Like many of us, my grandparents came to this country from what is now Ukraine. When they were born, the land called Galicia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the end of World War I, in 1918, it became Romania. In 1940 it became the Ukrainian SSR; after the collapse of the USSR it became Ukraine, in 1991. Another descendant of Galicianers, Steve Weissman, has written a cogent, clear-eyed assessment of the history and current realities of the conflict in Ukraine. I strongly recommend reading the series and in particular the last piece, Exposing the Cold War Roots of America's Coup in Kiev.
With Mr. Weissman's permission, I will quote some of this analysis below the elegant cheese doodle.
Once upon a time, Vladimir Putin started the new Cold War. He set out to take over Ukraine economically. But the freedom-loving Ukrainians took to the barricades and drove out his henchman, President Viktor Yanukovych. So Putin seized Crimea and put his troops on the Ukrainian border, eager to seize more land to remake the evil empire.Mr. Weissman summarizes some Cold War history that is necessary to understanding the current situation, but is not common knowledge.
This is the fairy tale that Western leaders and their favorite story-tellers want us to believe. They might even believe it themselves. But the truth is far more instructive, and could help both Russia and the West get out of a rivalry that could by accident or misjudgment lead to nuclear annihilation.
Flash back to the presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and their well-publicized campaigns to promote human rights behind the Iron Curtain. Whatever their intentions, their efforts led to greater freedom, democracy, and national independence in Eastern Europe – and to expanding a nuclear-armed NATO eastward toward Russia's borders. Nowhere was the mix more lethal to the Soviets than in Poland, "a country vital to their strategic position in Europe," as CIA Director William Casey described it to President Ronald Reagan on April 9, 1981.As it happens, the US supported the Polish Solidarity movement with money, labor mobilization training, communications equipment, psychological warfare leaflets, and Pope John Paul II.
The covert operations also included using Washington's Radio Free Europe and Voice of America to spread information and disinformation to the Polish army and security services and to other countries in the Warsaw Pact. Much of the material, including leaflets, came from psychological warfare specialists at the CIA and the Pentagon.Repeatedly, the US falsely assured Gorbachev that NATO would not move "one inch to the East." This was patent dissembling.
Finally, Reagan, his special envoy Gen. Vernon Walters, Bill Casey, and National Security Adviser William Clark all coordinated closely with Pope John Paul II, other top Vatican officials, and American Catholic leaders, as Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi brilliantly describe in "His Holiness."
For good or for bad – and it was both – these were the opening shots of the current crisis, encouraged by Moscow's increasing inability to counter them. By the time Mikhail Gorbachev took office in 1985, his options, as Stanford historian James Sheehan explains, "were fatally compromised, first by his own decision not to use force to preserve the Soviet imperium, and second, by the manifest failure of his economic policies." But make no mistake. He knew what Washington was trying to do.
Gorbachev saw Washington's covert pushing as part of a continuing effort to encircle the Soviet Union. On their introductory meeting in Malta in early December 1989, he gave President George H.W. Bush an intelligence map showing this strategic containment. Bush joked about it, but the issue came up again when the two men met in Washington at the end of May 2000.But Gorbachev was in an impossible position. Even as he was being pressed to accept a united Germany, with assurances that NATO would not expand "One inch to the East," Bush was promising Helmut Kohl that he would never drop NATO's jurisdiction in Germany.
Bush sent Kohl a letter suggesting different language that dropped any talk of NATO's "jurisdiction." He then hammered his message home in a face-to-face meeting at Camp David on February 24. "The Soviets are not in a position to dictate Germany's relationship with NATO," he declared with a victor's certainty. "What worries me is talk that Germany must not stay in NATO. To hell with that! We prevailed, they didn't. We can't let the Soviets clutch victory from the jaws of defeat."In 1990, speaking with François Mitterrand in April, Bush argued that only NATO could accomplish two major tasks: Keep America in Europe. And provide a collective security arrangement that could include Eastern Europe, and perhaps even the Soviet Union. So, even as he was assuring Gorbachev that the West was not trying to encircle the Soviet Union, Bush and his advisors were considering how they might move the old Iron Curtain ever closer to Russia's borders.
As soon as Moscow removed its troops from Eastern Germany, NATO began preparing to expand to the East, deciding in 1997 to give membership to Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Under US presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and their European allies, NATO and the European Union continued to move ever closer to Russia's borders. Today only one major pressure point remains. That prize is Ukraine.
Putin is now in the position that Gorbachev bequeathed him, but he is referring to the "New Russia" of 300 years ago to base his claim to Crimea. He has a dicey economic situation.
Mr. Weissman concludes
He has admitted using his special forces in Crimea, and has apparently deployed them into Eastern Ukraine as well, though he says not. But the onion farmers and other locals who have surrounded Ukrainian army units in the East won't necessarily follow Moscow's lead, and a historically divided Ukraine could well break apart whatever outsiders choose to do.What we need to keep in mind is that in the current marketocracy under which we live, companies like BP have business interests with Russian companies and can dictate to Congress and the State Department what they want. The question becomes who is in charge of US policy, transnational corporations or persons with the putative good of the world in mind?
That said, no peace can hold for long until the outsiders – Putin, Washington, and Brussels – finally resolve the unfinished Cold War issues that continue to divide them. NATO has to guarantee that Ukraine will never become a member, and that the alliance will let strategic containment die, as it should have under George H. W. Bush. The EU has to find trading arrangements that include the Russians rather than exclude them. And Putin has to put his energy into building a modern Russian economy rather than being consumed by the humiliation – and, yes, betrayal – that Gorbachev and his generation suffered at the hands of the West.
The current crisis offers an opportunity to move in these directions, though self-destructive economic sanctions, F-22s, and a guerrilla war seem far more likely.