« "Obama rules out 'military excursion' in Ukraine" Reuters | Main | "Taliban attack on luxury hotel in Kabul kills 9 civilians" Washpost »

20 March 2014


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

David Habakkuk

Richard Sale,

While I agree with much of what you write, I would want to add a few qualifications.

As the USAF historian Eduard Mark showed in 2001 paper ‘Revolution by Degrees, Stalin’s National Front Strategy for Europe, 1941-7’, Stalin’s initial strategy for Eastern Europe was not immediate communisation, but the creation of ‘national fronts’. Similarly, his strategy for Western Europe envisaged the continuation of the ‘popular front’ adopted following Hitler’s consolidation of power.

(See http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/ACFB11.pdf )

A range of compelling considerations why this strategy was always likely to fail are presented by Dr Mark. However, I think he does not adequately grasp some of the complexities of the ‘containment’ strategy as conceived by George Kennan.

Discussions in some papers by the contemporary Russian historian Vladimir Pechatnov, notably his 2010 paper ‘The Cold War – a View from Russia’ are helpful, not least because he focuses on Kennan’s September 1944 paper ‘Russia – Seven Years’ later. The neglect of this by historians was the object of irritated complaint by Kennan himself.

In that paper, Kennan accurately reported Stalin’s political agenda at the end of the war a kind of updated version of the agendas of radical Pan-Slavs before 1914 – not ‘world revolution’. He was also prescient in seeing that this agenda gave colossal hostages to fortune. It was questionable whether, so long as the health of Western Europe could be restored, the Soviets could in the longer term hold down Eastern Europe.

If they failed, given the uncertain legitimacy of the regime, a process of disintegration might be precipitated which would go far into the Soviet Union itself. And, as Pechatnov notes, this was in the end what happened – although it took almost half a century, rather than the ten to fifteen years that Kennan originally anticipated.

(See http://dspace.khazar.org/jspui/bitstream/123456789/955/1/01.pdf )

Accordingly, part of the point of the Marshall Plan as Kennan conceived it was by providing offers of economic aid to put the Soviets into the position where they had either to allow the satellites to be drawn out of their orbit, or to replace attempts at covert control through ‘national fronts’ with a direct clampdown.

That this ‘squeeze play’ was conceived by Kennan as a means of precipitating not simply ‘rollback’ but ‘liberation’ is evident from the NSC 20/1 and 20/2 papers he produced in the summer of 1948.

(For NSC 20/1, see http://www.sakva.ru/Nick/NSC_20_1.html )

So how far the abandonment of Stalin’s earlier attempts to find some kind of compromise alike with ‘bourgeois’ elements in Eastern Europe, and with the United States, could have been averted, had Roosevelt remained in charge, remains something of a moot point.

Norbert M Salamon

Thank you for your exposition.

I found missing in the discussion the abject indefensibility of Russia as a historical fact greatly contributing to the so called "fear" attributed to Putin, Stalin etc.

While the US has 2 great Oceans to thwart any invasion by non North American power [you have defeated Mexico -and keep her under your thumb, and Canada is rather defenceless mostly empty [of people].

The history of Rus [from start in Kiev], to WW II is full of various invasions, from the Golden Horde, to Germany with occasional Polish, Swedish etc. powers conquering the nation.

Poland is a special case of Stalin's fear, for
the flat lands of Poland open up to the flat lands of Russia, open to invasion as practiced by the Germans. The mountains of Carpathians and the narrow opening of Tisza Valley does not pose the same opportunity to invasive forces as was the case of Poland.

When Mr. Gorbachev has given his consent to the reunification of E & W Germany, there was an understanding by Mr. Baker and Mr. Gorbachev that NATO will not expand to the East, after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. The USA, of course, reneged on this issue.

The phony proposal of missile defence against the non-existent Iranian missiles in Europe was another issue, clearly aimed at the Russian Federation, and as a benefit to the US military industrial complex.

With various color revolutions and various overt/covert regime changes over since WWII as financed and operated by USA it is reasonable and logical that China Russia and Iran must be most vigilant in defending their sovereignty, for they are essentially the only nations which hav stood up to US hegemony, forward bases, etc.

Now at the time of the Cuban/Turkish crises involving Missiles and Nuclear bombs, Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Kennedy came to the peaceful solution to remove the offending weapons by both sides thus reducing the "fear level" for both the US and USSSR.

It appears that the NEOCON/R2P crowd is devoid of historical reality, and are trying for war of some sort; for it is clear that NATO [as mentioned in original EU documents] in Ukraine is as much a red line for Russian Federation as was the case of the Cuban Missiles for the USA.

Finally, recalling NASA analyses of oil, CO2, global warning etc., the issues of Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Pacific Pivot, Israel/Palestine , Saudi Arabia/Egypt/Qatar are just diversions in the battle to dumb down the American public to the coming economic collapse - which collapse can be greatly brought forward if a serious sanction war develops between US [with Satraps] and Russian Federation [with or without China's economic problems].

A war between the two great nuclear powers is inconceivable [except perhaps in the senile mind of Sen. McCain].

Jose L Campos

That the USA finds itself to be exceptional is not particularly singular. All empires find themselves to be exceptional with rights that others lack. Virgil put it succintly; Rome was to "debellare superbos parcere subiectis" that is to crush the recalcitrants to spare the submissive.He, Virgil, realized that Rome was not perfect, that the Greeks had made enormous cultural advances in the arts and philosophy, but like all exceptional people he thought that the advances of Rome in creating a legal system made the Romans superior to the Greek and justified its existence..
Empires must essentially spread, as soon as the spread is halted the involution begins and whereas growth is theoretically infinite involution ends in zero that is in non existence. The USA is an empire, it has spread its culture throughout the world, has made English the universal language, what Latin used to be. All nations seem to be in a hurry to imitate the USA. Our fate is necesarilly tragic because we know that at some time the empire will cease to exist. That is a heavy burden.





Those who wish to take the world and control it

I see that they cannot succeed

The world is a sacred instrument

One cannot control it

The one who controls it will fail

The one who grasps it will lose








The one who uses the Tao to advise the ruler

Does not dominate the world with soldiers

Such methods tend to be returned

The place where the troops camp

Thistles and thorns grow

Following the great army

There must be an inauspicious year

A good commander achieves result, then stops

And does not dare to reach for domination

Achieves result but does not brag

Achieves result but does not flaunt

Achieves result but is not arrogant

Achieves result but only out of necessity

Achieves result but does not dominate

Things become strong and then get old

This is called contrary to the Tao

That which is contrary to the Tao soon ends







A strong military, a tool of misfortune

All things detest it

Therefore, those who possess the Tao avoid it...

The military is a tool of misfortune

Not the tool of honorable gentlemen

When using it out of necessity

Calm detachment should be above all

Victorious but without glory

Those who glorify

Are delighting in the killing

Those who delight in killing

Cannot achieve their ambitions upon the world...

We say that they are treated as if in a funeral

Those who have been killed

Should be mourned with sadness

Victory in war should be treated as a funeral

William R. Cumming

Richard Sale! A brilliant essay with many insights!

Thank you very much!


As a very small point, Communism, as practiced by the Soviets, failed because it rejected the role played by "price signals" in an economy - which is to provide instantaneous communication of imbalances between supply and demand throughout the economic system. Price signals are "the invisible hand" that regulates a free market.

The "Five year plan" command economy approach of centralised planners simply cannot and could not provide the flexible and instantaneaous adaptation to market conditions that a free market provides. This is best summed up by the old joke about the bureaucrat asking the fish farm manager why he hadn't taken his quota of new tractors.

The Chinese saw the demise of the USSR and correctly observed the cause - lack of price signals. They proceeded almost immediately to start injecting such signals into their own command economy, their first move was to allow factories to sell any surplus produced above quota on an open market and they have proceeded since then to dismantle much of the command infrastructure.


With all due respect, Mr Campos, I beg to differ with your comment that “All nations seem to be in a hurry to imitate the USA.” I believe many people worldwide would like the material prosperity available to many in the US and many of the freedoms we American enjoy, but many of those I have met do not want to imitate the US, and many individuals and nations do not want to imitate us. I believe this is a mistaken belief, and I recall that Colonel Lang has commented on this in regard to the (mistaken) belief that they want to do so.

I would also urge folks to consider our US history in regard both Canada and Mexico: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_1812 for a history of some of our “interventions” north of the border and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_the_United_States for a look at our territorial development.

I learned about these in my US history course in NYS 50 years ago, but the presentation was in regard to our “manifest destiny.”


This piece is interesting to me because it substantiates your detailed exposition, Mr Sale, and it comes from Paul Pilar. Thank you for your piece and for your investment of time to share it with us.

Babak Makkinejad

The poor imitate the middle class and the middle class the rich.

And as it goes for social classes it goes for countries.

US is the highest exponent of the dominant civilization on Earth.

It is where almost all the new businesses and technologies come from - not from India or China or even Japan.

Almost all the new drugs and medical procedures have come from the Western world.

It is also among Anglo-Americans that the highest standard of due process of law prevails on this planet (excepting Scandinavia).

I think these are very good reasons to imitate the United States, or Canada, or even the perfidious Albion.

The shortcoming that I see is that other countries are not emulating the right stuff from the Western Civilization - not even in Japan.

Babak Makkinejad

Their productivity was low - instead of improving worker productivity by giving him incentives, they would use two of each machine in production lines.


Thank you, Babak Makkinejad. I do take many of your points, but, in regard to y0ur final paragraph, I think one problem is that we in the United States believe they ought to.

I would also take issue with this claim: "It is also among Anglo-Americans that the highest standard of due process of law prevails on this planet (excepting Scandinavia)," especially in regard to images from Abu Graib, our use of renditions and Guantanamo, and NSA surveillance of so much of our domestic correspondence.

Much of our dominance in many of the fields you mention indicates, in my opinion, why the US is a magnet for many bright folks who see themselves stifled where they live for many reasons. One of my points that I did not make clear enough, my apologies, is that many folks want to go to the US, but would rather stay where they are if their societies offered them the same opportunities in regard to research opportunities, good employment and advancement opportunities and other advantages, but many of the folks I know intend to return to their countries of origin.

I have lived and worked in Europe for 35+ years in education. Many of my students and clients have no intention of adopting an American ethos and feel very adrift in the US after getting there. They appreciate much in terms of the opportunities there but dislike much about our policies and intend to return to Greece, Portugal or their country of origin once they are economically, professionally, or personally more secure. Be well.



There are some people associated with the actions described in the linked post who are fully on board with the American Exceptionalism project, holdovers and old campaigners from the original PNAC cabal, and now the new wave. I strongly recommend that you read this investigative report, as it names names, and it casts light on how the NeoCons are clawing their way back on top.


What seemed like a peculiar incident is revealed to have roots and branches worth close study.

Also, while I know that Walrus has already posted a link in the prior thread to President Putin's address delivered to the Federation Council and other luminaries of Russian politics and civil society, I would like to post this link again:


This speech is worthy of a careful reading, and in its entirety. Sound bites will not do.

And as an supplement to the speech itself, here is a fascinating parsing and contextualizing of that speech from the blog, The Vineyard of the Saker. The Saker certainly has a pro-Russian point of view, but one worthy of respect and serious consideration, as it is historically and culturally informed. I found his inclusion of a section of the 2013 annual Presidential speech to the Federal Assembly to be an eye-opener. See if you agree.


Thank you.


RE: "Perfidious Albion."


RE: "The shortcoming that I see is that other countries are not emulating the right stuff from the Western Civilization - not even in Japan."


Aye. They have not the necessary social cohesion/means, IMHO...

The Japanese are altogether in a class of their own...

Hence their former pride (arrogance??) back-in-the-day as the "White Man of Asia."

When will hoi polloi elsewhere cease treating their land-of-origin as a rubbish dump?


"It is also among Anglo-Americans that the highest standard of due process of law prevails on this planet (excepting Scandinavia)."

Actually, I doubt that. I rank procedural protections against administrative action in the US to be siognificantly weaker than for instance in Germany.

The problems of appealing for instance a no fly listing are indicative.

Even after a decade there still is no appeal in court against what is obvuiously a severe infringement of the right to move freely, even more so in a country with distances as vast as in the US. The process granted there is purely administrative and in part almost Orwellian because of the pervasive secrecy involved.

It is because of such shortcomings, that were far less obvious at the time, Eastern European countries emerging from Communist rule explicitly rejected the US model of administrative law and opted for other models.

The German model in particular was popular since it takes into account practical experiences with tyranny by means of administrative law during the Nazi Era and communist rule.

And as for criminal law - as soon as the proecutor decides on 'terrorism' charges, secret evidence is admissible, one can be assassinated or locked away indefinitely without charges or trial, citzen or not. Hardly a model.

As for the protections in civil law you may be more correct, but I doubt that the US model is truly that efficient, given the extent to which it delegates a lot of how contracts are made to the legal profession.

Contracts that in the US are 30+ pages long can be written in Germany in a few pages because of reference to legal code.

In light of such practice, thre is comparably a greater degree of legal clarity and less to argue about. Conflicts can be solved more easily, faster and more cheaply.

Also, it makes it a tad more difficult to rip people off because of, ghasp, fairness considerations established in the legal code.


What command economy did well for the USSR was to provide arms for Russia when they fought the German Army.

Their industrial output was remarkable, of decent quality, and their factories were, for the time, efficient and state of the art. In fact, they iirc had gotten advice on that from American experts before the war.

Arguably, without command economy, Russia would not have made it through WW-II.

Babak Makkinejad

Your example of Greece is quite instructive where nepotism and corruption is rampant - at all levels of society.

What exactly have the Greeks learnt from UK or Denmark over a period of 50 years?

Why aren't banks in Greece as transparent as those in Norway?

In many ways, Greece is a Middle Eastern country whose religion is Orthodox Christianity rather than Islam.

Babak Makkinejad

There is a conversation recorded by Nikos Kazantzakis in his novel, "The Rock Garden" - almost certainly from his recollection of an actual conversation - with a young Japanese woman before World War II in which she states that the time of the White Races is over and the time for the dominion of the Yellow/Oriental races has arrived (back then - circa 1926 - if I recall correctly).

Well, the Japanese had their moment and in China and in the Philippines they demonstrated that they could not govern alien people with any degree of success.

That must be contrasted with the English that over a span of several centuries not only governed alien people quite successfully, but also created many new states - successful to various degrees after they finally left.

Uruguay, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Iraq, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Australia, Canada, New Zealand are all creatures of the English.

To my knowledge, no one has been able to match their record over the last 3000 years in that regard.

Babak Makkinejad

I think the chief distinguishing feature of Anglo-American Law is its assumption of personal liberty which, I think, is absent in other legal traditions.


Wahl's resignation did not seem peculiar; it seemed to be what it apparently was: a conspicuous display of useful idiocy.


More videos, more details: On Feb 20th, an organized party of around 100 neo-Fascist irregulars, armed with bats and guns, ambushed and lynched an 8-bus convoy of Russian-speaking Crimeans on the forest highway of Cherkassy returning to Crimea. The lynch party set up a roadblock; beat in the back safety-glass windows of the buses with bats; torched the buses with gallons of gasoline; apparently executed the first people out the door, to insure compliance; beat the survivors with bats, knocking them to the ground, kicking them; and then proceded to torture, degrade, and humiliate the Crimeans. They were made to crawl on the ground, grovel, and scoop up powdered glass with their bare hands. The Fascists also used steel rebar rods to beat heads in and break ribs. The right-wing terrorists made the Russian-speaking Crimeans shout "We are a disgrace to the nation!" and "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!". A trophy shot shows a large pile of around 30 victims lying on the ground, while 10 neo-Fascists with bats stand around and gesture proudly. The violence is so mundane that the rest of the terrorists don't even bother to have their pictures taken. The lynching party took hours to set up and run; shots show both evening and nighttime.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSapgMnHs5c Ukraine Fascist Revol'n
Although most of the irregulars had bats, this shot shows a man in black, with black shiny shoes, talking with a camo commander with stripes escorted by an at-ease gunman outside a green police car. The policeman has white stripes on his sleeves. If the police car was used to set up the roadblock, it'd indicate an alarming level of complicity.

The footage also shows a substantially larger lynch mob than first thought. It takes much organization to bring over 100 together. Who paid for all these people?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W0darIeDFs Bandera-fascists attack..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfinisEh-IM#t=20m33s Crimea: ...

If fascist terrorists in Granada attacked 30 Americans as a political statement, beat their heads in, made them grovel and crawl on the ground, and piled them up in a heap on the ground, you better believe America would do something about it.

Taken together with credible statements that Igor Mosiychuk and others intended to send a "train of friendship" army to trash Crimea, this explains the unanimous RCF vote on Mar 1 to permit armed force more credibly than the backstory State is positing.

What is more fascinating is, Why hasn't this lynching been publicized in the Western news?

Surely the CIA must be all over what is happening in the Ukraine? And State, as well?


Bernstein's "Emotional Vampires" offers an outstanding introduction to narcissism and bullying. Key points: Vampires cannot see themselves in a mirror; narcissists believe they are "special", and so ordinary human laws don't apply to them; narcissists are almost solipcists who do not perceive others as validated humans, look at their own problems through huge binoculars and others' through backwards, mini-fying binoculars. Bullies gain power, clarity, meaning from excitement, rage, and adrenaline. He explores countermeasures. Well worth reading.

William R. Cumming

YUP! All immigrants to USA intend to return home. Some, very few, actually do so.



We call this the "myth of return..."



"He felt no pity in his nature and nowhere is this more evident than when he let his armies withdraw during the Polish Uprising, and simply looked on, unmoved, as the Nazis put down the rebellion, slaughtered the rebels and razed the city."

What stopped the Soviet Army before Warsaw was not an order from Stalin, but the counterattack of 39th panzer corps (4th panzer division, 19th Panzer division, 5th SS panzer division, Hermann Goering panzer division) led by Army Croup Center's commander Field Marshal Model himself. Starting 1 August 1944, that counterattack inflicted a 90% casualty rate on Soviet 3rd Tank Corps at Wolomin, 15 km northeast of Warsaw, and drove back the rest of 2nd Tank Army.

Thereafter, the Germans maintained 4 to 5 panzer divisions vicinity Warsaw throughout August and September 1944.

The story is well told in Werner Haupt's "Army Group Center-The Wehrmacht in Russia 1941-1945", sourced from German military archives.

It is true that the Germans subsequently razed Warsaw to the ground, but the 4-5 panzer divisions previously mentioned kept the Soviet Army from doing anything about it.

Stuart Wood

I am attaching an article by historian David Kaiser who has a realistic view of Putin's Russia, like Mr. Sale. Any comment by Col. Lang would be appreciated.
Stuart R. Wood,

Another long telegram
By David Kaiser

In February 1946, George F. Kennan, then the Chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy in Moscow, wrote what became known as the Long Telegram in an effort to awaken his superiors in Washington to new realities. No one could have spoken with more authority than Kennan: he spoke Russian fluently and was highly familiar with its literature and history, and he had been serving in the Moscow Embassy for several years. The telegram, which may be read here, stated his case simply and clearly. The wartime alliance against Hitler was over, Kennan wrote, and the Soviet Union's hopes for the new world had little or nothing in common with those of the United States. The Communist leadership deeply believed in the historical necessity of a worldwide struggle against capitalism and would do nothing that did not, in its view, further that cause. Yet Kennan was not without hope, because he did not believe that the Soviets saw the struggle as a military one, or that they had the slightest wish to resume a world war. Eighteen months later he published some of the same insights in his famous X article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." By then he was the chairman of the State Department's Policy Planning Council. By a stroke of extraordinary good fortune, his boss, Secretary of State George Marshall--one of the half-dozen greatest unelected public servants the United States has ever produced--was a man who had risen to the command of the American Army by identifying the ablest available subordinates and following their advice. He believed the Policy Planning Council should plan policy, and during the next two years, Kennan laid the foundation for the strategy of the Cold War.

I cannot pretend to expertise comparable to Kennan's. I have made only one brief visit to Russia, 42 years ago, and I have never studied the language, although The First Circle and Dr. Zhivago are among the books I return to again and again in translation. Yet I would like to think that I learned diplomatic realism from him, among many other sources, and that I can put it to use in examining the new situation that has been created by President Putin's annexation of Ukraine. Kennan has become increasingly unfashionable in recent years, and the publication of his diaries, which are a very poor substitute for his extraordinary memoirs, isn't helping his reputation either. But never in my whole life have I felt so acutely the complete absence of anyone like him in the highest councils of our government--and thus, I am going to yield to temptation and try to suggest what a young Kennan, were he posted in Moscow today, might say.

The Chargé d’affaires to the Secretary of State
March 21, 2014

The current situation in Russia, the Ukraine, and surrounding nations inevitably calls to mind the immediate aftermath of the last great crisis in the Atlantic world in 1933-45, when the defeat of Hitler and the Japanese was immediately followed by the Soviet installation of Communist regimes in various countries of Eastern Europe. It also recalls developments in the wake of the First World War, when Russia was briefly reduced almost to its current extent within Europe, facing a newly independent Ukraine and Baltic States, while retaining control of Belarus. That previous example is, in fact, more relevant. The problem Lenin and Trotsky faced at the time of the German collapse was to recover the territory they had lost early in 1918 in the Peace of Brest Litovsk, and they successfully reincorporated Ukraine into the new Soviet Union, but failed in a war against Poland and had to tolerate the independence of the Baltic states for twenty years, until the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Hitler. The current crisis began, of course, with the collapse of Communism in 1989-90, followed by the complete disintegration of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin did not come to power in Russia until 1999, and he has obviously moved much more slowly than Lenin in 1919 or Stalin in 1920 to begin increasing the extent of his territorial control and influence. The nature of his goals has become clearer in recent years, and his speech last Monday in Moscow, which I encourage all serious students of Russian policy to read, leaves relatively little doubt of how he sees the world and where he may be heading. Our first, and perhaps easiest, task, is to understand what he had to say.

The collapse of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union were indeed world-historical events comparable in impact to each of the two world wars. We must be extraordinarily thankful that they were accomplished with relatively little serious bloodshed, a most remarkable outcome, but no one should have expected the emergence of a new order to be a smooth process. Indeed, President Bush and Secretary of State Baker plainly had mixed feelings, to put it mildly, about the disintegration of the USSR, and the kinds of regimes that have emerged in many of the successor states have not been inspiring. In his speech, Putin regretted the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but he did not dwell upon it, much less lay the blame on foreign influences, as he so often likes to do when discussing unpleasant subjects. What he objected to was, first, the way in which the boundaries of Soviet Republics automatically became the borders of newly independent states, and, second, the ways in which, as he sees it, the western powers have taken advantage of the situation over the last 25 years or so. There is not the slightest evidence that Putin wants to embark on a worldwide crusade comparable to those of Lenin and Stalin, and it is highly doubtful, to say the least, that he has any designs even upon eastern European nations such as Poland and Rumania. But he is not willing to accept the situation within the former Soviet Union as it has evolved to date, and the events of the last month show that he has powerful cards to play.

It was to be expected that the collapse of Communist authority over Eastern Europe would lead to turmoil, and even to the redrawing of borders, as indeed it has. The process was not confined to the former USSR. Czechoslovakia immediately separated into its two component parts, ironically vindicating those who in the 1930s pronounced it an artificial creation that was not destined to survive. Yugoslavia, which Serbia had managed to create in 1919 by virtue of having played the key role in unleashing the First World War that destroyed Austria-Hungary, came apart much more bloodily, and it took the better part of a decade to establish new frontiers for Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia--the last still a very fragile construction. The first Bush Administration declined to intervene in the war among the successor states, but the Clinton Administration took a different view. It brought what seemed to be the last phase of the struggle to an end with the agreement on Bosnia in 1995. Then, in 1999, the rump state of Yugoslavia apparently embarked upon a campaign to cleanse Kosovo of ethnic Albanians, and the government of the United States, supported by NATO--but not by the UN Security Council--went to war with it to stop this process. The war, conducted entirely from the air, succeeded, and Yugoslav (really Serbian) authorities gave up Kosovo. Kosovar independence followed, and the United States and other NATO countries recognized it. In the succeeding 15 years, most of the Serb population has been driven out of Kosovo, although peaceably, not violently.

It was the Kosovo war, Putin makes very clear, that established the precedent that he is determined to fight. Confronted with a conflict generated by the collapse of Communism, NATO, as he sees it, unilaterally took responsibility for determining the proper outcome without the endorsement of the UN Security Council, where both Russia and China would have refused assent. And in so doing, NATO only extended the approach it had already taken to the aftermath of the collapse of Communism: its belief that the extension of western influence and western values must be the inevitable result.

It is at this point in the story, it seems to me, that our own government must for a moment reflect upon the wisdom of the choices made by previous administrations. There were those of us who believed that NATO, having functioned successfully for more than 40 years as a defensive alliance against Communism, had lost much of its raison d'etre when Communism collapsed, and that its role in a new world might be re-evaluated. The government of the United States, however, did not take this road. Instead, NATO became a mechanism for expanding western and American influence as far eastward as possible, and all the former Soviet satellite states of the Cold War era, as well as the former Soviet Republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, are now members. The second Bush Administration, indeed, was on the point of offering Ukraine membership in 2008, but the current Administration--wisely in my view--did not pursue this initiative.

The US government made these decisions, it seems to me, in the belief that the Russian government's views did not matter. They also made them in the belief--encouraged by our triumph over our Cold War adversary--that American institutions and American values were destined to triumph over the entire world. That view, specifically enunciated in the National Security Strategy of 2002, still seems to remain the basis of our policy. As one who has never held it--who has instead believed that democracy is the heritage of certain specific nations, who must always be vigilant to make sure that it functions well, and hesitant to assume that it will thrive elsewhere--I cannot say that I believe this to be the basis of a sound foreign policy. In the past five years, we have adopted another set of assumptions highly relevant to the current crisis.

Those assumptions, in essence, seem to hold that any uprising against an authoritarian or dictatorial government must be a good thing, and that the United States should embrace revolutionary movements as soon as they have become large enough to fill the main square of their nation's capital city with demonstrators. That is what the United States has done, Putin points out in his speech, in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria--with very mixed results. And that is also what both the United States and the EU did in Ukraine.

Ukraine has been, indeed, the test case for our assumption that democracy must follow Communism, and its recent history has not born it out. We have assumed that anti-Russian elements within Ukraine would be both more democratic and less corrupt, but that did not turn out to be the case. The Orange revolution of 2004 did not have the results we had hoped, and a pro-Russian government returned to power. The Ukrainian people, like so many others in the western world, have been hit hard by the Great Recession, and last year they turned against that government. Both the EU and the United States seized upon this as an opportunity to return a friendly regime to power. To this Putin decided he must respond.

In arranging the secession and rapid accession to Russia of Crimea, Putin, as his speech makes clear, has taken advantage both of ethnic realities and of history. Russians constitute the bulk of the Crimean population, and Khrushchev's decision to transfer it to Ukraine 60 years ago took place within a completely different context. As Putin pointed out in his speech, were a Ukrainian state that included Crimea to join NATO, as has been discussed recently, NATO forces would acquire the only major naval bases in the Black Sea. The referendum just held almost certainly reflects the wishes of the bulk of the population.

In my opinion, our government must reconsider the wisdom of the sanctions it is imposing in response to these events, since we have no means of undoing them. We do face a continuing crisis and we need strategies to face it, but we cannot make Crimea part of Ukraine again, and it will not serve the interests of the American, Russian or Ukrainian peoples to create an endless confrontation over what has taken place. Diplomacy must be based upon reality.

The serious question we now face involves the future of the government of Ukraine. Putin denies its legitimacy, and clearly threatens in his speech to make that a pretext for intervention in Ukraine proper, and perhaps for the separation of the large Russian-speaking portions of eastern Ukraine and their addition to Russia as well. Meanwhile, the new Ukrainian government--which, it must be acknowledged, did not come to power by constitutional means--is moving rapidly to strengthen its ties to the European union. It may ask for NATO membership. Putin, very simply, is determined not to allow the West to choose who shall govern Ukraine. He clearly desires to turn more of the former USSR into a Russian sphere of influence based upon his Eurasian union. He will use what cards he has to play to achieve these goals--but he will only use the military, in all probability, if there is no opposition, as there was not in Ukraine.

Elections are now scheduled in Ukraine. I would suggest that we invest our political capital in ensuring that all interested parties, including the Russian government, will respect the results of those elections. A conflict over the legitimacy of the government within the shrinking territory that divides the NATO alliance from Russia is a recipe for disaster, one that could even lead to war. Meanwhile, we need Russian cooperation to deal with both Syria and the Iranian nuclear program. We need, in short, to do the work diplomacy has always tried to do: to find a solution that we all can live with.

Here the Cold War, properly understood, provides some useful examples. We must face the fact, as we did in 1946-7, that Putin does not share our values or our vision of the future. He feels Russia to be different from the West and he wants to increase its influence. He is not, however, prepared to do so by war. The early years of the Cold War featured a number of struggles within contested nations that were decided by political, rather than military means. Hungary in 1947 and Czechoslovakia in 1948 fell to Communism because of internal political changes, not Soviet military power. Finland and Austria remained outside the Soviet orbit for parallel reasons: their anti-Communist forces proved stronger than Moscow's satellites. That also happened in the critical nations of France and Italy. It will happen now, one way or another, in the Baltic States, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Our assumption that democracy would spread, as it were, automatically, has proven false. That does not however mean that it cannot spread--only that its spread will require determination and character on the part of the nations of the former USSR, and also of the United States and the nations of the European Union. They must assess each situation wisely and do what they can. They must also realize that the Putin government remains very important to a host of broader problems in which we have an enormous interest. Let us not not once again allow dogma to trap us into an endless confrontation with a nuclear power, punctuated by crises that put the whole world at risk. Let us base our ends upon realities and trust to the long-term movement of history.

[sgd) George Kennan

(not really--DK)

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad