Playing with nuclear fire in Ukraine

NATO expansion into Ukraine would open Russia to the threat of invasion.   It would bring an anti-Russian army almost as close to Moscow as Hitler’s armies got in two years of fighting.

NATO countries are in blue.  Click to viewFor the first time in modern history, Russia’s vast distances would cease to be a guarantee of safety against invasion.   Of course NATO is not the equivalent of Hitler’s New Order, and I don’t imagine that the proponents of NATO expansion actually intend to invade Russia—only to weaken Russia by making it vulnerable.

But of course Russia would still have its nuclear arsenal.  Russia’s nuclear arms make it the only nation in the world that might be able to physically destroy the United States.  It is a very bad idea to back Russia’s rulers into a corner in which this is a consideration.

Europe_under_Nazi_dominationUkraine’s inhabitants have as much right to be an independent nation as anyone else, and they have reasons to be wary of Russia.   Tsarist Russian suppressed Ukrainian culture, Stalin’s policies caused the deaths of millions of Ukrainians from starvation and in the Gulag, and Russia is under the sway of extreme nationalists who hold Ukrainians in contempt.

A new law allows Russia to grant citizenship to anyone born within the boundaries of the old Soviet Union, provided they speak Russian.  Ukrainians recall how Hitler annexed the Sudetenland, the border area of Czechoslovakia, on the excuse of protecting the German-speaking population there.  The annexation left Czechoslovakia defenseless, and unable to resist Germany’s annexation of the whole country.

Ukrainians say this is parallel to how Russia annexed Crimea with the excuse of protecting the Russian-speaking population there, and might try to annex western Ukraine with the same excuse.

But from the Russian point of view, the Ukraine as a whole is Europe’s Sudetenland.  On the pretext of protecting the independence of Ukraine, NATO would put itself in a position to threaten the very existence of Russia.

I don’t think the USA or its NATO allies actually intend a land invasion or would be capable of carrying it out if they tried, although they might help rebels in Russia to destabilize the Russian government.  But the point is not what I think, or even what is the case.  The point is what Russian leaders think and how they would react.

President Putin has not in fact encouraged the Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine.  The rebels’ desire, in any case, seems to be autonomy within Ukraine rather than annexation by Russia.

A proxy war, with Ukrainian factions being armed by Russia and NATO, would not be in the interest of Russia.   There would be a huge refugee problem on Russia’s border, and the likely end result would be a partition of Ukraine into pro-Russian and pro-NATO halves.

Putin would like to draw Ukraine into his proposed Eurasian Union economic bloc, along with Belarus, Kazakhstan and other countries on Russia’s periphery.  The Eurasian Union wouldn’t amount to much without Ukraine.

My guess (based on what I would think in his place) is that he would settle for a friendly but neutral Ukraine such as existed a year ago.  My other guess is that he expects the IMF, the World Bank and the Ukraine’s own oligarchs to reduce the country to misery, and Ukraine will eventually come begging to Russia for rescue.

I don’t pretend to forecast Ukraine’s future or to have an answer to its problems.  The one thing I am certain about is that it is a bad idea to drift into a military confrontation with the world’s second greatest nuclear power, over something that is not a vital interest of the United States.


Western plutocracy goes bear hunting by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Enough Russian Roulette with Nuclear Fire by Ian Welsh


One more thing.  [added later]  The present confrontation between the USA and Russia means that complete nuclear disarmament is off the table for a generation.

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