Jeffrey Sommers/Michael Hudson: Russia, Crimea and the Consequences of NATO Policy

By Jeffery Sommers and Michael Hudson, a associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and distinguished professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City respectively, who have both advised members of Latvia’s government on alternatives to austerity. They are also contributors to the forthcoming book by Routledge Press: The Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-Economic Costs of the Neoliberal Baltic Model. Originally published at Counterpunch

Russia’s incursion (invasion if you prefer) into Crimea, with prospects for movement into Eastern Ukraine, is the culmination of US/NATO policy since 1991.

The unraveling of the USSR and its Soviet bloc (the Warsaw Pact) dismantled the largest empire in modern history. Even more striking, it was the most peaceful dissolution of a major empire in history. The fact that an empire stretching over a dozen time zones that included hundreds of ethnic groups with concrete historical and contemporary grievances with each other broke up without a bloodbath is nothing short of a miraculous – and a reflection of the destruction of spirit and even of economic understanding that marked the distortions of Stalinism, neither capitalist nor socialist but a bureaucratic collectivism whose final stage proved to be kleptocracy.

Part of the reason that this went off with such little violence was due to the mutual desire of President George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War’s threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Gorbachev for his part recognized that the Warsaw Pact nations needed to be let go, in order to free resources to build up a more middle class consumer economy. Demilitarization was to be achieved by disarmament, all the more remarkable in view of the largest human losses suffered in world history from military invasion had occurred just two generations earlier. Germany became the focus, pending its reunification in1990. It had invaded its neighbors every generation or so since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. In World War II it laid waste to the USSR and left 25 million of its people dead. Other East European nations, including Romania (and, along with victims of Stalinist oppression, e.g., the Baltics and Ukrainians, welcomed the Nazis and fought against Russia). The NATO alliance thus remained the main threat that had held the Soviet Union together

So Russia had vital security concerns that could only be met by assurances that NATO would not move into the Warsaw Pact states, where so much Soviet blood had been shed in World War II. President George H. W. Bush (#41) made assurances that if the Soviets were to dissolve the Warsaw Pact, Russia must be assured that the NATO would not fill the vacuum. But his successor, Bill Clinton, broke this promise by quickly taking the
former Warsaw Pact states into NATO, and then moved into territory formerly occupied and incorporated into the USSR with the Baltics.

It should have been foreseen – and probably was inevitable – that these new entrants wanted NATO, given their own experience with Soviet occupation. But the eagerness of a triumphalist United States to surround Russia militarily rather than disarm led Russian leaders to feel betrayed by the US breaking its word.

Russia today has watched covert attempts from the US State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy and other NGOs to break up their country as part of what is becoming a triumphalist global pattern. This threatens to remake their “near abroad” into a neoliberal periphery. Today’s confrontation has taken on an existential character for Russia since it saw NATO’s moves toward Georgia as cutting too close to the bone. The prospects of NATO assimilating Ukraine (Kiev) represents a seizure of Russia’s “heart”: the very ancestral home where Russia was founded and on which it repelled the fascist invasion in the Great Patriotic War–as it had a millennium earlier against the German Crusading Knights pledged to exterminate the Russian-Greek Orthodox population.

Most Russians never forgave Gorbachev for the deal he made with NATO. Russian diplomats have stated clearly that Ukraine is a line that cannot be crossed regarding potential NATO expansion. It is as if foreign agents worked in Texas to mobilize a violent ethnic minority to rejoin Mexico and then place a hostile military alliance on the US border.

The Crimea has been part of Russia for three hundred years. It is populated overwhelmingly by Russian speakers, who watch with alarm the rightwing nationalist violence in Kiev, all the more as many of its leaders are establishing symbolic and outright ideological ties with the old German Nazis. Viktor Yanunkovych was as much a crook as Ukraine’s previous kleptocratic leaders who wielded political power to rob the state and its public domain, neoliberal style. The Crimean population has reason to fear that their elected President was illegally deposed not for his kleptocracy, but as part of a regional and ethnic identity politics of the sort that the Americans are sponsoring throughout the world, from the Shite/Sunni split to similar splits in countries they seek to control. The only protection available is from Russia. That is the gift that Obama has given Putin, making him a defender of Ukraine rather than the aggressor.

Khrushchev’s drinking bout in 1954 when he turned Crimea over to Ukraine has caused a massive hangover. The West’s response to cure it with neoliberalism and NATO is not helping.

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  1. timotheus

    Okay, and therefore what should be the response to the invasion of a sovereign European state by another? One can agree with everything written here, but the lack of answer to that question makes it all sound like Putin’s actions are fine and dandy rather than extremely dangerous. Not even a demand to cut off the Russian oligarchs’ access to London real estate?

    1. burnside

      That’s the observation on which rests a policy of kleptocracy on the part of Ukraine’s political elites and a campaign for destabilization on the part of the United States. It sounds proper and defensible, and it masks the motives both.
      Perhaps you’re right to bring it into discussion. Why would anyone test Russian patience or resolve to this extent?

    2. PaulW

      Who are you asking? Intelligent individuals who care about their fellow humans and world peace but are powerless to direct anything? Or the ruling elite of psychopaths who put no value on human life(except as a commodity) unless it’s in the top 1% income bracket?

      There is no answer that matters for the former because they rule nothing. Plus there’s no good response regarding the latter because the last thing we need is for the 1% to continue to succeed.

    3. Pokey

      The decision of the people of Crimea to leave Ukraine was a democratic action much more legitimate than the overthrow of the corrupt, but democratically elected government of Ukraine. We took offense when Germany attempted to get Mexico to declare war on the US if it joined the allies in WWI and when Khrushchev wanted nukes in Cuba.

      Russia’s interest in the Ukraine is a lot more legitimate than our incessant military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. I am overwhelmed by the hypocrisy and arrogance of the US and EU.

      What this world needs now is another cold war to justify another arms race. Let’s heat it just a bit, and while we are at it, Ukraine could use a little Greek medicine.

    4. Banger

      What should be the response of the U.S. invading sovereign countries? It has done so more than Russia and it has done so not out of national security needs but pure imperial aspirations to ensure “full-spectrum” dominance. Russia is putting troops in the Crimea because it sees itself threatened by a coup d’etat of a neighboring country that was part of Russia for some time (didn’t you read the article?), a coup, btw of a freely elected democratic government with massive aid and prodding from the West. You want to risk a new cold war and worse for that?

      What you fail to understand is that the re-emergence of neoconservatives in this administration is far more dangerous to world peace and prosperity than anything Putin could do. Last time they were in power we lost trillions is stupid wars fought for the profits of “defense” and “security” contractors–you want these guys in power again?

    5. diptherio

      I think you miss the point of the article. We have been needlessly and stupidly moving into territories we promised to stay out of. We have provoked an angry response, which was the only reasonable thing to expect and probably what OUR elites wanted anyway. Sommers and Hudson try to point this out and suggest backing off, but you suggest maybe we should poke the Russians in the eye instead. (Strategy board gamers will no doubt recognize the back-stabbing strategy that Bush and Clinton combined to carry out wrt Warsaw Pact countries. In life, as in board games, reneging on a promise like that generally results in a violent response and often as not turns a would-be ally into a bitter enemy…waddaya expect?)

      Our response to the Russian ‘invasion’ (or anti-fascist prophylaxis, depending on your perspective) should be to pull hard on whatever reins we still have on our elites. We need to let them know in no uncertain terms to back the f— off; that war-mongering is a losing political strategy. We need to treat them like a toddler on a baby leash that’s about to wander into traffic. Yank hard! It’s for everyone’s benefit (and cynics take note: Syria didn’t happen, so there is some hope…maybe).

      Our elites are spoiling for a fight and supporting LITERAL Nazis to boot. As Americans, we don’t need to be worrying about Mr. Putin right now. Mr. Obama is a much bigger threat to world peace, at the moment.

      1. Banger

        Au contraire mon ami, war making is a winning political strategy in Washington as can be seen by the resurrection of the neoconservatives as kings-of-the-hill in our fair capitol city. The coup in the Ukraine (of a freely democratically elected government) was a deliberate provocation on the part of the Obama administration where Obama himself may or may not be in charge. The people in charge know that war is the way to attain personal and institutional power at least in the short-term. Belligerency always works in that time-frame. You see this, particularly, in the American news-media as they each outdo each other in calling for War!!!! It gets eyeballs on their screens, they believe.

        1. diptherio

          I don’t disagree at all. Most politicians in DC still seem to think war-mongering is a political winner, as it often has been. I’m just saying we should do whatever we can to convince them otherwise.

          But as for our elites, they will do whatever it takes to assure themselves power, and starting wars is a sure way to concentrate power, even if it is courting Armageddon. The PTB don’t seem to mind that they may well be leading us all over a dreadful cliff, just so long as they get to lead the parade.

      2. optimader

        …We have been needlessly and stupidly moving into territories we promised to stay out of….
        … We have provoked an angry response..
        –no, not angry, predictable.
        Further to my post yesterday, more like historical inevitability.
        A neo-Imperial Russia needs a warm water coast/ports. Crimean War = the historical precedent. Again Lord Byron: “History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page”

        Putin dearly wants for Russia to be a player again. Crimea as a part of Russia again is a geographic predicate.
        The political details are noise in the signal and the ~2MM Crimean’s: “merely pawn in game of life” ~Mongo, Blazing Saddles

        1. Synopticist

          It seems predictable and inevitable in retrospect, and frankly you didn’t need to be that smart in seeing it coming, but the R2P mesisanics and neo-con alliance in Washington had persuaded themselves otherwise.
          This was bitch slapping Putin in response to the insult they recieved over Syria.
          Remember in the days after the last govt was overthrown and before Putin made his move, the MSM was totally confident he wouldn’t do anything, because, well, it would be dumb. He’d lost, we’d won, take that bitch. Now I think we can all agree the MSM has lost any shred of independence it once had in foreign affairs, and that was the briefing they’d been given. Putin has to let us do this.

          The people in the State dept now, and in the UK foreign office, are just not as clever as they used to be. Not as capable of asessing risk, or of thinking two moves ahead. These are people who have sided with jihadis in Syria, after all. Even after Libya went Mad Max.

          They’re used to manipulating situations where they have all the advantages, in money, interception transcripts, PR, Intel, diplomatic clout, military strength etc. The full spectrum. The Anglo-sphere foreign policy elite has grown intellectually lazy and decadent from decades of having it their own way, and just plain failed to see this response coming.

          It’s been accentuated by the coming of Cameron and Obama, both PR men basically, neither deep thinkers, for whom the messaging is everything. And those are the sort of people they’ve attracted and appointed. They’ve both been sold on the idea of “soft power”, using media, celebrities and NGOs to astro-turf their intentions into being. So they can use Amnesty International to demonise one side (only) in a civil war, and get gay friendly celebrities to boycott Sochi, and they consider that POLICY.

          They forgot that Putin and the entire Russian people don’t give a f*ck what Amnesty or Debbie Harry think, they care about the Crimea, and Russia’s place in the world. And the idiots making our foreign policies have confused clever PR with wise decision making, and gifted Putin a cheap, popular win.

          Because the bottom line is, Europe is screwed without Russian gas. Shafted. Germany and north-western Europe can’t just suddenly get it’s hydro-carbons from the fairies. That stuff takes years to organise. Furthermore, they’re not about to give up their export markets. The French wont lift a finger for Crimea, this isn’t the 1850s. Putin will offer ELF a cushy deal, or get them to build a nuclear power station or something if they play hard-ball. Is London’s 1% going to deny itself offshored Russian money? Hmmm. let me thing about it….Also, Ukraine is in way deeper financial trouble than she was when she rejected Europe’s crappy offer and went with the Russians instead. Now who’s paying? Pensioners, state workers, taxpayers. Voters.

          Putn and the ruthless bast*rds around him have been cold and calculating. They’ve re-raised our bluff, and our hand is weak, and we’ll have to find a way of folding.

    6. Jackrabbit

      We have witnessed one clusterf@#k after another – GFC/TBTF, NSA, Fukeshima, Ukraine, and more – and so far the response to each has been to reward the antagonists, blame the victims, and use OPM (Other People’s Money) to gloss it over.

      The response SHOULD be accountability of those who are responsible. Why are the neocons still driving US foreign policy? Why does Nuland still have a job?

      = = =

      BTW, what are YOU willing to sacrifice to defend Ukraine? A cold house next winter? Loss of your job (if the conflict causes a recession)? Your child’s life (if this ‘cold war’ were to become a hot one)?

      The neocons would be MORE than happy to take whatever you are willing to give.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I am disappointed by the lack of American volunteer regiments in these countries we must defend. I guess Americans were just made of sterner stuff when we had volunteers to fight against Nazis or demanded an economic embargo against Japan for their treatment of the Koreans and especially the Chinese.

        The lack of American tourism to Libya is appalling. I would think there would be legions of Americans who wanted to see the results of NATO’s prevention of a massacre in Benghazi.

        The basic problem is the country is jam packed with imperialists of both the harsher out for resources and the techonocratic do-gooders who suffer from white man’s burden messiah syndrome.

        1. optimader

          “I am disappointed by the lack of American volunteer regiments in these countries we must defend.”

          HAHA… Guernica!! err… well, maybe not so much..

    7. Dan Kervick

      I agree. Analysis of history is one thing; but what is most needed is clarity about where to go from here.

      I’m very worried that the US administration and Russian administration are both very dangerous right now. The US is dangerous because Obama is weak domestically and will be looking for ways to rescue his increasingly irrelevant administration from historical oblivion. Also, his diplomatic team was deeply humiliated by Putin’s outmaneuvering them on Syria last year, and has been looking for payback.

      The Russians are dangerous because Putin is getting older, and some of his earlier gambits for a greater global role are not paying off. The idea of creating a new BRIC bloc seems not to be going anywhere significant, the new global center of economic gravity seems to be moving to South Asia and East Asia, and the US continues to have many more economic assets than Russia. Also, Russia has no attractive alternative model to offer the world since it is the champion of no ideological causes, and Russia remains a byword for graft and corruption.

      I continue to hope that following a certain amount of bluster and stage setting, Russia and the new Ukrainian govt will make some long-term deal over Sevastopol and Crimea.

      1. Fiver

        Almost entirely wrong.

        Aside from a symbolic tap on the wrist in the Security Council, where members could vote to censure Russia (and appear in line with US demands) knowing it would be vetoed in any case, the global reaction has in fact been: WTF are those morons running the US doing now? BRICS and other important nations have just witnessed a wildly provocative, stupidly aggressive action taken against Russia in order to ‘get Putin’, not a rational action in any conceivable version of US national interests, and crucially, to risk a real confrontation with a nuclear power to do so. Those, sir, were the actions of lunatics. You think the world buys what the US Admin or mainstream media is spewing on this when they all have access to the same information any of us do? Not a chance.

        While Putin has been damaged because he had to take the steps he did (in that sense, it was a trap) there’s not a serious observer anywhere than doesn’t see his actions as the effect, not the cause. The take-away for any nation desirous of maintaining some measure of independence from the US now is that they must combine into some form of offsetting power cluster. The US has now demonstrated it not only cannot lead the world in managing the global economy/financial system, or lead on global ecological threats, or on keeping peace, or on anything else, really, but that it is prepared to risk major war for a petty tit-for-tat public relations ‘victory’ over Putin. This was a bad outcome for Putin in the Beltway and manufactured media mind – everywhere else it was a stark demonstration of the mind-numbing hypocrisy and lawless nature of US policy and its utterly inept policy practitioners. This is about as stupid as anything I’ve ever seen – backing a bunch of ultra-right-wing fascists in a coup the whole world knows was made in USA vs an opponent who appears to be the only calm, reasonable man in this entire farce.

        The time will come when the US claims it’s ‘helping’ some other country about to be skewered and all you’ll hear are a couple billion ‘clicks’ as everyone turns off the news. The world desperately needs adults on the scene in Washington.

        1. Dan Kervick

          I think the global reaction has been much more ambivalent and complicated than you suggest. Perhaps you have some polling data on world opinion? Because what I have seen suggests a worried mix of reactions. Both sides have engaged in a succession of provocative actions: the US by helping to instigate and then supporting a revolutionary overthrow of an elected government, the Kremlin by moving security personnel into Crimea and supporting a rapidly executed secession vote.

          China, as usual is cautiously reticent and in the mood to be wooed, but opposed the intervention. India says Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine and seems to have tilted toward Russia. The EU leadership has taken a pretty firm stance against the referendum. European public opinion seems to support sanctions, but no further action.

          1. Jackrabbit

            Fiver is right. I think you missed this key phrase:

            The take-away for any nation desirous of maintaining some measure of independence from the US . . .

            This bumbling gambit has greatly tarnished the American ‘brand’ and united opposition to American policy. We will live with this for many years to come. In addition, supporting Ukraine (assuming there is a West-leaning Ukraine to support) will tax our will and our pocketbooks.

            The neocon’s Ukraine gambit is a clusterf@#k brought to you by the vacuous, mendacious, and corrupt Obama Administration.

    8. different clue

      Putin’s actions are a reasonable response to an extremely dangerous Western (mainly DC FedRegime?) conspiracy to expand NATO to Russia’s very border, preparatory to dividing Russia itself into helpless colonizable pieces according to the grand plan dream of that noteworthy antiRussianitic culturacist antiRussianite, Zbigniew Brzezinski. ( And others too of course. But for those others it is more “strictly bussiness”).
      So what we should do is let Putin keep Crimea and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. Preserve Russia as a kind of Overseas Bulwark to lend us eventual strength for someday overthrowing and exterminating our own Plutogarchs.

  2. Thorstein

    The phrase “sovereign European state” has such a nostalgic aura about it. As if the supernational corporations care one whit about such imaginary entities. Why should Gazprom not own London real estate?

  3. Working Class Nero

    The fundamental question is where the real border should be between the EU Empire and the Russian Empire. A pretty strong argument could be made that if one wants a cultural cohesive EU then many of the former subject nations of the Ottoman Empire are culturally too far from Western Europe to make good open border partners. For example,although they might not say it too loudly, many in Europe would be quite happy to see Romania and Bulgaria go to the Russian camp. Hungary is a borderline case but probably just belongs in the EU bloc. Slovakia, Poland, and the Baltic states certainly belong in the EU bloc. Moldavia, Ukraine, Belarus and Albania all wind up in the Russian sphere of influence, as would obviously Turkey. Serbia is a tough call and could go either way. Slovenia and Croatia are European.

    Greece would become a border state and it would be a pretty close call as to which camp Europeans would want to see Greece in although if given the choice, just by a hair I think they would choose to have Greece stay in the EU bloc.

    America on the other hand wants an EU that is as multi-cultural and diverse as possible (including even Turkey) so as to block any social cohesion and to make sure there are enough internal conflicts that the EU’s power potential is never reached.

    1. Banger

      America on the other hand wants an EU that is as multi-cultural and diverse as possible (including even Turkey) so as to block any social cohesion and to make sure there are enough internal conflicts that the EU’s power potential is never reached.

      This is a devilishly insightful comment! It is, in fact, a key to the grand strategy of full spectrum dominance. Dilute power as much as possible so that there are no coherent rivals. Encourage separatist movements, break up societies through the NED and the usual black operations.

      1. notexactlyhuman

        Works well enough here at home. What’s your race and nationality? You don’t have to answer if your ashamed … I mean uncomfortable.

      2. John Yard

        Very insightful comment : an EU that grants association to the Ukraine is adding to its
        already impressive problems , not adding to its assets. If the bankrupt periphery are PIIGS, will the new acronym be UPIIGS – pronounced you-pigs !

    2. Synopticist

      Yup, pretty much agree with all of that. Maybe I’d have Romania in the EU block. Maybe.
      But don’t forget the “enlarge Europe to weaken it” policy was a UK thing, as well as US.

    3. OIFVet

      Serbia is not a tough call at all, the culture and mentality are just as Balkan as those of Bulgaria and Romania. Same thing with Croatia; Slovenia you probably got right. Still, I find the British and continental Euros’ moaning about Bulgaria and Romania to be deliciously hypocritical and self-serving. Who will pick the Euro produce and supply cheap booze and sex tourism for the Eurotrash teens and sexually frustrated northerners if these two were kicked out of the EU? These are the Mexicans of Europe, cheap labor to be exploited and blamed by hypocritical neoliberal politicians for the failure of their own policies. This is not to say that Bulgaria and Romania are innocent victims here, but hailing from BG I am getting fed up with British and Euro hypocrisy. Point that finger at yourselves, that’s the source of your damned problems.

      1. John Jones

        I really don’t get what the difference is between so called European and Balkan culture and mentality?

        1. OIFVet

          Think of the difference between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire, with some Byzantine mores thrown in. The Balkans have always been at the border between civilizations, though usually under the rule of some Eastern/Asiatic power. For example the Ottoman Empire ruled the region for five centuries. So the differences are there and are plenty. Corruption in the Balkans is a fact of life and though it may not be necessarily embraced its presence is accepted. Hate and racism are out in the open, unlike in Europe where their presence is usually hidden and people/governments are reluctant to even acknowledge them. The Balkans are fractious and everyone hates all other ethnicities/nationalities even as they have very close and dear friends amongst those other groups. Europe at least outwardly embraces multiculturalism. Europeans outside of the Mediterranean are so serious as to approach joylessness, the Balkans are irrepressible social animals who can have fun under any circumstance. Europeans are concerned about and plan the future, the Balkans are preoccupied with making today count. I could go on and on, but that should give you the basic idea.

    4. different clue

      Turkey would object to that. Turkey wants its own little sphere of influence. Islamists want that sphere of influence to be the surrounding Islamic countries. Greater Turkestan nationalists would like that sphere to somehow stretch into Turanian Central Asia.

  4. Banger

    The problem we have in the U.S. is that we have now a completely controlled mainstream media that acts as nothing more than an echo-chamber for certain powerful groups within the government. It seems that, as we have winding up the last of our wasteful and fraudulent wars that were fought for the profit of certain sectors of the economy and to lay down the gauntlet that we were ready to kill and kill in a big way to establish our “full-spectrum dominance.”

    Living within a propaganda system where there are no dissidents where everyone from Comedy Central, NPR, the cable channels, NPR, PBS, all the big dailies report the same lies as facts. The best we can hope for is that the U.S. public will simply tune out and focus on celebrities and cute pictures of animals as they did in the last attempt to get us into war (Syria). Now the propaganda organs wave around pictures of Putin (the new Hitler/bad guy) as if he symbolized all the evil images of Russians that have been hammered into our consciousness since the 1940s.

    They’re really bent on war in Washington and pulling out all the stops–as Paul Craig Roberts said recently, the only hope lies with the Europeans–do they really want to continue to lose their sovereignty to U.S. imperial power?

    What shocks me deeply is the lack of discussion on Kissinger’s ideas on this matter, i.e., to ensure Ukrainian neutrality and defuse the crisis. How did the realists lose out in Washington? How was Obama manipulated in this?

    1. PaulW

      Isn’t just the US media. What I’ve seen from the Canadian media has been absolutely pathetic. Everything distortions or our right lies. Same with the BBC. Plus Al Jazeera has it in for Putin as he spoiled Qatar’s pipeline through Syria plan. There’s simply no point in turning the tv for news now. The western world is already in 1984 mode.

      I don’t see the Europeans as any hope considering the Quisling leadership which runs the EU. If nothing else, Ukraine has proven that they have sold out to the Amerikaner Reich.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      “How was Obama manipulated in this?”

      I think there are two issues. The first is ego. Challenging American might and our 21st century white man’s burden under Obama’s watch hurts his ego which is his primary motivation.

      The other issue is their is hard work and sexy work. I feel the “technocrats” of the world are driven to sexy work, and from Obama’s standpoint reviewing 90’s policies about NATO isn’t cool or hip. Their isn’t room for a flag raising ceremony which can be fun. The simple answer is Obama doesn’t want to do anything which doesn’t have an immediate reward. I tend to believe people, and I have no doubt Obama had no idea how ACA works. He seemed shocked to find out buying health insurance is not the same as buying a used DVD.

      I occasionally look at the Twitter hashtag for Libya, and the good news is about the mall they opened. There has been effort by the government and by these Millenial enthusiasts to get a mall while the country is falling apart. Their sports authority is inking a deal with Spain. Its cool. One gets to go to Spain and meet some soccer player. Having honest discussions about the difficulty of assimilation of a tribal society is hard and requires resources they might have to acknowledge they don’t have such as a national leader (the U.S. had Washington and his two surrogate sons who happened to disagree politically and be veterans running around; Washington was a big deal).

      Obama has no problem picking the targets of his wars because there is an immediate sense of accomplishment. Its sexy. They make movies about this. Even “The American President” had a nice little moment about the President waxing melodramatically about the poor janitor he was going to blow up in a movie about the President dating. They don’t make movies about people standing in front of a big box store asking people to register to vote. Standing up to those Russians is the stuff of movies. No one is going to buy a book called “Sane planning, sensible tomorrow.” Now Putin is “super Hitler.” The generals will come the White House and scamper about at the President’s orders. I bet Obama has loads of fun.

      1. Banger

        Over many decades I’ve learned to read between the lines of the propaganda organs and PR flacks that make up the most of the political information we get in the U.S. I get the distinct impression that Obama may be a neoliberal and is Wall Street’s guy in the WH but he is not a happy warrior when it comes to war. I don’t believe he likes it unless it is something like Libya.

        It was very clear to me that he was being stampeded by Kerry and the coven of neocons in his administration to pursue military action in Syria but Obama clearly dragged his feet, delayed and delayed until he knew Congress would not approve it because the American people did not approve by large margins. If he was the big war-monger he would have acted aggressively in several areas and taken the lead in these crisses–but he’s staying out of it for the most part. I don’t think he nor his Wall Street bosses want hot war or cold war.

        Syria and Ukraine are crises that, in my opinion, were created in Washington and are Washington power-struggles within and without the Deep State–we are seeing a re-alignment and I can’t tell who is up or who is down–but I think we’re in for a bumpy ride.

    3. Jackrabbit

      Obama’s neolib philospohy is that govt serves industry/power. As such, he has as much control over neocons as he does over NSA, the Treasury Dept, or Eric Holder – all of whom are back by powerful interests.

      He wasn’t manipulated, he is complicit.

      1. notexactlyhuman

        If he isn’t complicit, he has an easy out by simply telling the truth about NED and the neocons and how they are traitors working against the lawful interests of the US and the International community. He has not and does not speak truths against the Establishment, and ignorance is not a legitimate defense.

    4. Synopticist

      “How was Obama manipulated in this?”

      What you see is what you get… A centre-right, establishment corporatist with a socially liberal sheen, great at PR and speeches, poor at negotiating. Over-promoted. Has a tendency to “reach out” to his domestic opponents without realising how batsh*t crazy they may be (Hello John McCain). Shows utter contempt for his political base. Doesn’t really like Europeans actually, but we don’t say that.

      No manchurian candidate, no eleventy dimensional chess. Just Obama.

    5. TimR

      A Tea Party person I know actually mentioned that Kissinger article to me as the best thing they’d read on the Ukraine. Although, they were also buying into the idea of Putin as a worrisome Anschluss-style expansionist with grand designs on the globe. (Is that mutually contradictory? oh well, I just report the facts as I find ’em on the Red State ground.)
      I wonder if the Kissinger realist view *is* what’s really likely going down, when the rubber meets the road; and the neocon bluster and media hype may be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. As long as it just puts everyone on edge and creates a stir, it’s all to the good for them, on multiple fronts I probably can’t even dream up.

    6. Dan Kervick

      Honestly, I don’t think there is a lot of gas left in that old “full spectrum dominance” machine. It’s 2014 not 1998. Power politics and struggles over economic and military spheres of influence continues as always, but the US foreign policy apparatus has re-calibrated its ambitions.

      1. Banger

        Maybe the object is the same but they are choosing different techniques. But the object is still world-dominance but this time not emphasizing military hardware. The current technique is to use the full panoply of black-operations including funding fascist and terrorist groups around the world.

        1. Dan Kervick

          The US does not have either the hard or soft power to achieve full spectrum dominance over the world, and the US government knows it. Of course there are black ops and the like going on; there always are, even in multipolar global power situations.

          I think it best not to indulge these kinds of blast-from-the-past categories. The world has changed. There are still neocons, but the grandios PNAC projects of a decade ago are in mothballs.

          1. Banger

            I hope so, but I would take another look at the U.S. military budget and compare it to the rest of the world. I would also note that Europe and other developed countries have accepted U.S. hegemony because it guarantees the shipping lanes. I think you are underestimating U.S. power and the willingness of the State to use that power.

    7. ron taylor

      Obama is a cryptozionist , for all practical purposes , whose rift with Israel is a deception . The neocon-zionists are now out to weaken or destroy Russia for blocking their play against Syria . They are still after Iran . The Great Game is on .

  5. washunate

    Great post. NATO expansion is one of several terrible policy decisions of the 1990s setting the stage for today.

    1. different clue

      And remember, it was Clinton who began the conspiracy to expand NATO. And it was Clinton who sent the Harvard Gang economists to Yeltsin’s Russia to advise it into self-destructing as much as possible in order to oligarchize as much public wealth as possible and to destroy Russia as a viable country if possible.
      Clinton. Clinton. On purpose. On purpose.

      1. washunate

        What’s a tad scary thinking about the past couple decades of public policy is that Clinton was, relatively speaking, the best of our three Baby Boomer Druggies…

  6. notexactlyhuman

    So much preaching about nations’ sovereignty while simultaneously selling TPP & TTIP. I’m so confused by John Kerry. Whatever do it all mean? And then there’s John McCain on global teevee saying that Russia’s just “a gas station pretending to be a country.” Indeed!

    And then there’s this Republican State Senator from Virginia being astoundingly truthful about Ukraine:

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I know broken clocks and all, but Dick Black is a hideous human being. Can we please link to someone who isn’t part of the American Taliban?

      1. notexactlyhuman

        You show me another and I will post. Bernie won’t even touch the subject with a Stick, which is depressing. Everyone’s afraid of the Establishment.

  7. Crazy Horse

    Americans would be well served to learn more of their own history before they try to understand conflicts involving other cultures and ethnic groups.

    In 1980 Americans elected a retired movie actor to the Presidency who was already suffering from periods of memory loss that grew into full scale Alzheimer’s during the course of two terms in office. His handlers were able to manage his public appearances because his skills as an actor served him in good stead when reading from a teleprompter. However he often fell asleep during cabinet meetings and as a result policy decisions were decided directly by lobbyists without the usual protocol of bargaining for election contributions.

    One day during his second term office his wife, Nancy, happened to mention that Texas had become more Mexican than Mexico. He misunderstood her, and thought that she was suggesting that Texas should become part of Mexico. He immediately went into the Oval Office and signed a Presidential Order giving Texas to Mexico. When he discovered what had happened Henry Kissinger was livid. It took all of his diplomatic skills to re-negotiate the Presidential Order into a format where Texas and the Gulf became an independent country and the US retained long-term leases on the Manned Spacecraft Center and the naval base in Galveston, along with the right to station 25,000 troops in Greater Texas.

    The ensuing years have not been kind to the remainder of the USA. Most of its manufacturing facilities were offshored to China and Vietnam, The former Midwest breadbasket was turned into a dust bowl by persistent drought, and to add insult to injury the City/State of London completely upstaged New York as the world’s financial center. By 2014 the US was highly dependent upon its Natural Gas LNG exports for revenue to fund its government expenses and remaining army. And over half of the Nation’s gas exports flowed through pipelines in Greater Texas to the leased port facilities in Galveston.

    This situation would have continued to be workable were it not for the persistent meddling by our historical enemy, the Russian Federation. It was a rude awakening when Quebec seceded from Canada in exchange for Russian armaments that enabled it to enforce its claim to the Northwest Passage shipping lanes. Quebec was one of the early members of the RSD, the Russian military defensive alliance, and the recipient of an array of medium range missiles supplied by the Russian Federation at very favorable terms. Not long after the countries of Bermuda and the Bahamas were also ushered into the RSD.

    Since the loss of its colonies in Central America and the ultimate disgrace of losing Texas, the ability to dictate events in its own hemisphere had largely been lost by the USA. The Russian Federation had 1400 military bases all around the world, advanced data surveillance technology, and a fleet of assassin drones operating worldwide at a scale the US couldn’t match. Exploiting this advantage, the Russian Federation began a covert campaign to destabilize Texas, funded by 5 billion in bribe money and sophisticated technical assistance in creating false flag events – a tactic refined for over 50 years by Russian covert operatives. Texas had no shortage of grifters and political chameleons willing to accept money from any source, and with Russian largesse they were soon able to overthrow the corrupt elected government of Texas and install themselves in power. It seemed that the stage was set for yet another vassal state to enter the Federation and another phase in the encirclement of the USA to begin.

    However success begets complacency and the Federation failed to take into account one key factor—the power of a ruthless leader to determine events. For many decades the US had been led by puppet Presidents whose function was to keep the masses entertained by continuous election circuses while the privileged elite hollowed out the economy and shipped it off to their offshore bank accounts. Presidents were in turn senile, sexual predators, mentally retarded or simply venal. The man in the White House that the Federation faced when they tried to take over Texas was a different class of character entirely. President Underwood had ascended to the Presidency without a single vote being cast, although there were several murders along the way. He had immediately merged the remnants of the dying oil companies— Exxon , Conoco & Chevron with natural gas property scams like Chesapeake Energy to form the state owned Universal Energy Company and retained 10% of the shares for himself so the interest of the Nation and his own would always be in alignment.

    With a real leader like Underwood in power do you think he would stand by and let the US be cut off from its lifeblood of natural gas exports? Is it surprising that he supplied the 25,000 troops authorized by treaty with the latest in tanks and heavy armor? And is it surprising that when given the choice of rejoining the US and speaking English or Spanglish rather than Russian, 95% of voters in Texas voted to re-join the US? In the end the Russian Federation huffed and puffed, but there was absolutely nothing short of starting a M.A.D. war that they could do to prevent Texas from re-joining the US.

    Update: President Underwood has just called for a full scale mobilization of troops at numerous points on the St. Laurence Seaway. Quebec has issued a statement that it will only target it’s warheads at civilian locations if US troops land and are unwilling to surrender in French.

    1. Synopticist

      And to think some people still think anyone would be better than Obama.
      How f*cking loopy is this man?

      1. different clue

        I voted for Obama to keep McCain and then Palin out of office. I expected a President McCain would start overt war with Iran to show how we could have won the Vietnam War if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. And VP Palin would be whipping the students into a hate-frenzy with neo-Agnew language in pursuit of her dream: “two, three, many Kent States”.

    2. OIFVet

      Replace “gas station” with “financial casino” and this would be the perfect description of the US.

  8. Steven Greenberg

    I do not think any great military or strategic thinker ever prescribed “Be ignorant of your opponent.” Therefore, no matter what you think we ought to do in response to Russian actions, I think it is very important to try to understand their motivations. You can disagree on what to do, and you can disagree with whether or not this is a good analysis of Russian motivations, but I don’t think you should disagree with trying to understand the Russians.

  9. Student

    The problem is not Crimea, the problem is that no one has any respect or admiration for Russia. Putin is surrounded by delusional people who see Russia as the some kind of Third Rome and want Russia to be at least a regional superpower. As if North Korea suddenly wanted to be a superpower???

    Please understand that Ukrainians would gladly let the Russians have Crimea if that was all the Russians ever wanted. But the struggle is not about Crimea, it is about who gets to dominate and rule Eastern Europe. But who wants to be dominated and ruled by Russians? No one, except perhaps some miserable Borat types from Kasakhstan. Certainly not Europeans.

    Do not forget that people have their own free will and Russia is not a role model for anybody.

  10. optimader

    “Khrushchev’s drinking bout in 1954 when he turned Crimea over to Ukraine has caused a massive hangover. The West’s response to cure it with neoliberalism and NATO is not helping.”

    A bit of a denigration of Khrushchev. Yeltsin was a manipulated drunk, Khrushchev was a savvy chameleon/survivor in the true sense of the word.
    The other clue is that Khrushchev was Ukrainian, indeed he was Stalin’s “governor” of Ukraine. One could fairly conjecture strong and deep payback to his political roots.

    1. JerseyJeffersonian

      And of course at that time, Khrushchev believed that there was no likelihood that the Soviet Union, with its constituent republics, would ever face dissolution. The strategic value of Sevastopol (and the Crimea in general) to Russia were thought by him to be guaranteed in perpetuity under the banner of the USSR, no matter the constituent republic with which it was politically linked. Wrong-o, Nikita.

      1. optimader

        Khrushchev to his man in Kiev: “Here’s the hassle you told me you wanted when we were in the Banya last night. You wanted it, it’s yours.
        Get back to me at the next Politburo Congress meeting, and you better have some good fking numbers.”

        BTW, Good vodka last night, send a truck to Moscow.

  11. Oregoncharles

    It would be good to include the original publication date – I saw this days ago, so it isn’t up to date on events there.
    Hudson is always worth reading, but the piece would look better in its original context.

  12. JerseyJeffersonian


    The authors touch briefly upon a point near the end of this post; namely, the long, long history of Western antagonism to Orthodox Christian culture, and the desire to extirpate it wherever it was to be found. Some little bit of this struggle I was aware of, but dimly, yet major elements of it were unknown to me, and so it was eye-opening to me to encounter and read this post from the author of Vineyard of the Saker that addressed (in brief but suggestive outline) this ancient contest:

    The post begins (and ends) with discussion of the then current news from Ukraine, but near to its beginning imparts a valuable historical lesson which I commend to readers of this blog.

    (A little thought experiment: how is it that the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East are happily left to the tender mercies of Salafist and Wahhabi violence with scarcely a mention in the Western media? My hypothesis is that many of them are Orthodox in their roots, or at minimum “too non-Western” to stand up for. In other words, they are not Catholic or Protestant, so they are as unlikely to be considered “good Christians” as Sh’ia or other minorities such as the Alawi, Druze, or Ismailis are to be considered “good Muslims” by Salafist or Wahhabi Sunnis. Looks like there is a big, glaring hole in that R2P BS, eh? And maybe driven by similar concerns as those found in the Muslim world. And isn’t it interesting that the Greeks, in this their hour of need, who are historically Orthodox in their religious culture, have been held in particular opprobrium by their “fellow” Europeans who, by way of contrast, are largely culturally shaped by other denominational religious traditions. And yet, it is universally claimed that the Ancient Greeks provided much of the framework of what has come to be acknowledged as characteristically “Western”? Things that make you go, hmm…)

    1. Banger

      There is a deep distrust between Western and Eastern Christianity. Western Christianity became rather narrow and became a system of beliefs whereas Eastern Christianity emphasized religious/spiritual experience not just a set of rules. I think the Eastern version remained closer to the original Church and the Western version became the religion of the Pharisees as we can see, par excellence, in the American Evangelical cults that masquerade as Christianity.

      1. JerseyJeffersonian

        One thing that struck me in The Saker’s account was that traditionally, the Orthodox church has relied upon church councils to come to grips with doctrinal/theological issues. Of course, over time, as in many institutional settings, since those holding “acceptable” and “orthodox” beliefs will be favored for advancement in the church, human turf wars will raise their ugly heads regardless of the surface appearance of open consideration and consultation. But The Saker does point out the unmistakeable centralizing, authoritarian tradition of the Catholic church which he attributes to the early capture of the Catholic church by Charlemagne as an instrument of state policy. One could, of course, lodge the same complaint about Constantine’s firm hand being laid on the early Church Councils. I found this whole line of argument to be intriguing, and worthy of much further study, given the historical significance of the divergence in both style and substance between the two traditions. I will observe that it seems unlikely to me that, had the Russians been Catholic, that they would have survived the Mongol yoke as a culture and a people. Although again, to argue with myself, one could advance the example of the Mozarabian Christians of Hispania as an example of Catholics surviving domination by another religious culture. But then, the rather unattractive face they showed when they became ascendant – forced conversion or expulsion of the Jews and the Muslims – is something of which to take note.

        As to the “masquerade”, boy, do I ever hear you. And the mystical/experiential individual dimension of the Western tradition has always sailed into a headwind, and continues to do so to this day. The Thomas Mertons are clearly the exception rather than the rule, even in the monastic tradition of the West. It is revealing that Merton turned to the Desert Fathers for inspiration.

  13. notexactlyhuman

    A lot of questions about the seemingly self-replicating warmongering and constitution and civil rights dismantling machine that is the USG in Washington DC. Why isn’t Obama any better than what we had? Why can’t he tell the fucking truth? Why is he favoring neo-liberalism when he so convinced campaigned under a populist agenda? Well, Professor Francis Boyle has some insight. And, perhaps I’m the only one who was unawares, perhaps not. Anyway, digest:

    1. notexactlyhuman

      Please pardon the autocorrect shenanigans what my fone likes to wield against me.

      1. notexactlyhuman

        Well, apparently the moderators didn’t like me linking to a couple of Professor Francis Boyle pieces exploring the Obama ruse and Ukraine and how it all flows back to the neocon/neoliberal University of Chicago.

  14. dSquib

    NATO also strengthened ties with Mongolia a couple of years ago, which added to those pressing for Ukraine and Georgia to join would look very curious on a map. It was received this way by hard liners in Moscow.

    NATO is just the classic of institutional survivalism. It was a successful Cold War alliance that has not had any reason to exist for over 20 years, yet has *expanded* since then.

  15. Fiver

    Once again an enormous, orchestrated US State/media onslaught aimed at demonizing an enemy, in this instance Putin, has not only failed to whip up enough public support to even consider war, but has made of itself a rather complete mockery. The US story line leaks like sieve. The Ukrainian coup leadership are hysterical fanatics. Not since the GFC have so many talking heads, opinion-makers, analysts and prophets hopped when they should’ve hipped. Fomenting this armed coup after a good faith negotiation had already de-fused the crisis was the brazen and provocative act imaginable. Yet the US version of events has again failed to convince anyone but their own pocketed media. Which is why Kerry was talking to his counterpart for 6 hours the other day – they were discussing how things would work after the referendum, not how to prevent it. The light sanctions indicate Kerry wants out with most of Ukraine in hand for some serious globalized wealth extraction, and Putin can keep Crimea. The extreme lack of anything resembling principled behaviour on the part of the US has generated billions in short term loot for US corporations, but put every important country on earth on notice of 2 things:

    1) US policy-makers are crazy enough to risk nuclear war for short-term profit – after all, Putin could’ve responded like the mad dog he is portrayed to be, putting the US into an automatic ‘all or nothing’ box.

    2) US policy-makers have ceased acting in pursuit of real interests. Enemies and allies are completely expendable chits in today’s game where countries are viewed as possessions, or targets, or resource ‘assets’ to be dumped, traded or stolen based not on the national interest, not the public interest, not the interests of the people of the nation involved, but in the corporate interest of giant global wealth extractors.

    This was a first-order fiasco with ramifications that go far beyond the outer reaches of the imagination of the sort of political and elite ‘leadership’ we have today – forever locked in their media news-cycles, they cannot comprehend just how ludicrous-were-it-not-so-incredibly-dangerous such actions appear elsewhere.

    The next big economic bust is going to see a major re-alignment of world power, it’s coming soon, and it’s going to force the US to accommodate other nations’ interests, including the ability to regulate commercial, communications, corporate, financial and military activities inside their own borders. In other words, the US will be forced to fall back on Fortress North America, declare war on the rest of the world, or ditch the Empire of Exceptionalism and accept a balanced, fair, reasonable, cooperative multi-polar world.

    Once the immediate dust settles, I expect there will be a house-cleaning of the sort of buffoons who thought the fantastic stupidity of this coup was a good idea, a good way to ‘get Putin’. The US can no longer afford such fools.

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