January 31, 2015

The United States has just made an exceptionally dangerous, even reckless decision over Ukraine. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who ended the Cold War, warns it may lead to a nuclear confrontation with Russia.

Rule number one of geopolitics: nuclear-armed powers must never, ever fight.

Yet Washington just announced that by spring, it will deploy unspecified numbers of military “trainers” to Ukraine to help build Kiev’s ramshackle national guard. Also being sent are significant numbers of US special heavy, mine resistant armored vehicles that have been widely used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US and Poland are currently covertly supplying Ukraine with some weapons.

The US soldiers will just be for training, and the number of GI’s will be modest, claim US military sources. Of course. Just like those small numbers of American “advisors” and “trainers” in Vietnam that eventually grew to 550,000. Just as there are now US special forces in over 100 countries. We call it “mission creep.”

The war-craving neocons in Washington and their allies in Congress and the Pentagon have long wanted to pick a fight with Russia and put it in its place for daring to oppose US policies against Iran, Syria and Palestine. What neocons really care about is the Mideast.

Some neocon fantasies call for breaking up the Russian Federation into small, impotent parts. Many Russians believe this is indeed Washington’s grand strategy, mixing military pressure on one hand and social media subversion on the other, aided by Ukrainian oligarchs and rightists. A massive propaganda campaign is underway, vilifying Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin as “the new Hitler.”

Back to eastern Ukraine. You don’t have to be a second Napoleon to see how a big war could erupt.

Ukrainian National Guard forces, stiffened by American “volunteers” and “private contractors,” and led by US special forces, get in a heavy fire fight with pro-Russian separatist forces. Washington, whose military forces are active in the Mideast, Central America, the Philippines, Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Korea, has been blasting Moscow for allegedly sending some 9,000 soldiers into neighboring Ukraine.

The Americans, who have never been without total air superiority since the 1950’s Korean War, call in US and NATO air support. Pro-Russian units, backed by Russian military forces just across the border, will reply with heavy rocket fire and salvos of anti-aircraft missiles. Both sides will take heavy casualties and rush in reinforcements.

Does anyone think the Russians, who lost close to 40 million soldiers and civilians in World War II, won’t fight to defend their Motherland?

Heavy conventional fighting could quickly lead to commanders calling for tactical nuclear strikes delivered by aircraft and missiles. This was a constant fear in nearly all NATO v Warsaw Pact Cold War scenarios – and the very good reason that both sides avoided direct confrontation and confined themselves to using proxy forces.

Tactical nuclear strikes can lead to strategic strikes, then intercontinental attacks. In a nuclear confrontation, as in naval battles, he who fires first has a huge advantage.

“We can’t allow Russia to keep Crimea,” goes another favorite neocon mantra. Why not? Hardly any Americans could even find Crimea on a map.

Crimea belonged to Russia for over 200 years. I’ve been all over the great Russian naval base at Sevastopol. It became part of Ukraine when Kiev declared independence in 1991, but the vital base was always occupied and guarded by Russia’s military. Ukrainians were a minority in the Crimea – whose original Tatar inhabitants were mostly ethnically cleansed by Stalin. Most of those Russian troops who supposedly “invaded” Ukraine actually came from the giant Sevastopol base, which was under joint Russian and Ukrainian sovereignty.

Only fools and the ignorant can have believed that tough Vlad Putin would allow Ukraine’s new rightist regime to join NATO and hand one of Russia’s most vital bases and major exit south to the western alliance.

Two of Crimea’s cities, Sevastopol and Kerch, were honored as “Hero Cities” of the Soviet Union for their gallant defense in World War II. Over 170,000 Soviet soldiers died in 1942 defending Sevastopol in a brutal, 170-day siege. Another 100,000 died retaking the peninsula in 1944.

In total, well over 16 million Soviet soldiers died in the war, destroying in the process 70% of the German Wehrmacht and 80% of the Luftwaffe. By contrast, US losses in that war, including the Pacific, were 400,000.

One might as well ask Texas to give up the Alamo or Houston as to order Russia to get out of Crimea, a giant graveyard for the Red Army and the German 11th army.

In 2013, President Putin proposed a sensible negotiated settlement to the Ukraine dispute: autonomy for eastern Ukraine and its right to speak Russians as well as Ukrainian. If war or economic collapse is to be avoided, this is the solution. Eastern Ukraine was a key part of the Soviet economy. Its rusty heavy industry would be wiped out if Ukraine joined the EU – just as was East Germany’s obsolete industries when Germany reunified.

So now it appears that Washington’s economic warfare over Ukraine is going to turn military, even though the US has no strategic or economic interests in Ukraine. Getting involved in military operations there when the US is still bogged down in the Mideast and Afghanistan is daft. Even more so, when President Barack Obama’s “pivot toward Asia” is gathering momentum.

Didn’t two world war at least teach the folly of waging wars on two fronts?

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2015

This post is in: Barack Obama, Russia, Ukraine, USA


  1. I have spent time in both Russia and Ukraine and have friends in both countries. Friends in Crimea told me that Russian thugs were going door to door under the guise of compiling a voters’ list. The thugs were asking my friends for their credentials and then when they produced them the thugs asked which way they were going to vote in the referendum. My friends wanted to stay a part of Ukraine. When the thugs heard that, they confiscated their papers so that my friends could not vote. For the last few months I have not been able to contact my friends there.
    Putin’s proxies, having tried to take over Mariupol, were initially repelled. Since then the Ukrainians have been able to build up tank defenses around the city. I know people in Mariupol and they are not interested in becoming part of Russia or separating from Kiev.
    Putin’s interest in Crimea and eastern Ukraine has NOTHING to do with him defending Russian speakers’ rights. Pllleeeease, give me a break. Check the annual returns for Gazprom and Roznaft and you will see that in 2013 they were counting on developing the newly found HUGE oil and gas reserves in Crimea, under the Sea of Azov and in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas areas.
    When I first read about that in August of 2013, and I saw the build-up of Russian troops on the border, I warned my friends that Russia was going to invade right after the Olympics, and guess what happened. That’s exactly what they did. This is all about MONEY.
    Russia could not let Ukraine develop the new energy reserves because it would mean that they would lose Ukraine as an energy customer and Ukraine would then be able to compete with Russia for the EUs energy business.
    MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY!!!!!!!!!! That is all that this is about. And since Russia invaded Crimea, Ukraine has started a law suit in the World Court seeking reparations for the loss of energy reserves, land and buildings, and equipment/infrastructure. It is innevitable that Russia will lose that law suit and it will end up costing at least $2 trillion. Of course Russia doesn’t have to abide by the Court’s ruling, but if they don’t then it will mean that they will not be able to get credit anywhere, probably not even from China. So what is Russia to do???? Why, take over all of Ukraine so that they can no longer sue Russia, of course.
    Balance the cost of the sanctions verses the potential cost of losing a $2 trillion lawsuit. Which route do you think Putin is going to take?
    Also, the Russian naval base’s lease in Sevestapol, was up in 2017 and Ukraine advised Russia that they were not going to renew it. Russia could not stand the thought of losing their only access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean.
    If you think that this will escalate into a nuclear war, consider this: start to check out what is going on in Russia with the Mothers’ groups that are demanding answers for the deaths of their son’s in Ukraine. They are having to pay for the repatriation of their bodies because Russia is refusing to admit that they are in Ukraine and therefore won’t pay for the bodies to be returned. The Russian people are becoming aware of what is happening and they do not like it. They are complaining about their freedom of speach being muzzled. The oligarchs are complaining (not directly to Putin of course. They don’t want to get sent to jail for some trumped up charge) about the effects of sanctions on the economy and this year $100 billion in loans owed by their companies become due and they cannot refinance them due to the sanctions and the overall economy. This can only last a very short time until the Russian people, both rich and poor, will rise up and dump Putin.
    I think that a more likely scenario is that Putin will declare that Crimea is too expensive to keep in Russia, and that for the sake of peace, the Crimeans will have another “referrendum”, and they will vote to be a separate country that will grant Russia a 40 year lease for the naval base. Crimea will give the Russian energy company giants the right to develop the enegy reserves and that will be the end of it all. The rebels in the east will be put on trial and jailed and Russia will wash their hand of the whole thing provided Ukraine drops the lawsuit.

  2. As usual – can’t thank you enough Eric. people are waking up – the fairy tales no longer work their magic. Even though that is a good thing, it could still be as dangerous as they could be beguiled into following just about anything. They need reliable historical context. Few are providing it with this clarity. Keep up the good work! And if these neocons and their babbits want any more wars they can conscript their children, and build bomb shelters in their back yards out of their own pockets.

  3. The underlying cause of all the problems with the wars, that are being fought is the manufacture of war materiel by the military industrial complex, which is being financed by the cartel of international bankers. And regardless which side uses those weapons, the moneylenders are guaranteed payback of their investment and a handsome return on it as well, just as what happened during the second world war, when American bankers like Prescott Bush via the Dutch Handelsbank, financed Hitler`s warmachine. Prescott and Fritz Tyssen were good friends then and both had interests in a mine in Oswiecim, better known as Auschwitz, where they got free labor from the concentration camps. If you believe the movies and the rest of the propaganda, that oozed out of the US after that war, when we were made to believe, that the US almost singlehandedly crushed the German armies, while the USSR made the most sacrifices, you haven`t really studied history.
    The bankers don`t really care who wins, because they always get paid, except if this is going to be the Armageddon type conflict, because then even they lose and they are insane enough to push that red button in that case.
    Are we really the elevated species in the animal kingdom?

  4. Wasn’t it Condoleeza Rice who said something to the effect that the US needs a common enemy? It needs such an enemy to keep Americans from turning against each other, much as Israel needs a common enemy (the Palestinians) to keep its country from tearing itself apart.

    The other major reason for the US to seek to inject itself into foreign conflicts is to justify its government’s support of the military-industrial complex. The US economy mostly revolves around its large military and the long-term survival of its greatly diminished manufacturing sector certainly depends on it.

    The neo-con war hawks in Congress who are so anxious to hold the coats of US troops sent to fight in the Ukraine and elsewhere are themselves willing puppets of the US military-industrial complex. With friends like that, the leaders of that complex, who have grown rich at the expense of American taxpayers, having nothing to fear for themselves.

  5. Yes Eric,I think we should be justly concerned about American adventurism in the Ukraine. It seems quite clear that NATO is building up it’s frontier “defences” with Russia and engaging in much anti Putin and Russian rhetoric, as if preparing for war.Similarly Russia is rearming and modernizing it’s military in preparation for a war with the west.
    As I said before America is bankrupt and facing an existential economic and social crises which I trhink will trigger a war with Russia,China and Iran. War will come when the US dollar collapses. In the meantime Ukraine will go bankrupt and if the US wants to prosecute war in the Ukraine it will have to come up with a “bail out” before Ukraine disintegrates. Time is on the Russian side.

  6. America is counting on Russia not being able to afford to fight a war, but most of this as well as America blowing up the threat of ISIL is nothing but an attempt to justify America’s insane military spending.

    The basic fact is though if America couldn’t defeat a group of lightly armed fighters who they had outnumbered 20 -1 how could they defeat Russia?

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