Ukraine’s former president Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych was removed from office on 22 February 2014. Since then, U.S., E.U. and Russian diplomats have been working to influence the future of Ukraine.
After Yanukovych’s removal, the Ukrainian parliament took a decision to cancel a law that gives legal status to the Russian language in Ukraine. This would have potentially disadvantaged the Russian speaking population in Ukraine. Additionally, Russia recognizes the removal of Yanukovych as illegal and unconstitutional making some sound arguments based on Ukrainian law during a press conference.
With the escalation of Western efforts in Ukraine, Russia deployed troops to the Crimea region. The West demanded Russia to pull its troops out under the threat of sanctions which the West imposed on 6 March. The U.S. expanded visa bans on Russian officials and hopes to get E.U. support in imposing further sanctions aimed at Russia’s financial infrastructure and foreign property holdings.
International Diplomacy 101
During this whole ruckus over Ukraine, a phone conversation between the U.S. Department of State’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Jane Nuland and the United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, was leaked which’s content gives us a rare glimpse into American diplomacy. Whilst discussing who the future leader of Ukraine should be, Ms. Nuland favored Arseniy Yatseniuk over Vitaly Klitschko explaining that the former has more economic and political governance experience than the latter. To bolster U.S. interests, Ms. Nuland said she had spoken to UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeff Feltman who had “… now gotten both Serry and Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, F**k the EU.”
Robert Serry is the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. If Ms. Nuland’s words which Pyatt agreed to are even slightly reflective of Washington’s stance, then it stands to reason that the U.S. in an attempt to secure its interest does not mind sidelining its own allies like the E.U.
It would not be unfair to refer to Ms. Nuland with regards to her E.U. comment as unstates[wo]manlike—and to both the U.S. and Russia governments as politicasters, i.e. pretenders to international politics. Why? This is because politics comes from the word ‘politic’ which is defined as “Wise; prudent and sagacious in devising and pursuing measures adapted to promote the public welfare”. At present neither side seems to be looking out for Ukraine’s welfare.
At a press briefing, U.S. Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the leaked conversation to which he responded, “Ultimately, it’s up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future”. The U.S. might say this but are not allowing this to happen. Neither is Russia because both sides seek to secure and protect their interests.
Western sponsored protests?
President Putin has pointed to many irregularities in the Ukrainian revolution and protests that led to Yanukovych’s removal. Additionally a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, Paul Craig Roberts has made some damaging allegations against the U.S. government that may or may not explain some of the irregularities. He alleges that, “The protests in the western Ukraine are organized by the CIA, the US State Department, and by Washington- and EU-financed Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that work in conjunction with the CIA and State Department. The purpose of the protests is to overturn the decision by the independent government of Ukraine not to join the EU. The US and EU were initially cooperating in the effort to destroy the independence of Ukraine and make it a subservient entity to the EU government in Brussels”.
Hopefully information is simply conjectured but unfortunately CIA sponsored overthrow of constitutionally legitimate regimes are not uncommon. If these allegations were true, what would be one motivation for such behavior? One answer may lie with the international relations discipline which was created in the U.S. by refugee academics from Europe. One of the theories of this discipline is known as realism. Many professional diplomats of have come across this in one form or the other in their studies. What does this entail?
Martti Koskenniemi details much of the history of international relations in his seminal work, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870–1960. In this book, Stanley Hoffmann is quoted as citing Hans Morgenthau as the founder of the international relations discipline. Morgenthau is also “listed (with Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Herbert Marcuse) among “the four most influential of [the] refugee intellectuals” in the development of political theory in the United States. By Koskenniemi’s account, Morgenthau “became the theorist of power with idiosyncratic views about responsible statesmanship who is now known as the father of “Realism” in international relations.”.
The basic premise of a realist paradigm is, “State power is the key—indeed, the only—variable of interest, because only through power can States defend themselves and hope to survive”. Morgenthau believed that, “To look after one’s interest – self-preservation – became both political necessity as well as moral duty” according to Koskenniemi. Realism presumes that the international system is filled with anarchy therefore there’s no central authority. As such the most important thing is for each state to look out for its own interests via the use of power. This power is manifested through means such as manipulation by economic or military means. Case in point is the military occupation of Crimea as well as U.S. and E.U. attempts to set up a puppet government in Ukraine and the imposing of sanctions on Russia by the West.
The U.S., U.K., and Russia signed three memorandums on 5 December 1994, with the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances included:
The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine… to respect the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.
The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine…
The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine… to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind.
If this text was adhered to by all parties, the situation in Ukraine would be solved. The West and Russia should respect this memorandum, recognizing Ukrainians as people just like their own citizens with a right to their own interests, territorial integrity, political independence and sovereignty. The U.S. has accused Russia of breaching this memorandum—conveniently excusing their breach of the same.
U.S. double standard
As Mike Shedlock points out, how is it that when the U.S. deploys troops to faraway lands with which they have no historical ties like Iraq and Afghanistan to occupy it in the pursuit of U.S. interests, the U.S. sees it as a good thing but when Russia does similar in a neighboring country with which it has historical ties, the U.S. cries BREACH of sovereignty?
Putin had the following to say about U.S. behavior in the international system:
We are often told our actions are illegitimate, but when I ask, “Do you think everything you do is legitimate?” they say “yes”. Then, I have to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where they either acted without any UN sanctions or completely distorted the content of such resolutions, as was the case with Libya. There, as you may know, the resolution only spoke of closing the airspace for government aircraft, while it all ended with bomb attacks and special forces land operations.
Our partners, especially in the United Sates, always clearly formulate their own geopolitical and state interests and follow them with persistence. Then, using the principle “You’re either with us or against us” they draw the whole world in. And those who do not join in get ‘beaten’ until they do.
Admittedly Putin does have a point. The U.S. might have had more legitimacy in this matter if they were not always butting their heads into other nation’s business, disobeying international law and misinterpreting UN resolutions to suit their interests. Does this give Russia the right to do same? Emphatically No!
That said, the West cannot waltz into Russia’s backyard and expect the Kremlin to pretend as if they do not see the West trying to set up a puppet regime in Ukraine which has been a long standing trading partner of Russia, a consumer of energy supplies from Russia and the trade route for Russian gas to the rest of Europe. Half of Ukraine’s gas needs are supplied by Russian state owned Gazprom.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of natural gas followed by Russia which incidentally has monopoly over almost 20 percent of gas reserves in the world. If the U.S. sets up a puppet regime in Ukraine, it would mean the loss of a strategic economic and political advantage for Russia to the U.S. and E.U. Not only will Russia lose Ukraine’s business, it will lose the gateway through which it supplies gas to the rest of Europe. Even worse for the Kremlin is the prospect, that if the U.S. or E.U. gains control over Ukraine, they would increase their military presence on Russia’s periphery.
Russia is simply protecting its strategic geopolitical and economic interests. Even so, that does not warrant the breaching of another nation’s territorial sovereignty although the talk of sovereignty is now in question since the parliament of Crimea has voted 78-0 with eight abstentions in favor of holding a referendum and joining Russia.
The U.S. should respect Russia’s economic and political historical ties to Ukraine and also Crimea’s wishes even if it chooses Russia. Any attempt to usurp these ties could lead to full scale military retribution from Russia of which the casualties will unfortunately be the ordinary citizens of Ukraine, not U.S., Western or Russian citizens. Ukraine’s top three potential leaders Arseniy Yatseniuk, Vitaly Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnibok should consider this fact when in private negotiations with diplomats from the U.S., E.U., or Russia. The welfare of Ukrainians should be prioritized.
In conclusion, as succinctly captured by the Indo-Pacific Institute, nobody (U.S., E.U., Russia, Ukraine) showed patience and maturity in Ukraine’s political power struggle. Everybody was in hurry for position and influence. The result is Crimea is the causality along with all other ordinary Ukrainians.
Ukrainians should determine their future through constitutional means, via democratic mechanisms such as referendums, elections etc. Free and fair elections should be held under the supervision of observers from all sides—including the United Nations.
This is in agreement with the U.S. government rhetoric which says, ultimately it’s up to Ukrainians to determine their future. Vladimir Putin has made similar remarks in a meeting with the press where he stated, “[Ukrainian] people should have the right to determine their own future, that of their families and of their region, and to have equal participation in it.” For Ukrainians to secure this right, it will take a lot of determination.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after having witnessed in person Ghana’s independence returned to the U.S. and preached a sermon entitled, ‘The Birth of a New Nation’. In this sermon, he said, “…the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. And if Nkrumah and the people of the Gold Coast had not stood up persistently, revolting against the system, it would still be a colony of the British Empire. Freedom is never given to anybody. For the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance”.
Ukrainians are yet to taste this on an international level. The buck really does stop with Ukrainians—whether they are willing to walk the long road to freedom or opt for the path of least resistance. Their leaders can secure their future or sell it in exchange for a mess of pottage.