Karl Marx, once the USSR’s communist guru but abandoned in Russia while enjoying his second coming in America, quipped that history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. This is what Republicans are saying about policies pursued by Democrats.
By definition, a farce is “a comedy that seeks to entertain the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, ridiculous, absurd, and improbable.”
The current crisis is unique with elements of both tragedy and farce. On the stage of the burlesque du jour, the self-proclaimed “forces of good” are represented by the U.S. and the European Union, plus Ukraine and Georgia, facing off against what they describe as the “forces of evil” represented by Russia and Belarus with China in background.
However, if no diplomatic solution to this crisis is found, this tragicomedy has a strong potential to develop into an ultimate nuclear catastrophe. When only cockroaches survive, labels like “good guys” or “bad guys” would be irrelevant.
I regret to say that at the center of this horror is my native Ukraine whose president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is a very funny fellow who made people laugh when he was begging Russian President Vladimir Putin to take him as a hostage in exchange for forgiving his country’s debts or while playing piano on stage with his pants down.
Catapulted from comedian to president, Mr. Zelenskyy is now caught in a major battle on the geopolitical chessboard. One wonders if he misses the stage where he was free to run through his scripts, using financial support from oligarch Igor Kolomoisky (hated by Washington), opening offshore accounts, and enjoying public admiration that installed him in the presidential office when he promised to bring peace to Ukrainians.
Almost three years later, there is no peace. The people’s love for him has largely dissipated, the economy is in shambles, and corruption reigns supreme. Ukraine is rapidly depopulating, and a new set of enemies is trying to overthrow him amid rampant rumors of a coup.
One of those enemies is his predecessor, Petro “Porky” Poroshenko, who has the backing of radical nationalists, many of whom are open neo-Nazis. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst described Mr. Poroshenko as a “disgraced oligarch,” while the Deputy Chief of Mission in Kyiv Sheila Gwaltney described him as “tainted by credible corruption allegations.” Despite these warnings Mr. Poroshenko had the honor of addressing a joint session of Congress. No wonder congressional approval ratings rarely climb above 20%.
Recently Mr. Zelenskyy accused Mr. Poroshenko of treason, and it took Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s urgent unscheduled trip to Kyiv to save him from jail.
Washington’s “irritation, even alarm” at Mr. Zelenskyy’s claims that the U.S. and its allies are exaggerating the threat of Russian invasion spiced up the farce. Such statements add to the absurdity of the whole situation, when dozens of planes from the U.S. and NATO are constantly landing with tons of lethal and other weapons to protect Ukraine from a putative Mr. Putin invasion, while the alleged victim says, “what invasion?”
It didn’t have to be this way. When the Soviet Union collapsed 30 years ago, America and the collective West had two choices. First, make every effort to integrate Russia into the trans-Atlantic community or choose the “winner takes all” option and push it into the geopolitical corner.
Judging for the public statements of President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, both were inclined to select the first choice. However, when playing domestic ethnic politics in his 1996 reelection bid President Bill Clinton opted for the second one, and the road to hell (i.e., nuclear catastrophe) had begun. This is not my expression, but that of Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan after the Senate voted to start the NATO’s “Drang nach Osten” process.
In addition to the 19 Republican and Democratic senators who voted against the first round of NATO expansion, there was a group of 50 former senators, retired military officers, diplomats and academicians who sent an open letter to Mr. Clinton outlining their opposition to expanding the alliance.
The letter stated that “the current U.S. led effort to expand NATO is a policy error of historic proportions. We believe that NATO expansion will decrease allied security and unsettle European stability.”
Among the signers were such distinguished foreign policy experts as Sam Nunn, Gordon Humphrey, Bill Bradley, Fred Ikle, Richard Pipes, Susan Eisenhower, Jack Matlock, Stansfield Turner, Robert McNamara, Arthur Hartman, Paul Warnke, Mark Hatfield, Paul Nitze, and others. These days, all of them would be called Putin stooges. Among the most prominent authorities urging against expansion was the author of the Containment Doctrine himself, George Kennan. These voices crying in the wilderness went unheeded.
As for Ukraine, with its strong industrial and agricultural sectors, a favorable climate and fertile land, it had the potential to become one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. That certainly would have occurred, if its leadership had chosen a political course to provide a certain level of autonomy for the regions holding large Russian ethnic populations, plus a neutral status with no membership in any military blocs. There would have been no civil war, and Donbass and Crimea would still be a part of Ukraine.
However, starting with Mr. Clinton, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars were poured into Ukraine with the purpose of reformatting public opinion into a pro-NATO (read “anti-Russia“) direction, under a thin veil of “democracy promotion.” The State Department’s Victoria Nuland openly bragged about the U.S. allocating $5 billion that end but the actual amount was certainly much higher, not even counting money from Canada, Europe, and obviously George Soros.
The present scale of anti-Russia hysteria reached such unprecedented levels that even the anti-Iraq rhetoric on the eve of the 2003 U.S.-British invasion pales in comparison. At that time, France and Germany resisted the invasion in vain. However, in 2008 they succeeded in placing on hold the process of including Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. Will France and Germany rise to the present occasion?
There are many Americans who understand what is going on but, due to the loss of integrity within the mainstream media (with rare exceptions), their voices are lost. As the result, all of us are now sitting on the edge of the cliff.
• Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.