by Gordon M. Hahn
A popular political theory that for the most part works is democratic peace theory, which holds that democracies do not go to war against each other. Democracies and authoritarian or totalitarian regimes go to war against each other. Authoritarian and/or totalitarian regimes do so as well. The United States is undergoing a de-democratization and could become a regime that is more authoritarian than democratic during the Biden-Harris administration’s first term—as happened in Weimar Germany, Eastern Europe in general during the inter-war period, and with a very weak Russian democracy the mid-2000s under Vladimir Putin. Add to this the authoritarian character of Washington’s two main adversaries and you have not a burgeoning democratic peace but a new East-West, not Russia-West ‘new cold war.’
The de-democratization of America, should it occur, will undermine democratizing and democratic regimes worldwide and make war at the cleft points between East and West more, not less likely. The West’s increasingly bizarre techno-atavism and identititarian politics is undermining democracy from California to Kiev. The de-democratization demonstration and domino effect of American authoritarianization is already beginning to strenghten the de-democratization trend and is combining with techno-atavism and indentitarianism to especially undermine the weak links in the Atlantic community. For example, in Ukraine the Volodomyr Zelenskiy government has weakened the Maidan regime’s already frail democracy. This, Zelenskiy’s rapidly declining popularity, and the growing influence of ultra-nationalists and neofascists raises the specter of a restart of the Donbass civil—something that would play into hands of the extremists.
In the East, Russia is becoming a less soft and more middle-range authoritarian regime. Its nearly complete break in relations with the West and a tectonic shift in its civilizational identity from Europe to Eurasia and Asia in response, sharpens the divide and tensions in Eastern Europe/Western Eurasia. It has strongly hitched its wagon to rising China, which is becoming the superpower of Eurasia and Asia and a major player in Europe and Africa. Sino-Russian military and intelligence cooperation in targeting the West is intensifying, as Washington and Brussels continue to attempt to support anti-regime opposition forces in both countries. These factors are driving East-West tensions to a fever pitch. Let’s look at these developments in more detail and then tease out some of the main implications and potential risks to international peace and security.
As Goes America, So Goes the Atlantic Community?
The United States is undergoing de-democratization and could become a regime that is more authoritarian than it is democratic during the Biden-Harris administration’s first term—something similar to what happened in the mid-2000s in Russia under Vladimir Putin. In addition to massive fraud and very possibly the theft of the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic Party is now seeking to establish single-party rule by institutionalizing the rules that several key swing states established in the last year before the November 2020 vote that opened the floodgates to electoral fraud in key cities with long histories of election fraud and general corruption in those states. Immediately upon his inauguration, President Biden introduced to Congress legislative bill ‘HR1’—the first piece of Biden era legislation (www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr1/text). It will institute nationwide – itself a violation of the U.S. constitution which gives the states the power to create their own electoral laws and rules – the same procedures that even Democrats such as former US President Jimmy Carter’s own study concluded facilitate electoral fraud: universal mail-in balloting, a ban on a voter ID requirement, an ban on a ballot signature requirement, legalization of ‘ballot harvesting’, extending ballot submission to 10 days after election day, and numerous other measures that will essentially legalize election fraud. “(V)oter identification requirements” are deemed one of many unreasonable “restrictions to the franchise” (www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr1/text)).
The massive influx of illegal immigrants at the Mexican border – during a pandemic no less – encouraged and facilitated by the Biden-Harris administration, is intended to change the correlation of voting forces, shifting the balance of party identification and support to the Democrat Party, especially in the pivotal ‘red’ Republican-dominant state of Texas. For similar reason, the new administration is seeking to make Washington DC the status of a state and grant Puerto Rico state status. Nearly all-black DC and minority PR will further bolster the Democrat voter rolls. These are just a few examples of how the Biden-Harris administration is attempting to build a one-party dominant political system.
The U.S. is leading the way in the West’s increasingly bizarre techno-atavism and identititarian politics undermining democracy from California to Kiev. Internet technology is proving to be nearly as destabilizing for democratic regimes at the beginning of the 21st century, as it was for authoritarian regimes beginning near the end of the 20th century. In the U.S., the Big Tech leader, globalist interests are attempting to impose a soft authoritarian ‘new Marxist’ regime through the Trojan horses of ‘The Great Reset’ of capitalism and atavistic ecological and indentitarian ideologies and policies. From below, inside America, a new communo-fascism is rising that combines radical feminist, ethno-nationalist, and LGBT identitarianism. A witch hunt against ‘white supremacists’ – often defined as anyone who supported former President Donald Trump – has begun, along with a war against traditional family values, old American culture, Christianity, and Jewish believers. There are numerous examples of all this, some of which I have discussed elsewhere (https://gordonhahn.com/2020/12/29/the-authoritarianization-putinization-of-america-parts-1-and-2-complete/). One additional example will suffice for our purposes here.
Last week California’s Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a new “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” (www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr21/yr211rel21.asp). Before this approval, one observer noted, “the fact that such a document as this could be on the brink of becoming law in the richest and most populous state in America is troubling in the extreme” (www.nationalreview.com/2021/03/california-curriculum-accuses-christians-of-theocide-encourages-chanting-to-pagan-gods/). In the curriculum’s section covering religion, students will be taught that white Christian settlers committed “theocide” against native American tribes after they came to the New World by murdering natives’ gods in order to replace them with the Christian God—so far at least partially true. This replacement, according to the curriculum established a regime of “coloniality, dehumanization, and genocide” and the “explicit erasure and replacement of holistic Indigeneity and humanity.” Then students are led to the idea of the need for revenge against the Christians. They will be instructed that they have the responsibility to construct a new system of “countergenocide” to supplant the last vestiges of colonial Christianity and regenerate “indigenous epistemic and cultural futurity” (www.nationalreview.com/2021/03/california-curriculum-accuses-christians-of-theocide-encourages-chanting-to-pagan-gods/).
The curriculum’s “ethnic studies community chant,” which teachers are instructed to lead their students, which is as follows: “Students first clap and chant to the god Tezkatlipoka—whom the Aztecs traditionally worshipped with human sacrifice and cannibalism—asking him for the power to be ‘warriors’ for ‘social justice.’ Next, the students chant to the gods Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek, seeking ‘healing epistemologies’ and ‘a revolutionary spirit.’ Huitzilopochtli, in particular, is the Aztec deity of war and inspired hundreds of thousands of human sacrifices during Aztec rule. Finally, the chant comes to a climax with a request for ‘liberation, transformation, [and] decolonization,’ after which students shout ‘Panche beh! Panche beh!’ in pursuit of ultimate ‘critical consciousness’” (www.city-journal.org/calif-ethnic-studies-curriculum-accuses-christianity-of-theocide).
This new “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” will be offered statewide with many of California’s largest school districts requiring students to take its courses in order to graduate (www.nationalreview.com/2021/03/california-curriculum-accuses-christians-of-theocide-encourages-chanting-to-pagan-gods/). Thus, the children in America’s most populous, rich, and naturally beautiful state will be brainwashed into replacing the civilization of the European enlightenment with the Aztec alternative of paganism, human sacrifice – of Christians, perhaps? – by the tens of thousands, cannibalism, and the prolonged torture and sacrifice of children, as one observer notes (www.theblaze.com/shows/the-glenn-beck-program/california-schools-chant-aztec?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1).
Such trends in the US will make it rather easy for Russian, Chinese, and other authoritarian leaders to either join into an anti-white European campaign or discredit the freedoms of democracy as corrosive to reason, social harmony, and political stability. The Chinese might very opt for the first strategy; the very white Russians, obviously, the second. Afterall, Putin has long been the American left’s identitarian bogeyman, something which has made anti-Russian sentiment a super-majority, near unanimity in the U.S.
Maidan Meltdown: De-Democratization Domino Effect in One Country
A full de-democratization of America—a transition to a regime predominantly authoritarian—will undermine democratizing regimes and weaken democratic regimes worldwide. The de-democratization demonstration and domino effect of authoritarianizing America will encourage de-democratization globally. Weak and unstable democracies in the West will make war with authoritarian regimes at the cleft points in the East more possible. The trends of techno-atavism and indentitarianism in the Atlantic community are already undermining its weakest links.
Ukraine, a weak democracy since the Soviet collapse is backsliding on rather than building up its democratic institutions. Ukraine’s full-scale abandonment of relations with Russia and its loss of a large portion of its ethnic Russian pro-Moscow population with Putin’s reunifying annexation of Crimea and the Donbass civil war in the wake of the Maidan nascent democratic revolution turned ultranationalist-oligarchic coup have done little to bring democracy or end corruption. Instead, it is not the Russian army but Ukrainian authoritarianism that is on the offensive and approaching Kiev unhindered. The risk of a very harsh ultranationalist authoritarian regime remains, given the influence of the many ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist groups that populate Ukraine’s rather uncivil society.
President Volodomyr Zelenskiy – whose election gave some hope for a Ukrainian government more accommodating to democracy, the interests of ethnic Russian Ukrainians, fighting corruption, and seeing an end to the Donbass civil war – has been weakening the Maidan regime’s already frail democracy under pressure from corrupt oligarchs fearing transparency and from ultranationalists and neofascists hoping to parley the failing Maidan ‘revolution of dignity’ into a full blown ultranationalist revolution, restart the Donbass war, and even conduct subversive operations in Crimea.
Regarding democratization, Zelenskiy has allowed the SBU and ultranationalists to continue harassing and attacking democratcy-oriented and pro-Russian politicians and media. On February 2nd, Zelenskiy closed three independent television channels connected to oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk and issued a series of other sanctions against him, and the DBR (Ukraine’s FBI) opened a treason investigation against the oligarch (https://hvylya.net/news/225016-zelenskiy-prokommentiroval-zakrytie-telekanalov-medvedchuka). At the same time, the SBU opened a case against a journalist who interviewed Medvedchuk after Zelenskiy’s sanctions hit Medvedchuk (https://vesti.ua/strana/vopros-zhurnalistki-medvedchuku-vyzval-reaktsiyu-sbu). The international community – the UN, EU, the International Association of Journalists, Germany, and, of course, Moscow – was critical of Zelenskiy’s repressive actions against Medvedchuk. At the same time, the contact information of Medvedchuk’s wife, accusations of illegal business activity, and condemnation of her supposed opposition to Ukraine’s independence from the Russian Orthodox Church were posted on the notorious website ‘Mirotvorets’, which publishes information on ‘enemies of Ukraine’—a practice that has ended in the murder of several journalists and other opposition-oriented figures (https://vesti.ua/mir/supruga-medvedchuka-oksana-marchenko-popala-v-bazu-sajta-mirotvorets). About half the population, two-thirds in western Ukraine, support this ban (https://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=1006&page=1&fbclid=IwAR2T8P9xnb7Nw39GlxvX8EGO36xtZivvJZK2MJ1mm3WUDUxdb2jhk7sWq-M).
At the same time, Zelenskiy has reneged on his promise to soften the Poroshenko administrations’ harsh language law, which seeks to drive the Russian language out of Ukrainian life, though half the population speaks Russian as its main language and many others also speak it. In mid-March, Zelenskiy unconstitutionally fired the chairman of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court, a power the constitution does not grant the Ukrainian president (www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2021/03/27/7288051/).
Meanwhile, the ultranationalists and neofascists, who enthusiastically support these measures, are stepping up the pressure on him to crackdown on those who support peace and ethnic Russians’ language and other rights and re-start the Donbass war. On the background of Zelenskiy’s declining popularity, a large demonstration of some 1,500 ‘ultras’ marched on and vandalized the exterior of the presidential offices in Kiev on March 20th to the tune of $72,000 demanding the release of their radical ultra-nationalist comrade, Sergei Sternenko, convicted and sentenced to seven years and deprivation of half of his property in February for kidnapping, torture, and extortion to force a deputy of a district council in Odessa to refuse his council seat (https://vesti.ua/strana/sud-odessy-obyavil-prigovor-sternenko; https://strana.ua/news/323870-mitinh-za-sternenko-20-marta-v-kieve-onlajn-transljatsija.html?fbclid=IwAR2eHSZ-lwrVDN77Q1i4lu_6vEDtfqI2vzEdzEADxUZuZnjXdukn5eRTbBA). His lawyer claimed after sentencing that Sternenko had saved Odessa from “colaborationists” and the declaration of a people’s republic and turning to Russia as occurred in Donetsk and Luhansk, sparking the Donbass civil war. On 2 May 2014 a group of neofascists initiated a conflict with anti-Maidan protesters, chasing some into a trade union building and setting it on fire killing at least 40. Sternenko may have been involved in this terrorist pogrom. The neofascists’ influence on the Zelenskiy administration through their continuing control of Ukraine’s streets paid off for Sternenko. On 9 April, Sternenko was released to house arrest (https://vesti.ua/strana/sternenko-otpustili-iz-pod-strazhi-i-otpravili-pod-domashnij-arest). The list of wounds and trauma Sternenko inflicted on his victim, Sergei Shcherbin, makes for difficult reading, having been beaten and stabbed numerous times (https://strana.ua/articles/analysis/319652-kak-v-ukraine-sudili-serheja-sternenko-za-napadenie-na-deputata-serheja-shcherbicha.html).
Upon release Sternenko declared he is a victim of a “separatist”—a word used, along with ‘collaborationist’ by Ukrainian siloviki, ultranationalists, and neofascists to dehumanize the opposition much the way the Biden-Harris administration deploys the words ‘white supremacist’ and ‘racism’ or Moscow uses the term ‘fifth column’ (https://vesti.ua/strana/sternenko-spas-odessu-ot-rossii-advokat and https://strana.ua/news/327264-apelljatsija-po-delu-radikala-sternenko-prokhodit-v-odesse-9-aprelja.html). Such releases to house arrest have occurred numerous times in Ukrainian jurisprudence and law enforcement, often with the arrestee or convict soon disappearing. Sternenko has a long record of political violence. He and his co-conspirator in the 2015 kidnapping and torture case, Ruslan Demchuk, were leading members of the local Odessa branch of the neofascist ‘Right Sector’ group, about which I have written extensively (https://strana.ua/articles/analysis/319652-kak-v-ukraine-sudili-serheja-sternenko-za-napadenie-na-deputata-serheja-shcherbicha.html). Oddly, enough Washington and Brussels while outraged over the phantom of white supremacism in the West proper show little to no concern over the numerous neofascist terrorist attacks and creeping fascization in Ukraine, about which I have written extensively. In other words, the U.S. is going down the same road as Russia and China of using human rights in the most – rather than less as before – cynical way. On the the latter two authoritarian countries’ cynical hypocrisy, one only needs to recall Dmitrii Medvedev’s recent critique of American elections and the Chinese foreign minister’s recent references to supposed white supremacism in America during a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State.
Since being elected in April 2019, Zelenskiy’s popularity has been in consistent decline, falling from 73 percent as of his inauguration to 45 percent today (http://ratinggroup.ua/ru/research/ukraine/obschestvenno_politicheskie_nastroeniya_naseleniya_6-7_aprelya_2021.html; https://news.liga.net/politics/news/otnoshenie-ukraintsev-k-zelenskomu-rezko-uhudshilos—opros-kmis; and https://24tv.ua/ru/kak_izmenilos_otnoshenie_ukraincev_k_zelenskomu_svezhij_rejting_n1288555). His SN party’s rating has fallen as well. If in the 2019 Rada elections, it won 43 percent of the party vote and in two-thirds of the single-mandate districts, it would now receive only 23 percent of the vote if elections were held today. Thus, it would need to form a coalition to sustain a majority. Moreover, there are opposition forces that could also form such a majority, given that former president Petro Poroshenko’s party ‘European Solidarity’ is now backed by 14.6 percent, Medvedchuk’s pro-Russian ‘Party of the Opposition – New Life’ – 14.2 percent, Yulia Tymoshenko’s nationalistic ‘Fatherland’, 12.0 percent, and several others with 2-5 percent, including the ultrnationalist Radical Party (4.4 percent), Oleh Tyagnibok’s misnamed neofascist ‘Freedom’ party (3.4 percent) (http://ratinggroup.ua/ru/research/ukraine/obschestvenno-politicheskie_nastroeniya_naseleniya_6-7_aprelya_2021.html). Medvedchuk’s party and blogger Anatolii Sharii’s ‘Party of Sharii’ party (3.4 percent) are positioning themselves to form a pro-Russian bloc in the Rada and can content together as of now for 17.6 percent, not far below SN’s 22.9. Yevgenii Muraev’s party ‘Ours’ (3.5 percent) could very well join such a coalition, as he ran on the Party of the Opposition – New Life ticket in the 2019 Rada elections. Such a coalition, with 21.1 percent support, would be even with Zelenskiy’s SN (http://ratinggroup.ua/ru/research/ukraine/obschestvenno-politicheskie_nastroeniya_naseleniya_6-7_aprelya_2021.html). Sharii has already hinted he would be willing to join with Medvedchuk’s to form a majority after the next Rada elections, assuming they have the necessary seats (https://vesti.ua/politika/opzzh-medvedchuka-i-partiya-shariya-mogut-vzyat-bolshinstvo-v-sleduyushhej-rade).
Zelenskiy’s growing authoritarianism is fraught with grave risk. It reduces the difference between he and the ultranationalists, making a choice in favor of the latter by oligarchic kingmakers and/or the voting public less of a risky leap and so more likely. Thus, Zelenskiy’s rapidly declining popularity, and the growing influence of ultra-nationalists and neofascists raises the specter of a restart of the Donbass civil—something that would play into hands of the extremists. Indeed, the ultranationalist extremists almost scuttled the Putin-Zelenskiy ceasefire agreement and may be playing a role in its recent unraveling and may play a role in its complete collapse.
Winds of War in and around Ukraine
On the Ides of March, over a month ago now, I wrote that I suspected on a hunch that the Donbass war was soon to restart (www.facebook.com/gordon.hahn1/posts/10225070692056007).
The situation on the front afterall had been deteriorating for months. Head of the OSCE Special Monitoring Commission Halit Chevik noted that during the height of the U.S. presidential election campaign the level of gunfire along the contact line in Donbass declined, but from November both sides became more aggressive. Both sides began firing more often, began digging trenches, and increasing the number of forces, he noted (https://strana.ua/news/317189-sovbez-oon-po-donbassu-11-fevralja-2021-hlavnye-zajavlenija-i-analiz.html). In February of this year, after Biden’s inauguration, former president Petro Poroshenko called essentially for an end to the ceasefire by demanding the Ukrainian army return to positions held prior to the ceasefire withdrawal, and Zelenskiy advisor Yermak said conflict in summer was inevitable as Russia was preparing a surprise, and there was a sudden large increase in the number of ceasefire violations along the Donbass contact line in mid-February (https://strana.ua/news/317890-obostrenie-na-donbasse-pochemu-arestovich-hovorit-o-vojne-vesnoj-letom.html). Subsequently, Zelenskiy ordered troops rotating to the front and heavy weapons to move nearer to the conflict zone as a show of strength (https://intellinews.com/trenin-russia-ukraine-war-alert-what-s-behind-it-and-what-lies-ahead-207943/?source=ukraine). By early March, the OSCE was reporting that Ukrainian anti-tank artillery and howitzers had been removed from the designated ceasefire storage points and that Ukraine had also begun deploying Zenith rocket complexes to the front (https://strana.ua/news/321475-obstrel-donetska-2021-pochemu-snova-bombjat-donbass.html).
Perhaps, Biden’s well-known ties to the Maidan regime encouraged forces at the front, the ‘war party’ of Poroshenko and others, and subsequently Zelenskiy himself to be to take it more earnestly to the rebels. Perhaps, Zelenskiy was trying to get Biden’s attention, as he had not phoned Kiev since taking his chair in the Oval Office. And perhaps to some extent the Russian troop movements and massing at the new Voronezh field not far from the Donbass border are a Russian outsized response to the Ukrainians’ ‘leaning forward.’
Since the hunch, rumors and possible signs of war have been blowing in Ukraine. On that same March 15th day, Kiev put its troops along the contact line with the Donbass rebel forces on “full combat readiness,” claiming the latter had returned to its previous forward positions after a drawback by both sides under an agreement with the Normandy Group of Four (Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France) (https://vesti.ua/politika/ukrainskie-vojska-na-donbasse-privedeny-v-polnuyu-boevuyu-gotovnost). But the OSCE did not report this in its daily reports leading up to this claim by Kiev. On March 24th, a large contingent of what might be additional rather than replacement troops was videotaped crossing the Crimean bridge linking the peninsula with the Russian mainland (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gll377FeZvI&t=113s&ab_channel=%D0%A3%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%97%D0%BD%D1%81%D1%8C%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%B4%D0%B0). Another echelon appears to have arrived the same way on the 29th (www.youtube.com/watch?v=vb0ZWc70gOk&ab_channel=Ukra%D1%97ner). However, moving troops into Crimea would hardly coincide with planning an invasion and annexation of the Donbass. On March 25th President Zelenskiy signed Ukraine’s new Military Security Strategy that designates Russia a “military adversary” “temporarily occupying” Crimea and Donbass and that sets out “goals, priorities and objectives of state policy in the military, defense and military construction, which are aimed at…“cessation of illegal occupation by the Russian Federation of part of the territory of Ukraine” (www.president.gov.ua/documents/1212021-37661). In other words, Ukraine seeks to retake Crimea and Donbass by military force or at least develop the capacity to do so likely in alliance with other states, since the strategy also says that Ukraine cannot hope to match Russian power.
The next day, fighting in the Donbass broke out in more earnest in late March and on March 26th four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a mortar attack (https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/ukraine-soldiers-dead-mortar-attack-countrys-east-76710151#:~:text=Ukraine%E2%80%99s%20military%20says%20four%20of%20its%20soldiers%20have,forces%20have%20been%20fighting%20Russian-backed%20separatists%20since%202014). However, it was only until 30 March that General Ruslan Khomchak, chief of the general staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces accused Russian forces of building up thousands of troops and military equipment near Ukraine’s border with Ukraine under the guise of training maneuvers (www.rferl.org/a/ukrainian-russian-military-buildup-border/31180563.html). Khomchak’s remarks were made at a session of the Rada, which adopted a resolution declaring the Donbass civil war to be a war with Russia, which by some in Moscow and elsewhere was perceived as a soft declaration of war.
In a very extended interview with the news site Gordon.ua, Khomchak stated that it is “possible” that the Ukrainian army would undertake an offensive, adding: “The Ukrainian army should be prepared. The basic task of the Ukrainian army is to defend the territorial integrity and independence of our state. So that we can fulfill this task, we should be prepared to both attack and to defend and to conduct maneuvering actions” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BJhZ6YHse0&t=4s&ab_channel=%D0%90%D0%BB%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%8F%D0%91%D0%B0%D1%86%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BD and https://inosmi.ru/politic/20210330/249455313.html). That same day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and President Putin met by video-conference on several international issues, including the intensification of the conflict in Ukraine. They remained in agreement that the Minsk peace process and recent Paris accords must be fulfilled by both sides in the conflict (https://jamestown.org/program/nothing-about-us-without-us-normandy-without-ukraine/).
On March 31st the U.S. European Command stepped up to its highest alert level status (www.politico.com/news/2021/03/31/pentagon-russia-aggression-eastern-europe-478773). In the last days of March and on April 1st, the U.S. Secretary of State, the U.S. Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the U.S. Defense Secretary spoke with their Ukrainian counterparts (https://vesti.ua/politika/stala-izvestna-data-telefonnogo-razgovora-bajdena-s-zelenskim). On 2 April, an explosion of fighting occurred between the Ukrainian army and Donbass rebels with some 400-600 ceasefire violations, when for most of the year, the daily figures were well below 100 (www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine/482787). These developments seem to mark the unraveling of the June 2020 ceasefire worked out by Putin and Zelenskiy and a continued stuttering of the four-party (Kiev, Moscow, Berlin, and Paris) Minsk process, with its last presidential summit occurring in Paris 17 months ago.
After the fighting had escalated in Donbass, Biden phoned Zelenskiy. The official White House summary of the call reads: “President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke today to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine. President Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea. He emphasized his administration’s commitment to revitalize our strategic partnership in support of President Zelenskyy’s plan to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values that delivers justice, security, and prosperity to the people of Ukraine. The leaders agreed these reforms are central to Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. They also discussed the importance of close United States-Ukraine cooperation to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen democracy in the region” (www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/02/readout-of-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-call-with-president-volodymyr-zelenskyy-of-ukraine/).
Several points stand out in this statement. First, there is no aggression ongoing in Crimea, if by aggression means armed violence. There was no armed violence when Russian forces occupied Crimea in March 2014. Russia occupies Crimea, has annexed it, and will not surrender it without World War III, and the overwhelming majority of the population of Crimea supports Russian as opposed to Ukrainian rule regardless of the illegal nature of Russia’s reunification with Crimea. The fighting in Donbass was started by Kiev and is being conducted by a local insurgent army receiving military and other forms of assistance from Moscow, excluding the two Russian incursions in September 2014 and February 2015 in order to save Donbass forces encircled by the Ukrainian army. So the White House statement is as tough as it is unrealistic. Second, is the equal emphasis put on “democratic values” and “justice.” As is well known the term ‘justice’ is now a leftist code word meaning economic equality and opposition to ‘white supremacism,’ certainly as used by liberals and leftists in the U.S. Third, as discussed above, Zelenskiy is not implementing democratization but rolling democracy back. Moreover, there is no serious fight against corruption, as demonstrated by one fact especially among numerous others: Ihor Kolomoiskii – Zelenskiy’s corrupt close associate, financial backer of his presidential campaign, and partner in the Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma, which hired President Biden’s drug and sex addict son as a board member two months after the Maidan revolt and is closely associated with Burisma’s corrupt owner – remains free at large (for more on Kolomoiskii, Burisma head Zlochevskii, and the Bidens, see https://gordonhahn.com/2020/12/29/the-authoritarianization-putinization-of-america-parts-1-and-2-complete/). In sum, this call was initiated by Biden mostly for domestic political purposes. Given all the noise his party has made about Putin, the new U.S. president had been long overdue in contacting his Ukrainian counterpart/minion. The danger lies in the encouragement any Washington engagement or the perception thereof might have on the nationalist, ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist war party and the undisciplined neofascist former volunteer battalions now part of the Ukrainian army.
Moscow, along with Berlin and Paris, holds that there is no alternative process to the Minsk Two agreement and process and that Ukraine must at in accordance with the four parties’ original interpretation of its terms. Recent leaked French-German proposals submitted to Kyiv confirm this. The troika also concur that Zelenskiy’s failure to carry out the Paris summit’s decisions that the four parties settled on in December 2019 obviates the need for another four-way summit, given the lack of progress this failure wrought. the inordinate influence of ultranationalist/neofascist ‘party of war’ in the corridors of power, on the streets, and on the front lines in Ukraine. Zelenskiy’s weak in the face of the ultra/neofascist threat could lead to a repeat of the Poroshenko administration, in which the then president was fully coopted and converted former to the radicals’ cause, although he surely embraced them more for political than ideological reasons. While anti-corruption can weaken the oligarchs in a long war, a showdown with the ultranationalist/ neofascist danger could arrive quickly should any president, especially a weak one, make major compromises in pursuit of peace. The radicals can break and have broken ceasefires, can and have engaged in terrorism, and can and have killed political opponents – and they have threatened Zelenskiy himself – and they have high-ranking patrons. The ultra-nationalists and neofascists of the National Corps, Azov, Right Sector, Svoboda Party, C14, and others have threatened another revolt (national revolution’) and promised to continue war regardless of Zelenskiy’s pursuit of peace. On the eve of the Paris talks, such “anti-capitulationists” occupied the area in front of the presidential office, threatening to revolt if Zelenskiy crossed ‘red lines’ they laid down: (no federalization, no special status for Donbass, no Donbass elections before Kiev regains control over the Donbass/Russian border section—the latter two demands violate the Paris accords). After Paris, they declared the president had not crossed their red lines. They packed up their tents and departed but vowed to continue the war (https://strana.ua/news/238399-nasha-vojna-prodolzhaetsja-mitinhujushchie-pod-ofisom-prezidenta-ne-uvideli-zrady-v-parizhe-no-poobeshchali-novyj-majdan-u-rady.html?fbclid=IwAR0OhcWqVoKNhdlNQfv9pwPsOjdlyeGp9Ah0UI0X8kD4ntVYvTDuKlQDKI8 and https://gordonhahn.com/2019/12/23/hope-against-hope-in-paris-vvp-ze-and-some-from-the-west-update/).
In another demonstration of neofascist radicalism, the neofascist, anti-Semite and Russophobe, Oleh Tyahnibok criticized negotiations on a recent television broadcast. Calling the Russian troop movements that the Kremlin says are connected with ongoing training exercises, “a demonstration of weakness,” he continued: “Even our old politicians were convinced that it is impossible to negotiate with Putin. It is weakness, connected with the fact that they (Russia) are breaking their teeth on Ukraine. There is no need to fear their threats. It will end in that they will collapse into 20-30 states and Ukraine will be the beginning of their collpase” (https://vesti.ua/politika/putin-organizoval-zvonok-bajdena-o-chem-eshhe-dogadalis-v-pyatnitsu-u-shustera). This is far throw from Zelenskiy’s campaign promise to negotiate with Putin an end to the Donbass war and his meetings and agreement with Putin in Paris under the auspices of the Normandy Four. Tyahnibok’s deceptively named neofascist ‘Freedom’ (Svoboda) Party has led neofascist torch-lit marches through Kiev and attacked the parliament building three years ago, and it was involved in the neofascist snipers’ massacre of police and demonstrators of 20 February 2014 that the Maidan revolt and the West blamed on Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown by mobs agitated by the massacre (https://gordonhahn.com/2016/03/09/the-real-snipers-massacre-ukraine-february-2014-updatedrevised-working-paper/). If talks with Putin and the EU had moved or do move to tackle the high hanging fruit, Zelenskiy likely will be facing a crisis at home. The Crimea Platform may be a counter to the Minsk process or a sop or honest compromise with the neo-fascists.
NATO and the Developing Turko-Ukrainian Strategic Partnership
On this background, NATO and its member-states also have become ever more active in Ukraine and around Ukraine. Of course, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, NATO expansion was a major cause of the 2013-2014 Ukrainian crisis, Maidan revolt, Crimean annexation, and Donbass civil war (https://gordonhahn.com/2016/01/21/report-the-russian-american-reset-nato-expansion-and-the-making-of-the-ukrainian-crisis/). And as I have argued elsewhere, NATO expansion’s internal logic leads to eternal expansion, since each expansion brings new territory NATO must secure and defend (https://gordonhahn.com/2016/05/21/the-internal-logic-of-eternal-nato-expansion/). In 2019, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO was determining “what more we can do to enhance our security in the Black Sea region (www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_165234.htm). Naturally, the region would not have been part of ‘our security’, if NATO had not expanded to Bulgaria, and Rumania, excluding the Cold War era expansion to Turkey. In recent years, therefore, NATO-Rumanian military exercises were held, Rumania a mere 150 miles from Crimea. NATO and Ukraine conduct annually springtime ‘Sea Breeze’ military exercises in and around the Black Sea, where Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet naval base has been located for decades. Sea Breeze exercises bring U.S. guided missile destroyers, expeditionary fast transport and other ships, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy divers, U.S. maritime patrol aircraft to the region, and warships from Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, all of which are part of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two. Shortly after the Maidan revolt, US Navy construction teams began visiting Ukraine’s Ochakiv Naval Base and the Military facility at Mykolaiv, located some 40 miles east of Odessa and less than 100 miles northwest of Crimea. Last year, they began to expand and upgrade these sites, reinforcing existing piers, adding a new floating dock, building security fencing around the bases, and constructing ship repair facilities and two new Maritime Operations Centers from which Ukrainian and NATO forces can command exercises and other activities (https://breakingdefense.com/2019/07/us-upgrading-ukraine-ports-to-fit-american-warships/).
From January to February, the U.S. maintained a naval presence in the Black Sea, and NATO confirmed that Ukraine was moving ahead with plans to build two naval bases on the Black Sea, where U.S. and NATO forces have been upgrading the Okachiv naval base and Mikolaiv military center. U.S. Navy destroyers, the USS Porter and USS Donald Cook, operated with allies and Ukraine’s navy in the Black Sea beginning in January. Both warships, along with a P-8A reconnaissance plane, also operated with two frigates and F-16 fighters from Turkey, which controls access to the Black Sea, according to international treaty. The destroyers departed after 17 days and “one of the Navy’s largest deployments in the Black Sea in recent years” (www.stripes.com/news/europe/ukraine-plans-black-sea-bases-as-us-steps-up-presence-in-region-1.661679). Meanwhile, the new Ukrainian naval bases will be able to host NATO naval forces in greater force, and the construction is being funded in part by NATO member Great Britain. A U.S. officer stated this was part of NATO efforts to develop “an enhanced forward presence” in the Black Sea region (www.stripes.com/news/europe/ukraine-plans-black-sea-bases-as-us-steps-up-presence-in-region-1.661679).
At the same time, NATO member Turkey has turned to active military assistance to Kiev. Erdogan visited Kiev in February 2020 and Zelenskiy announced that Turkey would provide $36 million in military aid, and a deal was signed for Ukraine to provide the An-178 high-wing transport aircraft to Turkey. The leaders also declared intent to double bilateral trade from $5 billion to $10 billion. In October 2020, Ukraine agreed to provide technical knowledge to Turkey in support of Ankara’s space agency and a satellite research and development laboratory to Roketsan, Ankara’s leading state-owned missile and rocket engine and satellite producer. In December 2020, the first meeting between foreign and defense ministry officials of both countries – the so-called Quadriga (2 + 2) joint consultations was held in Kiev. In March 2021, a second meeting was convened in Ankara. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s official statement on the consultations disclosed the territorial expanse and functional scale of the new strategic partnership: “National coordinators discussed ways to deepen cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey in the field of security and defense to restore stability and security in the Black Sea region, and to further develop cooperation in the defense industry. A separate topic of the consultations was the current situation on the Crimean peninsula temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation and the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions […] The participants in the consultations exchanged views on the prospects for resolving conflicts in the regions of the Middle East, North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus.” noted that Turkey’s representatives confirmed their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea and that other topics in the consultations included preparations for the ninth meeting of the High-Level Strategic Council chaired by the Presidents of Ukraine and Turkey to be held this year, interaction within international organizations, and ways to further increase trade and investment between the two countries. Significantly, the Turkish side confirmed Ankara’s readiness to participate in the Crimean Platform towards consolidation of international efforts to end the annexation of Crimea (https://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/732630.html). Incidentally, during the April 2nd phone conversation between Zelenskiy and Biden, their first, the former invited the latter to attend in Kiev the Crimea Platform’s first “summit” (https://vesti.ua/politika/zelenskij-vpervye-pogovoril-s-bajdenom-itogi).
The abovementioned developments might be perceived as Erdogan eyeing an alliance with Kiev in order to return Crimea to Ankara or to Ukraine under Turkish protection under some form of joint rule or a Turkish protectorate sometime in the future. Beyond perception, the fact is Turkey’s offerings represent NATO military assistance to Kiev, and a Turkish-Ukrainian semi-alliance increases Ukraine’s and NATO’s capacity to cause problems for Moscow in Crimea, Donbass, and elsewhere. Regarding ‘elsewhere,’ one need only recall Ankara’s support for ISIS- and Al Qaida-tied jihadis in Syria, many of whom were from jihadi ISIS- and AQ-tied jihadi groups in Russia’s North Caucasus.
Moreover, with last year’s brief Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the last month, Turkey, through its new military peacekeeping presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, secured a bridgehead for extending its influence in the South Caucasus, creating greater NATO pressure on Russia in a new front. At the same time, Russia was brought deeper into the region as a result of the brief war. Its resulting truce and peacekeeping agreement negotiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, saddles Moscow with a risky peace-keeping operation in the breakaway republic while creating a new military presence for Moscow in the South Caucasus bringing it closer to contact with Turkish and/or Azerbaijani troops (https://gordonhahn.com/2020/11/15/the-russia-west-tinderbox/). Moreover, given Azerbaijan’s history as a conduit of jihadis moving between Syria and Iraq (through Turkey), on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, the new post-war configuration in the South Caucasus adds to Moscow’s security concerns: the new potential threat of Turkish-Ukrainian-NATO assistance to jihadi terrorists in Russia.
Finally, the 1936 Montreaux Treaty that gives Turkey sovereignty over civilian sea passage and limits naval passage through the Straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles could be rendered moot by the Istanbul Canal under construction by Ankara that will run parallel to the Straits. The Montreaux Treaty, negotiated in Switzerland by Turkey, the USSR, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Japan, Rumania, and the United Kingdom, with Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the USSR preparing the main drafts. In accordance with the final treaty passage regulations only allow Black Sea states to bring capital ships (the largest kinds of naval ships such as aircraft carriers) through the straits. Non-Black-Sea powers wishing to send a naval vessel through the straits must inform Ankara at least eight days before the planned passage. No single ship with tonnage greater than 10,000 tons can make passage, and no more than nine foreign warships limited to an aggregate tonnage of 15,000 tons, may pass at any one time. An aggregate tonnage of all non-Black Sea warships at any one time located in the Black Sea cannot exceed 30,000 tons or under special conditions 45,000 tons). No naval ship can remain in the Black Sea longer than twenty-one days (www.mfa.gov.tr/site_media/html/montro-bogazlar-raporu-2014.pdf). These limits make Russia’s Black Sea Fleet naval base at Sevastopol, Crimea the valuable defense asset that it is, securing the Black Sea portion of Russia’s southern underbelly. Turkish officials have said the treaty may not be applicable to the new canal, opening the potential for unlimited naval presence in the Black Sea. More recently, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan stated the treaty has no bearing whatsoever to the new canal, and Turkey will have full sovereingnty over it (https://vz.ru/news/2021/4/14/1094574.html); something Russia is unlikely to treat lightly, adding to the tensions around Crimea, Ukraine, Turkey, and NATO.
NATO expansion has brought world history’s most powerful military bloc to Russia’s border with Ukraine. Whereas earlier, Ukraine was a problematic buffer between Russia and NATO over which the two contending parties were tussling but nevertheless separated, now with Western forces in Ukraine and its waters we are near to a direct faceoff in Donbass and/or Crimea between Russian forces and NATO forces. On March 31st, Kremlin spokesman Dmitrii Peskov issued a statement, noting: “The Russian Federation moves its armed forces within its territory at its own discretion. This should not bother many, and it poses no threat to anyone.” He added that this was in connection with “increased activity of the Armed Forces of NATO countries, other associations, and individual countries around the perimeter of the Russian Federation’s borders. All of this obliges us to be on the alert” (https://vz.ru/news/2021/4/1/1092431.html). Less genuinely, he also said: “Russian troops have never taken and did not take part (in the Donbass conflict). This is an exclusively internal Ukrainian conflict and we, of course, … would not want the civil war in Ukraine to ignite again as a result of a provocation by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.” NATO expansion brought the 2013-14 Ukrainian crisis and overthrow over the neutral if highly corrupt Viktor Yanukovych, Putin’s annexation of Crimea, and the Donbass resistance necessarily backed by Moscow. Thus, Russia and the West missed the chance to institutionalize Ukraine as a buffer by constantly interfering in Kiev’s politics in order to turn Ukraine. Instead, they helped to break Ukraine in two, each taking a part, bringing them into face-to-face standoff from Odessa through Crimea, Nikolaev (Mikolaiv) to Luhansk, and Donetsk.
Russia will not brook NATO membership for Ukraine and will do almost anything to stop it. The NATO involvement in Ukraine risks an unwarranted action or overreaction on Moscow’s and/or Kiev’s part. More optimistically, it is unlikely that Washington and other hardline anti-Russian capitols such as London, Ottawa, Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn would intentionally encourage Kiev to undertake an offensive or provocation of Russia in the Donbass, especially since Germany, France, Hungary, Serbia, Italy, and Greece display some sympathy for the Russian position. However, it is entirely possible, though not yet likely, that the various signals emanating from the West – increasing military and diplomatic support for the Ukrainian military, belligerent statements by President Biden that Putin is a killer, and increased NATO activity in and around Ukraine – will lead to a repeat the Georgian scenario of spring and summer 2008. At that time Saakashvili – assuming the Richard Cheney wing of the Bush administration did not give a wink and a nod to the unstable leader, believing they could convince President Bush to back Tbilisi – mistook massive U.S. military, political, and diplomatic support from Washington and Brussels as a signal they would or perhaps could be positioned into backing his attempt to reintegrate Tbilisi with its breakaway regions of South Ossetiya and Abkhaziya, which he had promised voters he would return to the Georgian fold. Russia may be overdoing its military exercises and moving additional troops into Crimea in order to pressure Berlin and Paris to give a new kickstart in Kiev to the stalled Minsk process. On the downside, Moscow might be doing this in order to force Zelenskiy into a final conflict with the neofascists and thus destabilize Ukraine, laying blame for the resulting chaos at the West’s door. Another factor that could prompt an overreaction or ill-advised preemptive move in Ukraine is the unstable position of Moscow’s Belarus ally, Aleksandr Lukashenka, who is under pressure to step down from the presidency by an opposition movement backed by the West.
This troublesome configuration in western Eurasia is complimented by an equally vexing security deterioration in the Far East, with again Russia being drawn into more tensions with the West through its strategic partnership with the harsh authoritarian Chinese communist regime, and the situation there is no less complex than that between NATO/Ukraine and Russia. A crisis in one theatre could encourage actors in the other to make a move. Concern in Washington is growing about a potential two-front confrontation with China in the east and Russia in Ukraine.
Russia is becoming less a soft authoritarian and a more middle-range authoritarian regime. Its nearly complete break in relations with the West and a tectonic shift in its civilizational identity from Europe to Eurasia and its Asian pivot to Beijing in response to NATO expansion, sharpens the global divide and East-West tensions. Moscow has strongly hitched its wagon to rising China, which is becoming the superpower of Eurasia and Asia and a major player in Europe and Africa. By choosing Eastern Europe first over Russia, the West lost its chance to partner with Moscow and develop her as a powerful buffer against China’s rise in Eurasia and a drag on its rise globally. Russia, rather than joining the community of democracies and becoming an economic power linked to Western markets, saw NATO and turned east. The Eurasian alternative has deep roots going back to the ‘Eurasianists’ in the Russian émigré` community in Europe in the 1920s. Options such as some new form of Eurasianism or an Asian pivot were options for Moscow immediately upon the Soviet collapse, and the West has done just about everything it could have in the last three decades to push Russians to reject the West and embrace the East. Now Sino-Russian military and intelligence cooperation in targeting the West is intensifying, as Washington and Brussels continue to attempt to support anti-regime opposition forces in both countries. With the U.S. moving towards authoritarianism and Russia’s soft and China’s hard authoritarianism becoming harsher on the background of deepening international competition with the decline of a hegemonic power and the rise of a new challenger, the new East-West tension or ‘new cold war’ is driving to fever pitch.
Although I do not buy the talk that the danger of a restart of the Donbass war or the beginning of a larger war around Ukraine has passed in recent days, I also do not expect that the low-intensity nature of the war will become a high-intensity one this summer, unless the Russians are provoked. Since Nord Stream II is more important for the Kremlin, Putin has no intentions of starting another conflict with Kiev, which might force Berlin to abandon the project as Washington has demanded. What we consider a provocation is not what Russians consider a provocation when it comes to their periphery, given Russia’s security culture and vigilance norm. The entire history of post-Cold War NATO expansion and color revolution democracy-promotion in the post-communist region is testimony to this. Would Washington organize a provocation to sink Nord Stream? Unfortunately, neither a Ukrainian nor even a Western provocation as perceived or misperceived by Moscow can be excluded. This demonstrates the gravity of the the threat of war in Ukraine–a situation that is reminiscent of the tangle of geostrategic alliances that were ignited both previous world wars. Misperception or miscalculation are real possibilities, and the consequences of these must be removed from equation as soon as possible. Most unfortunately, this seems unlikely. Since the Obama administration the Western democracies seem to have heads little more and perhaps even less level than the Eastern authoritarians. We are closer to authoritarian war than democratic peace. Much closer.
* The growing instability in the Far East and Russia’s dilemma is the subject for a follow-up article. For now, let’s hope the Donbass conflict remains a low-intensity one, if it cannot be resolved by the players as they are currently constituted individually and structured collectively.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org. Dr. Hahn is the author of The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, forthcoming in 2021), Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018), The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.