by Kennedy Applebaum
March 28, 2015
It wouldn’t be the first time the United States switched sides in a foreign war. While America, through the CIA, is accused of sparking the February 2014 Ukraine coup that overthrew President Viktor Yanukovich, the US was not the sole cause of coup. American intervention is not wholly to blame for the regime change in Kiev. The oligarchic tradition of the Ukrainian government, the militant Nazi elements, the Right Sector, and the rampant corruption already rife in Yanukovich’s administration, made the country ripe for for upheaval even without US intervention. It may have taken longer, and would have happened differently. But at some point, overthrow was likely.
With or without US involvement, a power vacuum would have ensued in the wake of such an overthrow, creating a maelstrom of competing factions among oligarchs, political extremists, and the cultural Russians of Donbass. We see this maelstrom raging today.
When a power vacuum follows a coup, regional governments often emerge. This is what happened in Ukraine. After the illegal ousting of Yanukovich, four governments took hold on former Ukraine territory: Russia in Crimea, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in southeast Donetsk Oblast, the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) in eastern Lugansk Oblast, and Petro Poroshenko’s regime across the remaining regions. Once a coup has taken place, no emergent government is a priori more legitimate than another. What this means is, if the US chooses sides, it is free to side with any faction that seems aligned with its interests. This opens for discussion the possibility of America siding with Novorossiya.
It may sound outrageous on the face of it. But is such an alignment out of the question? If we step back and look from a distance, bearing in mind that no emergent government is more legitimate than any other, the US should side with that government that is the most stable, the most amenable to democracy in the true sense of the word, the most trustworthy, the most reliable, and the most likely to win a territorial conflict. By these criteria, the viable candidates are the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Since the recent outbreak of Ukraine’s “Oligarch Wars”, it has become obvious to even the Western media that the Kiev regime is unstable, untrustworthy and unreliable. In fact, it has become difficult, if not impossible, for the West to work successfully with Kiev, economically, diplomatically or militarily.
Meanwhile, the governments of Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky have demonstrated stability. They have exemplified trustworthiness in their compliance with the Minsk 2.0 agreements, and have shown a propensity for true democracy, as was evident their 2014 elections. As for being likely to win the territorial conflict, a US-backed Novorossiya Armed Forces could seize the terrain all the way to the Dnieper River and beyond in a matter of weeks if not days. The country could be partitioned into two roughly equal sectors: the central southeast lying mostly east of the Dnieper, and the sector west of the Dnieper. The western sector could be left to its own devices, where the oligarchs and political extremists could fight it out among themselves. Meanwhile the central southeast sector, blessed with most of Ukraine’s natural resources, would become a stable, viable democracy.
But would the US be motived to support a southeast sector? More crucially, could Novorossiya and its large culturally Russian population achieve freedom and self-rule under a West-supported system? Just as critically, would Russian interests be addressed?
To answer the first question, we need to understand why the US intervened in Ukraine in the first place. One motive was financial. In the economic sphere, there is no clear distinction between American and European interests, so it makes more sense to talk about Western financial interests. These include such entities as Monsanto, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the various energy investors, the IMF, the World Bank, and so on. To support southeast Ukraine, the West would need assurance that its investments remain intact, a guarantee Poroshenko was willing to offer. However, given the infighting in Poroshenko’s government, along with the likelihood of Ukraine’s economic collapse and the rampant theft and corruption among its oligarchs, Poroshenko might not be able to make good on that offer.
Whether a Greater Donbass would be willing to offer assurance to Western investors is unknown. In some cases, such as that of Monsanto, cooperation with the West would mean sacrifice for the people of Donbass, who would prefer banning GMO crops altogether. But the alternative could be worse: a possible frozen conflict within very confined boundaries under near blockade conditions. Investment guarantees would require adjustments on both sides. But if the DPR/LPR signed such an agreement, they would most certainly abide by it. The interests of Novorossiya will be addressed again below.
Another motive for US intervention in Ukraine is the achievement of political and ideological goals. The best way to understand these goals is to take a close look at the neoconservative doctrine. This doctrine is explained in a February 2015 publication on the Ukraine crisis by the Atlantic Council, an American think tank that advises the government on foreign policy issues.
The publication is entitled Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do. The authors are Ivo Daalder (President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs), Michele Flournoy (former Under Secretary of Defense), John Herbst (former US Ambassador to Ukraine), Jan Lodai (former Preside of the Atlantic Council), Steven Pifer (former Ambassador to Ukraine), James Stavridis (former Supreme Allied Commander Europe), Strobe Talbott (President of the Brookings Institution), and Charles Wald (former Deputy Commander US European Command).
It is important to note that the references for this document consist of interviews with some 27 associates of the KIev government, along with two OSCE members. No other sources are cited, not even scholarly papers. What this means is that, with a little more research, and especially if it becomes expedient for American interests, the Atlantic Council could easily reverse its opinion.
I will quote several excerpts from the document, and attempt to show that a US alignment with Donbass, rather than with Kiev, might better fulfill the neoconservative goals of the American government. Please bear with me, as I will be looking at US interests first, to see if a Novorossiya alignment is even remotely feasible from the US perspective. The interests of Donbass and Russia will be considered below.
To quote from the Preface: “The report … offers steps … that Washington and NATO should take to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses and thereby enhance its ability to deter further Russian aggression.” Aside from whether Russian aggression actually exists, attempting to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses has proven a black hole. The oligarch warlords are out of control, the Ukraine army is demoralized, and no amount of US support will prop up the failing military. The preface goes on: “Such action would contribute to helping Ukraine restore control over its border and territory in the Donbass provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk.” Recent events have made it obvious that no such action will ever restore Ukraine’s control over Donbass. If the US supported Donbass, however, Kiev’s failure to control the region would be irrelevant.
The authors continue: “A stronger Ukraine military, with enhanced defense capabilities, will increase the prospects for negotiation of a peaceful settlement.” The goal of a peaceful settlement, again, would be more easily achieved through support of Novorossiya. The publication goes on: “President Putin may hope to achieve glory through restoring, through force and intimidation, Russian dominion over its neighbors. But a peaceful world requires opposing this through decisive action.” This is a vaporous platitude, easily dispelled. It goes without saying that American support of the Donbass side would require a willingness to cooperate with Russia and vice versa.
I quote the document’s Executive Summary. Again, whether these are egregious misconceptions is not the point at the moment. “We face a critical juncture in Ukraine. There is no real ceasefire; indeed there was a significant increase in fighting along the line of contact … in mid-January, with Russian/separatist forces launching attacks on the Donetsk airport and other areas. Instead of a political settlement, Moscow currently seeks to create a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine as a means to pressure and destabilize the Ukrainian government.” Regardless of Moscow’s supposed intentions, the Ukrainian government needs no help in becoming destabilized, a fact now clear even to the Western media. If the US wants to end the frozen conflict and create a stable Ukraine government, its best opportunity is to support the fledgling Donetsk and Lugansk Republics, and allow their borders to expand beyond the Dnieper to encompass Kiev.
I quote another passage: “Assisting Ukraine to deter attack and defend itself is not inconsistent with the search for a peaceful, political solution–it is essential to achieving it.” With the Oligarch War now exposed, it is apparent that a peaceful, political solution is less achievable with the Kiev government than it would be with those of Donetsk and Lugansk. The authors go on: “Russia’s actions in and against Ukraine pose the gravest threat to European security in more than 30 years.” It must by now be obvious that Kiev itself is a graver threat to European security than are Russia, Donetsk and Lugansk. The United States would best achieve a peaceful Kiev by opposing Poroshenko’s volatile government instead of supporting it. No amount of outside help has or likely ever will restore order and peace to the current administration in Kiev.
In a section called Background: A Putin-Manufactured Conflict, the document says: “Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s November 2013 decision, apparently under great pressure from Putin, not to sign an association agreement with the European Union triggered massive demonstrations and an intense political crisis within Ukraine.” Note the word “apparently.” In other words, the authors lack concrete evidence of Putin’s so-called great pressure. I imagine it didn’t take much pressure at all, considering the increasing unpopularity of the EU among the unhappy citizens of its member states.
On a more positive note about US-Russia relations, they say: “To be sure, there are issues on which the interests of the United States and the West, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, coincide. Thes include preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, avoiding a return of the Taliban or chaos in Afghanistan, the broader counter-terrorism struggle, and controlling nuclear weapons.” This means the US is willing to work with Russia. Extending that willingness to the issue of Ukraine is not out of the question.
The document’s Conclusion states: “The West should work with Ukraine to create a successful and prosperous democratic state that is capable of choosing its own foreign policy course. The Ukrainian government has stated that it will institute economic and political reforms, as well as institute anti-corruption measures. Ukraine will need more financial support from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, and the West.” Unfortunately, as is becoming clear to the world, Ukraine is unlikely ever to create a successful and prosperous democratic state. The stable governments of southeast Donbass are far more likely to meet this requirement. That Kiev will “institute anti-corruption measures” is obviously next to impossible, since the entire government and economy are run by corrupt oligarchs. Will they get rid of themselves?
I conclude that the neoconservative doctrine, as expressed in this document, is not entirely at odds with a reversal of policy. Indeed, support of the fledgling Donbass governments would more quickly achieve American goals in the region, including stability, democracy and security in Europe.
What about the people of Donbass? The question here boils down to this: is it better to have the United States with you or against you? Other questions are: if the United States is with you, can you still achieve freedom? How free are the people of other US-aligned European countries? Is that level of freedom acceptable to cultural Russians of Donbass? Is it preferable to the condition of a frozen conflict under Ukrainian blockade? Would it mean being forced to join the European Union? Would it imply joining NATO?
Weighing these issues would be the responsibility of Prime Ministers Alexander Zakharchenko, Igor Plotnitsky, and the DPR/LPR People’s Councils. Zakharchenko has shown a credible pragmatism which has made him successful in previous challenges. He might consider the scenario.
But what about Russia? Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed willingness to work with the West. Indeed he seems to crave their acceptance. But what of the Russian people? Would this undermine their culture? Would it be seen as yet another “fifth column” intrusion, threatening Russian sovereignty?
Quemado Institute conducted a reader survey on why America has opposed Novorossiya. A surprising number of respondents said the American government was a “manifestation of pure evil.” This is a high barrier that the US would have to overcome.
Lastly, is the United States capable of moral action? It is easy to list the immoral actions of the United States, and the list is long, including the CIA’s instigation of coups in some two dozen democratic countries. But there is one great bright spot on America’s record, and that is its support of the Dalai Lama. The CIA helped him escape the invading Chinese army, and the National Endowment for Democracy, in contrast to its nefarious meddling in countries like Ukraine, has given the Dalai Lama financial support, enabling his government to exist in exile. It must be remembered that the Dalai Lama was a recognized reincarnation according to the ancient Buddhist tradition of the sovereign nation of Tibet. Tibet deserves its freedom just as Donbass does, and America has supported Tibetan freedom. So America is, after all, capable of moral action.
I would encourage American think tanks, diplomats, and other representatives of the US government to begin a direct dialogue with the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The US might discover fertile ground for the creation of a peaceful Europe far superior to the chaos they have uncovered in Kiev.
For the latest news on Donbass see our News from Novorossiya page above, or click here.