"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


April 17, 2014

Western media are presenting Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin as an aggressive state endangering its neighbors.  The truth is just the opposite.  Expansionist Western neoliberals and messianic neoconservatives, not pro-Russian operatives, have been the principal aggressors in Ukraine.

The so-called Maidan Revolution—or, if you prefer, the Maidan Coup—that took place on Feb. 21 in Ukraine is only the latest and most flagrant event in a process that has been underway for some time.  The principal players in this drama have been and continue to be the United States, the European Union, and NATO.  Essentially, these bullies have been shoving Russia up against a wall over and over again.  Now that Moscow has finally reacted, they are crying foul.

If anything, the Kremlin has been slow to react, given the fact that the states along the Russian periphery have historically been matters of enormous concern to Russian strategic planners.  And no wonder:  2 million Russian soldiers were killed in World War I, and 9 to 14 million in World War II.  The concerns of Russians are certainly more justifiable and even principled, given the facts of their history, than the motivations of American geopoliticians and their cherished shibboleths (the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, the Carter Doctrine, the Bush Doctrine, etc.).  But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, all along the Russian periphery, from the Baltic (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Russia's southern flank (Belarus and Ukraine) to the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) and central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan), the West has been working to detach the strategic anchors that leaders in the Kremlin have regarded for centuries as the guarantors of Russia's place in the world.  As the integration of the Baltic states into the European Union and NATO in 2004 demonstrated, there has been nothing particularly subtle about this campaign.  It is not Russia's aggressiveness that is surprising, but rather its patience.

But this patience is not really so astonishing. When the Soviet Union collapsed, a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed (1991).  This allowed Russia to substitute, in relations with eleven newly independent states, currency payments, which took the place of what before were essentially barter arrangements for exchanging products and raw materials.  As the CIS states grew increasingly restive under this system and looked abroad for alternatives, the Kremlin negotiated with them price-cutting arrangements in return for control of strategic sectors of their economies.  Thus Russia maneuvered to restore some of its lost security.  But with Russia often distracted by local conflicts—Transnistria, Karabakh, Abkhazia, Ossetia, and above all Chechnya—and with the price of oil steeply in decline, the U.S. was able to make major inroads, creating, for example, the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM = Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) to unite the rebellious CIS members.

As Jean Radvanyi, a professor at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) and author of Les États postsoviétiques (2004), has explained, it was the 1998 Russian financial crisis and the devaluation of the ruble by the Russian Central Bank (Aug. 17, 1998) that, paradoxically, enabled Russia to recover from this low ebb.  The new exchange rates favored economic development inside Russia, and a dramatic escalation in the price of oil (from $12 a barrel in 1998 to $108.80 today), vastly strengthening the Russian state, enabled it to begin to play a much more active role along the Russian periphery.

This ebb and flow of Russian power has created powerful geopolitical currents of which the Ukraine crisis is one eddy.  While the aspirations of civil society are certainly not a negligible factor in recent events, it is simply not the case that the U.S., NATO, and the European Union, on the one hand, or Russia on the other, are principally motivated by the interests of the people of Ukraine.  Each of these players is promoting a distorted, propagandistic narrative of events that deliberately leaves out major parts of the story.  Mainstream media on each side are fully enlisted in the promotion of these narratives.  Still, it is hard to conceal this fundamental fact: the principal source of instability in Ukraine is the messianic drive of free-market fundamentalists to overturn longstanding spheres of influence and to "liberate" the economy of Ukraine, principally for their own economic and financial benefit.  Not for nothing did the director of the CIA make a secret visit to Kiev a few days ago.

This conflict is essentially an economic one, so it is not surprising that the U.S. national security state is proposing to fight it principally with economic weapons:  sanctions, legal interdictions, diplomatic campaigns, etc.  These are supposedly intended to "punish" Russia.  Their real aim is to contribute to the project already underway by undermining Russia's economy and diverting markets to the West. But the European Union's considerable dependence on Russian energy supplies has limited its freedom to maneuver, exercising a moderating influence in the crisis.  After all, the effect of Russia's turning off the gas mains to Western Europe would be quite dramatic.

No doubt Russia is a state whose democratic institutions are weak, and whose electoral process is at present incapable of producing a government that represents the will and interests of its people.  The same is true, alas, in the post-Citizens United, post-McCutcheon United States.  And it is true, too, of the European Union, where an unelected economic junta in Brussels has succeeded in depriving its constituent members of key elements of national sovereignty, even as it maintains an utterly powerless elected "parliament" in Strasbourg.  All of these lands suffer from a "democratic deficit."  All of them are essentially oligarchies.  When, we ask, will their peoples make use of the freedoms they still possess to put an end to the greedy power struggle that still spellbinds their elites?


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."