If too many people get sucked in by the current, distorted media coverage of events unfolding now in Ukraine, then there’s a good chance life will get very ugly for a lot of innocent people, since one of the logical end points is the use of nuclear weapons. Everyone in power knows that’s a potential reality, but the urge to demagogue the Russians is presently overwhelming honesty and caution.
Ukraine is NOT a real place. Ukraine has never been a real place, not in the sense that Madascar or Cuba are both undeniably real places with real edges. Ukraine has no real edges, just lines on a map imposed by some treaty or army over the past several thousand years. To speak, as the more pompous do, of Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” is to speak of an imaginary construct, useful for blurring people’s minds for political purposes.
Ukraine in recent years has been what the power brokers of the disintegrating Soviet Union decided to let it be in 1991. Ukraine has no coherent history as a nation. First inhabited some 44,000 years ago, most of the region’s history is as occupied territory.
Russia’s history of maintaining a military presence in Crimea is older than United States history. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based in Sevastopol in Crimea continuously since 1783. For the Russians, this is a crucial warm water port, currently leased from Ukraine till 2042.
To understand what this means to the Russians, it probably matters more to them than the United States would care if the Cubans decided to threaten the Naval Base at Guantanamo, and we know that wouldn’t have a happy ending.
Is anyone involved in Ukraine NOT to blame for something?
In spite of its history as a subjugated non-state, Ukraine has managed something like a functioning democratic government from time to time in recent years. Now is not one of those times. The elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, was by all accounts corrupt, but he was elected. Although the process was somewhat messy, he was duly elected in 2010 with almost 49% of the vote, concentrated in Russian-populated eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Now Yanukovych has been deposed, perhaps justly, but by an unjust process spearheaded by a street mob and a disenthralled parliament. The parliament has appointed an acting president and Yanukovych is in asylum in Russia. It’s not clear that Ukraine now has a legitimate government of any sort.
The Ukrainian presidential crisis, which is ongoing, is surely the result of longstanding, internal Ukrainian fault lines — ethnic, political, and economic. And the crisis is even more surely the result of deliberate, years-long interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine by the United States, the European Union, NATO, and other western forces, as Robert Parry has described. Ukraine appears to be the latest victim of those New American Century conspirators who brought the world such success in Afghanistan, Iraq, Honduras, and Syria (home to another Russian warm water port and only Mediterranean base).
“KREMLIN DEPLOYS MILITARY TO SEIZE CRIMEA” – N.Y. Times headline
That front page headline in the Times is, perhaps, less inflammatory than others elsewhere, but it was five columns wide and deploying “Kremlin” that way is pure Cold War journalism. As for accuracy, it’s close – even if it doesn’t acknowledge that Russian troops have long been based in Crimea and “seize” is a hyperbolic rendering of an unopposed deployment which may even have been welcomed by most of the population.
The subhead – “REBUFF TO OBAMA” – is essentially propaganda, as it tries to make the President personally relevant to a situation that has its own dynamic. It’s also propaganda insofar as it tries to make this an American crisis to which we’re supposed to respond, rather than one we promoted for reasons that remain obscure.
The Times offers some idea of why Russia might be wary, but that’s deep in an inside sidebar, not the front page story. The deadpan tone hides a host of implied threats to Russian stability and safety:
Ukraine had accomplished some military reform with NATO advice, but since President Yanukovych said that Ukraine was not interested in full NATO membership, cooperation has lagged, the NATO official said. Ukraine has, however, taken part in some military exercises with NATO, contribute some troops to NATO’s response force and helped in a small way in Libya.
In other words, the “pro-Russian” Yanukovych was contributing to NATO, albeit in a small way that might even have been part of a balancing act reflecting Ukraine’s unfortunate but inescapable geographic location bordering both Russia and NATO members Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. As far as the NATO allies were concerned, Ukraine’s effort to be a buffer state with good relations with all its hostile neighbors was not enough. Both NATO and the European Union were pressuring Ukraine to choose sides, NATO’s side. How did they honestly expect Russia to react, sooner or later?
These provocations have gone on for years in different forms, apparently with President Obama’s blessing, since he apparently did nothing, or nothing effective, to mitigate or even cease the relentless instigation of Ukrainians toward violence. In mid-December 2013, former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich warned of the trap Ukrainian demonstrators in Independence Square were headed toward.
The fascist, neo-Nazi, ethnic cleansing forces in Kiev and western Ukraine do not control the government at this point, but they control the streets and they are the most armed and organized of the factions in Ukraine. They provided many of the shock troops in recent confrontations with police at Independence Square.
Concern about the possible rise to power of right wing forces contributed to the decision by Crimean authorities to reject the legitimacy of the Kiev government and establish de facto control of Crimea as, effectively, a temporary independent and autonomous province of Ukraine. After that, Sergei Aksyonov, prime minister of Crimea, asked the Russians for help safeguarding the region.
Aksyonov also announced that Crimea would hold a public referendum on independence on March 30.
The government in Kiev mobilized the military to defend Ukraine and dispatched some troops to Crimea. There the majority of those troops reportedly joined the forces of the Crimean autonomous region.
“PUTIN GOES TO WAR” – New Yorker online headline, March 1, 2014
The usually brilliant David Remnick somehow sees this multi-faceted, low level, uncertain and ambiguous situation as a “war.” Since no shot had been fired by the time he wrote about what he called a “demonstration war,” that made it an especially interesting demonstration.
“Putin’s reaction exceeded our worst expectation,” Remnick wrote, suggesting that no one had realistic expectations. For this statement to be true, “we” must have been delusional. Remnick must know that a rational person’s expectations when provoking a huge nuclear power would have to be extreme – or detached from reality.
What did anyone expect Russia to do in the face of perennial probes affecting its vital interests, real or perceived? Writing with a Cold War approach that denigrates or omits anything that makes sense of Russian behavior, Remnick compares the Russian deployment in Crimea to Georgia in 2008, Afghanistan in 1979, Checkoslovakia in 1968. He omits any mention of Sevastop[ol or NATO. He argues instead that this is all about Putin’s psyche.
Without doubt, Putin’s Russia has its horrors, but not everyone is blinded by them, any more than they are blinded by American horrors. Writing in Haaretz on February 25, before Ukraine fully came apart, Amatzia Baram wrote with clear-eyed analysis of the developing situation:
If Ukraine degenerates into chaos, Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol will be in danger. If that happens, Putin may have an interest in seeing Ukraine split, for he will have no choice but to seize control somehow – perhaps with the services of a loyal Ukrainian politician – of Sevastopol and the surrounding area, or even of Eastern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula where it is situated.
The United States does not bear the sole responsibility for de-stabilizing Ukraine and risking a nuclear power confrontation, but there is little doubt that if the United States had not been an eager co-conspirator in twenty years of increasingly reckless global expansionism we wouldn’t be in this current quandary.
But here we are, headed into another media wonderland where the actual context of putting missiles near another country’s borders is expected to elicit a reaction different from the one the Russians would get if they tried to finagle Mexico into a military alliance or base missiles in Canada.
Come on, people, keep your wits about you. American exceptionalism isn’t always such a good thing.