“The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then.”
— Henry Kissinger, Washington Post, March 6, 2014
“Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”
— Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard (1998)
Russia has taught the United States a stern and embarrassing lesson in Ukraine as a riposte to Washington-backed regime change in Kiev, the capital. “So far,” Moscow in effect warned a thoroughly shocked Washington, “but no further.” President Vladimir Putin then annexed Crimea.
Nothing quite like this move on the geopolitical chessboard has happened since the U.S. became the world’s single superpower over two decades ago.
The objective of the Obama Administration’s support for a coup to remove an essentially neutral Ukrainian government (though neighborly toward Russia) was to install a regime leaning toward—and economically dependent upon—the United States and the European Union. The purpose is to compromise Russia’s revival as a regional power critical of U.S. policies.
The neutrality of the Kiev government, if not close ties, is exceptionally important to Moscow for its own long-term regional goals, and it will work toward repairing relations in time. Considerable support for Russia remains in the country.
Washington was obviously disoriented by Russia’s unexpected move in Ukraine, and perhaps even more so when Putin shrugged off President Obama’s subsequent threats. But for all the anti-Russia rhetoric, sanctions, and other punishments emanating from the U.S. and E.U., the danger of an armed clash or greatly heightened East-West tensions is relatively remote at the moment; but if the confrontations continue, there may be more serious problems ahead.
On March 21, Putin said “he wanted to halt the cycle of tit-for-tat retribution between Moscow and Washington,” according to the New York Times. But it is too early for the self-righteous Obama Administration and Congress to simmer down. Russia in effect challenged the global superpower—an act of supreme lèse-majesté—and this requires considerable posturing, tough rhetoric and a dose of pain from an offended Washington.
From Moscow’s point of view, however, the U.S. and E.U. made a deep penetration into Russia’s long recognized sphere of influence and Putin had to respond with some degree of equivalence. He easily found it in Crimea.
The U.S. and E.U. so far have imposed relatively mild sanctions on Russia, though warning they would be significantly intensified should Moscow engage in other military moves in Ukraine, which President Putin earlier ruled out. On March 24, the Group of 8 wealthy countries announced it would not invite Russia to future meetings, as least temporarily, and also decided not to attend the scheduled upcoming G8 meeting in the Olympic city of Sochi but will gather at the “G7” in Brussels next June. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia wasn’t disturbed by the development.
Incongruously, the act that provoked the Crimean referendum—the U.S.-backed right wing coup against the democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych—received far less attention from the American media and hardly any outrage from Washington and most European capitals, even over the fact that organized fascist elements joined the protests leading to the so-called “revolution.”
Washington intrigued to bring about a coup against as punishment for his recent decision to rely on Russian aid and not that offered by the European Union (which was backed by the U.S.) to help bail Ukraine out of a severe economic crisis.
The Ukraine government had been in discussions with the EU to produce a tentative proposal last year. It was short of the country’s needs but better than nothing, even though it also demanded economic, social, and infrastructural “reforms” to get the funding. Last fall, Moscow then offered Ukraine an exceptionally generous aid package—a better deal for the government and the working class than the pending proposition from the austerity-minded E.U. and the conservative International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The entire situation could possibly have been avoided. According to journalist, author, and Russia expert Stephen Cohen, interviewed on Democracy Now! Jan. 30: “The European Union in November told the government of Ukraine, ‘If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.’ Why not? Putin has said, ‘Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.’”
The E.U. and U.S. refused. Our guess is that they wanted to control Ukraine for themselves, not least because it was the most important Soviet republic after Russia itself—a blow to Moscow—as well as a military threat.
Why a coup over this? The White House has long sought to separate Kiev from Moscow since the implosion of the Soviet Union in order to eventually move American power and NATO bases directly up to Ukraine’s Russian border. Washington has been engaged for about two decades in seeking to transform Ukraine into a pro-Western state situated within Washington’s sphere of influence and leadership.
The U.S. thought it achieved its objective when it helped engineer Ukraine’s so-called “Orange Revolution” in 2004, but this victory was short-lived—the victim of infighting and treachery in a basically oligarch-controlled democratic political system that of course still exists. Yanukovych’s election in 2010 was a major turning of the page, and now seems to be turning back.
One proof of Washington’s role in regime change materialized when a secretly taped telephone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Platt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, appeared on YouTube Feb. 6. The call was made weeks earlier. They were so sure of a coup several weeks ahead that they discussing who would be the U.S. candidate to replace Yanukovych when the day came. There were three possible “moderate Democratic” pro-U.S. choices.
Nuland pushed for Arseniy Yatseniuk, leader of the rightwing opposition Fatherland party, and Platt agreed. Yatseniuk, a 39-year-old banker, lawyer and politician, was named Prime Minister Feb. 27, five days after Yanukovych was ejected. Nuland’s by now infamous “Fuck the E.U.” comment on the tape reflected Washington’s displeasure that the European Union was not moving fast enough to take full advantage of the crisis.
Neoconservative Nuland is evidently managing the current aspect of the State Department’s Ukraine project. In a mid-December speech to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, a group dedicated to promoting U.S.-European political and business values in the old homeland—i.e., it’s anti-Russian—Nuland revealed that the American government spent at least $5 billion over the years to turn Ukraine toward Washington. Dozens of U.S.-affiliated NGO’s and government agencies have been engaged in “democracy building” projects in Ukraine over the years, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI), the Open Society Foundations (OSF), Freedom House, and The National Democratic Institute (NDI).