The tragedy that has unfolded in Ukraine over the last fifteen months was entirely avoidable. There was no political, economic, or socio-cultural necessity for it; Ukraine was entirely capable of mutually beneficial relations both with Russia and the West. However, it was the EU Association Agreement, and the subsequent toppling of the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych by an unholy trinity of oligarchs, fascists, and Euro-liberals, which precipitated the conflict raging today. However, the critical point is not merely what happened, but why it happened. Specifically, what were the policies and initiatives that created the conditions for the war?
While many, especially in the US and EU, are quick to unsheathe the eternal “Russian aggression” sword, the reality is that Russia made no provocative moves in Ukraine until long after the EU (and by extension the US and NATO) did. That is to say, Russia’s policies vis-à-vis Ukraine are a product of, not a catalyst for, the continuing conflict.
Rather, it was the EU Association Agreement, a fait accompli for Yanukovych, which forced Ukraine into a Hobson’s choice – either become a vassal of Europe and spurn Russia, or accept Russian partnership and risk destroying your own government. Yanukovych chose the latter, and today he has become a historical footnote.
But of course, the story does not begin and end with Ukraine. Rather, the narrative must reflect a broader regional context within which Ukraine was and is merely one part. Included in the geopolitical agenda of Western strategic planners (read imperialists) are both Georgia and Moldova, both of which are integral to the broader Western outlook in the post-Soviet space. In all three countries, the Trojan horse of EU Association Agreements has served as the pretext for NATO expansion.
The NATO Backdoor
According to European mainstream analysis, the Association Agreement was merely a benign partnership arrangement that would have promoted closer economic cooperation between Ukraine and the EU. However, keen political observers (including this author) warned at the time that the agreement was merely a pretext for NATO expansion.
Although the text of the agreement was carefully written to omit any explicit mention of NATO, the implicit meaning is no less discernible. As the language of the draft of the original Agreement stated, “The Parties shall explore the potential of military and technological cooperation. Ukraine and the European Defence Agency (EDA) will establish close contacts to discuss military capability improvement, including technological issues.” While the language may not seem terribly belligerent, embedded within the text is the tacit admission that the Association Agreement was by no means an economic arrangement, but rather a cynically constructed alliance designed to transform Ukraine from a neutral party, into a forward arm of Europe and NATO.
Indeed, many have since come to same conclusion. As world renowned professor and international relations theorist John J. Mearsheimer wrote in the influential publication Foreign Affairs:
The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis [in Ukraine]. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine – beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 – were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For [Russian President] Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president – which he rightly labeled a “coup” – was the final straw.
Mearsheimer correctly identifies “NATO enlargement” and “EU’s expansion eastward” as the crux of the conflict, the central plank of a geopolitical gambit by the US and EU to pry Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence, and into the West’s. Seen in this way, the Association Agreement has actually quite little to do with economic cooperation, and much more to do with leverage and military/strategic calculation.
But there are those who still doubt these obvious intentions, and instead condescendingly characterize them as merely Kremlin paranoia and propaganda. Noted political analyst, Putin critic, and Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute Andrei Piontkovsky told the BBC, “Putin sincerely believes that ‘Orange Revolutions’ in Ukraine were instigated by the US State Department and that Kiev’s Association Agreement with the European Union is an EU conspiracy to take dominance of Ukraine.” Such dismissive attitudes highlight the inability of Western mainstream analysis to grasp the geopolitical reality of the conflict in Ukraine, instead painting it as Russian xenophobia and irrationality.
However, what Piontkovsky and his ilk prefer not to discuss is the incontrovertible reality that NATO forces, especially but not exclusively US military, are on the ground in Ukraine and are already executing the imperative that mainstream analysts like Piontkovksy steadfastly deny.
In March 2015, the US Government announced that US troops would be conducting joint military exercises with Ukrainian military forces in the Lviv region. This of course came as no surprise to those who have been following the continued military penetration of Ukraine by US military forces, to say nothing of US weapons and financial assistance. In August 2014, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby noted that at least $19 million would be provided for training of Ukrainian national guard forces, many of whom hail from the ranks of Right Sector and other fascist groups.
Piontkovsky and others might downplay these developments as merely responses to “Russian aggression,” but such conclusions simply ignore the body of evidence. Perhaps they should examine the deployment of the US-led Rapid Trident military exercises in Ukraine – a series of international military exercises designed to improve the “interoperability” of US-NATO forces with non-NATO states such as Ukraine, among other things. Of course, the 2014 Rapid Trident might be mischaracterized as a reaction to Russia’s moves, but what about 2013? How about 2012? Rather than distorting the reality of US-NATO aggression, perhaps such analysts should begin to question their own assumptions. Or, perhaps their faulty analysis should simply be disregarded as little more than Western comprador propaganda.
Essentially, the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine was a combination of economic and military coercion designed to move the frontline of the West’s long-term war on Russia right to Russia’s border. However, it was certainly not the only one of its kind.
Georgia and Moldova: NATO’s Other Fronts
One can’t really blame the US-EU-NATO for thinking that they could achieve their military and strategic objectives in Ukraine, for they had successfully done the same thing in both Georgia and Moldova. Even before the far-reaching EU Association Agreements were signed in 2014, both these former Soviet republics had been transformed into NATO “allies” or “partners,” in effect de facto NATO members, though not described as such.
Georgia has had close ties to NATO since its independence and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, by 2003 Georgia had moved much beyond simply being a member of the absurdly named “Partnership for Peace” which is really the NATO initiative to establish political and military control over the former Soviet republics. In 2011, Georgia was officially described in NATO documents as an “aspirant” country.
Such aspirant status of course means close military cooperation as evidenced by the countless military training exercises, leadership training centers, and more. However, now that the Association Agreements are in place, there is a noticeable quickening of the integration process. As NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershboow stated, the training center:
will demonstrate NATO’s commitment to deepen the partnership with Georgia and a confirmation of the high level of the Georgian armed forces… [Georgian forces] have shown their high level in joint operations, including Afghanistan… By opening the joint center, we would like to move our relationship with Georgia to a new level… [a]ll the tools are in place to help Georgia to move forward with its NATO aspirations.
NATO officials are certainly making no secret about their intentions vis-à-vis Georgia. In March 2015, NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and Chief of the US European Command Philip Breedlove described the training, advising, and equipping of Georgian military forces as “essential.” He added that “In addition to [all three countries] conducting expeditionary operations and while having differing objectives regarding the scope of their integration with NATO, [Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine] strive to develop military forces meeting NATO standards and interoperability requirements.” A more clear description of the integration agenda could not be written.
Well perhaps that may not be true, as Moldova is now completely and unabashedly part of the NATO sphere of influence, with its ruling parties since 2009 having been the Alliance for European Integration, followed by the Pro-European Coalition. Moldova’s deep ties to NATO, including military cooperation and the usual raft of other euphemisms, certainly cause worry for Russia and those around the world interested in balance of power and multi-polarity.
And so, the potential for military conflict continues to rise as Georgia and Moldova move ever closer to NATO, while the ethnic Russian populations of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria become further isolated. Naturally, in light of the attacks on Russian speakers in Ukraine, many in these regions have cause for concern. Not only are the governments of the respective countries hostile to these populations, they have made no attempt to resolve any of the outstanding issues. Given Russia’s increasing assertiveness in defense of ethnic Russians throughout the former Soviet space, it is clear that the governments of these countries, and their patrons in Washington and Brussels, are playing with fire.
No sane and rational political observer could possibly think antagonizing Russia is good for anyone, either in the West or Russia. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that sanity and rationality have taken a back seat to imperial hubris and a foolish chest-thumping and saber-rattling mentality from US-EU-NATO. Hopefully for the world, NATO has learned from its humiliation in Ukraine. Sadly, it doesn’t yet seem that it has.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.