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Anne Applebaum’s — and the Pentagon’s take on Europe

Europe is a peninsula of Eurasia, and it is at last awaking up to the fact that its trans-Atlantic bonds are what threaten its future

(New Eastern Outlook) – I remember during how during World War II Americans anxiously tuned in to their radios to hear the news from the US’s two fronts: invariably, there were figures on how many miles our troops had advanced in the latest battles. Journalists, which later came to be referred to as ‘embedded’ with the fighting forces, competed to publish the figures first.

Nowadays, American journalists simply state that in 2014 Russia ‘invaded’ Ukraine, without reporting how many kilometers its troops covered on any given day. (Obviously, Western journalists were not ‘embedded’ with the invading Russian force, however three years later, we still do not have the faintest idea how the invasion they still refer to went down. The mighty Russian army that ‘threatens’ Europe never arrived in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, a mere 236 miles from the Russian border. In fact, its presence on Ukrainian territory is limited to supporting two Russian-inhabited rebel provinces.

And yet, serious writers like Anne Applebaum, (wife of former Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski and a scholar with a host of credentials), in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, no differently than tv journalists, claims that ‘Russia invaded Ukraine’.

Applebaum’s marriage to a high-level Polish official (whose Wiki includes more details about his accomplishments than that of any international leader you can think of ), and her acquisition of Polish citizenship, (although dual nationality is officially frowned upon by the State Department), together with her professional focus on Eastern Europe, suggests the likelihood that she would write from a Polish perspective, which is tainted by centuries’ long enmity toward Russia.

Even allowing for that bias, Applebaum’s article, built around a review of six books on Europe, paints a dire picture, yet fails to mention the role US force-feeding of neo-liberal economic policies played in the EU’s downfall from worker paradise to a pariah ripe for Russian ‘taking’.

Applebaum’s list of problems includes the migrant crisis (which can be traced to US wars of aggression) terrorism (ditto) international corruption (which affects the entire world), the single currency, high youth unemployment and ‘Russian revan-chism’. Youth unemployment too can be laid at neo-liberalism’s door, as seen when France’s new president, a former banker and neo-liberal poster child, made it easier for companies to fire people, supposedly in order to boost employment: the breadth and violence of the reaction surpasses anything demo-prone France has seen since the 1968 Paris Spring.

While Applebaum laments the absence of a common foreign and defense policy between the EU’s member states, she knows that the US is probably lobbying to prevent this from happening. Quoting the author of ‘The Great Regression, Heinrich Geiselberger: “All the risks of globalization that were discerned (in the 90’s) actually became reality.” And “Many hoped (the EU and NATO) would also help integrate Russia and North Africa into Europe.’ (Note the hubris of that idea, as opposed to more cooperation between equals when it comes to Russia and the fact that much of Europe is viscerally opposed to welcoming ‘dark people’ especially if they are Muslims).

Applebaum goes on to muddy the waters by claiming that ‘the US and Great Britain, who see the EU as a ‘left-leaning’ institution, will be surprised to learn that many contributors to [Geiselberger’s] book see the EU as part of the same neo-liberal problem.” Applebaum practices here the neo-liberal sleight-of-hand that blames the victim for the problem. If the EU is part of the ‘neo-liberal problem’ it’s because its leaders are incapable of resisting the pressure of US-led globalization.

As for ‘Russian revanchism’, this claim is developed in detail in an article for the Department of Defense’s Center for Complex Operations, by John Herbst, the Director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and a retired U.S. Ambassador toUkraine and Uzbekistan. In “PRISM Volume 6, Number 2 | July 18, 2016”, Herbst claims that:

For instance, Ossetia didn’t shell Georgia, it was invaded and a handful of Russian peacekeepers paid with their lives to buy Ossetians some time before “the cavalry” came. From the very first days of the post-Soviet world, Moscows security services developed the frozen conflict” tactic to limit the sovereignty of its neighbors. They supported Armenian separatists in the Azerbaijan region of Nagorno-Karabakh in order to exert pressure on Azeris, South Ossetians, and Ajarians; the Abkhaz in Georgia to pressure Tbilisi; and the Slavs in Transnistria in order to keep Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, in check. For those who mistakenly blame current tensions with Moscow on NATO enlargement, it is worth noting that Moscow had its frozen conflicts policy in place before talk of the first expansion of NATO.”

Herbst fails to admit that harking back to a basic socialist tradition, one of Russia’s core principles is the defense of national sovereignty, while the US has systematically organized ‘color revolutions’ in the nations on Russia’s border in order to draw them into its orbit with the goal of eventually rendering Russia vulnerable to a takeover, complete with its trove of precious minerals and other resources.

According to Herbst:

“ After the Rose Revolution in Georgia in the fall of 2003, which drove President Eduard Shevardnadze from power, the Kremlin instituted a trade embargo and undertook various military provocations. In late July 2008, Russias South Ossetian proxies began to shell Georgian positions. A sharp Georgian response gave Moscow the pretext to send in troops in August, which promptly defeated the Georgians.”

The official Russian version of the ‘Georgian War’ is that Georgian soldiers stormed into the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, causing Russia to send in troops to restore South Ossetian sovereignty. Yet Herbst continues:

Led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Western mediators established a diplomatic process that led to a ceasefire. The United States sent humanitarian assistance to Georgia and, as a caution to Moscow not to send its troops further into Georgia beyond South Ossetia, delivered it via the U.S. military. Moscow did not take the war beyond South Ossetia.”

This account is a bit silly, as if by delivering aid ‘via the US military’ — whatever that means — was sufficient to deter Russia from further action. Why would Russia want to ‘take action’ against Georgia, anyway?

That’s just part of the usual obfuscation: there was actually a series of color revolutions, starting with the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. An American, Gene Sharp, is credited with providing the blueprint for the ‘color revolutions’ with his writings on non-violent change, and the US-educated and installed Sakashvili ruined Georgia all on his own, then sought refuge in Ukraine, where he was first given citizenship, then asked to leave. But Ukraine is another story.

Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution pitted a pro-Russian candidate against a nationalist, and was won by the nationalist. In the following election in that country, in 2010, the outcome was reversed, followed by EU efforts to woo Ukraine away from Russia by offering membership. American analysts never mention the reason why Russia opposed that membership: Russia has an economic treaty with Ukraine, that would not only result in EU and Ukrainian goods reciprocally circulating freely: EU goods would be able to enter Russia as well, with no reciprocity.

According to Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in a speech to the Washington Press Club in December, 2013, the US spent five billion dollars encouraging Ukrainian demands for EU membership. That speech was uploaded to the internet the following February, when it became clear that violence in Kiev’s Maidan Square would culminate in a US-engineered coup against the elected pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovich. He fled on February, 22, 2014, after Neo-Nazi militiamen threatened an accord that had just been reached to end the clashes.

One of the militia leaders, Dmitri Yaros, who subsequently became Minister of the Interior, gave an expansive interview that Timepublished in its February 5, 2014 issue, and which was subsequently scrubbed from the internet. That interview, which can be accessed via the name of the interviewer, Simon Shuster is the most valuable document we have to prove that references to Neo-Nazis in Ukraine are vastly understated.

Yaros candidly traces the history of his movement from World War II, when Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera organized militias to kill Russians, Poles and Jews alongside Hitler’s SS, hoping the Reich would reward them with independence when it defeated the Soviet Union. (Ukraine only existed as an indepen-dent territorial entity for two years after World War I, and since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.) Today, the Ukrainian government is still supported by the Neo-Nazi militias that provided the muscle on the Maidan.

Back to Herbst’s version of history:

Putin has escalated his intervention [into Ukraine] several times. It began in April 2015 with Russian leadership, arms, and money” (almost a year after the formation of the Peoples’ Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk…). When Ukraine launched its counter-offensive under newly elected President Petro Poroshenko in June 2015, the Kremlin sent in increasingly sophisticated weapons, more fighters (including the Vostok Battalion of Chechens), and finally, the regular Russian army itself in August.

According to Herbst:

Only the use of regular Russian forces stopped the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Throughout this period, the West was slow and weak in confronting the Kremlin. For instance, the G7 leaders had warned Putin in early June that if he did not cease his intervention in Ukraine by the end of the month, Russia would face sectoral sanctions. Yet by the end of June, despite the introduction of major Russian weapons systems into Ukraine, there was no more talk of sectoral sanctions. Only the July shooting-down of the Malaysian passenger jet, along with the invasion (sic) by Russian troops, persuaded the Europeans to put those sanctions in place.” (Once again, this is a doctored version of Russian history: MH17 was not shot down by “top of the line” Russian weapons, but is widely believed to have been brought down by a Buk, an old Soviet weapon no longer in use by the Russian military, but still used by Ukrainians at the time. Also, according to this paragraph, the so-called Russian ‘invasion’ took place more than a year after the Kiev coup and the Eastern provinces declarations of autonomy!)

After regular Russian forces defeated the Ukrainian army in early September 2015, Germany and France helped negotiate the Minsk I ceasefire, which Russia repeatedly violated by introducing more equipment and military supplies into Ukraine and taking an additional 500 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory. This escalated aggression, however, did not lead to any additional sanctions last year.”

Where are these 500 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory that have supposedly been ‘taken’ by Russia? Again, deliberate obfuscation reigns. The reference is to ‘regular Russian forces’ as in an invading army, when in reality Russian volunteers were aiding the citizen armies of the Russian-speaking Peoples Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, while President Putin discouraging their hopes for integration into Russia.

The case of Crimea is different: unlike Eastern Ukraine, it had always been part of Russia since Catherine the Great seized it from Turkey, and it hosts Russia’s only warm water fleet, per a long-term treaty with Kiev. Given the strong presence of fascists in the post-2014 government, Russia could not risk having its naval base confiscated. The ‘little green men’ so popular with journalists were part of the contingent regularly stationed in Sebastopol.

However, according to Herbst:

“Putin’s second vulnerability concerns the use of his army in Ukraine. While his media have conducted an extensive smear campaign against Ukraine and its leadership, they have not been able to persuade the Russian people that Russian troops should be used there. Since the summer of 2015, numerous polls by Moscow’s Levada Center have shown that a large majority of the Russian people oppose using troops in Ukraine. Because of this, Putin has denied the presence of Russian troops there, despite strong evidence to the contrary. For example, thousands of regular Russian troops were used in August and September of 2014 to stop Ukraines counter-offensive.” (We have heard nothing of these supposed military to military battles. Where were the journalists?)

In January 2015, Western intelligence estimates reported that there were anywhere between 250 to 1,000 Russian officers in Ukraine, while Ukrainian intelligence claimed that there were as many as 9,000 or 10,000 Russian troops. Even Putin finally acknowledged in December 2015 that there were “some” Russian military in the Donbass.”

Broadening his analysis, Herbst seemingly lets his imagina-tion run wild: in reality this is a shop-worn effort to present the US attitude toward Russia as being more than willing to engage in joint efforts:

The United States might also enhance cooperation with all interested Central Asian states to offset the potential destabilizing impact of its withdrawal from Afghanistan. While this may seem counterintuitive, this last initiative need not exclude the Kremlin. Indeed, NATO and the EU can also help strengthen some nations on Russias periphery by projects that include the Kremlin. This would also demonstrate that NATO and EU policies are designed not just to discourage Kremlin aggression, but also to resuscitate cooperation on matters of mutual interest.”

But then – inevitably:

Policy in the grey zone should also focus on state weaknesses that Moscow exploits to ensure its control. As discussed above, the Kremlin uses its intelligence services to recruit agents in the power ministries of the post-Soviet states. It also uses its firms to acquire key sectors of these countries’ economies and to buy political influence.

With interested countries, the United States and NATO should offer programs to help vet (sic) the security services and militaries to make clear that (or to ensure that?) they both are under the full control of the political leaders in these states. At the same time, the United States and the EU should expand programs to uncover corruption in the financial and other sectors of these countries’ economies.

It’s hard to decide whether this breezy program qualifies as mere hutzpa or beyond the pale delusion: to imagine that ‘the Stans’ that ring Russia’s southern border, where Muslims live peaceful and increasingly comfortable lives, would be interested in US hucksterism, is almost beyond belief. Clearly, the Pentagon’s imagination is running wild:

Two years after Russia began to tear Ukraine apart,(!) and seven years after it did the same in Georgia, (!!) the West is finally waking up to the danger of Kremlin revanchism.”

What do the Pentagon’s ‘experts’ know about the intricacies of South Ossetian, Abkhazian or Azerbaijani politics — much less these three small nations’ relations with Russia? (Do any of them even speak these countries’ languages?) We seem to have ended up a long way from Applebaum’s Europe, but only to the extent that we buy into her view of it as a superior ‘civilization’ which the countries that make up the major part of the Eurasian continent — as well as Africa —should emulate. Europe is a peninsula of Eurasia, and it is at last awaking up to the fact that its trans-Atlantic bonds are what threaten its future.

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