by Randolph Holhut
AR Chief of Correspondents
March 6, 2014
IN UKRAINE, LET COOLER HEADS PREVAIL
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The current unrest in Ukraine is bad, but the Obama Administration could make things a lot worse, especially if it knuckles under to the neocons who are itching for another Cold War with Russia.
Wading into a civil war and taking sides is never a good idea. The western half of Ukraine wouldn't mind closer ties with the European Union. The eastern half would rather be linked to Russia.
Fanning the flames of a civil war in a nation that's on the border of a nuclear-armed Russia that also provides much of western Europe with oil and gas is also not a good idea, especially when the pipelines pass through the country going through the civil war.
But that's precisely what the United States and the EU are up to.
Those are the two entities that pretty much told Viktor Yanukovych, the democratically-elected president of a divided Ukraine, that he had to choose between Russia and the West.
The real choice, however, was either accepting a closer relationship with the EU and the harsh structural economic "reforms" that come with such a deal, or accept a $15-billion loan and discounted natural gas from Russia.
The uprising that ousted Yanukovych was mostly carried out by far-right thugs - a dog's breakfast of neofascists, oligarchs, and opportunists. Yet it was Yanukovych who was blamed for the violence, and not a coup government colluding with well-armed extremists.
The unpopular and deeply corrupt Yanukovych is no prize, but it is clear that the opposition that ousted him is even worse. So, once again, we are witnessing "regime change" engineered with the help of the U.S., pretending to look like a spontaneous democratic uprising.
We can now add Ukraine to the sad list that starts with Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, and continues with Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Allende in Chile in 1973, Aristide in Haiti in 1994 and 2004, Chavez in Venezuela briefly in 2002, Zelaya in Honduras in 2009, Morsi in Egypt in 2013 - elected governments that were all overthrown with U.S. support. And Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela is on deck to be next on the list.
And the U.S. has zero moral standing in this conflict. A nation that illegally invaded Iraq, has occupied Afghanistan for more than a dozen years, prodded a bloody regime change in Libya, and is waging a remote-controlled drone war in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan can scarcely lecture the Russians about respect for international law.
If anything, much as Russian leader Vladimir Putin may be a total heel, he does deserve credit for bailing out President Obama last year by providing diplomatic cover when the U.S. was close to an ill-advised decision to bomb Syria. Putin is also helping provide a way out of the current impasse over Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions.
Granted, Putin didn't do either of these things out of the goodness of his heart. He did them to gain a little leverage in the U.S.-Russian relationship, something that the Russians have had very little of over the past 25 years.
In the miracle year of 1989, when the Iron Curtain came down, President George H.W. Bush made a deal with Mikhail Gorbachev: If the Soviet Union let go of the Warsaw Pact and supported the reunification of Germany, the Soviets would not have to worry about NATO moving into the former Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe.
The Clinton Administration reneged on the deal and expanded NATO to include most of the former Soviet satellites. Not long before his death, veteran U.S. diplomat and strategic thinker George Kennan said that this would end up being a huge foreign policy mistake. And he turned out to be right.
Expanding NATO and the EU to the very doorstep of Russia is as much a provocation as the Russians sending its military forces into Crimea. But we don't need to restart the Cold War over Ukraine.
Next time you hear some laptop bombardier braying about the need to be "tough" against Russia, remember these points: neither the EU nor the United States is in a position to take over for Russia in providing economic aid; the government that is now in control of Ukraine has zero legitimacy; and, most sane Americans do not want a war with Russia.
Ending this crisis isn't difficult. The Obama Administration needs to work with the EU and Russia to keep Ukraine from breaking apart, and to support free and honest elections to install a democratically-elected government.
And if Ukraine wants to be part of the EU, while also maintaining economic ties to Russia, that should be allowed - in exchange for pledging not to expand NATO onto Ukrainian soil.
In other words, a compromise that reduces tensions is preferable to falling into a disastrous war that no rational person wants.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.