Western troops in Ukraine

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By TARIK CYRIL AMAR*

How a Biggest Lie Can Lead to the Biggest War

1.

The current state of the conflict between Ukraine – which serves (while being demolished) as a proxy for the West – and Russia can be sketched along three broad lines.

First, Russia now clearly has the battlefield advantage and could potentially accelerate its recent advances to achieve an overall military victory soon. The West is being forced to recognize this fact: as the Foreign Affairs, in an article titled “Time is running out in Ukraine,” Kiev and its Western backers “are at a critical decision point and face a fundamental question: How can new Russian advances… be halted and then reversed?” Just disregard the bit of wishful thinking that appears at the end to sweeten the bitter pill of reality. The bottom line is the recognition that this is a pivotal moment for the West and Ukraine – in a bad way.

Secondly, notwithstanding the above, Ukraine is not yet ready to request negotiations to end the war on terms acceptable to Russia, which would not be easy for Kiev. (Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated in a recent major interview that Moscow remains primarily open to negotiations, not based on “wishful thinking” but instead from reality “on the ground”).

The inflexibility of the Kiev regime is no wonder. Since ruling out a virtually complete – and favorable – peace agreement in the spring of 2022, President Volodymyr Zelensky has bet everything on an always unlikely victory. For him personally, as well as for his core team (at least), there is no way to survive – politically or physically – the catastrophic defeat they caused in his country by renting him out as a pawn for Washington's neoconservative strategy.

The Pope, despite the false fuss which provoked in Kiev and the West, was right: a responsible Ukrainian leadership needs to negotiate. But that is not the leadership Ukraine has. At least for now.

Third, the West's strategy is getting harder to decipher because, in essence, the West can't figure out how to adjust to the failure of its initial plans for this war. Russia was not isolated; its military has become stronger, not weaker – and the same applies to its economy, including its arms industry.

And last but not least, popular legitimacy and effective control of the Russian political system have not collapsed or eroded. As, again, even the Foreign Affairs admits, “Putin would likely win a fair election in 2024”. This is more than could be said, for example, for Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak, Olaf Scholz or Emmanuel Macron (as for Volodymyr Zelensky, he simply canceled the election).

2.

In other words, the West is facing not only the likely defeat of Ukraine but also its own strategic failure. The situation, although not a direct military defeat (as in Afghanistan in 2021), amounts to a serious political setback.

Indeed, this impending failure of the West is a historical disaster in the making. Unlike Afghanistan, the West will not be able to simply walk away from the mess it made in Ukraine. This time, the geopolitical reaction will be fierce and the costs will be very high. Instead of isolating Russia, the West isolated itself and, by losing, it will appear weakened.

It is one thing to have to finally, belatedly, accept that the illusory “unipolar” moment of the 1990s has long since ended. It is much worse to enter the new multipolar order for free with an impressive and avoidable self-abasement. However, this is what the EU/NATO-West managed to manufacture with its unnecessary over-extension in Ukraine. Arrogance has been rife, the downfall is now just a matter of time – and not much time.

Regarding EU-Europe in particular, French President Emmanuel Macron is half right about one thing. Russia’s victory “would reduce Europe's credibility to zero”. Except, of course, that a mind of greater Cartesian precision has detected that Moscow's victory will be merely the last stage of a longer process.

The deepest causes of the EU/NATO-Europe's loss of global standing are threefold. First, his own arbitrary decision to pursue confrontation rather than clearly viable engagement and cooperation with Russia (why exactly is it impossible to live with a neutral Ukraine again?). Secondly, the American strategy of systematic diminution of EU/NATO-Europe with a short-sighted policy of cannibalization of late-empire clientele, which takes the form of aggressive deindustrialization and a “Europeanization” of the war in Ukraine. And thirdly, the grotesque acquiescence of European customers to the above.

3.

This is the backdrop to a recent wave of mystifying signals coming from the West, especially from EU/NATO elites: first, we have had a wave of alarmist propaganda to follow NATO's biggest maneuvers since the end of the Cold War. Right away, Macron publicly declared and went on to reiterate that the overt – and not covert, albeit obvious, deployment as now – of Western ground forces into Ukraine is an option. He added a cheap demagogic note by calling on Europeans not to be “cowards,” meaning that they must be ready to actually follow his orders and fight against Russia, including clearly in and on Ukraine’s behalf. It doesn't matter that Ukraine is not an official member of NATO or the European Union, in addition to being a highly corrupt and undemocratic state.

In response, a divergence emerged within the EU/NATO: the German government was the one that most expressed itself in contradiction with Macron. It wasn't just Chancellor Scholz who rushed to distance yourself. A clearly outraged Boris Pistorius – Berlin's hapless defense minister, recently aggrieved by his own generals' stupendously careless indiscretion towards his Taurus missiles – he grumbled that there is no need to “talk about boots on the ground or having more or less courage”. Perhaps most surprising is that Poland, Czech Republic and NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg (i.e. the US) were quick to to declare who, in fact, are not ready to support Macron's initiative. The French public, by the way, is also showing no enthusiasm for a Napoleonic escalation. A survey of the Le Figaro shows that 68% are against the open deployment of ground forces to Ukraine.

On the other hand, Macron found some support. He's not entirely isolated, which helps explain why he's held firm: Zelensky doesn't count in this regard. His bias is obvious and, despite his usual delusions, he is not calling the shots on the matter. The Baltic countries, however, although they are military microdwarfs, are unfortunately in a position to exert some influence within the European Union and NATO. And, as usual, they sided with the French president, with Estonia and Lithuania taking the lead.

It's still impossible to be sure what we're seeing. First, let's get the most far-fetched hypothesis out of the way: is this a bluff coordinated with a distortion? A complicated attempt by the West to play good cop, bad cop against Russia, with Macron issuing the threats and others signaling that Moscow might consider them less extreme, at a diplomatic price, of course? Difficultly. For starters, such a scheme would be so absurd that even today's West is unlikely to attempt it. No, the crack opening in Western unity is real.

In relation to Macron himself, his style is half-hearted cleverness and counterproductive cunning. We cannot know what exactly he is trying to do, and perhaps he himself does not know. In essence, there are two possibilities. Either the French president is now a radical escalator determined to escalate the war into an open confrontation between Russia and NATO, or he is a high-stakes gambler who is engaged in a bluff to achieve three objectives. Frighten Moscow into refraining from promoting its military advantage in Ukraine (a hopeless idea); score points of nationalist “splendor” internally in France (which is already failing); and increase its weight within the EU/NATO-Europe “merely” positioning itself as, once again, a new “Churchill” – to which Macron himself made a point of alluding, with all his modesty. (And some of his fans, including Zelensky, a seasoned veteran of Churchill staging, have already made this customary, if obsolete, comparison.)

4.

While we cannot fully unravel the ill-tempered Elysee sphinx, or, for that matter, the shady dealings of the EU/NATO-Europe elites, we can say two things. First, whatever Macron thinks he is doing, it is extremely dangerous. Russia would treat troops from EU/NATO states in Ukraine as targets – and it won’t matter one bit if they appear labeled “NATO” or under national flags “only”. Russia also reiterated that it considers its vital interests affected in Ukraine and that if its leadership perceives a vital threat to Russia, nuclear weapons are an option. The warning could not be clearer.

Secondly, here is the central problem of the West which is now – due to Russia's undeniable victory in the war – worsening: Western elites are divided between “pragmatists” and “extremists”. Pragmatists are as Russophobic and strategically misguided as extremists, but they avoid World War III. However, these pragmatists, who seek to resist the radical climbers and control the situation at least as high-stakes players, are faced with a crippling contradiction in their own position and message: until now, they still share the same illusory narrative with the extremists. . Both groups continue to reiterate that Russia plans to attack the entire EU/NATO-Europe when it defeats Ukraine and that therefore stopping Russia in Ukraine is, literally, vital (or, in Macron's somewhat Sartrean terms, “existential”) to the West.

This narrative is absurd. The reality works exactly the opposite: the surest way to get into a war with Russia is to send troops into Ukraine openly. And what is existential for the EU/NATO-Europe is finally freeing itself from American “leadership”. During the Cold War, it was possible to argue that Europe (then Western) needed the USA. However, after the Cold War, this was no longer the case. In response, Washington deployed a consistent, multi-administrative, bipartisan, if often crude, strategy to prevent what should have been inevitable: the emancipation of Europe from American rule.

Both NATO's eastward expansion, programmed – and predicted – to cause a massive conflict with Russia, and the current proxy war in Ukraine, doggedly provoked by Washington over decades, are part of this strategy to – to paraphrase a famous saying about NATO – “keep Europe down”. And the European elites have been playing as if there was no tomorrow, which, for them, really could be.

We are at a possible breaking point, a crisis of this long-term trajectory. If EU/NATO-Europe pragmatists really want to contain the extremists, who toy with the possibility of triggering an open war between Russia and NATO that would devastate at least Europe, then they must be honest and finally abandon the narrative common, ideological and totally unrealistic about an existential threat from Moscow.

As long as pragmatists dare not challenge climbers on how to primarily understand the causes of the current catastrophe, extremists will always have the advantage of consistency: their policies are foolish, unnecessary and extremely risky. And yet they follow from what the West has made itself believe. It's high time to break this spell of self-hypnosis and face the facts.

*Tarik Cyril Amar, PhD in history from Princeton University, is a professor at Koç University (Istanbul). Author, among other books, of The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv (Cornell University Press).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on the portal RT.


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