Op-Ed Commentary by Chris Devonshire-Ellis – January 17th, 2022
One of the striking aspects of Western media when it comes to analysis of the situation in Ukraine is the lack of any perspective from the Russian position. Very little commentary is provided on why Moscow feels aggrieved – much of Moscow’s actions are easily dismissed as part of an overall plan by Russian President Vladimir Putin to ‘recreate the Soviet Union’, partially because in previous speeches he has described that as a tragedy’. Yet the Soviet Union isn’t ever coming back, and Putin knows this.
Listening to the Russia point of view however gives a different picture, a viewpoint not expressed in Western media, but which carries significant weight in terms of justifying Moscow’s actions. There has been some attention to this issue, yet as a theory it has been rebuffed – that NATO and the United States gave Moscow assurances at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union that NATO troops and weapons would not be based on ex-Soviet territories. Within the discussions about this historical issue, it appears that Moscow had been given such promises, but in a manner that could not be legally binding. American, British, and European politicians all said at the time that NATO would not move east and would not place emphasis on expanding into ex-Soviet states. Those statements, although not legally binding, were still believed by Moscow at the time, showing trust after years of Cold War frostiness.
It is pertinent to recall why the Soviet Union existed, especially to the Western borders. Eastern Europe was carved up between Stalin, the US President Roosevelt and the UK’s Churchill, with Eastern Europe annexed to form a buffer between the Soviet Union and the West. Why did Stalin want this? Because historically, invasions of Mother Russia occurred via Eastern Europe – Napoleon in 1812 and the Nazis in 1941 – where 3 million troops, the largest in WWII history, invaded Russia along three consecutive fronts. Millions of Russians died, and Stalin was determined to close off and push back any potential for a post-War Europe and United States to later attempt the same. That uneasiness and those brutal memories are still today buried deep in the Russian psyche. It is pertinent to note that the United States has never suffered such abuse – millions of fascist troops swarming in from Canada or Mexico, killing and destroying American people and property, subjugating and terrorizing. There is no concept of what that is like, and consequently, little understanding of Russia.
Yet since the breakup of the USSR, Moscow has had to contend with NATO troops being based on its borders, contravening at least what it had been assured would not happen. NATO has bases in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland. These countries, while all ex-Soviet states, are however some distance from Moscow, Russia’s capital city. But the Ukraine is not. From the Ukrainian border to Moscow is a distance of 450km. Meanwhile, the United States has been developing a new HAWC series of hypersonic missiles capable of speeds of up to Mach 5, or well over 6,000km per hour. That means NATO weapons systems deployed in Ukraine have the potential to hit Moscow in just over ten minutes. This is the primary reason why Moscow wants NATO to push back to Western Ukraine and agree not to allow Ukraine to join it as a full member – and wants legal guarantees, and not promises, that this will happen.
However, the United States also has an agenda – energy. Washington, with its very strong connections to the US oil and gas industry, wants the EU as an energy market. Washington has placed sanctions on Russian companies and even ships building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which commences in Siberia, heads West across Russia, runs under the Baltic Sea and terminates in Germany. Russia is oil and gas rich, with Russian supplies providing the EU with over 60% of its current energy needs. There have not been previous issues concerning delivery, although Russia has had issues in the past with due payments from Moldova and Ukraine. However, the US has been sufficiently vociferous and persuasive enough within the EU to suggest Russian gas represents a huge energy security risk to the EU and has offered to provide the EU with its own gas – despite the issue that this would be more expensive than Russian supplies and would be far more ecologically damaging. The US is the largest fracking nation in the world and the cost of transporting supplies to Europe immense with a significant carbon footprint – unlike the Russian supplies, which are piped, US gas needs to be shipped across the Atlantic.
This gives Washington an incentive to motivate Moscow to invade Ukraine, by doing so the EU would sanction Russia, destroy any chance of the Nordstream 2 pipeline delivering supplies, cut Russia off from the SWIFT banking network and leave Brussels with the United States as its primary energy supplier, despite the fact it is far more expensive and less eco-friendly.
At stake over Ukraine then is not really any protection of Ukraine as a country, it is purely a Moscow led desire to protect its capital from the US being able to have weapons systems so close to Moscow, a situation that can be understood when in response to the breakdown of the Ukraine talks, Moscow has suggested it may deploy weapons systems in Cuba and Venezuela, to see if Washington would appreciate a reciprocal move. The US has dismissed this as ‘bluster’. They would be far wiser not too.
Meanwhile, the US wants the EU as a client energy state and will achieve this with or without Ukraine. Kiev is being used as a pawn between two powers, one concerned with security, the other on selling its energy, despite the repercussions. Ukraine is not the issue.
The concern is that the United States has shown in the past it is more than willing to deploy troops to defend and uphold its energy interests, including its own invasions. It remains an irony that it has manipulated the situation in Europe so much to its advantage that it can get someone else to do the invading while it quietly sells onto new markets. Energy prices in the EU will shoot up, and already have done.
Russia will survive sanctions and will merely transfer its energy sales to Asia. The US, it appears, may well be prepared to accept the compounded risk of new military tensions and a new Cold War in return.
A solution would be to agree to a mutual deployment maximum distance in countries on Russia’s borders and within Russia itself as concerns the use of hypersonic missiles, combined with an agreed quota on the sales of Russian and US energy supplies to the EU, and the conditions that these would be deployed.
If the diplomats cannot agree, then the answer will be a Russian military push back in Ukraine and the acceptance of additional sanctions on Russian trade and supplies, possibly even SWIFT disconnection, while committing the EU to more expensive energy costs supplied by the US.
The question for the EU to determine is which is the sensible path ahead?
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