Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reflections on the Ukraine...

Reuters, through The Globe and Mail, is today reporting an IMF staff level commitment to Ukraine of some $14-18 billion in loans, that with other credits could bring the total to some $28 billion over the next two years. On the same day, the Ukrainian government announced a 50% increase in the price of gas, something the IMF required in order to complete its bailout agreement.
While the bailout from the International Monetary Fund is welcome, given the fact that the Ukraine economy is in tatters, after the corrupt Yanukovich regime, there are still questions about the designs Putin has on that country. Everyone listened as U.S. Defence Secretary Hagel told the world that the Russian Defence Minister told him "Russian has no plans to invade Ukraine," but too many people also listened to Chamberlain when he returned from another commitment to restraint in Munich, and Hagel's words are of little comfort either to the people of Ukraine or to the rest of the world.
While the IMF has acted, thankfully, giving both needed economic support and the cover of some political support without actually committing countries like Germany whose dependence on Russian energy is estimated to be around 30-40% of its needs, the capacity of the EU to provide support, separate from the IMF, when the crisis was in its incubator, and not after the Russian takeover of the Crimea, is still somewhat baffling.
Obama in Brussels yesterday attempted to calm both his own American people and the people of Europe that this was not the beginning of another Cold War, that Russia does not command the decisions of a group of countries, in spite of the "caesarian" grab of the Crimea by Putin and the rumours of a planned access corridor for Russia through Russian-populated cities in east Ukraine and along the southern border into Crimea.
Invoking Iraq, as Obama did in his speech, as an example of how the Americans did not want to take over that country, but rather to leave it to the people of Iraq, following the removal of Saddam Hussein, however, stimulated both shame and anxiety in some quarters, given that Putin can and has and will continue to use the American invasion of Iraq that saw hundreds of thousands of people killed, maimed and displaced, because of the overreach of what the world views as a kind of American imperialism. While that imperialism was not directed toward a political takeover of the Iraq governance, it was motivated by an ambition to secure access to Iraq's rich oil deposits. And for too long, the American pursuit of the energy to drive its once formidable industrial complex, (which incidentally also comprises its military complex, with much of that industry dedicated to the production of military materiel, including planes, ships, missiles, bombs and all of the technology that undergirds those "gems" in the American arsenal) has driven U.S. foreign policy.
Shrouded thinly in a veil of "promoting democracy", Americans have initiated conflicts the damages to human life from which far exceed the short-term human impact on Crimea and the Ukraine by Putin and his masked 'marvels' in fatigues without any insignia to disclose their nation of origin. One has to wonder if, under the new Putin, the lessons learned from service in the former KGB of stealth, secrecy, devious intrigue and alacrity are the signs of the new Russian engagement with the rest of the world.
While the Americans have for too long pursued access to fossil fuels as the driver of foreign policy, Putin is now "in command" of some of the richest oil and gas deposits in Europe and through their development, perhaps he believes that he can and will manipulate the geography and the economies and thereby the people who rely on Russian energy for the heat for their homes and the engines in their factories, and the fuel for their transportation, without any real competitive risk. America too has discovered its own deposits of natural gas as well as new deposits of crude, and is rapidly developing those resources. However, according to some reports, ramping up the production and delivery of those resources will take longer than would be required to compete with Putin's ready and available access to Russian deposits. So, for now, Putin "reigns" in his own secret little mind, while attempting to fend off any annoying "flies" of sanctions imposed reciprocally on a circle of both Russian and American leaders. His and Russia's removal from the G8, while somewhat inconvenient, will not stop Putin should he execute further ambitions in Ukraine. Nor will it stop the purchase of Russian energy from countries whose leaders find his "coup" unacceptable.
So for now, both sides will continue to utter "words" of such hollow-sounding rhetoric as to remind us all of the T.S. Eliot poem, "The Hollow Men," given the vacuity and the earnestness with which the diplomatic drama is performed.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

These are the opening words of Eliot's masterpiece.
These are the words that none of the current leaders would ever use to describe his/her influence; nevertheless, only if and when they, and we, come to the place where we accept that much of our own words are "quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass" will we reach a place of acceptance and tolerance of both our ambitions, however lofty, and our desperation, however low.
And then, perhaps, we will be able to have leaders who speak with an authenticity that would put the current melodrama of "shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion' to shame. The people who are the pawns of this pretentious and pompous vacuity deserve much better, especially the people of the Ukraine.

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