Poor Professor Petro! A professor of politics at the University of Rhode Island, he was selected by the US State Department as a Fulbright Research Scholar in 2013 and went to Ukraine on a year's affiliation with a university in Odessa. Thus he happened to have a ringside seat when the troubles began in that country, and presumably watched in horror as the West appeared to misread and mishandle an internal power struggle into an international crisis. Doubtless he sent urgent missives to people he knew who might be able to influence US policy, but to no avail. Finally, he put his warnings into an article (Six Mistakes the West Has Made (and Continues to Make) in Ukraine) and published it on The National Interest.
But Dr Petro is wrong if he thinks the West is simply mistaken. Of course, there are intellectually challenged persons who do seriously misunderstand what is going on (John Kerry and Catherine Ashton, for example, and many media writers and columnists). Others fall into the same category because, though nominally bright, their ideological mindset causes them to seriously misjudge the situation (Susan Rice and Samantha Power, for instance). But the real reason behind the West's policies in Ukraine and Eastern Europe is that there is a strong faction among its policymakers that fully understands what is going on but has deliberately chosen this course of action. There is also a sane element in the West that seeks to impose a sensible policy, but is currently unable to prevail. The future of Ukraine, of relations between Russia and the West, and, indeed, of the world, depends on the struggle that is going on between these two groups, as well as the wider conflict over Ukraine between the West and Russia. To follow the course of these consequential contests it would help to identify who is in the various camps, and what they are trying to do.
The War Party
This is not too strong a title to give them since they believe the West won the Cold War and are angry that Russia has dared to challenge their consequent right to reorder Europe They would like to put Russia in its place (some of them would not even be too averse to starting a shooting war, if that became necessary). The leading elements of this faction are neocons and right-wingers. In the USA the most prominent are the neocons of the State Department (led by Victoria Nuland) and the CIA. Supporting them are the neocons in Congress, the 'think tanks' and the media, as well as the military industry. In Europe such elements are to be found in several governments, militaries and intelligence agencies.
Another element in this party is the NATO lobby. These are political and military leaders and defence industrialists in both the USA and Europe who would like to see a revival of NATO's strength and importance. For them this crisis provides a great opportunity to stop the decline of NATO in both relevance and strength, and hence as a lucrative source of military jobs and money.
A third element is the East European Governments and politicians who still dislike and fear Russia, notably Poland. They wish to see NATO extend its coverage more securely over them (and don't mind giving Russia a jab in the eye in the process).
The most active element of this party, of course, is the current regime in Kiev and its supporters. They know that the political and economic survival of the Ukraine they seek to rule over lies in it becoming the frontline in a new Cold War between the West and Russia.
The War Party wants to force Russia to back down, and let the West incorporate Ukraine into its fold. Since the presently imposed sanctions haven't worked, they want to ratchet them up until it does. Their inability to prove their initial claims about Russian troops being present in East Ukraine has now led them to try and provoke Russia into moving troops across the border by attacking the Russian-speaking areas that will not accept Kiev's rule. This move has not proved successful since Ukrainian troops are showing a marked reluctance to attack their fellow countrymen. This has caused the Kiev regime to create militias from its far right Svoboda supporters, and now there are reports that the CIA, which is instigating and guiding these moves, is bringing in mercenaries to do the dirty work.
The Resolution Party
This group comprises those who wish to resolve the Ukraine crisis in a sensible fashion without letting it lead to a breakdown in relations between the West and Russia. Leading it are those European governments whose countries would suffer the brunt of economic warfare between Russia and the West, prominent among them Germany's Angela Merkel. Supporting these governments are business interests that would be affected, as well as sections of the media. However, they are constrained in their efforts by the need to also maintain their ties with the USA, and not appear to break ranks with it.
In the USA there are undoubtedly members of the policy establishment who adhere to this viewpoint, though they are probably in a minority. I would hazard that the most prominent among them is Gen Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the JCS. This assumption is based not only on his past record of realistic and sensible policy positions but also on the recent evidence from the case of Gen Philip Breedlove. Some time ago the NATO military chief was as loud in his tough anti-Russian talk as his boss, NATO Secy Gen Rasmussen (including advancing some wild scenarios of a likely massive Russian push into Ukraine). Then, while the latter still held forth on an almost daily basis, there was a notable change in Gen Breedlove's public pronouncements (so much so that they are now considered no longer worth reporting in the MSM): while still pushing the need for strengthening NATO, he has dropped his inflammatory anti-Russian rhetoric. As a US military officer and commander of US troops in Europe Breedlove is subject to direction by Dempsey.
The Juggler in the Middle
What of Barack H Obama, President of the United States of America, an office "clothed in immense power"? It seems he is performing his usual act of balancing competing factions while staying uncommitted to any line of action, all the while hoping to come out ahead personally. He probably does not want this situation in Ukraine to blow up into a serious confrontation with Russia, but finds his options limited ever since Ms Nuland and the State Department along with the CIA took the bit between their teeth and set the current events in motion. While publicly acting tough (he also has to worry about his political flank) he is probably trying to slow down the runaway crisis so that it does not erupt into something that would damage whatever plans he has for the remainder of his presidency.
On the other side of this crisis is Russia. There are no competing factions there; its policy is completely determined by Vladimir Putin and his small circle of advisers and officials (that is backed, notably, by a huge majority of the country's population). What is their view of the crisis, and what are their aims?
To decipher the mysteries of Moscow we have, in lieu of John LeCarre, a worthy replacement in Alastair Crooke. An alumni of MI6 and a former British and European Union diplomat, he spent five days in Moscow recently and posted his thoughts on Russian perspectives on his blog. Not only is it first-hand reporting by an astute and well-connected professional, it also jives with what any sensible observer of these events would expect.
Some of the highlights of his report are worth noting. Moscow doesn't control events in Ukraine, and fully recognizes that limitation. He found no appetite for intervention in a Ukraine that is considered a "viper's nest" and a "vast economic black hole". Nevertheless, it is recognized that military intervention may at some point become inevitable, especially if there are massacres of ethnic Russians or pro-Russians. It is believed that events have foreclosed the 'loose federation' option; a secession of parts of the East is regarded as inevitable. Russia is not frightened of sanctions, and accepts them as part of a new paradigm of relations between it and the West. There exists in Moscow a very realistic and accurate view of the dynamics currently at play in the West.
The lengthy report (which I highly recommend for full perusal) then goes on to discuss the implications of current events for the future of international relations, and of the Russian policies that are likely to replace those followed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Where does the four-party meeting in Geneva on April 17 fit into this picture? In an earlier post here I had advanced the proposition that what had happened there was that the West had essentially "folded". I still hold that view, but it needs some elaboration in this context. What appears to have happened is that, on this occasion, Obama threw his weight behind Merkel and the Resolution Party, allowing them to prevail. The statement of agreement lays down a pathway to a peaceful resolution in Ukraine, but it could not be followed up because neither Obama nor Putin control the players there. The 'federalists' would not abandon the control they had acquired in certain areas of the East without a parallel move in the West, which gave the Kiev regime an excuse to reject any meaningful negotiations. In any case, the people they were listening to (US Ambassador Pyatt and the CIA) were probably telling them to do this, anyway.
The Donetz and Luhansk regions of Ukraine have held referendums in which big majorities are said to have voted for self-rule. Whatever the limitations of such votes, the reality on the ground is that these regions are outside the control of the Kiev regime. Its attempts to reassert control through military force have failed, and are unlikely to succeed since their populations are largely ethnic Russian or Russian-speaking and have no desire to be ruled by those currently in power in Kiev.
The German foreign minister is now in Kiev to try and revive the Geneva plan for a 'round table' meeting of Ukrainian leaders of different factions under OSCE auspices. He is also likely to travel to East Ukraine in this behalf. Coming as he does from an EU meeting of foreign ministers, it appears that Merkel and her allies have launched a last bid effort to solve the issue through negotiations. This move comes too late for it to have much chances of achieving anything. Positions on both sides have hardened; lives have been lost in supporting them. Neither Obama nor Putin have full control over their Ukraine players; those who do have influence are against such a resolution.
If, as is likely, this last-ditch effort of the Resolution Party fails, then the present situation will continue along its inevitable path. The Donetsk and Luhansk regions (which have agreed to join together) are likely to effectively secede from Ukraine, though the formal process may take time. It is quite possible that other neighbouring regions may do the same thing. Backed by the War Party the Kiev regime is unlikely to acquiesce in such secessions. They are likely to continue their attempts to reassert control through military action. The Ukrainian military is unlikely to display greater enthusiasm for this task than it has done so far. If the regime tries to use Svoboda militias, mercenaries and heavy weapons to achieve its aim they will likely be neutralized by Russian action, overt or covert. It is unlikely that the secessions can be reversed.
The West is likely to express its unhappiness with these developments by blaming Russia for them and imposing more sanctions on it. The extent to which they will go depends on the internal tussle between the neocons in the USA and Merkel and her allies in Europe, who will bear the brunt of the blowback from them (and, of course, on which way Obama tilts, if he does at all). However, it is already apparent that the reality of the double-edged effect of sanctions is sinking in even among the War Party. As Alastair Crooke points out, Russia is not afraid of sanctions, and this will not alter the course of developments in the Ukraine. All they will lead to is a much more confrontational and insecure world in the future.
With so many critical problems facing humanity (over-population, widespread poverty, global warming, to name a few) this is not a happy prospect.