Ukrainians trying to make a life for themselves and their descendants must view the future with trepidation and pessimism, but the rest of us are merely a few kilometers and pending crises removed from their unenviable fate.
If we were living in the 1920s or the 1830s, it might make sense to ponder the geopolitical consequences of Russian irredentism and the breakdown of the rules of international behavior—initiated, to be sure, by the U.S. and its Israeli ally long ago. But to watch world leaders fight over territory today when the underlying fact of there even being territory for humans to inhabit remains in doubt is a sure sign of species dementia and pending collapse.
U.S. diplomats use the hoary language of yore to paint Putin in disadvantageous terms and settle in for the next round of jousting. For example, Strobe Talbot, a State Department figure from the Clinton years said,
We now have overtly and pugnaciously a leader in the Kremlin who does not believe that the fundamentals of the U.S.- Russian relationship and the relationship between Russia and the West is one of partnership. He sees it as adversarial and competitive. So it’s a new ballgame.
This is patented bullshit, but predictable in the chords struck: the other guy is trying to get the better of us whereas we, innocent as the driven snow, only want to get along. No hint here of the drive to push the eastern boundaries of NATO right up to the ex-Soviet doorstep in violation of the Gorbachev-Bush accord not to do that.
Another steady chorus will be how the “international community,” that paper-maiché construct trotted out as required, is appalled at such-and-thus behavior. It’s a rule of the diplomatic game that one’s unilateral acts must be festooned with the ribbons of consensus and coalition, such as the bogus Coalition of the Willing that provided such pathetic fig leaves for the invasion and conquest of Iraq in 2004.
None of which matters much and will be seen in future years—by those few left to see anything—as massive distractions by the various teams of swinging dicks who all preferred their traditional wrestling contests over any focus on the threats to human society in general. Because sadly, there is no “in general,” only clans, nations, grupuscules, tribes, and whatnot. If there were, world leaders would be seeking peaceful solutions to our urgent survival needs rather than squabbling over who will rule over what square mileage of real estate.
No doubt we will hear much rhetoric in coming weeks about the need to ignore the dangers of shale gas fracking now that Russian fossil fuel earnings must be undermined through an increase in supplies. Few will be so bold as to question whether the accelerating destruction of our habitat should be ignored in the pursuit of temporary advantages over foreign rivals.
As many commentators have noted, there were ways to head off this sorry state of affairs along the way had anyone cared to do so. In my humble view, the statements by former Secretary of State H. Clinton are the most telling: her decision to compare Putin with Hitler was purposefully provocative (she repeated the metaphor later when given a chance to soften it). The validity of the reference aside, this is a powerful signal that the U.S. wants greater, not lesser, confrontation with Russia over the European boundaries and was eager for provoke the crisis that has now occurred.
That is the only possible explanation for the open and defiant presence of western diplomats and politicians on the side of Ukrainian oppositionists in the waning days of the Yanukovych government, not to mention its silent acquiescence in the presence of neofascist elements in the new Ukrainian state. While the westerners may not have anticipated the seizure of Crimea, it is clearly not, for them, the worst possible outcome.
For reasons not yet entirely clear, friendly cooperation was the real danger, and that possibility now has been eliminated with this unnecessary power game. Despite the howling of outrage in Washington, the current state of affairs is exactly what our leadership sought and obtained. I suspect that the underlying cause is the need to justify continued austerity and a major military build-up and that this will become clear gradually.