Kremlinologists never miss an opportunity to feel complacent about their unparalleled expertise and their unvaluable wisdom. Never do they feel so complacent like when they can make use of the concept of “whataboutisim”, a word few understand and even less people care about. What does it mean? We will allow ourselves a little excursus here. Except for a few versatile specimens, who skillfully adapted to new environmental conditions, Kremlinologists or mediatic Kremlin experts were a seriously endangered species until the turn for the worse that relations with Russia took after 2014. Of course, they had never got tired of crying in the desert that Putin was a murderous dictator and a killer of journalists and Russia was a danger to the peace of the entire otherwise so peaceful world, but nobody was taking them all too seriously: the world had got used to them incessantly crying wolf and they saw themselves as unjustly ignored, their precious expertise not much in demand at all. The concept of whataboutism is one of the trademarks of the profession of Kremlinology and goes back to the times of First Cold War and in the words of Kremlin interpreters, whataboutism a typically Soviet rhetorical dirty trick, a logical phallacy: “You have invaded Afghanistan”, would cry the outraged good American. “What about Vietnam?” would coldly reply the unrepetant Russian. The contemporary version of whataboutism would be any argument that entails: “What about Iraq? What about Libya? What about Sirya?” For the Kremlin expert, always perfectly informed about the lastest gossip on the mean intentions and dirty tactics used by the malign Kremlin, always incredibly resourceful in finding new ways to harm the liberal world, whataboutism is the quintessential symptom of the deep dishonesty and the intellectual bankrupcy of the Soviet/Russian discourse: how dare you accuse us of anything? Russian propaganda, Kremlin disinformation! To be fair there is value in a statement such as two wrongs don’t make a right, especially if we wish to adhere to some Kantian categorical imperative: unfortunately such idealism meets with little consideration in a realm where security fears dominate discourse.
Nations observe each other to establish hostile and threatening patterns to which they respond by laying “red lines”: the Monroe doctrine is an example thereof. So how should have Russia, on the basis of previous observations of the behaviour of the United States and NATO, judged the unfolding events that led to the Ukraine crisis? It was clear to policy makers in the West that the Russians viewed NATO expansionism as a threat, a form of encirclement, and many observers saw this aspect as fundamental in the precipitation of the Ukraine crisis. The Russian Federation had been expressing where its red lines were since 1991. It is impossible given the body of signalling emanating from Moscow to suggest otherwise. If we wish we can sweep this under the carpet, but then we should not be surprised and shocked at the consequences of “unpredictable” and “irrational” Russian behaviour. So how is it possible that Western policy makers misjudged Putin’s reactions to NATO and EU expansionism? What had the Kremlin experts being doing all the time? Where from the shock and the surprise? Here we assemble some points the Russians had to consider in the build up to the overthrow of the Yanukovych government.
1 – The USA has a rather extensive literature which posits that the Ukraine should be removed from Russia’s orbit of influence, thus US hegemony would be maintained. This a well documented continuation of the McKinder, Kennan, Clinton like policies which seeks to avoid Russia from dominating the Eurasian plain. This emphasis on maintaining US hegemony seems a recurrent theme to watch out for.
The Bible of all books on the role of Ukraine in the US geopolitical strategy, written by Brzezinski
John Mearsheimer on Ukraine
“Without the Ukraine Russia is amputated” J Sherr
The Ukraine Crisis and the “Balance of Power” by Amir Madani
2 – The literature in point 1 (Brzezinski) was written by key USA policy makers.
3 – These policy makers of the relevant literature had a track record of their policies being implemented.
4 – When Yanukovych postponed the signing of the EU association agreement, this was interpreted as a simultaneous yes to the Eurasian Union, supported by the Russian Federation, therefore keeping Ukraine firmly in the orbit of the Russian Federation, something US strategists had been seeking to avoid at all cost. See the literature in point 1, note the date on the article below.
5 – The RF considered that US and NATO in the 2008 Bucharest meetings made plans to incorporate Ukraine into the Transatlantic alliance.
“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s euro Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these nations will become members of NATO”, Bucharest summer 2008
6 – The Russian Federation viewed extremely negatively that US and European organisations had been funding Ukrainian NGOs and activists which stood in opposition not only to Yanukovich but also to Kuchma. This is also viewed as interference in not only the affairs of a foreign state but also the democratic process.
7 – American interference in the overthrow of Yanukovych is also highlighted by the tapping of Victoria Nuelands conversation with the US ambassador proposing the roles that Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk would take in the coming weeks. Added to the above points it appears confirmation of the US playing an active role in removing a democratically elected pro-Russian president to the detriment of the RF.
8 – Key in point seven is that this subsequently did happen exactly in accordance with the phone conversation mentioned above.
9 – The US and EU sent people to address the crowds at the Maidan in support of the overthrow of the pro Russian president, in Moscow this was seen as a step to far and another example of the West intruding into Russias sphere of influence.
10 – The USA sent military advisors to help the new Ukrainian government fight rebels in the East.
11 – The USA sent the new Ukrainian government not lethal weapons in their fight against the Russian foes.
12 – A pattern of colour revolutions against pro-Russian leader in the former Soviet orbit: we must equally assume Moscow does not feel is a coincidence, such a view is given more power by the fact that there has been foreign funding of such revolutions. Billionaire and philanthropist George Soros particularly does not hide such a fact in relation to the Ukraine.
13 – It is of note that Putin offered a compromise to the Ukrainian crisis proposing that Ukraine become a neutral state with access to both the EU and EAU: the EU rejected the proposal. It rather hints to the fact that the West’s chief objective was to remove Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence rather than a genuine interest in the prospects for Ukrainian growth.
14 – The “missile defence system” the US has been building in Eastern Europe in real terms has no defensive capability: Russia always suspected it was only a rouse to hide its true objective. That European governments and their people are being lied to in regards to this.
15 – Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic treaty with the Russian Federation.
16 – If after 1991 we were all friends, why does NATO need to expand towards Russia and at the same time refuse to incorporate it into the EU and its security apparatus as a full member? The reasons are clear and their nature is found in Realpolitik: the West simply never overcame its Cold War politics in relation to Russia. So why if the West appears to be making such clear calculations relating to realism then how could we expect the Russian not to play the game?
At 23:25 Yeltsin’s idea of the cold peace is illustrated
17 – The USA has more bases around the world than any other power in history.
18 – That Western removal of regimes in Libya, Iraq, Afganistan among a whole host of other nations must be considered a pattern in the overthrow of Yanukovych, with the former Soviet space appearing to be the New latin America, where the US overthrew numerous democratically elected governments: the updated version the Monroe Doctrine is the Brzezinski Doctrine.
19 – The EU association agreement with the Ukraine contractually bound the Ukraine to act in accordance with the EU common security and defence policy.
These points are key to understanding the Russian perspective on the events that threw the Ukraine into turmoil in early 2014. They offer a more concise and alternative overview of the simple Western mantra which posists that the Maidan revolution was a simple popular uprising. But there was no defined movement, with the protestors being extremely fractionalised and representing an array of ideologies, hence we could not define the Maidan as a direct reflection of the “will of the people”. That said, there is little doubt that Yanukovych was widely seen as corrupt, but that this is made redundant by the corruption of all the previous and subsequent governments. The difference between those who are overthrown and not overthrown in “popular” uprisings within the former Soviet space seems noticeably linked above all to an allegiance to Moscow, something that the points above correspondingly highlight.