US has propped up even the nastiest dictators because it had identified a US interest
Some international relations pundits working for the so called mainstream press continue to suggest that Russia is doing exactly what it did in Georgia in 2008 with Ukraine. The same press was backing down from the Russian invasion headlines in light of facts on the ground that prove otherwise, and at most calling any alleged movement of troops or equipment a limited incursion.
Very few people in Georgia or among those in the know actually believe either the Russian or Georgian official line on the 2008 conflict. It is known that both sides were already preparing for some sort of conflict and that Saakashvili jumped the gun, after his US friends told him not to, to claim all the credit for himself and assist his friend John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Rehashing their tired explanations does not help anyone understand that conflict, so alarm bells should start ringing when exactly the same explanations are given in Ukraine, whose internal situation is very different from Georgia’s.
There are things the usual commentators do not want us to see. What, exactly?
Before Russian troops have had the chance to do anything in Ukraine, assuming the reported troop movements was actually happening, Kiev has attacked itself by creating the effective partition of the country as a diversionary tactic. This is hardly the duty of a government which claims it has been elected to run the whole of Ukraine, but it is exactly what you would expect when the most extreme nationalist elements, which had no electoral credibility prior to this conflict, were inserted into it precisely to alienate the Russian-oriented section of the population.
This partition suits everyone. The east of Ukraine is largely dependent on Russian energy and industrial partners anyway, so creating a separate Russian-oriented state will probably enhance its development. But of course no government will just sign away its territory to the historic enemy, so it has to plead that it is being taken by force, and poor little Ukraine cannot defend itself against the hungry bear.
The west of the country, meanwhile, can proceed in the direction it wants without nasty and inconvenient things like democracy getting in the way. Twice Yanukovych was democratically elected, twice overthrown in so-called revolutions which the ungrateful populace still refuses to support at the ballot box. Now Ukraine can join the EU, the US can have its missile shield and the nationalist section of the population can have something nearer the sort of country it has always wanted, and blamed the Russians for not allowing it to have.
A similar divergence occurred in Czechoslovakia after it overthrew the Communists. The difference is that the Czechs and Slovaks divided into separate countries peacefully because they were both effectively on the same side, both wanting to join the EU and NATO but also wanting to address historic anomalies.
In Ukraine the two halves of the population, which have always been separate communities within one political unit, are caught on either side of a global conflict they did not create. What the West in particular is afraid of is that, if Ukraine is allowed to resolve its own problems, the reason for the global conflicts it has been nurturing so assiduously for a generation might be called into question.
Buzzwords that don’t buzz
Ukraine is now busy using its army against its own citizens in the east of the country. According to learned think tanks and the pundits used by governments, Ukraine is a sovereign country and therefore has the right to restore order on its own territory, despite the fact the present Ukrainian government took power by means of an armed revolt fomented by a foreign power, in this case the US.
It is however obvious that if your own government is using troops against you you need to call on someone else to help you. As the rebel Ukrainian regions have voted to join Russia this is obviously the country they are going to call on. The new Ukrainian government knows this and has every reason to want it.
If, for example, neighbouring Belarus or Moldova tried to intervene to stop the conflict, which would win them considerable international kudos which would help them resolve their own problems, Kiev would not be a victim. Ukraine would be a country with internal problems under international pressure to resolve them. But if mighty Russia moves in, Kiev is automatically right. Everything will be justified if Ukraine is once again a victim of Russia, despite the fact that “everything” is Kiev’s own creation.
Ukraine has seen this before. When Ukrainian nationalist “hero” Stepan Bandera mysteriously emerged from a Polish prison in 1939 he had absolutely nothing to lose. If he freed Ukraine his paymasters would set him up for life. If he failed, he would be a victim and therefore never be held accountable for the war crimes he and many of his friends committed whilst working for the Nazis. To this day even a museum to his memory in London, something that few know about, and this like having one to Hitler in the minds of Jews, Poles and others who were his victims.
There are few Nazi collaborators who are regarded with favour by significant numbers of people, but Bandera is one. It is hardly surprising the new Ukrainian government has proclaimed several times that it wishes to be seen as part of his legacy. Eternal victimhood means bearing no responsibility, and all politicians would be attracted by such a prospect.
The bombs not going off
Many countries are enduring civil war and separatist conflict. For a short period Rwanda and Burundi were in the news, but the conflict between Tutsi and Hutu in these countries has claimed more lives per capita than any other on earth. The fact that it has continued for many generations, each side giving a different starting point for it, demonstrates that it has the potential and actually to create a never-ending cycle of destruction which also affects the states where dispossessed Rwandese and Burundians live.
So there are many countries whose internal problems could prove the basis for a wider conflict. But Ukraine is the one hitting the headlines. Way back in October 2008 Washington Times writer Jeffrey T. Kuhnerm asked, “Will Russia-Ukraine be Europe’s next war?” Asking such a question then, after the Orange Revolution but before the current crisis might seem prescient, but the fact that it was asked in the Washington Times gives us a big clue about why it was asked.
Of course, Ukraine is on the geopolitical front line, wedged between the NATO bloc and a Russia which wishes to reclaim superpower status by contradicting NATO. But so are many other countries. All the countries bordering Russia to the West have ethnic minorities with historic grievances, many of whom do not think they should be in the country they are in. Ukraine is no more of a tinderbox than its neighbours, just the one the most petrol has been poured on in recent times.
It is not Ukraine which is a threat to east-west relations but the rest of the countries just west of Russia. Despite their internal divisions minority groups there are not conducting armed revolts against the national government. Indeed the Baltic States, which have an ethnic national/ethnic Russian population split very similar to Ukraine’s, are considered bywords for harmony and straightforwardness when in geopolitical theory they should be exactly the opposite.
When Latvia, for example, gained its independence it did two things. Firstly it passed a nationality law which deprived most of its large ethnic Russian population of citizenship of the new country they continued to live in. Then it set up a rugby team, so it could make its international mark in a sport the Soviets wouldn’t encourage.
Most of the rugby team, including its captain, weren’t entitled to Latvian passports due to the nationality law. But they just got on with it and found a way to satisfy everyone and keep everyone happy with the new country. All the ingredients were there to create another Ukraine, but the locals refused to allow it.
Do either the US or Russia want the largest country in Europe showing that their conflict is largely unnecessary? Russia has more to lose from any conflict for obvious reasons of geographic proximity to it, quite apart from the political blowback. The US has everything to gain from causing more trouble for Russia, undermining even the EU and gaining more dependent regimes. But what would happen if it had to face the fact there are other ways of doing things?
The bottom line
The basis of US foreign policy even in benign periods is to identify US interests and promote and defend them no matter what. Callous disregard for the welfare of its allies is the norm. All this is done for the same reasons all great powers do it – that US values are superior to everyone else’s. But few great powers, if any, have made such concerted efforts to deprive its partners, as colonies now have to be, of the same values the US tells them justify everything.
The Soviet Union imposed Soviet Communism throughout the Eastern bloc, with the exception of Yugoslavia, which developed its own even nastier version. Most US allies in the developing world would be very happy to have US-style democracy imposed on them, as they aspire to such a system and all of the USA’s other professed values. Yet time and again the US has propped up even the nastiest dictators because it had identified a US interest, so that is the way it has to be.
All this is always justified as a short term expedient necessary to preserve broader US values in a hostile world. If that were true, no country would be allowed to be a democracy or be able to function as one. But many do, and live to tell the tale. The justification for US foreign policy actions grows thinner every time other countries achieve what the US says many of its allies aren’t capable of or fit to.
Ukraine has to be in conflict to justify conflict itself. Without conflict the emperor is wearing no clothes. If such wars are unnecessary so are a lot of other things. The international system would collapse overnight if Ukraine sorted out its own affairs like everyone else does.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
First appeared: http://journal-neo.org/2014/09/14/the-global-shame-which-was-killing-ukraine/
First appeared: http://journal-neo.org/2014/09/14/the-global-shame-which-was-killing-ukraine/