Pain in The Ukraine

by G. Murphy Donovan (February 2022)

“The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.” – Carl Jung

After 75 years, the Cold War seems to be a permanent fixture of American foreign policy. Russia is still the nexus of allied angst. Never mind that Slavic communism has morphed into Russian capitalism. Moscow still enjoys pride of place for eight decades now in the American and NATO threat matrix. Never mind that Red China and the Muslim jihad, in the same period, are eating Uncle Sam’s strategic lunch. National policy towards both Beijing and Mecca now amount to abject, if not fawning, appeasement. Hong Kong and Kabul have now gone the way of Yugoslavia. Taiwan and Pakistan are probably next. American foreign policy today seems to mandate that the Russian threat be exaggerated while the Chinese and Islamist menace is minimized or worse still, ignored.

Late in the last Century, a good friend of mine was serving as US Army attaché in Moscow, an eyewitness to that Russian “revolution without guns.”  In several discussions, at the time, we both agreed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact offered a golden opportunity to bring Russia back into the European fold of allies; enlightened capitalism maybe, if not genuine democracy. Surely, America had more security, cultural, or strategic affinity with Moscow than she did with Beijing or Mecca. My attaché friend (Col. Jeffrey Barrie, Citadel ‘65) a Jewish American with Russian antecedents, agreed that any attempt by EU/NATO consortium to fill the vacuum in eastern Europe would kill any hope of rapprochement with the new and now diminished Russian phantasm.

Recall Frank Fukuyama’s 1989 End of History argument where the RAND Corporation cum State Department intellectual argued that, with the fall of Soviet empire, liberal democratic ideals were triumphant globally, establishing a milestone in human political history.

In fact, the last decade of the last Century was a tipping point, albeit not the one Pollyannas like Fukuyama prophesized. With the fall of the Warsaw Pact, Marxist socialism morphed into viral, if not paranoid, Russian nationalism; indeed, a nation that now believes itself besieged by an imperial EU and NATO slow marching to Rodina’s borders. With the help of American demagogues, right and left, Putin is now a permanent fixture of American domestic and foreign hate politics.

Back in the 90s, some of us thought the smart money would not exploit Russian historical paranoia, or the alliance vacuum in Eastern Europe. After all, surely Moscow had legitimate legacy interests with Russian speakers in former Warsaw Pact states, real security concerns with their new federation border.  In short, my attaché chum and I thought that Washington might want to take yes for an answer, instead of looking for yet another fight with Moscow in Eastern Europe.

We were as wrong as Fukuyama was optimistic.

At the turn of the Century, European threat perceptions were revectored from West to East. Imperial NATO seems to be creeping towards target Moscow. Needless to say, given East Europe’s experience with 50 years of Communism, it’s easy to see how the EU and NATO, post-war victims of affluence, might be mistaken for 21st Century security blankets.

Pushback from Russia under Vladimir Putin was not long in coming, especially after America and NATO dismembered Tito’s Yugoslavia, siphoning off new EU/NATO member states and taking sides in vintage Muslim/Christian sectarian feuds, that longstanding religious “clash of civilizations” in the Balkans. Worse still, two new majority Muslim states, Bosnia and Kosovo, emerged from the Yugoslav carnage, states that would subsequently provide more jihadists to ISIS in the Levant than any other countries of comparable size.

Muslim sectarian warfare in the Levant surely inspired copycat memes in the Balkans.  One clear signal that Moscow got from the implosion of sovereign Yugoslavia was NATO’s hidden agenda. After the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and Yugoslavia were dismantled, it wasn’t hard to believe that the Russian Federation might be next. American intrigues on Russian European and far East borders, with Muslim terrorists in Chechnya and jihadists in Afghanistan, probably just added fuel to the existing flames of Russian paranoia.

Eventually, Putin drew a line in Ukraine.

Retrieving Crimea was a no-brainer for the Kremlin on several counts; ninety percent of the population are ethnic Russians, a vast majority favor Moscow over Kiev anyway, and Crimea is host to the Sevastopol naval base, an important strategic nuclear asset on the Black Sea. Any notion that Moscow will gift Sevastopol to a hostile and corrupt regime in Kiev is as likely as Washington giving Pearl Harbor back to the Hawaiians.

As for other loci of strategic sensitivities, like Georgia, Putin is not any more likely to abide hostile EU border states or NATO forces across the Russian frontier any more than Americans will tolerate hostile regimes or Russian military forces in Cuba, Mexico, or Canada.

We could do worse than think of that Russian military exercise opposite Ukraine ongoing today as Moscow’s version of the Monroe Doctrine.

Victoria Nuland with Maidan neo-Nazis in Kiev

American foreign policy and clandestine operations in Ukraine follow a pattern set by CIA in post war Italy. If CIA or the Oval office (it’s not clear which is in charge anymore) doesn’t like the politics of some foreign regime, we mobilize clandestine subversives to do their worst. Diplomacy is usually a fig leaf or a side show.

The so-called Maidan revolt in Kiev is probative, another dicey chapter in the annals of American sponsored coups and misadventures. When Ukraine President Yanukovych looked East instead of West in 2014, his regime had to go, even if Ukrainian neo-Nazis had to be used to do the dirty work.

Global busybodies like the US State Department and CIA will exploit chaos, yet the primary sources of instability in Ukraine are internal. Kiev is probably the most corrupt capital in Europe. America underwrites abuses there as long as corruption genuflects West not East. If you lose an election in Kiev, you are likely to find yourself tried for treason. Poroshenko is the latest ex-president in the dock.

Kiev-like politics now have obvious echoes inside the Beltway.

Professor Peter Beinart describes corrosive American foreign policy bias as “delusions of innocence;” that is, “the predisposition of Americans to think well of ourselves and to dismiss the stated concerns of others as rooted in dishonesty or bad faith.” In short, Beinart believes Americans and allies have lost the ability to appreciate and consider the security concerns of others – or maybe any contrarian foreign policy perspectives.

The modalities of recent Geneva negotiations on Ukraine illustrate American hubris and conceit. Lavrov and Blinken are rolling Kiev’s bones without Ukrainian players. Kiev is going to have to live with what the big dogs decide – or else.

So much for national sovereignty in the Ukraine.

Political arrogance in Washington today has more than a tinge of schizophrenia, a kind clinical corruption. The rank and file, deep state, Beltway apparatchik is a partisan, a Democrat at best, or a militant socialist at worst. In foreign policy however, there is little tolerance for any foreign policy other than, to coin a phrase, “neoconic Rusophobia”.

On most matters, the steady state, including so-called national security establishment and media vassals, is well left of the American center. A side-by-side looped video of contrasting Russian and American recruiting arguments illustrate, visually, the state of play even in Pentagon military culture, must see TV these days.

Effective propaganda always contains pearls of prescience.

Peter Beinart’s “delusions of innocence,” alas, are not the only illusions in play as we lurch towards another proxy war in Ukraine. NATO is a paper tiger and Vladimir Putin and General Valery Gerasimov know it.

Any alliance whose members cannot or will not pay for itself is unlikely to put any troops in harm’s way. Indeed, given what we know about Europe’s behavior in WWII; continental Europe, especially the northern tier, is likely to fold like a cheap tent in any genuine military confrontation with Russia.

Predictably, the Oval Office has already telegraphed its punches by saying it will not send American troops to fight with or save Ukraine. Good thing. American armed forces are probably the best trained, best equipped troops led by the most politicized general officer corps in US history. After a 50-year occupation, Russian troops, for the most part, are gone from Soviet Europe while American troops, bases, and weapons still remain after nearly 75 years.  Calling new American deployments to East Europe “defensive” is about as truthful as calling Victoria Nuland the patron saint of Ukrainian “democracy.”

History, however, should still be still instructive.  Armchair Russophobic warriors would do well to remember that Nazis and Fascists in Europe were defeated, for the most part, by Marshal Georgi Zhukov, not General Dwight D. Eisenhower.


For a more complete discussion of the origins, motives, hazards, and culpability for the Ukraine crisis see John Mearsheimer’s (University of Chicago) excellent historical survey and analysis at link. Professor Mearsheimer makes the point that America is doubling down on a losing hand. Ukraine is not a strategic concern for America, by our own admission. However, Georgia and Ukraine are vital strategic concerns for Moscow.

We ignore that reality at our peril.



G. Murphy Donovan writes about the politics of national security.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


13 Responses

  1. The Ukrainian Crisis
    I will permit myself an immodest form of self-flattery by the simple remark that great minds think alike. D. Murphy Donovan ‘s outstaning essay “Pain in the Ukraine” should be required reading as the facts on the ground and in the last 350 years of history make it crystal clear that he has told the unvarnished truth about the present crisis so blatantly avoided by the so-called experts in the State department about the inevitability of French failure in Vietnam, American failure there as well, as in Cuba. His referral to Professor Mearsheimer’s linked talk, to which I hasten to add another one by Vladimir Pozner’s YouTube address at Yale University three years ago, “How the United States Created Vladimir Putin”, October, 2018 will convince even the dupes who believed that Hillary Clinton would have solved this issue based on her remarks in the 2016 campaign and since that “Putin is as bad or worse than Hitler”, and even referring to him as “a white supremacist”, and most recently that Putin was somehow responsible for the Capitol riots on January 6 so that, she would be interested in listening to Trump’s phone records of that the most ignorant and naive Americans would have the proper frame of reference.
    Since Russian ejection of the Ottoman Turks from the Crimean Peninsula by Catherine the great in 1783, the region has always been part of the Great Russian concept of the motherland and Russian language through Czarist times and including the first thirty-five years of incorporation in the USSR when it was NOT an administrative unit of the Ukrainian SSR but of the RSFSR (Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic).

    Its transfer by administrative fiat in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was an act of cosmetic political farce designed purely to throw Ukrainians a bone and pretend this “generosity” would help erase long memories of the terrible famines of the 1930s (largely caused by Stalin’s policies) and the large degree of collaboration with the German invaders in World War II, thereby solidifying the “brotherhood” of the two peoples. Khrushchev was of mixed Russian and Ukrainian ancestry and was detested in the Ukraine as serving his Russian masters. His “generous’ offer was designed to pacify Ukrainian pride and promote his own image as a Ukrainian.

    His 1954 manoeuvre was even more of a total repudiation of the concept of respecting “territorial integrity” and ”self-determination” than attempted by any Czar and loudly proclaimed today as “violating principles of international law.” In 1954, ethnic Russians were the overwhelming majority of the population and had expressed no wish whatsoever to become part of the Ukrainian SSR. Almost nothing changed on the ground as a result of this move and Russian rather than Ukrainian continued for many years to be the major official language of the Crimea.

    On February 27, 1954, Pravda published a short announcement on its front page that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR had decreed on February 19 (no need to tell the people immediately) the transfer of the Crimean “oblast” (region) from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The decree ran a mere eight lines stated that this measure “Was being taken because of the economic commonalities, territorial closeness, and communication and cultural links” between Crimea and Ukraine.” A summary of the discussion in the Supreme Soviet’s Presidium and transcripts of speeches by six of its members including the chairman, Klement Voroshilov then followed on page 2. He referred to the fortuitous three-hundredth anniversary of the “unification of Ukraine with Russia” referring to the Treaty of Pereiaslavl of 1654 concluded between Ukrainian Cossacks and representatives of the Muscovite Tsar, as if this was a fitting justification for Khrushchev’s decision.

    In 1991, with the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, it was widely expected that President Boris Yeltsin, the new president of the Russian Federation, would restore Crimea to Russia but the mercurial and often inebriated Yeltsin didn’t bring it up during negotiations with Ukraine. Had he insisted on retaining the Crimea then or making it subject to a referendum, it would have been very unlikely to be the source on international tension since then.

    According to the 1959 census, there were only 268,000 Ukrainians and 858,000 ethnic Russians living in Crimea. As for economic “commonalities”, apart from the naval bases, the main industry of Crimea was recreation and tourism, drawing its clientele from all over the USSR. In the following fifty years the Soviet policies towards the Ukrainian language mostly varied between quiet discouragement and suppression to persecution and cultural purges. Following the transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine, there were gradual and moderate steps at “Ukrainization” in the educational system and government affairs as well as the resurgence of the usage of Ukrainian in publishing and culture. This policy evoked a negative reaction on the part of the Russian majority and revived and then were given priority by the new independent Ukraine following independence in 1991.

    On 28 October 1989, the Supreme Soviet of Ukrainian SSR changed the Constitution and adopted the “Law of Languages”. The Ukrainian language was declared the only official language, while the other languages spoken in Ukraine were assured of “constitutional protection.” Usage of Russian and other languages was permitted in local institutions and citizens were guaranteed the right to use their native language to address various institutions and organizations in Ukrainian, in Russian, or in another language of their work.
    The core of the problem today is however not even the historical facts over centuries of history but the developments, but the recent solemn assurances given by the highest American officials in the State Department that the United States would not attempt to move NATO’s borders adjacent to Russia.

  2. Indeed, Norm. At the time that the old Soviet Union imploded, the new regime was assured that the hegemon East would not be replaced by hegemon West. Washington and Brussels provided Moscow all the fuel it needed to spark Russian nationalism and fuel the rise of a populist strongman. NATO arrogance, if not imperialism, is the fuel that makes Putin and the bloom of 21st Century Russian nationalism possible. Unelected nitwits in Brussels, take their cues from unelected neocons in Washington.

  3. Class act murph -mind you I see the great power of Hibernia is piling in now. I think an amphibious landing by fenian trawlermen via the Kerch strait would keep the Bear in check. They’re not woke i hear. I sent this to Max Boot

  4. Fergus, Happy New Year. Always good to hear from the bowels of a Celtic deep state. Hibernian push back is about as likely as common sense from the likes of Nuland and Boot. Max is a conservative (or Republican) in the same sense that Ms. Nuland is a diplomat. Slainte my friend.

  5. So when does Putin invade and how many kilograms of flesh will he extract to control? The West will talk the talk as Putin’s military walks the walk trampling further and farther as the opposition is crushed and destroyed and/or surrendered by Ukrainian dissidents seeking to play ball with Putin as well-paid political power puppets?
    It’s every weak national polity for itself. If you’ve resources any nearby biggie wants at a much lower than legitimate price, you are dead meat via subversion or overt invasion.
    Taiwan, despite being a profitable trade entity with the mainland China monster, is threatened by the mainland’s envy psychosis. Only with presence in well-distributed USA forces will Taiwan survive. Taiwan retaliation, tempted by MCM incursions, will disturb our planet’s rotation due to bomb blast perturbations. Beware (un)bearable enticements to extinction.

  6. I agree Howard, although I’m note sure we’re on the eve of destruction.

    I believe Putin has some real concerns; US special forces in NATO border states poking the bear by colluding with restive Russian minorities for example. And clearly the timing here is no accident. Putin sees a window of opportunity, sees Team Biden as risk adverse at best, weak at worst. If intimidation is the game, maybe its an elaborate, and expensive, bluff. Zelinsky is already singing a different tune, albeit whilst the big dogs roll the bones with Ukrainian body bags as stakes. Of this I am sure, Putin would like NATO to know that the Russian Army of ’22 is not the Red Army of ’89.

    Ukraine is not a strategic issue for America, it is for Russia.

  7. Hey you commenters above — it’s time to put aside geopolitical rationales for our deadly disputes and get to the fundamental source which is the mental state of leadership using geopolitical gobledegook to justify international slaughter.
    Isn’t it clear that the megalomania and megalodepression of sociopaths and psychopaths like Napoleon, Bismarck, King Leopoldo Ii, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe, IdiAmin, Fidel Castro, are the driving forces for world-wide woes? All the scholars, academics, pundits and pandits with their pointlessness-of-views and polemics seem to miss the stamp and stomp of individual “unsane” leaders.
    Please, some one or two of you, compose the analysis of these madmen, with proposals for identifying and defeating them prior to their rise to deadly power.
    Do you have anything more important to do?

  8. If as reported Putin has stated that he will not invade Ukraine unless provoked, the peace plan is as follows —
    A. Ukraine accepts Putin’s assurance, and
    B. Reciprocating, Ukraine declares it is immediately demilitarizing, and
    C. Requests that Putin/Russia join it in a joint Import/Export/Manufacturing/Production(other) venture for mutual benefit of Ukraine, Western Europe, Russia and other entities.
    *** All parties benefit, Ukraine military personnel in the 10’s of 1000’s are NOT destroyed by overwhelming Russian military, Ukraine military funding can now be diverted to civilian production aimed at domestic and export market needs, Ukraine receives technical advice from Russia to accelerate its development for Ukraine/Russia benefit.
    D. The world applauds this vital and viable example of sanity in place of stupidity oand finds ways to emulate the humanes.

  9. Indeed, Howard. Having tried most of the alternatives short of nuclear Armageddon; why not try common sense? With communism in the dust bin, it’s pretty much a dead certainty that the Kremlin would rather do business than do battle. If we must have thugs, let them be capitalist scoundrels. Surely, authoritarian capitalism is a cut above Lubianka and the Gulag.

  10. I wonder whether the days of ‘try, try, again’, and Churchill’s ‘Never, never, never give up’, are upon us at the level of individual citizens. The Canadian truckers turmoil and tie up of goods supply, local citizen groups challenging the necessity for concealment of data detrimental to promotion of booster vaccine shots, the promotion of shots to toddlers-to-11 year olds— in the absence of sufficient longitudinal monitoring of all virus variant damaging effects, opposition to CRT and 1619 Project propagandizing to schoolchildren, indicate many of us are fed up and po’d. Will American truckers, freight handlers join Canadians in disemboweling (figuratively) the devious bureaucraps? Euro truckers seem to be stirring. Is an informed, insulted public arising worldwide? Or, is an analog of Tianamen Square in the offing? Will Hong Kong freedom folks be reduced to mites or rise to mighty heights? Will Joe Rogan continue as a lighthouse or will his plug be pulled?

  11. Putin ought to do stand up.

    First, he makes Brussels wet their knickers. Then he makes NATO cry wolf. Then he makes American embassy ninnies skedaddle. And now, Wednesday comes and goes with no invasion. “Imminent” however, has been redefined by US Intelligence. Whew!

    Any minute now Psaki should be able to declare victory. Political burlesque at it’s best.

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