World Wars, history shows us, don’t just begin. They ignite. Combusted by sudden sparks resulting from constant decades of friction. And they tend to occur when nations’ economies suck, and politicians need to find an enemy. Like now.
The West vs Russia, grappling which now we’re seeing about to explode in the Ukraine, is older than most of us. But its most significant jousting, leading to the current crisis, seems to have begun with manipulation by the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO…the U.S.-led European military force) and the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), commonly called the Soviet Union.
The USSR dissolved in 1991, following both economic struggles and President Mikhail Gorbachev’s successful efforts at Perestroika, or liberalizing the society, including press freedoms. Russia, by far the largest and most populated state, represented the Soviet Union’s motherload, with the smaller states geographically connected to it.
NATO, created following World War II with a membership mainly from Europe and North America, immediately went to work, hoping to assure the Soviet breakup stayed that way. NATO began approaching the former Soviet states, offering to form Partnerships for Peace (PfP), working relationships to create trust. By 1994, 10 of the 15 Soviet states had become PfP members. They included the Ukraine, who joined in February, and Russia, who came aboard in June.
So Russia, while losing the USSR’s designation as a superpower, still has maintained a role as a major world power. It’s a member of the United Nations’ Security Council which can affect international relations, and Russia’s treaties, political and economic connections also rank it among global leaders. In fact, it followed the Soviet breakup by building back its economy, led by energy production.
Oil and Gas
And here’s a major element in why the current crisis in the Ukraine–and the West’s growing criticism of Russia’s voting to possibly send troops into that turbulent country—could spark a major conflict in Europe, if not beyond:
Russia is a key oil and gas supplier to most of the European countries. The media, including the Wall Street Journal, have referred to it as an energy superpower, and with reason. Wikipedia well summarizes Russia’s strong energy position:
The country has the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the 8th largest oil reserves, and the second largest coal reserves. Russia is the world’s leading natural gas exporter and second largest natural gas producer, while also the largest oil exporter and the largest oil producer. On 1 January 2011, Russia said it had begun scheduled oil shipments to China, with the plan to increase the rate up to 300,000 barrels per day in 2011.
Russia is the 3rd largest electricity producer in the world and the 5th largest renewable energy producer, the latter because of the well-developed hydroelectricity production in the country.
This is perhaps the chief disturbing factor in the current political jousting over Ukraine, which by today, Monday, appeared to be a growing political conflict, and unpredictable.
Both Russia and the West are accusing each other of disrupting Ukrainian stability.
Russia claims that Western interference in internal Ukrainian affairs led to the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych, who was removed from power by the parliament on Feb. 21.
President Obama, ignoring that charge, has given a tough response, according to CNN:
Obama said any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be “deeply destabilizing, and he warned “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Also this week, NATO and German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed Obama, saying any Russian use of force in Ukraine would go against international law.
Russia doesn’t seem to be buying that. A Russian council member, interviewed today, said that Russia is following its constitution and respecting Ukraine’s constitution. He also basically said he doesn’t believe the European Union is in any economic shape to push Russia. He also called it strictly political, according to RT America television:
“All this hysteria in the European Union are nothing more than a PR bubble created in the lead-up to European Parliamentary elections on May 25,” Andrey Klimov, a deputy head of the Federation Council’s committee for international relations, told Russian mass circulation daily Izvestia.
He has a point. EU countries are all still struggling from the 2008 global economic meltdown. And what if the EU did decide to declare even economic sanctions on Russia, or worse, send forces into Ukraine, or even Russia?
What do you think would be Russia’s logical move? Yep. Cut off that precious oil and gas it’s supplying EU countries.
Also, the U.S. doesn’t seem to have much room for complaint. Since both U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain had visibly shown support for the rightest rebels who ousted the democratically elected Ukrainian president, Russia has that card to call marked. And with the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and support for overthrow of Syria’s leader (a Russian ally), Russia won’t give credence to Obama’s complaints. Nor NATO’s. Remember NATO’s invasion of Libya?
Also, give Russia a strong ally with China. Reuters reported today:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Ukraine with his Chinese counterpart on Monday and their views coincided on the situation there, the ministry said.
In a statement, Russia’s foreign ministry said the two veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members would stay in close contact on the issue.
Recall earlier in this column, we noted that in 2011 Russia began shipping 300,000 barrels of oil to China each day. You bet they’ll stay in touch on the Ukraine issue. And don’t expect the U.S. to receive any slack from either country if it keeps pushing them on Ukraine. Obama’s bravado may sound good to nationalists here in America. But it’s difficult to see our nation in a military position to start another foreign war, particularly one so close to Russia and China.
Nor are we in an economic position, with the government so deep in debt. While the Federal Reserve has continued printing money for the banks, and keeping interest rates artificially low, snubbing American savers, both China and Russia have been producing and purchasing gold, a solid insurance in the growing currency wars.
China is also a major holder of American debt. And has been gradually positioning itself to move the yuan as the major international currency replacing the dollar. A major conflict with Russia, and therefore China, rather than discouraging the yuan’s progress, might insure it.
Too, both Russia and China are members of BRICS, acronym for those two countries aligning with Brazil, India and South Africa, the five major emerging national economies. All, no doubt, will have something to say to the U.S. and EU should they see Ukraine’s growing turbulence begin to spill across borders. And it’s getting close.
In the last couple of days, Ukraine military have begun to defect from the new national government in Kiev in favor of regional governments. And growing protests in two regions are refusing to recognize two billionaire oligarchs, who supported the government overthrow, and have been appointed regional governors.
So we’re seeing the turmoil in Ukraine mirror the global scene from Athens to Detroit to London, with oligarchs and austerity sucking monies out of national economies leading to larger debts and dissolving middle classes, and even deaths. It’s a growing unrest politicians have attempted to deflect by finding an enemy to impress a country with nationalism. But as the public more and more begins to see through the dictatorial process, we’ll only see more revolt like that now rising in the Ukraine regions. And that turmoil, rather than leading to world peace, could lead to its opposite.