In early March of 2014, following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in Ukraine, the New York Times editorial board declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “stepped far outside the bounds of civilized behavior,” suggesting that Russia should be isolated politically and economically in the face of “continued aggression.”
John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, lashed out at Russia’s “incredible act of aggression,” stating that: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped up pre-text.” Indeed, invading foreign nations on “trumped up pre-texts” is something only the United States and its allies are allowed to do, not Russia! What audacity!
Even Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, proclaimed Russia’s actions in Ukraine to be “aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic” threatening “the peace and stability of the world.” This is, of course, despite the fact that Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea took place without a single shot fired, and “faced no real opposition and has been greeted with joy by many citizens in the only region of Ukraine with a clear majority of ethnic Russians.”
Indeed, Russia can only be said to be an “aggressive” and “imperial” power so long as one accepts the unrelenting hypocrisy of U.S. and Western leaders. After all, it was not Russia that invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, killing millions. It is not Putin, but rather Barack Obama, who has waged a “global terror campaign,” compiling “kill lists” and using flying killer robots to bomb countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and even the Philippines, killing thousands of people around the world. It is not Putin, but rather, Barack Obama, who has been sending highly-trained killers into over 100 countries around the world at any given time, waging a “secret war” in most of the world’s nations. It was not Russia, but rather the United States, that supported the creation of “the creation of death squads” in Iraq, contributing to the mass violence, civil war and genocide that resulted; or that has been destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation, increasing the possibility of nuclear war.
All of these actions are considered to be a part of America’s strategy to secure ‘stability,’ to promote ‘peace’ and ‘democracy.’ It’s Russia that threatens “the peace and stability of the world,” not America or its NATO and Western allies. That is, of course, if you believe the verbal excretions from Western political leaders. The reality is that the West, with the United States as the uncontested global superpower, engages the rest of the world on the basis of ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations: the United States is the global ‘Godfather’ of the Mafia crime family of Western industrial nations (the NATO powers). Countries like Russia and China are reasonably-sized crime families in their own right, but largely dependent upon the Godfather, with whom they both cooperate and compete for influence.
When the Mafia – and the Godfather – are disobeyed, whether by small nations (such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, et al), or by larger gangster states like China or Russia, the Godfather will seek to punish them. Disobedience cannot be tolerated. If a small country can defy the Godfather, then any country can. If a larger gangster state like Russia can defy the Godfather and get away with it, they might continue to challenge the authority of the Godfather.
For the U.S. and its NATO-capo Mafia allies, Ukraine and Russia have presented a complex challenge: how does one punish Russia and control Ukraine without pushing Russia too far outside the influence of the Mafia, itself? In other words, the West seeks to punish Russia for its “defiance” and “aggression,” but, if the West pushes too hard, it might find a Russia that pushes back even harder. That is, after all, how we got into this situation in the first place.
A little historical context helps elucidate the current clash of gangster states. Put aside the rhetoric of “democracy” and let’s deal with reality.
The Cold War Legacy
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 witnessed the emergence of what was termed by President George H.W. Bush a ‘new world order’ in which the United States reigned as the world’s sole superpower, proclaiming ‘victory’ over the Soviet Union and ‘Communism': the age of ‘free markets’ and ‘democracy’ was at hand.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 prompted the negotiated withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe. The ‘old order’ of Europe was at an end, and a new one “needed to be established quickly,” noted Mary Elise Sarotte in the New York Times. This ‘new order’ was to begin with “the rapid reunification of Germany.” Negotiations took place in 1990 between Soviet president Gorbachev, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and President Bush’s Secretary of State, James A. Baker 3rd. The negotiations sought to have the Soviets remove their 380,000 troops from East Germany. In return, both James Baker and Helmut Kohl promised Gorbachev that the Western military alliance of NATO would not expand eastwards. West Germany’s foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, promised Gorbachev that, “NATO will not expand itself to the East.” Gorbachev agreed, though asked – and did not receive – the promise in writing, remaining a “gentlemen’s agreement.”
The U.S. Ambassador to the USSR from 1987 to 1991, John F. Matlock Jr., later noted that the end of the Cold War was not ‘won’ by the West, but was brought about “by negotiation to the advantage of both sides.” Yet, he noted, “the United States insisted on treating Russia as the loser.” The United States almost immediately violated the agreement established in 1990, and NATO began moving eastwards, much to the dismay of the Russians. The new Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, warned that NATO’s expansion to the East threatened a ‘cold peace’ and was a violation of the “spirit of conversations” that took place in February of 1990 between Soviet, West German and American leaders.
In 1990, President Bush’s National Security Strategy for the United States acknowledged that, “even as East-West tensions diminish, American strategic concerns remain,” noting that previous U.S. military interventions which were justified as a response to Soviet ‘threats’, were – in actuality – “in response to threats to U.S. interests that could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door,” and that, “the necessity to defend our interests will continue.” In other words, decades of justifications for war by the United States – blaming ‘Soviet imperialism’ and ‘Communism’ – were lies, and now that the Soviet Union no longer existed as a threat, American imperialism will still have to continue.
Former National Security Adviser – and arch-imperial strategist – Zbigniew Brzezinski noted in 1992 that the Cold War strategy of the United States in advocating “liberation” against the USSR and Communism (thus justifying military interventions all over the world), “was a strategic sham, designed to a significant degree for domestic political reasons… the policy was basically rhetorical, at most tactical.”
The Pentagon drafted a strategy in 1992 for the United States to manage the post-Cold War world, where the primary mission of the U.S. was “to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territories of the former Soviet Union.” As the New York Times noted, the document – largely drafted by Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney – “makes the case for a world dominated by one superpower whose position can be perpetuated by constructive behavior and sufficient military might to deter any nation or group of nations from challenging American primacy.”
This strategy was further enshrined with the Clinton administration, whose National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, articulated the ‘Clinton doctrine’ in 1993 when he stated that: “The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement – enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies,” which “must combine our broad goals of fostering democracy and markets with our more traditional geostrategic interests.”
Under Bill Clinton’s imperial presidency, the United States and NATO went to war against Serbia, ultimately tore Yugoslavia to pieces (itself representative of a ‘third way’ of organizing society, different than both the West and the USSR), and NATO commenced its Eastward expansion . In the late 1990s, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic entered the NATO alliance, and in 2004, seven former Soviet republics joined the alliance.
In 1991, roughly 80% of Russians had a ‘favorable’ view of the United States; by 1999, roughly 80% had an unfavorable view of America. Vladimir Putin, who was elected in 2000, initially followed a pro-Western strategy for Russia, supporting NATO’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, receiving only praise from President George W. Bush, who then proceeded to expand NATO further east.
The Color Revolutions
Throughout the 2000s, the United States and other NATO powers, allied with billionaires like George Soros and his foundations scattered throughout the world, worked together to fund and organize opposition groups in multiple countries across Eastern and Central Europe, promoting ‘democratic regime change’ which would ultimately bring to power more pro-Western leaders. It began in 2000 in Serbia with the removal of Slobodan Milosevic.
The United States had undertaken a $41 million “democracy-building campaign” in Serbia to remove Milosevic from power, which included funding polls, training thousands of opposition activists, which the Washington Post referred to as “the first poll-driven, focus group-tested revolution,” which was “a carefully researched strategy put together by Serbian democracy activists with the active assistance of Western advisers and pollsters.” Utilizing U.S.-government funded organizations aligned with major political parties, like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) channeled money, assistance and training to activists (Michael Dobbs, Washington Post, 11 December 2000).
Mark Almond wrote in the Guardian in 2004 that, “throughout the 1980s, in the build-up to 1989’s velvet revolutions, a small army of volunteers – and, let’s be frank, spies – co-operated to promote what became People Power.” This was represented by “a network of interlocking foundations and charities [which] mushroomed to organize the logistics of transferring millions of dollars to dissidents.” The money itself “came overwhelmingly from NATO states and covert allies such as ‘neutral’ Sweden,” as well as through the billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Almond noted that these “modern market revolutionaries” would bring people into office “with the power to privatize.” Activists and populations are mobilized with “a multimedia vision of Euro-Atlantic prosperity by Western-funded ‘independent’ media to get them on the streets.” After successful Western-backed ‘revolutions’ comes the usual economic ‘shock therapy’ which brings with it “mass unemployment, rampant insider dealing, growth of organized crime, prostitution and soaring death rates.” Ah, democracy!
Following Serbia in 2000, the activists, Western ‘aid agencies’, foundations and funders moved their resources to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where in 2003, the ‘Rose Revolution’ replaced the president with a more pro-Western (and Western-educated) leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, a protégé of George Soros, who played a significant role in funding so-called ‘pro-democracy’ groups in Georgia that the country has often been referred to as ‘Sorosistan’. In 2004, Ukraine became the next target of Western-backed ‘democratic’ regime change in what became known as the ‘Orange Revolution’. Russia viewed these ‘color revolutions’ as “U.S.-sponsored plots using local dupes to overthrow governments unfriendly to Washington and install American vassals.”
Mark MacKinnon, who was the Globe and Mail‘s Moscow bureau chief between 2002 and 2005, covered these Western-funded protests and has since written extensively on the subject of the ‘color revolutions.’ Reviewing a book of his on the subject, the Montreal Gazette noted that these so-called revolutions were not “spontaneous popular uprisings, but in fact were planned and financed either directly by American diplomats or through a collection of NGOs acting as fronts for the United States government,” and that while there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the ruling, corrupt elites in each country, the ‘democratic opposition’ within these countries received their “marching orders and cash from American and European officials, whose intentions often had to do more with securing access to energy resources and pipeline routes than genuine interest in democracy.”
The ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine in 2004 was – as Ian Traynor wrote in the Guardian – “an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing,” with funding and organizing from the U.S. government, “deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-governmental organizations.”
In Ukraine, the contested elections which spurred the ‘Orange Revolution’ saw accusations of election fraud leveled against Viktor Yanukovich by his main opponent, Viktor Yuschenko. Despite claims of upholding democracy, Yuschenko had ties to the previous regime, having served as Prime Minister in the government of Leonid Kuchma, and with that, had close ties to the oligarchs who led and profited from the mass privatizations of the post-Soviet era. Yuschenko, however, “got the western nod, and floods of money poured into groups which support[ed] him.” As Jonathan Steele noted in the Guardian, “Ukraine has been turned into a geostrategic matter not by Moscow but by the US, which refuses to abandon its cold war policy of encircling Russia and seeking to pull every former Soviet republic to its side.”
As Mark McKinnon wrote in the Globe and Mail some years later, the uprisings in both Georgia and Ukraine “had many things in common, among them the fall of autocrats who ran semi-independent governments that deferred to Moscow when the chips were down,” as well as being “spurred by organizations that received funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy,” reflecting a view held by Western governments that “promoting democracy” in places like the Middle East and Eastern Europe was, in fact, “a code word for supporting pro-Western politicians.” These Western-sponsored uprisings erupted alongside the ever-expanding march of NATO to Russia’s borders.
The following year – in 2005 – the Western-supported ‘colour revolutions’ hit the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan in what was known as the ‘Tulip Revolution’. Once again, contested elections saw the mobilization of Western-backed civil society groups, “independent” media, and NGOs – drawing in the usual funding sources of the National Endowment for Democracy, the NDI, IRI, Freedom House, and George Soros, among others. The New York Times reported that the “democratically inspired revolution” western governments were praising began to look “more like a garden-variety coup .” Efforts not only by the U.S., but also Britain, Norway and the Netherlands were pivotal in preparing the way for the 2005 uprising in Kyrgyzstan. The then-President of Kyrgyzstan blamed the West for the unrest experienced in his country.
The U.S. NGOs that sponsored the ‘color revolutions’ were run by former top government and national security officials, including Freedom House, which was chaired by former CIA Director James Woolsey, and other “pro-democracy” groups funding these revolts were led by figures such as Senator John McCain or Bill Clinton’s former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, who had articulated the national security strategy of the Clinton administration as being one of “enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies.” These organizations effectively act as an extension of the U.S. government apparatus, advancing U.S. imperial interests under the veneer of “pro-democracy” work and institutionalized in purportedly “non”-governmental groups.
By 2010, however, most of the gains of the ‘color revolutions’ that spread across Eastern Europe and Central Asia had taken several steps back. While the “political center of gravity was tilting towards the West,” noted Time Magazine in April of 2010, “now that trend has reversed,” with the pro-Western leadership of both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan both having once again been replaced with leaders “far friendlier to Russia.” The “good guys” that the West supported in these countries, “proved to be as power hungry and greedy as their predecessors, disregarding democratic principles… in order to cling to power, and exploiting American diplomatic and economic support as part of [an] effort to contain domestic and outside threats and win financial assistance.” Typical behavior for vassal states to any empire.
The ‘Enlargement’ of the European Union: An Empire of Economics
The process of European integration and growth of the European Union has – over the past three decades – been largely driven by powerful European corporate and financial interests, notably by the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), an influential group of roughly 50 of Europe’s top CEOs who lobby and work directly with Europe’s political elites to design the goals and methods of European integration and enlargement of the EU, advancing the EU to promote and institutionalize neoliberal economic reforms: austerity, privatizations, liberalization of markets and the destruction of labour power.
The enlargement of the European Union into Eastern Europe reflected a process of Eastern European nations having to implement neoliberal reforms in order to join the EU, including mass privatizations, deregulation, liberalization of markets and harsh austerity measures. The enlargement of the EU into Central and Eastern Europe advanced in 2004 and 2007, when new states were admitted into EU membership, including Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
These new EU members were hit hard by the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, and subsequently forced to impose harsh austerity measures. They have been slower to ‘recover’ than other nations, increasingly having to deal with “political instability and mass unemployment and human suffering.” The exception to this is Poland, which did not implement austerity measures, which has left the Polish economy in a better position than the rest of the new EU members. The financial publication Forbes warned in 2013 that “the prospect of endless economic stagnation in the newest EU members… will, sooner or later, bring extremely deleterious political consequences.”
In the words of a senior British diplomat, Robert Cooper, the European Union represents a type of “cooperative empire.” The expansion of the EU into Central and Eastern Europe brought increased corporate profits, with new investments and cheap labour to exploit. Further, the newer EU members were more explicitly pro-market than the older EU members that continued to promote a different social market economy than those promoted by the Americans and British. With these states joining the EU, noted the Financial Times in 2008, “the new member states have reinforced the ranks of the free marketeers and free traders,” as they increasingly “team up with northern states to vote for deregulation and liberalization of the market.”
The West Marches East
For the past quarter-century, Russia has stood and watched as the United States, NATO, and the European Union have advanced their borders and sphere of influence eastwards to Russia’s borders. As the West has marched East, Russia has consistently complained of encroachment and its views of this process as being a direct threat to Russia. The protests of the former superpower have largely gone ignored or dismissed. After all, in the view of the Americans, they “won” the Cold War, and therefore, Russia has no say in the post-Cold War global order being shaped by the West.
The West’s continued march East to Russia’s borders will continue to be examined in future parts of this series. For Russia, the problem is clear: the Godfather and its NATO-Mafia partners are ever-expanding to its borders, viewed (rightly so) as a threat to the Russian gangster state itself. Russia’s invasion of Crimea – much like its 2008 invasion of Georgia – are the first examples of Russia’s push back against the Western imperial expansion Eastwards. This, then, is not a case of “Russian aggression,” but rather, Russian reaction to the West’s ever-expanding imperialism and global aggression.
The West may think that it has domesticated and beaten down the bear, chained it up, make it dance and whip it into obedience. But every once in a while, the bear will take a swipe back at the one holding the whip. This is inevitable. And so long as the West continues with its current strategy, the reactions will only get worse in time.
• This article was first published in the Hampton Institute.