capital of the Soviet Union—interventions which were often in support of anti-colonial struggles for national liberation—this intervention in Ukraine is just twenty-first-century imperialism. Like Washington’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and its insinuation into dozens of nations around the world under the guise of a war on terror, Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine is a forceful attempt to impose its will on a government it has no use for, but whose land and resources it hopes to control.
It can be argued that the ever-deepening intrusion of US influence and investments combined with the growing military links between the Pentagon and Kyiv’s Defense ministry is proof of Washington’s ongoing strategy to encircle Russia. The proof of this campaign is in every map detailing NATO expansion since the end of the Soviet Union. Furthering that argument, it can also be said that Russia has every right to do whatever it can to prevent its enemy from incorporating Ukraine into its military alliance that masquerades as a defense agreement. In terms of what used to be called superpower politics, Russia is merely playing the superpower game. After its diplomatic demands were rejected time and time again, it has raised the stakes by attacking.
What exactly is a superpower? In essence, it is a nation with tremendous economic and military power capable of influencing international events and the acts and policies of less powerful nations. During the period known as the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States were considered as such. After the Soviet Union disintegrated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Washington became the sole superpower. Instead of using that historical moment to promote peace and disarmament, Washington proved its imperial nature and intensified its drive for world domination. In Europe, this meant the expansion of its military alliance familiarly known by its acronym NATO. In the Middle East, this meant greater support for the state of Israel and brazen military operations against governments opposed to Washington’s plans; governments that insisted on their sovereignty. While Russia battled its way out of its leftover Stalinist bureaucratic state and into a new role as an unbridled capitalist economy and China emerged as a dominant economic power, Washington played classic imperial politics and planted itself in strategic locations around the world.
These dynamics created the current situation. Despite occasional news items from the United States claiming otherwise, China appears to be the peak economic power in this scenario. However, Washington’s overwhelming military apparatus has provided it with the ability to get its way when it wants to. Russia, being the third member of this unholy triad, has determined its military is also its best means to stay in this inter-capitalist struggle. The invasion of Ukraine is its latest test of this approach. Its defense of the Syrian government is another incarnation.
Syria was a democracy before 2011 as much as Ukraine has been since 2014. In other words, it passed as a democratic government because that description served the interests of Washington at the time. In the wake of the so-called Arab Spring protests there, the Syrian government freaked out and cracked down. Meanwhile, ever since the US-installed the “democracy” in Ukraine, Kyiv has been fighting separatists in its eastern provinces. In a manner similar to how the Syrian protesters in 2011 went from unarmed protests to armed conflict with support from outside nations and groups (US, UAE, SA, etc.) in response to harsh repression, the separatists in Ukraine turned to armed conflict, presumably with outside assistance from Russia. Meanwhile, the government in Kyiv continued to entangle itself in a web of US military and economic deals that did more to determine its direction than anything its population might have wanted.
In a recent Washington Post column, armchair general and diplomat Robert Kagan blamed Russia and China for the current crisis in Ukraine. Of course, this is not surprising. After all, pretending that Washington is a peacemaker and a defender of anything but its own interests is how he makes his living. Kagan’s argument ignores the role the expansion of NATO played in the current situation and the number of military conflicts begun and carried out by the US since 1991. Like too many supporters of US imperialism, he refuses to apply the criticisms he makes of Russia and China to the US—when it is Washington’s arrogance and desire for hegemony that has done more to create the situation he describes than any other nation. Kagan, who is a part of the often interventionist and neoliberal Brookings Institute, is one of those commentators whose insistence on the goodness of US motives is used to justify the most terrible of deeds. His understanding of US policy denies the very existence of a US empire and in doing so, dismisses the possibility of Washington’s interests being based in the most base of motives—greed and arrogance. As we will see in the editorials and news coverage to come in the next weeks, Kagan’s positions and rationales for those positions are shared by the bulk of the US establishment.
The desire for a wider war in Europe seems to be pretty much non-existent at the time of this writing. This is true not only for the people of Europe, but also for the governments that rule them. Unfortunately, as the machinations of the past few weeks leading up to Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine, their role in preventing a wider war appears limited. Indeed, at this writing, it seems Moscow and Washington are in control, just like they want to be. Not the EU, not Ukraine, but the world’s leading imperialist power and one of its up-and-coming rivals hold the future of Europe in their bloody hands. One hopes saner minds will take that future back before it is too late.