[Image © Euromaidan Press]
Watch TV news or visit a mainstream media website and you’ll see that the entire world has its hair on fire over Putin’s ‘sudden’, ‘unprovoked’ and ‘mindless’ invasion of Ukraine, to use just three favourite adjectives in the MSM reports.
And before you say it, yes, I know that asking the question, “Why has Russia invaded Ukraine” makes me a stinking, neo-nazi, communist, right-wing, liberal extremist, Putin lover. I get that. I know that the real reason is because Putin is in-fact the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, and he is hell-bent on re-establishing the Soviet Empire and damn the cost in blood and treasure. CNN and the BBC and the Guardian all told me. So it must be true!
But… And I know this is so wrong of me, but I just can’t help feeling a little… curious.
Even if Putin-Hitler is as stark raving looney as they say, how did we get here, to the apparent brink of all-out thermonuclear war? And is it as sudden, unprovoked and mindless as the MSM want us to believe?
Perhaps a good place to start when trying to understand a geopolitical crisis of this nature would be to look at a map. Maybe even do a little reading?
Here is a map of Europe. This first map doesn’t label each of the individual countries, it’s just to illustrate the two sides of the argument. The blue bits are NATO member states – the good guys. The red bits are CSTO countries – the bad guys. The white are the non-aligned or neutral countries. The big blue and white stripy bit, right in the middle, is Ukraine. And the little blue and white stripy bit on the right, is Georgia. Not the state in the USA, but the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
This second map from NATO’s website labels each country and colours the NATO states grey. Of course the two largest member states, Canada and the USA aren’t in Europe, so aren’t on these maps.
NATO is the acronym for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is a security and defence alliance spanning North America and Europe. It was initially founded after the Second World War, in 1949, with twelve member states; United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.
Importantly, Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty specifies that an attack on any of the member countries is effectively an attack against them all, invoking the principle of collective defence. Pick a fight with one of them, you pick a fight with all of them.
In 1952, Greece and Turkey joined NATO. Then, in 1955, West Germany, followed by Spain in 1982.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO adopted a policy of expansion to include former Warsaw Pact members. This was met with strong opposition by Russia but in 1999, three formerly Soviet states joined the alliance; Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
Nato’s policy of expansion continued in the face of vocal protests from Russia. Still, when seven more former Soviet nations joined NATO in 2004; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, Russia gritted its teeth and conceded further strategic ground.
Then, in 2008, NATO invited Ukraine and Georgia to apply for membership. The admission of these two states would bring NATO to the very borders of Russia. This was a strategic threat Russia simply could not accept and issued a warning that it would not stand by and allow such a threat to its strategic security.
Later that year, Russia made itself very clear on the matter, when in response to clashes between Georgian government forces and ethnic Russian separatists in two Georgian regions, South Ossetia and Abkahzia, Russia launched a full land, sea and air invasion of Georgia. After a ceasefire brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy was reached, the independence of South Ossetia and Abkahzia was recognized by Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic ties with Russia.
At this point, one might ask what right does Russia have to dictate to its neighbours on security and military matters?
The answer to that question can be found in the United States, in the form of the Munro Doctrine. This determines that the US will not accept any distant foreign power stationing military assets within the Western Hemisphere.
In October 1962, the US enforced this policy, going toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union over its placement of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba.
As a further illustration, one can hardly imagine that the US would sit idly by if Canada or Mexico agreed to station Chinese forces on their sovereign territory.
Ukraine, along with its neighbour Belarus, are former Soviet republics that have been under the Russian sphere of influence since the mid-17th century. It wasn’t until the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1920 that Ukraine’s borders were formally established, with its admission to the Soviet Union. Even today, it’s population is almost equally split between ethnic Ukrainians in the west and ethnic Russians in the east.
The heat over Ukraine was turned up in 2014, when elected but Russian leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his government were overthrown in a revolution/coup that undoubtedly enjoyed material US and UK support.
Russia moved to prevent its strategically important Black Sea naval base in Sebastopol from falling under western influence, by annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. This is reason one, why Russia will never again renounce its possession of Crimea.
Further, Russia moved to support the creation of two self-proclaimed breakaway states of Donestsk and Luhansk, together known as the Donbas region, in the Russian-speaking east of the country. Ever since, there has been an on-again-off-again civil war in the Donbas region between Ukrainian national forces and Russian-backed separatists.
To further complicate matters, the area of the Black Sea to the south of Ukraine and the west of Crimea has massive reserves of natural gas. Ukraine, unable to develop this resource on its own, could have sought Russian help to exploit and sell its natural gas, cashing in on Russia’s enormous energy trade with western Europe. But instead, Ukraine elected to look to the west to develop its gas reserves, thereby directly threatening Russia’s lucrative energy supply contracts with western Europe and Germany in particular.
This is reason two why Russia will never again renounce its possession of Crimea. For Ukraine it is lost territory and lost opportunity.
Of course, Ukraine is completely at liberty to associate itself with whomever it wishes. But when your house is situated directly between the headquarters of two rival street gangs, you probably want to think carefully about whom you choose to associate with, and the possible consequences.
So, to precis where we have got to so far. Since 1989, old man Russia had been in bed with a bad hangover. Meanwhile NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world, had been moving its patio furniture onto Russia’s front yard for the past 15+ years, when grumpy old man Russia finally came out and yelled at the neighbourhood kids to get the hell off his lawn!
This would probably have been a good time to decide not to piss-off old man Russia any more, but to strike a deal about access to the yard to say, drop off some aspirin for that nasty hangover, before one of the pesky neighbourhood kids gets dragged off into old man Russia’s undoubtedly haunted house, for a damned good thrashing.
One proposal for such a deal, suggested by Russia, has been that Ukraine become non-aligned or neutral, another of those white bits on the map above, and that both Russia and the west agree to help Ukraine develop and prosper economically. Who knows, maybe one day becoming the Switzerland of eastern Europe.
But, as you know, kids will be kids and the opportunity to sneak onto a grumpy old neighbour’s yard is just too sweet a challenge to pass up. And that’s how NATO decided to play it too.
So, we in the west thought that, if Russia wouldn’t allow Ukraine to become a member of NATO, we would make it a proxy member, in all but name and of course, article five guarantees, and under the Trump administration began sending shitloads of weapons to Ukraine. Now, you must understand, they were only defensive weapons. But I guess how defensive a weapon appears depends on which end of it you’re looking from. And Russia, looking down the barrel of all those weapons pointed at it, didn’t share the same perspective on how defensive they were.
And this is how we got to early 2022.
The West wants Ukraine in NATO, directly on Russia’s border, even if it is a proxy member only, which is even better for the west because it avoids its article five commitments to Ukraine, and Russia wont’ tolerate it in either way.
Just to make sure NATO gets the message that they mean business, Russia and Belarus hold a gigantic military exercise in early 2022, as a show of good old-fashioned sabre rattling.
And the west keeps sending weapons to Ukraine.
Finally, on 24 February 2022, Russia did exactly what it had been alluding to for the 14 years since 2008 and rolled its tanks over the border.
The west, all the while clutching its pearls in horror, scattered like cockroaches and left Ukraine to its own devices, and wondering whether it should perhaps have raised the subject of an article five guarantee a little more vociferously. President Biden made that perfectly clear, by stating that the US would not come to the defence of Ukraine militarily. Too late now. Russian language lessons might be more useful.
Militarily, there is nothing Ukraine or the west can do about it anyway. It has already happened. It is a fait accompli. Russia doesn’t have to occupy Ukraine to achieve its goals, it has only to ruin it. Which, looking at Ukraine before the invasion, the Ukrainians had already made a pretty good head start on that before the Russians even arrived. Ukraine rivals Putin’s Russia in the kleptocratic autocracy stakes but achieved it with an even more spectacular level of endemic corruption.
Besides, if the Europeans start getting uppity about things, Putin holds the trump card, so to speak. Europe literally cannot survive next winter without Russian gas supplies. And Germany in particular, knows it. If the images of Ukrainian civilians being bombed horrifies western sensibilities, wait until the frozen German corpses start piling up in the streets next winter, to see who really has the stomach for war.
Okay, we can sanction the Russian economy into submission. Wait until Russia cuts the undersea communication cables that power the world’s financial system and see who that hurts most.
This is another case, like so many in recent times, when reality bites. The realpolitik of the strategic security of Great Nations isn’t governed by what would be nice or if you feel offended or by which pronouns you prefer.
Ukraine can’t pack up and move to a nicer neighbourhood. It is stuck where it is, smack between two belligerent neighbours who couldn’t care less whether the Ukrainians like Death-Metal music blaring from the stereo at two in the morning. Like it or not, property prices in this neighbourhood are only going down. One way or another, Ukraine is going to have to work out how to deal with it.
Where will it go from here? Will we all be drawn inevitably into World War Three and thermonuclear oblivion? I don’t know. Who would dare predict anything in today’s topsy-turvey world?
But so far, when push has come to shove, we have already seen who really feels they have a strategic interest in Ukraine. It wasn’t Putin who pissed his pants and ran, it was the west.
Perhaps, that was always going to be the case. And just maybe, that was the smartest thing the west has done in this whole sorry affair.
By Colin Ford
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