By Jonathan Power*
You can insult them, call them the “Blob”, “group thinkers”, or even worse. You can challenge their scholarship and their prejudices. You can demonstrate that the policies they advocated for former wars were dead wrong and met failure. You can prove they don’t know their history and that they are prone to over-simplification. But nothing appears to reduce their influence, as the simmering conflict over Ukraine shows.
“They”, the “Blob” is an unspoken highly conservative coalition of politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, senior columnists and editorial writers, professors, the military brass and intelligence services who are more than happy to regain the influence and status they had during Cold War days.
It was they who pushed for the expansion of NATO. Of course, it’s made all the easier when an electorate is as ignorant of what’s going on in the world as America’s is. To quote Berthold Brecht, “Would it not be simpler, if the government simply dissolved the people and elected another?”
Right now, we are being told 24 times a day, if not more, that Russian troops are close to the Ukrainian border. In fact, they are more than a hundred miles away. Compare this with the position of NATO forces in the Baltic states—they are much closer to the Russian border, and they participate in NATO exercises, similar to Russia’s, too. St Petersburg, one of the world’s most magnificent cities, is a pot shot away from Estonia, a NATO member, where troops from Britain and France are based.
According to perhaps the most informed US analyst on matters Russian, Gordon Hahn, “There has been much noise regarding reports of some 90-120,000 Russian troops. At least four satellite photographs of two Russian army basing sites have been published and presented as very new deployments to “Ukraine’s border.”
The facts are a little different. No forces are stationed on the border. They are all at least 100 miles from the Ukrainian border, except for what in any scenario would be a secondary force—that based on Crimea.
Most of the troops near the Ukraine border have been there since the events of February 2014, in the Maidan, in Crimea and the revolt in Donbass. Almost all of the forces and equipment are permanently part of Russia’s Western Military District forces, beefed up because of the Ukrainian crisis sparked by the Maidan insurrection, seeded and morally supported by the West, despite its violence.”
Yes, indeed, the last line and a half are controversial because the West fabricated its own story around the events that started on November 21 2013 in the Maidan central square. I have been through the reporting with a tooth comb, and I judge Hahn to be right. Only one program on the BBC and one on an Italian TV station reported accurately about the role of right-wing militias, with a fascist pedigree reaching back to World War 2, which took positions in a nearby high rise building and fired into the crowd.
This was on January 22, 2004. Western diplomats, politicians and most of the media blamed the police armed with AK-74 assault rifles, using them to fire at the protestors, but they did that only at the end of the crisis. Until then the police were using only tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades. It was the right-wing militias who caused the most carnage.
On February 20, 2014 the foreign ministers of Poland, France, Germany and the EU visited President Yanukovych and on February 21 got him to promise to call early elections. The president also agreed to other demands of the protestors- to rewrite the constitution and to form a national unity government within 10 days.
If this agreement had been implemented further upheavals in Ukraine could have been avoided. But Yanukovych was forced out of office on the February 22 and the much talked about agreement signed only a day before was shelved by the Western powers even though the government had agreed to a new presidential election in a few months’ time.
Many of the protestors including the fascists called for the president’s immediate resignation, but in parliament the majority voted to back the agreement. Nevertheless, a few hours later the president fled, unable to quell the demonstrators. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the decision of riot police officers guarding the presidential compound and nearby government buildings to disappear, fearful of being attacked by the now-armed protestors. The Polish foreign minister said it was “astonishing”, noting that this was not part of the agreement. An acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, was appointed on February 25.
Russia claimed that the overthrow of Yanukovych was an illegal coup. Nevertheless, Putin said he would respect the result of the forthcoming election. Two weeks before, the interim government banned cable operators from transmitting several Russian channels. On the 23rd parliament had adopted a bill to repeal the country’s minority languages law, even though in Crimea and Donbass Russian was the main language.
Ukrainian was to be the superior language and Russian relegated to being a regional language. Fortunately, the president vetoed the bill, but later in 2019 it was passed into effect. Russian speakers point to this as yet another of the central government’s attempt to marginalise them.
On March 21, 2014, the government signed the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, a victory for the EU and the US. The presidential election was held in May. On September 5, following a major revolt in Donbass, fuelled by oppressive measures from the central government, the so-called Minsk 1 agreement was signed after negotiations led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande, the government of Ukraine and the Donbass leaders.
Later on February 2015 there was Minsk 2, an attempt to strengthen Minsk 1. President Vladimir Putin also attended. Neither have been effective despite the agreement of all the participants. To this day, Putin remains angry that the EU and the US did not sufficiently pressure the Ukrainian government to implement the Minsk agreements. Today many commentators believe if Minsk 2 were faithfully implemented further conflict with Russia could be avoided.
The Americans and Europeans got what they wanted. But they failed their promise to pressure the Ukraine government to make reasonable compromises with the Donbass leaders. Instead, they’ve armed them. Putin felt betrayed because, he has argued, the EU leaders did not do their part. He believes that NATO has a secret plan to take Ukraine in and thus producing a new situation where NATO troops will be right up to Russia’s long Ukraine/Russia border.
As for most of the original pro-European Union Maidan demonstrators they don’t care a hoot about the Russian-speaking minority.
To defuse the situation immediately, most importantly among other suggestions, NATO must make clear that joining NATO is a 2-way street. Yes, Ukraine can apply but NATO has the right to say “no” or “not in the foreseeable future”. (“What “foreseeable future” means can be defined in a footnote.) Are we going to be a part-contributor to a new European war for the sake of what is only one step from a semantic difference?
The Blob would say, hold fast, Putin will blink. Others would say, we took advantage of Russia when it was weak after the fall of communism and extended the boundaries of NATO up to Russia’s border. Now we must stretch ourselves to be reasonable and be prepared to compromise. What would the US do if the Russians put a new base in Cuba or put troops on Mexico’s soil?
If the US has its Monroe Doctrine then it’s more than fair that Russia can have its. (The Monroe Doctrine holds that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers is a potentially hostile act against the US.)
A UN Security Council mandate fashioned by the five permanent members together with the agreement of Ukraine should order the creation of a UN peacekeeping force to be stationed on the Ukraine/Russian border. In fact, this is an old suggestion of Putin, which has been brushed aside by NATO members.
The influence of the Blob must be nullified. Time is running out. If the Blob prevails there will be war.
*About the author: The writer was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune, now the New York Times. He has also written many dozens of columns for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He is the European who has appeared most on the opinion pages of these papers. Visit his website: www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com