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Is there still hope for peace in Ukraine?
Berlin, 1961 (photomontage)
The Ukrainian government, like Israel in Gaza, relentlessly goes on bombing residential areas in the eastern regions “to kill the terrorists hiding out there” (but also the civilians living there). The separatists, called “terrorists”, are in a siege; to break it, they have launched a bloody counteroffensive to the South, with civilian casualties there, too. Tension has spiked with rumors (later debunked) of a full-scale Russian invasion underway. And yet, in spite of it all, a glimmer of hope for peace has finally appeared. Or is it just an illusion?
After denouncing for months “Putin’s covert aggression” against Ukraine, the media have at last produced the smoking gun: satellite photos of alleged Russian Army armored vehicles inside Ukraine (although no GPS coordinates have been given).
In stark contrast to this inflammatory rhetoric, five reputable authorities have invited us to stay calm and rethink the media account of what is happening in Ukraine, reminding us that, behind the scenes, NATO is active there, too. And that its goal is not just to install a few missiles on the Russian border but, more importantly, to block the recent rise of multipolarity and plunge us all back into the bipolarity (duopoly) of the Cold War. Is this what we want?
Thus the events in Ukraine go far beyond the Donets Basin in the east and touch us all. Let us try to understand them better.
Last July, Henry Kissinger, the highly-conservative former U.S. Secretary of State, shocked officialdom with an op-ed in the Washington Post . In it he called for an end to the hostilities in eastern Ukraine and between Washington and Moscow. “Showdowns” and the “demonization of Vladimir Putin” are not policies, he admonished; they are ”alibis for the absence of one.” It is time to negotiate.
Then, in August and September, three more opinion pieces on the Ukrainian crisis appeared, all of the same tone and all by authorities in the American and European establishments.
- “The West on the wrong path “, an editorial by Gabor Steingart, publisher of Germany’s leading financial newspaper, Handelsblatt , written in English to obtain the widest audience and appearing on August 8 th , 2014;
- “ Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault “, a study by John J. Mearsheimer, distinguished academic at the Council on Foreign Relations, in the September 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs , which appeared on-line beginning August 23 rd ;
- “ The Way Out of the Ukraine Crisis : U.S. leaders need to talk to the Russians, not threaten them. “, an article appearing in the September 2014 issue of The Atlantic by contributing editor Jeffrey Tayler, based in Moscow.
These authorities, and others as well (such as the award-winning investigative journalist Robert Parry in this August 10 th report ), go even further than Kissinger and debunk completely the mainstream narration of events in Ukraine, repeated over and over by our mass media. According to which it is Putin – who supposedly wants to rebuild the old Tzarist empire by grabbing country after country – the aggressor to be isolated and castigated.
We now learn, much to our surprise, that it is the West (through NATO) the real aggressor in Ukraine. Indeed, it is the West that engineered an armed coup in Kiev on February 22 nd , 2014, behind the smoke screen of the street protests, using Ukrainian neo-Nazi militias trained in NATO bases in Poland to attack the presidential palace and force President Janukovyč to flee. That put the country into the hands of the West which promptly brought to power, not the leaders that the EuroMaidan protesters had been fighting for, but the leaders that the Pentagon and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wanted and had been grooming for some time. In other words, the EuroMaidan movement got hijacked. Pro-NATO neo-Nazi goons remained camped out in the central square for months, to make sure no one objected.
The purpose of the coup was: (1.) to permit NATO to install missiles along the Russian frontier – an objective that Kiev and Washington deny but that NATO-Ukraine Commission declarations and U.S. Missile Defense Agency visits confirm; (2.) to interrupt exports to Russia from the specialized industries in Eastern Ukraine (in the USSR, Eastern Ukraine had been assigned the production of those goods and the Russian army continues to this day to depend on them); (3.) to deprive Russia of its vital naval base in Crimea and perhaps install a NATO naval base there; (4.) to permit the IMF to apply its infamous “cure” to the Ukrainian economy, thus impoverishing the population still further and creating, at the doorstep of Western Europe, a vast workforce as cheap as that in Southeast Asia but much closer and better schooled. And at no burden to European Union members, with respect to benefits and rights, since Ukraine is not to be admitted fully as a EU member, but only as an economic-exchange partner (goodbye EuroMaidan dreams). This cheap labor will permit Western subsidiaries and shell corporations in Ukraine, which is a CISFTA member, to conduct, among other things, economic war on Russia through dumping.
It is thus clear that the Ukrainian crisis has been provoked, not by Russia, but by the West in order to put Russia into difficulty, militarily and economically. It is also clear that, in doing so, the West committed two illegal acts: first, in violation of the U.N. Charter, it engineered a coup to overthrow another country’s elected government; secondly, in violation of the 1997 Founding Act which calls for a neutral Ukraine (not in any military alliance), it did so to draw Ukraine into NATO.
Given all this, Putin’s reaction – i.e. , annexing Crimea to safeguard the Russian naval base there and supporting the separatist movement in the Donets region of eastern Ukraine to safeguard the vital industries there and conserve a minimal buffer zone – should be seen less as a “reprehensible grab” by a “voracious Russian bear” and more as an attempt to save the day and salvage whatever possible, after the reprehensible grab of the entire Ukrainian territory carried out last February by NATO and the West. This concept is illustrated below in a poster created by the NoWar Network in Rome, Italy, and displayed at a demonstration outside the Ukrainian embassy in Rome on May 17 th , 2014. The poster reads: “Ukraine: who is the invader?”
Debunking the mainstream narration of the events in Ukraine, as the five authors cited above have done, represents a huge step forward: it empowers us to find a solution to the conflict. We no longer see military confrontation as inevitable. Instead, we see very real possibilities for a negotiated armistice and peace treaty – for example, ones along the lines suggested by Kissinger in July and reworked in August and September by other authors.
Piecing together all the suggestions, a workable armistice/treaty might look like this: the West forgoes its plans to install NATO bases in Ukraine and Kiev forgoes impeding or conditioning commerce between the industries in eastern Ukraine and Russia; in exchange, Russia stops supporting the rebellion in eastern Ukraine and cedes Crimea back to Kiev – with the provision that the naval base there remains leased to Russia as before, although with better safeguards. The armistice/treaty might also contain specific provisions that bind Russia not to hinder Ukraine’s entry into the European economic zone and that bind Ukraine to: (a.), remain neutral politically and militarily (“Finlandization”) and (b.), prevent dumping in Russia by the corporations it regulates. Finally, the armistice/treaty could conceivably concede to the people of eastern Ukraine, in place of independence, substantial regional autonomy, not only cultural (local regulation of linguistic and religious questions) but also economic (for example, local regulation of exports) and military (a Regional Guard in place of the dreaded National Guard, rife with anti-Russian neo-Nazis).
And there would be peace – immediately.
Thus, in five authoritative publications appearing this summer and autumn, a new vision of the events in Ukraine suddenly appears – a vision that contradicts the official descriptions given heretofore. This new vision, by revealing what is truly at stake in the current conflict, empowers us to stand up resolutely and demand a cease-fire followed immediately by negotiations. For we are now able to see that the basis of a potential accord really exists. Of course, the question remains: how do we get the parties in conflict to see this as well?
Gabor Steingart’s editorial indicates a method to follow. Steingart describes the lesson that Willy Brandt, then Mayor of Berlin and subsequently Chancellor of West Germany, gave the world after the construction of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets in 1961. That wall was a slap in the face and could have spelled the end of any dialog between East and West. And yet Brandt did not rant and fume or call for sanctions or rattle a sword. Instead, he worked patiently to conciliate the two sides and, slowly but surely, succeeded. His method? Forgo revenge. Recognize the status quo imposed on you, in order to change it. Identify the real interests at stake and point out possible trade offs. Create ties among the parties involved, with no exclusions, thus promoting, over time, rapprochement and reconciliation. And above all, feel, and get others to feel, compassion – even towards one’s worst enemies.
Could Brandt serve as a model for our leaders today who are involved in the Ukrainian crisis: Merkel, Obama, Porošenko and Putin? Steingart thinks so: in fact, he wrote his editorial to call on German Chancellor Merkel to follow the example of her predecessor. And already, on her own, Merkel has been using Brandt tactics: for example, she phones constantly those leaders who tend not to speak to each other and thus keeps them virtually in touch. The Russian President seems to want to promote dialog as well. Although continuing to furnish “assistance” (and not just of the humanitarian kind) to eastern Ukraine, Putin has declared that he is ready to talk with anyone any time. He even got Porošenko to accept, at a regional meeting in Minsk on August 26 th , to sit down and discuss the current conflict face to face for two hours – something that had not occurred in months. The negotiations were “very tough and complex”, Porošenko confided afterward, but nonetheless “positive”: they permitted the two statesmen to create a permanent contact group to continue working out details. Dialog has begun.
But wait a moment! What about the fourth protagonist in the Ukrainian conflict who, while not present at Minsk, nonetheless cast a long shadow over the meeting there: Barack Obama?
Unfortunately, in Washington the neocons – the ultra-conservative counselors kicked out of the White House after George W. Bush’s defeat – have sneaked back in again and are now pushing Obama to campaign for the old, bipolar vision of the world that Bush famously summed up in these words: “Either you’re with us or you’re with the enemy”. Precisely the opposite of dialog and reconciliation.
Why this insistence on bipolarizing the world? There are at least two reasons, one foreign and the other domestic.
Internationally, neocons (and their influential and well-heeled sponsors) have not been happy with the gradual rapprochement taking place between Europe and Russia these past few years, as seen by the increasing number of oil and gas pipelines “sewing” the two land masses together, by the increasing number of Euro-Russian trade and financial agreements stipulated, by the increasing number of joint research projects for developing new technologies, and so on. Because all this can only lead to genuine multipolarity in the world, i.e., a world in which a future Euro-Russian block will have the same weight and punch as China or as… the United States of America. Goodbye U.S. primacy.
But by engineering the coup in Ukraine to undermine Russia on its western border, the neocons (and their sponsors) managed to provoke Putin’s counterattack and thus a fight. This permitted them, in turn, to denounce Russian “aggression” and to call for measures to castigate Russia – measures having the end effect of crippling Euro-Russian rapprochement, the neocons’ real goal. The beauty of this strategy is that it got Europeans to punish themselves , as well as the Russians, thus permitting the U.S. to rake in a profit off the sanctions. Specifically, EU countries were induced to:
- freeze part of their joint economic and technological exchanges with Russia, thus making it necessary to compensate by increasing their trans-Atlantic exchanges with the U.S. under the conditions spelled out in the forthcoming TTIP agreement. (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, still top secret, is a free trade agreement that will give U.S.-based multinational corporations a stranglehold on European industries; it is due to be approved this year);
- throw a wrench in their joint oil/gas pipeline projects with Russia (or multiple wrenches as in the case of the South Stream project), thus making it necessary to compensate their energy losses by importing liquified gas from the U.S. – which, it is claimed, is now produced sufficiently in excess, thanks to fracking, to pick up the EU slack. In other words, besides economic and military dependence, Europe will now be dependent on the U.S. for much of its energy and thus, more than ever, a vassal.
All this is a textbook lesson in how to create empire without firing a shot.
The neocon international strategy therefore rejects multipolarity and redivides the world into two blocks, and the dividing line goes right along the eastern border of Ukraine. One block consists of Russia, Iran and China, the backbone of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) which seems destined to become the new “Axis of Evil”. The other block, called “the West”, consists of all the other countries in the world, aligned behind the United States of America which shields them from Evil, that is, from the SCO.
Coherently with the policy of having no commerce with Evil, Obama refuses to engage directly with Putin and has got Porošenko to refuse to negotiate with the separatist leaders. Instead of dialog, Washington calls for sanctions to cripple and isolate Russia, travel bans to exclude Russian delegates from international encounters, and an increase in NATO troops along Russian borders as a means of intimidation. Likewise, instead of dialog with the separatists, Kiev chooses to intimidate them into submission by bombing their cities with highly imprecise Grad missiles, which kill civilians there indiscriminately (a war crime). On August 26 th , at the regional meeting held in Minsk, there was the unexpected thaw in relations between Porošenko and Putin just described; consequently, to nip it in the bud, two days later NATO circulated a few satellite photos of armored vehicles allegedly belonging to the Russian Army and, although no GPS coordinates were given, supposedly In Ukrainian territory. Porošenko was incited to sound the alarm against a full-scale Russian invasion (words which he later had to retract) and to call for EU intervention. There was not the slightest attempt to understand the concerns prompting the other side’s (alleged) behavior, or to find a way to reconcile differences, or simply to stop the NATO-inspired hysterics and restore calm. The thaw that had just begun promptly froze over.
The neocon insistence on bipolarizing the world and demonizing one’s adversary also serves their domestic agenda.
By evoking a new Axis of Evil (the SCO), the government can point a finger at a powerful enemy – much like the USSR was during the Cold War – and justify a permanent State of Emergency which can then lead to a police state (the real neocon goal). The 9/11 attacks, for example, enabled neocons on Capitol Hill (and not only the neocons, alas) to: (1.) push through the Patriot Act, designed “to punish terrorists” but, in reality, to make it possible to incarcerate any dissident without a trial; (2.) extend NSA spying to all electronic media in order “to discover terrorists” but, in reality, to monitor the life of every single citizen; (3.) militarize local police forces “in order to stop terrorist attacks” but, in reality, to stop any kind of protest, as was seen in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of 2014. If the SCO does indeed become the new Axis of Evil, its sheer size and strength, much greater than that of all the jihadist terrorist movements put together, will make creating a total police state a cakewalk for the neocons and the other conservative forces in Washington.
Can we stop this tendency? Can we halt the stream of propaganda aiming at bipolarizing the world and demonizing our adversaries? Can we convince our leaders to work for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine and negotiations? And for a policy of more, not fewer, ties and exchanges with Russia? The task is enormous, given the formidable influence worldwide on governments and on the mass media exercised by the neocons’ sponsors (most are in Occupy’s ” 1% ” and many attend Bilderberg and Trilateral meetings). But no stone should be left unturned. For example, petitions, assemblies or coffee klatches debunking the mainstream account of events in Ukraine and calling for peace are most certainly useful. Even if they attract only a handful of signers or attendees, they are peer to peer communication and that counts.
But most of all we should aim at educating our leaders and fellow citizens in the method of conciliation that Willy Brandt put into practice when faced with the construction of the Berlin Wall. Steingart’s editorial in Handelsblatt was an attempt at doing just that. We can, for example, insist that our mass media cease demonizing our adversaries and, instead, help us to understand their concerns – and be ready to boycott the media that refuse to. We can demand that our elected representatives, if they want our vote, explain their foreign policy as much as their economic policies, and, in doing so, always show compassion towards the other side . Even in our everyday conversations and Internet exchanges we can work to civilize discourse, especially when touching on themes of war and peace, like the Ukrainian conflict.
Let us therefore undertake these tasks, all the time mindful that it will be much more difficult for us today, than it was for Brandt in 1961, to open a breach in the new Berlin Wall that is being ruthlessly and methodically erected along the eastern frontier of Ukraine. Because this time around, it is we in the West who are erecting the wall.
(This text is an extensive re-write in English, by the same author, of the original text in Italian, “Ci sono ancora speranze in Ucraina? ”, which appeared in the Italian on-line magazine Megachip on August 29, 2014, and in Pressenza-Italia on August 30, 2014.)