Ukraine, Russia and Putin An alternative View

Ukraine, Russia and Putin An alternative View by Fred Schnaubelt and Irina Nekolaevna Antonova SchnaubeltHelmut Kohl                                       Soviet Union agrees to a unified Germany if NATO limited

Imagine if China convinced Canada to form an economic and military pact with Mexico and moved troops along our borders and built a new naval base in Cuba?  How would we react? How did we respond in Grenada in 1983 where the U.S. claimed Cuba and the Soviet Union were building a military air base?  President Reagan sent in 7,000 troops.

The present Ukraine crisis is being blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin invading Crimea in an attempt to restore the former Soviet empire. Speculation is Putin may not stop there but invade the rest of Ukraine, and then conduct a blitzkrieg through other eastern European countries.  The ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year (February 2014) was simply a pretext for Putin to snatch the Crimea from Ukraine.

What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong is the United States and NATO are primarily responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.

John Mearsheimer in the current issue of Foreign Affairs writes, The genesis of the trouble is “NATO enlargement, the central part of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit. At the same time, the EU (European Union) is expanding eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine.” (Overlooked is Kiev, Ukraine is the Jamestown of Russia– where its empire began). Soviet and Russians leaders have repeatedly and vociferously opposed NATO enlargement.  For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — was the final straw. He responded by capturing Crimea on the Black Sea fearing it might become a NATO naval base on Russia’s border.

Russia Today article (November 2013) sets the stage for the Russian perspective, “The US is using NATO as a Trojan horse in order to take over militarily and politically the whole of Eastern Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and this is an open provocation vis-à-vis Russia.”

NATO, originally comprised of 12 nations formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at the end of WWII.  Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall,  NATO expanded to include the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland then expanding further to include a total of 28 countries encircling western Russia.  Russia was too weak at the time to thwart NATO’s eastward movement.

During the Cold War, the West did not trust the Soviets, at best “Trust but Verify,” and the Soviets and later Russians have not trusted the U.S. and its NATO allies.   According to a 1990 German record of a conversation, which was only recently declassified, West German foreign minister Hans Genscher said: “We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.” And because the conversion revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: “As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.” 

This confirms what the US secretary of state James Baker said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute, as reported in Der Spiegel. There would be, in Baker’s words,“no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it,” Gorbachev said, but added:“any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.”

The USSR contended it agreed to pull troops out of East Germany in exchange for a promise that NATO, its mortal enemy, would not expand. Additionally, the Soviets would have four years to relocate their troops and West Germany would contribute 12 billion Deutsch Marks for housing for Soviet Troops returning home. The U.S. holds a different interpretation of this agreement. NATO, in 2008, began talking about admitting Georgia and Ukraine. France and Germany opposed the move for fear it would unduly antagonize Russia. In 2008, Georgia signaled it intended to join NATO.  Subsequently Putin sent 9,000 troops into Georgia declaring that admitting Georgia and Ukraine to NATO would represent a clear and present danger to Russia.

The EUROPEAN UNION, too, had been moving eastward. In May 2008, it unveiled its Eastern Partnership initiative, to forge closer ties with six countries including Ukraine into the EU economy. Not surprisingly, Russian leaders viewed the encroachment a hostile act. John Mearsheimer in Foreign Affairs“The West’s final tool for peeling Kiev away from Moscow has been its efforts to spread Western values and promote democracy in Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, a plan that often entails funding pro-Western individuals and organizations. Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, estimated in December 2013 that the United States had invested more than $5 billion since 1991 to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves.”

The West’s triple threats – NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and democracy promotion – added fuel to the kindling. The spark came in November 2013, when Yanukovych rejected a major economic deal he had been negotiating with the EU and decided to accept a $15 billion Russian counteroffer instead, setting off demonstrations with western fingerprints. Shortly after the February 22nd coup overthrowing Yanukovych, Putin deciding the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived ordered Russian forces to take the autonomous republic of Crimea from Ukraine, and soon after that, merged it into Russia.  A majority of the population, who are ethnic Russians, voted to go with Russia. Russia also had the enormous advantage of having thousands of “boots on the ground” stationed at its naval base at Sevastopol.

Putin’s actions should have been easy to predict. Ukraine is a  huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at the heart of Russia.  Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia, real or imagined, makes no difference. No Russian leader could survive politically while letting the West set up a puppet government determined to integrate Ukraine into the West. A befuddled Secretary of State John Kerry’s commented,  “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” Kerry’s argument falls short when examined as Mearsheimer notes. “If Putin were committed to creating a greater Russia, signs of his intentions would almost certainly have arisen before the overthrow of Yanukovych on February 22nd. But there is virtually no evidence that he was bent on taking Crimea, much less any other territory in Ukraine, before that date. Even Western leaders who supported NATO expansion were not doing so out of a fear that Russia was about to use military force. Putin’s actions in Crimea took them by complete surprise and appear to have been a spontaneous reaction to Yanukovych’s ouster.”  Liberals recently have developed an almost utopian view of geopolitics, the can’t we all get along approach. Russia still holds the more traditional view of power, countries have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies but permanent self-interests.

“War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.”  The misunderstandings over Ukraine can be tamped down. The United States and its allies should give up trying to convert Ukraine.  Instead, they should try to make it a neutral nation, between NATO and Russia. It should recognized that Ukraine is of critical importance to Russia, which can’t accept an anti-Russian regime there.  The Ukraine need not be pro-Russian or anti-NATO. On the contrary, the objective should be a neutral Ukraine, neither in the Russian nor the Western camp. NATO expanded in the past because it assumed it would never have to defend new members, but Russia’s recent flexing of muscles shows this to be a dangerous game that put Russia and the West on a irreconcilable collision course. On the other hand, writes Mearsheimer, “a neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow would be an approach where all sides would win.”

Fred Schnaubelt, former San Diego councilman. Dr. Irina Schnaubelt, retired Soviet & U.S. microbiologist lived in Russia for 36 years.  They were married in Moscow in 1987.