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Ukraine: Everyone Has An Agenda At The End Of The World

KGB agent Vladimir Putin poses as an everyday Russian to meet President Reagan

KGB agent Vladimir Putin poses as an everyday Russian to meet Reagan

In an “exclusive” at the Daily Beast, Eli Lake reports that the United States is withholding intelligence information of Russian troop movements from Ukraine’s government. That should be no surprise to anyone paying attention to how fractious the Ukrainian government is, or how thoroughly Vladimir Putin has penetrated it. Lake allows for these points, but duly reports the story as received from a Republican.

“I am not confident we are sharing any of that kind of information,” said Rep. Michael Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee that oversees NATO and U.S. tactical air and land forces. “It’s clear we are not giving them critical military advice about the Russian capability on their border and the best utilization of the Ukrainian military to counter that.”

Instead, the U.S. intelligence community’s detailed analysis of a potential Russian invasion has been shared only with the Congress, American policy makers, and members of the Obama administration. The analysis includes details such as the geographic location of specific Russian units and predictions for how those units would be used in combination for a potential invasion.

That’s the sort of information that would be invaluable for any military preparing for a possible incursion. But it would be particularly useful to the fledgling government in Ukraine that lacks the satellites, sensors and intercept technology to learn the details of the military force that looks like it is about to invade its territory.

One alarming detail of Lake’s report is that Russian battlefield medical units have been mobilized, a sure sign that someone is ready for a bloody fight. Any invasion of Ukraine — regardless of the pretext — would in all likelihood be a short, sharp, glorious Soviet Russian victory, and it is doubtful that anything would be left of Ukraine afterwards. Furthermore, no amount of US intelligence information will prevent that outcome because Ukraine simply lacks the numbers or equipment to fight off Putin. The best possible result of such intelligence sharing is still pretty bad, and given the close ties between Russia’s military and Ukraine’s industry, the worst possible outcomes are unthinkable. This situation is exacerbated by Edward Snowden’s cooperation with the Russian FSB, as those sources and methods which have not already been compromised must be guarded even more jealously now.

But never mind all that, for Republicans see another opportunity to attack the president as weak and ineffectual (because BENGHAZI!!!). Rep. Turner has suddenly become an expert on intelligence-sharing, and what sources and methods can be safely shared with those Ukrainians and their sieve-like security. Politics start at the water’s edge, they say, and it seems as if everyone has an agenda at the end of the world.

Reading many progressive writers out there, I am increasingly concerned that perceived blows to American empire (or a pan-European one) are seen by otherwise reasonable people as necessary correctives for the sins of the past. I see all sorts of concern-trolling about right wing elements in Ukraine that utterly misses the mark, because all of Europe could see a new wave of reactionary governments in response to Russian aggression, just like the conservative wave of the 1980s. If so, then once again it will be to the detriment of leftists and liberals. To be antiwar is one thing; a blinkered anti-Americanism is not helpful and is actually misleading.

For the empire at issue in Ukraine isn’t an American one, or European one, but a Russian one. A Russian victory at arms (or by stealth, as in the Crimea) will not make the world a more peaceful or secure place. Russia does not get a free pass to be a rogue state because you are still mad at Bush and Cheney over Iraq, and that sort of thinking does not lead to a more stable world. Quite the opposite, really.

Having given up its nuclear weapons voluntarily, the lesson that states on the Russian periphery — nations like, say, Iran — will learn from Ukraine’s dissolution is that they are not safe without the atom. This will tend to reinforce the failure of the Bush-Cheney doctrine rather than reverse it. Putin’s psychic crisis over his beloved lost empire has already destroyed any chance for further strategic arms cuts anytime soon, and if a new round of nuclear proliferation takes hold on the Eurasian landmass, it will be an absolutely tragic and dangerous regression for the human race. Even a long-term, “cold war” standoff over Eastern Ukraine will at the very least require the West to arm and train a new Ukrainian military, with all the attendant tensions of a conventional arms buildup. None of these options is a good one, and many of these options are bad — but they are all affected by Putin’s paranoia, which is entirely beyond the reach of anyone’s agenda.

Ukrainians have their own agenda at the end of the world. Most would like their country to continue existing without any more pieces being lopped off and consumed by the neighborhood megalomaniac. Some see the crisis as an opportunity to take power in Ukraine and remake it in their own image, and still others see Russia as their future nation. That would be fine if Ukrainians were allowed to work these issues out on their own, but Putin is not going to let them. It seems very likely that he will snuff Ukrainian democracy out along with the Ukrainian state, and the Niebuhrian realist in the White House is not about to put anything important at risk in Kiev when the “hard power” balance is so lopsided. That is probably the smartest thing to do, as much as we may dislike it. Obama’s agenda is to find the least bad solution — even if it makes no one happy.

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