Putin, Ukraine and the Future of Europe
EDITOR'S CHOICE | 15.07.2014

Putin, Ukraine and the Future of Europe

As the military crisis in the Ukraine has intensified with the fall of key rebel cities, like Slavyansk and Kramatagorsk, and as new decisive conflicts for the capitols of Donetsk and Lugansk regions are about to take place, in the West some are beginning to ask why Putin has not more directly intervened on behalf of the rebels in the eastern breakaway regions?  After initially having mustered Russian forces on the eastern border of Ukraine late last winter, why has Putin pulled back and ordered them to ‘stand down’?

When the Ukraine crisis entered a new stage last February 2014, the question of the day five months ago was ‘would Putin and Russia’ directly intervene militarily’? Today the key question has become ‘why hasn’t Putin intervened’ and ‘why does it appear increasingly that he will not’?

Over the past decade, the USA built up its support among proto-fascist elements on the ground in the Ukraine, funding these forces to the tune of a US admitted $5 billion. It then elbowed aside EU negotiators and intervened directly last February, when it appeared the European Union was about to strike an economic deal that was not politically aggressive enough in the USA view.

The USA has clearly wanted political regime change all along, not just a favorable economic deal with Ukraine. The so-called ‘Orange Revolution’ initiated a decade ago had succeeded only in part in breaking the Ukraine from the Russian economic and political orbit. The Ukrainian crisis of 2013 offered a new opportunity to complete the unfinished political task of the Orange Revolution.  But the Europeans, mired in their own economic problems, were not interested in taking the lead.

In her publicly much quoted statement. ‘fuck the EU’, made last February on the eve of the coup by the USA’s leading diplomat on the ground at the time, Virginia Nuland,  the USA clearly assumed direct control of the Ukrainian intervention from the Europeans. The European Union, together with the European-led IMF, would henceforth be left to negotiate the economic bailout with the Ukraine. But the USA would now drive the political policy.

The dichotomy between the USA and the EU that erupted into full view with the February 2014 coup in Kiev, when the USA took charge ‘on the ground’ is still evident today: Since the May 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary elections the USA has continued to push for harsher economic sanctions against Russia while directing the new Ukrainian Poroshenko government to undertake more aggressive military action in the eastern regions of the Ukraine. In recent months, moreover, it has become further clear that USA military, CIA , and no doubt USA special forces advisors have been calling the shots on the ground militarily for the Poroshenko government.  USA advisors have been flowing steadily into the Ukraine since last May. And shifts concerning Ukrainian military tactics and strategy against the eastern regions in recent months have almost always coincided with high ranking US politicians and USA-NATO military personnel visits to the Ukraine.

In contrast, the EU governments have been trying to keep the economic sanctions against Russia limited to select individuals instead of entire economic sectors in Russia, as the USA has proposed, while calling for a ceasefire and immediate negotiations between the parties.

Given the aggressive USA political policy toward the Ukraine today, the question is: ‘ Why has Putin not responded more aggressively to the threat of the now potential severing of the Ukraine from Russian economic and political interests’?  Why has Russia not militarily intervened to date and appears, with every passing week, even less likely to do so?

The possible answers to Russia’s cautious, measured response to USA aggressive political and military policies in the Ukraine are several:

First, what’s at play here is not just a fight for the eastern regions of the Ukraine. It’s not even a fight for the Ukraine per se.  It is a broader geopolitical strategic struggle now emerging across the Eurasian continent as new global realignments begin to unfold.

The Ukrainian crisis has various levels of meaning. But at the geopolitical level it’s about whether Europe will continue to develop even deeper economic and political ties with Russia than it has to date; or whether the USA will take more aggressive steps to slow, reverse, and potentially sever, that growing Europe-Russia economic relationship.

This writer rejects the view that the USA intervention in the Ukraine is the outcome of a rogue foreign policy adventure that caught the Obama administration and its security apparatuses by surprise.  When viewed more globally and strategically, what appears as a USA political mis-adventure in the Ukraine, set in motion and led by a Neocon dominated US State Department since last winter, is really a planned intervention and response by USA interests.

Those interests viewed the emergence of a general crisis in the Ukraine in 2013 as an opportunity to further secure USA global economic hegemony by preventing what it perceives has been a dangerous drift by Europe toward more economic integration with a resurgent Russia.

Europe’s growing dependence on Russian gas and energy is well known. Europe has grown in the last decade to depend on at least a third of its gas from Russia.  And Eastern Europe EU economies are nearly totally dependent on Russian gas. But that energy dependency only the visible ‘tip of the economic iceberg’ of a growing mutual economic dependency between Russia and Europe.

German, Italian, and French export and import trade with Russia in various categories has grown significantly in the last decade, including production and exports of military equipment.  France’s development and export of two helicopter carriers to Russia is but one case in point. The USA’s recent $9 billion financial penalty levied on France largest bank, BNP, could be viewed, at least in part, as a USA response and threat to France’s delivering the carriers to Russia despite USA insistence to the contrary.  USA proposals to provide Europe with liquefied natural gas is another indicator of its attempt to wean Europe off of its growing Russian resource  and capital flows dependence.  The USA’s current proposals for a ‘Trans-Atlantic Free Trade’ agreement between it and Europe is no doubt another indication of a renewed USA ‘turn’ toward Europe.  With a combined economy roughly the size of the USA’s, Europe is too big and too important an economic prize to allow Russia to obtain too large a foothold. And the economic penetration of Russia has already gone too far, in the view of USA interests.

The USA’s direct intervention in the Ukraine—elbowing aside the Europeans last February 2014 to bring about the Ukrainian coup d’etat—should be viewed therefore in this context of the USA political response to potential long term strategic shifts in Europe. What better way to bring Europe fully ‘back into the USA economic fold’ than by precipitating a political crisis in the Ukraine that provokes Russia into a premature, direct military conflict with the west?.

But should Russia intervene military in the Ukraine in response to USA provocations, that intervention would provide an opportunity for the USA to push Europe in general, and Germany in particular, to retreat from the Europe-Russia economic relationships that have developed over the past decade.

Putin no doubt knows this and has been seeking a way around a direct fight on the ground with the USA and its NATO arm in the eastern Ukraine.  Putin and Russia are thus ‘between a rock and a hard place’, as the saying goes.  Intervene militarily in the Ukraine, and Russia gives impetus to the USA strategic objective of slowing and possibly even severing Europe in the long run from Russia economically.  On the other hand, by not intervening militarily Putin strengthens the hand of certain EU interests to continue to resist USA demands for broad sanctions against Russia and to continue to insist on a negotiated settlement in the Ukraine […].

Were there no USA-provoked Ukrainian coup and crisis, a more independent European economic policy would prove more likely, perhaps even inevitable.  But with the fact of the Ukraine crisis and the aggressive USA-led military action by the USA-friendly Poroshenko government, the future economic direction of Europe may thus  depend on whether or not Putin and Russia intervene military in the eastern Ukraine in response to the on-going USA provocation.

by JACK RASMUS, counterpunch.org

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