This article is © 2014 by Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved by author.
This version was posted at The Last Ditch on May 5, 2014 by WTM Enterprises.


The Ukrainian Crisis:
The United States, Russia, and Israel


If you find this article of value, please send a donation of at least $4 to The Last Ditch. More information appears below.


The American involvement in the Ukrainian imbroglio has a number of causes, which include the significant role of the neoconservatives. In a series of articles, investigative journalist Robert Parry has made an insightful analysis of this neocon role, linking it to their opposition to Obama's recent "foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hot spots such as Iran and Syria cooperation." [1] That approach toward Israel's enemies has been staunchly opposed as too soft by Israel and the Israel lobby in the United States, of which the neocons are a leading hard-line element.

Parry's analysis of the Ukraine crisis better accounts for the facts than the mainstream's Hitlerian Putin thesis or the position of some critics that it reflects the overall policy of the U.S. government to weaken Russia and expand the American empire. Furthermore, a significant unmentioned aspect of the Ukrainian affair is the irony-rich role of Israel, America's purported close ally, which has not been critical of Russia. In fact, Israel is actually improving its relationship with Russia and stands to benefit from the crisis.

Neocons had been using the democracy card against Putin's Russia for some time, as they had previously done against the Soviet Union, because of Putin's hostility to the Russian liberals, many of whom happened to be Jewish and pro-Israel, and also because of Russia's support for Israel's major enemies — Iran and Syria. But Parry holds that the issue of Ukraine became especially significant in recent months because of the success of the Obama-Putin relationship in averting "a U.S. military strike against Syria last summer and then brokering an interim nuclear agreement with Iran last fall that effectively took a U.S. bombing campaign against Iran off the table." [2] The neocons feared that in contrast to their war agenda for the Middle East — intended to weaken Israel's enemies — the Obama-Putin combination might be able to establish a peaceful solution to the major problems in the Middle East that would have a negative impact on what they and the Israeli Right perceive as Israel's national interests.

With that Middle East backdrop, Parry writes that the "[n]eocons played key behind-the-scenes roles in instigating the Feb. 22 coup [in Ukraine] that overthrew a democratically elected president with the help of neo-Nazi militias; the neocons have since whipped Official Washington into a frenzy of bipartisan support for the coup regime; and they are pushing for a new Cold War if the people of Crimea vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia." [3] With tensions rising between the West and Russia, "the neocons have succeeded in estranging U.S. President Barack Obama from Russian President Vladimir Putin and sabotaging the pair's crucial cooperation on Iran and Syria." [4]

It should be added that the events in the Ukraine, by distracting U.S. attention from the peace process, enable Israel to create more facts on the ground, free from any badgering from the Obama administration, thus making the creation of a viable Palestinian state more unlikely. [5]

While it appears that the neocons and their followers provoked the immediate crisis in Ukraine — as I will describe in more detail — they are hardly the only elite group promoting a hard line on Russia, in contrast to their dominant role in the war on Iraq. Hard-liners on Ukraine include NATOists, neoliberals, humanitarian liberals, former Cold Warriors, and American nationalists. For some conservatives and American nationalists (the groups overlap) there are lingering Cold War suspicions of Russia that can easily be inflamed along with the belief that the United States must remain the world's unchallenged superpower and thus strike down all competitors. Those involved in NATO — directly, peripherally, or even vicariously — see the existence of a Russia threat as providing a justification for the reinvigoration of an organization that would otherwise be an anachronistic relic of the Cold War. And, of course, defense contractors involved in producing sophisticated, high-ticket weaponry need the threat of a powerful enemy in order to peddle their wares in an era of U.S. budget austerity.

That the aforementioned groups would likely be supporters of a hard line toward Russia seems unsurprising since they were the major elements who had backed the Cold War.

The inclusion of mainstream American liberals would be an addition, however, since they had been rather cool toward an aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union in the last, post-Vietnam, stages of the Cold War, a time when "Cold War liberals" had become something of a rarity. And today's liberals seem to be far more critical of Putin than they ever were of any Soviet leader. It should be pointed out that liberals, partly in line with academically popular revisionist Cold War historians of the 1970s, [6] were quite willing to concede a Soviet-dominated buffer zone in Central and Eastern Europe. [7] To a significant extent, that reflected the liberal attitude that Communism, although using brutal means, sought the same progressive ends as modern American liberalism. It also represented the tendency of American liberals during the 20th century to oscillate between crusading interventionism and quasi-pacifistic non-interventionism. Regarding the latter, the danger of nuclear war, which it was feared would destroy the world, was used as a key reason for not antagonizing the Soviets. (Of course, Putin's Russia has retained that large nuclear arsenal, but the focus on nuclear war's ending the world has been completely replaced in the liberal mindset by the contention that Global Warming [or "Climate Change"] will cause that catastrophic event.)

Putin, however, is something of a social conservative, and he has recently begun overtly to express views that are anathema to 21st-century liberalism. "Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values," Putin has intoned. "Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation." Putin now portrays Russia as a defender of "traditional values" that are threatened globally by the West. [8]

Mainstream liberalism has in recent years tended to place more emphasis on social issues — defining abortion and homosexual activity as human rights — than on the economy. Those who oppose the liberal positions are considered terrible bigots. Since homosexuals and their supporters are an influential part of Obama's Democrat constituency, President Obama, a recent convert to the homosexualist cause, has explicitly condemned Russia in language not too different from the denunciations that anti-Communist U.S. presidents such as Ronald Reagan flung at the Soviet Union — rhetoric that liberals at the time considered excessively hostile. "I have no patience for countries that treat gays or lesbians ... in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them," Obama opined. "Nobody is more offended than me by some of the antigay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia." [9]

In assessing responsibility for the current crisis in the Ukraine, we should acknowledge that Putin is trying to assert Russian hegemony over the now-independent former Soviet Republics, though not aiming for the degree of control once exercised by the Soviet Communist Party. And a significant political and cultural division definitely exists between the Ukrainian-nationalist western Ukraine and the pro-Russian eastern part of the country, with neither side following the rules of constitutional democracy. The pro-Western parties supported the recent extralegal overthrow of the elected president (though having post facto majority support in the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada) [10]; and the eastern Party of the Regions, after winning the 2010 election, used the legal system to incarcerate the leaders of the predominantly pro-Western political opposition. Nonetheless, U.S. policies since the end of the Cold War have contributed to the crisis, and that has made Russia, a major power, antagonistic toward the United States.

Jack F. Matloff, U.S. ambassador to Russia under the first President Bush, describes the situation this way: "The common assumption that the West forced the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus won the Cold War is wrong. The fact is that the Cold War ended by negotiation to the advantage of both sides." However, Matloff contends that during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, "the United States insisted on treating Russia as the loser." The highlights of that approach included wrecking Russia's remaining European ally, Serbia, in the war over Kosovo; bringing former Soviet-controlled states into NATO, which Bush had promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev the United States would not do; and "overt participation in the 'color revolutions' in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan; and then, probing some of the firmest red lines any Russian leader would draw, talk of taking Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Americans, heritors of the Monroe Doctrine, should have understood that Russia would be hypersensitive to foreign-dominated military alliances approaching or touching its borders." [11]

The eminent anti-Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn expressed a similar view in a 2007 interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel: "When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped." However, "[that] mood started changing with the cruel NATO bombings of Serbia. It's fair to say that all layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when NATO started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by literally millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one fell stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc."

Solzhenitsyn continued: "In this context it was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a Third World country and would remain so forever. When Russia started to regain some of its strength as an economy and as a state, the West's reaction — perhaps a subconscious one, based on erstwhile fears — was panic." [12]

However, is there any reason for the United States to fear Putin's Russia? Putin was elected president in 2000 and initially followed a pro-Western orientation. When terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, he was the first foreign leader to offer support to the United States. Russia then began providing aid to the Northern Alliance opposition to the Taliban and cooperated with the United States when it invaded Afghanistan. Putin also removed Russian bases from Cuba and from Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam.

Putin's Russia, despite a roll-back in democratic freedoms from the 1990s, is still allowing far more in the way of personal freedom than the Soviet Union did in any of its phases. It is obviously not a totalitarian state, nor does it display the harsh authoritarianism of Tsarist Russia. During the time of greater freedom in the 1990s, Russia's economy and population were collapsing. Under Putin the economy has turned around, and 2013 saw the first population increase since the Soviet era. Undoubtedly, much of the economic upturn is due to exports of oil and gas, but nonetheless it is an increase and reflects the fact that today's Russia is a part of the world marketplace. Moreover, Russia, unlike the Soviet Union, does not have an ideological apparatus throughout the world that follows directions from Moscow in trying to shape the policies of other countries. In fact, Russia, despite the annexation of Crimea, has in general been more willing to recognize the tenets of international law than the United States, which has tended to ignore them for alleged humanitarian or security reasons.

It is acknowledged that Putin is very popular in Russia, with approval ratings hovering around 70 percent or above. Putin essentially depends on popular support, not totalitarian controls; it is unlikely that, even if he so desired, he could force the sacrifices on the population necessary to develop a military power equivalent to that of the former Soviet Union, which also had a significantly larger population. In short, it does not seem that Putin's Russia can pose a threat to the United States comparable to that posed by the Soviet Union. If the United States could live with the Soviet Union (and many experts have contended that the United States over-reacted to the Soviet threat), Americans should have nothing to fear from Putin's Russia. Of course, with their massive nuclear arsenals, both Russia and the United States do constitute a danger to the entire world's population should they resort to all-out war.

Even President Obama seemed to think that Russia was only a "regional power," not a world power. It seems apparent, however, that Putin does seek to make Russia a principal player in the world arena and eliminate what he and many others see as American global hegemony, in order to bring about a multi-polar world. The uniting of other states against a hegemonic power seems to approximate a law of international relations — being a commonplace even at the time of the Peloponnesian War in the fifth century B.C. As international relations theorist Christopher Layne has observed: "The historical record shows that in the real world, hegemony never has been a winning grand strategy. The reason is simple: The primary aim of states in international politics is to survive and maintain their sovereignty. And when one state becomes too powerful — becomes a hegemon — the imbalance of power in its favor is a menace to the security of all other states. So throughout modern international political history, the rise of a would-be hegemon always has triggered the formation of counter-hegemonic alliances by other states." [13]

Accordingly, Russia and China, joined by a number of lesser powers, are acting to frustrate American global policies, though they have yet to develop a truly coordinated effort, in part because of their various divergent interests. The conflict over the Ukraine could likely foster greater collaboration between the aforementioned two major powers.

President Obama had sought to "reset" American relations with Russia, which had been deteriorating under the George W. Bush administration. [14] And Putin worked together with Obama to try to solve the crises in Syria and Iran. However, those endeavors were anathema to the neocons, and even members of the Obama administration seemed to be working at cross purposes with Obama's effort to improve relations with Russia.

While it appears that for some time Putin has sought to contest America's global supremacy, it seems that he also wanted to avoid making the United States an outright enemy. Thus, in the period shortly before the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, Putin took a number of steps to improve Russia's human-rights image. Shortly before Christmas 2013, Putin pardoned oil magnate and political foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky and amnestied thousands of other prisoners, including two members of the Pussy Riot punk band and the detained Greenpeace activists who had tried to interfere with Russian oil drilling in the Arctic.

Putin's motive for getting the Winter Olympics for Russia seems to have been to show the world, especially the West, that Russia was a modern, free nation. It is reasonable to believe that Putin would have been quite willing to bask for some time in the success of the games. Though in the run-up to the event much of the Western media focused on the games' inordinate expense and predicted various failures and outright disasters, the games came off with few problems and an overall first place finish for the Russian team in gold medals. Even Juliet Macur of the New York Times, while interspersing her account with criticism of Putin's policies, had to admit the success of the games: "We looked out at the Olympic Park, which sits on the Black Sea, and marveled at what Russia had built, turning a crumbling summer vacation spot filled with Stalin-era sanitariums into a compact collection of state-of-the-art sporting venues.

"In a lot of ways, these Games were better than Olympics past. The venues, the transportation, the setting, the security — all winning." [15]

While the ancient Greeks officially suspended warfare during their Olympic Games — violations were very rare even during the Great Peloponnesian War when many rules of warfare that had restricted its violence were abandoned — some U.S. officials used the period when Putin's attention was riveted on the Sochi games to support protesters who ultimately overthrew Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whom Putin was depending on to bring Ukraine into his key project, the Eurasian Customs Union. That pact, which at this point comprises Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, is intended to establish economic integration with former Soviet countries to enhance their competitiveness on the world market.

The backgound of the crisis in Ukraine is very convoluted. By the fall of 2013, the Ukrainian economy was in a dire condition, and the Ukrainian regime looked for outside support. Until November 2013, President Yanukovych, along with the Ukrainian parliament, seemed to be moving toward an agreement with the European Union. During that time, Russia had been putting various forms of economic pressure on Ukraine to prevent that from coming about, especially in regard to changing the price of natural gas, in which Russia dominates the Ukrainian market.

Ultimately, the Ukrainian government would suspend its negotiations with the European Union, in part because of the EU's stringent requirements for an International Monetary Fund loan; and in December, after a meeting with Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow, Yanukovych accepted a deal with Russia that included a $15 billion loan from Russia and heavily discounted natural-gas prices. Although on the surface the arrangement appeared quite favorable, at least in the short run, pro-Western and nationalist elements in Ukraine were outraged and said that the deal likely included other non-public matters that would firmly establish Ukraine within Russia's economic and political orbit; and that is how Putin's Eurasian Customs Union has been perceived by his critics.

By integrating economies, legal systems, and militaries, Putin's plan was to develop the customs union into a supra-national union called the Eurasian Economic Union, which would be comparable to the European Union. It was to come into existence in 2015. In essence, the Eurasian Economic Union was a key feature of Putin's long-range geostrategy to restore Russia's role as a great power, emerging — in Putin's words — as "a powerful supranational association capable of becoming "a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world." [16] In that vision, of course, the United States would no longer stand alone as the great global superpower, as it has since the termination of the Cold War.

In December 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed America's opposition to what she said was an effort to "re-Sovietize the region" under a different name. "We know what the goal is," she proclaimed, "and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it." [17]

Obama himself did not necessarily subscribe to that harder line, but he has or has had in his administration leading figures pushing harder-line positions that help to shape overall U.S. foreign policy. Clinton had taken rather hawkish positions on Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria (though she was out of office during the 20013 crisis there). As humanitarian liberals, Susan Rice (national security advisor) and Samantha Powers (ambassador to the United Nations) have also pushed such harder policies.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the neocons and their fellow travelers, the overthrow of the government of Ukraine undid all of Putin's efforts both to court Western opinion and to bring Ukraine into Russia's sphere of influence. The path to overthrow was paved by a neoconservative instrument, the National Endowment for Democracy, a private but congressionally funded organization aimed at supporting groups around the world that promote democracy. It was created in 1984 during the Reagan administration for the fundamental purpose of undermining Communism. From its very outset, it has been headed by veteran neocon Carl Gershman, who had been in the Reagan administration as a staffer for Jeane Kirkpatrick, a neocon icon, who was then UN ambassador. Gershman had come from the left wing of neoconservatism. He was the executive director of the Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA) from 1975 to 1980, and had previously been an officer of the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL).

In a Washington Post article in September 2013, Gershman depicted Putin's Russia as an enemy and proposed that the United States take steps to counter it, which was the polar opposite of Obama's plan to "reset" relations with Russia that aimed for a more positive relationship. Gershman wrote: "In a replay of the classic East-West rivalry of the Cold War, but with the United States conspicuously on the sidelines, Russia has used economic and security threats to draw post-communist countries into its Eurasian Customs Union and to block the European Union's Eastern Partnership initiative, which seeks the reform and possible eventual integration of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine into E.U. structures." Gershman contended that for the United States "the opportunities are considerable, and there are important ways Washington could help." [18]

Parry holds that Gershman was essentially using NED to pursue his own vision — the neocon vision — of American policy toward Russia, observing that "NED funded a staggering 65 projects in Ukraine," which "created for NED what amounted to a shadow political structure of media and activist groups that could be deployed to stir up unrest when the Ukrainian government didn't act as desired." That meant that "[t]his NED shadow structure, when working in concert with domestic opposition forces, had the capability to challenge the decisions of Yanukovych's elected government, including the recent coup." [19]

Although Parry seems to assume that NED funded the overthrow of the Yanukovych government in an extralegal manner, no direct evidence is apparent to me, although NED definitely helped to create the environment for the overthrow. I think my characterization would apply also to other governmental and private agencies that funded the opposition to the government, which some other commentators have maintained represented an overall U.S. policy move to overthrow the Ukrainian government and put it in America's camp. [20]

Evidence for more direct involvement, however, does exist in the case of Victoria Nuland, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Nuland played a significant role on focusing U.S. attention on Ukraine. According to Damon Wilson, a former advisor on Europe to President George W. Bush who takes a hard line on Ukraine and therefore is not critical of Nuland's position, Nuland "created U.S. policy really out of very little at the time." [21] As the foremost U.S. policy official on Europe, Nuland was openly supporting anti-government elements in Ukraine, thus acting completely in violation of proper diplomatic protocol; such subversion, if it existed, would normally be carried out in secret.

Nuland has neoconservative credentials, having been an advisor to Vice President Cheney during the George W. Bush administration and being related by marriage to the neoconservative Kagan family. Her husband, Robert Kagan, was a contributing editor of The Weekly Standard and original director of the notorious (in anti-war circles) Project for a New American Century (PNAC). With Bill Kristol in 2009, he established the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a neocon organization that is considered a successor to PNAC. Robert's brother Frederick Kagan is a staff member at the neocon American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and was a major architect of the militant surge strategy for Iraq, which Bush adopted in early 2007. With his wife Kimberly, a neocon in her own right (founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War), Frederick Kagan shaped General Petraeus's military policy from the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2011 when Petraeus was commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Kagan family elder, Donald Kagan, was a prominent historian of ancient Greece who taught at Cornell and Yale; one of the original neoconservatives, he was a signatory of PNAC and a trustee of the neocon Hudson Institute.

In December 2013, Nuland openly distributed snacks to protesters in central Kiev's Maidan (Independence) Square, who demanded the resignation of President Yanukovych for his opting for an economic agreement with Russia rather than one that had been planned with the European Union. [22] Nuland's action did not just serve to boost the morale of the protesters by showing them that the United States was on their side; in acting in such a visible manner she was bound to draw world-wide media attention and the ire of the Russian government, which was backing Yanukovych. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev criticized her action as interference in the affairs of a sovereign state. Of course, as a major U.S. official, who was not reprimanded for her actions, Nuland made it appear that the U.S. government supported the protesters.

Also at that time, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strong statement criticizing the harsh response of the government of Ukraine to the protests. "The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv's Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons," he wrote, "rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy." [23]

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 15, 2014, Nuland implied that the United States would intervene in Ukraine's internal affairs. She asserted that "the use of violence and acts of repression carried out by government security forces and their surrogates have compelled us to make clear publicly and privately to the government of Ukraine that we will consider a broad range of tools at our disposal if those in positions of authority in Ukraine employ or encourage violence against their own citizens." [24]

Capturing the most public attention was an intercepted phone call between Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine. It was made on an unsecured line that was tapped, and a recording of the conversation was anonymously posted on YouTube on February 4 and soon went viral. Nuland's blunt language, which included the use of an obscenity, garnered the most public attention in the West, but most significant was the revelation of apparent close connections to the Ukrainian opposition, which Washington had been strenuously denying.

More than that, the conversation revealed that the two high-ranking U.S. officials believed they had the power to actually determine the makeup of a new Ukrainian regime. As an article in the Washington Post put it: "Nuland and Pyatt speak like political strategists, or perhaps like party bosses in a smoky back room. Using shorthand and nicknames, they game out what they would like to see opposition figures do and say, and discuss how best to influence some opposition decision-making." [25] Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was favored by Nuland, became the prime minister of the new interim government that came to power after the overthrow of Yanukovych.

It is odd that Nuland and Pyatt did not conduct their conversation on a secure, encrypted telephone line. Phone tapping is known to be commonplace in the former Soviet states and, as we now know thanks to Edward Snowden, looms large in the United States as well. Since it is hard to believe that the two officials would be so careless in this manner, it is conceivable that they either did not care whether their exchange were intercepted or actually desired that it should be. The openness with which Nuland earlier identified with the protesters provided further evidence pointing in that direction.

What was the likely effect on Russian policy? The openness with which the United States was apparently backing an opposition that rejected the close relations that Putin sought with Ukraine would be a slap in his face. That would call for militant action on Putin's part since his popularity in Russia rested in part on his cultivated image as a strong leader who was able to stand up to the United States. For political reasons alone, he could not afford to appear weak toward an affront by the United States, especially delivered by a woman and on what his Russian supporters would consider Russia's own turf. [26]

The questions are, first, to what extent Nuland represented the policy of the U.S. government and, second, whether that policy aimed at preventing Russia from becoming stronger. Some critics seem to assume that this was a concerted policy of the United States. [27] That would mean that Obama's talk about a "reset" in American relations with Russia was nothing but a ruse.

But what would be the rationale for trying to weaken Russia by acting to antagonize it while being unprepared for Russian retaliation? As Edward Lozansky, a former Soviet dissident who was born in Kiev and who now resides in Russia as president of the American University in Moscow, writes:

There's a long list of reasons why picking a fight with Moscow is not wise. For the sake of brevity, let us just name the first 10, without further elaboration: international terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, North Korea, drug trafficking, developing the Arctic region, continued space exploration, and global warming. None of these challenges can be met by American might alone. The list can be extended almost indefinitely, as practically in any field — from agriculture to nuclear energy to missile defense — both the United States and Russia can benefit from close cooperation. [28]
America's dependence on Russian rockets is one key area, where not only space exploration but the very defense of the United States is in the hands of the Russians. America depends not just on Russian rockets to lift its astronauts to the International Space Station but also on Russian engines for its Atlas 5 rockets, which are used to put a large proportion of its military and intelligence satellites in orbit. Switching to American-produced rocket engines would take a number of years because the Russians have mastered a new, more efficient "oxygen-rich staged combustion" technology that does not currently exist in the United States, or apparently, anywhere else. [29]

Moreover, the U.S. anti-Russian policy is pushing Russia in the direction of China, which contradicts a fundamental principle of American policy since the Nixon administration. Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security advisor and then secretary of state, initiated America's "opening of China" as a strategy to exploit the split within the Sino-Soviet bloc. An obvious principle in the foreign policy of any country is to keep potential powerful enemies divided.

Despite potential border issues, Russia had been edging in the direction of China for some time because both countries had a balance-of-power interest in checking the American superpower. Nonetheless, the Russian move toward China was quite circumspect, restrained by the fear of China's rapidly growing power relative to that of Russia. Those considerations included China's technological dominance; its growing military strength, which includes an expanding nuclear arsenal; and the specter of Chinese demographic and economic expansion into resource-rich but sparsely inhabited Siberia. Moreover, China effectively challenged Russia in the former Soviet Asian republics — seen by Russia as its sphere of interest — in terms of economic ties. [30]

A cold war with the West, however, might send Russia straight in the direction of China. China could provide a substitute market for Russian natural gas, oil, and other raw materials, which would be limited in the West thanks to sanctions. [31]

Is there any reason to think that the Obama administration was prepared for Putin's aggressive response to U.S. meddling in Ukraine? While the U.S. government would not be expected to know the future, if there were a concerted plan to remove the government of Ukraine one certainly would assume that Washington would have contingency plans for Putin's likely reactions. But during the past two years, the United States has been removing combat troops, tanks, and planes from Europe, so that the United States no longer has much military power to flex in the area. [32] Obviously, Obama's "pivot" to the Far East to contain China in that region would not mesh with a policy toward Russia that drew the two countries together. In fact, with the focus now on Eastern Europe, the United States might not be able to commit much of any power to the South China Sea. And the Obama administration's new, sleeker military budget hardly comports with an expansion of military adversaries and commitments.

In short, there does not seem to be any concerted U.S. policy to encircle and threaten Russia. Rather, it seems most likely that different elements of the U.S. government have been able to pursue, to a significant extent, their own policies that conflict with Obama's major policy positions.

Under my interpretation, Obama really meant what he said about the reset in policy toward Russia. But not everyone in his administration is on his wavelength, and the dissenters include not only a few quasi-neoconservatives and their neo-liberal fellow travelers but also humanitarian liberals who have a kneejerk negative reaction against Putin. Instead of being weak toward Russia as his critics contend, Obama's failing would seem to be his weakness toward members of his administration and outside elites that have pushed him in a more militant direction. That has been illustrated in his earlier policy changes, such as his move away from his initial non-interventionist position on Libya and Syria. He was able to escape from launching a bombing attack on Syria only thanks to the grass-roots opposition of the American people, reflected in opposition in Congress, combined with the plan put forth by Putin for Syria to voluntarily relinquish its chemical weapons. [33]

The whole crisis in Ukraine will hurt the countries involved. The sanctions by the United States and Europe, and the counter-sanctions by Russia will do considerable harm to their already fragile economies even though alternate trading arrangements probably will emerge. Many of the European states are heavily dependent on the Russian market and even more so on vital energy resources, especially natural gas.

Some commentators have maintained that the United States could replace Russia in providing Europe with gas. However, even though America has recently become the world's largest producer of natural gas, with its mastery of new hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling technology, it will not have the capability to liquefy and export the gas produced for a number of years, given the need to construct the requisite infrastructure. [34]

In the case of Russia, its stock market has been falling and the value of the ruble declining. Sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union would likely push Russia's already dicey economy, whose growth rate had virtually stopped before the Ukrainian crisis, toward a recession. [35]

Putin's popularity has depended on economic improvement in Russia as well as its re-emerging image as an international power. If its economy sinks, the support for him would likely erode. Of course, he could try to prevent that by establishing even greater state control of Russian society, making it more Soviet-like. However, it is highly questionable whether he could achieve such control in the absence of an overarching ideology such as Communism. Moreover, if he were to embrace China, Putin would probably end up strengthening a growing, nearby power that would ultimately curb the expansion of Russian power in Asia and concomitantly harm his personal prestige among the Russian people.

A couple of countries affected by this conflict but not involved in it stand to benefit from it. One is China, to which we have already alluded, which would gain in trade with Russia and also benefit from the United States being distracted from Asia and thus less capable of containing China in the region. However, unless faced with serious internal problems, it seems that China would continue in its power trajectory and inevitably gain regional dominance, so perhaps the Ukrainian crisis would not have much of an effect here.

The second country that would benefit is Israel. The above-mentioned agreements regarding Syria and Iran sought by the Obama administration but (especially in the case of Iran) ardently opposed by the Netanyahu government will not be achievable without U.S-Russian cooperation, and that now appears unlikely. Further, although conventionally said to be an American ally, Israel has placated Russia by distancing itself from the United States on the Ukrainian crisis, even refraining from voting on the UN General Assembly's non-binding resolution that affirmed the "territorial integrity of Ukraine" and declared Crimea's secessionist referendum to be invalid. The resolution passed by a vote of 100-11, with 58 abstentions. Israel's only official reaction to the Ukrainian issue has been a rather tepid statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry on March 5, 2014. It read in full: "Israel is following with great concern the events in Ukraine, is anxious for peace for all its citizens, and hopes that the situation will not escalate to a loss of human life. Israel hopes the crisis in Ukraine will be handled through diplomatic means and will be resolved peacefully." Even at that, Jerusalem agreed to issue the statement only after it was pressured to do so by the U.S. administration, according to Israeli media. [36]

What has generally been ignored in the American media is that Israeli and Russian relations have been improving for some time, despite Russia's support for Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians, and they have involved considerable trade. [37] The improving relationship stems in part from the fact that both countries have a common interest in opposing Islamic terrorism, with Israel, unlike the United States and Western Europe, giving full support to Putin's ruthless suppression of the Chechen rebels.

Putin's Russia has treated Russian Jews very favorably, especially in contrast to the way they were treated in the Soviet Union from the latter part of the Stalinist era onward. In late 2012, what is purported to be the largest Jewish history museum in the world opened in Moscow — the first Jewish museum to exist in Russia for more than 60 years. Its construction was funded by oligarchs close to Putin, who himself personally donated one month of his salary to the project.

As an article in the Jerusalem Post discussing Israel's response to the Ukrainian crisis puts it: "Not only are relations between Jerusalem and Moscow normal, in many ways they are even warm. Traffic between the two countries is free and hectic, Russia has become Israel's major oil supplier, it is a potentially deep destination for Israeli exports, and the two countries are in the process of finalizing a free-trade agreement." [38]

The article asserts that it is simply not in Israel's interest to do anything that would harm those good relations that took so long to establish. Moreover, it holds that there are still many Jews in Russia and Ukraine who might suffer if Israel were to support the American position. Israel, the article notes, has to consider the regional power factor: "The past three years' upheaval across the Arab world has for now resulted in increased Russian presence and diminishing American prestige." Confronted with "such a Russian comeback, Israel would be foolhardy to squander its hard-earned relations with post-Communist Russia."

Additionally, the article observes that Israel has no reason to take part in "distant East European squabbles" that don't really concern Israel's interests. "Neutrality in this conflict," the article concludes, "seems for now Israel's only plausible choice, and Jerusalem apparently expected Washington to understand this, as indeed does the Israeli opposition, where no one has so far attacked this policy." [39]

Now those are very justifiable reasons for Israel to avoid getting involved in Eastern European affairs. They should be a guide for the United States as well, and in fact they should pertain to Israel and the Middle East as well as to the rest of the world. If the United States were to follow Israel's wise policy it would certainly do nothing for Israel, since Washington's support of the Jewish state harms its relationship with the rest of the Middle East, ensnares it in unnecessary wars, and makes America a leading target for Islamic terrorists.

But that is not all. Israel may actually be planning to adopt a position of benevolent neutrality toward Russia — benevolent in that its neutrality would benefit Russia more than the United States. Both Russia and Israel are interested in expanding their mutual trade. Israel is a leading country in technology, and Russia provides a large market for Israeli goods and is especially desirous of Israeli technology — especially that which has military applicability. Israel has been the world's largest exporter of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones), most of which have military applications. [40] Israel, for its part, would like to increase its imports from Russia, which largely consist of raw materials — oil and oil products, natural gas, metals, wood and wood products — but also include chemicals and military hardware. [41] The sanctions that the United States and Europe would impose on Russia would enable Israel to expand its trade with Russia, which could likely include items with military implications, such as drones, that Russia desires.

In late 2013, Israel and Russia agreed to launch negotiations aimed at establishing a free-trade zone. [42] It would link Israel to the Eurasian Customs Union (currently consisting of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia), which Putin would like to enlarge. [43] So far, the crisis in the Ukraine does not seem to be causing Israel to refrain from participating in those negotiations.

Israel's effort to work with Putin's Eurasian Customs Union raises many questions. Although media reports do not quite say that Israel would actually join the union, it is still odd that Israel would want to join it, if it is as bad as the American government and media have portrayed it to be: namely, something akin to the recreation of the Soviet Union.

It also seems odd that America's alleged greatest ally is acting totally contrary to American foreign policy. While Israel receives more foreign aid from the United States than any other country, as well as guarantees of military protection, and induces the United States to veto every anti-Israel measure brought up in the UN Security Council, it refuses even to cast a vote in line with U.S. foreign policy — something that was done by 100 other countries — on a non-binding resolution in the General Assembly.

Moreover, the United States pressures European countries to enact stringent sanctions that will significantly harm their own already-fragile economies, as Israel plans to expand its trade with Russia, taking advantage of any reductions in European trade resulting from the sanctions.

Small as it is, Israel cannot possibly make up the volume of trade commodities that Europe provided to Russia. Nor could its small market make up the losses Russia would sustain as a result of the reduction of exports to Europe. However, in regard to high technology, Israel probably would be able to provide Russia with its needs and, if Israel were willing, it could provide advanced technology of military applicability that could help to modernize the Russian army and make it more able to compete with any type of military force that NATO could likely deploy.

As can easily be observed, Israel is working at cross-purposes to the policy of the United States. It is a big and interesting story, one might think, but virtually none of it attracts any mention in the American mainstream media; essentially, we are seeing a media blackout. Neocons who blast European countries for not opposing Russia have been virtually silent on Israel's position. For example, Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard did not even mention Israel's failure to vote in the UN. [44] Queried by a reporter from the Times of Israel, Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in an e-mail. "It doesn't affect support for the democratic state of Israel among American friends. That's not the way it works. They're an independent country, and have the right to be foolish; I don't think anyone devotes even a minute to considering the Israeli position on Ukraine." [45]

But as pointed out earlier, Israel is hardly being foolish, but instead is acting in its own interests. Given the power of the Israel lobby in the United States, Israel's need to cater to American foreign-policy goals is limited. Despite a fairly substantial Jewish population in Russia, no such lobby exists there. Thus, to curry favor from Russia, it is necessary for Israel to reciprocate.

In regard to the whole Ukrainian crisis, the only result in regard to U.S. policy is to worsen relations with Russia. The United States is not going to go to war over Ukraine, and certainly the European countries are not willing to do so. As for sanctions, it is conceivable that they will be kept fairly limited. As Pat Buchanan puts it: "Europe, dependent on Russian oil and gas, is not going to vote itself a recession." [46] Sanctions will anger Russia but not enough to cause it to change course, and it will be able to make up its losses by trading with China and even Israel.

The deterioration of relations between the United States and Russia, which is likely to prevent effective cooperation in the Middle East, is exactly what Israel and its American lobby have sought. As Robert Parry puts it, Obama's "quiet strategy of collaborating with Putin to resolve difficult disputes with Syria and Iran will be dead in the water." [47] Further, as Obama's critics lambaste him for being weak, he is more apt to try to prove his toughness on Iran — a much weaker foe than Putin's nuclear-armed Russia. So while the United States will suffer, along with the other countries involved in the Ukrainian crisis, Israel's situation will have improved both in terms of a harder position by the United States toward Israel's major enemy, Iran, and better relations with Russia.  Ω

May 5, 2014

Published in 2014 by WTM Enterprises.
© 2014 by Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved by author.

If you found this article to be interesting, please donate at least $4 to our cause. If you'd like to donate electronically, here's some information on how to do that. Otherwise, you should make your check or money order payable in U.S. dollars to WTM Enterprises and send it to:

WTM Enterprises
P.O. Box 224
Roanoke, IN 46783

Thanks for helping to assure a future for TLD!

Notice to visitors who came straight to this document from off site: You are deep in The Last Ditch. Please check out our home page and table of contents.


















1. Robert Parry, "What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis," Consortiumnews.com, March 2, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































2. Robert Parry, "Neocons' Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit," Consortiumnews.com, March 19, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































3. Robert Parry, "Neocons Have Weathered the Storm," Consortiumnews.com, March 14, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































4. Robert Parry, "Neocons' Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit," Consortiumnews.com, March 19, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































5. "How the Crisis in the Crimea Helps Israeli Revisionism," Middle East Peace Portal, April 2, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































6. William Appleman Williams, a quite idiosyncratic leftist, was the dean of this group. He served as president of the Organization of American Historians in 1980.

[Back to the text.]









































7. This was a significant factor in bringing about the neoconservative movement.

[Back to the text.]









































8. "Who's 'godless' now? Russia says it's U.S.," Washington Times, January 28, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































9. Quoted in Pat Buchanan, "Post v. Putin — Whose Side Are You On?," Creators.com, August 12, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































10. David C. Hendrickson, "The Democratic Values at Stake in Ukraine," The National Interest, March 18, 2014.

The removal of Yanukovych violated the existing constitutional guidelines, which required a review of the case by Ukraine's Constitutional Court and a vote by three-fourths of parliament, i.e., 338 of 450 MPs. Yanukovych was removed by 328 votes — a large majority but not three-quarters. Moreover, it is quite conceivable that pressure from the Maidan protestors caused some of the members to vote for Yanukovych's ouster.

However, in regard to constitutional legality we should recall that some of President Lincoln's key actions in the Civil War violated the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, the very creation of the Constitution violated what the Continental Congress authorized the convention to do, namely, to simply propose revisions of the Articles of Confederation, the existing fundamental law of the land. In addition, the ratification process for the new Constitution ignored the Articles' rule that any change in the powers of the central government required the unanimous approval of all 13 states.

[Back to the text.]









































11. Jack F. Matlock Jr., "The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War," Washington Post, March 14, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































12. "Spiegel Interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn: 'I Am Not Afraid of Death,'" Spiegel Online International, August 30, 2007.

[Back to the text.]









































13. Christopher Layne, "The Power Paradox," Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2002.

[Back to the text.]









































14. "U.S.-Russia Relations: 'Reset' Fact Sheet," White House, June 24, 2010.

[Back to the text.]









































15. Juliet Macur, "Amid the Triumphs, an Argument for Tolerance: Olympic Closing Ceremony Proves Russia a Worthy Host," New York Times, February 23, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































16. Timothy Heritage, "Ukraine holds key to Putin's dream of a new union," Reuters, November 29, 2013; Arkady Moshes, "Will Ukraine Join (and Save) the Eurasian Customs Union?," PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 247, April 2013; Leon Neyfakh, "Putin's long game? Meet the Eurasian Union," Boston Globe, March 9, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































17. Bradley Klapper, "Clinton fears efforts to 're-Sovietize' in Europe," Associated Press, December 6, 2012.

[Back to the text.]









































18. Carl Gershman, "Former Soviet states stand up to Russia. Will the U.S.?," Washington Post, September 26, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































19. Robert Parry, "A Shadow US Foreign Policy," Consortiumnews.com, February 27, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































20. Steve Weissman, "Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev — Chapter and Verse," davidstockmanscontracorner.com, April 7, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































21. Matt Spetalnick and Warren Strobel, "Obama, wary of foreign crises, faces East-West standoff in Ukraine," Reuters, March 1, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































22. "Top U.S. official visits protesters in Kiev as Obama admin. ups pressure on Ukraine president Yanukovich," CBS / wire services, December 11, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































23. Secretary of State John Kerry, "Statement on Events in Ukraine," U.S. Department of State, December 10, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































24. Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, "Implications of the Crisis in Ukraine," Testimony — Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Department of State, January 15, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































25. Anne Gearan, "In recording of U.S. diplomat, blunt talk on Ukraine," Washington Post, February 6, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































26. For a discussion of Ukraine and Putin's image see Vladimir Isachenkov, "Ukraine's turmoil brings tough challenge to Putin," Associated Press — "The Big Story," February 24, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































27. Steve Weissman, "Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev — Chapter and Verse," Reader Supported News, davidstockmanscontracorner.com, April 7, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































28. Edward Lozansky, "Seriously, What Did You Expect Russia to Do?," Foreign Policy, April 8, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































29. "Ripples from Crimea in Space: U.S. Seeks to End Reliance on Russian Engines for Satellite Launches," Forbes, April 7, 2014; Katie Zezima, "NASA is cutting ties with Russia. But it's not that simple," Washington Post, April 11, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































30. Alejandro Sueldro, "Kremlin's Fear of China Drives Its Foreign Policy," Moscow Times, August 30, 2011; Stefan Hedlung, "'Ally' China may be long-term threat to Russia," World Review, March 25, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































31. David A. Andelman, "Russia and China new best chums?," USA Today, April 2, 2014; Geoff Dyer, "In the Battle for Crimea, China Wins," Foreign Policy, March 12, 2014; Artyom Lukim, "How the Ukraine crisis is pushing two superpowers together," Business Spectator, April 4, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































32. Rowan Scarborough, "Americašs peacetime retreat from Europe now leaves U.S. powerless in Ukraine," Washington Times, April 16, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































33. Annie Robbins, "Was Obama bluffing on Syria all along?," Mondoweiss, September 10, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































34. Coral Davenport and Steven Erlanger, "U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Curb Putin," New York Times, March 5, 2014; Nat Rudarakanchana, "Exporting Natural Gas Isn't Easy for U.S. Infrastructure," International Business Times, March 10, 2014; Sean Cockerham and Kevin G. Hall, "U.S. natural gas to Europe? Not so fast...," McClatchy DC, March 18, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































35. Andra Timu, Henry Meyer, and Olga Tana, "Russia Facing Recession as Sanctions Likely to Intensify," Bloomberg News, March 24, 2014; David M. Herszenhorn, "Russia Economy Worsens Even Before Sanctions Hit," New York Times, April 16, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































36. Raphael Ahren, "Jerusalem insistently mum on Crimea referendum," The Times of Israel, March 17, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































37. Fact Sheet Russia-Israel Relations, IsraelSeen.com, July 30, 2010.

[Back to the text.]









































38. Amotz Asa-El, "Can Israel be neutral on Ukraine?," Jerusalem Post, April 17, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































39. Amotz Asa-El, "Can Israel be neutral on Ukraine?," Jerusalem Post, April 17, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































40. "Russia's Israeli UAV Deals: Quid Pro Quo?," Defense Industry Daily, February 5, 2014; Gili Cohen, "Israel is world's largest exporter of drones, study finds," Haaretz, May 19, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































41. Fred Weir, "Israel and Russia: Trade and restive Arab world outweigh differences on Iran," Christian Science Monitor, June 25, 2012.

[Back to the text.]









































42. Haviv Rettig Gur, "Israel, Russia to launch talks on free trade zone," The Times of Israel, December 10, 2013; Ora Coren, "Israel and Russia aim for free trade treaty," Haaretz, December 10, 2013.

[Back to the text.]









































43. "Moscow eyes common free trade zone between Customs Union, Israel," Xinhua, December 10, 2013; "Israel may create free trade zone - Customs Union," ITAR-TASS News Agency, March 18, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































44. Michael Brendan Dougherty, "Israel and Russia are getting along. Have the neocons noticed?," The Week, April 16, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































45. Ron Kampeas, "On Ukraine, Israel and neoconservatives not on the same page," The Times of Israel, April 11, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































46. Pat Buchanan, "NED's Chickens Come Home to Roost," Creators.com, April 18, 2014.

[Back to the text.]









































47. Robert Parry, "Neocons Have Weathered the Storm," Consortiumnews.com, March 14, 2014.

[Back to the text.]