Alternative Insight

The Division of Ukraine
Mindsets of East and West

On August 23, 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which enabled Germany to attack Poland without fear of reprisal by the Soviet Union. Within a few weeks the victorious Germans annexed one-half of Poland. The Soviet Union incorporated the other half of a defeated Poland into its territory and declared the 13.5 million Polish citizens to be new subjects of the Soviet Union.

Historians differ on the reasons the two enemies developed a sudden friendship and what each expected to gain from the division of Poland. One reason is clearly identifiable -- the division of Poland gave each nation a zone of separation from one another.

In the year 2015, the Ukraine is headed to a similar fate as that of 1939 Poland. Despite the saber rattling and diplomatic warfare, Russia intends to incorporate an independent Eastern Ukraine into its orbit, and the western powers fully realize they can do nothing to thwart that effort. The trend is for the Ukraine to be split and each part to serve as a buffer between Russia and NATO.

Going by script, President Obama's United States and President Putin's Russia are engaged in a war of invectives. Russia's May 9 celebration of its victory as the Great Patriotic War stimulated Washington DC Think Tanks to neutralize the Soviet efforts. Taking their cue from those who regard President Putin and his Russian nation as heirs to Nazi aggression, the Washington pundits complained of a Russian effort to rename World War II and replace it with the Great Patriotic War. They also insinuated that President Putin's remarks had falsified history and greatly diminished United States' and Great Britain's efforts in winning the war. The aggressive attacks on Russian veracity exposed the one-sided mindset of western thinkers and how their thoughts are molded by conventional wisdom and subjective repetitions.

Just as the words Great Patriotic War are a Russian description that suits its role, the words World War II are a Western description that satisfies its instincts. Examine hostilities during the years from 1939-1945, and the period from 1939-1941 shows only a European war, similar to the many wars between the United Kingdom, France and Germany that plagued Europe for centuries and trapped others into the conflagration. Hitler's wars is a better description for those years.

When German troops invaded the Soviet Union in the middle of 1941, the Nazis either controlled or had allies in almost all European nations. The war had diminished to skirmishes between German and British troops in North Africa and bombing campaigns between German and British air forces. Pearl Harbor was yet to occur. To the Soviets, they were not fighting in a world war but in a world at war against them, they were fighting a great patriotic war.

Nor has the Russian celebration of victory falsified history. The United States does not include France, whose fleet trapped Cornwallis at Yorktown and completed the American Revolution, when it celebrates its Independence Day on July 4. American people give tribute to their own accomplishments and the Russian people do the same with their efforts. This does not mean that the Russians have not recognized that U.S. military assistance to the Soviet Union and allied battles in Italy and France against twenty percent of the German army were vital contributions to the war effort. Frankly, it's in reverse -- walk down any street in the fifty states and ask a citizen, "Who won World War II?" and the inevitable answer will be, "We did!" Ask, "What about the Russians?" and the reply will most probably be, "Were they in the war?"

Because Great Britain and France eschewed an accommodation with the Soviet Union, they had no effective strategy to prevent World War II and their careless plans allowed Nazi Germany to eventually attack the Soviet Union. The Soviets reacted to the hostility of the western European powers by incorporating all of Eastern Europe, which had several nations that supplied soldiers, arms and sustenance to the Nazi cause, into their orbit as a buffer against any future invasions.

The errors being made in provoking the Ukraine confrontation mirror the schemes western powers used in their relations with the Soviet Union, whose failures allowed Nazi Germany to increase its hegemony in Europe and, after the hot war, promoted decades of a Cold War. Unable to recognize their own centuries of suppression of world peoples, imperialist adventures and subjugation of those who did not look like them, Winston Churchill and ministers of the western powers approached the Soviet Union with fear and trepidation; questioned its communist system's effectiveness in forwarding social and economic equality and perceived its leadership as brutal tyrants ready to randomly slaughter in order to advance their own agendas; or, as described by others, a dictatorship over the proletariat and not of the proletariat.

United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a conciliatory approach. Disregarding advice from friends and ambassadors to the Soviet Union, FDR reasoned that the excesses of imperialist powers and fierce hostility toward the Soviet Union had driven the Soviet Union to paranoid actions of defense and that a friendly attitude of support for the socialist experiment would soften the harsh heart and hand of the Soviet leadership. FDR had learned how to handle Joseph Stalin and knew how to earn his trust.

William C. Bullitt, ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1933 to 1936, described Stalin as a "dangerous dictator and an ideologue bent on spreading communist revolution," and "recommended receiving concessions from Stalin in exchange for US support." In contrast, Harry Hopkins, FDR's most trusted advisor, described Stalin as not wanting "anything but security for his country." Joseph E. Davies, ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1939, in a June 6, 1938 memorandum to the U.S. Secretary of State, noted, "This system is a tyranny, clothed in horror," but concluded that "Communism holds no serious threat to the United States. Friendly relations in the future may be of great general value."

The U.S. president evaluated the opinions and took the optimistic route: "I think that if I give him (Stalin) everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."

Critical of British continuous rule in India and France's easy capitulation to the Nazis, President Roosevelt sensed a new world order of peace and democracy could not be established without a stable and friendly Soviet Union. Although Soviet intentions to incorporate all of Eastern European nations bordering on the Soviet Union into a Communist orbit became apparent at the Tehran conference, when Stalin said that "the Polish government in London had betrayed the Soviet Union, and his nation needed friendly regimes on its western border," and were confirmed at the Yalta conference, when the Soviet leader hypocritically said he "wanted all European peoples to have the kind of government that they themselves chose, free from coercion," President Roosevelt realistically understood that the United States was not prepared to prevent Soviet domination of East Europe. Roosevelt's hope lay in the supposition that political domination was separate from social and economic domination and the East Europeans would be able to guide their own destinies.

Joseph Stalin was more pragmatic than Roosevelt, and driven by events and not hopes. Milovan Djilas, second in command to Yugoslavia leader, Joseph Broz (Tito), relates in his autobiography, Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963, that Stalin spoke to him about Britain and the United States imposing their social system in the areas that their army occupied and the Soviet Union imposing its social system in the areas its armies occupied. "And this," he told his comrade, "is why the unity of the Slavs is important. If the Slavs keep united and maintain solidarity, no one in the future will be able to move a finger against them."

Future events proved Stalin to be correct; after the demise of the Soviet Union, NATO forces disassembled Yugoslavia and brought East European nations into its alliance, which brought a new examination of the Cold War - who was responsible, what was its real purpose and who benefited the most from the quiet hostility.

On March 5, 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech. With the words "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent," the Cold War received its initial impetus. Churchill failed to realize what the Soviets did, at that time from the Rio Grande to the Straits of Magellan, the United States, protected by two oceans from foreign invaders, maintained rigid control of two continents, and did not hesitate to send troops or assist local militias to prevent establishment of any government hostile to U.S. economic or political interests. Despotic regimes that kept their populations in permanent oppression operated with consent of their American patron. Meanwhile France and Great Britain were still attempting to exercise control over peoples in Asia, Middle East and Africa. Until the aggressive western powers halted their self-serving actions why would the Soviets be more polite in protecting their interests?

But they were. After transforming East Europe into a communist region, the Soviet Union retreated from increasing its hegemony in other parts of the world, and mainly reacted to situations forced upon it, as in Cuba, Vietnam, Egypt, North Korea, and Afghanistan. Except for the latter conflict, Soviet troops, other than a few fighter pilots in North Korea and Egypt, did not move beyond Eastern bloc borders, and the communist government only provided material assistance to nations they claimed needed arms for legitimate self-defense. Not so for the United States, whose military wandered the entire globe and engaged in direct and punishing combat and offensive military actions.

An objective appraisal of the causes of and responsibility for the Cold War confuses all and satisfies few. Perceived in another manner, the Cold war never existed; it was just a definition for an interlude. During the years from 1945-1991, the western powers continued their century old pursuits to dominate world trade routes, resources and markets through bribery, pressure, alliances, subterfuge and wars. Although there was a legitimate fear that Soviet power could penetrate into western Europe, the 'Cold War' was not a means to chill Soviet expansion, of which there was almost none after the redefinition of borders at the end of World War II; the 'Cold War' was an argument for preventing Soviet might from challenging U.S. hegemony in the globe and a deliberate attempt to marginalize communist economic and social systems that could counter western economies and their capitalist systems. The latter, in retrospect, may seem mythical, but rapid Soviet scientific advances in the immediate post-war period - development of the hydrogen bomb, powerful rockets and launching of a man into space - and a high growth rate of industrial production until 1970 disturbed western governments. Maintaining an arms race was one method to divert the Soviets from production of capital and consumer goods to depletion of their energies and finances in useless armaments. Denying imports of strategic goods and refusing exports of unnecessary surplus also hampered the socialist economies.

NATO's continuation after the demise of the Soviet Union validates the thesis that collective self-defense, which meant halting Soviet aggression and advances, was not the reason for the Cold War. After 1991, rather than disbanding, NATO changed its mission and expanded its reach. Aggressive interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo devastated Yugoslavia. NATO ground forces have operated in Afghanistan, its air forces have bombed Libya, its personnel have performed training missions Iraq, and its naval forces have scouted the Gulf of Aden. NATO enlargement from an original 12 nations to a present 28 nations, several of whom were allied with the Nazi regime during World War II, demonstrates that NATO is not a product of the Cold War but an excuse for the Cold War; and as long as it is around, there is bound to be trouble.

Russian President Vladimir Putin understands that having his nation's western border cluttered with NATO missiles and member nations is not a strategy of collective defense but a strategy of collective offense. He is offended and is seeking a proper defense. In this context, Putin's statement that Washington "attempts to create a unipolar world" and his accusing "Britain and U.S. of double standards" are not propaganda but arise from honest convictions.

The decline of the Soviet Union disrupted the balance of power and allowed the United States to proceed in its endeavors without a countervailing force to impede its actions. Whether deliberate or self-seeking, the United States in the last decades has spread its slogan of peace, freedom and democracy to all corners of the world without asking others if they were prepared to receive the enlightening mixture.

Many examples of U.S. and Great Britain behaving with a double standard in international issues can be cited; none is more apparent than their support for Saudi Arabia. Because a successful rebellion by the majority of suppressed Shi'a citizens of Bahrain might have modified the government, Saudi troops entered Bahrain to help quell the rebellion and assure a friendly ruler at its eastern border. Looking westward, the Saudi air force has bombed Yemen and caused many casualties in order to cripple the successful Houthi rebellion and restore power to former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a good Saudi friend. Is there a more blatant double standard than U.S. attitude toward Saudi interventions and Russian interventions?

Using force to halt Russia's counter offensive to NATO advances is not likely; Russia has the advantage in that strategy. Sanctions are all that is left in NATO's tool kit and that will only manufacture new alliances. Geographic Europe stops at the Ural Mountains with a Siberian extension that can consider the continent ranging from Lisbon to Vladivostok. With sanctions, Europe is being remapped to stop at Russia's western border, while creating a new Asia that ranges from Shanghai to St. Petersburg. The barrier has a new fabric and a Silk Curtain is descending across the European continent.

june, 2015