Friday, March 06, 2015

Russia, Ukraine, the West - It's Close to Out of Hand

We're Backing These Guys

If we don't want another Cold War or, worse, a full-blown shooting war with Russia (and quite possibly China to boot) it's on us to stop treating them like we're already enemies.

Russia expert, University of Kent professor, Richard Sakwa, has added his voice to the chorus arguing that the debacle in Ukraine is the inevitable result of the West's - and especially America's - policies over the past 30 years since G.H.W. Bush and Gorbachev ended Cold War I.

Sakwa maintains it was the United States, fearful of suffering economically, that subverted efforts for an economic and political reconciliation between the EU and Russia.

...despite the shocking assassination under the Kremlin walls of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, despite ever more evidence of Russia's complicity in and support for the conflict tearing Ukraine apart, Sakwa insists the West must take a step back and reassess its language and strategy since Malta – before it's too late.

"Ultimately Russia as a great power, a nuclear power, has to be listened to. Not to say 'it's right', not to say to 'give in', but at least to say 'OK, what are the issues' instead of simply demonising them. The triumphalism has to come to an end."

In his new book, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, Sakwa sketches out his theme: that by assuming that Russia was beaten, by ignoring its needs and its nature and by pushing NATO's borders closer and closer to Moscow, Europe and the US created the conditions for the current civil war in Ukraine.

They have put Europe and Russia into a destructive, escalating cycle of mistrust and aggression in which neither side is entirely to blame, yet both consider themselves blameless. "The atmosphere in Moscow, some of the hardliners, even the old liberals and academics, they're [saying] 'let's just solve it and march all the way to Kiev'," Sakwa told Fairfax Media. "They're so angry, they feel so betrayed by the West. It's very dangerous.

"We are doomed to . . . another 25 years of cold war, probably more dangerous than the first Cold War, which could end up in a 1914 situation because the West simply will not listen to Russia's concerns."

Sakwa's book has already caught attention. Retired NATO intelligence analyst Martin Packard wrote that it was the first "realistic synopsis of the background to current events".

"The intention in Moscow [in 1986] was to . . . achieve a progressive convergence with the EU," he wrote. "There could have been huge benefits to Europe in such convergence, but the process was deliberately sabotaged by US intelligence agencies, working from the hypothesis that a tie-up between the EU and a democratic Russia would pose a major threat to American long-term economic interests."

 "The chaos that we now have, and the distrust of America which motivates Russian policy, stems primarily from decisions taken in Washington 30 years ago."

Sakwa warns the West must be careful not to get caught in its own hypocrisy.

"It's 450 kilometres from the Ukrainian border to Moscow," Sakwa says. "If [NATO] really do believe in sovereignty, then I shall phone Raul Castro tomorrow and say 'all is forgiven, we made a mistake, you as a sovereign state have the right to put nuclear missiles onto Cuba'."

Over the last decade Russia became increasingly alienated. Vladimir Putin took power as a "new realist" seeking to engage with and accommodate the West. But after 2007 he and Russia became more assertive, Sakwa writes, buoyed by the country's economic recovery and unable to form genuine partnerships with the EU. Putin began to attack the US for trying to establish a "unipolar world . . . in which there is one master, one sovereign", and called the enlargement of NATO "a serious provocation".

Sakwa argues there's only one way out of this - a new deal with Russia, one not immersed in American triumphalism.

Russia simply cannot allow NATO to get a toehold in Ukraine, Sakwa says. NATO is a body "which by its very existence betrays the aspirations to have ended the Cold War with an equitable and inclusive peace". And as Russia becomes more anti-NATO, NATO becomes more wary of Russia.

"NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence," Sakwa argues in the book.

"We are in the logic of 1914, we are in an escalatory logic," he told Fairfax Media. "The idea of Russian troops marching into the Baltic states until a few months ago was absolutely absurd. Today it becomes more and more likely. The more they want proof of NATO's security, the less security they get. We've gone too far."

So what to do? Talk, says Sakwa: "For 20 years we've been living in a fool's paradise. After the end of the Cold War we ultimately fundamentally failed to establish an inclusive and satisfactory peace on the European continent.

"Ultimately there has to be a new Helsinki, a new Yalta, a new Malta."

And this time we have to get it right, he says.


doconnor said...

Perhaps the US escalated things that allowing NATO to expand. I don't see how that justifies Russia really, really, really escalating things by annexing parts of its neighbors, an action virtually unprecedented since the end of World War II.

Instead of these conspiracy theories, a more likely explanation is that Putin wanted a conflict to boost polling numbers, something all too common in the West. Although Putin's method was very ham-fisted compared to what the American's do, he has achieved his goals, so far.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's not about what's justifiable, Doc. There are many factors that arose over the previous 30-plus years that go to justification.

You'll have to come up with something pretty good if you want to argue that Putin triggered the coup that started all this. You can't because that was the West's doing. Our incitement of this revolt is well documented, much of it even admitted.

We've spent 30-years marching NATO to Russia's doorstep. This is the same Russia that has had two visits from the West over the past couple of centuries, one from Napoleon, the other from Hitler. For that they lost dozens of millions of lives. That sort of thing leaves lasting scars in the national psyche. You and I, we know nothing of that.

I've wondered, had we not pursued our policy of provocation, whether we would have enabled an integration of Russia and the EU, creating the groundwork for a real democracy. That's a hypothetical at this point. I think the Russian experiment with democracy is over for a while anyway.

doconnor said...

Putin didn't trigger the revolution, but he did a lot to prevent to from coming to a peaceful and democratic conclusion.

It's hard to believe Russia did this to prevent NATO from expanding or even attacking Russia, since it makes those who joined NATO very happy to be under its wing and the moved the idea of the West attacking Russia from ridiculous to a small possibility. All this NATO stuff smacks as a justification that propagandists came up with. If it was the EU encroaching instead, they would use that as an excuse.

You shouldn't allow yourself to fall for Russian propaganda any more then US propaganda, just because it fits your confirmation bias. The US doesn't have a monopoly on self-serving and destructive foreign policy. Sometimes they are on the less wrong side.

The Mound of Sound said...

I think this professor Sakwa got it right when he wrote neither side is entirely to blame but both sides consider themselves blameless.

It's said that a major factor in Washington's recent rapprochement with Cuba was to forestall any Russian attempt to establish a naval and air base on the island.

At some point, Doc, we have to put aside this nonsense and realize that the West is presenting a military threat to Russia on its doorstep and, in terms of its nuclear arsenal, Russia is at least the equal of the US.

I don't know how old you are but I lived and served during the most dangerous part of the Cold War and the fact that didn't turn into a conflagration was due to good fortune as much as anything else.

Do you think Ukraine is worth spending the next three or four decades in a repeat of Cold War I? I don't.

doconnor said...

Russia may have perceived it as a threat, but I think the American intention was to have Russia join NATO after a generation or two of peace, democracy and reduction in fear.

My main worry about the Ukraine is if we let it slide, some other country might think it is okay to annex part of a neighbor, then another and another, and the international system that has greatly reduced war over the last 50 years will collapse.

The annexation of East Timor took decades to reverse. The annexation of Kuwait was turned back quickly. The annexation of Tibet and the occupation of Palestinian Territories remain controversial.

Anonymous said...

Doc, you need a refresher course on the East European past.
1. Ukraine, in its current borders is very, very young country and not all the territory is really ethnic and culturally Ukrainian. Crimea was not (given to Ukraine as a gift by Khrushchev, an Ukrainian himself), western 15% was Polish for more than 600 years and redistributed after WW II by Stalin, and more importantly, Donbass region was essentially Russian for 1000+ years. Also, Crimean folks, after disintegration of CCCP 25 years ago, unsuccessfully petitioned Yeltsin to join Russia. BTW, Crimea is where ancient “Rus” took birth before moving later west to Kiev(!) and later pushed north-east to Moscow by expanding Poland.
2. Ukrainian ethnic group formed only ~1400 and since then was relentlessly oppressed, for the first 300 years by Poles, and for the last 300 years by Russians. Ukraine certainly deserves to be an independent nation. Alas, since collapse of CCCP, Ukraine was a vassal/client state of Russia, independent only on paper. My take is that Russia saw the deal/balance as follows: Ukraine can keep Crimea and Donbass (with 5+ millions of ethnic Russians) as long as it is firmly planted in Russia’s orbit.
3. That deal/balance was broken by US. The rest is history.

Troy said...

"but I think the American intention was to have Russia join NATO after a generation or two of peace, democracy and reduction in fear."

There's no endgame where Russia joins NATO.
The purpose of NATO was to contain Soviet aggression. It was obsolete after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Keeping it around illustrated the West had no interest in ending its policy of containment.
Containment is not a policy of peace.

The Mound of Sound said...

I agree completely, Troy. Professor Sakwa nailed it when he observed "Nato exists to manage the risks created by its existence." That's been crystal clear since Kosovo.

doconnor said...

The new purpose of NATO was to allow those country's militaries to continue to operate in a coordinated fashion on operations that their governments approve of. For example, NATO was used to coordinate operations in Afghanistan. If NATO didn't exist the same counties would have done the same thing, anyway.

It's Russia who was stuck in Cold War thinking that may have viewed NATO expansion as a threat (or a propaganda opportunity). The West had moved passed the Cold War, viewing Russia as just another trading partner. War was unthinkable.