I think this video of a 12 year old girl and her aunt that were caught in Tskhinvali says it all. Apparently there are “grey areas in war” when your subjects to don’t play their perscribed roles.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Discussion of the (re)emergence of a cold war between the United States and Russia has heated up over the last year. The initial warm relationship between Bush and Putin has soured. There are no more weekends at the Crawford Ranch or in Putin’s po Moskvy residence. Diverging visions of a post-Cold War world along with disagreements over each nation’s jurisdiction in Eurasia have helped cool an otherwise warm initial relationship. That coolness became a chill when Vice President Dick Cheney called Putin and Russia out as “seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade” in a speech at the Vilnius Conference in May. The upcoming G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg next month is expected to reveal just how deep the tension runs.
All of this hasn’t escaped New York University Professor Stephen Cohen in his article “The New American Cold War” in the July 10 issue of the Nation. An old lefty partisan, Cohen (and whose wife is Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuval) is probably one of the most important scholars of Russia in the last thirty years. His emphasis of a Bukharinist alternative to Stalin has been a principle intellectual moment in debunking the Lenin-Stalin historical continuum. His essay “Bolshevism and Stalinism” in Robert Tucker’s Stalinism : Essays in Historical Interpretation remains a classic interpretative piece. His political biography of Nikolai Bukharin, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938, remains the only serious treatment of the fallen Bolshevik to date. The book was an influence in Bukharin’s rehabilitation in 1988. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cohen has targeted his intellectual ire on how American policy toward Russia in the 1990s exacerbated its economic collapse, social dislocation, and political instability. His views on that turbulent decade are reflected in his Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia.
It is no surprise then that Cohen is also a partisan for Russia. And that partisanship comes out clearly in “The New American Cold War.” Essentially is argument is that a new cold war is emerging between the United States and Russia, but it is essentially being fought by one side, America’s. According to Cohen, despite rhetoric about Russia not being an enemy, it remains the “gravest” threat to American national security to many cold warriors in the Bush Administration and the American policy and journalism elite.
Despite collapse, Cohen maintains, Russia remains dominant in Eurasia both politically and economically. After a dismal decade of kowtowing to American policy suggestions, Russia is not asserting itself according to its own interests. And it is this independence, if not complete negligence of American geopolitical interests that has resulted in the criticism from the Bush camp. But as Cohen argues, that independence is partially a Russian response to 15 years of failed American policy and provocation on Russia’s traditional sphere of influence within and outside its borders.
To demonstrate this, Cohen lists five defining elements that have led to the current state of American-Russian relations:
The real US policy has been very different–a relentless, winner-take-all exploitation of Russia’s post-1991 weakness. Accompanied by broken American promises, condescending lectures and demands for unilateral concessions, it has been even more aggressive and uncompromising than was Washington’s approach to Soviet Communist Russia. Consider its defining elements as they have unfolded–with fulsome support in both American political parties, influential newspapers and policy think tanks–since the early 1990s:
§ A growing military encirclement of Russia, on and near its borders, by US and NATO bases, which are already ensconced or being planned in at least half the fourteen other former Soviet republics, from the Baltics and Ukraine to Georgia, Azerbaijan and the new states of Central Asia. The result is a US-built reverse iron curtain and the remilitarization of American-Russian relations.
§ A tacit (and closely related) US denial that Russia has any legitimate national interests outside its own territory, even in ethnically akin or contiguous former republics such as Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. How else to explain, to take a bellwether example, the thinking of Richard Holbrooke, Democratic would-be Secretary of State? While roundly condemning the Kremlin for promoting a pro-Moscow government in neighboring Ukraine, where Russia has centuries of shared linguistic, marital, religious, economic and security ties, Holbrooke declares that far-away Slav nation part of “our core zone of security.”
§ Even more, a presumption that Russia does not have full sovereignty within its own borders, as expressed by constant US interventions in Moscow’s internal affairs since 1992. They have included an on-site crusade by swarms of American “advisers,” particularly during the 1990s, to direct Russia’s “transition” from Communism; endless missionary sermons from afar, often couched in threats, on how that nation should and should not organize its political and economic systems; and active support for Russian anti-Kremlin groups, some associated with hated Yeltsin-era oligarchs.
That interventionary impulse has now grown even into suggestions that Putin be overthrown by the kind of US-backed “color revolutions” carried out since 2003 in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and attempted this year in Belarus. Thus, while mainstream editorial pages increasingly call the Russian president “thug,” “fascist” and “Saddam Hussein,” one of the Carnegie Endowment’s several Washington crusaders assures us of “Putin’s weakness” and vulnerability to “regime change.” (Do proponents of “democratic regime change” in Russia care that it might mean destabilizing a nuclear state?)
§ Underpinning these components of the real US policy are familiar cold war double standards condemning Moscow for doing what Washington does–such as seeking allies and military bases in former Soviet republics, using its assets (oil and gas in Russia’s case) as aid to friendly governments and regulating foreign money in its political life.
More broadly, when NATO expands to Russia’s front and back doorsteps, gobbling up former Soviet-bloc members and republics, it is “fighting terrorism” and “protecting new states”; when Moscow protests, it is engaging in “cold war thinking.” When Washington meddles in the politics of Georgia and Ukraine, it is “promoting democracy”; when the Kremlin does so, it is “neoimperialism.” And not to forget the historical background: When in the 1990s the US-supported Yeltsin overthrew Russia’s elected Parliament and Constitutional Court by force, gave its national wealth and television networks to Kremlin insiders, imposed a constitution without real constraints on executive power and rigged elections, it was “democratic reform”; when Putin continues that process, it is “authoritarianism.”
§ Finally, the United States is attempting, by exploiting Russia’s weakness, to acquire the nuclear superiority it could not achieve during the Soviet era. That is the essential meaning of two major steps taken by the Bush Administration in 2002, both against Moscow’s strong wishes. One was the Administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, freeing it to try to create a system capable of destroying incoming missiles and thereby the capacity to launch a nuclear first strike without fear of retaliation. The other was pressuring the Kremlin to sign an ultimately empty nuclear weapons reduction agreement requiring no actual destruction of weapons and indeed allowing development of new ones; providing for no verification; and permitting unilateral withdrawal before the specified reductions are required.
The extraordinarily anti-Russian nature of these policies casts serious doubt on two American official and media axioms: that the recent “chill” in US-Russian relations has been caused by Putin’s behavior at home and abroad, and that the cold war ended fifteen years ago. The first axiom is false, the second only half true: The cold war ended in Moscow, but not in Washington, as is clear from a brief look back.
One could easily dismiss, (and many will), Cohen’s arguments as too biased since Putin carries no blame in the article for the current situation. But charges of bias are too often wielded as a rhetorical device for dismissing otherwise much needed discussion. However, this article should be placed in the context of American reporting on Russia that uncritically accepts the Cheney premise: that the cooling of tensions is solely the result of the Kremlin’s actions and not Washington’s. Unlike many of these diatribes, Cohen soberly puts the present situation into a historical context that allows for reflection on how we got to this point before it’s too late.Post Views: 52
By Sean — 4 years ago
By William Risch
Last night, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, told his nation that they were at war. The Ukrainian government, after attempting peace talks for several days, was ending its unilateral ceasefire with pro-Russian forces in the Donbass region, which it has been fighting for over two months. “They have publicly declared their unwillingness to support the peace plan as a whole and particularly the ceasefire,” he said. “Militants violated the truce for more than a hundred times.” Thus Ukrainian forces, including the army, National Guard, Ministry of Interior forces, and paramilitary battalions have officially renewed the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO).
This time, the ATO promises to be an all-out war. Since the ceasefire took effect June 20, both Ukrainian and rebel forces have reinforced their positions. More tanks, rockets, personnel, and supplies from across the Russian border have reached pro-Russian forces. The Ukrainian online news source Inforesist reported June 30 that separatist Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Strelkov), after complaining for weeks about a lack of support from Russia, had assembled a force capable of seizing Izium, the headquarters of Ukraine’s ATO: 5,000 armed men in Sloviansk and dozens of armored equipment, tanks, and multiple rocket launchers. Fresh reinforcements have arrived in nearby Krasnyi Liman and Kramatorsk. Inforesist stressed that Strelkov not only could take Izium, but also advance toward major industrial city of Kharkiv, due to the Ministry of Internal Affairs forces lacking heavy armament.
Facing forces like Strelkov’s, Ukraine’s ATO will cost many lives. It will make worse a refugee crisis that has already led to at least 27,200 internally displaced persons from eastern Ukraine as of June 27, according to a recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report. The hundreds of military and civilians killed could reach the thousands if air strikes and artillery assaults become even deadlier.
Despite the nightmarish scenario, all-out war looks inevitable. There is not even one hint that the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) or the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) even took President Poroshenko’s ceasefire seriously. During it, their forces killed a total of 27 Ukrainian security forces personnel and wounded 69. DNR and LNR leaders have suggested plans for creating a larger entity, New Russia (Novorossiia), which would incorporate other regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. On June 26, one of their key supporters – Oleh Tsarev, one of their representatives in peace talks with the Ukrainian government – announced competitions for designing national symbols for Novorossiia and a history textbook for the start of the new school year.
In the face of war, neither the United States nor the European Union can afford to let Ukraine lose the Donbass. The Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which led to Ukraine giving up its stockpiles of Soviet nuclear weapons, guaranteed that the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America would refrain from using force “against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” Over the past few weeks, Russia’s lending separatists advanced weaponry and armed volunteers from across the border has seriously threatened Ukraine’s territorial integrity. What looked like a local conflict lacking popular support at the beginning of June has turned into a full-scale invasion at the beginning of July. This invasion and Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea have made a total mockery of the Budapest Memorandum.
Supporting Ukraine’s war for the Donbass does not mean sacrificing the blood and treasure of U.S. or E.U. member forces. Western countries could send military advisors to train a more effective army (one badly undermined by corruption over the past quarter century). They could send ammunition. They could help finance the construction of a more secure border between Russia and Ukraine. Most importantly, they could support more vigorous economic sanctions against Russia. The West either must do what it can to support Ukraine’s military effort, or it may have to admit that international borders need to be redrawn and that international guarantees like the Budapest Memorandum are mere scraps of paper.
William Risch is a contributing journalist at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Associate Professor of History at Georgia College. He is author of The Ukrainian West: Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Harvard University Press, 2011).Post Views: 84
By Sean — 4 years ago
By William Risch
I have made three trips to Ukraine since protests began there in late November 2013. On January 18, I found myself taking Ukraine’s revolution into a new direction. In the city metro stations, I helped activists spread leaflets denouncing the dictatorship laws issued by the authoritarian regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. Our leaflets and placards called on people to attend a mass protest the next day. Some of the protest’s attendants participated in the violence that night that ultimately led to the Yanukovych regime’s collapse. However, there have been two revolutions going on. One has produced the specter of extremist right-wing nationalists seizing power from a democratically elected president, leading to justifications for Russia’s invasion of Crimea and provoking pro-Russian revolts in eastern Ukrainian cities. The other revolution, the one that I participated in, faces the danger of being ignored.
You can sum up these two revolutions in portraits I saw next to one another this week on the Maidan, the center of Ukraine’s protests: one of Viacheslav Chornovil, the other of Stepan Bandera.
Chornovil, a journalist who became a dissident in the late 1960s, came in second in Ukraine’s first presidential elections in 1991. Leader of the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh), he died in 1999 in an auto accident that the authorities allegedly arranged. Bandera was one of the leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), accused of collaboration with Nazi Germany and murdering thousands of ethnic Poles during World War II.
Assassinated by a Soviet agent in West Germany in 1959, Bandera has become the ideological godfather of two right wing organizations prominent in Ukraine’s new government, the Freedom (Svoboda) Party and the paramilitary group Right Sector. Chornovil’s followers consist of a rump leftover of his former political party, which had already split on the eve of his death.
Yet Maidan activists have followed the practices of Chornovil, even if they know little of him. Chornovil had advocated Ukraine’s peaceful separation from the Soviet Union, the defense of human rights, and the protection of Ukraine’s ethnic minorities. His life began as a dissident when, as a journalist, he became outraged by secret trials that violated the Soviet constitution. A young dissenting journalist, Mustafa Nayyem, upset with his country’s leadership, summoned Kyiv’s first Euromaidan protest. Organizations like Civic Sector, the Student Coordinating Council, and all-Ukrainian forums of Euromaidan activists have embodied the spirit of peaceful protest, negotiations with people in power, and long-term changes to the state’s institutions, laws, and practices.
Svoboda and Right Sector have also talked about fundamentally changing the state, but in practice, they have already been engaged in worrisome behavior. This week I saw Right Sector activists occupying buildings on Kyiv’s main boulevard, including a hotel, a sporting goods store, and a cell phone outlet. Men in paramilitary gear, and sometimes even 14-16 year-old children, have been guarding the premises outside. On March 18, Svoboda’s member of the Supreme Rada’s committee on freedom of speech bullied the head of Ukraine’s state-run TV agency, Aleksandr Panteleymonov, into resigning, threatening to beat him up if he refused. A Youtube video shows this man questioning the ethnic origins of entertainers connected with the agency before he barged into Panteleymonov’s office.
This is not the revolution that we activists spreading leaflets in the Kyiv metro wanted. It would not have been the revolution Chornovil would have wanted. Because of Ukraine’s extremely weak opposition parties, and because Svoboda and Right Sector advocated violent resistance after the regime harassed, assaulted, kidnapped, tortured, and killed protestors, Svoboda and Right Sector have become prominent forces in the new government.
Fortunately, the revolution embodied by Chornovil lives on. Ukrainian media widely condemned the attack on Panteleymonov. Singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk from the rock group Okean El’zy, whose music has become part of the Maidan’s soundtrack, called on Ukraine’s new leaders to choose officials on professional merit and not party affiliation, engage in a dialogue with all of Ukraine’s regions and social classes, and uphold the rule of law. The international community needs to support the revolution of Chornovil while scrutinizing the revolution of Bandera.
William Risch is an Associate Professor of History of Georgia College and author of The Ukrainian West: Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Harvard University Press, 2011)Post Views: 223