A joint venture of the EU Neighborhood Policy and the US Nobel Peace Prize laureate:
Civil war in Ukraine and a new global political confrontation
Anyone who believes that trade and commerce have nothing to do with violence and extortion, or that capitalist wheeling and dealing would compel peaceful understanding among nations, or any of the other mottos praising the wonderful unity of the market economy and civil society, might be emphatically disabused by the Ukraine policies of the EU and the USA.
It began with one missing signature on a contract that the Europeans claimed only wanted the best for all sides. Now Ukraine is breaking apart into civil war. And NATO and Russia are deploying troops. The media is piling up evidence of how intolerable the behavior of the Russians is and how outdated their policy is with its imperatives – something “we” can’t put up with. On the other hand, this same public opinion is asking with concern why the impossible seems possible again, that a war breaks out in the middle of Europe. But such a situation does not simply “break out,” it is produced.
In order of events: In November of last year, Ukrainian President Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. He tried to renegotiate terms with the EU because the demands laid down in the contract by the EU were simply unsustainable for this political system. After all, it required its government to eliminate subsidies for energy prices to a widely impoverished population; furthermore, it should cut wages and pensions. Industrial production should be brought in line with the norms and standards of the EU, which by itself is estimated at 165 billion euros. Yanukovych wanted to avert a national bankruptcy for the time being and get economic assistance from Moscow. He called on the major powers who were putting the country to the test to sit down at the table and reach an agreement. This made him suddenly unbearable to the EU. From Europe’s negotiating partner, he changed impromptu: Instead of a legitimate government with whom the Europeans wanted to come to an understanding under the banner of the European Neighborhood Policy, they now saw in Kiev only a bunch of corrupt characters at work, a regime enslaved to Russia with a president at the top who flouted the legitimate will of the Ukrainian people in wanting nothing more than to join Europe. The President who had committed the crime of making additional conditions in the aforementioned contract subject to his approval, and then on top of that wanted to persuade the EU to negotiate Ukraine’s future with Russia, had his recognition withdrawn -- diplomatically, practically and militantly: the EU incited the protests which had assembled on the Maidan in Kiev. German Foreign Minister Steinmeier demonstrated by his presence on the scene that the rebellion was absolutely in the right to demand the government's resignation. At the same time, the government was admonished to renounce violence against the increasingly militant "peaceful demonstrators.”
These are interesting manners in international relations, which in the official version are only supposed to serve the good of all parties. When the boss of the affiliating nation didn’t put his signature on the dotted line voluntarily, the European Neighborhood decided without further ado to just ensure that it was done by force. This makes it clear that the negotiations over the Association Agreement were about something else than an understanding about mutual interests. Obviously, Europe awards itself the right to the submission of the other side, and this is what it executed. But this was also the core of what the agreement aimed at: it should bring this political system under European control, knock its vested interests out and isolate Russia’s interests from its neighbor. The EU's policy turned out to be pretty much the opposite of what the EU likes to propagate with its dishonest image of itself as a “zone of stability, prosperity and cooperation,” namely a rather violent affair: If a government does not immediately act like a puppet government and implement decisions that have been made in Brussels or Berlin, then Europe declares itself the protecting power of the Ukrainian people’s right to “self-determination” and organizes a coup.
Europe also displayed rather brutish behavior toward Russia. The Ukraine government which was to be ousted had ultimately guaranteed consideration for the relations that Russia was maintaining with it. And it is no secret that the coup in Kiev was meant to secure the EU’s exclusive jurisdiction over Ukraine – thus shutting out Russia. In the process, the EU escalated its offense against Russia. Objections to the Association Agreement that were substantiated by pointing out that Russia’s vital interests in Ukraine would get crushed under foot were ostentatiously ignored and disregarded in practice.
Steinmeier and his colleagues got far – even as far as Russia consenting to a change of power in Kiev: After the government had been made untenable by the uprising and the occupation of the capital, they negotiated with it about the modalities of its abdication. In the Steinmeier Agreement, Yanukovych agreed to resign and reached an agreement with the opposition about the way to new elections to produce a legitimate government – under German leadership. It attached importance to getting Russia to approve the new government, which it wanted to attain by persuading Russia that an orderly transfer of power was planned. In addition to internal affairs remaining under control, even Yanukovych's power base and representatives of interests in eastern Ukraine were to be properly involved so that they might feel compensated and could go along with it it. After the EU had gone all out for the rebellion, it wanted to avoid any unpleasant destabilizing effects in the country and unnecessary collisions with Russia. Russia in the meantime was convinced by the power of facts on the ground that Yanukovych could not hold up and reluctantly engaged in this scenario. It refused to recognize the “transitional government,” an orderly transfer of power at the end of which an elected government would stand, but it did not issue a rejection.
But then America torpedoed this German effort to secure the change of power in a form that was supportable by all sides and ultimately even by the Russians. It ignored all the Europeans’ calculations and thwarted Steinmeier’s diplomacy by using the influence that America had built up over the years in Ukraine to blow up the agreement. The opposition was encouraged to advance and empowered with the means to do so. The President was chased away along with part of his parliamentary majority, and the parliament, under siege by the Maidan crew, was forced to acclaim the coup. Thereby Interim President Jazenjuk and his Tymoshenko Party seized power by force. The short lifespan of the Steinmeier Agreement and the sour expression its namesake documents that the official version of western unanimity is not quite the truth of the matter; the handling of the case by America followed more the motto of Ms. Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs: “Fuck the EU!”
If America recognizes the team it is surely self-evident that this is the legitimate government. And the rest of the world has to agree to it. The recognition of the team that has seized power as the legitimate government of Ukraine was raised by the U.S. to the inescapable condition of any diplomacy and sidelined the European diplomacy oriented toward Russia: US Secretary of State Kerry foiled the European approach of dragging Russia back into a diplomatic process by inviting the new Ukrainian Foreign Minister to the crisis meetings and confronting Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with this – no dialogue was to take place without Russia formally recognizing the new situation in Ukraine created by America on its own authority and the loss this executed for Russia in violation of its interests.
Meanwhile, the new people in power set to work. They have their hands full consolidating Ukrainian democracy. In the ministries, in the police, judiciary, radio and television stations, a vigorous cleansing process begins against anything suspected of a wrong affinity to the previous government or to Russia. Russian as a second official language is abolished, and the frontman of the Svoboda party wants to quickly allow the peace-loving Ukrainian people “to freely sell and own ammunition and firearms.” Free speech laws are revamped in the country by banning the transmissions of some TV stations, especially Russian ones. And the new defense minister didn’t conceal his conviction that the contract over the Russian naval base was an intolerable disgrace that the world must get rid of as soon as possible.
Russia considered all this ultimately no longer acceptable and annexed Crimea. For the west, this was once and for all a malfunction of its world order.
Russia affiliates Crimea with itself
For Russia, this flouting of its interests is unacceptable. It sees all its objections against the Association Agreement policy ignored and simply can’t let itself be presented with a fait accompli. It therefore gives itself the right to create facts for its side and secures its interests by military means and changes the map. The staging of the annexation as an act that is lawful in every respect is no more difficult for Russia than the legitimizing of the change in power brought about by force in Ukraine was for the west: in Crimea, the Maiden is copied, Russia is here protecting the people’s right to self-determination and a smooth transfer of power with popular enthusiasm in Crimea and in Russia provides proof that it is capable in this regard.
Russia does not leave the world in the dark about how it views things. It has registered that the EU declared that the Association Agreement with Ukraine is incompatible in principle with Ukraine’s participation in the Eurasian customs union. The refusal to communicate with Russia about it is taken in Moscow to mean that the Association Agreement is apparently intended exactly so: Ukraine should be removed from Russian influence. And in a case where Russia’s vital interests are at stake: The efforts of the USA to win Ukraine to NATO would put Russia in a catastrophic strategic position.
Putin knows that the treatment accorded to Russia is in line with a long series of cases in which the west – the United States in association with the EU or even without it – has decided issues of world order in disregard of Russian interests; as just the latest and most serious stage of a large-scale Western policy to weaken Russia. Russia has tried to sit down as a cooperative world power with its former enemies in order to rebuild itself as a capitalist power, but it must learn over and over again that its interests are to be met with a rebuff, that it is to be excluded from planning, while the West recklessly expands its strategic superiority. Cue: expansion of the missile defense system on the Russian border.
Russia has concluded from all this that it must put a stop to this containment policy. It has thus executed a u-turn because it sees itself compelled to protect its vital interests; with the means then due, that is, militarily. It thereby dispenses justice – on an incomparably more modest scale, but analogous to the U.S. behavior – as an autonomous power creating facts that the world of states must recognize. That’s what’s been learned in all the years in the Kremlin: one can only assert oneself in this order as a respectable power if one is willing to assert one’s interests and safeguard one’s rights by force.
Putin attaches a lot of importance to the clarification that Russia feels forced to make this change and he doesn’t take it lightly. He attaches importance to the finding that it is the other side, mainly American power, that has really compelled Russia to take this step. The shift made by his country should not be understood as a rejection of cooperation with the west, but as the announcement that Russia is making recognition of its substantial interests a condition for any mutually acceptable dealings with the western “partners.” Ultimately, he wants to remain in business with them too.
Russia stipulates its own demands: It insists on a pledge that Ukraine does not aim to join NATO, as well as the federalization of the country. This should ensure that the eastern Ukraine on the one hand can play a part in the determination of national policy and on the other hand gets granted enough right to self-determination that it’s able to decide for itself about its healthy beneficial relations with Russia.
The USA declares Russia a disturbance of its world order
America immediately elevates the Russian intervention to the highest level of force relations: it sees itself challenged as the rightful guardian of the world order. It defines the Russian action in Crimea as a violation of this supreme good. In doing so, none of the other major authorities are consulted at all. Rather, America acts as prosecutor, judge and executioner in one and draws the conclusion: If Russia does not put up with the damage that is caused for it in the Ukraine matter, if it does not comply with the new situation and refuses to show that it recognizes Ukraine as an asset of the Western powers as demanded, then it is itself the problem that needs to be ironed out. The world power is out to make the political will which resists its suzerainty submit to its order. From now on it is not about taking Ukraine away from Russia and pushing for its own regime on the stage in Ukraine; it’s also no longer about forcing Russia to recognize the loss of a strategic asset, but directly hurting Russia itself as a power. So there is also nothing to negotiate in this case, but one thing only – Russia must be punished.
The US closes a whole chapter in world politics: it revokes Russia’s recognition as a somehow legitimate participant in the world order. It thereby drops its previous two-pronged strategy for dealing with Russia, which has been to grant it a bit of recognition as a respectable member of the family of nations and participation in various international bodies for acquiescing to its disempowerment. America has used this peculiar strategy after its victory in the Cold War to advance against the nuisance that the voluntary surrender of the Soviet Union left behind. After the disappearance of the enemy system, eternal peace was not to break out after all, rather the new task had to be tackled of integrating Russia with its inherited means of still considerable power into America’s world order. The Russian desire to integrate into the world market and the corresponding world order was taken up in order to use its power more constructively for the purposes of the leading power and to downgrade its means of power to a somehow functional level. Russia was granted formal recognition as a partner in world order issues, the G7 was expanded to the G8, a NATO-Russia Council was established, etc. One wants to secure its involvement in simultaneous efforts to instrumentalize it for services to the American world order, to curb its influence and curtail its means of power.
Former allies of Russia in eastern Europe were converted to the western alliances of the EU and NATO. Various wars brought to an end those states that were more or less closely connected with Russia – Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya. Syria is still in progress. Under the title of the anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has settled down as a strategic power in Central Asia, on the southern border of Russia it carries out its policy of encircling and economically strangling Iran, including the competition for the neighboring countries in the CIS.
The U.S. included Russia in its world order affairs and to some extent conceded it a co-responsibility for the world order in order to simultaneously contest its spheres of influence, alliance partnerships and strategic positions. All these world order actions and wars were meant for Russia the whole time and it was always affected, but all these cases were processed in such a way as though they did not really relate to Russia concerning its intended role as a participant. This is not against you, it was constantly protested. The substance of this absurd deal: recognition for giving up positions of power, this strategy of dismantling Russian power piece by piece with its will and its approval has worked – and indeed because and as long as Russia agreed to it and let itself be convinced that it has to take the warlike actions and impacts on its spheres of power as not directly an attack on itself.
The relationship has changed because the West has come so extraordinarily far with this strategy. With the takeover of the Ukraine, Russia is facing nothing less than the dismantling of its strategic status as a power to be considered in questions of world order. Neither side deceives itself about this. Not the Americans who see the opportunity for a really substantial weakening of Russian power. As former U.S. National Security Advisor Brzezinski said: “Ukraine ... is a geopolitical lynchpin ... Without Ukraine, Russia is no longer a Eurasian empire.” Nor does Russia deceive itself: Here a limit is reached which goes to the heart of the matter and therefore must not be overstepped. Ukraine is economically and strategically too important for Russia. The curious deal by which a bit of dismantling of Russian power here was to be had for a bit of recognition there therefore finds its end for both sides. Russia in this case is no longer willing to put aside its interests for further amicable dealings with the West. And America, which pursues its containment of Russian power, terminates the deal in its own way. It is starting to make Russia itself directly the object of its attack: For America, any global political influence for Russia is unacceptable; the degree of recognition with which it has until now tried to incorporate Russia into its world order and remove it as a relevant variable from the superpower rivalry is withdrawn from circulation by the leadership in Washington as a no longer tolerable concession to the world political rivals.