Since Stephen Cohen’s passing, Gregory Copley and Anatol Lieven, have been the most proficient guests on the John Batchelor hosted segments dealing with Russia. In sharp contrast, some of Batchelor’s other guests like Mary Kissel, Ilan Berman, Malcolm Hoenlein, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, generally spin that country along neocon-neolib lines.
Their views on some key Russia related subjects are quite arrogant, ignorant and hypocritical. One of several examples concern their takes on the Russia-Ukraine situation, where Russia is simplistically portrayed as the clear negative, when there’s noticeable fault elsewhere.
George Friedman falls somewhere between Lieven-Copley and the standard neocon-neolib line, albeit closer to the latter. Friedman inaccurately mind reads Russian President Vladimir Putin, as someone wanting to recreate the Soviet Union. I strongly suspect that Putin will not have much, if any disagreement, with the following observations.
Many Russians including Putin and other former Soviets, have a reasoned basis to oppose the level of suffering which occurred on account of how the Soviet breakup happened. This belief isn’t by default synonymous with a yearning to recreate the USSR.
Among numerous Russians, the romantic recollection of the past is often balanced by a realistic understanding about the present and most probable future realities running counter to the likelihood of another Soviet Union or Russian Empire. By the way, it’s not as if many mainstream thinking Russians don’t acknowledge the shortcomings of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.
A key difference is their non-acceptance of the negative inaccuracies pertaining to their nation’s past and present. There’re also the categories of some support and sympathy for the Russian Empire/not as much for the Soviet Union and vice versa – indicative of the diversity level among Russians.
Post-Soviet Russia has formally recognized the independence of the non-Russian former Soviet republics. Keeping in mind the EU and NATO memberships of the three former Soviet Baltic republics, this Russian recognition includes having a noticeable, but not complete sphere of influence approach. That stance is on par with how former colonial powers like France and the UK maintain close economic and/or military ties with some of its onetime colonies.
It’s understandable for Russia to oppose actions which are unnecessarily anti-Russian and premised on misinformation. I’ve yet to get a good counter to my rhetorical question: If Russia is so bad, then why do numerous territories outside that nation appear more willing to be part of Russia than the entities having a claim on them?
In his December 5 appearance, Batchelor’s reincarnated HJ Mackinder (mentioned in my December 9 Eurasia Review article) said that Russia was only conquered once in its history. Batchelor’s Mackinder added that Russia should be able to tolerate a close NATO-Ukraine relationship, out of Russia’s sheer strength.
Batchelor-Mackinder omit what should be a clear variable. The early day Russia (known as Rus) that was conquered by the Mongols, included the strategically important territory of modern day Ukraine, which was also linked to Russia when Mackinder died in 1947. For a lengthy period, much of Ukraine was part of the Romanov governed Russian Empire.
Trying to represent a dead person’s take of current conditions can be quite problematical. There were some profound geopolitical changes in the years after Mackinder’s death.
Since his passing, the NATO alliance has been established with Britain, France, Germany and the US as its key members, with Russia deemed as a threat. China now has a considerable growing geopolitical clout, much unlike during Mackinder’s time. China’s gains have come with increasing differences between it and the US, along with some key American allies.
Mackinder viewed China as a potential great power. One is hard pressed to find any prediction from him on the US led NATO alliance at odds with Russia and China, as well as growing Russo-Sino cooperation. To reiterate, Mackinder’s take of the current geopolitical setting might offer some revision on his part – once again noting the changes, which were more definitively taking shape near the end of his life.
On December 19, Batchelor’s Mackinder inaccurately says that Russian-German relations have always been confrontational. Russia and Germany were together against Napoleon. Over the course of time, numerous Germans (including Catherine the Great and Nicholas II’s wife) became intertwined with Russia. Conversely, there has been a Germanophile element among some Russians.
Pyotr Durnovo was a contemporary of Mackinder. Durnovo strategized from the position of Russia’s best interests. He favored good Russian-German relations and didn’t want Russia to side with Britain in the event of an Anglo-German war.
As a supporter of best implementing Britain’s imperial interests, the real-life Mackinder showed concern over the prospect of a future German-Russian alliance. Hence, his non-objection to a strong Poland.
As an ardent anti-Communist, the actual Mackinder favored supporting the anti-Communist Russian Whites during the Russian Civil War. Britain and Russia were WW I allies. The Germans and Russian based Communists developed a Machiavellian relationship, premised on German support for the Reds, in exchange for getting Russia out of WW I.
Favoring a geopolitically strong Russia, the Whites of that era saw the former Russian Empire territory of Ukraine as a part of Russia – while seeking good relations with the Ukrainians of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
At the time, the Russian Whites and the Ukrainian former Habsburg subjects had pretty good relations. They were both suspicious of the Josef Pilsudski led Poland, in addition to having a shared anti-Communist sentiment. As a sidebar, the history between Russia and Poland isn’t as one-sided as some believe.
During the Russian Civil War, the sentiment for a separate Ukrainian state from Russia wasn’t as noticeable as to what developed decades later. This explains why the Mackinder of that period didn’t appear to support or foresee a viably separate Ukrainian state from Russia.
Mackinder attempted to forge a substantive alliance between Pilsudski and the Whites. This is something which Pilsudski had (at the time) privately rejected in favor of a then secret pact he made with the Bolsheviks in 1919 to not support the Whites, when the latter were on a major offensive. Later on, a White-Polish arrangement was made when the Reds threatened Poland, at a time when the Whites were militarily weakened. Regarding the Russian Civil War combatants and interested foreign powers, refer to my May 22, 2011 and April 18, 2016 Eurasia Review articles on the subject.
Concerning the present Russia-Ukraine situation, the repetitious (on December 5 and 12) Batchelor-Mackinder crock about Putin needing a conflict to divert attention away from his other problems has been authoritatively debunked. The exaggerated hype of a supposedly planned invasion of Ukraine meshes well with propping US President Joe Biden as a no-nonsense tough guy and the Kiev regime as a blameless victim.
In the likely scenario of there not being such a Russian incursion, look for the Biden camp (facing noticeable domestic disapproval) to credit Biden’s “stern” line as a game changer. Hence, an underlying basis for creating the specter of a Russian threat.
The ongoing comparatively more significant matter concerns whether the Kiev regime will at some point feel compelled to launch an Operation Storm like action into the rebel Donbass area. The likelihood of that happening appears diminished, on account of Russia’s clearly stated opposition and suggested counteraction to such a move.
In the December 12 show with Mackinder, Batchelor uncritically states the sensationalist belief that Hitler launched a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union. This view seems on par with saying the Nazis attacked France and the UK, on the anticipated mindset that Paris and London would inevitably oppose a greatly strengthened Berlin.
Coincidentally, after drafting this article, I came across a rebroadcast of a CSPAN feature with Max Hastings. Like me, Hastings uses “sensationalist“, to describe what Batchelor claims about the Nazis launching a preemptive strike on the USSR.
Great powers can have hypothetical off record strategizing, which include the possibility of engaging in unintended scenarios. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Soviet government of the 1930s might’ve privately strategized over a possible Nazi-Soviet war.
The USSR had reason to be suspicious of Nazi Germany. Nazi propaganda saw the USSR as an evil Judeo-Bolshevik entity, in addition to seeing Soviet territory as a future living space, along with supplying raw materials and slave labor. In understanding its shortcomings, the USSR of the 1930s was committed to building “socialism in one country“, an isolationist move that included a restructuring of the military, leading to an immediate setback.
The 1939 Soviet attack on Finland came after the latter rejected the former’s land swap proposal. This offer was motivated by a strategic concern about how the USSR could best defend itself on the premise that Finland could be a likely wartime adversary – something which happened. The 1939 Soviet campaign against Finland was commanded by two Red Army officers, Kliment Voroshilov (perhaps of some ethnic Ukrainian background) and Semyon Timoshenko (an ethnic Ukrainian), born on the territory of what became the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact was influenced in good part by the USSR recognizing its limits and need to be on peaceful terms with Germany. This line of thinking was encouraged by the West, which had earlier refused a Soviet offer to jointly oppose the 1938 Nazi incursion into Czechoslovakia.
Nazi Germany attacked the USSR on June 22, 1941, with the Soviets caught off guard, as evidenced by Soviet aid going to Germany at the time of the Nazi attack, coupled with a weak Soviet military readiness.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic.