The Struggle of Russia and the United States for Ukraine

February 25, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

The “military operation” announced by Russian president Vladimir Putin on February 24, is the latest episode in a struggle between two powers, the United States and Russia, for control of Ukraine. There is little good that can be said about either of these powers.

Russia is no more a progressive state than is the United States, and, indeed, is a good deal less so. The country’s president, Vladmir Putin, an anti-Bolshevik apostle of “traditional values”, i.e., homophobia, misogyny, and religious superstition, is admired by the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps of the world, as well as some supporters of the trucker convoys, for his “anti-woke stance.” Trump thinks the world of Putin, much as US reactionaries of another time admired Hitler and Mussolini for their “strong” leadership and anti-Bolshevism. Putin has little good to say about Lenin and Stalin, disapproving of the Bolsheviks’ nationalities policies and criticizing Stalin for not pre-emptively attacking Nazi Germany. Putin proudly announced that he wouldn’t make in connection with Ukraine what he sees as Stalin’s mistake in connection with Germany.

Nor is Russia any less an imperialist state than the United States, though it is, to be sure, much less powerful than its US rival, far less dangerous, and its domains far less extensive. But it is imperialist, all the same, however much it is opposed to the prospect of its own domination by the United States. For all its anti-hegemonism, Moscow is not opposed to subjugating other countries. Russia intervened militarily in Syria in 2015, not out of a selfless commitment to rescuing the government in Damascus, but to advance Russian aims. Syria is a vassal of Moscow, and while Damascus may (or may not) find the terms of its vassalage preferable to those the United States would impose, it remains a Russian vassal state all the same.

As to Ukraine, it has the unfortunate fate of finding itself in the middle of an inter-imperialist struggle. Through subterfuge and machination, the United States in 2014 installed a pro-US, anti-Russian puppet government in Kyiv. That government has acted to integrate the territory, people, military, and markets of Ukraine into the United States’ informal empire. In insisting on membership in NATO, participating with NATO forces in military exercises along Russia’s borders, refusing to implement the Minsk II agreement, vigorously engendering opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and proclaiming its intention to reclaim Crimea, home to the Russian Black Fleet, the US puppet government in Kyiv has done much to provoke Russian aggression. Indeed, it is difficult to conclude that this wasn’t its aim, since Kyiv played it cards as if it was. Moscow would rather Ukraine be integrated into its own informal empire, the Eurasian Economic Union, though faute de mieux, it has been prepared to accept Ukraine neutrality. An independent Ukraine, one not under the de facto control of Washington, would likely have opted to join neither the (vast) informal empire of the United States nor the (much smaller) informal empire of Russia. But a Ukraine under the informal control of the United States has recklessly crossed so many Russian red lines.

On a moral and legal plane, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is indefensible. Putin’s invoking Article 51, Chapter VII of the UN Charter, (the right of self-defense in response to an attack) is a total farce, as is Putin’s claim that the Kyiv government is a neo-Nazi government and that Kyiv is carrying out a genocide against Russians. These claims demonstrate that Moscow can stoop as low as Washington in inventing totally ridiculous pretexts for wars of aggression. To be clear, there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine, a few in government, and more than a few in the military, but they tend to be Russophobes first and neo-Nazis second; that is, they’re neo-Nazis because they hate Russians—as in, the greatest enemy (the Nazis) of my enemy (Russia) is my greatest friend. That’s not to defend Russophobia, but the neo-Nazi reference is frequently invoked, not out of respect for the truth, but because its utility in shaping public opinion against Ukraine is greater, at least in the West, than pointing out that there are many Ukrainian nationalists who dislike Russia for its history of dominating Ukrainians, some of whom are neo-Nazis, and others who are not. Moreover, the presence of neo-Nazis in government and in the military is hardly unique to Ukraine.

As to Ukraine carrying out a genocide against its ethnic Russian population, this is only true if we accept the kind of infinitely flexible definition of genocide that the United States, in the person of Adrian Zenz, is infamous for deploying against China as an exercise in mobilizing public opinion against a rival. To be sure, the Ukrainian nationalist Russophobes in Kyiv have hardly sought to find an amicable way to co-exist with their ethnic Russian compatriots, but when Putin likens this behavior to genocide, he takes a page from the execrable Adrian Zenz, and shows himself to be just as execrable for doing so.

The Russian president says he has no plans to occupy Ukraine, and this may be true. Certainly, it would ill-serve Russia to become bogged down in a second Afghanistan. But Moscow says it intends to de-Nazify and de-militarize Ukraine, which means, it intends to install its own puppet government in Kyiv, after it jails or murders the Ukrainian nationalists who, whether neo-Nazi or not, are painted with a broad neo-Nazi brush. Thereafter, the Russian president will try to persuade ethnic Ukrainians that they’re part of the same Russian family, and should feel at home with their pro-Russian Quisling government.

The United States’ role in this tragedy is as much about its relationship with its former imperial rivals, Germany, Italy, and France, as it is about its attempts to weaken Russia. These three powers, and the Europe they lead, incessantly threaten to spin out of the US orbit. Increasingly, they talk of strategic autonomy, while pursuing economic integration with Russia and China, to US dismay. Russian aggression provides the occasion to bind Europe more firmly to the United States, by rallying Europe against Russia through the US instrument of NATO, and pressing the continent to sever some economic ties with Russia. Germany will be expected to cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, to its great disadvantage, since it will lose an inexpensive source of energy, and to the great advantage of the US liquid natural gas industry, which will fill the void with a more expensive product. While certification of the pipeline has only been suspended for now, Washington will continue to pressure Germany to cancel the pipeline altogether. The benefits of Russian aggression against Ukraine for the US investor class are so numerous, that champagne bottles must have popped in Washington and on Wall Street when the Russian president announced the beginning of his country’s military operation in Ukraine. European drift toward the Russian economy is eclipsed. NATO is strengthened, with indubitable benefits in new orders from NATO countries for arms from US weapons makers. Calls for more weapons purchases to bolster the US military will escalate; yesterday, for example, a Wall Street Journal op-ed demanded a naval build up. And the arms industry will run at full-tilt pumping weapons into Ukraine to fuel an insurgency, as Washington fights Russia to the last Ukrainian. Wars for which the United States has not participated except to act as an arms supplier have always been kind to the country’s investors; this one promises to be the same. Finally, Russian military operations, along with Western sanctions, will drain the Russian economy, weakening Russia, or at least stifle its growth, and make it less a formidable US rival. How could Wall Street not look with pleasure upon the prospects?

Information warfare

Most Left pundits and “anti-imperialists” thought Russia wouldn’t invade, and that Washington’s warning that an invasion was imminent was utter nonsense, along the lines of the Iraqi WMD scare. Patrick Cockburn, though hardly alone, dismissed the possibility of a Russian invasion, arguing that Russia had assembled too few troops along its borders to invade Ukraine. This was just Washington hype and war hysteria, he wrote. Others took as gospel the words of Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many fakes, disinformation, leaks, slander and lies” she said—a self-referential statement, it turns out. The lesson here is that governments lie but sometimes they don’t, and that it is unwise to assume that governments always lie or that ones that are in the cross-hairs of US aggression don’t. Putin talked of a US empire of lies. He omitted mention of a Russian empire of lies.

Before leaving the topic of information warfare, something ought to be said about RT (Russia Today). RT exists in the first instance to serve Russian ends, and specifically to propagate information favorable to the attainment of the goals of the Russian state. The modus operandi of RT’s US network is to act as a platform for anyone with a compelling critique of US policy or who will go to bat to defend Russia. There may be a partial overlap between the pursuit of Russian state aims, and the provision of progressive discourse and analysis, but no one should be mistaken that RT’s raison d’etre is to promote a progressive point of view. It is doubtful that RT would long provide a platform to persons whose critique of US society and foreign policy was matched by an equally rigorous critique of the Russian side. I may be wrong, but we may soon find out if this is true if anyone tries to advance, on RT, the kind of analysis I’m presenting here.

What ought to be done?

First, Ukraine should be neither the means to US ends nor the means to Russian ends. Ukraine ought to be the means to Ukrainian ends. The country must be allowed to develop independently and to choose its own government freely, without foreign interference or involvement. The country’s leaders must be answerable to the people of Ukraine, not to the president of the United States, nor the president of Russia. To achieve this, Russia must immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine and cease interfering in Ukrainian affairs. The United States and its satellites must do the same. Next, the countries of Europe, along with Canada, must withdraw from NATO. NATO is not a defensive alliance. Europe can readily defend itself against Russia. Its military expenditures are four times greater than those of the Russian Federation, (France’s alone are equal to Russia’s), and France has an independent nuclear force. NATO is a cover for the United States to maintain a military presence in Europe, on the territory of its former imperialist rivals. Al Haig, former NATO Supreme Commander and Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, once acknowledged that US troops are in Europe (stationed at what are called NATO bases to hide the fact that US bases are scattered across the continent) to ensure that European markets remain open to US exports and investment. Fourth, the United States and Canada must withdraw their forces from Europe (and from elsewhere abroad.) North American militaries must be re-oriented to self-defense, not power projection. The same demand must be made of all the world’s militaries; they must exist for one reason alone: to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The struggle against reactionaries who masquerade as anti-imperialists

Finally, regarding the variegated group that calls itself anti-imperialists. Anti-imperialists come in many hues. Marxists of various stripes are almost always anti-imperialist but tend to self-identify as Marxists (Marxists, Marxist-Leninists, Communists, socialists, and so on.) It is taken as a given that if you’re a Marxist, you’re anti-imperialist, and, hence, that the anti-imperialist moniker is unnecessary. But the converse isn’t always true—anti-imperialists are not always Marxists. Some people who self-identify as anti-imperialists, but not as Marxists (and I say some, not all), practice an anti-imperialism of a sort favored by Charles Lindbergh and others in the late 1930s and 1940s, and expressed as America First, a name that has resonance with Trump. Supporters of the America First cause admired Hitler and Mussolini, especially their opposition to bolshevism and the “wokeism” of the day, and opposed US war against fascism in Europe. Their intellectual descendants exist today. Some of them can be found on the conspiracy theory web site, Global Research. They admire Putin’s commitment to “traditional values,” including faith, homophobia, misogyny, submission to authority, and strong leadership. While they call themselves anti-imperialist, they’re really only opposed to US imperialism. The imperialism of Russia and few other countries never shows up on their radar. They are, in reality, anti-Marxist conservatives, who falsely identify as anti-imperialists to create a progressive façade to mobilize the energies of Marxist anti-imperialists to a reactionary agenda. These are the same frauds who have celebrated the far-right truckers’ convoys, and are very likely at this very moment denouncing anyone who has an unkind word to say about Vladimir Putin and his imperialist war on Ukraine. In its statement on the Russian aggression, the Party for Socialism and Liberation argued sagely that the role of anti-imperialists “is not to follow the line of countries in conflict with U.S. imperialism, but to present an independent program of peace and solidarity and anti-imperialism.” That is the hallmark of Marxist-inspired anti-imperialism. We can do without the other kind.

Sense and Nonsense About Ukraine

January 21, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Joe Biden thinks, or at least says he thinks, that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would “be the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II.” Biden is either delusional, or supremely confident in the power of US propaganda to turn black to white, otherwise he couldn’t possibly summon the chutzpah to utter such arrant nonsense. Unless Russia plans (a) to invade Ukraine and then (b) burn it to the ground, as the United States did to North Korea from 1950 to 1953, or napalm and exfoliate the country, as Washington did to Vietnam, or bomb and sanction it into the stone age, as the Pentagon did to Iraq twice, or spend 20 years killing civilians in drone strikes as four US administrations did to Afghanistan, then Russia could hardly match the United States in producing consequential markers on the record of post-World War II war and peace.    

Equally absurd are the remarks of the leader of one of Washington’s favorite lickspittles, the government of Canada. “We are working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression is absolutely unacceptable,” intoned the popinjay Justin Trudeau, a man whose servility to US interests is without limit. “We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full court press to ensure Russia respects the people of Ukraine.” Too bad Canada hadn’t acted to ensure the United States respected the peoples of Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to say nothing of the peoples of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Palestine, among others.   

The emperor and his Canadian viceroy

To avoid the terrible fate of being excommunicated from the church of respectable bourgeois politics, Canada’s peace and love party, the NDP, advocated the use of “sanctions” rather than “war” to deter what is said by governments and respectable (i.e., bourgeois) media in the West to be an anticipated Russian “aggression” against Ukraine, thus accepting as legitimate and propagating two spurious claims: (1) that sanctions—which regularly produce death and misery in excess of what is wrought by bullets, shells, bombs, and missiles—are a peaceful and desirable alternative to war, rather than a means of warfare itself, and a particularly vicious one at that; and that (2) Russian aggression lies at the heart of the dispute over Ukraine.

At its base, the conflict between Russia and the United States pivots on the question of security guarantees. Russia has asked for them and the United States refuses to grant them. Why does Russia feel insecure?

For one thing, the country, along with China, is at the center of the US reticle—Russia constituting what Washington calls a “revisionist power.” “Revisionist”, in US hands, means seeking to revise the international rules-based order—an order based on a set of shifting rules of which the United States alone is the architect and which it invokes whenever convenient, for its own benefit. Revising the international order is refusing to do whatever the US commands. The US president, uncrowned king of the world, or much of it, might as well intone, “The international rules-based order, c’est moi.”  US politicians and journalists are quick to use the words “dictator” and “authoritarian” to refer to the targets of US aggression, but, skilled propagandists to a person, refuse to use the words in reference to Washington’s own relationship with the rest of the world. Yet the words fit to a tee. The United States seeks a relationship of prepotency vis-à-vis other countries. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger described the relationship this way, in an amusing 1970s song, sung to the tune Yankee Doodle.

Yankee Doodle came to town

H-bombs in his pocket

Says chum if you don’t toe the line

I’ll blast you with my rockets

To be sure, the dictator’s tools of coercion have always surpassed H-bombs alone and include sanctions (more aptly known as starving people into submission, a favorite of Canada’s “peace-loving” NDP), fomenting rebellions, and declaring US toadies to be the legitimate leaders of countries that defy the US  dictatorship (Juan Guaidó, for example.)

In 2019, the RAND Corporation, the Pentagon’s think tank, drew up a list of measures the United States and its satellites, such as henchman Canada, could take to “overextend and unbalance” Russia as a means of coercing Moscow to toe the US line. The measures were:

  • Expand U.S. energy production to stress Russia’s economy, potentially constraining its government budget and, by extension, its defense spending. By adopting policies that expand world supply and depress global prices, the United States can limit Russian revenue.
  • Increase Europe’s ability to import gas from suppliers other than Russia to economically extend Russia.
  • Impose deeper trade and financial sanctions to degrade the Russian economy. 
  • Challenge the legitimacy of the state. Create the perception that Moscow is not pursuing the public interest by focussing on widespread, large-scale corruption.
  • Encourage domestic protests and other nonviolent resistance to distract or destabilize the Russian government.
  • Undermine Russia’s image abroad to diminish Moscow’s standing, influence and prestige. 
  • Encourage the emigration from Russia of skilled labor and well-educated youth.
  • Relocate bombers and missiles within easy striking range of key Russian strategic targets to raise Russian anxieties.

The point is that the United States views Russia as a challenge to what the late Hugo Chavez once called the international dictatorship of the United States and Washington has not sat idly by, allowing the challenge to its dictatorship to stand, as evidenced by RAND’s recommendations.

The second reason for Russia to feel insecure, if the first isn’t enough, is that the United States is the world’s greatest menace to peace, contrary to the efforts of Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau, sanctions-loving social democrats, and the Western bourgeois media to flip this reality on its head. The United States’ addiction to war—according to Washington’s own Congressional Research Service, “the US military has waged war, engaged in combat, or otherwise employed its forces aggressively in foreign lands in all but eleven years of its existence”, that is, in more than 95 of every 100 years since 1776—is brushed aside. Twenty years in Afghanistan, the destruction of Iraq, the illegal occupation of Syria, the air war on Yugoslavia, the bombing of Panama and invasion of Grenada, wars on the peoples of Vietnam and Korea, to say nothing of wars of economic aggression on these and countless other countries—all these US aggressions are forgotten. Instead, we’re led to believe that, motivated by a desire to recover territory lost to the Russian empire, Vladimir Putin has asked for security guarantees he knows Washington cannot grant, and will use the denial of these guarantees as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Why the United States cannot guarantee Russia’s security, and why security guarantees are “non-starters”, is never explained. However, the undeniable US record of worshiping Mars is explanation enough: The United States cannot provide security guarantees, because the rules-based international order, of which the United States is the sole architect and its plutocrats the principal beneficiaries, depends on military threat and aggression as its ultima ratio. The alluring goal of integrating Russia into the US economy as a complement to, rather than as a rival of, corporate USA, offers too many lucrative profit-making opportunities for Washington to voluntarily surrender its program of anti-Russian military pressure.

Moscow has presented its request for security guarantees in the form of two proposed treaties, one with the United States and the other with the United States’ instrument, NATO. As far as I can tell, the details of the proposed treaties have never been presented in major US media, perhaps because they contradict the Western narrative of Russian belligerence.

Draft treaty with the United States: 

  1. Russia and the US shall not use the territory of other countries to prepare or conduct attacks against the other; 
  2. Neither party shall deploy short- or intermediate-range missiles abroad or in areas where these weapons could reach targets inside the other’s territory; 
  3. The US shall not open military bases in the post-Soviet countries that are not already NATO members, use their military infrastructure, or develop military cooperation with these states;
  4. Neither party shall deploy nuclear weapons abroad, and any such weapons already deployed must be returned. Both parties shall eliminate any infrastructure for deploying nuclear weapons outside their own territories; 
  5. Neither party shall conduct military exercises with scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons; and, 
  6. Neither party shall train military or civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons. 

Draft treaty with NATO.

  1. NATO shall not expand further east and must commit to excluding Ukrainian membership; 
  2. NATO shall not deploy additional forces or arms outside the borders of its members as of May 1997 (before the alliance started admitting Eastern European countries); 
  3. NATO shall not conduct any military activity in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, or Central Asia; 
  4. Russia and NATO shall not deploy short- or intermediate-range missiles within range of each other’s territories; 
  5. All parties shall refrain from conducting military actions above the brigade level which shall be confined to a border zone to be mutually agreed upon; and,  
  6. Neither party shall regard the other as an adversary or create threats to the other, and all parties shall commit to settling disputes peacefully, refraining from the use of force.

The provisions of the proposed treaties are in no way aggressive. On the other hand, the expansion of an anti-Russian military alliance up to the border of Russia, a country the alliance-leader, the United States, defines as a challenger to its hegemony, is unquestionably menacing to Russia. As to the canard that NATO cannot possibly pose a threat to Russia, for, after all, it’s merely a defensive alliance, that too depends on historical amnesia. An alliance that was at the center of unprovoked wars on Yugoslavia, Libya, and Afghanistan, is, ipso facto, an instrument of aggression. It is also an instrument of US domination, used (a) to keep Washington’s former imperialist rivals Germany, Britain, France, and Italy under US tutelage; (b) to create markets for US weapons manufacturers by demanding that NATO lackeys buy weapons systems that interoperate with the US military; and (c) to enlist NATO subalterns in the US project of “overextending and unbalancing” states that remain outside the US empire.

It may, contrary to what one reads in the press, be very much in the interest of Washington to provoke a Russian invasion of Ukraine. What better way to overextend and unbalance the Eurasian giant? A Russian invasion of the east European country would be a march into a quagmire. Washington welcomes the opportunity to overextend and unbalance Russia via a Ukrainian proxy—that is, to carry on the US war on Russia to the last Ukrainian. What’s more, and referring back to the RAND Corporation’s proposals, what better way than by provoking an invasion of Ukraine to do the following?

  • Undermine Russia’s image abroad to diminish Moscow’s standing, influence and prestige. 
  • Create a justification to impose deeper trade and financial sanctions to degrade the Russian economy. 
  • Provide a pretext to relocate bombers and missiles within easy striking range of key Russian strategic targets to raise Russian anxieties.
  • Pressure Germany to cancel Nord Stream 2 to increase Europe’s ability to import gas from suppliers other than Russia as a means of economically weakening Russia.

“Strobe Talbott, the original choreographer of NATO expansion in the post-cold war order,” as  M.K. Bhadrakumar describes him, has “triumphantly congratulated Blinken and Jake Sullivan for cornering Russia.” And well he should. In Ukraine, Washington has created an anti-Russian state on Russia’s border, which, while not formally integrated in NATO, is a de facto NATO asset. Left alone, Ukraine poses a threat to Russia. Invaded by Russia, it remains equally a threat.   

Provoking a robust Russian reply to an advancing and predatory NATO offers other benefits to Washington as well. France and Germany—the principal EU actors—evince a growing desire to achieve a strategic autonomy that would allow them to take advantage of the economic opportunities a closer relationship with Russia would create. Growing Russian-European economic integration would disadvantage US corporations. For example, in preference to reliance on Russian natural gas, Washington has pressed Europe to purchase liquid natural gas from the United States, even though the cost is much higher. Washington has also balked at the prospect of EU military autonomy on the grounds that it would cut US arms companies out of contracts for military provisioning. In other words, the United States uses its dominance over its former imperial rivals to tilt the field in favor of corporate USA (and also to keep former and therefore potential future imperialist rivals in check.) There’s a cost, then, of belonging to the US empire—sacrificing one’s own economic interests to those of the US plutocracy. A Russian invasion of Ukraine would provide Washington with a moral argument to pressure Germany and France into renouncing their growing openness to Russia in favor of more openness to corporate USA, while cementing Europe’s place in the US empire and countering the gravitational pull of Russia on European economies.  

Russia is clearly threatened by the United States and its NATO alliance, and the treaties proposed by Russia to guarantee its security would desirably stay the hand of an aggressive Washington, to the benefit not only of Russia, but to those of us who live in NATO countries who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, from the US plutocracy’s continuing predatory advance on its rivals. It is not Russians who are our enemy. Our enemies are the leaders of the column in whose ranks we are invited to march.

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Coming soon. The Killer’s Henchman: Capitalism and the Covid-19 Disaster. Available for pre-order from Baraka Books.

Promoting Plutocracy: U.S.-Led Regime Change Operations and the Assault on Democracy

January 11, 2015

PROMOTING PLUTOCRACY
By Stephen Gowans

Chapter 1. What the West’s Position on Iran Reveals about its Foreign Policy
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Foreign Policy and Profits
Chapter 4. The State in Capitalist Society
Chapter 5. Concealing the Influence of the Corporate Elite on Foreign Policy
Chapter 6. Syria: Eradicating an Ideological Fixation on Socialism
Chapter 7. Ukraine: Improving the Investment Climate
Chapter 8. Kosovo: Privatizing the Economy
Chapter 9. Afghanistan: Investment Opportunities in Pipelines and Natural Resources
Chapter 10. The Military-Industrial Complex, Foreign Aid and Marionettes
Chapter 11. How Foreign Policy Hurts Workers
o Divide and Rule
o Socializing the Costs, Privatizing the Benefits
o The Assault on Substantive Democracy in Korea
o The Terrorism of the Weak
o Bulking Up the Police State
o Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak
Chapter 12. The West’s Foreign Policy Priorities

US Policy on Ukraine: Follow the Money

Don’t underestimate the role played by Yanukovych’s foreign-investor-unfriendly economic policy in spurring the US intervention in Ukraine

By Stephen Gowans

A favored leftist explanation of the United States’s and European Union’s intervention in Ukraine revolves around the geopolitical imperative for Washington of containing a US military rival, Russia, and bringing NATO up to its borders by integrating Ukraine into the US-led military alliance. What’s rarely mentioned is that the role played by the United States and its European subalterns in supporting the Maidan uprising and the consequent rise to power of the pro-Western coup government has also been motivated by the goal of building a more congenial climate in Ukraine for the profit-making activities of Western corporations and investors.

While Ukraine’s economy is understood by leftists to be capitalist and therefore not to raise a red flag at the US State Department, it is far from true that Ukraine’s economic policies under the ousted former president Victor Yanukovych were warmly accepted, even tolerated, in Western foreign policy circles. Indeed, from the point of view of the West, Ukraine’s economy left much to be desired. It needed, IMF managers said, to be reorganized by “structural reforms” to “improve the business climate.” [1] What’s important here is not that Ukraine was viewed as infertile ground for capitalist profit-making—but that it was viewed as infertile ground for the profit-making activities of Western corporations specifically.

The Heritage Foundation-Wall Street Journal 2014 Index of Economic Freedom rates Ukraine’s economy as “repressed” along with those of such perennial US regime change targets as North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Iran—all unfriendly to the idea that economic policy should be formulated to pad bank accounts and bottom lines in New York, London, Frankfurt and Paris. [2] Ukraine’s economic freedom—that is, its adherence to the free enterprise, open markets, free trade agenda favored on Wall Street—is even ranked behind that of Belarus, a country reviled in Western foreign policy circles for its nostalgic attachment to Soviet economic forms. Of 43 countries in Europe, the US ruling class foundation and newspaper rank Ukraine’s friendliness to Western corporate interests dead last, and only a little better than that of communist North Korea and Cuba, socialist Venezuela and economically nationalist Zimbabwe and Iran. So where, in the view of the West’s corporate elite, has Ukraine gone wrong?

The Heritage Foundation and its Wall Street Journal partner have a number of complaints. “Contracts are not well enforced, and expropriation is always a possibility.” “The labor code” they grouse, “is outmoded and lacks flexibility,” meaning it offers too many protections to workers. Government procurement policies are denounced for sometimes favoring domestic firms, and hence, limiting the profit-making opportunities of North American and European corporations. Exception is taken to Ukraine’s state-owned firms, which crowd out private (mainly Western) enterprise, and Kiev’s restrictions on foreign investment, which give a leg up to domestic businesses but cut foreign corporations out of the action.

Some of these noxious-to-Wall-Street barriers to Western profit-making would have been dismantled had Yanukovych not backed away from an agreement with the European Union that would have seen Ukraine get preferential access to EU markets in return for turning over Ukraine’s labor, markets and resources to Western business interests. But, alas, Yanukovych balked and Washington took advantage of the ensuing protests to foment an uprising to bring a biddable pro-foreign-investment stooge to power, backed by fascists and militant Russophobes.

The coup government quickly signed on to an IMF economic reform program which promises to replace the set of economic policies Washington and Brussels have long derogated for being unfriendly to Western investors with one aimed at pushing Ukraine into Wall Street’s good books. Reza Moghadam, director of the IMF’s European Department, explained that “the program…is expected to…help restore confidence among private investors,” to which he might have added, investors of the sort who own mansions in and around New York City and other Western financial capitals. Moghadam adds that “Ukraine needs to undertake deep-reaching structural reforms” to improve Ukraine’s business climate. That roughly translates into holding the line on wages, laying off public sector workers, gutting protections for employees, hiking taxes on ordinary people while bringing them down for businesses, rolling back social services, and throwing open the doors of the economy to Western corporations.

Here are the details. Public sector wages will be held in check while increases in the minimum wage will be capped. At the same time, “expenditure restraint will be exercised through the suspension of” (what the IMF calls) “unaffordable wage and pension increases planned by the previous” (i.e., Yanukovych) “government, public employment reduction…and rationalization of social assistance spending.” So far this is shaping up to mean that “24,000 state workers and 80,000 police officers nationwide are set to be laid off,” [3] with more austerity to follow. And while public expenditures are being reined in in the interests of creating an improved business environment, tax revenues will be hiked, not through increases in corporate taxes and income tax, but on regressive consumption taxes, which fall most heavily on those with the lowest incomes. The wealthy will be spared the burden of contributing to state coffers by measures to “facilitate value-added tax refunds for businesses.” And while ordinary Ukrainians are being squeezed to give more to businesses and investors, a new procurement law will be adopted to deny domestic firms preferential treatment in the awarding of government contracts. North American and European firms will be the principal beneficiaries.

The coup government’s principals, explains Moghadam, “believe there is a window of opportunity for bold and ambitious reforms in order to transform Ukraine” into “a vibrant business environment”—yes, and one that pays dividends to foreigners on the backs of Ukrainians. The sole reason for the existence of Ukrainians (and most of humanity) under the logic of the US-superintended system of global capitalism is to be screwed over in order to make a thin upper layer of Western society fabulously wealthy.

If we accept that the United States’s wealthiest citizens as a class exercise inordinate influence over public policy—a point supported by research presented in an upcoming paper in Perspectives on Politics by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page [4]–it follows that the principal function of the US State Department and the Pentagon is to support the overseas profit-making activities of US corporations. Hence, what likely lies at the root of US interventions abroad is the defense and promotion of US investor and corporate interests contra the economic nationalist (Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Iran), socialist (Venezuela) or communist (Cuba and North Korea) economic policies of foreign states. Yanukovych’s government gave too many breaks to Ukrainian investors, businesses, and even ordinary citizens, and therefore committed the cardinal sin in the church of US global hegemony: interfering in the profit-maximization of US corporations. That, perhaps more than US geopolitical and military interests, explains why the United States backs the coup in Kiev and opposes the forces arrayed against it.

Russia’s repatriation of Crimea—backed by the peninsula’s largely Russophone population, as it had also been overwhelmingly backed in a 1991 plebiscite [5]—was simply a defensive reaction by Moscow against the danger that the coup government in Kiev would seek to eject it from its naval base on the Black Sea. It was not the aggressive act Western figures of state and their mass media echo-chambers have made it out to be. The true aggressor here is US foreign policy in pursuit of its principal function of promoting the overseas profit-making interests of corporate America.

Postscript

Yanukovych’s successor as president, Petro Poroshenko, announced that “We will do the absolutely unique transformation of our country…with a very good investment climate…with all the necessary things to attract business.” (David M. Herszenhorn, “Pro-European businessman claims victory in Ukraine presidential vote”, The New York Times, May 25, 2014)

1. Interview with Reza Moghadam: Ukraine Unveils Reform Program with IMF Support, IMF Survey, April 30, 2014
2. http://www.heritage.org/index/
3. Anthony Faiola, “In Ukraine, a crisis of bullets and economics,” The Washington Post, April 16, 2014
4. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” forthcoming Fall 2014 in Perspectives on Politics. http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf
5. Peter Hart, “Radioactive Putin is ‘Stalin’s Spawn’”, Extra!, May 1, 2014

Ukraine and How the West Treats Comparable Events in Satellite and Non-Satellite Countries Differently

By Stephen Gowans

The uprising in Ukraine represents a struggle between the West and Russia to integrate Ukraine economically, and, ultimately, militarily, into their respective orbits. I take no side in the struggle. All the same, each side wants me, and you, to take sides. Since I live in the West, and have greater exposure to the pronouncements of people of state in the West, and to the Western mass media than I do to their Russian counterparts, I’ll concentrate herein on analyzing Western efforts to shape public opinion to support the Western side of the struggle.

First, a few points by way of background.

• Ukraine is divided nationally between ethnic Ukrainians, who are concentrated in the West, and Russians, who are concentrated in the East, and especially in Crimea. Russians in Crimea and the East lean toward integration with Russia, while ethnic Ukrainians in the West tend to resent Russia’s historical domination of Ukraine.
• Crimea, a peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, is the home to the Russian Black Sea fleet. The current president, Yanukovych, extended the Russian lease on the naval base.
• Russian gas bound for Europe transits Ukraine.
• Russia does not want Ukraine to be integrated into NATO, which it views, for sound reasons, as an anti-Russian military alliance.

For the West, integration of Ukraine into its orbit means:

• Expansion of Western business opportunities.
• Growing isolation of Russia, one of the few countries strong enough to challenge US hegemony.
• Influence over transit of Russian gas exports to Europe.
• Military strategic advantage.

It’s instructive to contrast the treatment by Western states and mass media of the uprising in Ukraine with the concurrent uprisings in Egypt (which the West opposes) and Syria (which it supports.)

The Syrian uprising, contrary to its depiction by Western forces as a battle for democracy, is the latest, and most violent, eruption of an ongoing Islamist insurgency dating back to the 1960s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to oust the “infidel” non-sectarian Arab nationalist government. The insurgency has since mutated into one dominated by salafist, takfiri, and al-Qaeda-aligned fighters backed by hereditary Muslim tyrannies, the Qatari and Saudi royal dictatorships, and former colonial powers, Turkey, France and Britain. The Western narrative makes obligatory references to the Syrian government as a “regime”, complains about its authoritarian nature, insists the insurgency springs from the peaceful protests of pro-democracy activists, and celebrates the “moderate” rebels. The moderate rebels are, in the main, Muslim Brothers. To be sure, they’re moderate compared to the Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but they’re not the secular liberal- or social-democrats so many in the West would like to believe they are.

In contrast, the uprising in Egypt against a military dictatorship that ousted an elected Muslim Brother as president is treated very differently. The dictatorship is not called a “dictatorship”, nor even a “regime”, but neutrally, a “military government.” The Muslim Brothers, who have taken to the streets in protest at the coup, and have been gunned down and locked up for their troubles, are not called “pro-democracy activists”, as the Muslim Brothers in Syria are, or even moderate rebels, but an “emerging Islamist insurgency.” Nor is the dictatorship which shot them down and locked them up called a “brutal” dictatorship. The Egyptian dictatorship calls the insurgents “terrorists”, which is dispassionately noted in Western news reports, while the Assad government’s depictions of Syrian insurgents who set off car bombs in crowded downtown streets as terrorists is dismissed as patent propaganda. Egypt’s military dictatorship has banned political parties, tossed political opponents in jail on trumped up charges, and arrested journalists. Over the weekend the Egyptian military killed somewhere between 50 and 60 demonstrators. This is mechanically documented in major Western newspapers. There are no calls for Western intervention.

The recent events in Ukraine are treated very differently. The deaths of a few rioters in Ukraine sparks fevered media coverage and denunciation in Western capitals, while the president’s attempts to quell the disorder by invoking laws restricting civil liberties is treated as a major assault on human rights. Compare that to the relative silence over the deaths of many more demonstrators in Egypt and the suspension of all political liberties in that country. If we should be exercised by the state of affairs in Ukraine, surely we should be incensed on a far grander scale by the state of affairs in Egypt.

Foreign governments stand in relation to the West as satellites, in which case they’re called allies, or non-satellites, in which case they’re “enemies”, or, if they’re large enough, “rivals.” Comparable events in any two countries will be treated in Western mass media differently and using different language depending on whether the country is a satellite (ally) or non-satellite (enemy or rival). Hence, in Syria (a non-satellite) an elected government (elected, to be sure, under restrictive conditions) is called a “regime” headed by a “dictator”, while in Egypt (a satellite) a military-appointed government is not called a “regime” but a “government” and the de facto head of state (a dictator) is simply called “the head of the military.” In Egypt, an emerging insurgency led by Muslim Brothers and Islamist fanatics is called “an emerging Islamist insurgency”, but in Syria, an insurgency reignited by Muslim Brothers and now dominated by Islamist fanatics is called a “rebellion against dictatorship.” In Ukraine (a non-satellite so far as the government goes ahead with plans to align itself with Russia and not the EU) a crackdown on dissent which is mild compared to the crackdown in Egypt (or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf monarchy satellite of the United States) is treated as a major transgression on human rights, one warranting some form of Western intervention. However, no intervention is called for to stay the hand of Egypt’s military. Through the deft use of language and selective emphasis and silence, Western states concoct and spread through the mass media an understanding of events in far off places that comport with the pursuit of their own interests (which, more narrowly, once you parse them out, are the interests of their wealthiest citizens as a class.)

Efforts to integrate Ukraine into the EU are motivated by the desire of Western states to secure advantages for their economic elite, while efforts to integrate Ukraine into Russia are aimed at garnering benefits for Russian enterprises and investors. The interests of the bulk of Ukrainians do not, however, enter into the equation. Their role is simply to produce wealth for investors—Russian or Western or both—while doing so for as little compensation in wages, salary, benefits and government services as possible to allow the investors to make off with as much as possible. The interests of the bulk of Ukraine’s citizens lie, neither with the EU nor Russian elites, but with themselves.