The spectre of war between Europe and Russia looms large. Source: The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. - Photo: 2023

Ukraine War: A Steppingstone to Something Worse and More All-embracing?

By Jonathan Power*

LUND, Sweden | 29 November 2023 (IDN) — Trotsky, the one-time close comrade of Lenin, reportedly said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you”. In a time when there is talk of using nuclear weapons, we should pause to think about this.

This is how it seems to be with President Joseph Biden when it comes to his policy towards Russia and Ukraine. It is in danger of directly challenging Russia itself. Some of us hoped that after the aggressive pushing forward of NATO’s frontier during the time of presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, that Biden, with his accumulated wisdom on foreign policy, might have put a stop to it.

This broadening of the number of countries inside NATO has led to a level of hostility between Russia and the US and Europe that most thought had evaporated once the Cold War ended in 1991.

Now, instead of a lifetime of peace and cooperation ahead of us, as was widely thought possible, we have Russia engaged in nuclear sabre-rattlingNuclear and the US working to expand the frontier of NATO even further right up to Russia’s border and putting the heat on over Russia’s involvement in the upheavals in Ukraine, using economic sanctions and sending supplies to Ukraine’s war machine.

Some observers talk about a coming war between the West and Russia. Could Trotsky be right? Although this probably could not happen as long as France remains French and is there to veto any NATO military action, it may be a “damned close-run thing” (as the Duke of Wellington was supposed to have said after victory over Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo).

Putin, I believe, is not interested in territorial aggrandisement but he is interested in Russia not being threatened.

How the US duped Russia

It goes back to the time of President Boris Yeltsin, the first elected president of Russia, who was taken advantage of time and time again by Clinton, who often drove hard bargains late in the evening when Yeltsin, not always very well, was tired and had drunk too much vodka.

The Soviet Union’s President Mikhail Gorbachev who had been a partner of the West in ending the Cold War believed he had an understanding with President H.W. Bush and the German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher that in return for allowing Germany to be reunited and for a united Germany to be a NATO member there would never be any further expansion of NATO.

Indeed, there was serious talk of Russia becoming a NATO member itself and Russia joining the “European House”, as Gorbachev expressed it, as did Putin. The hard hitters in US foreign policy, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and George Kennan all warned not to push Russia too hard by expanding NATO too far and too quickly.

No less than Clinton’s Secretary of Defence, William Perry, argued at a conference organised by the British newspaper, the Guardian, that the gains between Russia and the US had been “squandered” more as a result of US than Russian actions. “In the last few years most of the blame can be pointed at the actions that Putin has taken. But in the early years I have to say that the US deserves much of the blame. Our first action that really set us off in a bad direction was when NATO started to expand, bringing in the eastern European nations.” He went on to say the decision reflected a contemptuous attitude among American officials towards the troubled former superpower.

The second major misstep, he said, was the Bush administration’s decision to deploy a ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe in the face of a determined opposition from Moscow. “We rationalised the system as being able to defend against an Iranian nuclear missile- but they don’t have any of this range, powerful enough to carry nuclear weapons. The Russians said, ‘Wait a bit, this weakens our deterrence’. The issue again wasn’t discussed on the basis of its merits- it was just ‘who cares about what Russia thinks?’”

Support for the revolution in Ukraine

The Obama administration later modified the missile system based in Eastern Europe, replacing long-range with medium-range interceptor missiles. Russia welcomed this but pointed out rightly that the missiles could still be turned towards Russia and wanted assurances and guarantees that the missiles would not be pointed at Russia.

Later came the US and EU decision to support the revolution in Ukraine, even though there was no good reason for it since an election was in the offering which would probably have thrown out a government sympathetic to Russia. Also, a Western policy meant tolerating militants who were members of organisations with a fascist pedigree.

Instead of intervening in the political whirlwind of a very corrupt state, Obama and his successors should have concentrated their energies on a reduction of nuclear arsenals held by the US and Russia. (Obama was the last president to make a nuclear arms reduction agreement, although it was rather limited and didn’t compensate for nuclear disarmament treaties that had been abrogated by the US.)

Can Biden do the right thing and repair the damage and prove Trotsky wrong? Judging from his present policies, I’m beginning to doubt it, and Ukraine might well be a steppingstone to something worse and more all-embracing. War is chasing the Western nations.

*Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune, now the New York Times. He has also written dozens of columns for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He is the European who has appeared most on the opinion pages of these papers. [IDN-InDepthNews]


Photo: The spectre of war between Europe and Russia looms large. Source: The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 29 November 2023.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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