A recent poll conducted by three Ivy League professors found that one in six people in this country could locate Ukraine on a map, and that the greater the person’s geographic ignorance, the greater the support for U.S. military intervention.
One might hope that after ensuing wars based on lies, people might wake up and realize that U.S. military intervention normally produces very unpleasant results for all involved. Still, you have the warmongers, calling for NATO action, catering to their audiences and receiving warm receptions from cable news talking heads.
The latter require–and mercilessly exploit–ignorance, fear, ethnic prejudice, and a weird (ultimately religious) notion of “American exceptionalism” to goad the people into backing more saber rattling and confrontation.
They’ve constructed a coherent if entirely misleading narrative. In their myth, Russia since the ascension to power of Vladimir Putin has been hell-bent on the reconstruction of a version of the old Soviet Union, in the process thwarting the desires of any democratic-minded peoples in the region who are not yet absorbed into the EU and NATO to attain such membership (it being assumed of course that the default mode of normal national existence in this broad region is in fact such memberships).
In reality the Russian leadership since 1991 has grudgingly accepted the incessant expansion of the U.S.-led western bloc, but gradually grown alarmed by what–from any neutral military strategist’s point of view–would seem to constitute provocations. (But no! NATO has consistently assured Moscow, this has nothing to do with you! It’s just about goodness–democracy and mutual defense and so on.)
Imagine the old Warsaw Pact expanding to include Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua, while courting the Canadian province of Quebec, wedding them to an agreement to jointly attack the U.S. should there be any incident on the Mexican border. Such is the situation inflicted on Russia by the State Department of Madeleine Albright in the Clinton era, and by Hillary Clinton, Victoria Nuland and John Kerry in the Obama era. The relentless expansion of NATO is not benign.
But few in this country are paying attention. There has been increasing (welcome) antipathy to war on Syria and Iran, and polls show support for withdrawal from Afghanistan. There seems to be some understanding of the fact that Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other countries have been victimized by U.S. bombing, drone strikes, midnight raids, the occasional eruption of a berserker GI who snaps and blows kids’ brains out thinking he’s avenging his honorable dead buddies, etc. There seems to be mounting awareness that such actions produce anger and hatred towards the U.S. around the world, and that may bother some people in this country. Still, there is that reliable contingent, including Sen. John McCain, that roots for more war, virtually as its default mode.
And they always know they can rely on ignorance. It’s their rod and their staff, that comforts them. People (they knew) would believe the Taliban were involved in 9/11; George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their neocons could thunder, “We will not distinguish” between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as though the rejection of rational analysis was a virtue. (A dozen years later most people with their eyes open know that al-Qaeda is an expanding international network aimed at attacking the west, while the Taliban is Pashtun-nationalist and Islamist operation with a xenophobic attitude and no special axe to grind with the U.S. It was always wrong to conflate the two, but it was politically very useful. Eventually the U.S. will have to pull out and all involved now concede there will have to be some accommodation with a still-formidable Taliban.)
And people (the Bush-era warmongers knew) would buy the myth that Saddam Hussein of Iraq (a Baathist secularist) was somehow also an al-Qaeda intimate, someone concealing advanced programs of weapons of mass destruction and threatening an attack on NYC. People would buy it, if told that Iran has a nuclear weapons program and wants urgently to wipe Israel off the face of the earth by a nuclear attack.
The Obama White House. having never attempted to debunk such myths, having honored the principal liars with White House dinners, having dismissed as absurd any call for criminal prosecutions for Bush-era war criminals, has energetically pressed its own myths while sustaining those it inherited (notably, the myth that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, which if you haven’t noticed, has been effectively dissected by Gareth Porter).
Muammar Gaddafi, Obama declared, was going to slaughter civilians if NATO didn’t intervene in Libya. We’ve seen the results of that unfounded fable. The Syrian regime, Obama alleged, used chemical weapons last August against its people. (The distinguished investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has pretty well refuted this).
And now, not surprisingly, we encounter this myth that in February the Ukrainian people heroically rose up in a popular uprising to topple a dictator, thwarting Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions, expressing the earnest national will to join the EU, accept an IMF imposed austerity program, and of course enter NATO to protect themselves against a Russian invasion.
I suspect many people who now understand that these earlier engagements were based on lies and the cynical manipulation of malleable public opinion are still unaware that the Obama administration’s take on Ukraine, is similarly based on a complete misrepresentation of reality. So is the take of the more or less monolithic mainstream press.
For them and anyone interested I offer, as a user-friendly educational tool, this little quiz. (Answers and commentary at the end.)
1.The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded in
2. The Warsaw Pact was formed in
3. NATO was in theory formed to
a. defend western Europe against possible Soviet aggression
b. suppress the communist threat in western and central Europe
c. counter the communist guerrillas in Greece
d. coordinate Northern Atlantic efforts against terrorism
4. The Warsaw Pact was in theory formed to
a. promote communism throughout the world
b. marginalize Yugoslavia’s “revisionism”
c. defend the Soviet Union and its bloc from western attack
d. fully integrate the Soviet and East European economies
5. NATO was first deployed in military action in what year?
6. NATO was first deployed in military action against what country?
a. the Soviet Union
b. East Germany
7. What were the targets of the first-ever NATO strikes?
a. ethnic Serbian militia locations in Bosnia
b. Russian forces in East Berlin
c. East German forces
d. Afghan Taliban
8. In 1989 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to the reunification of the
two Germanies and East Germany’s inclusion into NATO, but asked for a promise
that NATO would not expand eastwards. How did George H. W. Bush and his
Secretary of State George Baker reply?
a. they agreed that NATO would not spread eastwards
b. they refused to respond directly
c. they said that NATO expansion would depend on the sovereign will of East European peoples
d. they agreed that NATO would never expand to Russia’s borders
9. In what year did the Warsaw Pact dissolve?
10. In the history of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, what role did Yugoslavia play?
a. it was a member of the Warsaw Pact
b. it was a member of NATO
c. it was a member of the Warsaw Pact but quit
d. it was never a member of either organization
11. In 1999 the U.S. and NATO bombed
a. Belgrade, capital of Serbia, in the Federation of Yugoslavia
b. Mogadishu in Somalia
12. In 1999, NATO expanded to include
a. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary
b. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
c. Austria and Sweden
d. Georgia and Bulgaria
13. The Russian leader as of 1999, when NATO expanded east, was
a. Mikhail Gorbachev, proponent of “glasnost” and “perestroika”
b. Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s successor
c. Gennady Yaneyev, interim leader after Gorbachev
d. Vladimir Putin
14. (Choose one.) The main result of the NATO intervention in Kosovo has been
a. ethnic reconciliation in Kosovo
b. western companies’ profits from the exploitation of Kosovo coal
c. the encouragement of Islamist movements in the Balkans
d. the establishment of an independent Kosovo state
15. Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in Yugoslavia moved to secure Pristina Airport in Kosovo, Serbia ahead of a planned NATO deployment in June 1999. What was NATO’s reaction?
a. Gen. Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, instructed his subordinate British Lieutenant-General Mike Jackson to block Russian troops from entering the airport, but Jackson refused, declaring “I’m not going to start the Third World War for you.”
b. NATO successfully blocked the Russian advance
c. NATO negotiated a Russian withdrawal after signing a memorandum stating that Kosovo would remain part of Serbia and never join NATO
d. After a skirmish Russian troops were forced to retreat in humiliation
16. In 2001 the U.S. organized an international force centering on NATO to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan and occupy the country. It soon established bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, former Soviet republics bordering Afghanistan. How did Moscow respond?
a. It opposed the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan as an example of U.S. imperialism.
b. It sent troops to support the U.S.-NATO-led effort.
c. It cooperated with NATO, allowing military supplies to be delivered to Afghanistan via Russian territory.
d. It cooperated with NATO initially, but stopped allowing transit of NATO weapons through its territory after the U.S. established bases in the former Soviet republics.
17. In 2004 NATO further expanded to include
a. Poland, Bulgaria, and Albania
b. Slovakia, Romania, Bosnia and Kosovo
c. Finland, Romania, Austria and Slovenia
d. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria
18. In Feb. 2008 Kosovo declared its independence. In 1999 the Clinton administration had declared its commitment to Kosovo autonomy but opposition to independence. How did the administration of George W. Bush respond to the 2008 independence Declaration?
a. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that given Kosovo’s specific history including the 1999 war it was a sui generis case and so the U.S. would recognize the new state
b. the U.S. has yet to recognize Kosovo as a state
c. the U.S. has encouraged Kosovo to unite with NATO member Albania
d. none of the above
19. In August 2008, Georgia (a candidate for NATO membership) engaged in a brief war with Russian forces. Who fired the first shots?
a. Russian peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia opened fire on Georgian troops
b. South Ossetian terrorists attacked the capital of Tblisi, leading to a Georgian attack on South Ossetia repelled by Russian troops
c. Russian warships from the Crimea-based Russian Fleet launched missile attacks on Georgia’s Black Sea coast
d. Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, part of which had broken off from Georgia in 1991, killing 12 Russian soldiers and over 100 civilians and provoking a Russian response
20. What was the result of the August 2008 war?
a. NATO sped up the process of accepting Georgia
b. Russia recognized the independence of the republics of Abhkazia and South Ossetia
c. Georgian forces drove back the Russians
d. Russia annexed Georgia
21. If Georgia had been a NATO member in August 2008, engaged on Georgian soil in combat with Russian troops, what would the U.S. be obliged by treaty to do?
a. go to war with Russia to support Saakashvili’s effort to regain control over South Ossetia
a. provide arms to Georgia as a NATO ally
b. impose stiff sanctions on Russia
c. none of the above
22. In 2011 the U.S. and NATO won UN Security Council approval for a humanitarian intervention in Libya. Germany, India, Russia and China abstained although either Russia or China could have vetoed the resolution authorizing force. Over seven months NATO undertook 25,000 bombing missions over Libya, resulting in regime change. What was the Russian response?
a. Russia while not joining in the military action supported it vigorously
b. Russia complained that what had been represented as a humanitarian action was in fact an effort at regime change
c. Russia secretly aided Gaddafi
d. Russia joined in the bombing
23. What have been the results of the NATO intervention in Libya?
a. the installation of an effective pro-western regime
b. the establishment of an Islamist regime
c. the establishment of Tripoli and Benghazi as autonomous regions
d. the complete collapse of central authority and the division of the country among tribal-based militias
24. In February 2014 elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was toppled in an uprising headed by advocates of Ukrainian EU and NATO membership. How did Russia respond?
a. it recognized the new government, offering to continue to supply heavily discounted natural gas
b. it offered a continuation of cordial relations, on the condition that Ukraine never join NATO
c. it annexed the Crimean Peninsula, with its port of Sevastopol vital to the operations of the Russian navy, to prevent it ever becoming a NATO base
d. it demanded the return of Yanukovych to power and refused to accept the new regime
25. It is sometimes asserted that NATO membership guarantees members’ viability as “democracies.” Which of the following multiparty parliamentary democracies in Europe are not in NATO?
a. Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Finland
b. Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, Norway
c. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland
d. Spain, Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro
26. BONUS POINT. In 1998, as the U.S. Senate moved to expand NATO, Cold War era “containment” policy architect George F. Kennan stated
a. “This is our crowning achievement, following our Cold War victory.”
b. “Let us rub the Russians’ noses in their defeat.”
c. “I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever… It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history.”
d. “On to Sevastopol!”
27. BONUS POINT. At the U.S.-European Union summit in March 2014, President Obama stated that
a. neither Georgia nor Ukraine was “currently on a path to NATO membership” and that “there have not been any immediate plans for expansion of NATO’s membership.”
b. both Georgia and Ukraine “should be incorporated as soon as possible” into the Alliance
c. Georgia will be admitted into NATO “following the peaceful resolution of outstanding territorial questions”
d. Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO “must be expedited to re-establish Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea and Sevastopol.”
1. B. The correct answer is 1949.
2. B. 1955. The Warsaw Pact was a response to the much larger NATO.
3. A. To “defend Europe against possible Soviet aggression.” This never, in 42 years, happened; there were no Soviet encroachments on NATO countries’ territory.
5. D. The first-ever deployment was over Bosnia, as it was breaking away from Yugoslavia in 1994, three years after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. (Is it not ironic that the first NATO bombs fell on an East European country that had not been a member of either NATO nor the Warsaw Pact, but a neutral country friendly to the U.S.? And that the bombing had nothing to do with defending the west from Russia?)
6. C. See above.
7. A. Ethnic Serbians in Bosnia.
8. A. They agreed NATO would not spread east. It was widely assumed that both pacts would dissolve with the end of the Cold War.
9. B. February 1991. The USSR dissolved ten months later, in December 1991.
10. D. Never a member. Yugoslavia was a proud founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and pursued a neutral foreign policy.
11. A. Belgrade was bombed after the Serbian government refused to allow NATO to occupy all of then-Yugoslav territory.
12. A. Poland, then-Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Note how this happens the same year that NATO expands its hegemony over the former Yugoslavia and the U.S. establishes its massive Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.
13. B. Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s highly unpopular successor who had faced a constitutional challenge from the Duma in 1994 and responded by having the military bombard the parliament building, remained in power. He turned over power to Putin in December.
14. D. The independence of Kosovo. Although the U.S. State Department as of 1991 opposed the breakup of Yugoslavia, fearing it would encourage endless secessionist disputes elsewhere, Washington soon united with the German Foreign Ministry’s call for the dissolution of Yugoslavia into its component parts: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia etc. Even when Clinton intervened to assert Washington’s control in the Balkans in the post-Cold War era he did not call for an independent Kosovo.
15. A. Russia had played a key role in negotiating the cease-fire, whereby Serbian forces would be withdrawn from Kosovo (but spared the merciless terms of the Rambouillet “agreement” that Milosevic had refused to sign, which would have made what remained of Yugoslavia a NATO protectorate). The move on the airport was a statement that Russia expected to be involved in the Balkans, as the historical ally of Slavic peoples, and would not concede hegemony over the region to Bill Clinton.
16. C. The Russian leadership has consistently supported what was first termed the “war on terror,” facing, as it has, Islamist terrorists in the Caucasus. And of course the USSR spent a decade fighting the same sort of jihadis in Afghanistan that the U.S. has faced with similar bleak results over the last dozen plus years. Although not happy about U.S. bases in Central Asia, any more than Washington would be happy with Russian bases in Central America, it has not made a big issue out of the U.S. presence.
17. D. Suddenly there was a 400 mile long border between Russia and the NATO states of Estonia and Latvia. That is like having the Warsaw Pact across the borders of California, Arizona and New Mexico. And Russia was surrounded to the west, with only Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus as buffer states. But NATO had designs on them too.
18. A. Russia, Greece, Spain and some other nations protested that this was a bad precedent and would encourage more and more unilateral declarations of independence threatening nations’ sovereignty.
19. D. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili miscalculated badly, thinking that he could reestablish control over South Ossetia using overwhelming force. Instead he lost control of 20% of Georgian territory as South Ossetia as well as Abhkazia declared their independence, backed by Moscow.
20. B. Abkhazia and South Ossetia had declared their independence in 1991 and already fought wars with Georgia. Now Russia recognized their independence, just as the U.S. had recognized Kosovo’s.
21. A. This is the problem with binding alliances.
24. C. Given the massive expansion of NATO, and the real prospect that the new regime would seek expedited admission (making the Black Sea a NATO lake and jeopardizing the Russian position in Crimea) Moscow acted to protect its most important military asset in the region.
27. A. Obama seems to realize that NATO can’t expand indefinitely, and the Russians
are getting more than annoyed.
The basic timeline to understand the background to the “Ukrainian crisis”:
1989: The Berlin Wall falls and the two German states reunify. George W. H. Bush promises Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO will not to expand eastward.
1991: The Warsaw Pact dissolves itself in February; the USSR dissolves itself in December.
1994: The first ever NATO deployment occurs; over 1000 bombing raids target 300 Bosnian Serb targets in what was then Yugoslavia (a neutral country that had never been in NATO or the Warsaw Pact, but one with deep historical cultural ties to Russia).
1999: NATO bombs Yugoslavia again; Belgrade becomes the first European capital since 1945 to suffer weeks of bombing (ostensibly to prevent genocide in Kosovo although we now know that the prospect of this was highly exaggerated by the U.S. State Department–and most of the 3000-3500 deaths occurred after the NATO bombing commenced).
NATO achieves the de facto independence of Kosovo, and the U.S. establishes its massive army base, Camp Bondsteel, in Southeastern Europe.
Russian forces secure Pristina Airport in Kosovo in advance of NATO troops, indicating Moscow’s determination to play a role in the future of the region. Meanwhile NATO expands to include Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
Dec. 31, 1999: Vladimir Putin becomes acting Russian president (formally president from May 2000).
2001: After the 9/11 attacks the U.S. requests and receives NATO support to impose regime change in Afghanistan; NATO attacks and occupies Afghanistan.
U.S. establishes bases in the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Russia under Putin cooperates in the “war on terror” and allows NATO supply caravans to transit Russian territory.
2004: NATO further expands to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, plus Slovakia,
Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria. The border between Estonia and Latvia on the one side and Russia on the other is about 400 miles. Putin protests. Washington expresses surprise that Moscow is upset, since it has no aggressive intent.
2008: Kosovo declares independence, recognized by U.S. and most U.S. allies but rejected by Russia, which (like Serbia) regards Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia.
The Georgia-Russian war, following Georgia’s unprovoked attack on South Ossetia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia declare independence, and this is recognized by Russia and some other countries. (But not the U.S., which sees this as entirely different from the Kosovo case.)
2009: NATO further expands to include Albania and Croatia.
2011: NATO bombs Libya, ostensibly to defend civilians from government attack, achieving regime change, the murder of Gaddafi, and the total destabilization of that country.
2013: Strongly prompted by NATO member Turkey, Obama announces plans to assault Syria to punish the Damascus regime for supposedly using chemical weapons against its people. (Those charges now seem highly dubious.)
(These plans would have resulted in regime change and likely involvement of NATO troops deployed in Syria, where the Russians maintain their only significant naval base outside Russian borders.) Obama backs off due to U.S. public opinion and deft diplomatic moves by Russia. Syria agrees to turn over its stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons to UN forces.
2014: Overthrow of the elected Russia-leaning Ukrainian prime minister by forces backed by the U.S.; Russia depicts this as a putsch led partly by neo-fascists, while Washington sees it as a popular democratic uprising against a dictator. Russia depicts the new regime as illegitimate, created in violation of the Ukrainian constitution; the U.S. immediately recognizes it.
One of the first acts of the new government in Kiev is to withdraw recognition of Russian as an official language. While soon rescinded due to mass protest, this manifestation of anti-Russian sentiment encourages pro-Russian and secessionist sympathies, resulting in the Crimean referendum and the Russian annexation of the peninsula, bursting the NATO dream of transforming the Black Sea into a NATO lake.
As the U.S. tries to organize a collective western response to Russian actions following the Kiev putsch (which some might now conclude went badly awry), clear contradictions emerge within the western imperialist camp. Germany needs Russian-supplied petroleum. There is no real ideological gap between Moscow and Berlin, or Paris, or Warsaw. They are all capitalists now, and the issue is inter-capitalist, inter-imperialist contention.
What is more important to German Chancellor Angela Merkel? The expansion of NATO to include the Ukraine, and the conversion of the Black Sea into a NATO lake? (Not that the latter is currently thinkable, given the deft Russian move.) Or the maintenance of a healthy trade relationship with Russia, despite its reclamation of a peninsula alienated sixty years ago, peopled by ethnic Russians who want it to be so?
NATO ought to have self-dissolved long with the Warsaw Pact in 1991. But for years it’s rationalized its continued existence using the vaguest of formulations about “security” without stating the obvious intention: to encircle Russia, whittle away its surviving bases of military strength, insure it does not expand to re-incorporate lands falling within the new republics (even if the people want that), and fund and organize “orange revolutions” to facilitate geopolitical realignments.
One has the feeling the NATO expansion campaign hit a dead-end in February 2014. Obama (guided by Nuland) overplayed his hand. There will have to be an agreement whereby Ukraine adopts a federal system satisfactory to the Russian speaking people east of the Dnieper, and whereby the country–like Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden etc.–opts out of a military alliance.
And Washington if it wants to influence the discussion will probably have to gingerly detach itself from the neo-fascists it’s so far deployed to produce regime change in Kiev.