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Ukraine: NATO’s Expansionist Blunder 

Editor’s note : Mandelaw Bageru is writing anonymously. Views expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.

Ukraine _ NATO
NATO and Ukrainian Flag. Image source : NATO

Mandelaw Bageru – madelawb@gmail.com

Introductory Background to the Russo-Ukraine War Crisis

From the outset, the year 2014 witnessed two pivotal events that led to the current Russo-Ukraine war crisis:

  1. The first, familiar to all, was the coup in Ukraine in which a democratically elected government was overthrown at the direction of the United States and with the assistance of neo-Nazi elements which Ukraine has long harbored.
  2. Secondly, shortly thereafter the first shots in the present war were fired on the Russian-sympathetic Donbass region by the newly installed Ukrainian government.  The shelling of the Donbass which claimed 14,000 lives has continued for 8 years, despite attempts at a cease-fire under the Minsk accords which Russia, France and Germany agreed upon but Ukraine backed by the US refused to implement.  

On February 24, 2022, Russia lastly responded to the slaughter in Donbass and the threat of NATO on its doorstep by occupying parts of Eastern Ukraine.

Pope Francis of the Vatican Tells the Naked Truth

In a recent interview, Pope Francis of the Vatican disclosed that the real “scandal” of Putin’s war is “NATO barking at Russia’s door,” which he said caused the Kremlin to “react badly and unleash the conflict.” Pope Francis repeated comments he has made in general audiences and in other interviews in recent past that the war in Ukraine is nothing more than a giant opportunity for a “trade in arms” and that it is still ongoing because of the constant shuttling of weapons to Ukraine.

For that reason, to suggest that Russia has no right to respond to a threat from NATO or the United States itself is borne outside of the truth. Ukraine had not considered joining this military alliance under Washington’s aegis before February 24, 2022. The very process of Kiev’s current government joining a non-military organization such as the European Union (EU) also did not proceed in a dizzying fashion until the war began. Moreover, Ukraine is an independent and sovereign state, and its geopolitical choices should be its prerogative and its alone.

Ukraine: NATO’s Expansionist Vision, Mission and Values to Quell the Southern Hemisphere 

According to the University of Chicago international relations scholar John Mearsheimer, great powers (like the USA and NATO) may follow the “balance of power” logic in their intervention into a given site, but they can also embrace “liberal hegemony.” When they do, “they may cause a lot of trouble for themselves and other states. The ongoing crisis over Ukraine is a case in point” (The great delusion: liberal dreams and international realities, 2018: p. 171).

So to suggest that great powers can influence Kyiv’s decision testifies purely and hypocritically liberal hegemonic or an imperialist thinking, where the bigger and stronger Western powers can decide for the smaller and weaker countries of the Southern Hemisphere. To date, the recent past NATO and US militaristic hegemonic aggressions against Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen still persist in peoples’ memories worldwide. 

Mearsheimer further states that: The United States and its European allies are mainly responsible for the Russo-Ukraine War crisis. The core-cause of the trouble is NATO expansion, the central element in a larger strategy to move all of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West” (Mearsheimer, Ibid: p. 172). 

Mearsheimer asserts that the West’s strategy was based on liberal principles – the “aim was to integrate Ukraine into the ‘security community’ that had developed in western Europe during the Cold War and had been moving eastward since its conclusion. But the Russians were using a realistic playbook. The major crisis that resulted left many Western leaders feeling blindsided” (Mearsheimer, ibid.).

The US and NATO-allies’ Tactics for Making Ukraine Part of the West

Firstly, according to Mearsheimer (p.172), the US and its NATO-allies had a tactical framework on how they could rip Ukraine out of the Russian orbit: “NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and the Orange Revolution, which aimed at fostering democracy and Western values in Ukraine and thus presumably produce pro-Western leaders in Kiev.” But Moscow was “deeply opposed to this NATO enlargement idea from the very start.” In fact, Russian leaders believed that, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, NATO would not move an inch toward Russia’s borders. They believed that “no enlargement” had been promised, but were deceived by the Clinton administration.

Secondly, according to Stephen F. Cohen’s analysis (in War with Russia: from Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russia-gate, 2022: p. 16), since the “end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Washington had the tactic to treat the post-Communist Russia as a defeated nation with inferior legitimate rights at home and abroad. Hence, the triumphalist, winner-take-all approach has been spearheaded by the expansion of NATO, accompanied by non-reciprocal zones of national security while excluding Moscow from Europe’s security systems. Early on, Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Georgia were Washington’s” great prize”. With the Russian bear in miserable condition (it lost its cubs) in 1999, Solzhenitsyn brought Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the alliance. The second component of the NATO expansion occurred in 2004, which included Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the three Baltic countries.  Throughout, the “Russian leaders complained bitterly from the start.” The inept Boris Yeltsin saw fire on the horizon when NATO bombed Serbia in 1995. “When NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders … The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe” (Cohen, p. 172) Too weak to derail these developments, Russia could take small comfort that only the tiny Baltic countries shared their border. But all hell broke wobbly at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, when Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership came up for discussion. Both Germany and France had doubts, but the Bush administration wanted these countries inside their NATO security zone. The final announcement proclaimed that Georgia and Ukraine were welcomed for membership. According to Mearsheimer (p.173), Putin maintained that admitting those two countries would represent a ‘direct threat’ to Russia. If anyone had any doubts about Russia’s seriousness regarding accepting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 should have dispelled those deluded thoughts. Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, who was deeply committed to drawing his own country into the NATO circle, had first to resolve the disputes with two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin prevented this from occurring – and invaded Georgia, gaining control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Saakashvili was left in the lurch by the West. “Russia had made its point,” Mearsheimer (p.173) observes, “yet NATO refused to give up on bringing Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance.” We need to be reminded that the Georgian war was “financed, trained and minded by American funds and personnel” (Cohen, 2022, p. 187). The EU expanded eastward. And as stated by Cohen (p.174), “Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and eight Central and Eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) joined in May 2004 along with Cyprus and Malta. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007.” These developments were a stick stabbing to the Russian bear’s eyes. This Eastern Partnership was perceived as hostile to their country’s interests. “Sergei Lavrov, complained bitterly that the EU was trying to create a “sphere of influence” in Eastern Europe and hinted that it was engaging in ‘blackmail’” (Cohen, 174). The questions that comes to mind are: “Who can deny that Moscow correctly sees Ukraine’s EU membership as a “stalking horse for NATO enlargement?” (Cohen, 174).

Thirdly, NATO’s tactical tool for “detaching Ukraine away from Russia was its untired efforts to promote the Orange Revolution” (Cohen, 174). The US and European allies endeavored to foster social and political change in countries formerly under the Soviet control. Essentially, the aim was to spread Western “values” and promote “liberal democracy” – efforts funded by NGOs and official governments. That sounds innocent enough: but it isn’t. The underlying geopolitical agenda was clear: to foment hostility to Russia and to execute the “final break with Moscow” and to “accelerate” Kiev’s membership in NATO (Cohen, 2022, p. 24). In in February 2014, the neo-fascist and neo-Nazi organization Right Sector (and its co-conspirators) played a key role in conducting a coup and bringing to power a virulent anti-Russian, pro-American regime. Everything that followed, from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the spread of rebellion in southeastern Ukraine to the civil war and Kiev’s ‘anti-terrorist operation,’ was triggered by the February coup” (Cohen, Ibid: p.18).

From February 2014 until the February 2022 Russo-Ukraine military conflict, the West (including the Russo-phobic Canadian Liberal Party) have been training the military in Ukraine and turning a shrewd blind-eye to the neo-Nazi militia, who have played a key role in attacking Russians and everything that is “Russian” in the country: The “anti-terrorist” military campaign against its own citizens in Luhansk and Donetsk is the “essential factor escalating the crisis” (Cohen, Ibid: p. 18). Well-over 10,000 citizens have died; and millions of refugees created. The crisis cannot be laid at Putin’s feet. The neo-fascist militia have also vandalized a sacred Holocaust gravesite in Ukraine – with legal authorities doing nothing in response. Most disturbingly, the regime in Kiev has systematically begun “rehabilitating and even memorializing leading Ukrainian collaborators with Nazi German extermination pogroms during World War II” (Mearsheimer, p. 180).

Putin’s Reaction to the February 2014 Coup d’état in Ukraine

As stated by Mearsheimer (p.175), Putin’s response to the coup in Ukraine had the following features: If Ukraine joined NATO, the Crimean port of Sevastopol would serve nicely as a US/NATO military launching mat. The act of incorporating Crimea into Russia was “not difficult given that Russia already had thousands of troops at its naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Those forces were augmented by additional troops from Russia, many of them not in uniform. Crimea was an easy target because roughly 60 percent of the people living there were ethnic Russians, and most preferred to become part of Russia.” 

In addition, Putin put massive pressure on the Kiev government to disappoint it from siding with the West against Moscow. Putin made it clear that he would wreck Ukraine as a functioning society before allowing a Western stronghold to exist on Russia’s doorstep. Toward that end, he has supported the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and covert troops, helping to push the country into civil war. He also maintained substantial ground forces on Russia’s border with Ukraine and threatened to invade if Kiev cracks down on the rebels. Finally, he has raised the price of gas Russia sells to Ukraine, demanded immediate remittance of overdue payments, and at one point even cut off the supply of gas to Ukraine …. Putin is playing hardball with Ukraine … “(Mearsheimer, p. 176).

On the word of Mearsheimer (p.176), the West was moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests. A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany have all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as an enormously important strategic buffer to Russia itself. No Russian leader would tolerate a former enemy’s military alliance moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government in Kiev that was determined to join the NATO-alliance”.

The Current Dreadful Impacts of the Russo-Ukraine War Crisis Around the Globe

Undeniably, the protracted war of aggression provoked by NATO is affecting not only Russia and Ukraine alone, but also the majority of the global poor, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. While international news headlines in the Euro-centric West remain largely focused on blowing the proxy war in Ukraine, little attention is given to the horrific consequences of the war which are felt in many regions around the world. Even when these results are discussed, lopsided coverage is apportioned to European countries, like Germany and Austria, due to their heavy reliance on Russian energy sources to date.

Conversely, a terrible gloomy picture looks out for countries in the Global South which, unlike Germany or Austria, will not be able to eventually substitute what they usually import as Russian raw materials from elsewhere. Let us take, for instance, smaller nations like: Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Tanzania and numerous other nations, that are facing serious food shortages in the short, medium and long term, due to the Russo-Ukraine War Crisis.

In connection to this, the World Bank has been warning of a “human catastrophe” as a result of the ever increasing food crisis, itself resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war. Recently, the World Bank President, David Malpass, told the BBC specifying that the Bank estimates a “great” jump in food prices, reaching as high as 37%, which would mean that the poorest people would be forced to “eat less and have less money for anything else such as schooling and other livelihood requirements.”

This gloomy economic crisis is now worsening the already existing global food crisis, resulting from major disruptions occurring in the global supply chains, as a direct outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the pre-existing national problems, resulting from wars and civil unrest, corruption, economic mismanagement, social inequality and so on and so forth. 

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even prior to the currently ongoing NATO-installed proxy war in Ukraine, the world was already facing sharp food shortages and getting hungrier. Evidently, an estimated 811 million people in the world have already “faced hunger in 2020”, with a massive increase of 118 million mouths compared to 2019, just before the global onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the continued deterioration of the global economies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the developing Southern Hemisphere, and the successive and extraordinary inflation worldwide, the number must have made several large jumps since the publishing of FAO’s report in July 2021, writing on the situation in 2020.

Without any doubt, inflation is now a global phenomenon. To date, as stated by the financial media company, Bloomberg, the consumer price index in the United States has already increased by 8.5% from 2021. Likewise, according to the latest data released by Eurostat, in Europe, the “inflation has also reached a record 7.5%”. As disturbing as these numbers may indicate, compared to countries in Africa, South America, the Middle East and many parts of Asia, the western societies, with relatively healthy economies, that have the potential for offering government subsidies, are more likely to survive the inflation storm.

Certainly, the Russo-Ukraine war crisis has directly impacted food supplies reaching to many parts of the world. Russia and Ukraine combined contribute 30% of global wheat exports. Millions of tons of these exports find their way to food-import-dependent countries in the Global South – mainly the regions of South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Considering that some of these regions, comprising some of the poorest countries in the world, have already been struggling under the weight of pre-existing food crises, we can safely contend that tens of millions of people already have, or are likely to go hungry in the coming months and years unless this ugly proxy war halts somehow.

Another factor resulting from the war is the severe US-led and NATO-propelled western sanctions exerted on Russia. The harm of these sanctions is likely to be felt more in other countries than in Russia itself, due to the fact that the latter is largely food and energy independent. Although the overall size of the Russian economy is comparatively smaller than that of the leading global economic powers like the US and China, its contributions to the world economy makes it absolutely critical. For example, Russia is the 6th economy among the G-20 nations. As stated by the World Bank, Russia alone  accounts for 25% of the global natural gas exports and 18% of the coal and wheat exports, 14% of the fertilizers and platinum shipments, as well as 11% of the crude oil exports. Thus, cutting-off the global supply chain from such a massive wealth of natural resources while it is desperately trying to recover from the horrendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is just comparable to an act of economic self-damage.

Definitely, some are likely to suffer more than others. While economic growth is estimated to shrink by a large margin – up to 50% in some cases – in countries that fuel regional and international growth such as Turkey, South Africa and Indonesia, the crisis is expected to be much more severe in countries that aim for mere economic subsistence, including many African countries struggling to survive.

According to the April 2022 report published by the humanitarian group, Oxfam, citing an alert issued by 11 international humanitarian organizations, it warned that “West Africa is hit by its worst food crisis in a decade.” Currently, there are 27 million people going hungry in that region, a number that may rise to 38 million in June 2022, if nothing is done to hold back the crisis. According to this report, this number would represent “a new historic level”, as it would be an increase by more than a third compared to what was estimated in 2021.  Similar to other struggling regions, the massive food shortage in West Africa is a result of the Russo-Ukraine war crisis war, in addition to the pre-existing pandemic and climate change problems. 

Also in the Eastern parts of Africa, especially in Ethiopia and Kenya, a region that has already endured flooding in early 2020, a desert locust invasion, the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict in northern Ethiopia, the current drought poses severe threats to the already debilitated farming communities. 

Driven by below-average farm production level across the region staple food prices are increasingly becoming high by each day that passes by. These high food prices are reducing the poor households’ purchasing power and limiting access to household food.

While the hastily imposed sanctions on Russia are yet to accomplish any of their NATO and US intended purposes, it is mainly the poor countries that are already feeling the burden of this ugly proxy war in Ukraine. Obviously, when two elephants fight, it is always the grass that is hurt most. Likewise, Western sanctions and geopolitical tussle between US and NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other, is harming the global down-trodden poor people in the Southern hemisphere. 

As the west is busy dealing with its own economic woes, little heed is being paid to those suffering most. And as the world is forced to transition to a new global economic order, it will take years for small economies to successfully make that adjustment to this upcoming new global economic order. Sad enough, millions of people are going hungry, paying the price for a global conflict of which they are not part in any manner.

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