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The latest news barrage in the Ukraine crisis suggests both elements of possible war and hopeful signs of peace. Russia has extended its military drills in Belarus, which borders both Ukraine and Russia, beyond the original close on February 20, 2022 in reaction to the flare-up of hostilities in the eastern Ukrainian breakaway region of Donbas and the US-led west’s unrelenting propaganda regarding an imminent Russian invasion while dismissing Russia’s denial of any such intention.

While Europe teeters on the brink of an unthinkable conflict, the doors to diplomacy and a mutually acceptable political solution have not been shut. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while continuing to parrot the ‘imminent invasion’ rhetoric, says the diplomatic option is still on the table.

French President and current European Union (EU) Chairman Emmanuelle Macron in a telephone talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 20, 2022 has reflected Europe’s stakes in the crisis by stating the EU still seeks a diplomatic solution.

Europe was on the brink of receiving gas from Russia through the Nord Stream Gas Pipeline. The US sees this as making Europe more reliant on Russia’s goodwill, if not gradually falling under Moscow’s sway. Washington is apprehensive of losing ground in Europe to Moscow.

The interesting fact is that ever since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, giving birth to 15 independent states, the US and NATO have incrementally encroached on East European countries formerly in the Soviet bloc (e.g. Poland, etc.), and even countries that were once part of the Soviet Union (e.g. Georgia, Ukraine, etc.). In what has pejoratively been dubbed ‘NATO-creep’, this has effectively destroyed the ‘buffer zone’ between Russia and the west in Eastern Europe, partly at least by weaponising regime change through the so-called ‘colour revolutions’ in Eastern Europe (other examples of such weaponisation being the ‘Arab Spring’ and the unsuccessful campaign against a left-wing government in Venezuela).

In Ukraine this phenomenon arrived in 2014, when a pro-Moscow government was overthrown by street protests backed by the west and replaced by the present Ukrainian incumbents. This outcome triggered the recovery of Russian-populated Crimea by Russia, a reversal of the ‘gift’ to Ukraine in 1954 by Khrushchev when the Soviet Union was still extant.

Crimea represents the critical Russian access to the Black Sea, the only warm water sea available to Russia. The events in Ukraine in 2014 also triggered a breakaway movement in the Donbas, an eastern area of Ukraine bordering Russia, which clearly stated its aspiration to join Russia instead. The Donbas region is historically the heart of Russian civilisation, culture and development as a people.

Despite the hysteria being whipped up for weeks now by the west and its media regarding an imminent Russian invasion, the lack of critical and objective reportage is a sad reflection of the much-vaunted ‘independent’ western media seen toeing the line of its governments.

Putin has gambled military exercises on Russian soil and in Belarus, both adjoining the Ukrainian border, will finally act as a wake-up call to the US-led west regarding its blatant violation of the (informal) assurances to post-Soviet Russia that the west and NATO would not expand into Eastern Europe, threatening thereby Russia’s security.

Although the new Cold War ignited by Washington sees China as the greater threat to its global hegemony (the so-called ‘unipolar world) in the long run (both economically and eventually militarily), in the present context it is Russia that possesses the military might to match the US, despite not being as economically powerful as rising China.

This new Cold War for the preservation of the US’s weakening global hegemony (because of economic factors as well as the relatively muted contradictions between Washington and its European allies) threatens European and world peace in a modern version of the Thucydides trap (i.e., the inherent conflict between an older, declining power and a new, rising one, with the peculiarity in place of Russia being an old, vanquished power that is reviving). Washington’s new Cold War policies have been instrumental in bringing Russia and China closer.

If we cleave through the western propaganda barrage below the surface and through to the heart of the matter, Moscow is playing its brinkmanship cards to shake awake a US-led west that has ignored, and continues blithely to ignore, Russia’s very real concerns about an expanding NATO presence on or near its borders.

In passing, it may not be out of place to question the retention of NATO as a military alliance long after the purpose for its creation, the ideological, political and military contention with the Soviet Union, has passed into history more than 30 years ago. The US-led west’s regional anti-communist military alliances, CENTO and SEATO (both of which Pakistan was once a part), have long ago disintegrated after being overtaken by events. NATO’s retention despite the Soviet Union and Eastern European communism’s collapse can only be read as the desire to retain the military arm of a global hegemony drive.

If diplomacy is to have a chance to avoid a war, the US-led west and NATO will have to adhere, and in turn persuade Ukraine to adhere to the Minsk Agreement that stops short of the Donbas’ separation, offering instead regional autonomy. Washington and the EU will also have to address Moscow’s concerns regarding the European security structure that has emerged due to NATO-creep and not mutual agreement in favour of a consensual security architecture that does not disadvantage the still militarily formidable Russia.

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Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Rashed Rahman

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