Post-Ukraine, are we entering the Cold War era again?

For weeks now, the mainstream media have been unanimously engaged in denouncing Vladimir Putin’s action in Crimea first and Ukraine now.

The latest cover of The Economist depicts a bear swallowing Ukraine, with the title “Insatiable”.

Media unanimity is always troubling, because it means that some knee-jerk reflex is involved. Could it be possible that we are just following the inertia of 40 years of Cold War?

This inertia has not really gone away.

Just say or write “communist President Raul Castro,” and nobody will blink.

But use the same logic and call President Barack Obama a capitalist, and see how it is received.

In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi was able for 20 years to rally his voters against the threat of “communists”, as he called members of the left-wing Democratic Party, now in power with a devout Catholic at its head, Matteo Renzi. There are at least four points of analysis that are conspicuously missing in the chorus.

The first is that there is never any allusion to the responsibilities of the West in this affair. Let us recall that Mikhail Gorbachev agreed with George H W Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand to let the reunification of Germany go ahead, as long as the West refrained from invading Russia’s zone of influence.

Of course, once Gorbachev was out of the way, the game opened up again. Boris Yeltsin’s total docility towards the US is well known.

What is much less well-known is that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made a $3.5 billion loan to support the ruble.

The loan went to the Bank of America, which distributed the money to various Russian accounts.

None of it ever reached the Central Bank of Russia, going instead to the oligarchs so that they could buy up Russia’s public companies — and never a word of protest from the IMF.

Then along came the unknown Putin, put in power by the departing Yeltsin on the understanding that he would cover up Yeltsin’s cronyism. Here goes a brief summary of how the West gradually encircled Russia:

After Yeltsin, Putin supported Washington’s then imminent invasion of Afghanistan in a way that would have been unthinkable during the Cold War.

He agreed that US planes could fly through Russian air space, and that the US could use military bases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and he ordered his military to share their experience in Afghanistan.

Then in November 2001, Putin visited George W Bush at his Texas ranch, in a flourish of hype along the lines of “Putin is a new leader who is working for world peace…by working closely with the US.”

A few weeks later, Bush announced that the US was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that it could build a system in Eastern Europe to protect the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) from Iran — a move that was seen as directed against Russia in reality, to Putin’s dismay.

This was followed by Bush’s 2002 invitation to seven nations from the extinct Soviet Union (including Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) to join NATO (which they did in 2004).

Then in 2003 came the invasion of Iraq, without the consent of the United Nations and over the objections of France, Germany and Russia, turning Putin into an open critic of the US’s claim that it was promoting democracy and upholding international law.

In November of the same year, the Rose Revolution brought Mikheil Saakashvili, a pro-Western president, to power in Georgia.

Four months later, street protests in Ukraine turned into the Orange Revolution, carrying another pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, to power.

In 2006, the White House asked for permission to land Bush’s plane in Moscow to refuel, but made it clear that Bush had no time to greet Putin. In 2008 came Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, with the support of the US, much against Russia’s will.

Regain control

Then Bush asked NATO to grant membership to Ukraine and Georgia, a slap in Moscow’s face.

So it should have been no surprise when, in 2008, Putin intervened militarily after Georgia tried to regain control of the breakaway pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, taking it under Russian control along with another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Yet we all remember how the media talked about an unreasonable action.

Obama tried to repair the damage done to international relations under Bush.

He asked for a “reset” of relations with Russia.

And at the beginning, everything went well. Russia agreed to the use of its space for getting military supplies to Afghanistan.

In April 2010, Russia and the US signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, reducing their nuclear arsenals.

And Russia supported strong UN sanctions against Iran, and cancelled the sale of its S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran.

But then, in 2011, it became clear that the US was expressing its views about Russia’s parliamentary elections.

The Western media were against Putin, who accused the US of injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into opposition groups.

The then US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, called this an exaggeration: he said that only tens of millions of dollars had been provided to civil society organisations.

It is clear that to intervene just to challenge Putin, and offer money (which is basically what the European Union did), seems very shallow thinking.

Are we really ready to change the criteria of the European Union, accept a country which is totally out of sync with these criteria, and take on an enormous burden, just to appear to have won against a strongman?

IPS

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