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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Europe on a War Path?

Seriously, NATO types seem to think they'll actually fight a war with Russia. Just savor Rasmussen's language, promising "deployments at sea, in the air, on land." Wow.

Seeing this, I am inclined to rethink part of my earlier thinking about western Europe. (I have always argued that, without the logic of empire, there was no way to understand the EU. But, to a tiny extent, I have also allowed myself to think that the EU had, partly, left the imperial form behind, at least in the old, land-based, sense of contiguous empire. To this extent, I may have accepted a small part of the EU's "soft power" rhetoric about its own essential goodness).

Look at the way the Ukraine story has unfolded. Starting with the completely un-called-for, duplicitous baiting of Ukrainian anti-government elements, the siren songs of EU-goodness, a breathtakingly one-sided Association Agreement, and the usual, general self-aggrandizing rhetoric of peace and prosperity "to all." Then, suddenly, we see a clear war posture. Of course the war rhetoric is not coming from the EU: The latter's dirty jobs are typically done by somebody else, through an intricate system of imperial subcontracting. This time, it's NATO. Suddenly even the recent west European frustration about the NSA spying scandal is forgotten: All is forgiven, just come and help us intervene, please. A convenient enemy does miracles for unity.

Behind the 'soft power' of the EU, and its transnational protector, NATO, we can suddenly see the ugly face of an old, west-central European land-based, contiguous geopolitics, a la several centuries of "great power" games of German and Habsburg push, back and forth, with Russia (as well as, historically, the Ottoman Empire, but that's, for now, out of the picture). This time with nukes, fighter planes and tanks though.

For its part, Russia is just being a contiguous empire, as it has always been in its modern history. As for its current global geopolitics (not the sometimes outrageously extreme, irrationalist geopolitical ideologies it has produced, but its actual practice), it is showing some limits to global US dominance, at least in its immediate vicinity.  That--resisting the global expansion of a rival at their border--is exactly what you would expect from a land-based empire. This is a textbook-simple, clear, extremely predictable strategy. It would be hard to say anything nice about it--but that is what a couple of centuries' worth of history has taught Russian decision makers about geopolitics. (Nor is what happens in the protracted war that characterizes the global resource grab elsewhere in the world particularly nice. If the "world community" implicitly accepts "Realpolitik" with respect to the global resource grab, what is the basis for moralizing about Russia-in-Ukraine?)

Obviously, Russia is expanding westward--but not for oil, gas, raw materials, land or fresh water resources; it has plenty of those, thankyouverymuch. It is making a quintessential imperial territorial move. Partly symbolic (consider the miracles this conflict does for Russian nationalism!), partly an exercise to keep Russia's military in shape. And, to protect its military geo-strategic interests, both by keeping its navy's  access to the Black Sea, and by attempting to push its borders a few hundred kilometers farther west. All of those are more or less practical functions of a simple logic of contiguous empire.

So, let me ask, what seems to be the west European plan here? Once there is an actual war in place, with troops and deployments "at sea, in the air, on land," or, as Estonia's excited President put it, "physical presence on the ground," where exactly will it stop?  At the eastern borders of Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania? How exactly do we know that? What is the future of the Kaliningrad District, should there be an EU-Russia war? Do we know that the Polish or Hungarian extreme-nationalist extreme-right is not planning to take a bite out of Ukraine? If they are, how is that going to feature in the dynamics of such a war?

As for East-Central Europe's concerns, interests, security and otherwise--forget it. Too much trouble. A perfect buffer zone, the crisis zone of Europe for centuries. Or, as the US strategists pointed it out with respect to Hungary during one of the post-Yugoslav wars: "a perfect tank country."

And Ukraine? No need (chances) for elections now. The guys in power today will continue to be the guys in power.


Bravo, EU, NATO, Russia, Estonia, all. Bravo.


1 comment:

  1. about Ukraine-Russia-NATO...

    it's another of those 'postmodern' wars, I'm afraid - which doesn't make it any less bad, or potentially lethal. It's a conspiracy of sorts between certain elements in both NATO and Putin's regime (eg Putin)

    There are winners. Putin was in the shit back in 2012. Not many were too happy to have him back as President, after such a transparently stage-managed election. And whilst US democracy is undoubtably flawed, and rotten, Russian democracy is on another level, in terms of management and exercise of raw power. It's literally a circus. Thanks to the crisis he's gone from being increasingly disliked to now having almost 100% of the Duma in support and popularity for defending the rights of Russians.

    Meanwhile, evidence that the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine have been affected is patchy. There is no evidence of banning Russian in Kiev - maybe some of the radical Ukrainian nationalists wanted to, but it hasn't happened.

    Another question is why the West provoked the situation. Firstly, the EU has elements which see the Ukraine as guaranteeing a degree of food security. Secondly, there is little doubt that some elements in the US think that Ukraine could easily become part of a NATO containment of Russia.

    The first issue is more serious, perhaps, and commands a degree of support from Germany, for example. The second is obviously not serious at all; in fact when it comes to NATO or the EU, the consensus is that Ukraine isn't wanted as more than a trading partner - that, once industry and energy is factored in, Ukraine will remain within the Russian sphere of influence. So we can perhaps surmise that there was a deliberate provocation underway with the Maidan protests; yet that the portrayal of these protests as being in some way Nazi was totally false.

    Both sides, but especially Russia, are viewing this situation through a prism of contemporary media - which in Russia is heavily controlled. This is augmented by chatrooms and social media, stirring up further rumours and conspiracies, adding to the air of paranoia. Lacking from a lot of traditional left analysis is an account of what is actually going on in Russia's autocratic system; there is a tendency to 'whataboutery' which obscures the fact that significant freedoms and rights that are ensured in the EU and US are violated regularly in Putin's Russia (as they are in Erdogan's Turkey). At the same time, the defence industry in the NATO alliance is buoyed up by a spike in security-related spending - the balance of power in Europe transformed by the Russo-phobic countries of the East such as Poland.

    The worst political nightmare for Putin is that the Russian-speakers of Ukraine turn against him. The worst-case for the neo-conservatives is that the Russians use a degree of 'soft power' to gradually stabilise the economy and politics of Ukraine, thereby highlighting the US' dependency and predilection towards military options. Together with ongoing trading relationships with western Europe, both of these offer might offer a way out of the crisis eventually. Members of NATO countries need to ask some urgent questions of the alliance and its agenda, credibly exploring the actions of the US and its representatives, and exposing a hidden agenda, whilst rejecting those on the neo-Stalinist Left who instinctively, blindly side with a reactionary Kremlin.


cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta