By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” March 18, 2022)
“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.
“Of course, there will be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.” — George Kennan, architect of the Cold War in 1998
“If Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them. The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country.
“Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history and, indeed, of Russia. Ukraine should not join NATO.” — Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State in 2014
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of the independence and territorial integrity of the country. All of the inviolable principles of international law, the rights of nations to self-determination, non-interference in internal affairs, sovereignty, and the peaceful settlement of conflicts are put into question when Russian troops cross the borders of Ukraine.
Yes, Ukraine is in Europe, and it may appear far from us. However, the peace and security of the entire world rest on the cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement of all security issues. It is said that there are over 30 biological and chemical laboratories in Ukraine testing and perfecting dangerous microbes and viruses. If any of these were to be accidentally struck or a nuclear plant destroyed, all hell would break loose. These are tripwire issues from which the world may not return.
To understand the crisis in Ukraine, we may have to go back to 1990/1991 when the former Soviet Union, of which Ukraine along with Russia was an integral part. Back then, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev secured a commitment from U.S. leaders that he would withdraw Soviet troops from East Germany and allow for the unification of Germany on the condition that the NATO “defensive” security alliance would not be extended eastward.
Gorbachev withdrew the troops, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the United States and the NATO alliance refused to honour the commitment. In fact, in 1993, Bill Clinton agreed to allow the eastern march of NATO membership. Since then, more than a dozen countries have been allowed to join. The expansion of NATO is seen as a threat by Russia. Western leaders explained that NATO was formed in 1949 as a defensive shield of Western Europe against the mighty Soviet Union. In response, the Soviet leaders formed the Warsaw pact as a counterbalance. The Warsaw pact was dissolved with the Soviet collapse, yet some strategic thinkers in the West push the theory that NATO must remain to ensure peace and security worldwide.
Remember it was NATO forces that bombed Libya, assassinated Colonel Ghadafi, destroyed Africa’s second most developed country and turned Libya into a failed state where Africans are daily sold as slaves in Tripoli and Bengazi.
The security situation in Ukraine took a turn for the worse in 2014 following the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych and the election by Volodymyr Zelensky. Yanukovych was somewhat neutral and expressed no interest in joining NATO. President Zelensky is more pro-western and committed to taking Ukraine into the NATO alliance. Since the removal of Yanukovych, a low-intensity civil war, which has not been highlighted in the mainstream media, has claimed the lives of over 14,000 Ukrainians who live in the eastern parts of the country. These regions and people, especially those in Luhansk and Donetsk, are said to be ethnic Russians and want a closer relationship with Russia.
Only the most naive and politically blinkered will fail to recognise the legitimacy of Russia’s security concerns. Russian leaders, no doubt, remember that during WW11, more than 40% or 20 million of the casualties were Soviet citizens. No country will sit by and watch as another significant power encircle it with military might, including nuclear weapons. In 1962, Fidel Castro allowed the Soviet leaders to bring nuclear weapons to Cuba. President Kennedy demanded their removal, and the world came to the brink of nuclear war.
However, while Russian concerns, recognised by imminent geopolitical thinkers and strategists of the calibre of George Kennan and Henry Kissinger, are understandable, the move to war in defence of those security jitters are difficult to justify. War is hell, and the road to hell is slippery. There may come a time when there is no turning back. Already NATO threatens to invoke its article 5 provision, which calls for collective security if one of its members is attacked.
Diplomacy then should be emphasised. Military conflict must be minimised and brought to an immediate end. It was heartening to hear President Zelensky backing away from his earlier intentions to join NATO. He also expressed willingness to negotiate with leaders of the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, while it may evidence a seriousness of that country regarding its security, may have hurt its long term goal for security and played into the hands of the Americans. Trust is built on goodwill and friendship. Commercial deals and economic cooperation are the bedrock of building confidence and security.
Russia’s construction of the Euro-stream oil and gas pipeline was a step in that direction. The US had always opposed the pipeline because it feared such a deal would have brought Europe closer and reduced tensions. An economically united Europe would also threaten U.S. hegemony in the world. U.S. thinkers feared the unification of Europe and saw such unity as second only to the growing economic and Chinese military challenge.
In political, economic and military terms, the Russian invasion of Ukraine may amount to one step forward, two steps back. Heavy sanctions are imposed on Moscow, many countries such as Germany and Japan have removed their most favoured nation status, and Europe is now more militarised than before the invasion.
Worse of all, world leaders have placed their nuclear weapons on alert for the first time in decades. They are willing to risk the human race’s continued existence for their narrow political gains. The rest of humanity must stand united in the quest for peace.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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