Are we witnessing the outbreak of a new Cold War, in which the West is pitted against Russia and various other countries?
Patrick J. Buchanan, a conservative American political commentator, author and syndicated columnist, almost hit the nail on the head in a recent column when he described how the “The United States now appears to be backstopping the EU in bringing about the neutering or overthrow of that democratically elected government” – meaning that of Ukraine – and how this may start a new Cold War. However it now appears that “backstopping” should actually have read “backstabbing”.
This policy vector has been inadvertently confirmed by the US State Department, in a very-much-to-the-point, use-of-bad-language policy statement. State department has not yet directly confirmed that the recently leaked audio clip of a high level phone discussion posted on YouTube is genuine, but it undoubtedly includes the voices of the top US diplomat responsible for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, and US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
The four-minute video – entitled ‘Maidan Puppets,’ referring to the demonstrators in Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital – was uploaded by an anonymous user. In their phone call the two diplomats talk about “tradecraft” [regime change] and discuss how they are going to stack the new government with their favoured representatives and get Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General to rubberstamp any action.
The US diplomats seem to feel that the EU has not been putting enough pressure on Ukrainian president Yanukovych to cave in to Western demands. Nuland explains that she has spoken to the United Nations and that an official there has told her that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, has agreed to send Robert H. Serry, a senior UN official from Holland, to Ukraine to “help the UN glue it.”
UN involvement, she says, “would be great to help glue this thing; the UN will help glue it … and, you know, f**k the EU”.
This is not exactly diplomatic language. So why does Nuland feel so strongly about America’s European partners?
What do we know?
The origin of the recording is not clear. The existence of the video was first reported in the Kyiv Post. It appears online with a translation into Russian, which is accurate; the content of the call is apparently not misrepresented.
In trying to downplay the leak and divert blame, a US State Department spokesperson has therefore alleged that Russia is most likely responsible for the leaked phone recording. Even if true however this would be irrelevant. U.S. diplomats are talking about how they can control the new government and sideline the EU – not what we are told the protestors in Maidan, whose cause they are exploiting, want.
Eastern Europeans in particular have long experience of doctored footage, dating back to communist times. In all likelihood this tape is genuine and not doctored. It is difficult to see what alternative source it might have been taken from, whose voices might be on the tape if they are not Nuland’s and Pyatt’s and what else these two might have been discussing, on what occasion, to provide the content of this tape.
Something sinister is definitely going on here — as even those brought up in Cold War times do not take such attitudes towards the EU, a supposed ally. It appears as if everything which has been going on in Ukraine has been carefully manipulated by outsiders from the beginning; an American game.
We have always been told that the EU is a major player in these events, as the protests are presented in the West as the people’s response to the Ukrainian government refusing to sign an Association Agreement with the EU when it had been expected to. The tape makes clear that it has been sidelined as a non-participating onlooker while the US uses the UN to achieve its ends, having despaired of the EU’s sovereign nations doing its dirty work for it.
But the big unanswered question is this – if the democratically-elected government of Ukraine falls thanks to outside support and provocation, rather than the street protests which will doubtless be credited, what then? It is repeated again and again in the West that Yanukovych = Russia. Is the plan to enrage this newly reemerging power in its backyard to draw the lines for a second Cold War?
Why this is happening
The US and EU do not disguise their concern that Russia is steadily becoming a more a dominant player in the energy sphere. While the US uses political means to increase its influence, Russia uses energy, and many European countries, which now get by with a foot in both camps, may one day have to choose between the two. Ultimately the US and EU can’t stop people freezing and starving but Russia can. Both the US and EU know very well that unless the issue is forced, the EU countries will fall steadily under Russian control in practice even if they are politically contrary.
One thing people in the West know about Ukraine is that it was engaged in several energy disputes with Russia during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko – elected following one of the colour revolutions used to increase US influence in Eastern Europe. Yushchenko was promoted as the Western alternative, politics over energy, but proved himself both incompetent and unpopular.
When Yushchenko stood for reelection he gained only 5% of the vote and his party now has no MPs. That nasty thing called democracy got in the way. Ukrainians preferred the pro-Russian alternative of Yanukovych, energy over politics, and left the US feeling that its approach wasn’t working. When the other once-popular revolutionary governments began to falter, while the gas supply remained the same, the US began to realise that introducing democracy meant having to accept democratically made decisions you might not like.
This is why Ukraine is now the centre of a long running political dispute – financed from somewhere, as the protestors have to earn a living somehow and the opposition parties are always poor – which is presented as a proxy West versus East struggle. The EU Association Agreement is one issue involved, but not even the main one – the methods of the government are the reason the protestors are demanding its resignation. The US has to make up for its previous failures somehow, and it is again hoped that where Ukraine leads, other countries will follow.
It is also the reason why the EU is being held in such disregard. Compromised by its energy dependence on Russia, any regime change it achieved would affect its own supplies and create another energy-dependent regime expecting an EU bailout. This is not what America wants, so the US has to do the job itself.
Even if the new Ukrainian government the US is trying to install, without any mandate from the Ukrainian people to do so, does eventually join the EU it will still be beholden unto the US. As part of the EU, it may not have the stomach or support to counter Russia’s energy dominance. As a US creation it will be in the vanguard of the fight to stop Russian energy having the political influence it does – which is why the new government will still be presented as a victory for “Western” values.
The end of the EU?
Perhaps the grand scheme is to dismantle the EU itself. The US has defended the existence of a unipolar world ever since it achieved this by finally engineering the collapse of the Soviet Union. The EU is potentially a rival, if it learns how to act in concert without having to pass everything 27 times. This is why it is being encouraged to expand at an ever-increasing rate, despite the Eurozone crisis and the inability of its richer members to cope with, or pay for, the demands placed upon it by the poorer ones.
Most citizens of most countries outside the EU do want greater democracy and see integration with the EU as the means of achieving that, having no other place to go. The EU itself is a notoriously undemocratic body, with various unelected bodies making the effective decisions with little or no democratic oversight, as an analysis of its structure will confirm.
But by joining the EU you join an idea of what a political system should be like which is represented by only two forces: the EU and the US. If one collapses under its own weight, what option does the other have than to be “forced” to take its place – and subtly refine the ex-EU members’ foreign policies accordingly?
The EU can’t fight a Cold War because it has a foot too far into both camps. The US can. It has already pitched itself against the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and is still smarting from being forced to admit that the G8 was unsustainable and had to be expanded into the G20 – including the developing nations who are supposed to be client states. With serious economic problems of its own, the US can only justify its position by winning, not going about its daily business. That is where Ukraine and the battle to control its future come in.
Ukrainians of all persuasions may well ask, “What has this got to do with me?” Very little – but that is the price of democracy.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.