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The provocation the US felt from Cuba in 1962 is what Russia sees from Ukraine now

Putin and Ukraine & Russian flags b&wSo Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, wants to set up a European army in the face of the threat posed by Moscow. Quite apart from the fact that this would partly duplicate NATO and the suspicion that it is motivated more by the desire to centralise key powers at EU level since in terms of foreign policy (in Juncker’s words) “we don’t seem to be taken entirely seriously”, it completely misreads ‘the Russian threat’. Over the last 20 years there has been a steady Western encroachment eastwards which was bound eventually to cause Russian resistance and retaliation. It has also happened in blind disregard of Western pledges to do no such thing.

NATO’s expansion eastwards began under Clinton in 1996. This came after explicit assurances had been given to Gorbachev, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, by the US Secretary of State James Baker that NATO would “not move one inch” eastwards. But since this was only a verbal agreement NATO expansion advanced anyway. The first new entrants to NATO included Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. Even a pliant Russian president like Yeltsin took this badly, but Clinton tried to mollify him with the assurance that no former Soviet republics would be incorporated into NATO. Since then a further 7 Eastern European states – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania – have been incorporated into NATO, the first 3 being former Soviet republics.

That was provocative enough, but then Bush decided to deploy US Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABMs) in Poland and Romania. The implication is that if the US were then to order a nuclear first strike against Russia and destroy most of Russia’s Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles,the ABMs could then knock out any remaining ICBMs targeted on the US. Unsurprisingly the Russians regarded this as a massive provocation. When NATO as the greatest military power in history, with a manpower advantage of 4 to 1 plus a huge nuclear capacity over Russia, parks its military assets on Russia’s doorstep, it was inevitable that it was seen by the Russians as a hostile act threatening the very existence of their state.

In 2007 the Russian foreign minister Lavrov told the US that Russia would not allow further NATO expansion, albeit through the stalking horse of EU membership, to Georgia and Ukraine. Of course it is said that Ukraine has the right to decide who it wants to ally with and the Russians have no right to prevent Kiev from joining the West. But that is, rightly or wrongly, to ignore the habitual mode of operation of great-power politics. Did Cuba have the right to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union in 1962 during the Cold War? The Americans were determined it should not and even threatened a nuclear exchange to prevent it. It is a lesson that the West should learn and be prepared to see it applied in the case of Ukraine rather than risk a war.

7 Comments

  1. James Martin says:

    I think the Cuba comparison is not needed here, not least because it was not just about military support for the Cubans by the USSR but the underlying political challenge that socialist Cuba represented (and to an extent still does represent) in the region.

    Unfortunately in this current east-west new cold war there is no ideological or economic differences between the capitalist powers involved. However, it is entirely correct to source the current conflict in Ukraine to the US/EU/NATO plotters and coup supporters who miscalculated the ease in which they would get yet another tame client state (while being very happy to use the Ukrainian fascists to get it).

    The European army stuff is dangerous nonsense of course, but then we are part of an even bigger dangerous nonsense in being in NATO, an organisation don’t forget that had as one of its key pre-conditions for stopping its bombing of civilian targets in Belgrade in 1999 the agreement to privatise state property in Yugoslavia (which of course exposed its real intent).

    As ever the central issue here is that we are not shouting loud enough for the UK to leave NATO and for NATO to leave the UK which must again be brought to the fore as it was in the 1980s by the Labour left.

  2. Ric Euteneuer says:

    …except that Cuba then didn’t go on to invade and annexe Miami thereafter.

    1. Verity says:

      I don’t recall that the US government staged a coup against the state of Florida, then encouraged resistant ‘fascists’ to defend the status quo and then insisted on the use of the English rather than the Spanish language.

      But then I do agree that it does depend upon your starting prejudice of who was really threatened/encouraged by EU/NATO ‘liberation’.

  3. David Ellis says:

    This is nonsense Michael for you. Putin is not reacting to NATO provocations but to NATO’s retreat and to America’s retreat from globalisation since the defeat of the neo-Cons by Obama in 2008 after their policy had become bogged down in Iraq and his vow to build up regional powers like Iran to help America police the world. Putin has moved into Ukraine because he can and because it plays well at home where despite appearances his tyrannous regime is despised. Down with Russian imperialism in Ukraine. Victory to the Ukrainian Democratic Revolution. For the unity of Ukraine against gangster capitalism whichever imperialism it looks to for support.

    1. James Martin says:

      How history is so quickly re-written! What came first David, the fascist-led Kiev coup or Russian reaction to it? And who plotted with the coup plotters? Have you so quickly forgotten Vicky “f**k the EU” Nuland at the heart of it, handing out cookies to the Right Sector at the Maiden one minute, and selecting who would be in the new post-coup government the next?

      And ‘democratic revolution’? Really? Where, and by who? The only serious moves towards a socialist direction and opposing and expropriating the oligarchs took place in the eastern rebel-held areas early on by the miners and factory workers (who rediscovered not by accident the early Bolshevik revolution flags and symbols from 1918), but this was later stamped on by the Russian nationalists when armed conflict broke out (and was combined with stopping the Communist Party standing in elections last year in the two separatist republics, at the same time as they were being persecuted in the west of Ukraine by the open fascists.

      But I guess it’s always easier to criticise the foreign enemy isn’t it, while letting the real enemy NATO off the hook, aided by your bizarre statement that NATO is retreating while all the time expanding eastwards. But as I’ve said before, your politics always seem to be based on the opportunist ‘main enemy is abroad’ type, so its perhaps hardly surprising that everyone used to think you were with Progress is it!

  4. Christopher Ford says:

    It is difficult in some quarters of our labour movement to get serious discussion on Ukraine; some deliberately seek to supplant it with abuse, smears and even intimidation. Therefore Michael’s article is welcome.

    On the surface Michael makes a useful comparator to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also in a world where the USA emerged as the single global superpower it is tidy and familiar. But on closer examination it falls into similar pitfalls of those who wrongly adopted a more campist approach back during the Cuban crisis, of my enemies enemy is my friend. Not that Michael can be accused of being an old Tankie Stalinist.

    This article is in error both in terms of the causes of the Ukraine crisis and what is considers our approach should be.

    Should democratic socialists decide their approach to Latin America from the starting point of the feelings of the rulers in Washington who view Latin America as the “United States backyard”. Of course not. Would be any less abhorrent to decide our approach to Ukraine based on how the rulers in Moscow view the former nations of the Tsarist Russian Empire/USSR as their “sphere of interest”.
    Recognising the reality of great power rivalry is one thing but that is not the same thing as accepting their justifications – as such the concept of “encroachment” is to precisely accept this old colonial, great power mind-set. Such principles are contrary to those of basic democracy never mind democratic socialism. It is precisely this view of Ukraine as someone else’s possession that is both reactionary and explains the crisis.

    The above article cites the “blind disregard of Western pledges” but there is a key pledge regarding Ukraine which makes the whole situation the opposite of the Cuba crisis.
    Obama cancelled the ABM project for Poland in 2009 in a move much welcomed by Putin. But more important there has been and is no plan by the USA to put Nuclear missiles in Ukraine. (Though Russia has now revealed it was and would be prepared to put nuclear weapons in Crimea!)

    Alongside South Africa, Ukraine is the only to engage in unilateral nuclear disarmament in 1994-1996. The Ukrainian nuclear arsenal was the third largest in the world and larger than that of China, France and the UK taken together. The Budapest Memorandum included security assurances by Russia, USA and France against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.

    What encroaching action then has taken place to justify the annexation of Ukrainian territory in March 2014 in violation of the Memorandum? Not to mention previous political violations?

    Ukraine has had an Individual Partnership Action Plan since 2002 with NATO – but there was no war by Russia direct or indirect.

    Poland joined NATO 16 years ago, the Baltic States 11 years ago. In that time the status of Ukraine as regards NATO has not changed. It is hardly an expansion to provoke a war years later in 2014?

    Furthermore the status of Ukraine as in a “special partnership” since 1997 with NATO has not changed with its western or Russian oriented governments. There were 1700 Ukrainian troops in Iraq in 2003-05, sent by the “pro-Russian” president Kuchma (of whom Yanukovych was a protégé). Ukrainian troops also participated in missions in Kosovo, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere.

    The EU-Ukraine association agreement did not change this status, makes no reference to NATO and certainly provides no evidence of a “NATO invasion” of Ukraine as more eccentric elements inform us.

    An explanation for the war in Ukraine is not to be found in encroachments, the Russian oligarchs and military elite were is not engaged in a delayed action to events that happened over a decade ago.

    It has happened because the increasingly authoritarian government of Yanukovych saw power slip from his hands in the face of a popular rebellion centred in over 40 cities and towns of Ukraine. However if like the above article you see Ukraine in terms of a geopolitical conflict between the Western Powers and Russia then what is important is not the development of social and labour movements – but which camp (mainly Putin) is less evil/progressive. In this scenario Ukrainians are reduced to great power pawns and their ability or desire to shape their own destiny is irrelevant.

    The worse tragedy has been the acceptance by some of the Putin narrative that therefore the changes in 2013/2014 in Ukraine must be organised by a grand conspiracy of the EU/USA/NATO. And anything, regardless of its nature that opposes it equals ‘anti-fascism’.

    The conflict has been summed up well by the Russian trade unionist Kirill Buketov of the the Global Labour Institute when he argues that Putin has returned Russia to its role as the “gendarme of Europe” as Marx called it. In this period within its self-defined “sphere of influence”.
    He notes that: “The ruling elites of the West and the East try to use the conflict to their benefit. While western imperialism is quite pragmatic, motivated by the desire to secure its control over resources, the rationale of Russian imperialism is fundamentally different. Russia does not need control over somebody else’s resources – it is quite content with those it has internally. But in order to be able to go on controlling them and disposing of them as it pleases, the Russian oligarchical elite requires a strictly authoritarian rule. Anything that threatens to undermine the regime is, therefore, suppressed, quickly and ruthlessly ……… And emergence in the immediate geographical proximity of alternative systems – states whose governance is based on democracy – undermines Putin’s regime, for they can sustain and inspire the dissident movement and popular unrest inside the country.
    This is why Russia provides huge loans to Aleksandr Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime in Belarus, and severely punishes those countries where it suspects the beginnings of democratic rule. Thus, in its time, Moldova was punished with the secession of Transdniester. Then, more recently, Georgia paid with the annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and now the Ukrainian Maidan has been punished with the loss of Crimea.”

    Democratic socialists should oppose the return of the Gendarme strangling independent progressive development, just as we should oppose western powers debt and austerity. Solidarity should be first and foremost with the Ukrainian labour movement. In doing that we cannot abandon the long established principle of the right to self-determination in the face of the manoeuvres of the big powers to undermine it and claim their sphere of influence.

    1. James Martin says:

      So many Christopher, but not once do you mention the Ukrainian fascists at the head of the Maiden last year and at the centre of the Ukrainian military and repressive state forces since in their well armed and financed new SS battalions.

      Another one in the ‘let’s downplay NATO and fascism and shout instead about the main enemy really being nasty Russians’ eh?

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