Friday, February 6, 2015

Ukraine: The West's 'Proxy War' with Russia

The drumbeat for war coming to us about Ukraine is not good. Major U.S. figures, including John Kerry, Secretary of State, are now calling for the Obama administration to not only support the alleged Kiev government economically, but now militarily as well. In a Democracy Now piece aired on Feb. 4 (reprinted on, Emeritus Professor of Russian History Stephen Cohen affirmed what former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev said recently:

Gorbachev had it right. We’re in a new Cold War with Russia. The epicenter of the new Cold War is not in Berlin, like the last one, but it’s right on Russia’s borders, so it’s much more dangerous. You and I have talked about this since [last] February, I think. What I foresaw in February has played out, I regret to say: A political dispute in Ukraine became a Ukrainian civil war. Russia backed one side; the United States and NATO, the other. So it’s not only a new Cold War, it’s a proxy war. We’re arming Kiev. Russians are arming the eastern fighters. And I think, though I don’t want to spoil anybody’s day—I said to you in February this had the potential to become a new Cuban missile-style confrontation with the risk of war.

A new cold war with Russia. A proxy war, reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis when the two nuclear powers came to within a hair of igniting a nuclear conflagration that could’ve destroyed half the world. If anyone doubts that, consider the facts about that “proxy war” that Oliver Stone’s recent book and documentary, The Untold History of the United States, reveals. Unknown to the United States, the Soviets had hundreds of tactical nuclear weapons already up and operating in Cuba. Most generals and U.S. officials wanted to launch quick and devastating strikes against Cuba, but Pres. Kennedy opted for a less drastic measure—imposing a naval blockade to prevent ships from delivering what it thought weren’t there yet, the nuclear-armed missiles. But the tactical nukes on Cuba, along with troops to launch them, were ready to go; so were nuclear-armed Soviet submarines in the Atlantic. On October 27, 1962, American ships were dropping depth charges on these submarines, unaware they were nuclear, and nearly disabled one, K-19. Russian sailors were gasping for lack of oxygen. The captain in charge, Savitsky, decided that the war had already begun and ordered that his nuclear missiles be launched. Some higher power intervened, however, and the fleet commander, Vasili Arkhipov, refused to approve the order, preventing the launch. Within days, Soviet premier Khrushchev had contacted President Kennedy and opened phone negotiations, whereupon the two decided that nuclear war was untenable, and resolved the crisis with an agreement that the Soviets would remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba in exchange for the Americans removing theirs from Turkey (as close to Russia as Cuba is to the U.S.). The crisis did end, though, in fact, Kennedy never followed through on his promise, and subsequent presidents refused to honor it. So it was really the Russians who saved humanity.
            Now we have, in the United States, what Stephen Cohen calls “the war party” agitating to take on the Russians again. One of these war mongers, Strobe Talbott (former Deputy Secretary of State, now president of the Brookings Institute, and, according to Cohen, the architect of the American policy that led to this crisis. He was “the Russia hand,” as he called his memoir, under President Clinton, when the expansion of NATO toward Russia began.) brought out a report that said this:

In the context of what is happening in Ukraine today, the right way to characterize it is an act of war on the part of the Russian Federation. This means that there is going on in Ukraine today a literal invasion, not by—it’s not a proxy war. It’s a literal invasion by the Russian armed forces. It’s a literal occupation of large parts, well beyond Crimea, of eastern Ukraine. And it is a virtual annexation of a lot of territory other than just the Crimea. And in that respect, this is a major threat to the peace of Europe, to the peace of Eurasia, and therefore a threat to the interests of the United States and, I would say, a threat to the chances of a peaceful 21st century.

Talbott, of course, was seconded by dozens of other ‘war party’ members (Sen. John McCain, as usual, indicating that he’s never heard of a war or invasion he didn’t like), and members of the state department’s war wing who also have been calling for more direct arms for the Kiev government. Cohen urges Americans to stop and think what this means. Basically, he says, they are claiming that Russia has annexed eastern Ukraine, which is “fundamentally untrue.” And supports this by quoting the State Department when asked if it could confirm that Russia has annexed eastern Ukraine? To which it responded, "No, we cannot." And yet, not ever acknowledging that it was the Kiev side who broke the September truce and began shelling Donetsk and Luhansk, the war party is still calling for war with Russia.
            You would think that so-called Russia experts would know a few things about the vast country called Russia. You would think they would know how sensitive every Russian must be about invasions of their nation by western powers—once in 1812 when Napoleon led his armies all the way to Moscow, destroying everything in his path including the capitol itself, only to be defeated by the Russian Cossacks who decimated his army as it retreated from the Russian winter; and again in 1942 when Nazi Germany’s armed divisions attacked on the Russian front, devastating cities and countryside, and killing millions of Russians who nevertheless fought back with inferior weapons and prevailed by tearing the guts out of that invading German army, and, contrary to the myth that America defeated the Nazis, counterattacked and brought Germany to its knees. (And isn’t it interesting that the two European leaders now on a diplomatic mission to Russia are German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande). You would think they, of all people, would know that any encroachment on Russian territory is seen by all Russians as a direct threat to their survival (and they have recent experience to substantiate this)—which is why Russia has always viewed the expansion of NATO as a threat to their existence. Which is also why keeping Ukraine in their orbit has always been so critical. It is the border country, the gateway to Russia itself, the gateway through which, in 1942, the Nazis drove their war machine, helped by the western Ukrainian collaborators whose descendant neo-Nazis formed much of the muscle for the coup that overthrew the elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych (after, remember, the West’s agreement to allow Yanukovych to remain until elections in the Spring).
            Prof. Cohen acknowledges this point—that what has been driving Putin and Russia in helping the eastern Ukrainians is not their alleged intention to “revive the Soviet empire” but their zeal to “stop NATO encroachment.” Many other knowledgeable observers like Robert Parry and Prof. John Mearsheimer have made this same point. But the war party seems determined to continue and expand this encroachment, even up to and including igniting a hot war with Russia if necessary. It is the kind of insanity most of us had hoped was a thing of the past—the threat of nuclear Armageddon. But now it seems it’s only been hiding out and waiting for its opportunity. Already, we are informed that American General Ben Hodges, commanding general of American forces in Europe, has brought American troops to help train Kiev’s National Guard. He has also led U.S. troops to

Latvia for a military exercise, dubbed Atlantic Resolve, to train soldiers from Latvia, other Baltic countries and Poland. In addition, the U.S. brought more than 50 units of military equipment, including 17 armored vehicles, Stryker, that will stay in Europe.

Yes. These arms will stay in Europe indefinitely. For what? From all outward appearances,  the American military is making preparations for war with Russia. Prof. Cohen acknowledges this with no little fear and trepidation:

The American war party is on the march. You can see how close we are to, literally, a military confrontation with Russia. And there is not one word of establishment, mainstream opposition in this country.

And one of the ways war parties do this is to build up propaganda about the putative enemy. In the same way that we heard that Saddam Hussein was “the new Hitler,” Russian president Putin has become the Nazi madman’s most recent reincarnation. This is odd, because only a few months ago, he was the visionary leader who prevented President Obama from yielding to the war hawks’ demands to bomb Syria and President Assad for having used chemical weapons (another false charge, it now seems.) Putin resolved the crisis by arranging for Assad to agree to get rid of all his chemical weapons, thus eliminating the “red line” that Obama had promised could not be crossed. And a few years back, President G.W. Bush was boasting of his emotional and somewhat mystical rapport with the Russian leader, when he looked him in the eye and found a comrade. But now Putin is the new Hitler to be destroyed. And the corollary is that Russia must be brought to its knees once again—perhaps because it has managed to make itself indispensable, via its oil and gas reserves, to the Europe America wants dependent on itself. Hence Saudi Arabia’s increased production to bring down oil prices and bankrupt the Russian economy; hence the sanctions that have forced the Russian ruble into free fall. But will Putin and Russia yield to this kind of threat? It is not at all clear, and what history shows us is that Russia is most dangerous, and most resourceful, when it is attacked and fighting against long odds. For Cohen, this is unsettling indeed. Historians, he says, will look back,

—assuming there are historians to look back, because both sides are now mobilizing their nuclear weapons, as well. Russia has already said that if it is faced with overwhelming force on its borders, it will use tactical nuclear weapons. They’re nuclear small, but they’re nuclear weapons. When is the last time you heard a great power say that? We say—Obama, our president, says, "We’re modernizing our nuclear weapons." What does that mean? We’re redeploying them, pointing them even more at Russia. Why is this happening in the United States? I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of factors mixed in, a kind of ideological hangover from the old Cold War. But the demonization of Putin has become so extreme in this country, I do not recall—and I entered this field back in the '60s—the United States ever demonizing a Soviet communist leader the way our leaders do…

Somber words. Two major powers readying their nuclear arsenals for confrontation. Can this be happening again? But considering the lack of opposition in the U.S. at this time, considering the zealotry and insanity of the so-called “war party,” and the history of similar war partiers during the Cuban missile crisis, we shouldn’t dismiss Cohen’s words out of hand. We should do everything we can to warn, educate, and protest about what is shaping up to be yet another threat from the crazies in our world who, for whatever reason, seem to believe that violence, staggering violence against ordinary people, is the only way to preserve and expand their credibility, their manhood, and whatever else they think they have.

Lawrence DiStasi

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