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Boardman writes: "From fragmentary reports, it appears that at least sporadic fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, with the Kiev government's forces shelling Donetsk with little regard for civilians there, the rebels fighting back, and everyone still calling it a 'ceasefire.'"

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. (photo: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)
Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. (photo: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

As Gorbachev Warns of New "Cold War," Hot War Rages in Ukraine

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

11 November 14


Ukraine drifts toward new accommodation, or new Cold War, or (worst case) nuclear war, or …

rom fragmentary reports, it appears that at least sporadic fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, with the Kiev government’s forces shelling Donetsk with little regard for civilians there, the rebels fighting back, and everyone still calling it a “ceasefire.”

Whatever is actually happening in Ukraine nowadays, reporting on the struggle remains remarkably unreliable and seemingly biased from all directions. Reports like one from Bloomberg typically treat mysterious military convoys spotted in the region as greater threats to peace than the Ukraine government’s actual killing of 200 people by bombarding Donetsk. This conventional but ridiculous narrative can get grotesque in the hands of Yahoo! News, where “fears grow of all-out war in Ukraine as MH17 families mourn,” as if families scattered around the world were worried about the dead and dying in the Donbass.

From the Russian side, RT (formerly Russia Today) reported that “US, NATO say no evidence of new ‘Russian invasion’ of Ukraine,” basing that report partially on the word of a Pentagon spokesman. The “invasion” report had come initially from a Ukrainian government spokesman in Kiev. At the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John Kirby had said, “I don’t have any independent operational reporting that would be able to confirm that report that these formations have crossed the border.”

That’s really a non-denial denial that leaves the listener no better informed. But the White House seemed to have missed the memo, treating the unconfirmed Russian “invasion” as if it were real and expressing de-stabilizing “grave concern” over the unconfirmed reports from a Kiev government always ready to cry “Wolf!”

When the news is opaque and it’s all but impossible to find honest reporting, the safest course is to trust no one.

Even the actual stakes in Ukraine are uncertain, and unspecified

What does Russia want? Does Russia want more than Crimea and a chunk of eastern Ukraine, either independent or annexed? Does Russia want ALL of Ukraine? That seems unlikely as well as irrational, but Russia might well want as much of eastern Ukraine as it can get at low cost. Nobody really knows what Russia wants, maybe not even the Russian leaders themselves as they keep their options open.

What does the West want? Yes, that’s a silly question for many reasons, not least of which is that “the West” is much less a single entity than Russia. However the West is defined, what the West wants seems to be a great deal more than what the West is willing to fight for, which is pretty much a good thing for the rest of the world. Does the West want Russia to abandon Crimea and eastern Ukraine? Probably, but not to the point of making it a “non-negotiable” demand, much less being willing to invade and occupy Crimea. The more important question, as with Russia, is what will the West settle for? That brings us to Ukraine.

What does Ukraine want? And what does “Ukraine” even mean today? There is an elected government that grew out of a coup d’état, giving it roughly the same theoretical legitimacy as the governments of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which is pretty much nil, except for the facts on the ground. If “Ukraine” is defined as the government under President Petro Poroshenko, then Ukraine is acting as if it wants to reassert its sovereignty over eastern Ukraine. Does Ukraine also want Crimea? Does Ukraine want a potentially long civil war, with the constant threat of heavy Russian intervention?

Asymmetrical diplomacy may be no easier than asymmetrical warfare

The asymmetry of the parties makes the outline of a solution easily discernible, and also makes it likely more difficult to achieve. Geographically, ethnically, historically, and rationally, the present status quo, roughly, is reasonable, and the relevant local populations have generally voted in support of it. What’s needed is a modus vivendi among neighbors, which requires a real ceasefire and serious negotiation. These were goals of the September 5 agreements between the two sides in Ukraine, supported by Russia, with little more than lip service from others.

The West promptly reacted to undermine any cessation of fighting. The European Union went ahead with new sanctions against Russia. NATO continued its Operation Reassurance, which is what NATO calls its military build-up in its eastern European member states. And President Obama framed the ceasefire in deliberately unacceptable terms, at best not helpful, at worst designed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure:

With respect to the ceasefire agreement, obviously we are hopeful but based on past experience also skeptical that in fact the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. So it has to be tested.

Rather than support the possibility of reducing the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, the President chose to make that less likely by using code words that tie the outcome to Crimea. Seeking to restore Crimea to Ukraine, following its restoration to Russia, is a policy aimed at creating a crisis from which neither side can easily back down without a fight. It is the kind of “stupid thing” President Obama had set out to avoid: setting out to “free” a Crimea that already feels it is freer than it was as part of Ukraine.

Ukraine hasn’t ever been a consistently rational, coherent place with meaningful borders, other than the Black Sea. Outside forces have overrun the land going in opposite directions for centuries. Now Ukraine is in the midst of a civil war that, if the opposing sides play it right, could stabilize the region for generations and, at the same time, save the rest world from a lot of suffering. A Ukrainian realignment approximating the status quo is the kind of realignment that the West (U.S., NATO, European Union, et al.) sponsored and supported and militarily enforced on the former Yugoslavia. Is there any decent reason why Donetsk or Luhansk should be treated differently from Scotland?

Did the U.S. ever really decide the Cold War was over?

The American Cold War mentality did not end with the Cold War, but rather transformed itself into the view that American exceptionalism makes the United States the indispensable nation that has the sole duty to keep the world in order. Not all the other, presumably dispensable nations are all that happy with a policy that, in the case of Russia, overthrows the governments of neighboring states with no apparent good intent, as in Ukraine.

Cold War zeal to punish Russia has now surfaced as an alternative preferable to reaching accommodation with Iran on the question of Iranian nuclear weapons. Accommodation with Iran across the board is long overdue, but remains held hostage to irrational appeals to fear (not unlike long overdue accommodation with Cuba).

A reliably-right-of-center columnist in The New York Times floated just such a Cold War style tradeoff November 10, under the title: “The Iran-Ukraine Affair.” In remarkably weasly-worded prose, Roger Cohen suggests there’s some sort of unspoken quid pro quo between Russia and the United States, according to which the U.S. “turns a blind eye to the big Russian military build-up” in exchange for Russia’s help smoothing the way to an Iran nuclear deal. That might sound like a sensible choice to some people, but for Cohen, the imagined dangers in Ukraine outweigh the imagined dangers from Iran. “The reality is dangerous,” Cohen writes, agreeing simultaneously with George Soros and Mikhail Gorbachev. Then Cohen demagogically overstates the danger as “Russian dismemberment” of Ukraine and the end of NATO.

This shrillness attached to fearful projection, but detached from present reality, has long fed American military disasterism, from the imaginary dominoes of Viet-Nam to the imaginary global dominion of an Islamic State. This shrill fearfulness is the sound of American policy since 9/11. All this is far from the sober steadiness that seemed to bring the Cold War to an end more than 20 years ago, thanks primarily to Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, who led and persisted in the “constructive and serious dialogue that is so necessary now,” as he put it near the beginning of his November 8 speech to a Berlin symposium commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Widely reported as the “World on Brink of New Cold War” speech

“All issues must be addressed and decided politically,” Gorbachev said, reflecting on the success of his policies of perestroika and glasnost [restructuring and openness] that transformed the Soviet Union and opened the way to ending the Cold War. “We have never met in such a tense and dangerous environment,” Gorbachev said in Berlin, later lamenting that the “breakdown in the dialogue of the major powers is of enormous concern.” Then came the most-reported line of his speech, usually omitting the reference to the United Nations:

The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some say that it has already begun. And yet, while the situation is dramatic, we do not see the main international body, the U.N. Security Council, playing any role or taking any concrete action.

Gorbachev linked international inaction to an international “collapse of trust” that has its roots in NATO’s July 1990 London Declaration, when, as Gorbachev understood it, NATO promised a significant degree of demilitarization that has not yet happened. The Declaration says, in part: “Our Alliance will do its share to overcome the legacy of decades of suspicion.” Whatever that may have been supposed to mean, it did not prevent NATO from expanding to the Russian border, setting off new decades of suspicion. In Gorbachev’s analysis, the opportunity presented by the end of the Cold War was squandered:

The West, and particularly the United States, declared victory in the Cold War. Euphoria and triumphalism went to the heads of Western leaders. Taking advantage of Russia’s weakening and the lack of a counterweight, they claimed monopoly leadership and domination of the world. And they refused to heed the words of caution from many of those present here [in Berlin on November 8].

The events of the past few months are the consequences of short-sighted policy, of seeking to impose one’s will and fait accompli, while ignoring the interests of one’s partners. A short list will suffice: the enlargement of NATO, Yugoslavia, particularly Kosovo, missile defense plans, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the list goes on. To put it metaphorically, a blister has now turned into a bloody, festering wound.

For all its accuracy, this analysis was not much reported, if at all, in the West. Media silence was maintained, even though Gorbachev’s description of recent events – as “the consequences of short-sighted policy, of seeking to impose one’s will and fait accompli, while ignoring the interests of one’s partners” – seems to apply as much to Russia as to NATO and the U.S. But one wonders why European media would hew so closely to the American propaganda line, given Gorbachev’s further observations:

Now who is suffering the most from what’s happening?

I think the answer is more than clear: It is Europe, our common home. Instead of becoming a leader of change in a global world, Europe has turned into an arena of political upheaval, of competition for spheres of influence and finally of military conflict. The consequence inevitably is Europe weakening at a time when other centers of power and influence are gaining momentum. If this continues, Europe will lose a strong voice in world affairs and gradually become irrelevant.

Turning specifically to Ukraine, Gorbachev outlined a basis for hope that people on all sides could act constructively and in good faith:

The key to it is political will and the correct setting of priorities. The first signs of a renewed dialogue have now emerged. The first and albeit modest and fragile results have been achieved – I’m referring to the Minsk agreements on ceasefire and military disengagement in Ukraine, the tri-lateral gas agreements between Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union, and the suspension of the escalation of mutual sanctions.

There are those in the U.S., Ukraine, and Russia who, for their own reasons, do not want the Ukrainian ceasefire to last. The question is whether these forces for chaos and destruction will overwhelm those looking for an end to fighting and the beginning of rebuilding. “I am not by nature pessimistic,” said the man who changed the Soviet Union, adding that it was “very difficult to be optimistic in the present situation … [to avoid] a vortex without a way out …”

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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