The Palestinians of Europe
by ALEXANDER G. MARKOVSKY
March 12, 2015
The future of American-Russian relations and the balance of power in Europe will - at least in the short run - depend on the resolution of the Ukrainian conflict. Notwithstanding the sanctions and denunciations by Western Europe and the USA, no development since the fall of the Berlin Wall has increased Russia's influence as much as the acquisition of Crimea and the forthcoming division of Ukraine, which I predicted a year ago in my posts Crimea, Ukraine and the Agony of Impotence Parts I and II.
With the election of a pro-socialist government in the United States in 2008, Putin saw the opportunity for Russia to become the dominant force in world affairs. A scholar of Marxism well versed in the socialist curriculum, Putin knew that the American drive to socialism would require enormous spending on social programs and a massive expansion of the size of government. While Obama was spending on food stamps, solar energy and windmills, Putin was investing in oil and gas; while America was reducing its military budget and downsizing its armed forces, Russia was investing billions in modernizing the Russian military.
For the first time since the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia feels sufficiently confident to confront the West and establish a Red Line against the expansion of NATO to the east. For those who missed it, Putin is resolute in defending this Red Line with all the means at his disposal. In this context, his move into Crimea and its subsequent annexation were a classic preemptive political knight's move. In one stroke, without firing a single shot, the whole NATO strategy of advancement to the east was put into shambles. Inspired by his own effectiveness, Putin is making sure that Ukraine will never join NATO and the potential adversarial forces will be kept as far from Russian borders as possible. His strategy emanated from Russia's tumultuous history, aspiration for greatness and absolutism.
"Everything about Russia - its absolutism, its size, its globe-spanning ambitions and insecurities - stood as an implicit challenge to the traditional European concept of international order built on equilibrium and restraint." So wrote Henry Kissinger.
It is the insecurity of having to protect its vast border and the historical paranoia resulting from 300 years of Tatar-Mongol yoke, war with Sweden for access to the Baltic Sea, Napoleon's conquest, the horrors of the German invasion and the reality that a unified Germany was again the strongest European power that made Putin act aggressively, without seeking moral or political justification to a perceived threat to the "Land of the Russ." Detached from a sense of history, the West treats the current conflict as a moral and legal issue; for Russia, it is a geopolitical issue. In defense of its national interests Russia reacted the way it always has: issuing threats when it is weak and acting belligerently when it is strong.
The annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in Eastern Ukraine sent shock waves throughout Europe and resulted in the Obama administration's disbelief bordering on panic. Disastrously, it was not due to the limitation of human foresight but rather to ignorance and lack of political prudence. George Kennan, a brilliant American diplomat, political scientist and author of the concepts of "Cold War" and "containment," prophetically wrote on February 5, 1997, in the New York Times:
"Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking."
Just as Kennan predicted, the outdated alliance in search of a new mission to justify its relevance precipitated the crisis that has superbly accomplished all of the above. In an astonishing display of recklessness and ineptitude, the West facilitated the removal of the democratically elected Ukrainian government by a neo-Nazi coup and fostered a civil war. The new pro-Western Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, has been treated as a modern Abraham Lincoln, who is fighting the South - sorry, the East - for the noble purpose of preserving the country's unity. In the meantime Vladimir Putin, in ever-escalating rhetoric, is called a modern Hitler, who is pursuing a land grab in order to restore the Soviet Union. This is an erroneous reading of Poroshenko's and Putin's motives and an oversimplification of their intentions.
President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have been deceived by both their "sworn friend" Petro Poroshenko and their professed adversary Vladimir Putin. Despite their differences, Poroshenko and Putin converge in one important aspect: neither of them wants Eastern Ukraine.
The rulers in Kiev are not motivated by "one country, one destiny"; they are not motivated by concern for the stability and integrity of Ukraine, but rather by billions in financial aid. The aspiration of Poroshenko and his allies is to become the Palestinians of Europe, victims of Russian aggression. Defeated by superior force, they want the EU to adopt them and make Ukraine a black hole for billions of dollars and euros, with no end in sight.
Poroshenko's strategy and his survival are based on defeat; if there is no defeat, there is no survival. Just as in the case of the Palestinians, whose every defeat functions as a catalyst to attract worldwide sympathy and international donors, the continuation of hostilities, for Poroshenko, is an inevitable necessity.
The question is what price Kiev is willing to pay for the defeat. To paraphrase Churchill, Poroshenko is asking, "What is our aim? It is defeat, defeat at all costs." The more Eastern Ukrainian cities decimated and civilians killed, the less likely that Eastern Ukraine will accept any kind of reconciliation with Kiev. The greater the territorial losses, the more Ukrainian soldiers killed, the more victimized Ukrainians are perceived, the better for Poroshenko politically. He has already acquiesced to the loss of territory and has wasted no time in implementing the de facto partition of Ukraine. Kiev stopped paying retirement benefits on the territory controlled by separatists, terminated gas supply, installed border control between east and west and built mini Berlin Walls in the middle of some villages, splitting families and blocking access to churches and community centers.
Putin does not want a devastated Eastern Ukraine as part of Russia either; nor can he afford it. Although a million Eastern Ukrainians have already voted against Kiev with their feet, seeking refuge in Russia from Ukrainian "liberators," unlike predominantly Russian Crimea, which voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the binational population of Eastern Ukraine will be hesitant to replace the Ukrainian mess with the uncertainty of joining Russia. In any event Putin cannot allow Kiev to bomb Eastern Ukraine into submission. Hence, he waits and watches this drama unfold before throwing Russia's weight into the balance.
Impervious to political reality, Obama joyfully broadcasts the message that the Russian economy is about to collapse and offers support to Merkel's push for more sanctions. He is also threatening to provide sophisticated weaponry to Kiev. Both strategies are fundamentally flawed on at least three counts. Firstly, the scope of sanctions is incommensurate with declared political objectives. Secondly, it ignores Russian endurance: no matter how bad conditions in Russia may become, Russians remember when it was worse. Obama can be forgiven for his historical obliviousness, but Merkel should know better. The last time Germans imposed ultimate sanctions on Russia - a blockade of Leningrad that began in 1941 and lasted for 900 days - a million Russians died defending the city, until history reversed itself and the Red Flag was planted over the Reichstag. Thirdly, arming the Ukrainian army will only prolong the bloodshed and destruction; it cannot stop the inevitable. Given the level of Ukrainian corruption, it is not unreasonable to expect that a significant number of weapons sent there will end up with the separatists.
The central question is why do we even care if there are two Ukraines - or three or four? Wilsonian principles of national self-determination should apply to Ukraine just as they were applied to Yugoslavia, Scotland and the Falkland Islands. The West should be open to a genuine reconciliation with Russia as it prepares to play a major role in the global balance of power. Whether the role is constructive or destructive will depend on whether Russia is finally accepted into the family of nations or continues to be treated as the heir to the Soviet Union.
Alexander G. Markovsky is a Russian émigré. He holds degrees in economics and political science from the University of Marxism-Leninism and an MS in structural engineering from Moscow University. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, where he owns a consulting company specializing in the management of large international projects. Mr. Markovsky is a contributor to FamilySecurityMatters.org, and his essays have appeared on RedState.com, WorldNetDaily, Family Security Matters, Ruthfullyyours and other websites. He can be contacted at email@example.com