Ukraine crisis sets back NATO’s eastward advance

Strategic blow to Pentagon in Crimea

March 19 — The overwhelming, popular turnout of the Crimean masses who affirmed their decision to separate from the Kiev coup regime in Ukraine and associate with Russia is the first great setback for the U.S. and NATO in their 15-year march to the East.

This constitutes a turning point in the international situation. The irresistibly expansionist imperialist establishment in Washington has engaged Russia in a direct confrontation by seizing control of the Ukrainian government.

The Russian nationalist Putin regime of counterrevolutionary oligarchs is no answer to the problems of the masses of people in Crimea or the workers and farmers in Ukraine. The workers’ organizations and the communists must retain their class independence in this struggle, promote class solidarity and be careful not to fall prey to Great Russian chauvinism or bourgeois nationalism.

But at the same time, they should oppose any victory for Washington’s war drive in the region, which is the greatest danger.

Since the fall of the USSR and Eastern Europe, NATO has swallowed nine countries from the former socialist camp in Eastern Europe and three formerly Soviet Baltic republics. This expansion toward Russia’s borders has taken place in steps, with little resistance.

In NATO’s march to the East — a march to encircle Russia on its western border — the seizure of Ukraine was a final and decisive step. But the militarists and expansionists in the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department forgot what the actual relationship of forces was on the ground.

They seem to have forgotten that Russia has a powerful military, including nuclear weapons and a large army.  Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and other neocons and right-wingers in Washington who were running the Ukraine operation were so narrowly focused on grabbing political power that they disregarded the history of Ukraine. They mistook the pro-imperialist oligarchs and Ukrainian nationalists in Kiev, Lviv and other parts of western Ukraine for the entire country.

Washington underestimated Ukrainian masses

Above all, they never foresaw the possibility of the intervention of the Ukrainian masses, particularly in Crimea and the eastern and southern parts of the country. They seem not to have noticed all the statues of Lenin, streets named after communists and monuments to the victories over fascism. Even the counterrevolutionary Ukrainian oligarchs had not dared to take them down.

After years of Washington and NATO running completely roughshod over country after country in the former socialist camp, this is their first land grab that has run into the dual resistance of the local population and the Russian state.

Washington gained its objective in Kiev by political subversion and by mobilizing fascist forces for the overthrow of the legally elected government, headed by Viktor Yanukovych. It then installed an unelected puppet government and gained political control of Kiev.

But with the seizure of the government of Ukraine in Kiev by Washington and its junior partners in the European Union, quantity has turned into quality. The imperialists in Washington have plunged across a red line and been caught flat-footed by the swift and forceful response they received, especially in Crimea.

Washington suffered a humiliating rebuff by the massive democratic turnout in Crimea. The U.S. warnings to Russia against federating with Crimea were demonstrably futile and ineffectual. And to make matters worse for them, the unelected puppet regime in Kiev has not been able to establish its authority, as shown by growing unrest and resistance in large and key industrial sections of the country in the east and the south.

To be sure, the U.S. and the EU still have the stronghold of Kiev, fortified by the fascists in the Svoboda Party and the Right Sector. This is just the first battle in a war which will be filled with future political, economic and military twists and turns that cannot be foreseen.

Pentagon wanted to oust Russian navy from Crimea

A measure of the setback, particularly for the Pentagon, can be seen in the howls and cries of the capitalist politicians over Crimea’s federation with Russia and the swiftness and decisiveness with which this was accomplished.

The howling seems truly disproportionate — but only if you leave out the fact that pushing the Russian Black Sea Fleet out of Sebastopol was a prime strategic objective of the Pentagon. The hope was that by capturing the regime in Kiev, it would become possible to invalidate the lease under which the Russian fleet is stationed there.

Much attention has been rightfully focused on the U.S. goal of bringing NATO into Ukraine. But little has been said about the desire of the U.S. high command to push the Russian navy out of Crimea.  The base at Sebastopol is Russia’s only warm-water port and is its strategic entry to the Mediterranean and Syria as well as Iran.

Syria is now in great danger of attack, as the new cold war heats up.

After the takeover of the government in Kiev, there was talk about canceling the Russian navy’s leases for Sebastopol. According to the London Telegraph of March 1, “Vitaly Klitschko, the champion boxer who is now a candidate for president in May’s elections, joined other leaders of the revolution with a call for a ‘general mobilization’ against the Russian threat. He called on the government to cancel the lease on the Russian naval base in Sebastopol.”

Economic austerity will undermine political situation

The strategists in Washington have seized control of a bankrupt government that owes money to foreign banks and is running out of cash. Washington and the EU have promised to bail out the regime. Of course that means to bail out the bankers and other investors to whom Kiev owes money.  But this will require International Monetary Fund loans, which will only be given on condition of austerity cuts to the government budget and privatization of state enterprises.

Specifically, the IMF will require cuts to natural gas subsidies to the population, which will run into billions of dollars. It will mean less government spending on social welfare, services and government enterprises. And it will mean cuts in pensions.

The economic agreement with the EU and the IMF was to be signed on March 21. But this has been postponed by the regime, for fear of rushing too quickly to level an economic attack on a population that is already aroused.

However, IMF loans can only be postponed for a short time because the regime is running out of cash reserves with which to pay its debts. It won’t be long before the regime in Kiev faces bankruptcy. In order to avoid that, it will have to submit to IMF terms, meaning a big economic attack on the masses. The workers in Ukraine will quickly see the consequences of “turning toward Europe” and its so-called “democracy” — that is, democracy for the rich.

The exuberance emanating from Washington after the fascist shock troops forced the Yanukovych government from power has been transformed into outrage among the hawks in the capitalist press, the political establishment and the militarists.

The right wing of the U.S. ruling class is growing more and more frustrated at having their expansionist aims stymied by what they consider to be Russian interference with their goals in Syria, Iran and elsewhere. John McCain and all the mouthpieces of the Pentagon hawks are pushing for a new cold war.

The Putin government, on the other hand, has watched NATO expand to Russia’s western borders. Moscow has seen the so-called “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003, the “Orange Revolution” of 2004 in Ukraine, the failed “Denim Revolution” in Belarus in 2005 and 2006, and the attempt to overturn the government of Uzbekistan in 2006. All these so-called “color revolutions” were funded by the U.S.: the National Endowment for Democracy — which is really an arm of the CIA, Freedom House, the Soros foundations and others of their ilk.

The Pentagon is pushing in the direction of a new cold war. There may be a slowdown or a temporary pause in the conflict as both sides take a step back to assess their positions — especially Washington and the EU. But that does not remove the danger of further conflict, which will affect the workers and the oppressed everywhere.

The insatiable ambition of the imperialists to expand the boundaries of their domination led Washington and the Pentagon to seize Ukraine and bring a mortal threat to the doors of Russia. For the moment, the ball is in Washington’s court.

Fred Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End,” which has been translated into Spanish as “El capitalismo en un callejón sin salida.”