Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News – 2014-04-15 01:37:26
(April 13, 2014) — “Make no mistake,” declared Barack Obama, President of the United States. “Neither the United States nor Europe has any interest in controlling Ukraine. We have sent no troops there.”
Obama assured his European audience of his best intentions in Brussels on March 26. He had already assured Americans that he would not enter into a hot war. “We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine,” he told a TV audience in San Diego. The United States, he said in St. Louis, “does not need to trigger an actual war with Russia.”
Yet, as Obama proudly announced in Brussels, he had already unleashed the dogs of war. NATO planes were patrolling the skies over the Baltics, and “we’ve reinforced our presence in Poland.” He did not mention that his main man at NATO, a four star Air Force general named Philip Breedlove, was testifying that very day to the House Armed Services Committee. As the intrepid Eli Lake reports, the very gung-ho general was sounding far more bellicose than his civilian commander in chief.
This Tuesday, Gen. Breedlove will formally report on how he wants to redeploy NATO assets to “reassure” our Eastern European allies. His report will no doubt confirm that Team Obama is still in charge, though Breedlove will continue to provide Republican and Democratic critics more than enough ammunition to challenge the president’s leadership.
Putin, for his part, has so far moved his pieces cleverly, bringing Crimea into the Russian Federation with almost no violence, a masterful use of his special forces, and a show of popular democracy, though quickly-called plebiscites have a long, smelly history of tyrannical abuse.
His gambit even showed a strained rationality, safeguarding Moscow’s warm-water access to the Mediterranean against potential threats from extremely anti-Soviet forces and their Western backers in Kiev.
But for all his tactical brilliance, Vlad the Conqueror left himself little way to avoid strategic defeat. With his flagrant disregard for established borders that Moscow had pledged to defend, he made many Ukrainians who formerly opposed joining NATO now beg for Western protection.
He increased fear of Russia throughout Eastern Europe. He promoted hope among ethnic minorities who want to break free of Russia’s own borders. He boosted efforts to seek long-term alternatives to Europe’s current dependence on Russia’s natural gas.
He encouraged Angela Merkel’s Germany to swallow its anger over Washington’s prying eyes and find new comfort in NATO, a build-up of the country’s military forces, and a sudden willingness to deploy them on their old stomping grounds in Eastern Europe. And he whipped up a nasty Russian nationalism that could become ever more dangerous.
Where Putin goes from here could make the situation even worse for everyone, including himself. Like a Grand Master, he has positioned his troops on Ukraine’s border, where he can deploy them in any number of directions without giving the other side any idea of what he is likely to do next. He could protect his newly-won Crimea should Kiev cut off its gas and fresh water.
He could take Ukraine’s naval port at Odessa, further diminishing the country’s military potential. He could race across Ukraine “to protect” the pro-Russian enclave of Transdniestria, in neighboring Moldova. Or he could take over all or part of predominantly Russian-speaking eastern and southern Ukraine.
These are his clearest military options. His political options play an even bigger role. The very presence of the troops and his apparent use of special forces within Ukraine are putting enormous pressure on Kiev and its Western backers.
Combining this with a diplomatic push to grant greater autonomy to the Russian-speaking regions, Putin seeks to play them off against the central government to keep Ukraine as an independent buffer between Russia and the West, with a government that is not anti-Russian and an army that will never become part of NATO. This is far more important to Russia than any of the cockamamie theories from modern Kremlinologists about why Putin does what he does.
“We want Ukraine to be whole within its current borders, but whole with full respect for the regions,” explains the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
The clash is obvious. Russia’s fairly rational needs fly in the face of Ukrainian nationalism as defined by the followers of Stepan Bandera, whether among the newly empowered neo-Nazis or in the Fatherland party of the American-backed prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The push and shove is just beginning, and Yatsenyuk has already moved to promise the Russian-speaking regions greater autonomy, though not as much as Russia demands.
In the end, the only solution likely to keep Kiev from losing any more of its territory is for Washington and the Europeans to negotiate a deal with Putin and impose it on some very unhappy Ukrainians. The alternative, in the tradition of Bandera, could be a long, bloody, and “heroic” guerrilla war. What a nightmare that would be for both Russia and the West!
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, “Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.”
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