It's Not Russia That's Pushed Ukraine to the Brink of War -- It's the US
May 2, 2014
Seumas Milne / The Guardian & Michael Shank and Daniel L. Davis / US News & World Report
Analysis: When the Ukrainian president was replaced by a US-selected administration, in an entirely unconstitutional takeover, British politician William Hague brazenly misled parliament about the legality of what had taken place: the imposition of a pro-western government on Russia's border. Both Republican and Democrat administrations and Congress have contributed to the crisis. If we fail to admit that our collective actions have contributed to the current state of affairs, the risk of further instability increases.
It's Not Russia That's Pushed Ukraine to the Brink of War
The attempt to lever Kiev into the western camp by ousting an elected leader made conflict certain. It could be a threat to us all
Seumas Milne / The Guardian
(April 30, 2014) -- The threat of war in Ukraine is growing. As the unelected government in Kiev declares itself unable to control the rebellion in the country's east, John Kerry brands Russia a rogue state. The US and the European Union step up sanctions against the Kremlin, accusing it of destabilising Ukraine. The White House is reported to be set on a New Cold War policy with the aim of turning Russia into a "pariah state".
That might be more explicable if what is going on in eastern Ukraine now were not the mirror image of what took place in Kiev a couple of months ago. Then, it was armed protesters in Maidan Square seizing government buildings and demanding a change of government and constitution. US and European leaders championed the "masked militants" and denounced the elected government for its crackdown, just as they now back the unelected government's use of force against rebels occupying police stations and town halls in cities such as Slavyansk and Donetsk.
"America is with you," SeNATOr John McCain told demonstrators then, standing shoulder to shoulder with the leader of the far-right Svoboda party as the US ambassador haggled with the state department over who would make up the new Ukrainian government.
When the Ukrainian president was replaced by a US-selected administration, in an entirely unconstitutional takeover, politicians such as William Hague brazenly misled parliament about the legality of what had taken place: the imposition of a pro-western government on Russia's most neuralgic and politically divided neighbour.
Putin bit back, taking a leaf out of the US street-protest playbook -- even though, as in Kiev, the protests that spread from Crimea to eastern Ukraine evidently have mass support. But what had been a glorious cry for freedom in Kiev became infiltration and insatiable aggression in Sevastopol and Luhansk.
After Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the bulk of the western media abandoned any hint of even-handed coverage. So Putin is now routinely compared to Hitler, while the role of the fascistic right on the streets and in the new Ukrainian regime has been airbrushed out of most reporting as Putinist propaganda.
So you don't hear much about the Ukrainian government's veneration of wartime Nazi collaborators and pogromists, or the arson attacks on the homes and offices of elected communist leaders, or the integration of the extreme Right Sector into the national guard, while the anti-semitism and white supremacism of the government's ultra-nationalists is assiduously played down, and false identifications of Russian special forces are relayed as fact.
The reality is that, after two decades of eastward NATO expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west's attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defence structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement. Its rejection led to the Maidan protests and the installation of an anti-Russian administration -- rejected by half the country -- that went on to sign the EU and International Monetary Fund agreements regardless.
No Russian government could have acquiesced in such a threat from territory that was at the heart of both Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin's absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive, and the red line now drawn: the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by NATO or the EU.
But the dangers are also multiplying. Ukraine has shown itself to be barely a functioning state: the former government was unable to clear Maidan, and the western-backed regime is "helpless" against the protests in the Soviet-nostalgic industrial east.
For all the talk about the paramilitary "green men" (who turn out to be overwhelmingly Ukrainian), the rebellion also has strong social and democratic demands: who would argue against a referendum on autonomy and elected governors?
Meanwhile, the US and its European allies impose sanctions and dictate terms to Russia and its proteges in Kiev, encouraging the military crackdown on protesters after visits from Joe Biden and the CIA director, John Brennan.
But by what right is the US involved at all, incorporating under its strategic umbrella a state that has never been a member of NATO, and whose last elected government came to power on a platform of explicit neutrality? It has none, of course -- which is why the Ukraine crisis is seen in such a different light across most of the world.
There may be few global takers for Putin's oligarchic conservatism and nationalism, but Russia's counterweight to US imperial expansion is welcomed, from China to Brazil.
In fact, one outcome of the crisis is likely to be a closer alliance between China and Russia, as the US continues its anti-Chinese "pivot" to Asia. And despite growing violence, the cost in lives of Russia's arms-length involvement in Ukraine has so far been minimal compared with any significant western intervention you care to think of for decades.
The risk of civil war is nevertheless growing, and with it the chances of outside powers being drawn into the conflict. Barack Obama has already sent token forces to eastern Europe and is under pressure, both from Republicans and NATO hawks such as Poland, to send many more. Both US and British troops are due to take part in NATO military exercises in Ukraine this summer.
The US and EU have already overplayed their hand in Ukraine. Neither Russia nor the western powers may want to intervene directly, and the Ukrainian prime minister's conjuring up of a third world war presumably isn't authorised by his Washington sponsors. But a century after 1914, the risk of unintended consequences should be obvious enough -- as the threat of a return of big-power conflict grows. Pressure for a negotiated end to the crisis is essential.
Dirt on Our Hands
Misguided US foreign policy is partly to blame for the crisis in Ukraine
Michael Shank and Daniel L. Davis / US News & World Report
(April 29, 2014) -- Before allowing pride to further cloud sound judgment in global engagement, it is critical for America to bring back into balance an appropriate recognition of our country's strengths -- and a sober recognition of its weaknesses -- while also treating other nations with equality and respect. Our own economic success and national security may depend on getting it right.
The most recent manifestation of misplaced hubris is the current crisis involving Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea. A popular theme quickly emerged from many opinion leaders in Washington that the state of Russia merely exposed its latent tendencies to conquer, and only the weakness of the current occupant of the White House emboldened the Kremlin to strike now.
What's needed, claim many, is for the US government to "get tough" with Moscow, a sort of reprise of Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength."
Unfortunately, this rendering of events wholly eliminates more than two decades of US missteps -- from both Republican and Democrat administrations and Congresses -- that have contributed to the current crisis. If we fail to recognize and admit that our collective actions have contributed to the current state of affairs, the risk of further instability increases.
[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Ukraine-Crimea crisis.]
When the US was pushing for the expansion of NATO in 1997, 50 foreign policy experts, including Susan Eisenhower and former Sens. Sam Nunn and Gary Hart, wrote an open letter to President Bill Clinton arguing against NATO expansion, warning of the potential for future consequences to America.
The letter claimed that NATO expansion would "decrease allied security and unsettle European stability" and presciently warned that "in Russia, NATO expansion, which continues to be opposed across the entire political spectrum, will strengthen the nondemocratic opposition, undercut those who favor reform and cooperation with the West, bring the Russians to question the entire post-Cold War settlement, and galvanize resistance in the Duma to the START II and III treaties."
Virtually every one of their concerns came to pass, as START II never went into effect and START III was never completed, directly attributable, in part, to NATO expansion.
Our proclivity to disregard Russian concerns continued. In the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the United States, Britain and Spain sought a new United Nations Security Council resolution that could be construed as authorizing force against Iraq.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia released an extraordinary declaration stating that the UN inspections were making progress and should be given more time. "In these circumstances," the statement read, "we will not let a proposed resolution pass that would authorize the use of force. Russia and France, as permanent members of the Security Council, will assume all their responsibilities on this point."
That same day, the Guardian reported that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "the US was prepared to lead a war against Iraq, with or without the consent of the UN." When it became clear such a resolution would not pass, the US withdrew the request and moved ahead irrespective of concerns regarding international law or the views of other major powers, and plunged the region into war.
[Read contributors Dan Gonzales and Sarah Harting on the importance of revealing Russia's covert actions.]
Five years later, and after nearly a decade of conflict following the initial breakup of Yugoslavia, the US and the West again declared their unilateral interpretation of international law in the recognition of Kosovo independence and in justifying the bombing of Serbian forces. Russian protests of the illegality of the actions were summarily dismissed, while the rights of self-determination for Kosovo were lauded.
In early 2008, the Guardian reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin "yesterday accused Europe and the United States of double standards over their support for an independent Kosovo, and warned that any declaration of statehood by Pristina would be 'illegal, ill-conceived and immoral'" and quoted him as announcing, "Other countries look after their interests. We consider it appropriate to look after our interests. We have done some homework and we know what we will do."
We ignored Putin's words then. It appears he has made good on them now.
Though many American and Western pundits pin all the blame for the current crisis in the Ukraine on Putin, it is clear that our hands are not clean. The fact is that the current situation is dangerous and Russian actions are indeed destabilizing. Having inflamed nationalist inclinations in Crimea, Russia appears to be sending agents into numerous parts of eastern Ukraine.
Because of historic fears of Russian aggression, Poland and the Baltics (among others) have understandable concerns and are seeking greater military contacts with NATO and are planning bilateral military exercises with American troops. Statements coming out of Moscow seem to justify this concern.
But if American policy continues to place all the blame on Russia for this current crisis without accepting any responsibility for our actions over the past two decades, the danger of escalation rises. The longer this deteriorating situation persists, it is clear that all sides will suffer increasing economic loss.
[See a collection of editorial cartoons on Vladimir Putin and Russia.]
Effectively navigating through the international environment is challenging under the best of circumstances. There are many different cultures and political systems through which effective foreign policy must be conducted. But finding policy that benefits our country is complicated when we refuse to admit when we have made mistakes.
Cooperative international engagement in an atmosphere of mutual respect, with a healthy dose of humility, will go far to increase our chances of fostering a stable international environment.
Michael Shank, Ph.D., is associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Daniel L. Davis is a Lt. Col. in the US Army and has deployed into combat zones four times. He was the 2012 Ridenhour Prize winner for Truth Telling.
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