In October 1962, the United States threatened to go to war with Russia over the Cuban missile crisis. That high-stakes drama came about after Washington learned that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had overseen the installation of ballistic missiles on the Caribbean island, some 90 miles from the US mainland. Never mind that the nascent military alliance between Moscow and the socialist government of Fidel Castro was a inviolable matter between two sovereign states – Washington was apoplectic that Soviet missiles were permitted anywhere near its territory. The then US President John F Kennedy was impelled to go to war over the issue, even if that meant igniting an all-out thermonuclear conflagration.
In the end, the standoff was resolved, in part through a mutual personal understanding between Kennedy and Khrushchev that such a catastrophic war had to be avoided at all costs. The Soviet Union eventually withdrew its missiles after receiving a guarantee from the White House that there would no follow-up US invasion of Cuba, as in the failed CIA-backed Bay of Pigs assault of April 1961. In addition, Kennedy gave a commitment to reciprocate US missile withdrawal from Turkey’s territory bordering with the former Soviet Union.
Now fast-forward 52 years. The US-led NATO alliance this week announced that it intends consolidating its military presence in Eastern Europe, the Black Sea and the Baltic states. Ahead of a NATO summit in Wales, NATO secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called for the setting up of «reactive battalions» along Russia’s border. The contingency would include the eventual placement of ballistic missiles and it builds on recent dispatches of NATO warships and fighter aircraft in the region.
Moscow, in response, said it is now revising its defense doctrine to take reciprocal measures to protect its territory. «When NATO troops are approaching our borders, of course, we develop a plan. I recall NATO’s commitment not to expand the bloc’s territory eastward», said Russian Public Chamber deputy secretary Sergei Ordzhonikidze.
That referred commitment of no NATO eastwards expansion was given by American leaders to Russian counterparts throughout the 1990s following the demise of the Soviet Union. Yet what has happened over the past two decades is the exact opposite – the relentless encroachment of NATO military along Russia’s borders. The conflict in Ukraine over the past year has served to provide Washington with a tenuous rationale for escalating NATO contingencies in the region on the back of unfounded claims about Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory.
Economic sanctions imposed by Washington and its European allies – the latest round announced this week – are applied with the same reckless abandon as NATO build-up. No concrete evidence of alleged Russian malfeasance in Ukraine is produced to validate sanctions or NATO battle plans. It is all done as a fait accompli on the basis of assertion. US President Barack Obama says Russian military intervention in Ukraine is «plain to see» while not presenting a shred of credible evidence. Britain’s premier David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, sound like echo chambers for White House words, calling for more punitive sanctions and NATO «readiness».
Moscow is right to denounce such Western conduct as «hysterical» and divorced from reality. The US and its European subordinates have created the conflict in Ukraine by subverting the elected government in that country to install a wholly illegitimate regime in Kiev. The fascist nature of this regime has no mandate to rule and especially over the pro-Russian populations in the east of the country, which the Nazi-honoring junta in Kiev despises as «sub-humans». Since the Western-backed regime launched its so-called «anti-terror operation» in April in the eastern regions, more than 2,500 people – mainly civilians – have been killed. Some one million people have been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations. Much of the violence has stemmed from Kiev’s military forces indiscriminately bombarding civilian centers around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. There have been credible reports of the use of cluster bombs, white phosphorus incendiaries and unguided Grad rockets.
The Western sponsors of this indisputable state terrorism against civilians have abdicated all responsibility for their policy of criminal interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Yet they turn round with crass irony and blame Russia for the conflict and chaos.
Irresponsible Western governments and corporate media add to their recklessness by amplifying provocative claims coming out of Kiev and its puppet president Petro Poroshenko, accusing Russia of embarking on the «greatest war» in Europe since the Second World War. Again, no evidence is presented, just the mindless assertion of febrile imaginations.
Part of the «reasoning» behind claims that Russian military has invaded Ukraine is the collapsing positions of Kiev’s forces in the southeast of the country. The military setbacks for Kiev is thus «explained» on the assumption that superior forces «must be» operating with professional Russian soldiers and heavy munitions. But there are several other plausible explanations for why Kiev’s anti-terror squads are in disarray, such as mass desertions of Ukrainian soldiers across the Russian border, disaffected with their mission to kill civilians, or the complete incompetence of Kiev’s military planners. The latter was implicit in Poroshenko’s announcement this week that «heads would roll» among commanders at the defence ministry.
The crisis in Ukraine – which continually threatens to spin out of control into a self-fulfilling wider war – is the result of Western hubris, hypocrisy and doublethink. Western leaders seem paralysed by a chronic inability to see their own contradictions, no matter how brazen and fatuous these contradictions.
The Cuban missile crisis more than half a century ago provides an instructive analogy with today’s standoff between West and East. In the former case, Washington was prepared to plunge the world into a nuclear conflagration over perceived Russian military encroachment on its territory, even though Russia’s incipient presence in Cuba was arguably legal and non-threatening. Today, by contrast, the American-led NATO alliance is illegally pushing its offensive firepower all the way into Russia’s face – against all erstwhile commitments not to do so – and yet Washington believes it has the prerogative to keep pushing without any complaint from Moscow.
So far, Moscow has dealt with this unprecedented provocation with admirably restrained diplomacy even though Vladimir Putin must feel that he is contending with obtuse Western counterparts who can’t seem to comprehend the rules of checkers, never mind the game of chess.
At least John F Kennedy had a rudimentary grasp of reality and a degree of empathy with his Russian opponent Khrushchev, which eventually helped dissipate that distant crisis. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Barack Obama and other Western leaders today, all of whom appear to be blinded by chronic doublethink.