By Paul Scarrott
Far too much of the public debate in Britain on the conflict in Ukraine is distorted by the escalation of anti-Russian Cold War hostility emanating from Washington.
It also dominates the rhetoric of the Tory government, the Labour front bench, the media, and the defence establishment.
The daily torrent of rumours and speculation from Washington and London generates much more heat than light.
On January 14, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Defence Department has credible information indicating Russia has “prepositioned a group of operatives” to execute “an operation designed to look like an attack on them or Russian-speaking people in Ukraine” to the reason for a potential invasion. This statement followed a similar one by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence.
Both statements ring hollow in a situation where there are frequent attacks on ‘Russian-speaking people’ made by Ukrainian military forces.
Moving from tragedy to farce, the British Foreign Office has claimed it has exposed a plot to install a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine.
However, as the Guardian reported, ‘In Ukraine, Vasyl Filipchuk, a former spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, who now runs a think tank, described the British allegations of a plot as “ridiculous”.’
The supposed coup leader, Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev, laughed. “It isn’t very logical. I’m banned from Russia. Not only that but money from my father’s firm there has been confiscated.”
Reviving the old cold war
Democratic and Republican leaders in the US agree that there is a single cause for the Ukraine crisis – the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. This view is amplified daily by most of the media.
They refuse to accept that Russia has legitimate security concerns or that the people on the Donbas and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine might fear their future inside Ukraine.
Those that demand that NATO should advance further to the Russian border cannot see an alternative to a policy of confrontation.
They are an example of the maxim, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.’
No Russian leader could retain the confidence of the Russian people if they did not oppose the further movement of NATO towards Russia. Even the West’s favourite Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, claimed to oppose the eastward expansion of NATO.
Nor will Russians accept the right of self-determination for the people of eastern Ukraine to be extinguished while Russia just stands by and does nothing.
Many Russians believe that Putin has done too little to protect people in eastern Ukraine from physical and political attacks.
The Moscow Times reported that ‘Russia’s Communist Party [which came second in the recent parliamentary elections] submitted a resolution this week calling on President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).’
The resolution has received a favourable response from other parties. However,
Reuters reports that the proposal has been met with caution by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
It is important to register that the one-dimensional ‘It is all Russia’s fault’ approach of the US is not shared by the whole of Europe.
Many Europeans are not prepared to accept that the only way to achieve peace is to divide everyone into two camps – anti or pro-Russia.
The German government led by Chancellor Scholz has refused to endorse ultimatums as the only tool in the box of international relations. He has been keener on exploring ways to engage in diplomacy with Russia.
Even the pro-US German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has rejected renewed demands from the Ukrainian foreign minister for the delivery of defensive weapons, saying “diplomacy is the only viable way to defuse the current highly dangerous situation.”
In opposition to the US and Ukrainian governments most Germans also wish to go ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia.
President Macron has pushed for a revival of the Normandy talks between France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine.
He has said, “The security of our continent requires strategic rethinking, strategic rearming of Europe as an area of balance and peace. And when it comes to dialogue with Russia in particular.
This dialogue is something I’ve been standing up for many years. It’s not just a vague idea … We need this dialogue we need in Europe collectively to set out our requirements and make certain that they are respected, and we need to be in a position to make that happen.”
It should also be noted that a minority of voters in Finland and Sweden support joining NATO.
The way forward
In the US, there are voices articulating alternatives to the increasing NATO threats to Russian security and instead, acknowledge the need to address the security concerns of all of the 57 participating states of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the desire for self-determination in eastern Ukraine.
One such figure is Thomas Graham, who served as the senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration.
In his proposal for a moratorium, Graham explains that for any agreement to work, it needs to satisfy the security concerns of the OSCE states.
He argues that “The two sides would also have to negotiate the terms of a moratorium, which would have to reconcile Moscow’s rejection of any Western security ties with Ukraine that could be construed as preparation for membership with the Western determination to provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself.”
He identifies three key elements:
- “a moratorium on further NATO expansion into the former Soviet space for a period of 20-25 years…It would formalize what any Western official would say in private—and some have said publicly — that no former Soviet state, including Ukraine, will be ready for membership for years to come. [Also note: President Biden’s comments in June this year where he said “School’s out on that question. It remains to be seen,” on NATO inviting Ukraine to become a member.”]
- “As for the ongoing and frozen conflicts, the task is to develop an agreed set of procedures that would legitimize the separation of a certain territory from an existing state in the eyes of OSCE members. They would include some kind of vote to determine the will of the local population and some general rules to guide negotiations to resolve the technical issues involved in a peaceful political separation.”
- “The compromises are intended to ensure that that contest is pursued in a framework that minimizes the risk of a catastrophic military conflict and focuses the two sides on accumulating incremental advantages over time. That kind of responsible rivalry is most assuredly in the West’s interest—and Russia’s.
The days and weeks ahead will be extremely testing in the quest for peace.
As Mary Dejevsky put in this week in the Independent, “Last month, Russia presented the US and Nato with draft treaties that effectively set out Moscow’s wish list for European security, while making clear that Nato membership for Ukraine would represent for Russia a “red line”. Moscow’s making its red line explicit may help to explain what lies behind the current war talk. Until then it had been possible to pretend that Russia might quietly roll over in face of Nato’s further advance. This time, Russia said “Stop”.
‘The United States of Amnesia’
The US proclaims its benign intentions towards the people of Russia, but its destructive conduct against populations in other conflicts such as Korea and Iraq belies its protestations.
Gore Vidal spoke of the ‘United States of Amnesia” to describe the failure of the US to learn from its wars of aggression.
However, Russians, including in Ukraine, do not suffer from amnesia. The memory of Hitler’s war of annihilation is visceral.
Russians also see that far right and fascist groups operate with impunity in Ukraine. They remember that groups like the fascist Right Sector provided the violent cutting edge for the coup in Kiev in 2014.
They see the open celebration of Nazi collaborators with statues and parades. They also notice the blind eye of the US and other NATO hawks to these threats.
There will be no end to the current dangerous impasse if the bottom line for the US is that Russia must accept NATO’s military machine encroaching further along its borders and that the people of eastern Ukraine will be denied their right to self-determination, up to and including the formation of a new state or joining Russia.
The above article was originally published here by The Rising Tide.