journalist, writer, translator. Senior Fellow of the American University in Moscow
The world’s political, military, and media antennae are now mostly catching signals from the Middle East, specifically from the area around ISIS. Briefly, my take on the current situation is this: ISIS is important, but Ukraine is more important than that. The former cannot lead to a world war; the latter can. It may appear a sheer impossibility in the present climate, but a responsible analyst is duty bound to weigh the chances of that impossibility morphing into a probability. Below are some thoughts along these lines.
Economically and financially, Ukraine is a basket case; it is only kept this side of bankruptcy by Western sops (quite niggardly ones, it ought to be noted); by refusing to pay for Russian gas; by reneging on its social obligations; and similar antics. Politically, it is a feudal-like agglomeration of oligarchies, with, say, Kolomoyskiy, governor of Dnepropetrovsk, openly challenging the authority of President Poroshenko – and why not? He has billions enough, he has a private army, he has power enough to install a confederate in, say, Odessa as governor. And Mr K. is just one example: 16 other oligarchs were given governorships in the wake of the February coup.
Does the EU want that kind of country among its rightful members? Surely not; Ukraine will stay "associated” for an indefinite period of time, that’s one of the few certainties in a highly uncertain context.
Now, what do the EU, NATO, and primarily the US want with Ukraine such as it is? This "association” gimmick simply makes a country aspiring to EU membership a colony or semi-colony of the strong EU economies. There is abundant evidence of that: Bulgaria, Romania, the Baltics – they are, by and large, mere markets for European producers, while Europe has no need at all for the products of the newly incorporated countries’ industries – which simply die out. Will anyone in Europe buy Zaporozhye cars? They are the butt of jokes, vicious or good-natured, in Russia even. No one wants them.
The US, now. Its plans to replace cheap Russian gas for Europe with its own more expensive gas are a fact widely discussed both in Russia and in Europe[i]. In pursuance of those plans the gas pipelines leading from Russia to Europe through Ukraine must be taken possession of or destroyed; does not much matter which, provided Russia is squeezed out of the equation. Hence the "color” revolutions in Kiev, one after another, which someone called textbook CIA operations.
All this is quite obvious, but it is only part of the bigger, geopolitical picture. The EU and – let me say it again – primarily the US, see Ukraine’s main role as that of a battering ram against Russia, a weapon to hit not only at its economy but its very existence.
Why this onslaught on Russia? Elementary. The US can only lead the fine, prosperous life it now leads, with that beautiful $17 trillion budget deficit, by dominating the world. There is enough ideological camouflage for that – the doctrine of "exceptionalism,” world leadership, promotion of freedom and democracy throughout the world, whatever. Crucially, these ideological gewgaws are solidly backed by some 800 US military facilities – bases and suchlike – the world over. Europe included. The other day Vice President Joe Biden gave the Europeans a resounding slap in the face: he boasted that the Europeans had been unwilling to join the sanctions against Russia, but the US had forced them to do it. It is worth wondering whether Obama would have been able to pull that trick in the absence of those military bases.
Two main obstacles on America’s road to complete world domination – China and Russia; both conscious of their national interests, both prepared to stand up for them, and both nuclear armed. The US does all it can to weaken China – v. the "color”-type turbulence in Tibet, Xinjang-Uyghur Province, currently in Hong Kong – but China is too big, too strong, and its economy and finances are too closely interwoven with those of the US. Russia is the weaker unit of this duo; so it is first in line to be crushed by the world hegemon.
Here’s the order of threats to the world that Obama recently set out in his speech at the UN: ebola, "Russian aggression,” ISIS. Ebola is, of course, strictly for the media to blab about and to scare the hoi polloi with; "Russian aggression”, though, is more dangerous to the world than ISIS, according to Obama. In short, the same old song: Russia is America’s enemy #1. So, let’s bomb ISIS as a sort of sideline, but mainly let’s support the Russia-hating junta in Kiev.
A lot of preparation had gone into installing in February 2014 that ultranationalist, Russophobic regime: nearly twenty-five years (23, to be precise); also $5 billion – but that’s according to Nuland only; who knows how much came from CIA secret funds, how much was brought into Ukraine during the Maidan months in "diplomatic’ suitcases bypassing the customs – these were spotted time and again. So-called noncommercial organizations, training camps for "color” revolutionists in Poland and the Baltics, seminars in the arts of the "orange” revolutions – all that had taken plenty of funds, too, and they had been readily provided, being but an infinitesimal part of the above-mentioned, nice budget deficit.
It must be noted here that these efforts fell on fertile soil. I do not mean only the young and not so young individuals whose fathers and grandfathers once marched with the Waffen SS, murdered Jews, Poles, and communists; the men who started marching again in the "independent” Ukraine, wearing Nazi swastikas and other insignia. There were also subtler cases, like the urban educated classes, driven by mammoth-size inferiority complexes: these could only assume a distinct, separate identity by rejecting the fact that they were essentially, deeply Russian (even if it’s Little, or Smaller, Russian) in terms of language, culture, religion, history, etc.
Indeed, it’s really comical to watch on TV a Ukrainian official making a speech in Ukrainian, then stumbling and whispering to someone, in a Russian aside: "What’s the word for ‘negative’?” The other day the Rada speaker was exhorting his unruly colleagues to take their seats, got emotional, and let a Russian swearword slip in his harangue, very loudly. In Ukraine, whoever reads books at all, reads Russian books – just take a look at the shelves in the bookshops. I handed out a copy or two of my recent novel to some Ukrainian chaps who worked on my dacha this past summer – and they asked for more, for their friends back home. It just shows, doesn’t it.
The Ukrainian intelligentsia’s rebellion against their own roots sometimes takes incredibly ludicrous forms. Some of them invent perfectly fantastic tales for the consumption of the masses: that the hominids called Ukrs arrived here from Venus in times immemorial; that the Ukrainian nation is 140,000 years old; that a Ukrainian empire rivaled in antiquity the Roman Empire; that the Russian and Ukrainian name for the Crimea, Krym, is a shortened form of K Rymu "Toward Rome,” indicating the direction in which ancient Ukrainian hosts moved on Rome; and lots of similar balderdash poured into receptive ears starting from kindergarten on.
The main feature of the subversive work intended to foster Russophobia was its omnivorous character. Any ideology was grist to the CIA and State Department mill: Neo-Nazism, the intelligentsia’s hankering for the "European values,” religious separatists’ fight against Orthodox Christians’ centuries-old adherence to the Moscow patriarchy, anything at all – provided it was anti-Russian.
These strenuous efforts brought about two "color” revolutions – the bloodless "orange” one of 2004 and the bloody February 2014 coup. The latter, dominated by the ultranationalists, was accepted and actually welcomed by the West as a victory for democracy. Germany and France first brokered an agreement between President Yanukovich and the oligarchs who opposed him and funded the Maidan. The very following day, though, they forgot all about that agreement and simply looked on as the Right Sector and similar Nazi riffraff broke every letter of it, seized government buildings, chased the president out of the country, and generally grabbed all power in the land.
By that act, Ukraine, with the instigation and connivance of the Western powers, stepped right out of the constitutional field, thereby putting itself outside any legal framework. No constitution provides for coups; no constitution envisages the sending of strike teams with the express aim of murdering the legally elected president – there’s enough evidence of that; no constitution provides for changing the constitution overnight, in the absence of the Constitutional Court (kicked out by the putschists) and in total disregard for the prolonged procedure incorporated in both competing constitutions.
In the absence of any constitutional order in the country, any part of it which refused to recognize this illegal central authority had every right to pursue its own political course. In the Crimea, there was an organized political force that took the region through all the necessary legal steps – declaration of independence from central authority, referendum, appeal to Russia to accept the results of the referendum. In Donbass no such unified, organized force emerged, the referendum was not conducted according to strict legal procedure, and – perhaps no less importantly – there was no Russian military base on Donbass territory, as there was in the Crimea – a base that had always been there, and that in the last 23 years had been there by agreement with Kiev, with Russia dutifully paying rent to Ukraine. Had there been such a base in Donbass, it could have played the same role of silent catalyst as in the Crimea; like in the Crimea, no shots would have been fired, no blood would have been shed. That’s why the Crimeans are now watching the blood-letting and total destruction in Donbass with horror – and unspeakable relief at having escaped the same appalling fate.
What happened after the coup is too well known. Kiev declared armed groups of ultranationalists to be the National Guard, in direct contravention of the above-mentioned February agreement – signed by France and Germany – that provided for disbanding all illegal armed formations. These "legalized” bands started murdering, taking hostage, and torturing anti-Maidan activists, actually persecuting whomsoever they did not like – the people who insisted on, or just happened to be speaking Russian, reading Russian, teaching Russian, or indeed expressing any anti-Maidan sentiments.
This sparked off resistance in many areas which proved to be strongest and better organized in Donbass, a totally Russian-speaking region that was only added to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922 by Lenin’s decree. Donbass fighters operated at first as separate guerrilla units, but war soon taught them the need for organization and unified command. These fighters defended their right to be what they were; they fought for their own land, their livelihood, and their homes, and were thus incomparably better motivated than their enemies – aggressive Nazi bands and youths drafted into the Ukrainian army against their will. After initial defeats Donbass opolchentsy (literally, militia) began to trounce Ukrainian army units, the National Guards, and the oligarchs’ private armies, eventually forcing the conclusion of ceasefire.
To explain their inability to cope with the resisters in Donbass, Ukrainian politicians and the media propagate the myth of "Russian invasion,” a myth that most of the Ukrainian and Western public accepts as God’s truth. That’s a big, a very Big Lie, and it is the sand on which the policies of the US and EU toward Russia are cynically based.
Sure, there are people from Russia fighting in Donbass – Cossacks from the neighboring Don and Kuban regions, Tatars, Chechens, even Georgians – volunteers who see the Kiev junta as Fascist and believe it their duty to fight Fascism wherever it raises its nauseating head; they fight it just as their forefathers had fought it and defeated it. Donbass fighters’ command puts the number of these volunteers at five percent of their forces. But! Except for that single combat vehicle with nine servicemen that lost its way at night in the Ukrainian steppe, there has been not one scrap of evidence of any Russian Army units fighting in Donbass. Most of the proof for Russian invasion originates in countless fakes flooding the internet.
Feeding on these fakes, the Big Lie persists. In particular, it is cited as the reason for the sanctions and the threat of more sanctions to be imposed on Russia.
Personally, I am all for these sanctions; I believe they’re a useful incentive for Russia to stand on its own feet, but this need not be gone into here. And anyway sanctions are not the reason why we here in Russia spend hours listening to the news from Ukraine. The reason lies in what I said at the beginning: Ukraine is a failed state, in every way. It can only be held together as a single whole in the form of a totally militarized, ultranationalist, chauvinistic entity dominated by one single ideology – Ukrainianizing everything in sight, winning the war against Donbass, and dreaming about regaining the Crimea. Parading through Sevastopol, as the Ukrainian defense minister once put it. An interesting figure, that war minister; I’d say emblematic for the current set-up in Kiev – a police officer who never served in the army, a political appointee who did not know the first thing about directing military operations, led his forces to a resounding defeat, and was the other day kicked out of the office. A civilian militarist, you might say.
Trouble is, such personages rule the roost in today’s Ukraine. You only have to look at the candidates for the new Rada most likely to be elected soon: they are veterans of what Kiev idiotically calls an "anti-terrorist operation”; they have no other agenda except vindicating themselves and driving the country into more war ventures. Poroshenko may talk all he wants about his 60 reforms, for the benefit of the folks in Washington who installed him in his post, but who will listen to him? Not those battalion commanders who will be elected to the Rada. Just you wait and see.
Thus the purpose of creating an ever more militarized Ukraine run by characters set on joining NATO and embroiling it in a war with Russia has been achieved. The countless US advisors embedded in Ukraine, plus the endless stream of visiting US officials, have done their job. Therein lies the mortal danger to world peace. The past few months have shown that the Kiev government – incompetent, corrupt, thieving, torn apart by warring oligarchic cliques – is totally incapable of winning a war even with what is, or until recently was, essentially a partisan movement. Ukraine is already asking for military aid – and receiving it, if not from NATO as a whole, then from individual NATO countries. That is a sure way to the escalation of the conflict, for Russia will not leave the Russians of Donbass to the mercy of better armed and better trained Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian forces. Russia’s government will act, no doubt about that – if only to avoid bad trouble from its own populace. Russians are a divided nation, and they are sick and tired of it.
All this may sound alarmist, but it is in fact a moderate assessment and forecast. Who could have predicted just a few months ago that the authorities in Kiev might start what amounts to genocide against the population of a part of their own country? No one, and yet it is all there on our TV screens – dozens of civilians killed every day, even greater numbers wounded or shell-shocked, infrastructure destroyed, residential areas destroyed, schools and kindergartens and hospitals destroyed, no gas, no water, no food, no medicine, no electricity, nothing but ever fresh evidence of Ukrainian forces’ atrocities, fresh mass graves.
This full-scale genocide, carried out by Western-backed war criminals in Kiev, remains virtually unknown to the outside world. The information blackout achieves its purpose. The public in the West only catches rare glimpses of it all, while feeling convinced that it is all because of "Russian aggression” – information warfare at its most effective. I listen, more or less regularly, to the BBC World Service, but I might as well save myself the trouble and listen to the Kiev propaganda machine – except that the BBC’s even more powerful propaganda weapon is dead silence over the murder of children, old men, and women by the Kiev forces using heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers that cover vast residential areas at a single salvo.
With a few exceptions, European governments accept the myth of "Russian aggression” – just listen to what is being said in the European Parliament (though, to be fair, one third of it is said to have voted against anti-Russia sanctions). Will these governments back, and participate in, aggression against such an awful aggressor as Russia? Will the peoples of Europe permit the governments to go into the spiral of escalation?
With these uncertainties and imponderables, we step into an extremely dangerous, unpredictable future – where nothing, not even a nuclear conflagration, is ruled out. We can only pray to God to save us from such a fate, and to rid us of McCain-type power-mad politicos who keep pushing the world toward such an end.
[i] Just check the directors of Ukraine’s new Oil & Gas company: http://burisma.com/en/director-list.html