As Stephen Cohen, Russian scholar, warned on Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN today, the world may be moving toward another Cuban missile crisis over Ukraine. His portrait of the situation is gloomy if not frightening.
He says the only two rational peace-pursuers outside Russia are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande, "both of whom are weak" (according to Cohen) and the war-mongers, including the United States and NATO are driving events in this conflict. According to Cohen, the European Union is divided, and the crisis could lead to the break-up of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Cohen's analysis includes this statement: "The train attempting to arm Ukraine may already have left the station" referring to the crescendo of U.S. voices calling for shipping American military equipment to the government in Kiev. Cohen also referred directly, and scornfully, to the chorus of western voices "demonizing Putin" who, he says, inherited this crisis and will not end it by capitulation but rather on his own terms. He quotes former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, from a few weeks back, who claimed that demonizing Putin is not a policy but rather an alibi for not having a policy.
Demonizing our opponents, however, has become the default position in so many conflicts that one wonders if the tactic (it is clearly not a strategy) has not replaced the formation of any long-term policy and strategic analysis and plan. Similarly, for Putin to demonize Obama or the United States, is a parallel ruse to deflect both criticism and potentially political suicide.
The west, including especially the western media, has fallen prey for the spectacle of personalizing our conflict with terrorists, and over the Russian take-over of Crimea, as well as painting a political and professional target on the back of NBC news anchor, Brian Williams, whose memory, after twelve years following the ground attack of the helicopter convey (not his helicopter specifically) has blurred to a revisionist recounting of the events. While Williams has removed himself from the anchor desk, and the pilot of his helicopter has publicly exonerated him by pointing out that the chopper in which Williams was a passenger in 2003, at the inception of the war in Iraq was indeed shot at, and struck, yet not by the same and more serious ground-to-air missile as the chopper ahead of Williams, he is nevertheless the subject of excoriation, a political form of demonization, in a world addicted to the perfection of all of its public figures.
In an international dispute, like the continuing and growing one over the eastern part of Ukraine, however, the personality of the Russian leader, while extremely significant, is not the sole factor in the crisis. If it were, and if that personality were subject to both negotiations and compromise, then one would guess that the proposal of a "demilitarized zone" of some 50-75 miles along the eastern boundary of Ukraine with Russia, would at least remove some of the heat from the fighting and killing and continuing destruction of the towns and cities in that region. It is quite clear, from many observers, that neither the Russian people nor the people of Ukraine in all quarters do not want the fighting to continue. It is also quite clear that the governments of the European Union are deeply divided about whether or not to supply arms to the Ukrainian government of President Poroshenko. NATO, in concert with the United States, seems more than ready and willing to provide lethal weaponry to Poroshenko, while Merkel and Holland remain highly skeptical about the outcome of such a move.
What is significantly missing from reports reaching North America, is the position of the Cameron government of Great Britain. Is that government contemplating siding with the Merkel "negotiation" and compromise initiative, of which she herself is quite sceptical about its potential for agreement, or is the British government tending to lean in the direction of the "arming" position of the United States and NATO?
If Stephen Cohen is right that Russian Generals are openly talking about using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and if this conflict somehow morphs from one of increasing numbers and severity of skirmishes in Eastern Ukraine to one that sees the deployment of nuclear weapons, or even the public acknowledgement that nuclear weapons constitute the next step in the escalation of the conflict, from the perspective of the Kremlin, then what is a heated, yet still simmering "pot" in international relations will have become an open, dangerous and lethal war, from which the "climb-down" for all parties could be very difficult if not highly unlikely.
A world in which pounding airstrikes over Iraq and Syria targeting ISIS encampments, training centres and weapons depots, concurrently with a deeply divided Islamic world, crying out for some form of reconciliation between the Iranian Shiites and the Saudi Sunnis, accommodated by a persistent and deadly drum beat of killings, maimings, beheadings and abductions in Nigeria by another arm of the Islamic terrorist movement, complicated by a military confrontation between the west (read NATO and the United States) and Russia leaves all of our heads spinning.
We spin in our profound lack of either understanding or appreciation for the underlying forces that are determining our world's path, and impacting the lives of ordinary people both in close proximity to the conflict(s) and around the planet.
We spin in our fears and our imaginings that the world we might leave to our grandchildren is not one they either deserve nor will be able to manage, overcome and survive. We spin in our powerlessness to do much more than cry out, in unity and solidarity of the innocent people in Ukraine, and in Syria and Iraq and Yemen and in Nigeria, Somalia and in more isolated incidents in other places (including Canada) and perhaps join a public or a digital march in protest to the violence and the refusal to bring the violence to a negotiated settlement.
While demonizing Putin is an alibi for not having a policy on how to bring the Russian dictator to the settlement of his differences over Ukraine and elsewhere with the west, Ukrainian issues which he and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov claim are the result of instigations by the United States, we have to acknowledge, as does professor Cohen, that Putin is supremely and totally in charge of all the moves made on behalf of Russia, at home and abroad. And we must never forget that Russia is a strong ally of both Iran and Syrian President Assad, so the colours of his allegiances and loyalties are hardly "friendly" when seen from the perspective of most western governments.
Is Putin ready willing and able to support the initiatives that are attempting to bring ISIS to the ground? If Putin willing and able to exert a positive influence in the negotiations to terminate the nuclear enhancement program in Iran, a program that many allege is targeting the acquisition of nuclear weapons, for use particularly against Israel. Putin was highly visible in his joining Russian Jews in the commemoration of their day of remembrance of the atrocities suffered at Aushwitz but is he committed to the preservation of the state of Israel, and thereby to the protection of its people and borders against attacks from his allies in Hezbollah and Hamas?
One former investor in the Russian economy who brought down the ire of the Russian dictator describes Russia as a criminal operating a gas station. Bill Browder was also a guest on Zakaria's GPS today, and his book Red Notice details his encounters with Putin's Kremlin and his assessment that all "morality" has to be set aside when analysing the Russian tyrant.
Nevertheless, at the state level, notwithstanding his weakness in terms of the Russian ruble (dropped 50% in the last few months, making the cost of imports to the Russian people double in cost), similarly to the apparently only marginally empowered Islamic terrorists, both Putin and the terrorists have been able to inflict considerable damage, and strike a level of fear in their opponents, without having to take responsibility for their actions, to the degree that most western observers would prefer.
Are we watching a multi-layered response of nations like Russia and of what are considered oppressed peoples, especially immigrants in various countries, who no longer wish to comply quietly with a geopolitical, and globalized economy from which the profits are increasingly flowing to the uber-rich in many countries. When Zakaria puts graphs on the screen depicting the numbers of billionaires in various countries, is he not condoning such a development, while we all know that scarcity, fear, poverty, impoverishment, hopelessness and alienation, the remnants of globalization, are the soil in which unrest, terror and even uber political gamesmanship of the kind Putin is playing
will inevitably grow from such soil?
Power imbalances, no matter their specific theatre or culture, will continue to plague our planet, and unless and until some kind of inclusive, consensus-building of all players, within the Islamic world and among the countries outside the Islamic parameters, is set as a legitimate target for world leaders and their respective governments and alliances, we will continue to live under the shadow of opportunism, revenge, hatred and fear.