As the Cold War-2 unfolds, shades of the past return to haunt those of us old enough to recollect and not merely to have read about them. One such recollection was brought to life on Monday at the session of the United Nations Security Council convened at U.S. demand to consider the ongoing threat of war at the Russian-Ukrainian border.
In his career as Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union from 1957 to 1985, a period of such length that the present incumbent Sergei Lavrov’s 18 years would seem to render him still a boy in short trousers, Andrei Andreevich Gromyko was the dour face of the world’s second superpower at the UN and at all other international gatherings. He held his own in the give and take of debate, and did not mince his words. Yet, by his intelligence, sophistication and steadfast pursuit of national interest he won the respect of adversaries as well as allies.
It is too early to speak of respect that Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya, appointed only in 2017, may or may not have earned with adversaries. But his severe mien and in-your-face denunciation of American and Western claims that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent at Monday’s session certainly drew the rapt attention of all. Surely Gromyko would be proud.
Let us not coddle the Russians. “Strategic empathy” is for fools. Clown though he may be, Boris Johnson was entirely accurate when he said in Kiev yesterday that “Russia is holding a gun to the head of Ukraine, by intimidating Ukraine, to get us to change the way we look at (European security)” [Reuters].
What we are witnessing today on the international stage is more than a re-run of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 with the roles of the United States and Russia reversed. It is an intentional reversal of roles and language up and down the line on Russia’s part. Nebenzya’s brazen denial that his country is intimidating Ukraine by moving its armed forces around on its own territory was intentionally serving up to the USA and NATO the tripe that has been served up to Russia these past 25 years: that NATO is a purely defensive alliance which does not threaten Russia in any way when it holds massive war exercises at Russia’s borders or stages a mock recapture of the Kaliningrad enclave.
I have been in a friendly discussion with peers in the antiwar movement over Vladimir Putin’s end goal: will he settle for ‘half a loaf’ or is he truly going va banque as the French and Russians say, meaning ‘going for broke’ in vernacular English. I believe in the latter interpretation: Putin would never have delivered what is in effect an ultimatum to the United States to return to the status quo ante in Europe of 1997 if he were not persuaded that he can win most if not all of his objectives. Moreover, the United States would not now be engaged in diplomatic discourse, however dissembling it may be on their part, were the Pentagon not aware of the facts it does not yet disclose to Congress, not to mention to the broad American public: that Russia is in a ‘gotcha’ position if things go to extremis, that it probably has a first strike capability, meaning it could so destroy the United States war-making capabilities on a first strike as to preclude an effective riposte. This is the so-called ‘window of opportunity’ that Russia has created for itself by developing and deploying hypersonic missiles and other cutting edge strategic weapons over the past twenty years while the United States poured its military budget into bloody wars on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Will there in fact be a war now in Ukraine? No one can say. The Russians have declared and should be believed when they say a war, if it comes, will not be of their choosing, but will be imposed on them by the United States using Ukraine as a tool, so as to enforce a cruel new round of sanctions from Europe.
How would that war end? No one is in doubt of absolute Russian victory, achieving any particular outcome they seek, but very likely ‘ending Ukrainian statehood.’ This is what Vladimir Putin warned more than a year ago if Ukraine failed to implement the Minsk Accords, which is manifestly the case now that Kiev said publicly a couple of days ago that implementation is off the table.
Would such a war trigger a broader conflagration at the global level? Again, no one can say for sure, though from the foregoing it would appear to be very unlikely. This is so not only because of Russian strategic strength but also because of backing from the Chinese who can at any moment turn up the pressure on Taiwan and force the USA to confront a potential two-front war.
And so, We, the People can sleep soundly on our pillows even if the world order we have known for the past twenty-five years is about to come crashing down.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2021