Is Ukraine a Prelude to WWIII?

Part 2 of a 2 Part Series

One of the delightful things about America is that they have absolutely no historical memory.

— Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, 1898-1976

More verbiage:  Russia has taken a “dark path”. Vice President Joe Biden said in Poland last week that those who rely on “aggression and fear” are bound to fail. Indeed, think Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran, the gradual current slinking from Afghanistan after approaching a 13 year reign of terror; creeping from Iraq in the dead of night after eight years of murder, decimation, torture and infanticide, followed by enjoining the destruction of Libya and, as with Iraq, the murder of the country’s leader.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said obediently that Russia was “in flagrant breach of international law (sending) a chilling message across the continent of Europe.”

Quite how a “flagrant breach …” is a nearly 97% Crimean vote to cede to Russia in a referendum, against an arguably illegitimate government in Ukraine deciding to pretty well cede to Europe with no referendum, in a deal which will cost every household in Ukraine in living standards and disposable income – the majority already woefully stretched – in crippling IMF stringency measures on a loan now believed to be eventually $27 Billion, is hard to fathom.

Meanwhile, President Obama arrived in Europe on the 15th anniversary of the onslaught on former Yugoslavia for a G7 meeting and Nuclear Security Summit, to scuttle, with John Kerry, from The Hague, to Brussels, Rome, to Riyadh, to curb “Russian aggression” as “new NATO training and exercises (are to) take place in Poland … the U.S. … has sent some 300 air troops and a dozen F-16 fighters to Poland for joint training in a show of military support (and) the U.S. is considering rotating American forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and naval exercises …”

Yet Russia is the “aggressor”, having stated and restated that the nation has no intention to move further into Ukraine, and whose troops in Crimea are still well below the contingency allowed in a mutual, legal agreement, whilst the US crosses the Atlantic to rattle sabers (and F-16s.)

President Obama also had a private meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, reportedly to attempt to enlist him in the “clear message” brigade.

President Xi was perhaps remembering the “clear message” of the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade (15th May 1999) when it was hit by five JDAM bombs, directed by the CIA. China had been against the attack on Yugoslavia and its diplomatic mission had determinedly stayed, unlike the US and UK, whose diplomats unfailingly flee ahead of bombs – near invariably theirs.

The attack caused outrage in China:

Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Beijing surrounded the US Embassy, hurled rocks through its windows, threw paint bombs, and set fire to it, apparently without any attempt on the part of the Chinese authorities to stop them.

The Embassy bombing resulted in China’s former President, Jiang Zemin, meeting Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin to agree to “a stronger strategic alliance between the two countries to counter United States dominance in world affairs.”  Perhaps White House staff have forgotten, or do not brief too well on modern history – has President Obama read any?

Moreover, in seeking the support of President Xi, Obama had another stumbling block: the National Security Agency’s espionage tactics. The meeting took place “just days after news broke that the U.S. spy agency had tapped into Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei’s computer system” and as Michelle Obama, was visiting China and lecturing her host country on transparency and openness in cyberspace.

As President Obama arm twisted and threatened – sorry, mobilized “all our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international correlation that sends a clear message” – on his route to a major confrontation with Russia, prepared, if necessary for a “show of strength”, and as many a murderous President before him, to fight to the last drop of blood of the sons and daughters of others, he laughably arrived (at a cost of ten million Euros to Belgium for his twenty four hour stay) with “a nine hundred strong entourage, including forty five vehicles and three cargo planes.”

Additionally, Belgium mobilized: “ three hundred and fifty police and military on motorbikes to secure the President’s routes to EU and NATO summits … while a convoy of nine US helicopters (took) Obama to an American First World War cemetery”, to tour a battlefield and lay a wreath – as he seemingly is prepared to plunge the planet into another global confrontation, if leaders are lemming enough to follow.

But if he is prepared to be as feckless with others’ finances as he is with others’ blood, there may be a few stumbling blocks.

Belgium, population 11,161,642 (2012) has had trading links with Russia since the early 18th century. Peter the Great visited what is now Belgium in 1717 and donated funds for a portico to a spa town, some sixty years before the birth of the United States of America. Last year’s exports to Russia were worth some four billion Euros.

In all, according to Eurostat, the 27 EU countries exported 108 Billion Euros-worth of goods to Russia in 2012 and imported 163 Billion Euros in trade from Russia “with energy accounting for more than three quarters of imports.”

In blindly backing the US in another certifiably insane provocation, Britain has much to lose. According to UK Trade and Investment, “Russia remains an important trading partner … Between 2009 and 2012, exports of goods and services to Russia have grown by over 75% from £4.3 billion to £7.6 billion.”

Last September, David Cameron made a “landmark visit” to Moscow with a “strong commercial focus.“ With him were the Foreign Secretary, the Trade and Investment Minister Lord Green and a delegation 24 business leaders representing a range of sectors. The visit aimed to “cement relations.” Beware British politicians bearing gifts.

In November, Business Secretary Vince Cable led a trade visit to Russia, “with more than thirty British companies to boost the fast growing economic links between the two countries …British exports to Russia have almost tripled in the last ten years, with around six hundred UK companies currently operating in the country. The opportunities are huge for British business – that’s why we’re also investing in a $50 million fund to help British small businesses export to Russia.”

The not so small businesses who accompanied the Business Secretary were bosses from Britain’s biggest companies, including Rolls-Royce, British Airways, Rio Tinto and Diageo in a bid to “strengthen ties and promote trade.”. Other companies that have recently moved into the Russian market include Cadbury, AstraZeneca, Kingfisher, Marks & Spencer and Monsoon.

Trevor Barton, Executive Director of the Russian British Chamber of Commerce said that British exports to Russia have been continuing to grow at 20-30% per annum, with Russian imports in mainly raw materials, oil and gas slightly exceeding exports. However, the market is “pretty substantial (the UK’s) fastest growing export market of anywhere in the world”, which the UK government had actively “encouraged.”

Russia was a “ very close trading partner and the possibilities have not gone away”, said Barton for whom, it seems, the country is not alone a business opportunity, but for which he cares and relates. But these were “challenging times” in “spending time talking to companies and persuading” explaining possibilities, when frequently potential investors currently simply unquestioningly take at face value the insane biased media hype. (Mr Barton was scrupulous in not commenting on politics, the latter lines are entirely the writer’s interpretation.)

Germany’s foreign trade group BGA, has warned that Germany would suffer more than other European country if sanctions escalated: “With about 6,200 German companies invested in Russia, and bilateral trade worth 76 billion Euros ($105 billion) last year. A trade conflict would be painful for the German economy …” warned  BGA President Anton Börner, adding that Germany could not do without Russia since both economies were “highly complementary.”

By late 2010, French companies in Russia had increased six-fold with trade between the two countries worth $22.6 billion. Fifty percent of Russia’s fruit and berries are imported from Holland, Portugal and Poland. A meat deal with Brazil (pork and beef especially) also have the potential to diminish or trash European trade.

From Ireland in the west of Europe to Italy in the south (the latter Europe’s fourth largest trader with Russia) to Greece in the east, focus has been on developing trading ties with Russia and the EU can certainly do with no financial set backs.  It is already in the eyes of many a fiscal train wreck waiting to happen.

Across the Atlantic, in Houston, Texas alone, 400 companies trade with Russia. Sanctions could lead to some of America’s biggest companies being impacted. PepsiCo “had nearly $5 billion in net revenue from Russia in 2012.” Coca-Cola has a “large presence” and Exxon Mobil has signed a deal with Russian state oil company Rosneft to drill in the Arctic, beginning this year, “the lucrative crude up there could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Both General Motors and Ford have a market share in Russia and have invested in production facilities, with Ford negotiating a partnership with Russian Sollis, the all worth several $billion. “Russia is an emerging market with growing incomes, and U.S. companies have been actively looking to increase their investment there in recent years.”

And from the US Moscow Embassy:

“President Obama announced the National Export Initiative (NEI) two years ago, with the goal of doubling exports by 2014. U.S. embassies are committed to supporting U.S. companies to start exporting or grow their exports to Russia. In this section, you’ll find a quick description of Russia’s export market and some suggestions for getting started.”

“This is no time for bluster” blustered President Obama in a speech in Europe last week. Indeed, he seems to have missed that not only is he determined to potentially bankrupt swathes of Europe and the US, President Putin holds all the cards. For thirteen years closer ties have been developing in trade and policies with the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – representing 42% of world population and about a quarter of the world’s economy.

They have already: “created their own Stock Alliance and are creating their own development bank to finance large infrastructure projects. There are also dynamic trade and multiple projects in different areas … in total, there are more than 20 formats of cooperation within the BRICS intensively developing.” In February they agreed on possibly eleven directions of scientific and technical cooperation, from aeronautics to bio and nanotechnology. They also plan to  “modernize the global economic system so dominated by the EU and US.

This year “Russia and China have a full agenda for bilateral cooperation, which includes not only trade but also such spheres as energy, aircraft building, mechanical engineering, military and science cooperation, tourism” and more. Cultural ties are also strengthening with 2014-2015 a year of youth exchange.

Russia and China are additionally planning joint events to mark the seventieth anniversary of the victory over German fascism in WW11 next year.   Really bad timing for Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to delight over America’s $5 billion spent on installing a fascist government in Kiev.

And suppose Russia switched from accepting US dollars, Euros and the UK pound, to other currencies, as observers have commented could be being considered.

Further, as Europe’s energy is highly dependent on Russia, perhaps, like Crimea, the 27 EU countries could be granted some democracy and vote as to whether they want the radiators to go cold and to paraphrase Churchill “the lights go off all over Europe.”

Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) Read other articles by Felicity.