Why Is the U.S. so Interested in Ukraine? The Conflict’s Long and Deep Conceptual Roots

Why is the United States so interested in Ukraine more than 7000 miles away?

The answer to that question goes to the conceptual taproot of the conflict. It lies much deeper than is commonly perceived and is connected with U.S. ambitions (like Nazi Germany’s) to control the entire world. The details are supplied in the April 2022 edition of Monthly Review (Vol. 73, No. 11) in the journal’s “Notes from the editors: Ukraine as the ‘Geopolitical Pivot’.”

Here’s what the editors say:

In 1904, Britain’s Halford Mackinder articulated the relevant and guiding geopolitical doctrine (later developed in Nazi Germany by Karl Haushofer as well as by John Spykman in the United States during the 1930s and 40s.)

The doctrine’s basic idea was that the domination of Eastern Europe (including Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and the western part of the Russian Federation) was the key to dominating the planet. Mackinder said in effect:  Who rules East Europe commands Eurasia. / Who rules Eurasia commands the rest of Asia and Africa. /Who rules those continents commands the World.

Since its original expression at the beginning of the last century, Mackinder’s doctrine has informed the strategies of all leading capitalist nations as they sought world domination – including Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the United States. In its latter form, the doctrine is commonly referred to as “The Grand Strategy.”

It was further refined by U.S. planners such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Paul Wolfowitz. Following their advisement, U.S. presidents from Nixon to Biden have used it to guide their geopolitical policies.

The advisors’ clearest expression emerged in 1991, when then undersecretary of defense (appointed by George H.W. Bush) Paul Wolfowitz published his Defense Planning Guidance. There he wrote, “Our policy [after the fall of the Soviet Union] must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”

Towards achieving this end, Wolfowitz recognized a particular need to defang a weakened Russia which was then the strongest military power in Eurasia. Russia, he contended, must be quickly neutralized before it could recover from its post-Soviet reduction in status and power. The most effective avenue towards such nullification of Russian might would be to bring into the Western orbit the countries that had been part of Eastern Europe’s Warsaw Pact defense organization.

In making his case, Wolfowitz was echoing not only Mackinder, Haushofer, and Spykman, but the position of Truman advisor, George Kennan who in 1948 had written, 

“. . . we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives…. We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

Though adopted in practice by United States policy planners, Kennan’s strategy remained their unarticulated “quiet part,” because (following so closely upon World War II) it eerily echoed the ultimate goal of Nazi Germany’s aspirations to world domination.  

However, following the fall of the Soviets and its bruited “end of history,” it became fashionable for U.S. politicians to finally speak the quiet part aloud openly identifying America’s system as “imperialist,” “dominant,” and brooking no rivals.

In turn, Carter advisor Brzezinski’s own elaboration of The Strategy shaped U.S. policy vis a vis Russia for over three decades.

In pursuit of controlling Russia, Brzezinski was the one responsible for creating a quagmire in Afghanistan to trap the Soviet Union in an unwinnable war. Supported by Carter, he initiated the program that armed and trained the Mujahideen to confront the Soviets in “the graveyard of empires.”

The trap worked and its debilitating swamp became a key element contributing to the dissolution of the USSR (and to the disastrous events of 9/11 in the United States). Brzezinski considered it a giant step towards seizing control of Eastern Europe.

Bill Clinton took the next step. Contravening U.S. promises to Gorbachev not to move the alliance “one inch” eastward, the U.S. president proceeded to dismember Yugoslavia and decided to move the organization into the actual sphere of the former Soviet Union.

Subsequently (in 1997) Brzezinski produced his book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. There he argued that the U.S. had finally found itself in a position “for the first time ever (for) a non-Eurasian power” to become “the key arbiter of Eurasian power relations,” while at the same time “emerging as “the world’s paramount power.” In other words, because of the opening in Russia, the United States found itself poised to become the first and the last globally dominant empire.

For Brzezinski, assuming that role in Eurasia required further weakening Russia to deprive it of any pretension to being a world power. Such debilitation, he argued, depended on incorporating Ukraine (which shares a 1,200 mile border with Russia) into NATO as a kind of Damocles’ sword over the head of the geographically largest country in the world.

However, Brzezinski warned that the inclusion in question would inevitably be perceived by Russia as an existential threat – as an unacceptable crossing of a red line that would force Russia into an anti-hegemonic alliance with China and possibly Iran in a tripartite bloc.

A U.S. countermove, Brzezinski wrote, would involve gradually expanding NATO into countries formerly belonging to the Soviet Union. It would mean applying pressure on China by creating distracting problems for it in Hong Kong and Taiwan and by forging closer NATO ties with the regional powers Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

Nevertheless, the greatest stumbling block to such moves on the grand chessboard remained Ukraine. How could the U.S. gain its control without having Russia interpret the move as a death threat aimed at its breakup and without having China perceive Russia’s balkanization as destabilizing its own far western regions?

With those questions still unanswered, Washington continued to implement Brzezinski’s grand strategy. Over the past 30 years, it has moved ahead with the project of normalizing NATO expansion to include 15 previous Warsaw Pact members. In those countries, it placed troops (including U.S. divisions) while locating missile facilities in Poland and Romania. The final goal continued to be the incorporation of the crucial Ukraine prize. So, finally, in 2008 NATO formally announced its intention to admit that trophy as a member state.

Towards that end, the U.S. played a major role in provoking a coup d’état in the Ukraine capital. It replaced the country’s elected president Viktor Yanukovych, who though once favorable to the West sought economic help from Russia when the International Monetary fund proposed austerity conditionalities on its loans. That move was unacceptable to U.S. ambitions in Ukraine. So, using Neo-Nazi agents provocateurs, they had Yanukovych replaced with a more amenable hand-picked client.

The U.S.-supported coup led to uprisings of dissent in Ukraine’s Donbass region and to brutal repression by the replacement government. For instance, in Odessa, more than 40 resisters were burnt alive in a union hall at the hands of Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis. Such right-wing repression led the Donbass regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to break away from Ukraine and form two people’s republics.  

Additionally, even before the coup (in 1991) Crimea (whose citizens are predominantly Russian speaking) had become an autonomous republic within Ukraine. After the coup, a referendum had it voting to merge with Russia.      

Kyiv’s response to these secessions took the form of intense military operations against the breakaways. Since 2014, the resulting civil war has taken the lives of over 14,000 people and has created 2.5 million refugees most of whom have fled to Russia.

The conflict came to an apparent end with the signing of the Minsk Agreements of 2014-15. The accords were worked out between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany and endorsed by the UN Security Council. The pacts gave Luhansk and Donetsk the right to self-government while remaining in Ukraine. However, Kyiv ignored the agreements and pressed on with its Donbass offensive.

Russia replied by demanding that the Minsk Agreements be honored. It also insisted that Ukraine agree not to enter NATO and that the 130,00 Ukrainian troops then attacking Donbass cease their operations. All of these, Moscow said, were red lines which if crossed would require vigorous response.

NATO and Kyiv insisted on crossing all the lines just noted. Russia’s “special military operation” was the result.

Conclusion

So, there we have it. The Ukraine conflict has been over a century in the making.

In 1904, Mackinder saw its importance for world hegemons who themselves (from Great Britain and Nazi Germany to the United States of America) concurred with his assessment. Though recognizing the dangers of doing so, Kissinger, Brzezinski, and Wolfowitz embraced Mackinder’s viewpoint. They focused their Grand Strategy on the world’s Chessboard towards ultimately securing control of Ukraine. To that end, the presidents they advised following the breakup of the Soviet Union expanded NATO right up to Russia’s borders.   

In doing so, they insisted on crossing red lines repeatedly drawn by Russian leaders. U.S. support of a coup and the installation of a NATO friendly government in Kyiv caused alarm bells to ring in Moscow. So did a Neo-Nazi-led assault on dissenting Russian speakers in Ukraine’s Donbass region.

U.S. refusal to recognize and enter negotiations over Russia’s concerns on such matters represented the last straw.

All of that explains not only a desperate Russia’s “special military operation” against what it sees as a threat to its very existence, but why a U.S.-led NATO is pouring billions into the conflict.

It’s about the lynchpin of world domination. It’s about shoring up a vanishing U.S hegemony. It’s about America’s brooking no rivals. It’s about maintaining “full spectrum dominance” in a doomed unipolar world.

Good Snowden/Bad Snowden? Not So Fast

Edward Snowden 1

In his recent article, “The Two Snowdens,” Philip Giraldi issued warnings about making Edward Snowden an unqualified hero. (Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest, and a former CIA and military intelligence officer.) Matters are more complicated than that Giraldi advised. Honoring the complication, he made the case for recognizing the existence of a good Edward Snowden on the one hand and a treasonous Snowden on the other.

According to Giraldi, the good Snowden is a true whistleblower. As such he rightly released documents about government surveillance of U.S. citizens. Such surveillance clearly violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and deserves to be exposed as criminal. On Giraldi’s analysis, this good Edward Snowden truly merits our admiration.

The bad Snowden, however, is another story. He’s the one who indiscriminately revealed U.S. espionage on foreign governments. Granted, Giraldi admits, eavesdropping on the cell phone conversations of the likes of Angela Merkel was stupid. Any possible gains were more than cancelled by the potential danger of getting caught.

But otherwise, Snowden’s revelations did irreparable damage to the legitimate espionage the U.S. requires for its national security and economic prosperity. After all, everyone spies on everyone else. The U.S. needs to follow suit otherwise it will be hopelessly disadvantaged.

More specifically, Giraldi continues, Snowden’s revelations have crippled U.S. efforts not only at counter-terrorism, but in its economic competition with China and Russia. While these latter are no longer our “enemies,” they are “competitors” and “opponents.” In any case, Snowden’s revelations give them unfair advantage in the marketplace.

It’s there that I fear Mr. Giraldi’s argument unravels. It misses the big picture that I suspect Edward Snowden sees. I mean, the ex-CIA officer assumes that market competition is somehow neutral and has a right to be protected. It further assumes that the U.S. is just one competitor among others, and that its activities also need to be safeguarded.

In so doing, Mr. Giraldi ignores the real “American Exceptionalism,” – i.e. its leadership of a system that is destroying the planet through its endless wars and its refusal to address the climate change unfettered capitalism causes. Meanwhile the system mercilessly takes advantage of workers privileged enough to be exploited.

That system, whether Snowden sees it or not, needs to be subverted, not supported as Mr. Giraldi would prefer. Anyone aiding and abetting the process of subversion in a non-violent way deserves support not criticism.

First of all, consider the assumptions about the neutrality of global capitalism. In reality, market competition as in the corporate globalization and “free trade” agreements championed by the United States is far from neutral. Its deck is stacked against the environment and the global workforce. It not only outsources jobs from the U.S. home front; it also exploits cheap labor in the former colonies, and takes advantage of lax environmental and labor laws.

The results include disastrous climate change and the deaths of more than 35,000 children each day – from absolutely preventable hunger-related causes. Free-marketers refuse to address those causes, because doing so would mean “interference” in the marketplace which they find anathema to their religious devotion to free market doctrine.

These are criminal charges – life and death matters. They reduce to insignificance the violations of the U.S. Constitution that Mr. Giraldi forefronts. They suggest that Mr. Snowden’s revelations about foreign espionage are even more laudable than his domestic disclosures.

Secondly, consider the overall U.S. project in the world. That project remains best described by George Kennan in the aftermath of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). In his capacity as National Security Advisor of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Kennan is considered by all, the architect of U.S. Cold War policy. All contemporary indications confirm that his vision still guides U.S. policy – with the likely exception that it is even more tightly embraced today than it was in 1947. It was then that Kennan wrote:

“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans the better.” <a

Once again, it turns out that Kennan’s project is a criminal enterprise. It is about keeping the world as it is – about the rejection of world benefaction, altruism, human rights, democracy, and raising living standards – so that the U.S. might control a disproportionate amount of the world’s limited resources. Today Kennan’s employment of “straight power concepts” to keep the envious and resentful at bay employs wars of aggression, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, extra-judicial (drone) executions, and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

To reiterate, that U.S. project needs to be undermined.

So rather than characterizing someone who does so as a “spy,” such a heroic individual deserves our unconditional support – and imitation.

Snowden represents non-violent resistance and international civil disobedience at its finest.