Monday, March 03, 2014

Ukraine, the neocons and a new Great Game?

Robert Parry has an intriguing theory about the neocons and the Ukraine crisis, which he explains in What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis Consortium News 03/02/2014. Parry is a good investigative reporter and a longtime close watcher of the neoconservatives. So I give his reporting enough weight to pay attention to what he says about such things, though his story is vaguely sourced:

Obama's unorthodox foreign policy – essentially working in tandem with the Russian president and sometimes at odds with his own foreign policy bureaucracy – has forced Obama into faux outrage when he’s faced with some perceived affront from Russia, such as its agreement to give temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

For the record, Obama had to express strong disapproval of Snowden's asylum, though in many ways Putin was doing Obama a favor by sparing Obama from having to prosecute Snowden with the attendant complications for U.S. national security and the damaging political repercussions from Obama's liberal base.

Putin’s unforced errors also complicated the relationship, such as when he defended Russian hostility toward gays and cracked down on dissent before the Sochi Olympics. Putin became an easy target for U.S. commentators and comedians.

But Obama’s hesitancy to explain the degree of his strategic cooperation with Putin has enabled Official Washington's still influential neocons, including holdovers within the State Department bureaucracy, to drive more substantive wedges between Obama and Putin. The neocons came to recognize that the Obama-Putin tandem had become a major impediment to their strategic vision.
One significant that occur to me with that theory question is that he portrays John Kerry as very much a hawkish influence in the Obama Administration. But it seems to me that Obama's foreign policy took a somewhat bolder and peaceful turn since Kerry became Secretary of State.

Parry gets a little more specific in why he thinks the neocons are exerting particular influence in Ukraine:

... neocon operatives, with financing from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. sources, played key roles in destabilizing and overthrowing the democratically elected president.

NED, a $100 million-a-year agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states, lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilize a government in the name of promoting "democracy." [See’s “A Shadow US Foreign Policy."]

State Department neocons also put their shoulders into shoving Ukraine away from Russia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe.

Last December, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve "its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion." She said the U.S. goal was to take "Ukraine into the future that it deserves," by which she meant into the West's orbit and away from Russia’s.
Nuland was the diplomat who made the news for saying "f**k the EU" in a conversation about regime change in Ukraine.

Peter Coy, Carol Matlack, and Henry Meyer give a sketch of Ukraine's important foreign relationships The New Great Game: Why Ukraine Matters to So Many Other Nations Bloomberg Businessweek 02/27/2014. Including its Russian ties:

Russia, which straddles Europe and Asia, has sought a role in the rest of Europe since the reign of Peter the Great in the early 18th century. An alliance with Ukraine preserves that. "Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire," the American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in 1998. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine to join his Eurasian Union trade bloc, not the European Union. Russia's Black Sea naval fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol, a formerly Russian city that now belongs to Ukraine. Last year Russia's state-controlled Gazprom (OGZPY) sold about 160 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe — a quarter of European demand — and half of that traveled through a maze of Ukrainian pipelines. Those pipelines also supply Ukrainian factories that produce steel, petrochemicals, and other industrial goods for sale to Mother Russia. "Ukraine is probably more integrated than any other former Soviet republic with the Russian economy," says Edward Chow, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. [my emphasis]
They also note that the EU has been approaching relations with Ukraine cautiously:

Even Poland, which identifies with Ukraine because it too was once under the Soviet thumb, isn't prepared to rescue its eastern neighbor unconditionally. "Poland will not sweat its guts out" providing foreign aid that just props up oligarchs, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Feb. 24, according to the New York Times.
They don't mention the austerity "reforms" the EU was demanding in their negotiations with Ukraine. But they do note:

The Institute of International Finance, which represents big banks, estimates that with no change in policy Ukraine would need $30 billion in foreign assistance this year alone. The IIF predicts that the International Monetary Fund will insist as a condition for aid that Ukraine cut natural gas subsidies to consumers and industry, and allow its currency, the hryvnia, to fall further, shrinking the trade deficit. The problem: Those measures will be so unpopular that they will jeopardize any new government. [my emphasis]

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