Monday, September 8, 2014

Putin, not Ukraine, is Vexing America


Forget about alleged Russian aggression and land grabbing in Ukraine – the real problem for the United States is Vladimir Putin. To be more precise, the real problem is a strong, independent Russia under the leadership of President Putin, a Russia that stands up for its national rights, respect for international norms and which is not prepared to simply roll over to placate American hegemonic selfish interests, like propping up its bankrupt dollar.

As the American-led NATO military alliance meets in Wales this week, it is obvious that Washington and its European minions are thrashing around trying to find a new purpose for an organization that was formed 65 years ago during the Cold War. The summit in the Welsh city of Newport is being billed as «the most important meeting of NATO since the end of the Cold War» – might we wonder why? – more than two decades ago.

US President Barack Obama is in attendance with 60 world leaders, including those of the 28 NATO member states. Shamelessly, there is much high-flown rhetoric about «defending Europe from Russian aggression». NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen even had the gall to state, at the opening of the conference, that «Russia is attacking Ukraine».

«So we continue to call on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukrainian borders, and stop the flow of weapons and fighters into Ukraine», said Rasmussen without a modicum of evidence, or even a semblance of citing evidence. 

The day before the NATO summit opened, Barack Obama, speaking in Estonia, used the very same kind of provocative rhetoric, accusing Russia of aggression in Ukraine and violating international law. The American president rolled off slanderous words about «Russian-financed, Russian-armed, Russian-trained, Russian-supported and often Russian-directed separatists in Ukraine». 

As Russia’s envoy to NATO, Alexandr Grushko, said of such accusations mouthed by Western leaders, «they are not facts, they are forgeries». Grushko said that NATO was escalating tensions with Russia without any evidence to support its reckless conduct. «There have been no troop build-ups or movements of military hardware», he added.

It is astounding that all the militarist hype surrounding the NATO conference, along with bombastic declarations of collective security and vows to protection «our members in Eastern Europe», has been invoked with absolutely no credible proof, such as satellite images of Russian troop and tank movements, missile launches or aircraft incursions of Ukrainian territory. It’s like policy is being made on the basis of fantasy and preconceptions. 

However, that’s not to say that there aren’t real concerns at play. There most certainly are. But the Western powers and their dutiful so-called news media are in full propaganda mode to conceal what those underlying concerns are. 

What Obama and other senior US figures have been emphasizing over the past six months has been the need for European members of NATO to «step up to the plate» in terms of financing NATO. For most of its 65-year existence, the US has largely funded the workings of NATO, being by far the largest member. There is good reason for this historical American largesse. NATO has served as the US vehicle to exert a dominant military, political and economic presence over Europe. Without NATO, Washington would have significantly reduced influence over its European «allies». In particular, Washington might have to witness a natural historical tendency for closer political and economic ties between Europe and Russia, if it were not for NATO’s grip on the continent. 

It is significant that over the past two decades since the end of the Cold War – and hence arguably the end of NATO’s purpose – European funding of the organization fell from over 30 per cent down to nearly 20 per cent. In other words, that suggests that European states were losing interest in NATO as having any relevance in the post-Cold War era. It seems that what Washington is hell-bent on doing is to revive the relevance of NATO by talking up the threat to European security from Russia. A revived NATO means a revived US presence in Europe, which is essential for American global hegemony.

This would give the real meaning for why Washington has taken the lead over past year in escalating tensions with Russia over Ukraine. This has in turn led to a growing chasm between Moscow and Europe, where up to recently there were cordial diplomatic relations based on substantial economic and trade partnerships. 

Of course in this political endeavour Washington has found willing European accomplices to accentuate tensions. The British government has played a trusted lackey role for the American agenda, as has the US handpicked junta in Kiev led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as well as the pro-Western regimes in Poland and the Baltic states. 

This underlying agenda of American geopolitical hegemony – not alleged Russian aggression – was betrayed earlier this week during the joint speeches of Barack Obama and his Estonian counterpart Toomas Hendrik Ilves. When both leaders were asked about their views on the 1997 Founding Act between NATO and Russia, they said that the commitment to non-expansion by NATO was now redundant because the «landscape had changed». 

The American-educated Estonian leader said: «That was the security environment of 1997, when Boris Yeltsin was [Russian] President, and there had been no violations of either the UN Charter or the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1990 Paris Charter».

Note that Ilves reiterates groundless assertions that Russia has committed violations of the UN Charter and other treaties. But what is telling is his reference to former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin was acceptable to American and Europeans because he was seen as a weak, pliable figure that allowed Western capital free rein in the newly opened Russian territory following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yelstin’s era was also a time of rampant corruption by Russian oligarchs who were closely associated with Western capital. That corrosive culture came to a halt with the election of Vladimir Putin twice as president between 2000-2008, and again in 2012.

In his speech, Obama concurred that «much has changed» since the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, making the latter non-applicable. But Obama’s words gave more away about the deeper political concerns. He said of Russia: «I’ve said consistently our preference is a strong, productive, cooperative Russia. But the way to achieve that is by abiding to international norms, to improving the economy, to focusing on how they can actually produce goods and services that other people want and give opportunity to their people and educate them. That’s not the path that they’ve been pursuing over the last several years. It’s certainly not in evidence when it comes to their strategy in Ukraine».

So what Obama, that is, Washington, is concerned about is not Ukraine or alleged Russian aggression, but rather issues of «economic production and cooperation» – that is cooperation with Western capital. What’s more, «that’s not the path that they’ve [Russian government] been pursuing over the last several years». In other words, that’s not what Russia is permitting the West under the tenure of President Vladimir Putin; and this predates the recent crisis in Ukraine. 

These real, underlying American concerns about Putin’s Russia not playing American ball were spelled out in an opinion column in the New York Times earlier this year, on March 23, by the former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul.

Notwithstanding false claims about annexing Crimea, McFaul writes: «The decision by President Vladimir V Putin of Russia to annex Crimea ended the post-Cold War era in Europe. Since the late Gorbachev-Reagan years, the era was defined by zigzags of cooperation and disputes between Russia and the West, but always with an underlying sense that Russia was gradually joining the international order. No more».

The former American ambassador goes on to lament «the collapse of the Soviet order did not lead smoothly to a transition to democracy and markets inside Russia, or Russia’s integration into the West». In other words, Russia did not make a smooth transition that suited American interests.

McFaul lays the blame for this lack of Russian «integration into the West» on President Putin, accusing him of being «an autocrat» and of harking back to the days of the old Soviet Union. McFaul’s invective against Putin is just slander, but what it barely conceals is that Washington is acutely disgruntled with how it perceives Putin’s Russia as not acting like a vassal state, as it was intended to be under Yeltsin at the time of signing the Founding Act between NATO and Russia.

That is why Washington now wants to scrap the Founding Act, and to push NATO expansion around Russia’s borders. 

McFaul ended his NY Times column by calling for isolation and punitive sanctions on Russia, a policy that has become ever more pointed in subsequent months. 

And it is more than a coincidence that America’s rulers have stepped up their aggression towards Russia since President Putin has embarked on a raft of regional trade and development alliances with Eurasian countries, Iran, China, and other BRICS nations, as well as Latin America. Putin’s declared moves to replace the US dollar with bilateral currencies for transactions in energy trade has also marked him out as a threat to US hegemonic interests. Putin’s Russia has also stood by its Syrian Arab ally over the past three years rather than relenting to the US-NATO criminal agenda of regime change in that country.

This is the context for why Washington is corralling NATO with the «crisis in Ukraine». It is not about Russian aggression. It is about Putin being an independent world leader who is not bowing down to American imperial dictate.

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