Ukraine, hawks and pigeons

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

An overview of the Ukrainian and world mudflats, where peace hangs by a thread

To understand what is happening in Ukraine today, it is necessary to step back in time, something like sixty years or more, to say the least. I apologize to the readers if some observations are attached to my personal biography. This is due more to my perception of the facts than to their nature. In the end, I, like the man of Ortega y Gasset, am just me and my circumstance…

When I first arrived in the United States in 1964 on a scholarship from the American Field Service to finish the high School in Burlington, Vermont, and on the run from the then young but decrepit Brazilian dictatorship, I found American foreign policy divided.

On the one hand, there were the Hawks, “Falcons”, openly militaristic, who preached total armament against the communist danger. On the other, the Doves, “Pigeons”, who intended to use diplomacy and alliance policies against… the same communist danger. Today this is called soft power, although the general concept is broader.

The source of both currents – at that time, one centered in the Pentagon, and others in some sectors of the State Department, was the same (the CIA acted on both fronts). That is, the reflections of the American diplomat George Frost Kennan, who had been ambassador in Moscow. For Kennan, the Soviet Union was hopelessly expansionist, and the center of US foreign policy should be that of “containment” (key word) of the USSR. The difference between the Hawks and the Pigeons lay in method.

Let us exemplify, in a synthetic way, through two complementary attitudes. In 1961, the obstinacy of the American military commander in Berlin, challenging the Soviets at the Check-Point Charlie checkpoint, almost led to a direct clash between both powers. Dozens of tanks on each side were face to face and ready to go into action, a confrontation only avoided thanks to a direct phone call between John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. It was the Falcons in action.

Well, in a way, the Marshall Plan, which seduced and co-opted Western Europe into an anti-Soviet economic and political bastion, was inspired by the doctrine outlined by Kennan. It was the Pigeons in action. The objective was the same: to contain the Soviet Union. By the way, Kennan, over time, became a “Pigeon”, adept at soft power in the current nomenclature. He also took a stand against US intervention in Vietnam.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), created in 1949, was adapted to the militaristic logic, having the same objective since its beginning, that is, the encirclement of the Soviet Union. As a military alliance, it is not surprising that it leaned towards the Falcons.

These were the exponents of what President Dwight Eisenhower, a conservative Republican, denounced as “the military-industrial complex” that governed American policy, including foreign policy, in his farewell speech on January 17, 1961, to the hand over office to Democrat John Kennedy.

Since then, the beacons of US foreign policy have not changed much. They gained a new component from the neoliberal hegemony consecrated by Ronald Reagan, with the help of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and the anti-communist crusade of her valuable ally, Pope John Paul II. I recommend reading the biography of John Paul II, written by Carl “Watergate” Bernstein and Marco Politi, His Holiness: John Paul II and the History of Our Time, which proves the Reagan-Thatcher-John Paul II articulation to overthrow communism and place the Vatican among the ranks of international conservatism, “correcting” the line adopted by John XXIII and Paul VI, aborted after the veiled assassination of John Paul I, in 1978. The term “murder” is mine, not from the Bernstein/Politi book. But I am convinced of this.

This component was the progressively decisive role of intelligence agencies and secret services, partly outsourced to companies and think tanks private parties, in the formulation of the foreign policies of several countries, including the United States, according to Edward Snowden's accusations. This tendency became viral in the United States after the attacks against the twin towers in New York, in 2001. It enthroned the Falcons – now also informed by the techniques of hybrid warfare – as the makers of US world policy.

Let's put it like this: Obama, Trump and Biden can decide on the color of the curtains in the living room and the glasses to serve the wine; but the kitchen and the menu are in the hands of the new industrial-military-secret service conglomerate and its public or private agencies, with the very autonomous leadership of the latter partner, which establishes limits and alliances, as well as directives for the State Department, the House Branca and the Pentagon, having a direct line to NATO. It behaves like an autonomous state within Europe. And it extended its radius of action to North Africa.

Of yesterday's Soviet Union and today's Russia I understand very little. But I can recognize what follows. Much more than the geriatric bureaucracy of the Communist Party, the backbone of the Soviet world was the Red Army, whose prestige and internal power had been shattered in its ill-fated adventure in Afghanistan. Lacking in technological innovation, the Soviet economy was sinking, also shipwrecked amid the complete lack of democracy.

From the 1989/1991 debacle, rather than the homo sovieticus – solidary, communist, generous, militant – what emerged was a caste of ex-communist bureaucrats eager to privatize everything in front of them, reaping their tithe, a most reactionary Orthodox Church, and a bunch of oligarchs and mafiosi dominated by the that his late bourgeois spirit captured the worst of triumphant capitalism: robbery, amassing fortunes and buying everything around the world, from imported cars to cases of whiskey, from British football clubs to brothels in Hamburg, Germany.

It was against this catastrophic picture that the charisma of Vladimir Putin rose from the shadows and ashes of the former tsarism filtered by the Soviet apparatus, who, with the help of his past and the accumulated knowledge as former head of the KGB, the Soviet mix of CIA and FBI, managed to co-opt religious orthodoxy, control and/or neutralize the oligarchs, politically isolate the mafias and guarantee a minimum of, let's say, Roman pax for the terrified and free-falling middle and working classes.

Sitting on the planet's second nuclear arsenal, it was natural that it wanted to re-establish the former imperial dominion of the ex-tsarist, ex-Soviet world, rocked by a Russian nationalism that never died out. It has had some success in this, rebuilding Russia's geopolitical presence, after the disaster that was the decaying government of Gorbachev and the drunk (in every sense) of Boris Yeltsin. He had the help of the disastrous US policy in Syria and the catastrophic US interventions in Iraq and NATO in Libya. NATO's previous bombing raids in the Balkan region helped to establish allied governments in the region, but did not promote the organization's popular prestige in the affected countries, despite the atrocities committed during the civil war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Let's move on to Ukraine, the scene of the current conflict that threatens to converge into a military catastrophe of major proportions, involving, at the limit, the two largest nuclear powers on the planet. A quick look at a European map shows us the enormous extension of its land border with Russia – almost 1.600 km (a little less than the distance between São Paulo and Cuiabá, by road), combined with its proximity to the Russian capital, Moscow, 493 km on the M3 motorway (something like São Paulo – Rio de Janeiro, on the Dutra Highway).

Ukraine was part of the USSR. During World War II, a dramatic division between those who favored the Nazi occupation and those who participated in the Soviet resistance was divided. This division left indelible scars in the country, including regional ones, as those were concentrated further to the west, and the latter to the east, closer to the Russian border. The Ukrainian Nazis did everything, martyring Jews, Poles, Soviets, along with the Germans.

In 1986 Ukraine was the scene of the worst nuclear accident in history, that of Chernobyl, in the north of the country, which also left sequelae. Relations with the USSR as a whole were never smooth, not even after Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine in 1954, in a gesture of goodwill, but whose reasons no one understood very well until today.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine maintained close ties with Russia, but also approached Western Europe and sought the financing of triumphant capitalism. This balanced situation, despite some bumps and discontent, such as the “Orange Revolution” of 2004/2005, lasted until 2013/2014, when an armed uprising, with the media coverage of being a popular revolt, managed to depose President Viktor Yanukovych , considered pro-Russian, who refused to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union.

The forefront of the uprising was occupied by far-right groups, some with visible military training, and the protesters were hailed in the West as the “Heroes of Maidan Square”, where many of the clashes between police and protesters/militiamen took place. Many of these “heroes of democracy” had clear neo-Nazi affiliations, where there was no lack of secular anti-Semitism.

It was clear that the United States was supportive of the insurgents, although the extent and depth of prior involvement remain unclear. It was also clear that this revolt was on the radar or on the screens of NATO, which already maintained a policy of expansion towards the East, contrary to the agreement made with Gorbachev and Yeltsin on the brink and shortly after the end of the USSR. NATO was “taking” countries like Romania, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and other former members of the Warsaw Pact with the late USSR. This NATO expansion was stopped by Russia when it approached Georgia and then Ukraine. Today NATO trains the Ukrainian Army, which receives weapons from the United Kingdom, the United States, other NATO member countries, in addition to logistical support from the CIA.

When Yanukovich's government fell and he fled to Russia, Russia took two key actions. First: it reattached the Crimean peninsula, considered strategic for its security, as it is on the shores of the Black Sea and the strait that connects it to the Sea of ​​Azov, which also bathes its shores, as well as those of Ukraine and Russia. In this region are the only Russian ports that remain open all year round, being vital for its naval access to the Black Sea and from there to the Mediterranean. It has been an area of ​​moderate attrition with forces from the Old West, with British and US ships circling it, and there is a significant air presence.

Second: Russia supported a separatist movement in the Donbas region, which, in Ukraine, is Russia's neighbor. There is a strong presence there (as in Crimea) of a population of Russian origin, and the Russian language itself is in common use. The region is rich in coal and steel and traditionally was and is the scene of a strong movement of workers in the sector. It was heavily occupied by the Nazis during World War II, in 1941 and 42, as Hitler considered its coal reserves strategic for German expansion, until its liberation by the Red Army in 1943.

Its relationship with the Kiev government has always been somewhat tense, with demands, never met, for greater autonomy. Tensions heightened after Ukraine's independence, when an economic crisis devastated the region. With the fall of Yanukovych, rebels concentrated in large urban centers such as Donetsk and Luhansk proclaimed their independence from Kiev. At the moment there is a line of confrontation between the separatists and the forces of the Ukrainian government, where skirmishes have been constant since 2014, having left a considerable balance of fatal victims.

In turn, the “heroes of democracy” and “of Maidan Square”, once installed in power, promoted a major purge, at all levels, of supporters of the Yanukovych government. They went further: they began to repress the use of the Russian language, which only intensified the reaction of the Donbas separatists and consolidated the support of the majority of the population of Crimea for the re-annexation by Russia.

There is yet another character on this board: the European Union. It is true that at this point she is a supporting character. But that, as it is on the stage of operations on land – whether political or military – it can have a relevant role in the arrangement for decisions. The main player in the European Union, Germany, is umbilically dependent on imports of Russian gas, more or less 50% of its energy source. The percentage is smaller, but equally relevant, in relation to other European countries. The transfer of the conflict, today still restricted to diplomatic tables, although sour, for the military area, would provoke a disaster in the European economy.

For this reason, both the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the French President, Emanuel Macron, have been striving to find a negotiated solution that avoids the military alternative. The UK is sending weapons to Ukraine, but Germany has refused to do so. Despite vows of unity, it is clear that there is disagreement over methods between the Anglo-Saxon partners, the United States and the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and France and Germany, on the other. This line of tension was aggravated by the episode surrounding the construction of submarines in Australia, in which the United States and the United Kingdom “crossed over” a pre-existing contract between Paris and Canberra, causing its cancellation.

At the moment, the bigger contenders, Russia and the United States, with NATO on their side, are trying to exploit the adversary's weaknesses. Russia is experiencing economic difficulties. The interruption of the export of its gas to Europe would have a very negative impact on it. The US and NATO are betting that the Russian economy would not withstand the strain of a prolonged war. On top of that, the US sees on the horizon the possibility that the military confrontation will cause the blockade of the second Russian gas pipeline to Germany, the Nordstream 2, built in the Baltic Sea, next to the Nordstream 1, which would open the German doors and ports and others for imports of North American gas, obtained through the process called fracking, more expensive and more complicated to transport.

Strategically, this would mean less dependence of the European Union on Russia and more on the United States. Nordstream 2 is ready but not yet in use and is the subject of controversy within the German government itself, with the Social Democrats on the side in favor of it and the Greens on the opposite side. In the middle stands the most acutely neoliberal partner, the FDP.

Russia is betting on dividing opponents. Biden is in a fragile position in the United States, besieged by Republican opponents who want to overthrow the Democratic majority in Congress in the November parliamentary elections of this year. The same is true of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, cornered by the so-called party gate, investigations into parties and parties organized in the courtyard of his official residence, Downing Street, no. 10, during the pandemic.

The whole of Europe is pressured by inflation unprecedented for decades, rising above 5% a year, or even higher, depending on the country and the sector analyzed, whose peak vector is the cost of energy, on a meteoric rise. Replacing Russian gas imports would be long and slow, but the effect of its suspension over the winter would be immediate: colder, longer nights, higher prices, plus an economy going into a downward spiral: a disaster. In addition, economic sanctions against Russia, such as its expulsion from the SWIFT system of macro-banking transactions, as preached by some of the North American Hawks, would also be catastrophic for European and US companies alike. As for Moscow, it could always take refuge under Beijing's growing wings.

It is difficult to take stock of this Ukrainian and world quagmire. I can't escape the idea that, for all its aggressiveness, a military adventure is of less interest to Russia than to the North American Falcons, who remain dictating the cards of US foreign policy. These, through NATO, seem more interested in provoking two possible situations: (a) Russia promotes the invasion of Ukrainian territory, even if limited; (b) Russia does not promote the invasion, and political credit goes to the “firm position” of the United States and its allies, with those gaining points to continue their policy of co-opting the former members of the Warsaw Pact and former Soviet republics, as happened recently in Kazakhstan, a country with large mineral reserves and strategic for both Russia and China. The attempt failed, thanks in part to prompt Russian intervention, through the new military agreement with some of the former Soviet republics, but the hypothesis did not disappear.

In short, peace hangs by a thread. And most of the western media keeps harping on that the only aggressor is Russia, closing their eyes, pages and screens to NATO's aggressive action. I do not mean to say, with this, that Russia is angelic: in this simmering, in the case of diplomatic confrontation, or high, in the case of directly military action, there are no good guys or bad guys, only interests at stake.

PS – Comrade Vladimir Putin invited the current usurper of the Planalto Palace for an official visit to Russia, which he should make in February, despite the risk of imminent conflict. In addition to a possible identification of style between the neo-czar of Moscow and the dictator project of Brasilia, the reason for the invitation remains shrouded in the most varied speculations. I read a welcome interpretation that this was a demonstration of Putin's “statesmanship”, that he would not refuse to talk to anyone. I do not doubt Putin's "statesmanship" character, which combines the style of a sober poker player with that of a somewhat exhibitionist karate fighter. But I have my reservations.

I cannot leave aside the fact that in the recent past the main opponent of the usurper, former president Lula, was festively received by European social democracy and by the current main leader of the Union, Emmanuel Macron, with the right to a red carpet, guard republican and other amenities reserved for heads of state. Lula and the PT have always been more closely linked to the social democrats of Europe than to the communists, now ex-communists in Moscow. Macron has a clear and justifiable antipathy towards the usurper from Brasilia. In turn, Putin always bets on the weakening of the European Union. In Europe, Putin's main connections tend to the right or extreme right, which do not hide their dislike for the current European Union.

The best thing for our now discredited diplomacy would be to ensure that everything was quiet, without great fuss, which can be very difficult, given the character of a lifebuoy that Putin's invitation has for the usurper, today an isolated castaway in planetary geopolitics , except for its links with what is most reactionary and sordid in it.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).

 

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