by Barry Grossman*
For those of us who came of age during the Cold war, recent events in the Ukraine trigger a sense of déjà vu as if we some magically stepped through a time portal. The Hegelian dialogue regarding these events offered through MSM and alternative media alike once again presents with us a false dichotomy which urges us in true Cold war fashion to adopt one of two views as if no other view is valid.
That this false dichotomy is packaged from either end as a choice between “right” and “wrong” when in fact the key proponents of either position are clearly acting entirely out of opportunistic self-interest rather than principle makes this throw back to the unreality of Cold War posturing all the more offensive and delusional.
Given what we have learned about global geopolitics since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we would all do well to avoid buying into the posturing and bellicose doomsday scenarios being touted by special interests on either side and instead focus on such incontrovertible facts as are available to us, even if many of these facts must by their nature be expressed in somewhat sweeping terms. In doing so, we should always be mindful of admonitions in al Qur’an and Hadith which direct us to find some in our analysis of political events and the affairs public officials without engaging in fitna, gossiping, backbiting or lying, especially in times of crises.
Lastly, we also would do well to remember that this is not a football game. There is no reason why we should feel inclined to embrace one side over the other simply because, for example, we are inclined to feel that the recent tactical antics of either have bestowed some short term positional advantage or disadvantage, as the case may be, to interests or causes we personally identify with.
There is no way to polish a “turd.” We cannot claim to be motivated by Islamic ideals and ethics if we embrace the self-interested and corrupt pragmatism of secularists like Putin, no matter how much his tactical machinations may appear to confer some short term positional advantage to causes we support. The notion that “our enemy’s enemy is our friend” is one of the most perverse, absurd and corrupting clichés ever articulated.
The tendency of those who oppose the foreign orchestrated Syria intervention to somehow elevate Vladimir Putin to near hero status as a result of his recent tactical moves, is no less naïve than those who vilify him based entirely on spin from the West’s insincere Ukraine strategy which, through the agency of a few expert individuals managing the project, was crafted by private think tanks like the Council on Foreign relations and the Brookings Institute, while various insiders from the military-industrial complex, roving NeoCons and the ever present insatiable corporate interests are all chomping at the bit to advance their related agendas.
Russian and the USA are secular societies
“Neither the US/European position in the Ukraine nor that of Russia can be held up as examples of principled conduct motivated by a desire for security in a multi-polar world order. While the Russian position on its face appears less objectionable due to its vital security and national interests in the Crimea as well as the West’s ongoing, calculated encroachment on former Soviet territories which remain within the Russian Federation sphere of regional influence, both the US and Russia are clearly playing out a zero sum game like hyena’s fighting over the not quite dead corpus of a corrupt Ukraine which was itself fabricated at Russia’s expense out of the Soviet Union’s collapse.”
Instead of letting our biases get the best of us by embracing the false Hegelian dichotomy implicit in the current narrative, for the sake of argument and understanding, it would be far more sensible to assume that both the US/Eurozone and the Putin/Russian positions are motivated not by principle but rather by self-interested pragmatism and opportunism, which are the very anti-thesis of Islamic ethics. Should anyone be confused about this bald assertion, they should remember that both Russian and the USA are secular societies increasingly dominated by those who have no faith and openly exhibit contempt for the letter and spirit of Islam.
Bearing in mind the established records of the various “players” involved in the current Ukraine Project and those “hard facts” which have emerged, we can safely assume that in fact those advancing both positions in the prevailing narrative are by, Islamic standards of morality, acting improperly and contributing to a conflagration which does not properly serve the interests of legitimate stakeholders, the most significant of which must surely be the silent majority of Ukrainians who it is reasonable to expect want nothing less than a legitimate, uncorrupted political leadership committed to , among other things, protecting the Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.
In considering their position, we would do well to question who but they has a right to their ancestral lands, property and the fruits of their labour?
What has been happening in the Ukraine and what it mean?
Post-Soviet Ukraine was a completely new entity, created in 1991 both as a state and as a nation during the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse. There seems to be a consensus that from the outset the new State of Ukraine was plagued by corruption although there is little agreement about the underlying causes of this corruption which clearly are far too complicated to discuss here.
CFR and the Brookings Institute
“What we see over and over again is the largely corporatized US security apparatus or, if you like, the present manifestation of what President Eisenhower first described as the military-industrial complex, introducing destructive elements into targeted nations which are calculated to dismantle the political status quo while creating other long term problems which eventually can be used to justify further intervention to advance long term US policy which invariably lays the foundations for a full corporate takeover of the targeted nation’s resources, finances, economic policies and markets.”
The dominant view about the Ukraine advanced by the political status quo in the US has been repeatedly articulated by a handful of specialists writing interchangeably for US based Think Tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institute. These private and mostly corporate funded Think Tanks have become the ovens in which what passes as US public policy is baked for implementation by the political, corporate and security apparatus.
Once a particular view has received the imprimatur of the CFR or Brookings Institute, it will almost certainly be embraced by the Davos men and women of the World Economic Forum, the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank and, of course, to one degree or another, the political and security apparatus of the US dominated Atlantic World. That is not to imply that there is some kind of conspiracy, as distinct from simply pointing out that this is essentially how what they have long referred to as the New World Order works. It’s a club and is in true colonial fashion the vast majority of us, including anyone who does fully submit to the political status quo, barred from membership.
So what were these expert policy makers saying publicly about the Ukraine before the recent Putsch in Kiev and subsequent secession referendum in the Crimea? The prevailing view which, at least publicly, is said to ground the West’s position is expressed by this extract from the executive summary of a major CFR publication titled “Averting Crises in the Ukraine.” Without in any way endorsing its view, this is a summary of what the CFR had to say about the matter:
“Although [the Ukraine] appeared poised for progress after the Orange Revolution in 2004, it remains gripped by corruption, repression, and oligarchy. Yanukovych won the 2010 presidential election [but] Orange-era infighting had weakened political institutions and fatigued voters, allowing Yanukovych to centralize power with little resistance.” Ukraine’s economy has enough money to make the oligarchs rich, but not the people. Ukraine’s fifty richest citizens control almost half of GDP.
Ukraine has a classic rentier curse. Oligarchs and politicians, often one and the same, extract rents from the transit of energy and other scams. Some prices are market based and others controlled, creating huge opportunities for arbitrage. Various licenses and concessions depend on political favor, facilitating corrupt lobbying, and oligarchs.
Notwithstanding relatively liberal privatization laws, the process came to benefit oligarchs. Most big enterprises were sold by closed discount cash sales. Today, without an effective legal system, all property remains insecure. Violent corporate raiding is widespread; oligarchs use mafia muscle to take over each other’s firms and scare away most foreign investors. The black economy accounts for 40 to 50 percent of official GDP. Ukraine has received support from international financial institutions, but these funds have been small relative to Ukraine’s GDP. The country’s failure to enact reforms has repeatedly marred its relationship with the International Monetary Fund.
The current Yanukovych government has curtailed freedom of assembly and used the security and tax services to harass activists. … Ukraine’s media have generally functioned as an instrument of power rather than an independent force. Many media companies have long been left in private hands under “reliable” oligarchic control, fostering self-censorship. The Orange Revolution allowed a window of media freedom, but today many journalists face bullying and bribery. The law in Ukraine is deliberately capricious and its application arbitrary. Because the population must constantly break the law, authorities can decide whom to prosecute, and they wield this authority to consolidate power. Punishment is used to disable anyone who challenges the system; forgiveness is used as patronage. Most judges are holdovers from the Communist era and continue to respond to instructions from officials. Conviction rates top 99 percent.
Reforms passed in 2010 have increased executive control over the judiciary. Yanukovych created two new courts to bypass relatively independent ones and he purged the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court. Other executive bodies gained control over judicial appointments. The ease with which authorities launched political prosecutions in 2011 and 2012—most prominently against Tymoshenko—showed the new system’s weakness. Today, politicians routinely take bribes from oligarchs or are oligarchs themselves. Members of parliament are immune from prosecution, making public office a gravy train. A place on an electoral list is estimated to cost $5 million in bribes to party leaders.”
The CFR’s complaints about income disparity in the Ukraine surely must ring hollow to anyone informed about income disparity in the United States.
So what of the US/Eurozone position and their conduct in the Ukraine? Can we say with any degree of certainty, as Russia alleges that they have conducted themselves improperly?
Did the US advance an illegitimate policy in the region and conduct itself improperly in the events leading up to the Putsch?
NeoCon’s “Rebuilding Americas Defenses”
We only need to pose the question in order to come up against the first stumbling block to a clear answer. Ideologically and politically, the Atlantic World still embraces a naïve and idealised view of both democracy and capitalism notwithstanding that corrupted versions of both ideal have for more than 30 years been inculcated in the public consciousness by well resourced Neo-Conservatives. Conveniently, this idealised fantasy not only ignores the hard realities of crony capitalism, corporatism, ideological presumption and an ever expanding concept of national security, but it also brokers no competing beliefs which might hold sway in other sovereign states around the world.
First and foremost of those beliefs undermined and rejected by the NeoConservative vision is Islamic Monotheism which stands alone as the last genuine bulwark against a NWO built on amoral pragmatism and corporate domination. In this upside down world of deceptions, the point at which many of our criticisms of US foreign policy and exceptionalism start, tends to be exactly the same point at which those who blindly embrace the paradigm promoted by the take umbrage by arrogantly asserting that Atlantic World interests are only doing that which national security and capitalism require for the betterment of mankind.
While US exceptions are shielded by a corrupted notion of National Security, our morality based exceptions are discounted ab initio by the ideological presumptions implicit Atlantic World’s fraudulent paradigm.
Whether by accident or by design, the US/Eurozone position on the Ukraine and, indeed, on Syria as well as the Middle East as a whole, closely reflects the long standing positions promulgated by the leading private US based think tanks, as well as by the once proud but now publicity shy architects the NeoCon’s Project for a New American Century as set out in its document “Rebuilding Americas Defenses.”
That Yanukovych was corrupt cannot be disputed but the CFR assessment quoted above conveniently ignores the standing US and European polices of encroaching on Russia’s sphere of influence by admitting the transitional democracies of the former Soviet bloc into NATO and the European Union, and establishing a free trade area between an enlarged European Union and North America through the now-defunct, NeoCon dominated, New Atlantic Initiative and through the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program.
The ugly picture painted by the private, US public policy making apparatus and, more importantly, its larger agenda can also be seen as an evolution of the US policy on the former Yugoslavia as set out in President Reagan’s secret 1984 National Security Decision Directive NSDD 133. That directive advocated “expanded efforts to promote a ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow Communist governments and parties,” while reintegrating the countries of Eastern Europe into a market-oriented economy. President Reagan’s policy, though modified, has been given new thrust since the 90’s albeit with the underlying agenda of containing what is now anything but a communist Russian Federation having replaced any underlying concern about a resurgent Communist threat.
The CFR/Brookings Institute position and western press reports also conveniently portray Tymoshenko the innocent victim in a “show trial” by Yanukovych’s Kafkaesque legal system. But leaked recordings of Tymoshenko’s recent telephone conversation in which she talks to her political ally Shufrych about mass killing Russians and machine gunning political adversaries. Conversation create a very different picture of her and one more akin to a maniacal gangster than a political adversary wronged by a corrupt legal system. In the conversation which allegedly took place on 18 March, she reportedly went so far as to says it is “time to go grab guns and kill those damned Russians with their leader” so that “not even scorched earth will be left where Russia stands.”
Translations also capture America’s darling in the Ukraine referring to a political adversary and saying she would “like to grab a machine gun and shoot that ‘man’ in the head.” Referring to Russians more generally, she also reportedly went on to say that “They must be killed with nuclear weapons.” Tymoshenko has acknowledged on Twitter that the phone call was real but said that the content was edited to appear virulently anti-Russian although she apparently failed to explain how such clear and offensive statements could be tempered by context.
More generally, the CFR/Brookings Institute position in no way acknowledges the role played by American NeoCons, the “Young Gun” shock troopers flown in to Moscow in the aftermath of the 1991 Soviet collapse and America’s own security/political apparatus, all of whom helped to engineer the fast tracked structural change and “shock therapy” administered during Yelstsin’s tenure as Russia’s dancing Drunkard-in-Chief facilitating which, in turn, facilitated the emergence of an oligarchic system which US policy makers now disingenuously criticize.
The sophisticated modeling used by t he State Department, Pentagon and dominant US Think Tanks make it reasonable to presume that the emergence of Oligarchs both in Russia and the Ukraine was a foreseeable and perhaps even intended consequence of the prescribed “shock therapy” and seen by Cold War warriors as an irreversible, transitional step towards eventual US style Corporatism in Russia. After all, what better way is there to kill the prospect of resurgent communism than facilitating the handover of massive swaths of public assets to ideologically correct, though morally challenged, oligarchs who exert as much power as the government itself and through shared self-interest stand together as a bulwark against communism?
The dominant US position on the Ukraine also fails to consider the extent to which more recently its own security and corporate apparatus infiltrated and actively promoted the Orange Revolution, the much more recent anti-Yanukovych protests and the recent Putsch in which ultra-Nationlist Fascist elements played a key role. In that regard, public appearances by s string of US politicians in the Ukraine publicly supporting the even Ultra-National Putschists along with leaked recordings exposing, for example, the role of Victoria Nuland-Kagan of the U.S. State Department in engineering political events, have alarmed many observers who had already speculated that the equivalent of regime change was being orchestrated by the US in the Ukraine.
“Moscow-Jewish mafia” rules Ukraine and that “Germans, Kikes and other scum” want to “take away our Ukrainian state.”
Pictures and video footage taken of Sen. John McCain during his visit to the Ukraine in December 2013 in which he is seen with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the provisional Prime Minister installed after the Putsch, along with Oleh Tyahnybok of the “neo-Nazi” Svoboda party, hardly give pundits suspicious of the US role in events reason to be optimistic. Oleh Tyahnybok, has been quoted as saying a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” rules Ukraine and that “Germans, Kikes and other scum” want to “take away our Ukrainian state.” Based on past experience, it is reasonable to presume that these public appearances by US politicians and official are barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what was done clandestinely to support the Orange Revolution and more recently the Putsch.
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland Kagan also made public appearances in support of anti-government protests in Kiev prior to the Putsch. Pictures of her grandstanding along with leaked recording of her telephone conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine in which she appears to be deciding two weeks before Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s post-Putsch appointment as Prime Minister that he will receive the post, provide a sound foundation for speculation about the US role in overthrowing Yanukovych.
Following her photo ops in the Ukraine, Nuland made what is reported by Counterpunch as “an an eight minute, 46 second speech at the National Press Club sponsored by the US-Ukraine Foundation, Chevron, and [the] Ukraine-in-Washington Lobby Group, [in which she] boasted that Washington has spent $5 billion to foment agitation to bring Ukraine into the EU. Once captured by the EU, Ukraine will be “helped” by the West acting through the IMF. Nuland, of course, presented the IMF as Ukraine’s rescuer, not as the iron hand of the West that will squeeze all life out of Ukraine’s struggling economy.”
The leaked recording of Nuland’s conversation with US Ambassador Pyatt includes the following casual remarks:
Nuland “I don’t think Klitsch [Vitali Klitschko] should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea. . . .
Pyatt: The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, Svoboda party, Senator McCain’s Nazi friend] and his guys and I’m sure that’s part of what [President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all this.
Nuland: I think Yats [Arseniy Yatsenyuk] is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy … what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside.”
Pyatt: “I think that’s right. OK. Good. Do you want us to set up a call with him as the next step?”
Two weeks later Nuland’s preferred man became Prime Minister!
Bizarrely, the US State Department has gone so far as to complain that Russia has improperly disseminated recordings of the call while Germany’s Angela Merkel has denounced comments made by Nuland during the recorded conversation in which Nuland condemned the EU.” “Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft in terms of publicizing and posting this,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in the daily press briefing. “I don’t have any other independent details about the origin of the YouTube video.” The state department has said Ms Nuland “of course has apologised” after being in contact with her “EU counterparts”.
On January 15 2014, Nuland made a formal submission on the Ukraine to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in her capacity as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, stating:
“Why does the United States have an interest in how this turns out? Because [our] principles and values are the cornerstone of all free democracies, and America supports them in every country on the planet. Countries that live freely and independently and respect the rule of law are more stable and make better partners for the United States. The Euromaidan protestors – students, workers, pensioners, priests, entrepreneurs, business moguls and popstars — are all calling for the same basic rights we hold dear here in the United States. They want to live in a country where their government truly represents the wishes of the people and where they can safely exercise their rights without the fear of oppression. . . . The use of violence and acts of repression carried out by government security forces and their surrogates have compelled us to make clear publicly and privately to the government of Ukraine that we will consider a broad range of tools at our disposal if those in positions of authority in Ukraine employ or encourage violence against their own citizens.”
The without a hint of irony or embarrassment and only one month before her leaked phone call with the USA Ambassador, Nuland went on to say:
“Looking forward, the US will work hard to support a free and fair election in 2015.”
Nuland’s husband Robert Kagan is a leading Washington NeoCon. Robert Kagan, is a foreign policy commentator at the Brookings Institute., a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He been a foreign policy advisor to several U.S. Republican presidential candidates as well as to Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State under President Obama.
These facts do nothing to engender confidence in the US position and everything to create speculation that, as has happened so many times before since WWII, the US in fact may have played a key role in engineering the overthrow of Yanukovych. The appearance of impropriety in this regard is hardly less damaging to the US position than any impropriety which may actually have taken place. I would suggest that based on its historical record of similar fact crimes, the burden of proof is on the US.
Certainly, the apparent US role behind the scenes in the events that toppled Yanukovych is not without precedent and bears some resemblance to US support for foreign, terrorist elements fighting in Syria to unseat President Bashar Assad by force. That said, the US seems to have learned from its experience in Syria and is this time moving more quickly to distance itself from these far right elements in the Ukraine.
What we see over and over again is the largely corporatized US security apparatus or, if you like, the present manifestation of what President Eisenhower first described as the military-industrial complex, introducing destructive elements into targeted nations which are calculated to dismantle the political status quo while creating other long term problems which eventually can be used to justify further intervention to advance long term US policy which invariably lays the foundations for a full corporate takeover of the targeted nation’s resources, finances, economic policies and markets.
In any case, before the putsch in Kiev, Putin had already angered Western policy makers and strategists by staking out a self-interested position in Syria which played no small part in stalling the US led Syria Project. At the same time Russia, which had long been concerned about US efforts to encroach on Russia’s sphere of influence in nations comprising the former Soviet Territories, understandably became alarmed when the Yanukovych government was illegally toppled by Putschists rather than by election. Bearing in mind how the US reacted to the Cuban Missile Crises, clearly it should understand the validity of Russia’s position.
In response to the Putsch, Russia quickly moved to secure its interests in the Crimea by organizing a hasty referendum which it is reported saw Crimeans overwhelmingly vote to secede from the Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation. So, to return to the question at hand: Did Atlantic world interests, both private and public, conduct themselves improperly and pursue an illegitimate policy in the Ukraine?
Looked at through US eyes, they would certainly respond with a resounding no and argue that any steps taken to support the toppling of Yanukovych was justified by a variation on the failed state argument. On the other hand, if looked at from Russia’s perspective, the US by supporting and perhaps even orchestrating an illegal Putsch in a sovereign state with close historic ties to Russia, undoubtedly did what it would never tolerate if done by Russia in any nation falling with the US sphere of influence. Considered objectively, Russia’ allegation of improper and illegal US conduct is highly compelling.
The case against the US becomes all the more compelling when we start to deconstruct the position promulgated publicly through the CFR. In that regard, there two subjects often broached in their literature. The first takes special note of the unacceptably high pension costs associated with the aging Ukraine population and thereby hints at an agenda promulgated by lending institutions and the IMF. It is not surprising that according to press reports, one of the first reform initiatives that followed the Putsch was plans to slash public pensions.
The second point which recurs in the literature asserts that it is unacceptable to have a corrupt government at the helm of a near failed state which is geographically pivotal to the orderly delivery of oil and gas to Europe. What these concerns suggest is that there is a great deal more to US concerns about the Ukraine than rampant corruption, oligarchy and wealth disparity.
Sadly, the continuing political machinations in the Ukraine are be touted by both mainstream pundits and the alternative press as a basis for making various unfounded bellicose predictions ranging from the inevitability of thermonuclear war to the alleged certainty that Russia will move aggressively to reassert territorial control over various other form Soviet Territories. Meanwhile, the mainstream press has failed entirely to present a balanced view of events and is clear again acting as the propaganda arm of the political staus quo.
The putsch government has been doing its very best to disgrace itself with internal conflict and threats against Russian speaking Ukrainians but the related events have been largely ignored by mainstream US media. The leaked recordings of Tymoshenko’s phone call in which she talks to her political ally Shufrych about massacring Russians, the leaked recording of Nuland’s conversation with US Ambassador Pyatt in which she seems to hand pick Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister, the dismissal of Acting Defense Minister Tenyukh’s and the murder of far-right political leader Oleksandr Muzychko, were at best glossed over by the mainstream media which has also mostly blacked out the ongoing chaos after the putsch.
Instead of reporting on the unfolding situation objectively, Reuters chose to skew the picture presented to the public by reporting that
“A prominent Russian politician . . . proposed dividing Ukraine along the lines of an infamous Nazi-Soviet pact and suggested that regions in Western Ukraine hold referendums on breaking away from Kiev. In a letter sent to the governments of Poland, Romania and Hungary, Vladimir Zhirinovsky also suggested those countries hold referendums on incorporating the regions into their territory.”
For its part, CNN has recently run with a story in which Andrew C. Kuchins (director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.) proclaimed: “Obama is now making Jimmy Carter look like Attila the Hun with a series of empty threats and “too little, too late” punitive measures against Putin’s Russia. I have no doubt that there is nothing Vladimir Putin would rather do than delegitimize the post-Cold War order, expose the Trans-Atlantic partnership as a sham and deeply degrade U.S. leadership in the world A Russian strike, either after a manufactured provocation or without one, into eastern Ukraine, is inevitable. Putin smells blood in the water, and nothing we have said or done will deter him. Economic measures alone are insufficient.”
On the other hand, some commentators in the alternate press have not exercised much restraint in making what are considered by many to bellicose claims and predictions. Without citing sources, Christof Lehmann, editor of internet based NSNBC International has recently been widely reported in the alternate press as saying:
“In the early 1980s, a European top NATO admiral said that American colleagues at the Pentagon had told him, unequivocally, that the US and UK would not hesitate in creating a new European war if the situation ever arose that Europe and Russia, then the USSR, were to develop close relations.”
Citing Lehmann, Finian Cunningham has written for various alternative media outlets that:
“[T]he US is prepared to plunge Europe into a war with Russia in order for Washington to preserve its hegemony over the transatlantic axis. The key issues are the prevention of Russia and Europe developing closer trade and political ties – stemming primarily from a vast trade in energy fuels; and, secondly, the survival of the American dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
While these claims are not beyond the realm of possibility and are no doubt made in good faith, they have not been established or even attributed. Apart from that, the way in which they have been wielded overlooks the fact that there has never been a shortage of Generals from the lunatic fringe who will speak out of turn. We all remember former General Alexander Haig making such a blunder as Reagan’s Secretary of State when, in the immediate aftermath of the 1981 Hinkley assassination attempt, he stated to the press “I am in control here” despite being well down the pecking order of those who would take over as acting President should the attempt have succeeded.
Meanwhile Washington quickly rushed to impose a range of economic sanctions on Russia and members of Putin’s inner circle in what commentator Eric Margolis has recently likened to “the US sanctions imposed on Japan in 1941 led Tokyo to attack the Western powers.”
The short answer is that economic realities suggest any sanctions against Russia as opposed to members of Putin’s inner circle will do more harm to the US and Europe than they will ever do to Russia.
That the US/Eurozone position in the Ukraine and other former Soviet territories comprising Russia’s sphere of influence is based on pragmatic self-interest, advanced improperly and calculated to disadvantage Russia can hardly be serious disputed. But what of Putin and Russia’s adventure in Crimea?
“To judge by recent developments in Ukraine, ‘Russia is putting itself’ on the wrong side of history.” – Barack Obama.
President Vladimir Putin: There has been little has been more surprising in these events than the rush by some people to embrace Putin as a hero, as if he is some kind of shining knight immune from corruption and motivated by principle rather than self-interest.
By the West’s selective legal and moral standards, Vladimir Putin’s legitimacy as Russia’s President is questionable. Quite apart from the fact that he is now serving an unprecedented 3rd term as Russia’s President, it is not possible to overlook his roots as a KGB insider and the way he was originally handpicked as Boris Yeltsin’s replacement by his daughter and the new oligarchs who held sway over Yeltsin then known as “The Family.” As with so many political leaders these days, there is no shortage of corruption allegations which impugn not only Putin’s credibility but arguably his legitimacy as well.
“In the circumstances that preceded the Crimean referendum, Russia could clearly have used its influence to get the “autonomous” government of the Crimea to invite Russian troops into the Crimea in order to temporarily safeguard both Russia’s own national and security interests as well the rights of all Crimeans and the silent Ukrainian majority. Had Putin acted less opportunistically and with cooler head by responding to a Crimean request for military assistance before acting unilaterally, Russia would also have been well within its rights to take the larger issue of the long standing US/NATO policy to encroach on Russia’s former territories and establishing a hegemony on Russia’s doorstep to the UN Security Council on the grounds that it poses a threat to international peace and security.”
On the 3rd of March 2014, President Barack Obama said that “to judge by recent developments in Ukraine, “Russia is putting itself “on the wrong side of history,” echoing his 2009 inaugural address in which he said: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
While President Obama’s comments reek of hypocrisy, he did not miss the mark entirely. Putin is nothing if not a reflection of the secular and capitalist new order in Russia he emerged from.
While his tactical decisions in the Middle East may have provide some short term positional advantage to those who oppose the Syria Project, his overriding concern is to achieve a better position for Russia in the US dominated New World Order. It is also worth remembering that he has repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to the security of Israel. In his political career he has consistently shown himself to be hostile to Islam and in no small part his policies are responsible for the growth of Islamic extremism in Chechnya which has since been exported abroad.
That said, let there be no mistake, America’s distaste for Putin, like its contempt for Yanukovych, is not personal or motivated by their rampant corruption. If that were the case, the US would be taking action against many of its political allies and client states around the world. Putin’s offense is simply that, like so many before him, he stands in the way of the America’s aspiration for global hegemony advanced through corporatist control of the world’s natural resources and the forced submission by all nations to the “export version” of America’s secular economic, political and social model.
Certainly it is reasonable to presume that there would be little US interest in the Ukraine if it was just another corrupt Republic that was not sitting in a pivotal geographic location which is already the crossroads for European Oil and Gas deliveries and arguably essential to US plans for future pipelines from the east and to Russian plans for pipelines to the south.
Was the Cessation of Crimea legal?
The answer is a both resounding “yes” and a compelling “no.” There are those who argue that Putin was obliged to acted quickly and decisively but from an Islamic point of view, we would do well to assess such claims by remembering that nowhere does the the Noble al Qur’an admonish us to be swift as opposed to sabr. Patience and righteousness are virtues whereas impulsiveness is a weakness. There was a clear and superior path Putin could and should have taken instead of his self-interested, rushed gambit.
To be sure, as pointed out by Russia ad nauseum, the Kiev Putsch which was at the very least supported by the West, itself makes a mockery of both domestic and International law. But one of the first things we learn in life is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The fact that our neighbour’s house is being robbed by somebody from outside the community does not entitle us to rob the neighbour’s garage!
While it is fair to say that the prevailing, opaque position on the right to secede in International Law has been cooked up in recent decades by an International System which is itself an extension of the Atlantic World’s global aspirations, the opportunistic Crimean referendum rushed through by Russia, on its face, violates International law and indeed contradicts the position taken by Russia when supported by the US, the UN and NATO, Kosovo seceded without Serbian consent.
The prevailing position on the right to secede in International Law, though we may criticize it, is well stated by Christopher J. Borgen in a paper published by yet another US based Think Tank – The Wilson Center:
“So long as a state provides a minority group the ability to speak their language, practice their culture in a meaningful way, and effectively participate in the political community, then that group is said to have “internal self-determination.” Secession, or “external self-determination,” is generally disfavored in diplomatic practice. . . . “[a] right to external self-determination (which in this case potentially takes the form of the assertion of a right to unilateral secession) arises only in the most extreme cases and, even then, under carefully defined circumstances…”
Russia has strong fraternal ties with Ukraine
While President Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov understandably cite the precedent set by U.S., U.N. and NATO intervention in Serbia which led to Kosovo’s referendum and secession, the abuses suffered by the People of Kosovo (though some argue they were a natural and even intended consequence of U.S. policy) were extreme and cannot be equated with the anti-Russian sentiment being fanned in the Ukraine by elements of the US supported Putsch.
Having said that, it must also be emphasized that the considerations and processes which effectively determine whether any unilateral secession is “legal” or not are well recognized by scholars to be inherently political. In Secession: International Law Perspectives, by Marcelo G. Kohen (ed). Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006 , the political nature of the issue is expressed like this:
“[I]t is essential to appreciate that political considerations do influence the decision and may prompt a state to recognize an entity prematurely or to refuse to grant it recognition” (p.98). . . “Legal arguments are neither completely decisive of the question nor totally irrelevant” (p.450) with “legal consequences flow[ing] from political facts” (p.437). The point is driven home elegantly by Hersch Lauterpacht, who famously described the recognition of some entities as a State while others are denied such acknowledgement as a “grotesque spectacle” (p.97).
The simple reality is that what we have seen over and over again is that any secession is deemed legal or illegal largely as it suits the political status quo prevailing in the west and, more particularly, in the USA. However, the question of whether we approve of international law which itself has largely been baked in private think tanks controlled by corporate interests from the Atlantic World is quite a separate issue which cannot be bitten off, chewed and swallowed whole in one bite. The issues and consequences are far too complicated for such pointless nonsense.
It is also worth pointing Russia’s long standing ties to both the Crimea and the Ukraine. In that regard, Robert McMahon pointed out in his CFR publication “Ukraine in Crises”:
“Russia has strong fraternal ties with Ukraine dating back to the ninth century and the founding of Kievan Rus, the first eastern Slavic state, whose capital was Kiev. Ukraine was part of Russia for centuries, and the two continued to be closely aligned through the Soviet period, when Ukraine and Russia were separate republics.
“The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country,” wrote former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger in a Washington Post op ed. Ukraine is also an economic partner that Russia would like to incorporate into its proposed Eurasian Union, a customs union due to be formed in January 2015 whose likely members include Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia.
Ukraine’s membership would increase the union’s population “by a solid 27 percent,” writes Simon Saradzhyan, a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Ukraine plays an important role in Russia’s energy trade; its pipelines provide transit to 80 percent of the natural gas Russia sends to European markets, and Ukraine itself is a major market for Russian gas.
Militarily, Ukraine is also important to Russia as a buffer state, and it is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, based in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol under a bilateral agreement between the two states. Russia considers EU efforts to expand eastward to Ukraine, even through a relatively limited association agreement, as an alarming step because it opens the doors toward strengthening an array of Western institutional ties at the expense of Russian ones. [T]he peninsula only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev transferred it from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in what was seen as a largely symbolic administrative move within the Soviet Union.
The majority-Russian residents of Crimea continued to have strong ties with Russia. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two new countries reached an agreement to permit the Russian Black Sea fleet to remain based at the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Yanukovich and then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement in 2010 that extended Russia’s lease of Sevastopol until 2042 in exchange for a 30 percent drop in the price of natural gas sold to Ukraine.”
That said, even though Russia clearly has well recognized security and national interests in the Crimea which it genuinely perceived to be threatened by both the recent Putsch and, more importantly, by the long standing US and European machinations in the region, its pre-emptive and unilateral action in engineering Crimea’s cessation from the Ukraine cannot be justified by the prevailing international legal principles relevant to the issue. Moreover, alleged US/European mischief making in the States which starting in 1991 devolved from the Soviet Union, cannot legitimize or make legal that done by Russia which is not.
Arguments put forward mostly in the alternative press and which assert without legal grounding that the threats posed to Russian nationals by those behind the Putsch somehow amounted to an extreme abuse of the rights guaranteed to Russian peoples in the Crimea fall far short of making a compelling case. (see, for example, a recent article by Professor Francis Boyle, Professor in International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign, Illinois.)
Nevertheless, while Russia has not acted within the constraints set by international law, its offense in the Crimea seems far less offensive than the Atlantic World’s long standing crime spree. The position taken by Russia was clearly based on a very real, continuing threat posed by the long standing US/European policy of expanding political, economic and military ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and the Ukraine. Certainly, Putin’s opportunistic transgression is no way near as offensive as countless projects advanced often clandestinely and in violation of basic principles of International Law by the US, European Nations, Israel and NATO since WWII.
Still, what solace can a family victimized by a robber take from the fact that the robber acted in response to threats from another who had previously burned down the family home?
One of the important considerations in weighing up the legality of Russia intervention involves considering whether other options were available to address the situation. In this instance the Russian sponsored referendum which conflated the separate issues of cessation and rejoining the Russian Federation, was an opportunistic overreaction which ran roughshod over the rights of Crimean minorities, ignored the rights of all Ukrainians and was intended to compromise Ukrainian territorial integrity.
The Crimea was and arguably for the time being remains an “Autonomous Republic” within the relatively new State of Ukraine first formed in 1991. In the circumstances that preceded the Crimean referendum, Russia could clearly have used its influence to get the “autonomous” government of the Crimea to invite Russian troops into the Crimea in order to temporarily safeguard both Russia’s own national and security interests as well the rights of all Crimeans and the silent Ukrainian majority. It is well established that such a foreign military presence in a nation at the invitation of a legitimate host government is considered “legal” in International law.
Had Putin acted less opportunistically and with cooler head by responding to a Crimean request for military assistance before acting unilaterally, Russia would also have been well within its rights to take the larger issue of the long standing US/NATO policy to encroach on Russia’s former territories and establishing a hegemony on Russia’s doorstep to the UN Security Council on the grounds that it poses “a threat to international peace and security:”
Instead, of using the dominant international system to the advantage of both the Ukraine and Russia, Russia acted unilaterally and opportunistically. The power play by Russia in Crimea, if accepted in the long run, can only hinder the cause of legitimate separatist movements like that in Northern Ireland and the aspirations of territorially challenged nations like Palestine. It would also stand as a precedent that could be used by insatiable Atlantic World interests to foment rebellion and secessionist movements in emerging multicultural democracies like Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, as a pretext to creating unrest which would serve to destabilize targeted nations and prepare them for “shock therapy” and the “Export Model” of US style democracy.
“One of the first things we learn in life is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The fact that our neighbour’s house is being robbed by somebody from outside the community does not entitle us to rob the neighbour’s garage!”
Neither the US/European position in the Ukraine nor that of Russia can be embraced as examples of principled conduct motivated by a desire for security in a multi-polar world order.
While the Russian position on its face appears less objectionable due to its vital security and national interests in the Crimea as well as the West’s ongoing, calculated encroachment on former Soviet territories which remain within the Russian Federation sphere of regional influence, both the US and Russia are clearly playing out a zero sum game like hyena’s fighting over the not quite dead corpus of a corrupt Ukraine which was itself fabricated at Russia’s expense out of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
What is clear is that neither Russia nor the USA are showing much if any concern for the silent majority of Ukrainians who no doubt yearn for nothing more and nothing less than a legitimate, corruption free, elected government primarily concerned with advancing Ukrainian national interests and protecting its territorial integrity.
Other emerging democracies which, for whatever reason are struggling with secessionist movements or with similar problems to the corruption and entirely dysfunctional legal/political system that exists in the Ukraine, should take great care before embracing either end of the false dichotomy being sold in the mainstream public dialogue.
The Russian position, should it gain credence, could stand as a precedent which encourages destructive separatists movements in a community of nations carved out at the tail end of the colonial era to reflect Atlantic World interests but which if challenged today would inevitably plunge emerging democracies into political chaos and soon make them even easier pickings than they already are for multinational corporate interests.
The dominant position embraced by America’s political status quo is a clarion call for any nation that doubts whether the US would clandestinely engineer regime change in order to advance its own corporate and geopolitical agendas by disingenuously invoking rampant corruption, an ailing economy and dysfunctional legal/political system as a variation of the failed state argument for regime change.
While there is nothing about such a policy that complies with International Law, I do not think it is an overstatement to suggest that we are now well through the looking glass and living with a new, imposed paradigm in which the rule-of-law is dead and the roost is ruled almost entirely by policy set by corporate funded private Think Tanks and then implemented by a largely privatized security apparatus under the opaque shroud of National Security.
To those nations who might sympathize with Russia, they would do well to consider whether Russia unilateral actions in the secession of Crimea does not set an unfortunate precedent which might be used by foreign interests to stir up secessionist dissent in their own territories. The attempts by pundits in MSM and the US policy machine to portray Putin and Russia as certain to pounce on and swallow up other former Soviet territories is mischievous, disingenuous and entirely unsupported by evidence.
Bellicose claims that the US or Russian position in this scandal will inevitably lead to WW3 are ridiculous and irresponsible. The US/NATO forces are simply not in a position to proceed with such a conflict and there is no suggestion that Putin is recklessness enough to provoke such a conflict. In any case, both the US and Russia remain major nuclear powers and that fact alone will work to diffuse the situation.
When all is said and done, apart from scale, there is very little by way of principle that can be relied on to distinguish Russia’s global aspirations from those of the US/Eurozone. Both are by definition secular nations governed a political, economic and social model the embraces unregulated, crony capitalism. The US is clamouring to press home its advantage in establishing a global hegemony and a NWO in its own image in order to stave off its inevitable decline in a changing world the critical economic mass of which is shifting to the Southeast.
For its part, Russia is predictably trying to reclaim some of its former glory, not by reviving the failed Bolshevist project, but instead by throwing its still considerable weight around in order to claim a preferred position at the NWO table and a bigger piece of the pie.
Finally, we should all remember that no single person is in a position to unilaterally define or change US foreign policy; not even POTUS. While we should not ignore the fact that he has expressed support for policies like drone warfare and the Syria project, at the same time we should not overestimate Obama’s role by assuming that he is somehow magically responsible for all making US foreign policy or presume that he has the power to unilaterally change policy which has achieved a consensus in the political staus quo defined by the security apparatus, policy makers and the corporate world.
While I am no supporter of Obama or indeed any US President, it seems reasonable to say that Obama is a pragmatist who makes political tradeoffs in order to advance marginal change which has some prospect of sticking in return for accepting policies which practically speaking he is powerless to oppose. The final word about Obama cannot be written until well after he has left the Oval Office and been able to speak more pointedly about his policies and the obstacles he faced during his tenure as President. (T/BG/HSH)
This article was first published in Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA): http://www.mirajnews.com/
*Barry Grossman isan international lawyer. He received a B.Comm. from the University of Calgary in 1984 and his LLB from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1987. After working as a litigator at a major commercial law firm in Toronto, he moved to Australia to teach at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Law in 1988. He later worked for several years as a litigation consultant to the national Australian firm of Freehill, Hollingdale & Page before later taking up a full time lectureship at Monash University’s Faculty of Law. Mr. Grossman has written extensively on various legal subject and is a frequent commentator on political affairs. He is often interviewed by Press TV. He resided in Indonesia since 1999. This article was written for the Indonesian based international news service, Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as requested by MINA Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Syarif Hidayat.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of