All About the Ukraine-Russia Conflict. First, Know What We Don’t Know

Summary:  It’s another world crisis. As usual quite obvious things remain invisible to US geopolitical experts and even diligent readers of the US news media. Here is an attempt to fill in the blanks around the conflict in the Ukraine (putting it in a larger context), with links to useful sources of information about specifics of the conflict.

“You just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

— Secretary of State John Kerry displays awesome hypocrisy on Face the Nation, 2 March 2014

It’s sad to watch the belligerent, often ignorant, US hawks again go hysterical. Before enlisting yourself or your children, please read these useful things to know about the conflict in the Ukraine:

  1. Our weak response to this (strong rhetoric, weak actions) results from an incoherent grand strategy.
  2. History suggests that we (American public) don’t know what’s going on. Key facts are hidden from us, or lost amidst the propaganda barrages of both sides.
  3. Russia is acting according to historical norms. They violate the post-WW2 laws established by theUnited Nations Charter, …
  4. just as we have done so many times — and even more frequently since 9-11. Our betrayal since 9-11 of the post-WW2 order we built gives us little credibility in conflicts like Ukraine.

The last point deserves more attention. It’s the “clean hands” doctrine, which provides a useful lens through which to see this conflict:

A person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of the claim. His/her activities not involved in the legal action can be abominable because they are considered irrelevant. (from The Legal Dictionary)

First, there have been ample rumors of covert US involvement in the Ukraine — another chapter in the long list of US programs to destabilize or replace governments hostile to US political or corporate interests. Needless to say, these give us “dirty hands” when complaining about Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Second, the legal concept of “clean hands” violates a more basic doctrine of common sense: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Russia’s actions in the Ukraine mirror those of the US in dozens of nations since WW2 — and even more since 1890. See this list of US interventions in other nations; and this more detailed list of interventions in Latin America.

Even considering only recent history, criticizing Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty is hypocritical from the nation who invaded Grenada, Iraq, and Afghanistan (especially since the 9-11 Commission found only a minor role of Afghanistan in the 9-11 attack, and the US government’s case for attacking Iraq was fake).

Third, great powers have spheres of influence. It’s a reality of geopolitics, one which power-mad American hawks ignore — putting the US at risk (eventually one of our interventions will spark severe blowback). Recognition that US power has limits always brings forth anguished cries that “we’re no longer a superpower” (e.g., Christian Science Monitor). No need to cry for our lost omnipotence, for it never was.

Recognizing sphere of influence is not just Realpolitik in a world with nuclear-armed great powers, but a cornerstone of US foreign policy for two centuries. The Monroe Doctrine (1823) declared the western hemisphere to be our sphere of influence. The Carter Doctrine declared the Persian Gulf to be another US sphere of influence:

An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
— Carter’s 1980 State of the Union address

Russia’s declaration of influence in its “near abroad” shows the effect of American leadership. We’re a city on the hill, setting an example that others’ follow. We can hardly complain when they imitate us.

Useful resources, going beyond the usual blather

Please post links to useful articles in the comments, with a note describing why you found this of interest! This will be updated.

(a)  Various articles:

  1. Making Russia Pay? It’s Not So Simple“, Peter Bakermarch, New York Times, 1 March 2014
  2. Provocative (but unverified): “Reichstag Fire in Kiev“, Dmitry Orlov, 1 March 2014
  3. Recommended: “Here’s What Is Going to Happen With Ukraine“, Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, 1 March 2014 — We’re running the standard script.
  4. The Ukrainian Grand Delusion” by billmon — Summary: “U.S. and E.U. to pro-West Ukrainians: You f***ed up, guys. You trusted us.’”
  5. Recommended: “The Resolve Fairy and the Precedent Fairy“, Robert Farley (Prof Dipomacy, U KY), Lawyers Guns, and Money, 2 March 2014
  6. Why Russia No Longer Fears the West“, Ben Judah, Politico, 2 March 2014 — They neither fear nor respect a West run by plutocrats interested only in money, lacking strength and morality.

(b)  From the London Review of Books:

(c)  From the New York Review of Books:

  1. A Way Out for Ukraine?“, Timothy Snyder (Prof History, Yale), 5 December 2013
  2. Fighting for the Soul of Ukraine“, Tim Judah (journalist for The Economist), 9 January 2014
  3. Ukraine: The New Dictatorship“, Timothy Snyder, 18 January 2014
  4. Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda“, Timothy Snyder, 1 March 2014
  5. Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine“, Timothy Snyder, 20 March 2014

For More Information

(a)  Posts about Russia:

  1. More news about Russia’s demographic collapse, 6 June 2008
  2. “The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy”, by George Friedman, 4 September 2008
  3. Rumors of financial war: Russia vs. US, 22 September 2008
  4. Before we reignite the cold war, what happened in Georgia?, 12 December 2008
  5. More weekend reading; information you want to have!, 23 December 2008 — Russia as the last man standing in a region of demographic collapse.
  6. A free lesson from Russia: how to manage a banking crisis, 6 February 2009
  7. “The Russian Economy and Russian Power” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 2 August 2009
  8. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
  9. A view of the world from Russia, 30 May 2010
  10. The Truth and Beauty about the Pussy Riot, 26 September 2012
  11. The Truth and Beauty about Russia, 1 October 2012

(b)  Posts about the Georgia-Russia conflict (learning from the previous cycle):

  1. Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
  2. Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 12 August 2008
  3. What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?, 13 August 2008
  4. Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts, 15 August 2008
  5. Best insight yet about America and the Georgia-Russia fighting, 15 August 2008
  6. Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II, 16 August 2008

(c)  Posts about grand strategy:

  1. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
  2. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  3. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  4. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  5. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  6. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  7. Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering , 9 July 2008 — chapter 7
  8. The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008
  9. Is America a destabilizing force in the world?, 23 January 2009
  10. Is America fighting the tide of history? Are we like the Czars in the 19th century?, 29 July 2010
  11. Realism and Realpolitik – Setting the Conditions for America’s Survival in the 21st Century, 23 February 2012
  12. The Obama Doctrine: we will attack and destroy all non-nuclear rivals, 31 March 2012
  13. Are we following in the footsteps of Athens? Let’s leave the path before we come to the same end., 3 May 2012
  14. Look at America’s grand strategy. Why do we believe this nonsense?, 5 March 2013
  15. How America can survive – even prosper – in the 21st century, 17 February 2014

This piece is cross-posted from Fabius Maximus with permission.

2 Responses to "All About the Ukraine-Russia Conflict. First, Know What We Don’t Know"

  1. gzuckier   March 5, 2014 at 2:17 am

    Russia has a tremendous sense of exceptionalism, backed by a widespread sort of vague belief that God blessed them because they deserve it.
    It's like looking in the mirror.
    No surprise, really.

  2. cmidgley   March 11, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Article by CBC Washington correspondent Neil MacDonald highlighting the hypocracy angle:
    "The Ukraine Crisis through the whimsy of international law."
    -March 5, 2014
    Gem of a quote:
    "If we need the anaesthetic liquor of self-delusion to deal with it, well, drink up."