Political constraints within US inhibit critical thought on Ukraine crisis

by Scott Ritter*

Since Russia launched a military operation against Ukraine, the anti-Russia crowd has put forth a narrative constructed around the self-supporting themes of irrationality on the part of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his post-Cold War fantasies of resurrecting the former Soviet Union.
  This narrative ignores the reality that, far from acting on a whim, the Russian president is working from a playbook that he initiated as far back as 2007 when he addressed the Munich security conference and warned the assembled leadership of Europe of the need for a new security framework to replace an existing unitary system currently in place, built as it was, around a trans-Atlantic alliance (NATO) led by the United States.
  Moreover, far from seeking the reconstitution of the former Soviet Union, Putin is simply pursuing a post-Cold War system that protects the interests and security of the Russian people, including those who, through no fault of their own, found themselves residing outside the borders of Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  In this day and age of politicised narrative shaping, which conforms to the demands of domestic political imperatives, as opposed to geopolitical reality, fact-based logic is not in vogue. For decades now, the Russian leadership has been confronting a difficult phenomenon where Western democracies, struggling to deal with serious fractures derived from their own internal weakness, produce political leadership lacking in continuity of focus and purpose when it comes to foreign and national security relations. 
  Because the White House is held hostage to the political constraints imposed by the reality of domestic partisan politics where the adage “It’s the economy, stupid” resonates far more than any fact-based discussion about the relevance of post-Cold War NATO, what passes for a national discussion on the important issues that comprise foreign and national security are, more often than not, reduced to pithy phrases conforming to a need to replace the complexities of a balanced dialogue with a good-versus-evil simplicity more readily digested by an electorate where potholes and tax rates matter more than geopolitical reality. Rather than trying to explain to the American people the historical roots of Putin's concerns with an expanding NATO membership, or the impracticalities associated with any theoretical reconstitution of the former Soviet Union, the US political elite instead define Putin as an autocratic dictator (he is not) possessing grandeur dreams of a Russian-led global empire (no such dreams exist).
  It is impossible to reason with a political counterpart whose policy formulations need to conform to ignorance-based narratives. Russia, confronted with the reality that neither the US nor NATO was willing to engage in a responsible discussion about the need for a European security framework that transcended the inherent instability of an expansive NATO seeking to encroach directly on Russia’s borders, took measures to change the framework in which such discussions would take place. Russia had been seeking to create a neutral buffer between it and NATO through agreements that would preclude NATO membership for Ukraine, which distanced NATO combat power from its borders by insisting NATO's military-technical capabilities be withdrawn behind NATO's boundaries as they existed in 1997. The US and NATO rejected the very premise of such a dialogue.
  The Russian military action toward Ukraine must be evaluated within the context of this reality. By launching a special military operation against Ukraine, Russia is creating a new geopolitical reality that revolves around the creation of a buffer of allied Slavic states (Belarus and Ukraine) that abuts NATO in a manner like the Cold War-era frontier represented by the border separating East and West Germany. Russia has militarised this buffer, creating the conditions for the kind of standoff that existed during the Cold War. The US and NATO will have to adjust to this new reality, spending billions to resurrect a military capability that has atrophied since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here’s the punchline – the likelihood that Europe balks against a resumption of the Cold War is high.  •

Source: Global Times of 24 March 2022, with friendly permission of the author



* Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer whose service over a 20-plus-year career included tours of duty in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control agreements, serving on the staff of US Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War and later as a chief weapons inspector with the UN in Iraq from 1991–98.

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