By Malik Miah and Barry Sheppard
The current United States vs Russia crises has its roots in Washington’s betrayal of its well-documented promise to Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s to not to move NATO eastward.
Then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said NATO would not move “one inch” east.
NATO is a military alliance organized and controlled by the U.S. since the beginning of the Cold War against the USSR, but has continued after, with its expressed purpose to militarily confront Russia.
The U.S. has over 70,000 troops permanently stationed in European countries and is planning to now use the present crisis to send thousands more, including into former Eastern European countries along with increased offensive weapons (called “defensive” by Washington) and other military hardware.
NATO now butts up against Russia at the border with Poland, Rumania, and smaller countries, but the U.S. claims its “right” to now include Ukraine in its military alliance, which has the longest border with Russia.
This would mean the U.S.-controlled anti-Russian military alliance, including its military hardware and troops, would be up against the whole Western border of Russia, which Russia regards as an existential threat.
Origins of Conflict
When Ukraine became independent because of the break-up of the Soviet Union (and both countries and the other Soviet republics became capitalist in a social counter-revolution dismantling the nationalized and planned economy), there was no enmity between Ukraine and Russia.
Ukraine agreed that the big former Soviet naval base on the Black Sea in Sevastopol, Crimea, would be leased to Russia. From the Black Sea there is a connection to the Mediterranean through the Bosporus Strait.
Crimea became part of Russia since it was conquered under Tsarina Catherine the Great in late 1700s from the Ottoman Empire. Since the creation of the USSR in 1922, it became part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) as it was mostly Russians, while Ukraine became its own SSR.
Crimea was transferred from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR in the mid-1950s by Soviet Premier Khrushchev (himself Ukrainian) for technical logistic reasons, unnoticed by the world since it was still part of the USSR.
No one claimed that Ukraine had “stolen” Crimea from Russia.
Without going into all the history after the Stalinist counter-revolution in the USSR and the re-establishment of Great Russian chauvinism over the other Soviet Republics, some things should be noted.
By the time of the break-up of the USSR, Ukraine had become a country with roughly 50-50 ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. Both languages were official state languages.
Ethnic Ukrainians dominated the western part of Ukraine, and ethnic Russians the eastern and south-eastern part.
In both Russia and Ukraine, due to the workings of capitalism, their economies and politics became dominated over time by very rich capitalists (known in the West as “oligarchs,” which calls its own dominant very rich as just successful businesspeople).
Ukrainian politics became chaotic, with charges and counter-charges of fraud in elections to choose which “oligarch” would be president and which premier. In 2010 Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian speaker from the east, was declared president in a disputed election. He agreed to extend Russia’s lease on its Black Sea naval base, which was up for renegotiation.
This greatly angered Ukrainian nationalists.
In April 2013, Yanukovych sought to sign a treaty of association with the European Union, in search of financial aid. But in November, just as that treaty was about to be signed, Russia offered a better deal on that aid and a reduced price on natural gas into Ukraine, and the treaty with the EU was scrapped.
Pro-West Ukrainian nationalists revolted, and organized protests in Maiden Square in front of city hall in the capital, Kyiv (Kiev), calling for Yanukovych’s ouster. Undoubtedly there were at first many demonstrators who wanted not only the ouster of the “oligarch” Yanukovych but no more “oligarchs.” But it was the nationalists who dominated.
Included in the demonstrations were fascist nationalists, who looked to the Ukrainian collaborators with the Nazis in the second World War for inspiration.
At one point they took over the city hall, and from its balcony overlooking the demonstrators in the Square, displayed the collaborator’s flag patterned after the swastika as well as the Confederate flag from the U.S. This was briefly on TV in the U.S., but thereafter never referred to.
It was clear that the demonstrators saw the fascists as part of their movement.
As a result of the protests, Yanukovych was ousted with support from the military, and fled to Russia early in 2014.
The new Ukrainian nationalist government announced its intention to join NATO, which Russia correctly concluded would mean NATO takeover of its Black Sea naval base, which caused it to retake Crimea, and to reject Ukraine joining NATO.
New Regime Targets Ethnic Russians
The Ukrainian government demoted Russian as an official language, and restricted ethnic Russian’s rights. There was rebellion in the east against the new government, which launched a bloody war in the east, which caused some 13,000 deaths and 400,000 refugees to flee into Russia.
The far-right armed groups were the spearhead of the Ukrainian forces in this war.
The U.S. and the West supported the Ukrainian side, and Russia the ethnic Russians’ side.
Eventually a stalemate was reached, with two states in the Donbas region (the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics) in the hands of ethnic Russians, and some skirmishes on the border of Donbas, but no overt war.
(It should be noted that in the Donbas both Ukrainian and Russian are official government languages.)
This has been the situation of the past five years or so. A new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, was elected in 2019 — not an “oligarch”. While still maintaining the position to eventually join NATO, he has sought to keep the peace.
While the fascist groups haven’t had much electoral support since 2014, independent analysis’s say they have maintained support until today in street actions for their domestic policies.
While Zelensky still supported eventually joining NATO, there was no such move on the horizon under him.
New Situation Under Biden
Until the new president of the United States, Joe Biden, took office, and stepped up throughout 2021 its militaristic campaign against Russia, the Russian government under Putin’s increasing autocratic rule was not alarmed.
Putin has proposed as a solution in Ukraine a federal structure along the lines of the original Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015 that were rejected by Ukrainian nationalists and the U.S. because they want the Donbas crushed. That proposal if implemented would mean the two People’s Republics in the Donbas would have their own elected governments within a united Ukraine.
The US and NATO have so far rejected that proposal. Their diplomatic solution is Russia’s capitulation.
The Biden administration and military establishment declared Russia as well as China the U.S.’s main enemies. While the U.S. continues its aggressive stance against China, it is concentrating on Russia today.
The U.S. renewed the threat of Ukraine joining NATO and became more and more belligerent.
Putin has responded this year by mobilizing troops inside Russia along Ukraine’s border and renewing its stance against this renewed threat of NATO reaching its long border with Ukraine.
However, with no renewed threat to soon join NATO or to attack the Donbas by Zelensky, Putin shows no sign of invading Ukraine as the Biden administration claims.
There is no media campaign inside Russia — and the media in Russia is tightly controlled by Putin — whipping up the Russian people to prepare for war.
Now Zelensky has openly broken with the U.S., telling it to stop its warmongering, and has reassured the Ukrainian public there is no threat of war, which the Ukrainian people, both Russian and Ukrainian ethnics, very much do not want for obvious reasons. At the same time, his government has accepted military hardware from the US and NATO countries.
The Ukrainian people want to keep the peace they have established.
The Biden administration ignores the Ukrainian government’s wishes and along with the pro-Democratic Party media, presses ahead with their warmongering.
This seems completely irrational. More must be going on.
The NATO countries are not all behind Washington in reality if not verbally. Germany particularly has not joined Biden in stepping up armaments and U.S. forces to Poland and other former Eastern European countries on Russia’s borders.
France is playing both sides, but France is also calling for a more independent Europe. Germany and France have also signed trade agreements with China, against Washington’s wishes.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Mario Draghi and Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement February 1 declaring that the crisis must be defused.
Hungary is a member of NATO. After a five-hour meeting with Putin on February 2, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban said that proposed sanctions against Russia would be “doomed to failure.”
“The [Russian] president was very calm and said that Russia’s demands for security guarantees are normal and should be the basis for negotiations. And I agree with that. We must negotiate,” Orban said.
At the end of January, a conference in Madrid of far-right leaders in Europe, including Orban and Polish prime minister Mateusz Moraweiki, issued a statement ignoring the crisis except for one sentence. The statement concentrated on affirming “family values,” keeping Europe’s countries Christian, keeping out immigrants, and denouncing the European Union’s “interference.”
Moraweiki has denounced Russia but is also under domestic pressure against Ukraine for historical reasons.
Due to the conflict among NATO countries, the U.S. military moves into Eastern Europe are being done unilaterally by the U.S., not in NATO’s name, although Britain and the Baltic countries are going along.
Also, a significant rift has developed within the American people, reflecting its deep divisions. Tucker Carlson, the most important commentator on the pro-Trump Fox News, has attacked Biden’s warmongering. Other pro-Trump news outlets have joined in.
Trump himself then said publicly that it is “crazy” to be attacking Russia over Ukraine.
Trump’s fifty million hard followers get their opinions from Fox News as does Trump. This bleeds over into his softer followers. Remember that seventy-five million voted for Trump in 2020.
Some Republican politicians may want to join the warmongering, but all Republican politicians with very few exceptions will not openly oppose Trump.
Carlson, who has Trump’s ear, may believe his stance doesn’t have much opposition in the general public. There are no mass actions endorsing Biden’s warmongering, as most people aren’t very interested in Ukraine or NATO and are worried mainly about the economy and the health pandemic.
Most people in the world have heard about Russia’s opposition to Ukraine joining NATO, and more Americans are becoming aware of it, after the U.S.-Russia sharp polemic at the UN Security Council.
A commentator on CNN, which has been in the forefront of the media warmongering, after the Security Council meeting made the (absurd) assertion that the U.S. was opposed to the eastward expansion of NATO but got dragged along into it by former Eastern Europe countries.
On most foreign policy issues, there is agreement among Democrats and Republicans, with the Democrats being more hawkish. But not on Europe.
This reflects two different approaches on what to do about the loosening of the U.S. hegemony over the European imperialist powers, especially Germany, but also France and others. Both approaches are based on America First.
While Trump has few original ideas except virulent racism and his role as strongman and would-be autocratic leader, his term in office was marked by accepting the fact of reduced U.S. hegemony over Europe and responding by moving away from relying on NATO. In fact, Trump openly denigrated NATO as not important.
His approach, reflecting one wing of ruling class thinkers, was to economically out-compete all other countries. Trump at the same time expanded the use of economic sanctions.
Both parties are ready to use the dominant role of the U.S. over the world economy, indicated by the dollar as the world reserve currency and measure of value, and the Federal Reserve as the world’s central bank, to force other countries including in Europe, to knuckle under.
Both parties are sanctions-happy, as a potent weapon.
But Trump downplayed the use of military power. No new flexing of military muscle occurred during his term.
Biden is attempting to use NATO and its manufactured Ukrainian crisis to discipline the European Union back into more complete subordination.
Natural Gas Pipeline
One example has been the attempt by Biden, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken as point man, to bludgeon Germany into cancelling the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which would deliver natural gas directly from Russia to Germany, which Germany has so far refused to do.
Proposed sanctions against Russia would include stopping Nord Stream 2.
The U.S. opposition to that pipeline is not only directed against Russia but mainly Germany. Blinken claims the pipeline would give Russia power over Germany, a ridiculous assertion because Russian gas to Europe including Germany is one of Russia’s main economic export and lifeline.
The gas from Nord Stream 2 would be much cheaper for Germany than other existing pipelines, including the one that flows through Ukraine that Ukraine taxes.
It would give Germany much greater control over the flow of gas that goes to the rest of Europe. That would increase Germany’s already economic dominance in the EU — and strengthen German imperialism in relation to the U.S.
An article in the Wall Street Journal says, “Berlin reveals a serious reality: Facing the two most consequential security threats to America and to the post-World War II democratic international order—China and Russia—Germany is no longer a credible ally. For Germany, cheap gas, car exports to China and keeping Mr. Putin calm seem to be more important than allied democratic solidarity.”
It looks like this attempt to discipline the EU through NATO is running into trouble.
While there is no mass antiwar movement in the U.S. now, there are voices opposed to the U.S. war drive, including on Democracy Now, where Nation editor Katrina vender Heuval spoke, among many others including experts on Ukraine. Over 100 groups organized by CODEPINK have called for public protests.
Similar protests are beginning to occur in Europe, including Germany and France.
It is crucial for the left and all opposed to the U.S. warmongering to speak out.