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When Empires Collide: Honesty and Resistance Begin at Home

Posted on May 29, 2014

By Scott Tucker

  Supporters of the old regime rally “against anarchy and disorder” in Lugansk, Ukraine, in March. Shutterstock

Armed shock troops in key cities of Ukraine may yet provoke a civil war. Ukraine is now a disputed territory between two oligarchic regimes, one based in Ukraine and the other in the Russian Federation. But there is also a collision of imperial spheres of interest in this region. Some leftists shy away from condemning the Eurasian imperialism of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Likewise, some conservatives refuse to acknowledge the imperial projects of the United States and NATO.

There is no shame in confessing ignorance. Unless we have visited the region, or know both Russian and Ukrainian, the vast majority of people in the United States are at a great disadvantage. Yet we can search out translations and make the effort to go beyond the headlines and broadcasts of the mass media. If we are committed to the defense of human rights and civil liberties across all national borders, then we should be worried about the rise of right-wing nationalism and neo-fascism in Europe. All the same, the United States has violated human rights and international law so often around the globe that its role in the Ukrainian crisis should be unsurprising.

Certainly Putin’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula deserves condemnation, but his motives involve his own reasons of state. Among those motives, two seem paramount. First, the Russian Federation gains greater naval and commercial dominance over the oil and gas of the Black Sea. Second, Putin makes a geopolitical move on the global chessboard that is provocative, but he thereby underscores the provocations of the United States and NATO. The ever-encroaching encirclement of the Russian Federation by U.S. and NATO military bases is one kind of imperial “pragmatism,” from the perspective of Washington. If this Bismarckian chess game is good enough for the Western powers, then why not for an emperor of Eurasia? We may detest Putin (I do), but we should not allow the passing holograms of “hope and change” in the White House to do our thinking for us. So let’s consider the plain words of a former KGB agent who now leads the Russian Federation:


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“I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: Against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them.”

Those words are from Putin’s speech on Feb. 12, 2007, at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy. And who remembers his words now? If we prefer daily doses of mass-mediated propaganda from the White House and the State Department instead, then we are choosing our own state system of “organized lying”—I borrow Orwell’s words—over any other, presumably because we judge, on balance, that there is more truth embedded within the propaganda of Washington than there is in the propaganda of Moscow. Let’s just grant that judgment here (though the matter is not so simple), and go back nevertheless to Putin’s message. Was he entirely in the wrong?

In that case we have come perilously close to an entirely opposed geopolitical judgment. The expansion of U.S. and NATO bases is then only the next chapter in a Cold War that may grow hot, with all of the old ideological reflexes in working order but with improved weapons of mass destruction. Our empire is better than their empire. Ours is worth fighting for and theirs is not. No wonder Prince Charles compared Putin to Hitler, and no wonder Hillary Clinton recently stated, “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s. … All the Germans that were ... the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people, and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

A land grab by any nation is definitely cause for worry. Not, of course, if the land was grabbed long ago from Indians and Mexicans by white Protestants guided by Divine Providence. Not, apparently, if islands off the coast of Argentina were grabbed more recently by the British navy under the command of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the first case, the land grab was too big to give back now; and in the second case, the land grab is too small to bother anyone except those killjoy anti-imperialists. Visitors to Argentina might remember, however, to refer to the Falkland Islands as Las Malvinas.


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