Under the ruins of a walled cityCrumbling towers and beams of yellow light
No flags of truce, no cries of pity
The siege guns had been pounding all through
It took a day to build the city
We walked through its streets in the afternoon
As I returned across the fields I'd known
I recognized the walls that I'd once made
I had to stop in my tracks for fear
Of walking on the mines I'd laid
— Fortress Around Your Heart by Sting
As our television screens share the latest cycle of rescue workers picking through rubble, women and children fleeing the country, men standing bravely in their defense, the only possible conclusion is that Russia is the enemy of Ukraine, and the West. Scary, unstable Putin is the new Hitler, the enemy of Europe and the United States, Russia added to our list of enemies which includes China, North Korea and Iran…
It is clear that Ukraine is undergoing war crimes committed by Russia against a civilian population that made no threatening move towards them, but our analysis should not end there. Though reinforced by heart-wrenching interviews, it ignores an over-arching reality. The common enemy of every nation, and life itself, are twin evils that avail themselves of any political system regardless its configuration, and they consistently reinforce each other: the global arms industry, and the fossil fuel industry. If we wish to see an end to this conflict along with so many others we need to acknowledge we are all held hostage to a war machine that needs arms and oil in order to fight wars, over oil and arms. As Lila Garrett liked to say, these two don’t have enemies; only customers.
If this sounds overtly cynical in the current crisis reflect that the stock price of Raytheon and other defense contractors is up 20% in the last few days, and members of Congress are busily buying shares— a situation recognized by Ilhan Omar as conflict of interest, a good reason why they should be barred from doing so.
Add that the price of gas at the pump up about 50%, with little justification as Russian oil only provides about one percent of U.S. supply, while the U.S. is a major exporter of oil and natural gas. A barrel of crude is up 60% over its price six months ago.
Thom Hartmann missed this point entirely when he stated recently, “a defensive war is very different than an offensive war.” Every war requires soldiers. Every war is sold as necessary for the ongoing struggle to defend national identity. This is as true in current crisis, whether looking at it from the perspective of Russia, or the U.S and Europe, or Ukraine caught between them. Not too surprisingly no one is talking about the existential threat posed by climate change and the need to get off fossil fuel, as the number of refugees from the current conflict tops two and a half million. If we dare the more interesting question to ask is how we got here. The answer makes clear how the war could be stopped immediately, and why that is unlikely.
Neoliberalism on the march
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the voluntary dissolution of the Soviet Union shortly thereafter, described by Francis Fukuyama as “the end of history,” the U.S. foreign policy elite has regarded ours “the indispensable nation,” and our military, the “sole superpower.” With great power comes great license, if not responsibility.
It was a moment when some believed we could look forward to a “peace dividend,” a redirection of priorities away from our massive military budget to more domestic concerns since its justification, the Soviet Union, was no more.
What if we had cashed that check… let Saddam have Kuwait, or at least pulled our bases back out of Saudi Arabia immediately after the first Gulf War, and refrained from allowing NATO to exceed its UN mandate in Kosovo? The attack of 11 September 2001 might never have happened, and our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq… In such a world I doubt if Russia would have contemplated their current action. But as we know such was not to be.
With little regard from Congress or the public, the U.S. has involved itself in nearly a dozen wars of choice (three ongoing, prior to Ukraine) with no clear national interest on the line since then. None have yielded a clear result of the stated aim, an expansion of democracy. This has taken a toll on the assumption of the inevitable triumph of Western liberal democracy, both by those outside the Western bubble, and in our country, outside the Washington DC bubble, as rape of the heartland continues to pay the price for such folly. As a result, the majority of our population is disenchanted with their government and ethnocentrism is on the rise.
Simultaneously, from 1990 to the present, we have witnessed a rejection of modernity and traditionalism in favor of postmodernism, a philosophy that regards all truth as relative, not definitive. If all points of view are of equal value, what is left but to push for greater recognition of one’s particular ethnic (and/or gender) identity?
Recognition of intersectionality was meant to honor difference the better to face our common challenges, but with the rise of identity politics in the U.S. and elsewhere we see the balkanization of national identities along fault lines. In the U.S., the fragile fabric of our national identity and our faith in the ultimate success of liberal hegemony globally, relies on believing all mistakes are made with benevolent intentions. What flaws exist are only because we are a work in progress. The foundation is sound, the end in sight, our ideology superior, all others have been justifiably vanquished to the dustbin of history. By this measure continued expansion of the neoliberal">enterprise is not only justified, it is one’s duty. It obliges decision-makers to utilize the sole-superpower available to crush any nation/market/populace that would protect itself from being picked clean by vulture venture capitalists, looking for the latest place to loot.
“Liberalism is skin deep, and I use the word skin deliberately.”
—Vijay Prashad in conversation with Mitch Jeserich, “Letter & Politics” 8 March 2022
Except that, we keep making them—mistakes, that is—unless one admits to political churn and chaos being the goal, which coincidentally provides the great profits for the arms and oil industries. If we really trusted the supremacy of our ideology we would be confident others would come to the same conclusions without being prodded by force of arms—but that would mean a lot of missed sales.
Have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too arrogance of transnational political elites seems the only explanation for events. Those who’d stand before this flood of moral ineptitude to stem the tide have only broken tools, a partial revolution with no clear successor to the nationalist paradigm, which can wield blizzards of propaganda in its defense.
A reasoning person might assume that such an immodest stance toward history would blind policy-makers to its lessons, and repeated assaults of hypocrisy exposed would give them pause— but once one assumes shamelessness something else is at work. Reality bounces off, easily diverted by the uber-elite when they gather to convince each other of their entitlement and benevolent intentions.
Enter climate change, imperial over-reach, and con men positioned to ride waves of discontent into authoritarian counterrevolution (including in our country).
In “Counterpunch” Ukraine: A Conflict Soaked in Contradictions and New Patterns in War and Media" Vijay Prashad took issue with racism-laced sympathy for Ukrainian refugees on display, in comparison for those from long-running destructive conflicts in the Middle East and Africa (also explored by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post). But, Prashad went on—
“The roots of [the Ukraine conflict] go deep, to various political and foreign policy developments, such as the post-Soviet emergence of ethnic nationalism along the spine of Eastern Europe, the eastward advance of U.S. power—through NATO—toward the Russian border, and the turbulent relationship between the major European states and their eastern neighbors (including Russia).”
Anarchists present at the Maidan uprising of 2013-14 and events in Ukraine since draw a complex, detailed picture of the conflict between pro-Western nationalists, fascists and left-wing pro-Russian anti-fascists, in which no side comes out clean.
Amidst the blizzard of propaganda clogging the airwaves it’s worth recalling Russian-Ukrainian history, at least to when the Republic of Ukraine was governed as one of the republics of the USSR, enmities that carry into the present.
Ukraine in the Soviet Era
1917—1922 As WWI weakened the Tsar’s grip on the Russian Empire, Ukrainians declared autonomy. With the Bolshevik revolution and death of the Tsar, Russia and Ukraine descended into a four-year civil war. Ukraine emerged in 1921 as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, a founding member along with Russia of the Soviet Union, in 1922.
1928—1935 In 1928 Stalin announced his first five-year plan. Within a couple years confiscation of Ukrainian farmland commenced, the farmers gathered under the system of collectivization, which was meant to increase yields and allow the rest of the Soviet Union to industrialize. The largest landowners, the farmers with the greatest skill, were deported. There followed a poor harvest, then another. Rather than admit to inefficiencies in the new system and poor planning for natural cycles, the shortfall was interpreted by Stalin and his Moscow bureaucracy as theft, and counter-revolutionary resistance. The repressive measures that followed, with thousands deported or executed and the confiscation of even the seed grain needed for the next season’s planting, resulted in death by starvation of four million Ukrainians in the years 1932-34. Stalin repopulated some of the depopulated areas with Russian transplants. The kulaks deported to Siberia were subjected to a second purge in 1938, as it was feared they would make common cause with the Japanese on Russia’s eastern border.
1941-1945 Hitler invaded the USSR through Poland and the Ukraine. After such suffering under the Soviets a few years before, many Ukrainians viewed the Nazis as liberators and joined them. They formed their own Nazi party and military battalions, which participated in the invasion of Russia, an invasion that resulted in the death of 26.6 million Soviets. Timothy Snyder refers to the area of Poland and the Ukraine as the “Bloodlands” in his book of the same name, where 22 million non-combatants were murdered during the conflict between the Soviets and the Nazis. Some of these were murders committed by Ukrainian Nazis on fellow Ukrainians: Ukrainian Jews and ethnic Russian Ukrainians. With the Soviet counter-offensive the Germans were pushed back, the Ukrainian Nazis defeated along with them.
Much is made in Western media of Putin closing off the Russians’ access to alternative media, limiting their access to information. Yet I’m forced to wonder which side wields greater propaganda control, when U.S. media presents Putin’s demands briefly if at all, devoid of historical context and only to dismiss them as absurdly excessive. These, which have not changed since the beginning, were rejected once again by Kiev as tantamount to surrender at the latest meeting of their foreign ministers (though as I write the two sides seem to be softening). They are:
- Ukraine cease military actions
- Change the constitution to enshrine neutrality for Ukraine
- Acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory
- Recognize the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.
Putin’s argument boils down to the invasion was necessary to safeguard Russian security and protect pro-Russian people in Ukraine (similar to the argument he made for invasion of Georgia in 2008), on the basis of NATO expansion and anti-Russian Nazis taking control of the Kiev government. The security concerns are real, the idea of protection of ethnic Russians merely and excuse, and really it has as much or more to do with economic considerations; i.e., oil.
Putin’s claim: Russian security and NATO expansion, 1991—2022
1991-1994 With the voluntary dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Gorbachev agreed to the unification of East Germany with West Germany, and its inclusion into NATO, with the promise from Secretary of State James Baker and President H. W. Bush that NATO would not advance “one inch” further to the East. NATO security arrangements came underreview, and Russian and NATO agreed on the Treaty On Conventional Armed Forces In Europe (CFE), entered into on 9 November 1992. As NATO members met in early 1994 continued existence of the alliance again seemed a possible question, as the main reason for its existence, aggression from the Soviet Union, was no longer an issue. But by August of that year, NATO was enlisted by the UN to protect safe havens in the former Yugoslavia from Bosnian Serb attacks. Maintenance of the alliance remained, primarily as a bulwark against Russia, even though Russia was trying to integrate its economy with the West. In late 1994, Russia, the UK and the U.S. signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The agreement prohibited Russia, the U.S. and the UK from threatening or using military force or economic coercion against Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and for such assurances they in turn agreed to give up their nuclear weapons.
1997-1999 Despite Baker’s 1991 promise to Gorbachev, NATO members decided to open the alliance to accepting new members. Elder statesman George F. Kennan, architect of America’s ‘containment policy’ during the Cold War, strongly argued against such a move, in an Op-ed to the New York Times, 05 Feb 1997, titled “A Fateful Error:”
“Why, with all the hopeful possibilities engendered by the end of the Cold War, should East-West relations become centered on the question of who would be allied with whom and, by implication, against whom in some fanciful, totally unforeseeable and most improbable future military conflict?”
“Bluntly stated…expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking… ”
After meeting stipulations regarding governance, anti-corruption and upgrading their militaries through the purchase of new equipment, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were accepted into the alliance, over Russian objections, in 1999.
2000-2008 In 2000 NATO expressed being open to adding Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia to the alliance. In 2002 Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were invited. They were accepted into the alliance in 2004.
Russia was particularly upset by the addition of the Baltic States— Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia— which directly border on Russia. While Russia had tolerated the NATO expansions in 1999 and 2004, Russia made clear adding two more nations on Russia’s border, Ukraine and Georgia, was a red line. Nevertheless the W. Bush administration pursued such negotiations. On 14 July 2007, Russia announced it would suspend adherence to its obligations under CFE.
Writing in “Counterpunch” February 25, Chronicle of War Foretold Chris Hedges goes some distance to explain what I believe was the motivation for NATO expansion throughout this period, in “Chronicles of War Foretold.” All new member nations were required to upgrade their militaries, resulting in increased arms sales by U.S. manufacturers and those of other major member states (explored in Must We? Not Again.">“Must We? Not Again”). Hedges quotes a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks dated February 1, 2008, sent from Moscow by Ambassador William J. Burns to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NATO-European Union Cooperative, the National Security Council (NSC), Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, two months prior to the Bucharest Declaration:
“Not only does Russia perceive encirclement [by NATO], and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests… Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face… Dmitri Trenin, Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, expressed concern that Ukraine was, in the long-term, the most potentially destabilizing factor in U.S.-Russian relations, given the level of emotion and neuralgia triggered by its quest for NATO membership… Because membership remained divisive in Ukrainian domestic politics, it created an opening for Russian intervention. Trenin expressed concern that elements within the Russian establishment would be encouraged to meddle, stimulating U.S. overt encouragement of opposing political forces, and leaving the U.S. and Russia in a classic confrontational posture.”
In his 25 September 2015 lecture, ">“Why is Ukraine the West’s Fault?”, noted political science professor John Mearsheimer makes the case that great powers (and with thousands of nuclear weapons, controlling the largest land mass of any single nation it is quite silly to think of Russia as anything less) have strategic security interests, which trump their economic interests. They will be willing to suffer a great deal of economic pain to satisfy what they see as their strategic security interests. Whether one considers it justifiable, just as the U.S. has its Monroe Doctrine regarding what it considers foreign interference in the entire Western hemisphere (which came into play in the Cuban missile crisis), so Russia has red lines about maintaining a buffer between it and the NATO alliance; understandable since the alliance has proven incapable of limiting its territorial expansion over time.
In early 2008, the U.S., over German objections, urged NATO to ignore the Russians’ concerns about including Ukraine into NATO. The Bucharest Declaration of 3 April 2008 offered membership to Croatia and Slovenia (and they were accepted into the alliance the following year), but of greater importance to Russia was Paragraph 23, of the declaration:
23. NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations. We welcome the democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia and look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May.
The Russian response was entirely predictable:
“Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which will have most serious consequences for pan-European security,”
replied the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister. Vladimir Putin responded that Georgia and Ukraine becoming part of NATO was a “direct threat” to Russia. Four months later, in August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. The invasion was very costly to Russia, both domestically and in terms of reaction from the West, and it couldn’t exactly be declared a clear military victory, but it left the nation of Georgia destroyed to the degree it has yet to recover from. It did accomplish Russia’s strategic aim, of putting EU and NATO membership off the table for Georgia for the foreseeable future.
2013-2015 Mearsheimer (2015) traces the events of Ukraine in 2013-14:
- 21 November 2013: President Yanukovych says no to EU deal
- 1 December: Large demonstration on the “Maidan” central square, protesters seize City Hall in Kiev
- 17 December: Putin announces $15 billion loan deal to support no on EU
- 22 January 2014: First two protest deaths
- 18 February: Street clashes leave 26 dead
- 20 February: Street clashes leave 40 dead
- 21 February: Deal worked out for May elections (even though Yanukovych was just re-elected), but this is not accepted by the protesters
- 22 February: Yanukovych flees
Putin informed his military already present in Crimea, as Russia still leased its naval base there from Ukraine, to occupy checkpoints. An election was held ostensibly demonstrating the Russian majority population of Crimea desired to become part of Russia. In the Donbas region hostilities commenced again between right-wing Ukrainians and pro-Russian Ukrainians.
2015-2022 Mearsheimer (2015) asserts that the Kiev government has been led down the primrose path (as was Georgia) by NATO and the West. ROBERT PARRY: The Mess That Nuland Made" Robert Parry concurs in “The Mess That Nuland Made” (13 July 2015), and Who’s More in Violation of Minsk-2 – Kiev or Donbass?" Gordon M. Hahn agrees in “Who’s More in Violation of Minsk-2 — Kiev or Donbas?” (February 19, 2016). Hahn places the failure of the Minsk Agreement (concluded on February 12, 2015 that brought hostilities to an end in the Donbas), at the feet of the Kiev government’s inability to rein in right-wing anti-Russian nationalist and Nazi elements in its coalition. When the parliament met to take the required first steps, they were prevented with violence and threats of violence by ultra-nationalists.
“…when the Verkhovna Rada convened to vote on a constitutional law on decentralization required under Minsk-2’s article 12, the neo-fascist Svoboda Party (SP) and Right Sector (RS) parties organized a ‘demonstration’ that quickly transformed into an attempt to seize the parliament building. One protester through [sic] a grenade killing and wounding several police officers outside the Verkhovna Rada building. This and other terrorist and coercive actions by leaders and members of the SP, RS, and ultra-nationalist and national chauvinist parties like Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party, Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party, and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front have signaled Poroshenko that any attempt to comply with these key articles in Minsk-2 can lead to a Maidan 2.0 ultra-nationalist revolution, as stated numerous times by former RS leader Dmitro Yarosh, SP leader Oleh Tyahnibok, and other radical nationalists.”
With the failure of Minsk-2, hostilities in the Donbas resumed, and Kiev cut off Crimea’s access to fresh water.
Putin’s seizure of Crimea insured the Russian Navy’s continued use of their base at Sevastopol, one of the few year-round ice-free ports on the Black Sea which the navy needs to operate in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
Putin’s claim: protect ethnic Russian Ukranians — Nazis in Ukraine, or Nazi Ukraine?
By this measure, Putin’s long stated fear of NATO expansion and Nazi infiltration of the government of Ukraine leading to civil war can hardly be seen as unfounded, from his perspective, but needless to say he helped instigate the conflict in the Donbas to create a justification for invasion, similar to the method used to move into Georgia in 2008.
In announcing his invasion, Putin plugged the need for “denazification” as one of his justifications:
“Its goal is to protect people who have been abused by the genocide of the Kyiv regime for eight years. And to this end, we will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing to justice those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation.”
This claim was disputed by Ukrainian American journalist Lev Golinkin in his guest appearance on “Democracy Now,” March 4th:
“I am from Kharkiv, from Ukraine. I was born there, raised there. I am a native Russian speaker, as are my parents, who are also there. So, Putin’s lie about how he’s protecting Russian speakers, he’s currently — he’s not protecting them. He’s bombing them. He’s killing them right now. All the people that you see are in Kharkiv, 99% chance that anybody who’s killed in the city is a native and primary Russian speaker. And these people, they’re not Russians. We are Ukrainians. We happen to speak a different language, but it’s like saying that people in Canada, in Quebec, the French speakers, are still Canadians and members of Canada. So, that’s a very important thing to put out there, so people know that the whole notion of Putin saving Russian speakers is garbage. He’s not saving them. He’s killing them right now.”
Representative Ilhan Omar observed on Democracy Now, 8 March 2022 that weapons advanced to Ukrainians for their defense could end up in the hands of people we might ultimately regret giving them to. Vijay Prashad made a similar observation in conversation with Mitch Jeserich on KPFA’s Letters & Politics, noting there is a strong Nazi element in the Ukrainian army. Prashad lent credence to Putin’s claims of persecution of the Russian-speaking minority in the Donbas region post-2014, that over 14,000 people had been killed in the last eight years in the fighting, the implication being at the hands of right wing Ukrainian neo-Nazis. Given their shared history under the Soviets and Nazis, this might not be surprising, but in the present context there is at least as much evidence to suggest Russia’s hand in the Donbas, as there are who suggest the Maidan was orchestrated with U.S. help. According to UN figures 14,400 were killed in fighting between 14 April 2014 and 31 December 2021. Of these, 3,400 were civilians. The rest were either Ukrainian forces or other armed groups (rebel separatists backed by Russian forces); 54,000 were injured.
There is ample ROBERT PARRY: The Mess That Nuland Made" evidence of ultra-right parties in the government and the presence of neo-Nazisin theUkrainian army. Western media largely dismisses this as an overblown claim. Others fear these ultra-right groups are strong enough to be a threat to the Ukrainian government, if/when hostilities with the Russians ever cease. Western media, and Zelensky himself deflects such criticism by referencing his Jewish heritage, but the fact is the government and army are How Ukraine’s Jewish president Zelensky made peace with neo-Nazi paramilitaries on front lines of war with Russia" forced into alliance with far-right neo-Nazi groups at present to resist Russian invasion.
Just because a few Nazis got tried at Nuremburg doesn’t mean the rest of the Nazis disappeared after WWII. Historically there was a substantial Nazi movement in Ukraine (along with Greece, Croatia and many other nations that were occupied) which has continued in at least vestigial form into the present, along with other ultra-nationalist groups. Ukraine is OPERATION PAPERCLIP" not the only nation with substantial Nazi anti-Russian sentiment. Prominent former Nazi Wehrmacht generals assumed similar positions in the West German army after WWII, and rose within the ranks of NATO to serve as Chiefs of Allied Forces Central Europe from the late 60’s through the early 80’s, including some of the same individuals who in their previous positions helped oversee the deaths of 22 million non-combatants, and millions of Soviet soldiers.
But because there are Nazis in Ukraine, does that mean Ukrainians are Nazis, or their government is controlled by them with designs on destabilizing the regime in Moscow, as Putin claims? No. They are useful to the Ukrainian military at the moment, because of their antipathy for Russia, as they are to Russia in justifying his “protection” of ethnic Russian Ukrainians. Interestingly, if Putin was to invade America on the excuse of “denazification” he’d be killing his most ardent supporters. The cult of personality spawned by Putin’s brand of authoritarianism contains strains potentially worse than Putin himself. Arrayed against this expansive nationalist impulse the forces on the far right in Ukraine may be nearly as great a threat to Ukrainian democracy, in the long term, as Putin’s invasion is now.
Conversely, Putin justifying intervention in support of ethnic Russians under attack inside Ukraine seems completely disproven by the nature of the current assault. It seems no greater care was undertaken to prevent civilian casualties in the largely Russian speaking areas of eastern and southern Ukraine; rather the opposite. The more resistance the invading army encounters the more they resort to indiscriminant bombardment to limit their own casualties, and killing everyone alike unites the population against them. Then, the Russian occupiers are doing the survivors the favor of starving them into submission, by preventing aid convoys from reaching them, and firing on agreed upon refugee corridors more often than not.
This aligns with Putin’s strategic desire to create a buffer zone more than concern for anyone’s welfare, and has to do with gaining strategic control of those areas with large fossil fuel deposits.
OIL, and natural gas
Ukraine in the way Russia is a petro-state, the Crude Oil Exports by Country" second largest contributor (following Saudi Arabia), amounting to 11% of global supply. Fossil Fuel exports comprised 54% of all Russian exports in 2021. Fifty percent of Russian gas exports and a large percentage of its oil exports to Western Europe pass through pipelines through Ukraine, for which Ukraine has been charging billions of dollars in tariffs.
This amount has been reduced by the building of new pipelines: Yamal-Europe across Belarus; Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, Russia’s largest single customer; and South Stream, Blue Stream and Turk Stream beneath the Black Sea.
Ukraine as competitor Improvements in drilling techniques after 2010 (fracking) enabled previously untapped shale deposits to be exploited, in the Donetsk in the east of the country and in Carpathians in the west."
In 2012, Ukraine discovered natural gas reserves, making it potentially the 14th largest producer in the world. Two trillion cubic meters of natural gas was discovered in the Crimea and in the Black Sea off Ukraine’s southern coast within their economic zone.
Lacking the resources to exploit these reserves itself, the Ukraine government signed development agreements with Shell and Exxon. Ukraine was poised to become within a few years Europe’s second petro-state. This provided an easy path for Ukraine’s entry into the European Union, and NATO.
Conflict over oil When, under pressure from Putin, the pro-Russian president Yanukovich spurned EU courtship 21 November 2013, anti-Russian demonstrations began. He fled to Russia on 21 February 2014. Russia annexed Crimea one month later. On April 7th pro-Russian armed groups seized government buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk, and proceeded to claim surrounding territory, including the oil shale areas in the east. Russia’s annexation of Crimea gave Russia control of the majority of the undersea deposits as well. Exxon and Shell backed out of their development agreements, further crippling Ukrainian gas development.
A map of the territory taken thus far under occupation by Russia reveals these economic and security concerns:
Acknowledging Putin’s demands:
- Ukraine cease military actions
- Change the constitution to enshrine neutrality for Ukraine
- Acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory
- Recognize the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.
In real terms means:
- Everyone desires peace, the question is on what terms.
- A neutral Ukraine at least will mean no NATO missiles in an area that extends deep into Russia, making the west of their country more easily defensible.
- Russia’s occupation beyond the Dnieper River restores fresh water supply to Crimea; acknowledgement of Russia’s annexation of Crimea means no interference with the operation of Russia’s southern navy. Adding more Black Sea coastline under their control will mean control of more off-shore gas reserves in the Black Sea.
- An independent Donetsk and Luhansk will probably mean Russia will control gas development there.
Lionizing Zelensky, the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian suffering by the Western media obscures the participation of the U.S., NATO, and the EU in creating the conflict. While Russia was not directly threatened militarily prior to the initiation of the latest hostilities, NATO owes its continued existence primarily as a bulwark against Russia, a sheathed sword to date but one perfectly capable of going on the offensive and Russia must regard it so. The 90’s and early 2000’s provided a missed opportunity to alter the Cold-War stance, the road not taken. Rather, NATO’s continued expansion to Russia’s borders over their strong objections, moving surface to air missiles near Russia’s borders indicates the expectation of an inevitable conflict. This has given Putin every reason to believe NATO poses a threat to the Russian identity as he conceives of it.
Does this justify his invasion and Ukrainian loss of life? No, but if one is to authentically assign blame for this tragedy, which could easily have been averted, some has to fall in the hands of the Western governments, and the government in Kiev as well. In a sense these issues are a continuation of the stance between parties that has prevailed ever since the end of WWII. This slow motion train wreck has only come to a head now because all the parties want it. (see “Why didn’t they stop it?” Tony Wood, London Review of Books, 24 February 2022.) In that it’s more reminiscent of WWI than WWII.
Given that this crisis has—
- gone some distance to reinforce the U.S. national identity along neoliberal lines
- brought the NATO alliance together after doubt and damage inflicted by Trump
- assured continued justification for $750B annual defense budget for U.S. arms manufacturers, and as much again with NATO purchases
- strengthened Europe’s ties to the U.S. when they were increasingly integrating into Eurasia
- put distance between the U.S. and China; another boon for arms manufacturers
- disgraced the Republican Party over their praise for Putin and Russia
- cut off the supply of natural gas and oil from Russia to Europe, positioning U.S. suppliers to increase exports to cover this market,
- created enormous profits for the usual suspects— the oil and arms industries, temporarily pushing concerns about climate change back over the horizon.
It’s unlikely Biden will do anything to call a halt, at least before the midterm elections. He’s probably wise enough to resist the pressure to pull the U.S. and NATO into a wider war, but neither will he use his influence on Zelensky to end it. The longer it goes on, the more brutal tactics the Russians employ, the more justified the Ukrainian resistance to the world, and the more hatred it has to draw on. Washington appears willing to fight to the last Ukrainian, since the longer they do the worse Putin looks, the weaker the Russian economy becomes, and the stronger Europe cleaves to the United States.
Ukrainians, understandably, are trying everything to drag the West into it, since for them WWIII has already started, but we should resist. Rather, we should encourage them to agree to neutrality, say goodbye to the Crimea (restoring its water supply), and hold the elections in the Donbas that were called for seven years ago in Minsk-2. Ultimately this will benefit Russia more than anything the West can do to him in the short term with sanctions; that was Putin’s gamble. Russia, and the West, to take responsibility for its part, should agree to fund rebuilding the damage.
Offered this, the Russians would probably cease. Offered anything less, if Biden wants to drag this on till the midterms, and barring an amazing Ukrainian counter-offensive, the nation of Ukraine will probably be pounded into rubble so they can no longer be considered a threat, as Georgia was. This may still not get the point across to NATO since it didn’t before, and Russia will be a pariah (in the West at least) for a good long while, but they’ve lived with that before.
Despite his bravery, charisma and devotion to democracy, I wish for the sake of his people Zelensky would rely less on Western arms, and choose to be more flexible with the power to his East, sooner rather than later. He seems to be trending that way. There doesn’t seem to be another possible outcome on the table.
Putin’s nuclear threats are likely bluster to keep the West out of it but his propaganda about chemical/biological weapons is worrisome, propaganda possibly laying the groundwork for Russian use of such weapons. This is where the West’s lies about nation building have come back to haunt us. Those who’ve grown accustomed to doubting the West are more prone to believe the lies coming out of Moscow and China, to justify whatever action he takes.
Putin’s propaganda machine rivals that of Stalin’s, whose NKVD enforcers were convinced that Ukrainians were starving themselves to death as a form of protest. Russians are now being asked to believe that Ukrainians are bombing themselves as part of a public relations effort; so maybe the Russian propaganda machine is capable of the more outrageous lies, while the Western version relies on dumbing down through omission and displays of sympathy. Despite Russia’s media blackout we are seeing many resist, and it’s possible Putin’s grip on the country will weaken over time, but it’s unlikely that will form the conclusion to this crisis. Believing sanctions will bring Putin to his knees or cause his overthrow is easier swallowed in the West. A nation that lost 27 million people to the Germans and prevailed is not likely to feel strangled by the loss of Starbucks and McDonald’s.
Putin’s been in power for 23 years and won’t be so easily dislodged. The nation owes much of its revival to identification with him as leader. Once the Soviet system opened its doors to the West, Russian life expectancy plunged from 69 in 1989 to 65 years in 2003, a process that under Putin’s leadership has reversed, rising to 73 years currently (assuming the veracity of these figures). Ironically, part of the reason Western democracy was never fully implemented in Russia can be traced to U.S. advisors and money leaning heavily on the scales in the Russian election of 1996 to get Boris Yeltsin re-elected. But that’s democracy promotion for you.
Since the West spurned his courtship, Putin has gone some distance toward rehabilitating Stalin, allowing average Russians to regain lost pride and see him positively in that mold. In his mind, he is the nation, and therefore can’t surrender. Stalin proclaimed, “They’re not fighting for me; they’re fighting for Mother Russia.” Putin will expect no less.
It appears Putin felt pushed into this situation without the time or sensitivity to prepare the population, and his propaganda machine is working overtime to catch up, spinning the Ukrainians into something they are not; a threat. Most will know it’s a lie, but knowing it was a lie wasn’t enough to motivate the U.S. population to demand a halt to the insanity in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was allowed to go on for a generation. While Putin doesn’t have the resources to sustain such an operation, he won’t need to in order to accomplish his objective. I don’t expect the Russian peace movement will be any more successful than the U.S. peace movement was at ending their government’s unnecessary wanton destruction.
The tool of sanctions is a double-edged sword. The world outside the West has grown tired and leery of Washington’s continual brinksmanship, and is looking for ways around it. This crisis will strengthen ties among those outside the Western alliance, Russia and China but also the rest of the BRICS nations, Israel and the oil emirates.
Does Putin have imperial designs on Europe; does he wish to destabilize Western democracies beyond the Ukraine? Perhaps Moldova, another non-NATO member, because that would give him a foothold toward biting off another piece of Ukraine along the Black Sea, and more shale gas deposits. Beyond that, I would guess not. The Ukrainians have likely changed his mind about holding the entire country, and without it, Moldova might be a bridge too far.
Prior to 2004 the answer would definitely have been no. At present he has convinced himself the West is a threat and reviewing the facts it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Even if one were to takes the position that NATO is a defensive alliance, NATO has proceeded down a slippery slope to exceed its UN mandate twice, in Libya and Yugoslavia. NATO declared the missiles it moved close to Russia’s borders “cannot undermine Russian strategic deterrence capabilities” and “cannot be used for offensive purposes,” but according to independent experts, and from the Kremlin’s perspective, in their current positions they could easily become part of a first strike scenario.
These are chips Biden could put on the table to end the crisis, just as Kennedy agreed to withdraw missiles from Turkey to get Khrushchev to pull Russian missiles from Cuba. Unfortunately the public in the West remains largely ignorant of these facts, while subjected to a constant barrage of one-sided reportage that amounts to propaganda. It’s a recipe for disaster.
History shows the ball is in the West’s court, to convince him otherwise. Supposing the neo-liberal agenda is realized, and Putin is toppled without WWIII— then what? Keeping in mind we might prefer to see a different form of government in Russia, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had more female professors teaching in universities than any other Arab country, prior to our invasion in 2003. Jews, Christians, Sunni and Shia Arabs participated in civil society together without the need to kill each other. Now…
In Syria in the summer of 2008 I interviewed Iraqi refugees. My Syrian Arab Christian hosts impressed upon me their quandary. While they had no great love for Bashar al-Assad, they feared more the sectarian violence that might follow if he were ever to lose power.
Unfortunately, we have a rich history to draw on in this regard, that we could apply to the present situation if we weren’t too blind to see the chips we’re playing with don’t belong to us.
The possibility to end the crisis lies in the West’s hands, but for cynical reasons our leaders may feel unable to act outside the frame of reference dictated by the requirements of the oil and arms machine that has taken control of our government, and others. In a realpolitik perspective this is more of a driver of the West’s motivations over the last three decades than security and democracy has been… reminiscent of Putin’s fibs about protecting Russian Ukrainians. They’re his tools, as Zelensky is ours, but I guess that is cynical, denying Ukrainians their own choice in the matter.
Putin will never give back Crimea, he would like that acknowledged so Russia can rejoin the economic community. Let there be elections for autonomy in the Donbas, if that’s what the people there want, and a Ukraine pledged to neutrality— not because Putin deserves it, but because the Ukrainians and the Europeans do. We should support giving half a loaf to end this, instead of valorizing brave Ukrainians to die, and leaving it to Russian peaceniks to get arrested.
That doesn’t make us lovers of Putin or haters of democracy; it makes us realists. Our resistance to doing so is because we don’t want to give Putin a win, acknowledge in any way there’s validity to his point of view. It will embolden him, like Hitler and Chamberlain, and an emboldened Putin is a scary Putin. And we’re willing to sacrifice the Ukrainians to our fear, in order to weaken him.
So, which one of us is most crazy? The fact is, this and other conflicts will continue until the power that prevents a global distributed green grid from being constructed is wrested away from the profiteers of the oil and arms industry. That’s the two headed dragon we must slay.
Francis Fukuyama, 1992, “The End of History and the Last Man” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_History_and_the_Last_Man
 John J. Mearsheimer, 2017, “The Roots of Liberal Hegemony” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSj__Vo1pOU
 John J. Mearsheimer, 2017, “The False Promise of Liberal Hegemony”
 Peter S. Goodman, 2022 “Davos Man” https://www.amazon.com/Davos-Man-Billionaires-Devoured-World/dp/0063078309/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3MIV025QWUMX7&keywords=Davos+Man&qid=1647471217&sprefix=davos+man%2Caps%2C132&sr=8-1
 Vijay Prashad, 2022 “Ukraiane: A Conflict Soaked in Contradictions and New Patterns in War and Media” Counterpunch Ukraine: A Conflict Soaked in Contradictions and New Patterns in War and Media
 Eugene Robinson, 2022, Opinion: “What the shocking images of Ukraine’s dead say about the media — and our biases” Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/14/victims-of-yemen-deserve-as-much-concern-as-family-killed-in-irpin-and-maternity-hospital-victims/
 War and Anarchists: Anti-Authoritarian Perspectives in Ukraine Crimethinc.com https://crimethinc.com/2022/02/15/war-and-anarchists-anti-authoritarian-perspectives-in-ukraine
 Zakrzewski and Dwoskin, 2022 “Russia’s Internet censor says it will block access to Facebook but not Whats App and Instagram” Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/03/04/russia-facebook-internet-block/
 Ilyushina and Knowles, 2022 “Employee bursts onto live Russian state TV to denounce war: ‘They are lying to you here’” Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/14/marina-ovsyannikova-russian-tv-protest/
 Will Oremus, 2022 “In Ukraine, tech platforms abandon the illusion of neutrality” Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/03/12/duckduckgo-russian-disinformation-unbiased-search-results/
 NATO: The Alliance’s New Strategic Concept, 1991 https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_23847.htm
 NATO: Rome Declaration on Peace and Cooperation, 1991 https://www.nato.int/docu/comm/49-95/c911108a.htm
 Treaty On Conventional Armed Forces In Europe, 1990, updated 2007 https://media.nti.org/documents/cfe.pdf
 1994 Brussels summit (NATO) Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1994_Brussels_summit
 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances (1994) Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Memorandum_on_Security_Assurances
 Project on Defense Alternatives: George Kennan on NATO Expansion, 1997 https://comw.org/pda/george-kennan-on-nato-expansion/
 Chris Hedges, 2022 “Chronicle of War Foretold” Counterpunch Chronicle of War Foretold
 Charles Fredricks 2022 “Must We? Not Again.” LAprogressive.com Must We? Not Again.
 Public Library of US Diplomacy, “Nyet means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines” WikiLeaks, published 1 February 2008 https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08MOSCOW265_a.html
 John Mearsheimer, 2015 “Why is Ukraine the West’s Fault?” University of Chicago
 NATO: “Bucharest Summit Declaration” https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_8443.htm
 Robert Parry, 2015 “The Mess That Nuland Made” Consortium News ROBERT PARRY: The Mess That Nuland Made
 Gordon M. Hahn, 2016 “Who’s More in Violation of Minsk-2 — Kiev or Donbass?” Who’s More in Violation of Minsk-2 – Kiev or Donbass?
 Minsk Agreement: English 2015 https://www.unian.info/politics/1043394-minsk-agreement-full-text-in-english.html
 “Transcript of Vladimir Putin’s speech announding ‘special military operation” in Ukraine” Sydney Morning Herald https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/full-transcript-of-vladimir-putin-s-speech-announcing-a-special-military-operation-20220224-p59zhq.html
 Lev Golinkin, 2022 “The Ukraine of My Childhood Is Being Erased” New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/02/opinion/ukraine-putin-stalin-history.html
 “Ukrainian American Journalist: Putin’s Unjust War Is Emboldening Ukraine’s Far-Right Movement” Democracy NOW!, 4 March 2022 https://www.democracynow.org/2022/3/4/far_right_ukraine_holocaust_memorial_neo
 “Ilhan Omar on Ending War, Global Refugees, Russi Sanctions & Why More Saudi Oil Is Not the Answer” https://www.democracynow.org/2022/3/8/ilhan_omar_ukraine_saudia_arabia_somalia
 “Vijay Prashad: Another View on the War In Ukraine” 8 March 2022 Letters & Politics, KPFA https://player.fm/series/kpfa-letters-and-politics/letters-and-politics-march-8-2022
 United Nations Human Rights-Office Of The High Commissioner: “Conflict-related civilian casualties in Ukraine” https://ukraine.un.org/sites/default/files/2022-02/Conflict-related civilian casualties as of 31 December 2021 %28rev 27 January 2022%29 corr EN_0.pdf
 See Robert Parry
 Lev Golinkin, 2019 “Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Are On the March in Ukraine” The Nation https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/neo-nazis-far-right-ukraine/
 Josh Cohen, Commentary “Ukraine’s neo-Nazi problem” 19 March 2018 Reuters https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cohen-ukraine-commentary-idUSKBN1GV2TY
 Glen Asher, “Ukraine, Neo-Nazi Symbols and How Politicians Are Getting It Wrong” 14 March 2022 Oye! Times https://www.oyetimes.com/views/columns/360257-ukraine-neo-nazi-symbols-and-how-politicians-are-getting-it-wrong
 Shaun Walker, “Azov fighters are Ukraine’s greatest weapon and may be its greatest threat” 10 September 2014 The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/10/azov-far-right-fighters-ukraine-neo-nazis
 Alex Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal, “How Ukraine’s Jewish president Zelensky made peace with new-Nazi paramilitaries on front lines of war with Russia” 7 March 2022 New Cold War How Ukraine’s Jewish president Zelensky made peace with neo-Nazi paramilitaries on front lines of war with Russia
 Annie Jacobsen, 2014 “OPERATION PAPERCLIP: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists To America” Little Brown & Co. OPERATION PAPERCLIP
 “Nazi war criminals became high ranking commanders in NATO after WW2” 4 April 2019 DISPROPAGANDA https://www.dispropaganda.com/single-post/2019/04/04/natos-secret-nazi-past
 Michael Colborne, 2022 “Male State: The Russian Online Hate Group Backing Putin’s War” bell¿ngcat https://www.bellingcat.com/news/rest-of-world/2022/03/11/male-state-the-russian-online-hate-group-backing-putins-war/
 Daniel Workman “Crude Oil Exports by Country” (2020) World’s Top Exports Crude Oil Exports by Country
 Maria Bunina “Russian exports in 2021: WHERE and WHAT” 23 December 2021 Russia Beyond https://www.rbth.com/business/334557-russian-exports-in-2021-gas-oil-vodka
 Jones and Thornton, 2014 “Ukraine’s Gas-Fuelled Crisis” GEO ExPro https://www.geoexpro.com/articles/2014/07/ukraine-s-gas-fuelled-crisis
 “Could Ukranian shale gas break Ukraine’s dependence on Russia?” 6 March 2014 Open Europe https://openeuropeblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/could-ukrainian-shale-gas-break.html
 RealLifeLore “Why Russia is Invading Ukraine” posted 26 February 2022 YouTube
 Glen Asher “Ukraine’s Oil and Ntural Gas Reserves A Pawn in Geopolitical Chess Game?” 16 March 2014, Oye! Times https://www.oyetimes.com/news/europe/60567-ukraine-s-oil-and-natural-gas-reserves-a-pawn-in-geopolitical-chess-game
 Andrew Higgins “On the Edge of a Polish Forest, Where Some of Putin’s Darkest Fears Lurk” 16 February 2022, New York TImes https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/world/europe/poland-missile-base-russia-ukraine.html
 Tony Wood “Why didn’t they stop it?” 24 February 2022, London Review of Books https://lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v44/n04/tony-wood2/why-didn-t-they-stop-it
 “Russia Life Expectancy 1950-2022” macrotrends https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/RUS/russia/life-expectancy
 Michael Kramer “Rescuing Boris: The secret story of how four U.S. advisers used polls, focus groups, negative ads and all the other techniques of American campaigning to help Boris Yeltsin win” 15 July 1996 TIME Magazine https://ccisf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/201612201405.pdf
 “How the US interfered in Russia’s elections and helped Yeltsin get reelected” 25 March 2019 DISPROPAGANDA https://www.dispropaganda.com/single-post/2019/03/25/How-the-US-colluded-with-Yeltsin-and-helped-him-win-the-Russian-elections
 see Andrew Higgins