American establishment media, which combine historical ignorance with shallow ideology, are presenting Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine as just typical Russian bad boy behavior. However, there is a backstory to current events, and if we understand that backstory Russia’s actions become a good deal more understandable.
The backstory begins with the Bosnian Annexation Crisis of 1908. The Russian foriegn minister at that time, Izvolsky, made a deal with his Austrian counterpart, Aehrenthal, that Russia would not object to Austria annexing Bosnia if Austria would similarly not object to Russia taking the straits linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean (both territories were then owned by the Ottoman Empire). Izvolsky set off for other European capitals to obtain their OK to the deal – something Aehrenthal knew he would not get. Austria, however, moved quickly to annex Bosnia, leaving Izvolsky looking like a sucker and Russia humiliated. In 1914, one of the main arguments of the pro-war faction in St. Petersburg was that anything was better than another embarrassment like that of 1908.
Now the backstory moves forward to the late 1980s. As the Soviet Union careened towards dissolution, the United States assured Gorbachev that if Moscow dissolved the Warsaw Pact, NATO would not expand into the former Pact countries – Poland, Hungary, Rumania, etc. Then, after the USSR was gone, NATO did exactly that. When Russia objected and pointed out America’s promise, Washington replied, “You did not get it in writing.”
You think Russia might now have some reason to distrust the promises of both European capitals and the United States? And why she now demands written promises that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO? Has anyone in the U.S. State Department ever heard of the Bosnian Annexation Crisis of 1908 and the role it played in starting World War I?
The ignorance and incompetence of the Blob, as the American foriegn policy establishment is now known, is once again setting the world up for disaster. I am sure Russia does not want to invade Ukraine. She knows the cost will be high, especially if she bites off more than she can chew and faces an endless guerrilla war in lands she occupies. But after we lied about expanding NATO eastwards, what choice does Russia have given the humiliation and geo-strategic threat NATO membership for Ukraine would mean for her?
The Ukraine crisis is one of our own making. The Blob’s combination of hubris – the rest of the world must do as we tell it, or we will send in the U.S. military (and lose)– and Wilsonian idealism, which denies that other powers have legitimate interests, has pushed Russia into a corner. The Blob neither understands nor cares, asking itself (it only talks to itself) what Russia can do about it. What Russia can do, and is completing its preparation to do, is have the Russian Army in Kiev in two weeks and reply to the sanctions we threaten by shutting off the gas to Europe and letting NATO freeze in the dark. It is no accident the Ukrainian crisis is occurring in winter; President Putin knows Russia’s two best generals have always been General January and General February.
There is a way out of this situation without war. The White House needs to dump the Wilsonian idealism that prattles, “Ukraine is a sovereign country and can do whatever it likes,” recognize that great powers, us included, have legitimate spheres of interest in their neighborhoods, express our understanding of Russia’s security concerns and promise, in writing, that Ukraine (and Georgia) will not be invited to join NATO. This should not be a hard promise to give, because NATO’s own rules say that no country with a border dispute can join. We can maintain peace by giving up nothing.
Will it happen? The Blob cannot change, because if a member of the Blob lets even the slightest hint of realism show, his career is instantly over. The top people can overrule the Blob, but those top people, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the President, are currently Winkin’, Blinken, and Nod. The one potential player in a position to make both Washington and Moscow listen to reason is Berlin. Let us hope it asks itself, what would Bismarck do?