- - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Are we preparing for the war with Russia over Ukraine? That’s how it looks if you saw in the news how U.S. Marines regularly do simulated battles with Russian-speaking insurgents.

This is taking place in North Carolina and Germany, but the assumed country is Ukraine, where some American troops have established a combat training center staffed by Ukrainians and reportedly capable of hosting an entire brigade.

While the Pentagon, the State Department and Congress are pushing for the sale of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, the U.S. Navy is establishing in the former Russian Black Sea port of Ochakov (now Ukraine) a center “to deliver flexible maritime capabilities throughout the full range of military operations.”

That sure sounds like preparation for war.

It’s not clear what advocates of lethal weapons hope to achieve besides dramatic escalation of the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated firmly that no matter how much Ukraine militarily ups the ante, Russia can and will outbid them.

What then? Will America get into the real action? Judging from the overheated anti-Russia rhetoric in Washington, it might. No one can predict what happens next, but let us stop for a second, look at the roots of this conflict and see if there is any way to avoid Armageddon.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, America had a historic opportunity to transform its top enemy into an ally, thus repeating two successful parallel experiences with Germany and Japan. Russia was ready for this, but the Washington establishment was not. The “end of history” that entailed total U.S. domination over world affairs had no room for Russia’s integration with the West as an equal partner.

Moreover, Washington’s strategic planning included continuous weakening of Russia through its encirclement with new NATO members from the former Soviet republics and East European countries, helping Russian oligarchs take over the economy and move capital abroad, supporting domestic opposition and even encouraging regional separatism, as in Chechnya.

In this grandiose geopolitical game Ukraine was assigned the role of delivering the ultimate blow to the Russia’s legitimate security interests and Moscow’s hope of a Eurasian Union as an eastern economic counterpart to the European Union. To achieve that, NATO declared in 2008 that Ukraine will become a member, a formal commitment that has never been revoked.

Billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars were poured into Ukrainian nongovernmental organizations to steer anti-Russia sentiments and nationalism, but to the dismay of Washington most Ukrainians maintained their opposition to joining NATO. Therefore, the West decided to play the economic card. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski (the same guy who used similar dirty language against the U.S. that Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland used against the European Union) contrived a means to break Ukraine’s relationship with Russia in the form of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Economics was transparently just a convenient cover in this context, and the agreement had to do much less with helping Ukraine’s economy than with breaking its close ties with Russia. Had the EU indeed wanted to help Ukrainian people, it would suggest a trilateral EU-Russia-Ukraine deal that would benefit all sides, but the fate of actual human beings was the last thing that Brussels and Washington had in mind.

When Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych delayed signing the deal and asked for revisions, the West encouraged and fostered a 2014 Maidan revolution that led to misery and destruction in Ukraine, the rise of neo-Nazi elements, more than 10,000 dead, an economy destroyed, corruption increasing and the looming threat of World War III.

One can put the whole blame on Mr. Putin, of course, but the question remains: Is there any way out of this crisis?

The editor of The American Conservative, Robert Merry, is pessimistic whether in light of fierce resistance from the bipartisan establishment the president can follow through on his pledge to seek Moscow’s cooperation on global issues and execute a “dramatic turn in U.S.-Russian relations — an end to the encirclement push, curtailment of the hostile rhetoric, a pullback on economic sanctions, and serious efforts to work with Russia on such nettlesome matters as Syria and Ukraine.”

He thinks Mr. Trump’s Russia initiative appears dead and that the anti-Russian elites have won the day. If this is indeed the case, then it means war is inevitable. Hence, the preparations we see.

But as the saying goes, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Mr. Trump predicted that he will go down in history as the greatest U.S. president ever. To achieve that, he must follow up on his campaign pledges, thus saving us from World War III and qualifying for this honor. But will he?

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.

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