A war is not inconceivable

by William Pfaff

I find it very disquieting that so few among the West European and American commentators on the Ukraine crisis, private or public, seem concerned that the United States started this affair, and that it is not inconceivable that it may end in a war.

Worse yet, Washington’s demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been so successful in the press, and it has been so secret about the American role in Kiev, that it has left the public in the U.S. and in NATO Europe convinced that this has all been the result of a Russian strategy of aggressive expansion into Ukraine — and not a bungled and essentially American attempt to annex Ukraine to NATO and the European Union and to undermine the domestic political position of President Putin.

It all has gone badly and dangerously wrong.

It is the latest (and probably last) step in a foolish American and European betrayal of the promise given to Mikhail Gorbachev by President George H.W. Bush, at the time of the unification of Germany, that if the Soviet Union agreed to a newly united Germany’s assuming the Federal Republic’s existing place as a member of NATO, no NATO troops would be stationed in what formerly had been the Communist German Democratic Republic.

The deal was done, and at the time was a cause for congratulations on all sides, since it removed the principal obstacle to Germany reunion, considered desirable (and inevitable) by the Western countries, and as inevitable, given Germany’s history, by Moscow as well.

This agreement was undermined during the Reagan and Clinton presidencies in the U.S. by measures that first gave the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe what might be described as cadet NATO membership (the “Partnership for Peace”).

Agreement to actual NATO admission came as part of the EU Maastricht treaty in 1991. In 1987, the EU’s “Europe 2000″ plan for expansion named Ukraine, Moldavia, and Belarus as candidates for EU membership, and in 1999 Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia (soon to be two states) became NATO members, and in 2004 the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria.

NATO was, and remains, an alliance effectively under complete American control. Its arrival on the frontier of the former Soviet Union was accepted by the new Russia of Vladimir Putin with disquiet. This was not supposed to have happened.

Washington and the EU had their eyes on the Caucasus and Ukraine. Georgia was invited to prepare for NATO membership, and took this as a sign that NATO and the U.S. would underwrite its military recovery of its “lost lands,” and started off with an attack on South Ossetia. Russia’s patience was exhausted. The Russian Army promptly threw the Georgians out and took over the Ossetian statelet, and nearby Abkhazia as well.

It would take a closer knowledge than I possess of the workings of American government to explain why it decided to take complete control of post-1990 Central and Eastern Europe, following communism’s collapse.

For Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, Hungary and Romania, who suffered badly under the communists, NATO membership offered reassurance.

For Georgia and other states in the Caucasus, and for Ukraine, NATO posed a clear threat to Russia within the historical territories of czarist Russia. Why should the U.S. and the original states of the EU — Western, Roman Catholic or Protestant Christian, Atlantic-oriented states — decide to dismantle historical Russia by taking over nations that either were part of Russia’s own history and Christianization, or were colonies of the czars, some of them Muslim?

That, in any case, is where we are now, and Russia’s reaction is not simply that of an aggressive and authoritarian President Putin — as the West likes to make out — but the hostility of a significant part of the Russian population, which only now has recovered its national self-confidence and ambition.

The Ukrainian coup d’état in February was prepared by Washington. Why else was the State Department official in charge of Europe and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, together with officials of the EU and a number of intelligence people present, in company with the “moderate” Ukrainians programmed to take over the government after the planned overthrow of the corrupt (but elected) President Viktor Yanukovych?

Even U.S. President Barack Obama, in Mexico for a “summit,” was waiting to supply a video feed speeding Yanukovych on his way, and congratulating the “democratic” victors.

But then, as the night wore on, things got out of hand. The riot police and the opposition forces got out of control. In a video made at the time, the American candidate for prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said desperately, “Ukraine is in a big mess.”

Even though the immediate mess was eventually sorted out, and Yatsenyuk (“Yats” to Secretary Nuland) was soon (briefly) the prime minister, and in the interim was welcomed to Washington to dine at the White House with the American president, what was accomplished by all this that did not discredit the U.S. and the EU — and draw toward Ukraine?

What was the intent of all this? To create an East-West civil war in Ukraine? Why is that in the American interest? Russia’s intervention in such a futile war gave it back Crimea, plus responsibility for some fool’s shooting down a passenger airliner.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow, recently offered the following observations: Putin’s essential requirements are:

NATO excluded from Ukraine.

No U.S. troops on Russia’s borders.

Protection and preservation of the Russian cultural identity of the south and east of Ukraine.

Keeping Crimea Russian.

He won’t yield. Any serious concession to the U.S. would cause him to fall from power, and produce disorder in Russia.

For the future, he considers the U.S. in decline. He does not look to China but to Germany, which he sees as the coming leader of a powerful Europe.

What is Obama’s interest in all this? What about the Washington hawks responsible for what is happening.

There is only one possible solution: truce on the Ukraine frontier. Russo-American and EU accommodation on an independent and autonomous Ukraine.

U.S. journalist William Pfaff writes frequently on foreign policy. His latest book is “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (www.williampfaff.com). © 2014 Tribune Content Agency

  • SR

    So much naivete…

    I mean Batkivshchyna is hardly extremist…why else would you put moderate in quotation marks? Did you buy into the other media misdirection, that everyone pro-EU or anti-RF in Ukraine is fascist? And I’m sorry but your attempt to put this all on the US is pretty naive. Poroshenko has no agency eh? Neither do all the activists who were repulsed by Yanukovych creating new provisos, or his increasingly obvious deference to Moscow? Russia started a goddamn trade war last summer and Ukrainian media tried to ignore that and focus on the IMF loan conditions instead. You’re picking sides and leaving out telling details, Mr. Pfaff. I mean do you actually believe Putin is anywhere close to reality by asserting US troops in Ukraine is part of the NSC’s political calculus? Are you actually that comfortable with weasel words like “protection and preservation of the Russian cultural identity of the south and east of Ukraine”?

    My favorite parts is your idealization of HW Bush, who publicly threatened Ukrainian nationalists in what is now widely considered a political miscalculation, and your oversimplified views on NATO’s organization. Year after year after year, people put pressure on the other power players like UK and France to pick up the slack from the Pentagon, whether it’s the Secretary General or our own State Dept. And guess what…they never do. It’s to their advantage politically to budget themselves out of reliance; the voters get to have something they never pay for.

    • zer0_0zor0

      You make some interesting counterpoints, but why would you call the statement

      “protection and preservation of the Russian cultural identity of the south and east of Ukraine”

      weasel words? Do you deny the existence of such heritage or the right for those whose heritage it is to want to preserve it?

  • Taro-nechan

    Pfaff has always been tiring.