This whole Ukraine thing has been a seesaw of expectations. I thought for a few days there might be a diplomatic solution to the confrontation, despite the flimsiness of the Geneva accord, but at the moment that possibility recedes to the thunder of tanks rumbling toward the east from Kiev. The offensive against the pro-Russians that began with the visit of US intel chief John Brennan and was briefly halted for Easter has now been resumed, coincidentally, I’m sure, with the arrival of Joe Biden. From the start of Maidan rioting it was pretty clear this was not going to be a happy scenario. It looked very much as if the EU had connived in the disturbances, furious at having an association agreement with Ukraine snatched from its jaws with a better offer from Russia (which the West calls bribes). And whatever the EU was up to in Ukraine, the US was worse. When I was doing diplomacy, you tried to avoid appearances of meddling in the internal affairs of another country, even if you were. But our diplomacy has taken on the same coloring of arrogance and stupidity that our domestic governance has. So not only did the Embassy send out its anonymous faces to mingle in the crowds and report attitudes, the woman in charge of European Affairs at the State Department went and handed out snacks to hungry rioters. In (Russian-intercepted) phone calls, we heard Ms. Nuland express contempt for EU opinion about how to proceed in Kiev, and lastly we heard her setting out the USG’s list of desired Kiev officials to comprise what is known as an “interim government” in Ukraine and a junta in El Salvador. This direct and obvious US involvement in an illegal transfer of power in a nation of singular importance to Russia elevated the quarrel from one over Ukraine’s future alliances to one of who would prevail in this face-off. Would it be America, which lives half a globe away from Ukraine; or Russia, with a sufficient military force deployed on Russian territory and at the ready to take eastern Ukraine should the west be so kind as to provide a sufficient pretext. That would settle the thorny issue of a land-bridge from Russia to Crimea.
In the meantime, this primary face-off has triggered a secondary one of far greater importance to Ukraine, a deepening divide between the west and the southeast. A huge Russian minority is unhappy with the violent overthrow of pro-Russian Yanukovych despite sharing anger at his corruption. This is all the more so because of the manner in which the creation of a new illegal government has proceeded, with much western support and in smoke-filled rooms, because of anti-Russian measures from Kiev, and because the Russian-speaking southeast has been ignored in all decision-making. This discontent and divide has provided fertile ground for Russian psy-ops and provocation that prevents the Kiev regime from consolidating its power, a goal important to Moscow. But the clashes that have occurred and are escalating between the two sides now threaten to provoke a genuine civil war, which would most certainly prompt Russian military intervention.
The latest news is that the head of the Right Sector fascists is moving his paramilitary headquarters right into the lion’s mouth in Donetsk. Dmitry Yarosh claims to have coordinated everything with the Kiev junta and to have the okay to move against the “terrorists” of southeastern Ukraine. This is about as dangerous a provocation to the eastern Ukrainians as you could offer. It will do no good; it will not tame the fires of separatism but flame them. And while strife in Ukraine is almost certainly not something that Russian wants or would have wished for, if it comes to real civil strife Russian must protect its interests. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview yesterday, said that Russia would of course use military force if Russia was attacked, or “Russians” were attacked in Ukraine. Already dozens have been killed or injured in the Kiev operation. How many deaths will it take to provoke Russia into responding? In the meantime, ask yourself this: what is the US (which seems to own the Kiev junta) doing to pull back the extreme right-wing and push toward a Ukrainian solution that satisfies both parties instead of only one? I don’t think anybody in his right mind wants a war with Russia, but US words and actions are pushing things in that direction.
I’d like to know how united (or not) NATO is on this one. It’s one thing to drop a few bombs over some defenseless country (especially since it is mainly the US doing the bombing). It is quite another to know that your country stands in real jeopardy of becoming a target in a war that could well slide into the use of nuclear weapons. I’d guess the Europeans, at least to the west of the former Pact countries, will be looking around desperately for a way to shunt this argument from the realm of the military to the realm of the diplomatic. I’m not sure they can stay the Americans, who are being goaded toward the military by hawks on the right and the left and by a US general, Philip Breedlove, who seems to want another star on his shoulder. They say it’s a matter of credibility. I can’t speak for others, but from where I sit I’ll take a little tarnishing of our credibility in exchange for no military conflict with Russia over a place that has no vital significance for us.