Category Archives: Crimea

Unthinkable Operations

In the preface to his remarkable three-volume History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, writing in 1930 about earth-shaking events in which he was a key actor, explains his view of writing history. He cites reactionary French historian Louis Madelin, who wrote that “…the historian ought to stand upon the wall of a threatened city, and behold at the same time the besiegers and the besieged” in order to achieve a “conciliatory justice.” Trotsky then scoffs that if Madelin himself  “climbs out on the wall dividing the two camps, it is only in the character of a reconnoiterer for the reaction.” In contrast Trotsky, vowing to draw on historic documents, “not fallible personal memory or anecdote,” promises to write with a “scientific conscientiousness, which for its sympathies and antipathies — open and undisguised — seeks support in an honest study of the facts, a determination of their real connections, an exposure of the causal laws of their movements.”

Ron Ridenour, a veteran journalist and author, former member of the US Communist Party, dedicated anti-war activist and a self-described revolutionary socialist, like Trotsky (though no Troskyite himself) writes from a perspective of outside the city wall. In his latest book, Pentagon on Alert: The Russian Peace Threat (Punto Press, New York, 2018).  He does an admirable of job of it too,  providing an abundance of readily accessible citations (hot-linked in the book’s online version), instead of some coldly “objective” history. The Russian Peace Threat offers the perspective of someone passionately involved in combating American imperialism and  this country’s century-long hostility towards Russia and its revolution against capitalism. He documents how from the outset of the Russian revolution of 1917, when 13,000 US troops joined other European forces in seeking to overthrow the new socialist state by force, down to the present, whichever party was dominant in Washington has sought to hem in and undermine first the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation. The ultimate aim, he demonstrates, has been to create a client regime in Russia through “regime change,” or to destroy the country with a nuclear first strike.

As someone who studied modern Russian history, I found myself nonetheless being continually surprised as I read The Russian Peace Threat, by shocking new facts about this enduring US hostility that I had clearly not been fully aware of. For example, at the end of Chapter 10, writing about the launching of the Cold War by then Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Harry Truman as World War II was ending, Ridenour describes how Churchill proposed a plan to the US called “Operation Unthinkable.” This criminal nightmare vision had the combined forces of the US, Britain and Canada, along with some 100,000 rearmed Nazi troops, attacking the presumably exhausted and over-extended Soviet Red Army then still battling remnants of the Wehrmacht in eastern Germany. Operation Unthinkable, which Ridenour tells us was kept secret until 1998, also envisioned, as early as mid-1945 before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using the new atomic bombs being developed by the US and Britain in the Manhattan Project, against Soviet troops and even on the Soviet capital of Moscow.

He goes on in the next chapter about the launching of the Cold War (which he notes was begun not by Stalin, but by Churchill and Truman), to describe how, over the period from 1946-1949, Truman had his Pentagon generals feverishly developing a series of nine equally monstrous plans, more detailed than the thankfully never launched Operation Unthinkable. All nine of these  various plans centered on the use of America’s growing nuclear arsenal to completely annihilate the USSR’s industrial base, and its population along with it.

With names like Operation Pincher and Operation Dropshot, these plans continued to be developed until 1949, when Russia, thanks in part to the assistance provided by sympathetic Manhattan Project scientists and workers who feared — rightly it turns out! — a hegemonic US with a monopoly on atomic weapons after the war. Even though fanatic Pentagon planners estimated that dropping some 300 nuclear weapons on Soviet military bases and industrial centers could kill half the that war-battered country’s remaining population, it was the only the recognition, in 1949, that the Soviets could finally strike back that halted that active planning (and it was only the lack of a sufficient number of bombs and delivery systems to finish the job that had kept them from launching a “pre-emptive” genocidal war earlier than that).

Over and over Ridenour exposes how it has been the US, not Russia or the USSR, that has created the wars and tensions with the Soviet Union. Take Vietnam, which Ridenour, an Air Force recruit himself for a few years before that war really escalated, claims was central to his political evolution as a revolutionary activist. He recounts how the US military in Vietnam was practically in open revolt after the 1968 Tet Offensive. He says following Tet, the smoking of marijuana by US soldiers became widespread as did LSD use, but adds that heroin became the drug of choice. Here he cites the Pentagon as saying that by the early 1970s 15% of Army troops were on smack. He also talks about fragging, again quoting Pentagon sources as documenting more than 900 cases of soldiers using their fragmentation grenades to kill commanding officers they felt were incompetent, aggressive or a threat to their survival . (Note: this number is actually on the low end of estimates of the frequency of this particularly dramatic and deadly act of resistance.)   He concludes that these developments, combined with an expanding and increasingly militant anti-war movement and a politically driven end to conscription back in the US, contributed to the US finally losing the war.

Not afraid (as are most mainstream academic historians) to wade into the politically contentious present, Ridenour gives a solid account of the current era in which both the Obama and Trump administrations have deliberately increased tensions with Russia, from the coup in Ukraine orchestrated and funded by the US under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which led to a fascist, anti-Russian government in Kiev, to the current illegal US military role in Syria backing jihadi terrorist groups against the Syrian government, which is being aided by Russia.

Ridenour provides a well documented history of the rise of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He explains in detail how the US first helped install the corrupt and alcoholic Boris Yeltsin — a man who allowed US business interests to rob his country blind — in a second term as president and how Putin, at the time a little-known Yeltsin subordinate, at first supported by the US, followed. That support ended when Putin surprised his critics and turned the country around, halted the privatization free-for-all and ending Russia’s  headlong plunge into economic and social decline. At that point, Ridenour explains, the US turned on him.

Putin’s “crime,” Ridenour argues, is that after the Ukraine coup, he finally took action to halt the US-led undermining of Russia. He explains in detail how Russia’s only warm-water naval base in the south in Crimea was threatened by the US-orchestrated change in government in Kiev. Then, quoting Harvard political scientist John Mearsheimer, he writes: “Putin saw that the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived.”

There was no “invasion” of Crimea, Ridenour explains. Russia already had 25,000 troops legally based in Crimea under a base-leasing agreement with Ukraine. They were there to defend the Russian naval base at Sebastopol, which was leased from Ukraine under an treaty signed when Ukraine became independent as part of the break-up of the USSR. Crimea, historically a part of Russia, and only annexed to Ukraine in 1954 as a “gift” ordered by Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, himself a Ukrainian, was 68% ethnically Russian and only 16% Ukrainian. When the people of Ukraine expressed a desire to have their territory returned to Russia because of threats against ethnic Russians from the new Kiev government, a plebiscite was held. The result: 83% of eligible voters cast ballots, and 97% of them favored reintegration with Russia. Putin agreed.

That was the “invasion” that the US and other Western media continue to refer to ad nauseam.

Ridenour, quoting Western sources, says the “invasion” in truth only involved Russia sending over to Crimea six helicopters and two small boats with 500 so-called “little green men” — actually Russian Special Forces acting as “polite police.” The Ukrainian garrison in Crimea was given the option of leaving or fighting, and in the event many, including senior officers, defected to Russia, while the rest of the garrison left for Ukraine peacefully.

There were six killings during the transfer of Crimea to Russia, he reports:  two were Crimean ethnic Russian civilians, one a Crimean ethnic Ukrainian civilian, one Russian soldier, one Ukrainian soldier and one Crimean self-defense soldier. He adds that the Russian soldier was killed by a Ukrainian Right Sector militant who fled to Ukraine and that none of the other deaths was reportedly caused by a Russian soldier. While Hillary Clinton was comparing the Crimean re-annexation by Russia to Hitler’s march into Sudetenland, Ridenour quotes Forbes magazine as writing: “The US and European Union may want to save Crimeans from themselves. But the Crimeans are happy right where they are. One year after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea, poll after poll shows that the locals there — be they Ukrainians, ethnic Russians or Tatars, are mostly all in agreement: life with Russia is better than life with Ukraine.”

While Trotsky may have disparaged the use of anecdotes in his History, Ridenour, who spent eight years living in Cuba (he famously burned his passport and renounced his US citizenship after the US launched the Gulf War against Iraq, throwing the ashes at the US Interest Section compound in Havana, eventually moving to Denmark where he now lives), provides many anecdotes, some critical, about his life in Castro’s Cuba. He also recounts his experience as a US Airman stationed in Japan, and about his experience as an activist in the US. These accounts enrich the book and allow the reader to understand where the author is coming from.

Example: In his chapter the US War on Vietnam, he describes how on May 1, 1975, he took out a promotional recording he had been given years earlier that had been intended to be performed at early anti-war marches and rallies. Called “War is Over,” he says he felt it was too optimistic for the times so for years he’d never played it. “After 15 years of anti-war activism, Vietnam won so now I could play it,” he writes, “and I did repeatedly, crying on and off for hours.” He writes in his book that even just reading those sentences back out loud as he writes them, “I break out in tears and heartache.”

That’s the Ron I remember from the days back in 1976 when he and several other Los Angeles journalists, myself included, founded a feisty if short-lived worker-owned-and-run alternative left news weekly, the Los Angeles Vanguard. A committed socialist revolutionary, Ron has always been radical journalist, an excellent writer and a passionate believer in the pure evil of war and in the need for a re-ordering of global society on the basis of real socialism, not capitalism or welfare-statism.

His book The Russian Peace Threat is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what is driving the insane US effort to gin up a new cold war with both Russia and China at a time when the real threat facing humanity is of either nuclear annihilation or the destruction of the very planetary ecosystem that allowed the human species to evolve and thrive. As Ridenour meticulously documents, mostly drawing on western news sources, from the end of World War II the US has been the driving force for increasing enmity between itself and first the Soviet Union and today Russia (and increasingly towards China too). It is also the US, not Russia, he writes, that has been responsible for tens of millions of mostly Third World deaths since the end of that last horrific global conflict.

On Which Side are You, Anyway?

Let’s be honest. The only reason anyone in the West, perhaps with the exception of Germans, is interested in the Ukraine is because since the current state was carved out of the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Poland following the Great War, it has been the focus of attacks on the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. The number of states or countries where political instability is aggravated by ethnic, religious or nationality conflicts is great. The number of places that draw attention or better said are targeted for mass media attention is far smaller. This is certainly not a question of just dessert.

It would do well to remember that the most notorious interest in the Ukraine as a territory was that of the German Empire under the rule of Adolf Hitler and National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP aka Nazis). Not only did the NSDAP recruit an enormous following during its reign, but the Ukraine also provided division strength Waffen SS units with which war against Jews, Communists, nationalists and the Soviet Union was waged. In fact, the British Empire adopted some 7,000 members of the Ukrainian 14th Volunteer Division SS Galizia who had surrendered in the wake of Soviet victory on 10 May 1945 and shipped them to Britain to become citizens and where they were to wait as silent reserves for the covert war to be fought subsequently against the Soviet Union. When people in Britain became aware of this fact the intervention of the US secret services prevented all but one or two of these war criminals from being indicted or tried as such. I say “war criminals” because one of the outcomes of the Nuremberg trials was to declare inter alia the NSDAP and the SS (Schutzstaffel) criminal organisations. Hence the Waffen SS, the paramilitary part of the SS attached to the German regular army (Wehrmacht), was prima facie a criminal organisation and not treated as a regular military branch of the German armed forces.1 This was so obvious that even the renowned German liberal author, Gunter Grass, felt compelled to conceal his youthful inspiration to join this outfit—not unlike many Americans who for generations have been impressed by the smart uniforms and elite reputation of the US Marine Corps.2

Leaving the individual guilt or innocence of those who spent their “national service” in this esteemed combat formation aside, there can be no doubt that much of the legacy of what we call war crimes, as opposed to simply being on the losing side, is based on the historically unique decisions taken by the International Tribunal constituted in London to dispense what US chief prosecutor Robert Jackson insisted ought not to go down in history as mere victors’ justice.3 So when a coup d’etat in Kiev led to the domination of the Ukraine government by members of parties whose acknowledged hero was the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, anyone who had the least recollection of Ukrainian Nazis was bound to be disturbed—assuming they were of the anti-Nazi or anti-fascist persuasion.4

At the same time given the historical record of Western support for Nazis, the pretence that this event was merely a result of conflicts over potential alliance between the Kiev government and the EU/NATO is absurd on its face. However, instead of this history and continuous policy of the forces that have driven NATO since its founding, the focus of attention to the Ukraine crisis has been the question of whether an independent Ukraine is entitled to combine with the European Union and its armed wing or compelled by history or nature to remain in what 19th century-style geo-politicians (across the entire political spectrum) would call the Russian sphere of influence.

The issues are even further clouded by the unstated but deeply held belief—here again across virtually the entire Western political spectrum—that to oppose Russia’s interest in the Ukraine is nothing less than defending freedom itself.

The principal domestic issues for the Ukraine—aside from the question of who controls the country and its resources—is not much different from those that plague all countries who were “freed” from the Soviet Union in 1989-90 after its political and economic collapse. These include the targeting of their cheap labour, their agricultural potential, and the overall capacity for super-exploitation by a European Union, especially Germany, in search of higher profit rates. The rapacious investment practices which have plundered the Baltic States, turned the state-owned—albeit bureaucratic fiefdoms—of the former Soviet Union, and more importantly the population of Europe east of the Oder-Neisse border into a freebooter’s paradise, have forced many of the people inhabiting the “East” into paupers beyond what they had experienced in the worst years of the war and the Soviet reconstruction period.5 This has led to massive emigration—where possible—and the creation of islands where those highly skilled professionals remaining provide services to Westerners for pennies.6

The obvious counter-argument to this indictment is that the Russian Federation offers no alternative whether because it is still saturated with the remains of the moribund Soviet system under Vladimir Putin or it is dominated by corrupt oligarchies who are ultimately to blame for this poverty.

There is no doubt that neither the Soviet Union nor its successor, the Russian Federation, can defend, either ideologically or practically, claims to being socialist, let alone communist. So to the extent one feels compelled to defend Russia and its policies in comparison to the system the EU/NATO propagates and defends, this defence must be based on real political conditions. Perhaps it is necessary to contemplate—for the sake of argument—some long forgotten Enlightenment philosophy. Let us suppose that the really great and the less great powers compete among each other to offer the best possible conditions of human existence. This competition would be free but amicable. The objective would be to solve all the problems an economy and a polity could face in a manner to produce human happiness. Just for the sake of argument we might take the utilitarian model of the greatest good for the greatest number and given that almost no one pretends to believe in communism this objective is possible under what is called “capitalism”—or to take the US euphemism, “free enterprise”. This is a very generous supposition indeed but let us take its advocates at their word.

The NATO founded in 1949 to defend the US regime’s claim to 60+% of the world’s resources is the American “happiness team”. It would like to win the Ukraine to its side because the team has the best solutions for the happiness of the world’s latent Americans, also those Ukrainians who are just waiting to become American, at least in principle. The cause of the Ukrainian crisis is therefore the Russian refusal to let all these Ukrainians manifest their innately American souls. The reader may laugh. However, he, she or they (assuming a gender role has yet to be fixed) will certainly believe that the Western team is ultimately the one to which everyone should belong, if only to avoid disputes between teams. The great inconvenience lies in the residual idea held by many people; e.g., Russians, Chinese or Koreans, that they are satisfied being Russian, Chinese or Korean. This is incomprehensible even to much of the Left in the West since most believe that with all its faults, the US has only been fighting wars for the past century to free a world crying to become American. Big countries with strange alphabets, heretical religions and histories longer than that of the USA insist on obstructing the march to the Promised Land or at least consumption of the fantasy that one has arrived there.

The basic conflict therefore is between those who believe that everyone—at least in Europe (and white)– ought to be American in spirit or through membership in the EU vicariously sweat through the nightmare on the Potomac. Now add to this the political-economic reality that the EU’s armed wing in its subordination to the US “happiness team” is anything but benignly competitive. Nor is it in the least interested in human happiness for Ukrainians or its own citizens. Together we have a fundamental environmental condition within which any sane discussion of the Ukraine since 1989 must be conducted. Anything else is simply ridiculous.

Chris Kaspar de Ploeg is a journalist, not a historian. That is not a disparagement. It simply means that Ukraine in the Crossfire is an account of current events by someone whose metier is the daily reporting of events, analysis and opinion, as it is presented in mass media. The challenge facing any serious journalist is to render quickly unfolding events intelligible to readers, viewers and listeners. A good journalist not only knows how to produce intelligible reporting but ought to be able to appraise the work of others doing the same job. That is what makes de Ploeg’s book interesting reading.

The mass media is, despite its open access, a very opaque institution. There are several reasons for this. One is that there is a fundamental conflict between the witness to events and the organisational structure through which such witness is transmitted. Major mass media in the West is historically private property. Prior to the great fascist era, roughly from the 1840s until the 1930s, there was an important segment of the mass media owned and operated by political movements; e.g., workers’ associations and parties. These were subjected to heavy censorship but were mainly financed by members of those movements and organisations. They competed with the commercially-owned media and the organs of the Church.

By the end of the 19th century such media was largely subdued in North America by a combination of repression and professionalization. Pulitzer, the US newspaper magnate, founded the first journalism school in the US and stimulated the idea that the only credible journalism was professional—people trained (and later hired by commercial ventures) to produce “objective” news free from any ostensible political interest. In Europe the State intervened to suppress partisan media. This led to the creation of the dubiously renowned BBC in the British Empire and with the rise of fascism on the Continent the violent persecution of competition with the corporate and State-owned media. The State-owned journalist was slowly endowed with a quasi-civil service status giving job security. Under regimes where the commercial media was viewed by the State as insufficiently reliable, it was subjected to all sorts of restrictions some of which were tantamount to censorship or prior restraint.

As a result the independent journalist has actually become quite rare. Either such journalists have developed celebrity status, which insulates them from much official control or they have learned to write in such ways that their product does not directly offend those in power. Throughout the some two hundred years of popular literacy upon which mass print journalism and journalists have been able to thrive there have always been propagandists. These writers or reporters have either officially or unofficially generated product for interest groups who preferred anonymity in order to benefit from the appearance of independence by the journalist. Journalists have worked as spies—and often been treated as such in the countries where they go to report. Journalists have also served as witting and unwitting conduits for official (State and commercial) propaganda. This was the significance of the notorious CIA Operation Mockingbird but also the testimony by CIA director William Colby in which he said the agency maintained close relationships with many in the major media.7

The best a reader and a good and truly independent journalist can do is read multiple outlets and sources, preferably in more than one language. Here it is worth noting that even a common reference source today—Wikipedia—has entries that vary in content from one language to the next on the same subject. This may be a luxury for the average person in search of reliable information but it is one of the tasks that a well-versed and honest journalist can do; namely, analysing the foreign language media when reporting to the target readership/audience.

De Ploeg shows that he understands this. Ukraine in the Crossfire does not rely solely upon the English language coverage. Judging by his references he has spent considerable time reading and analysing the Russian and Ukrainian media. Those who know either language will find reference to those sources, too. He also explicitly tackles the conflicting reports of the same events by partisan media, calling attention to discrepancies as well as convergences. Common sense—if that means anything—will tell the reader that where two violent opponents admit the same facts a higher degree of credibility ought to be attached when drawing conclusions. Nevertheless as in all current events in highly charged conflicts it is unlikely that anyone has the whole picture—even of his or her own side.

Ukraine in the Crossfire comprises twenty-one chapters, a glossary and an index. The chapters are roughly chronological reflecting the beginning of the crisis as it was reported and continuing through different stages and theatres of conflict. He starts with the perception, widely held and disputed, that the crisis arose from a breach of faith by the West (US/ NATO) when as a condition for the peaceful dissolution of the barriers that created the German Democratic Republic and the subsequent withdrawal of the Red Army from Germany, there would be no advances of NATO to the Soviet (now Russian) border. He then briefly explains the composition of the current Republic of the Ukraine and how the mixture of Russians and Ukrainians posed conflict potential within the Ukrainian polity.

Then he moves onto the domestic developments, the decline in the economy and the decision of Ukrainian governments to seek economic aid from the US-dominated Bretton Woods institutions (IMF/World Bank). The foreseeable result (austerity doctrine has been a cornerstone of IMF/World Bank policy since de-colonisation began) aggravated tensions between the ethnically Ukrainian part of the country which is one of Europe’s breadbaskets and the industrialised Russian part with its historical integration into the Soviet/Russian economy. Corruption is then a central theme. With not even the façade of an operating market economy the system of trade and industry was unable to serve the legitimate needs of the people already strained by drastically declining income and living standards.

It is at this point that the economic conflict becomes salient. Industry is concentrated in the Russophone Eastern Ukraine. Its production had been directed to supplying Russia. Western Ukraine exported foodstuffs; e.g., grain to the West. Cheap grain from the Ukraine has enabled more expensive agricultural production in the EU (especially Germany to shift to the non-food sector, like tax-subsidised maize for bio-fuel). Ukrainian manufactured goods were undesired competition in the EU. Hence the emerging policy from the new Kiev regime was to turn as much of the economy toward the West as possible, to the disadvantage of East Ukrainian factories. Moreover a long-standing policy to weaken Russia has been to deny it access to markets. By spoiling Ukrainian industry Russia would be deprived of another traditional trading partner.

The final third of De Ploeg’s book is devoted to the foreign policy objectives of the West (US/NATO) of which subordinating Russia remains a high priority. The Western policy toward Russia is largely governed by the Anglo-American imperial elite. The Russian Empire was almost entirely agricultural until the 1930s when the Soviet Union completed an industrialisation process in approximately 20 years equivalent to what Britain, Germany and the US had taken over a century to accomplish.8

Thus the Soviet Union had become a virtually autarchic economy by the time Germany invaded in 1940. Like industrialisation in the West, the process of restructuring a huge landmass where some 80% of the population were peasants into the second largest industrial economy in the world was accomplished at tremendous human cost—adding to that a civil war prolonged by Western intervention and a world war in which between 20-30 million of the country’s population were killed and its European half burned to the ground.9

The potential for a country like the Soviet Union—never mind its official ideology—to compete with Britain and the US in the world marketplace was the single greatest fear driving the elite in London, New York and Washington. Unlike the new nations emerging as a result of de-colonisation, the Soviet Union/Russia had all the raw materials they needed and the technical capability to develop on their own. Worse than that they could defend themselves from invasion or colonisation and they were able and within their material limits willing to help with arms and technical support precisely those countries the West hoped to dominate despite reluctant grants of independence. All this went under the euphemism “Cold War”—a term intended to deceive citizens in the West about the real nature of US foreign policy since 1945. The “Cold War” was announced to have ended in 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hence most of the debate about the NATO–Russia policy is couched in the new euphemism of “a new cold war”.10 De Ploeg did not invent this confusion but it is one serious problem that his book among many have when trying to explain Russia’s role in the world and the position of NATO—which by all rights should have been abolished in 1989 (if the stated policy of the US were the same as the unstated one).

There are two problems with De Ploeg’s book. One is the limit of the journalistic format in which it is written. The chapters contain a lot of useful information from a variety of sources and thus the book can be seen as a reference for further study. Yet the book lacks an overall framework in which the reader can interpret what De Ploeg has written. In his professional attempt to keep a kind of neutrality of interpretation he fails to offer sufficient structure for the reader to find either a chronology or lines of argument that tie the separate issues together from beginning to end. Thus one has the impression of reading the daily press clippings without any summary of the important facts as they acquire significance later in the period under examination. He attempts to overcome this by drawing on the theoretical approach of one Associate Professor Gordon M. Hahn.11 Hahn is cited four times in the index but it is not quite clear why De Ploeg considers him an authority. The analyses offered about Russia—at least the US sources, rely much on articles that appeared in the US weekly journal, The Nation, as such they often have the archaic sound of that establishment journal’s liberal “Sovietology”, contributing more heat than light when it comes to understanding the Russian Federation.12

One incident that has caused substantial controversy, even among those who are ostensibly sympathetic to Russia’s legitimate interests, is the Crimea. Many who are willing to accept Russia’s interest in protecting Ukrainians of Russian descent or origin stop abruptly when the referendum on the Black Sea peninsula is discussed. It is asserted that Russia had no right to “annex” the Crimea. Mr Putin challenged this interpretation rhetorically with considerable poignancy when he demanded to know why it was considered perfectly legitimate for Kosovo to declare its independence from Serbia and then affirm this with a referendum but NOT legitimate for the inhabitants of the Crimean peninsula to decide their territory should be governed as Russian13—as it had been before Nikita Khrushchev detached the peninsula and assigned it to Ukrainian rule in February 1954—without asking anyone.14 One might add that the US regime has always been a master of annexation. Russia is accused of using its military presence (the Black Sea naval station) to unduly influence the vote. Yet the fact was that the majority of those living in the Crimea are ethnic Russians.

If the US were to be taken seriously, then it would be time to re-examine its Mexican immigrant policy—not from the point of view of permissible migrant labour but from the illegal annexation of Texas by white settlers from the US and the Indian and Mexican wars fought to seize approximately 1/3 of Mexican territory and declare its inhabitants foreigners.15

The seizure of most of the US was accomplished by such settler-colonialism schemes (from whom white South Africans in the NP readily acknowledged their heritage). No Mexicans were allowed to vote to keep Texas in their country. Instead paramilitary brigands together with support from the US regime in Washington helped these invited settlers to overthrow their adopted government and steal nearly a third of the landmass of the continental US. Voting is considered by the UN to be adequate display of the citizens’ will, US opinion not withstanding. The referendum held in Crimea and the reintegration of the peninsula region into the Russian Federation has certainly more legitimacy on its face than the naked use of armed force characteristic of Western practice. The term “annexation” is another case of deliberately deceptive language. It is the same kind of deception that presented the US war against Korea as “an act of unprovoked aggression” when, in fact, Koreans north of the border drawn by the US regime had engaged in a struggle to remove that artificial border and reunite their country.16 Neither Koreans nor Russians were “annexing” themselves.

De Ploeg takes a clear position against the US intervention in the Ukraine. He also gives reasons for his position. However, he does not err on the other side by maintaining an uncritical view of Russia’s policies, to the extent they may benefit ordinary Ukrainians. It is fair to say that no understanding can be gained by a blanket apology for Russian policies. But then a book about the Ukraine should try to tell the reader as much about what happens in that country and not be an alibi for dissecting Putin. Ukraine in the Crossfire is an attempt to tell as much as can be learned from the Media in a comprehensive way for those who cannot read all the relevant sources (e.g. for language reasons). He attempts to assess the impact of the new POTUS on US policy toward Russia. For the first time since the frenzies of the 1950s, associated with US Senator Joseph McCarthy, it seems a tenant in the White House is being accused of working with (or for) the Russians or at least with them against the interests of the US regime. More concern has been raised about alleged election manipulation in 2016 than in either Bush election although no reasonable observer doubts that the little Bush—who had much better relations with Mr Putin if photographs say anything—manipulated election results in key southern states—maybe with Saudi help.

It is by no means clear that a change in the tenant of No. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will change US regime policy toward Russia, except in its manner of presentation to the public. The struggles within the regime’s corporate and government bureaucracies remain largely invisible to the ordinary citizen while the change of faces creates an illusion of change among people focused on celebrity and not political processes. The US “happiness team” with its armed forces swarming about the globe is on the one hand driven by the insatiability of US capitalism/white supremacy to the extent it is the nation’s business model. On the other hand as long as the affairs of other nations are evaluated primarily in terms of “where we go right or wrong” we will continue to miss the point; namely, the responsibility for the conduct of governments and the survival of the regimes of which they are a part belongs foremost to its own subjects/citizenry. All the handwringing about the Ukraine notwithstanding, the real problem for citizens of the EU and US is their inability to control their own ruling class. That inability is then exacerbated when the wars and political terror are allowed to expand beyond the recognised territorial boundaries of states. It is well and good to critique how Ukrainians with or without foreign allies or support operate their State and economy.

However, there is no evidence that anyone in the “West” has the track record of disciplining the ruling class, which might constitute added value in the Ukrainian struggles. It would help enormously if at least the ordinary citizens of the West would learn to apply their common sense respect for neighbours at home to those abroad—by minding their own business. There is no great “freedom machine” and the US/EU does not run a “happiness team”. If Ukraine were in the Congo basin, no one in the West other than military and primary resource bandits, would care who rules the country or by what means. Putting the Ukraine situation in perspective for the non-Ukrainian requires open discussion and knowledge of the facts: facts about the NATO, what it is and does; facts about the relationship between the European and Bretton Woods financial bureaucracy and how this corps of suited felons organises wealth extraction throughout the world; facts about the various forms of overt and covert violence organised to enforce the financial regime; e.g., covert action agencies, military missions and mercenary cut-outs.

Mr De Ploeg is not the only journalist trying to make sense out of the traces. The compilation of articles he offers is a reasonable attempt to manage a very difficult and sensitive subject. The reader is left to himself to frame the data presented. The missing structure is certainly based on the author’s wish to stay as objective as possible. As argued above this is a conceptual weakness of all modern journalism. To that extent it would be unfair to fault him for it in particular.

Any sequence of events reported involves a construction by the reporter. The reporter helps the reader by explaining why an event is presented in a certain sequence. This is essential to good reporting and good history because our purported knowledge base is already thoroughly corrupted. The dictum “he who controls the past, controls the future” has been enhanced by the corollary, “there is neither a past nor a future” but like the never-aging faces in TV and film—we live in an eternal present, punctuated by orgasms and remote-control assassinations.

  1. An exception to the classification of members of the Nazi apparatus as “criminal” was made for those persons conscripted into the Waffen SS.

    This finding by the International Military Tribunal arises in part from the doctrine of “criminal conspiracy” in Anglo-American jurisprudence, whereby planning and attempting a crime is deemed punishable and that the offense extends to the corporate forms such planning and attempts may take. Since the planning as well as the prosecution of the invasions commencing WWII were held to be criminal, those entities directly involved—essentially the NSDAP regime—were deemed, per se, criminal organisations. (A British documentary film covers the action to move the members of SS Galizia to Britain.) Thus the SS formations in the Ukraine constituted criminal organisations too. The doctrine of “conspiracy” constitutes an extremely controversial aspect of criminal law since it contradicts the principle that a person may only be punished for a crime actually committed. Nonetheless, conspiracy remains an important weapon of the State. The US regime applies its so-called RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act 18 USC §§ 1961-1968) both for ostensible crime control as well as for political repression.

  2. Günter Grass (1927–2015) reveals “Ich war Mitglied der Waffen-SS”, Interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany, (August 11, 2006). Grass confessed that he had lied about his wartime history. But explained that what drew him to National Socialism was its “anti-bourgeois attitude”.
  3. Judge Robert H. Jackson, US Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, opening remarks to the IMT proceedings: “That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to reason… We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.” See also the website of The Jackson Center.
  4. Stepan Andriyovych Bandera (1909-1959). Although there is no doubt that Bandera collaborated with the Nazis, this collaboration is often depicted as patriotic and justifiable since it was anti-Soviet nationalism. After the war Bandera worked with the successor organisation to Nazi foreign intelligence service, the Gehlen Organisation (today the BND), restored by the US CIA. He was assassinated in Munich in 1959.
  5. The so-called Oder – Neisse border is the border between the Federal Republic of Germany and Poland. It was agreed between Poland and the government that became the GDR as the final demarcation between the two countries. For decades the FRG refused to recognise this agreement, maintaining claims to territory in Poland that had been part of Prussia and the German Empire. Recognition of the Oder – Neisse border was tacitly given under FRG chancellor Willy Brandt but only became official with the dissolution of the GDR its absorption into the FRG, also known as reunification.
  6. See the extensive work by economist Michael Hudson on this topic, especially with regard to the Baltics.
  7. References to Operation Mockingbird inevitably imply that since it has been exposed it is no longer a program of other government agencies (e.g. CIA). The concept is analogous to money laundering. Propaganda is released to foreign media for dissemination. These reports are then recycled to the target country as “foreign news”—concealing both the original sources and avoiding suspicions that they constitute official lying or manipulation. In the German Wiki article about Mockingbird it is attributed to the US State Department, but under Frank Wisner (head of the Office of Policy Coordination, not explicitly named in the entry), whose department was, in fact, a part of the CIA. The English Wiki article refers to “allegedly a large-scale program of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that began in the early 1950s…”
  8. In fact, the Soviet Union effectively completed two massive industrialisation processes between 1917 and Stalin’s death. The second was occasioned by the West’s war led by Germany, which destroyed most of the infrastructure built in the European part of Russia. A massive relocation of industrial plant to the country’s Asian interior enabled it to continue to produce up to 80% of its war materiel until Germany’s defeat. After the war, deprived of reparations pledged at Yalta, the Soviet Union rebuilt its entire economy. Together the Soviet Union and China suffered more death and destruction than all the other belligerents in between 1939–1945. It is impossible for anyone to say how the Soviet Union would have developed without 70 years of Western aggression, even allowing for the enormous Tsarist legacy with which the country was burdened. The Ukraine was swept up in these processes. Any attempt to treat Ukraine – Soviet relations as if they were conditioned solely by the cultural, religious or political conflicts of the Russian Empire or “Soviet imperialism” is at best an oversimplification.
  9. For a sober history and analysis of the Soviet system, especially its political-economy from the time of the October Revolution 1917, see Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century (2005) and The Making of the Soviet System (1985). V. I. Lenin’s Left-wing Communism—An Infantile Disorder shows just how much Lewin’s history reflects the rational perceptions and critique of those who founded the Soviet Union. One of the principal obstacles to intelligent debate about events in the former COMECON countries is the appalling and wilful ignorance of USSR history in the West.
  10. See “Is a New “Cold War” Coming? You can’t be serious”, Dissident Voice (19 May 2014).
  11. A CV attributed to Gordon M. Hahn identifies him as senior researcher, Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program, and Visiting Assistant Professor, Graduate School of International Policy Studies, Monterey Institute for International Studies. Among his previous appointments were as non-resident academic fellow of the Open Society Institute from 2005–2006 in Russia and numerous visiting scholar and fellowships at the Hoover Institute.
  12. Stephen F. Cohen (1938- ) professor emeritus in politics and Russian studies, advisor to other government agencies in the US and spouse of The Nation publisher and OSS diaper baby Katrina vanden Heuvel, during the so-called Cold War Cohen published a regular column in that journal called Sovietology.
  13. Putin: Crimea similar to Kosovo, West is rewriting its own rule book, RT, (18 March 2014). “Our Western partners created the Kosovo precedent with their own hands. In a situation absolutely the same as the one in Crimea, they recognised Kosovo’s secession from Serbia as legitimate while arguing that no permission from a country’s central authority for a unilateral declaration of independence was necessary.” Putin added that the UN International Court of Justice agreed: “That’s what they wrote, that’s what they trumpeted all over the world, coerced everyone into it—and now they are complaining. Why is that?”
  14. Various reasons are given for this low key decision by the Presidium: one was that Khrushchev was pursuing a policy of slow decentralisation and considered Crimea to be part of the Ukraine geographically.

    Another argument was the underlying status of disputes within the USSR as a result of the deportation of the Crimean Tartars in the wake of WWII. Nazi occupation reached to the gates of Sevastopol. Stalin took a very dim view of any group that was not unambiguously loyal to the Soviet Union and the implication that Tartar units had collaborated with the Nazi occupation just as Ukrainians did was a plausible motivation—if not a justification for such a policy. As a result, however, the region became dominated by ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

  15. In 1845 the Republic of Texas was annexed by the US. Previously the Mexican government had invited people to immigrate and settle in the sparsely populated country. The white settlers from the US declared their independence in 1836, independence (and secret annexation) the Mexican government refused to recognise until the US declared war in 1846 and imposed the Treaty of Guadalupe–Hidalgo in 1848.
  16. For a brief comment on this point see the author’s review of I F Stone’s The Hidden History of the Korean War. For more detailed information see The Origins of the Korean War, 2 Vols. by Bruce Cumings.

Observations and Impressions from Russia

Introduction

For over two weeks this May, a delegation of 30 Americans visited seven regions and ten cities across Russia.  Organized by Sharon Tennison of Center for Citizen Initiatives, the entire group began in Moscow with several days of meetings and visits, then broke into smaller groups going to cities including Volgograd, Kazan (Tatarstan), Krasnodar (near Black Sea), Novosibirsk (Siberia), Yekaterinburg and the Crimean cities Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol.  After these regional visits, delegates regrouped in St Petersburg to share their experiences. Following is an informal review with conclusions based on my observations in Kazan and what I heard from others.

Observations and Facts

* Western sanctions have hurt sectors of Russia’s economy but encouraged agricultural production. 

Exports and imports have been impacted by Western sanctions imposed in 2014. The tourist sector has been hard hit and education exchanges between Russia and the USA have been interrupted or ended. However, the sanctions have spurred investments and expansion in agricultural production. We were told that farmers are saying ‘Don’t lift the sanctions!”

* Some Russian oligarchs are making major infrastructure investments.

For example, billionaire Sergei Galitsky has developed Russia’s largest retail outlet, the Magnit supermarket chain. Galitsky has invested heavily in state-of-the-art drip irrigation green houses producing massive quantities of high quality cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables which are distributed via the supermarkets throughout Russia.

* There has been a resurgence of religion in Russia.

Russian Orthodox Churches have been revitalized and gold leaf glistens on the church domes. Muslim mosques have also been refurbished and rebuilt. A brilliant new mosque is a prominent part of the Kremlin in Kazan, Tatarstan. There are many Muslim in Russia. This research puts the number at ten million though we heard estimates much higher. We saw numerous examples of interfaith unity and cooperation, with Muslim Imams working side by side with young Russian Orthodox priests. We also heard stories of how churches had been used as prisons or food warehouses during the Stalin era.

* Russia increasingly looks east.

The Russian emblem of a double-headed eagle looks both east and west; it is a Eur-Asian country. While Europe is still important politically and economically, Russia is increasingly looking to the east. Russia’s “strategic partner” is China – economically, politically and militarily. There are increasing numbers of Chinese tourists and education exchanges with Russia. In the United Nations Security Council the two countries tend to vote together. Huge investments are planned for the transportation network dubbed the “Belt and Road Initiative” connecting Asia with Europe.

* Russia is a capitalist country with a strong state sector.

Government is influential or controls sectors of the economy such as public transportation, military/defense industry, resource extraction, education and health care.  State owned enterprises account for nearly 40% of overall employment. They have universal health care in parallel with private education and health care facilities. Banking is a problem area with high interest rates and the failure/bankruptcy of numerous banks in the past decade. We heard complaints that foreign multinational companies can enter and control sectors of the economy, drive out Russian competitors and take the profits home.

* There is some nostalgia for the former Soviet Union with its communist ideals.

We met numerous people who speak fondly of the days when nobody was super-rich or horribly poor and when they believed there was a higher goal for society. We heard this from people ranging from a successful entrepreneur to an aging Soviet era rock musician.  That does not mean that these people want to return to Soviet days, but that they recognize the changes in Russia have both pluses and negatives. There is widespread disapproval of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the economic chaos of the 1990’s.

* There is a range of media supporting both government and opposition parties.

There are three major TV stations controlled by and supporting the government. Along with these, there are numerous private stations criticizing the government and supporting various opposition parties. In print media, the majority of newspapers and magazines are critical of the government.

* Public transportation is impressive.

The streets of Moscow are jam packed with new cars. Meanwhile, underground there is a fast, economical and efficient subway system which is the most heavily used in Europe. The Moscow metro carries 40% more passengers than the New York subway system. On major routes the trains arrive every 60 seconds. Some of the stations are over 240 feet underground with the longest escalator in Europe. Inter-city trains such as the Sapsan (Falcon) take passengers between St. Petersburg and Moscow at 200 kms per hour. Despite the speed, the train is smooth and quiet. It’s an interesting way to view rural Russia as one passes ramshackle dachas, cute villages and abandoned Soviet era factories. A major new transportation project is the bridge between Krasnodar and the Crimean peninsula. This short video portrays the design.

* Putin is popular.

Depending on who you ask, Putin’s popularity seems to range between 60 and 80%. There are two reasons: First, since he became leader the economy has stabilized, corrupt oligarchs were brought into check, and the standard of living dramatically improved. Second, Putin is credited with restoring international respect for Russia and national pride for Russian citizens. Some say “During the 1990’s we were a beggar nation.” Russians have a strong sense of national pride and Putin’s administration has restored that. Some people think Putin deserves a break from the intense pressure and workload. That does not mean everyone likes him or is afraid to say that. Our official Moscow guide took delight in showing us the exact spot on the bridge outside the Kremlin where she believes Putin had one of his enemies assassinated. Other Russians we spoke with mock these accusations which are widely believed in the West. As to the accusations that Putin is a “dictator”, about 75 students in Crimea openly laughed when they were asked about this Western belief.

Current Political Tension

* Russians are highly skeptical of accusations about Russian “meddling” in the U.S. election.

One foreign policy expert, Vladimir Kozin, said “It’s a fairy tale that Russia influenced the U.S. election.” They contrast the unverified accusations with clear evidence of U.S. interference in past Russian elections, especially in the 1990’s when the economy was privatized and crime, unemployment and chaos overwhelmed the country. The role of the U.S. in “managing” the election of Boris Yeltsin in 1995 is widely known in Russia, as is the U.S. funding of hundreds of Non Governmental Organizations in Ukraine prior to the 2013-2014 violence and coup.

* There is a strong desire to improve relations with the U.S.

We met numerous Russians who had participated in citizen exchanges with the U.S. in the 1990’s. Almost universally these Russians had fond memories of their visits and hosts in the U.S. In other places we met people who had never met an American or English speaking person before. Typically they were cautious but very pleased to hear from American citizens who also wish to improve relations and reduce tensions.

* Western media reports about Crimea are hugely distorted. 

CCI delegates who visited Crimea met with a broad range of citizens and elected leaders. The geography is “stunningly beautiful” with mountains dropping to beaches on the Black Sea. Not reported in the West, Crimea was part of Russia since 1783. When Crimea was administratively transferred to Ukraine in 1954, it was all part of the Soviet Union. Crimeans told the CCI delegates they were repelled by the violence and fascist elements involved in the Kiev coup. Bus convoys from Crimea were attacked with injuries and deaths following the Kiev coup. The new coup government said Russian was no longer an official language. Crimeans quickly organized and held a referendum to secede from Ukraine and “re-unify” with Russia. With 80% of registered voters participating, 96% voted to join Russia. One Crimean stated to the CCI delegates, “We would have gone to war to separate from Ukraine.” Others noted the hypocrisy of the West which allows secession votes in Scotland and Catalonia, and which encouraged the secession of Croatia, but then rejects the overwhelming vote and choice of the Crimean people. Sanctions against tourism are hurting the economy of Crimea yet the public is confident in its decision. The Americans who visited Crimea were overwhelmed with the warm welcome and friendliness they received.  Because of the sanctions, few Americans visit Crimea and they also received substantial media coverage. In reaction, political officials in Ukraine accused the delegates of being “enemies of the Ukrainian state” and put their names on a blacklist.

* Russians know and fear war.

Twenty-seven million Russians died in WW2 and that experience is seared into the Russian memory. The Nazi siege of Leningrad (now called St Petersburg) reduced the population from 3 million to 500 thousand. Walking through the cemetery of mass graves brings home the depth of suffering and resilience of Russians who somehow survived a 872 day siege on the city. Memory of the war is kept alive through commemorations with huge public participation. Citizens carry poster size photographs of their relatives who fought or died in World War 2, known as the “Immortal Regiment“. In Kazan, the march involved 120 thousand persons – 10% of the entire city population – beginning at 10 am and concluding at 9 pm. Across Russia, millions of citizens actively participate. The marches and parades marking “Victory Day” are more solemn than celebratory.

* Russians see themselves being threatened.

While Western media portrays Russia as “aggressive”, most Russians perceive the reverse. They see the U.S. and NATO increasing military budgets, steadily expanding, moving up to the Russian border, withdrawing from or violating past treaties and conducting provocative military exercises. This map shows the situation.

* Russians want to de-escalate international tensions.

Former President Gorbachev said to our group “Does America want Russia to just submit? This is a country that can never submit.” These words carry extra significance because it was Gorbachev who initiated the foreign policy of Perestroika which led to his own side-lining and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev has written about Perestroika as follows: “Its main outcome was the end of the Cold War. A long and potentially deadly period in world history, when the whole humankind lived under the constant threat of a nuclear disaster, came to an end.” Yet we are clearly in a new Cold War and the threat has re-emerged.

Conclusion

Despite three years of economic sanctions, low oil prices and an intense information war in the West, Russian society appears to be doing reasonably well. Russians across the spectrum express a strong desire to build friendship and partnership with the U.S. At the same time, it seems Russians will not be intimidated. They don’t want war and won’t initiate it, but if attacked they will defend themselves as they have in the past.