25 April 2022
While the brutal tactics of the Russians in Ukraine make horrendous continuing news, significant aspects of the origins of Russia’s Ukraine invasion have been ignored by Western media. This does not justify the invasion, but one might wonder if the Donbas region in the East could ever have been retained within Ukraine.
It is well known that there is a gradation across the Ukraine from West to East, those in the West favouring Europe about 90%, but those in the East, the Donsek region, has almost 90% keen to merge with Russia. There was a strong separatist movement in these provinces, with ongoing fighting. The Ukrainian army was not keen to fight other Ukrainians and it was said that neo-Nazi groups were involved in fighting the separatists using very Fascist tactics.
Historically there had been some strong right wing groups in the Ukraine, and it might be noted that when Germany invaded, troops from Ukraine were recruited and fought with them against the Russians. At the end of the war, naturally these groups were not seen, but it has been said that the CIA was in touch with them, and that they facilitated the successful storming of the Ukrainian Parliament in the coup in 2014, which led to the Donbas region in the east attempting to secede from Ukraine and Russia seizing Crimea. It might be noted that Crimea was given to Ukraine by Russia in 1954 when they were both part of the USSR. The transfer was facilitated by Nikita Khrushchev who needed the Ukrainian votes to further his own career, and made little difference while Ukraine was in the USSR.
Fighting continued in the Donbas region which includes the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. The fighting led to the Minsk Agreement in September 2014, but the agreement failed leading to Minsk II in February 2015. Luhansk and Donetsk were supposed to become autonomous regions, but it has never happened. Fighting has continued, so Russia’s claim that they are fighting Nazis is not as absurd as it has been painted, at least in those regions.
When the USSR was collapsing the US Secretary of State James Baker promised Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990 that NATO would not recruit countries to the East. However, those countries were fearful of a Russian resurgence and wanted to join NATO. The USSR collapsed in 1991. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in 1999 and Russia objected. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004. Note the marked move of NATO to the East. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. The Balkan countries presumably joined as protection against Serbia, which started the wars as Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991-1999. Serbia was a strong Russian ally.
Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia wanted a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO, but Ukraine along with Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have expressed membership aspirations. No one was willing to give a guarantee the Ukraine would not join NATO even as the Russian troops massed for the invasion, though some hoped that Putin was bluffing.
Russia is now the 11th biggest economy in the world, ahead of Spain and Australia at 12th and 13th, so economically it is only a middle power, but having been a superpower with an empire recently, it has weapons far in excess of other middle powers and as it pursues a commodities-led recovery it hankers for its old Empire.
The German Social Democrats, the coalition partners of Angela Merkel, assumed that if Russia were integrated into the European economy by Germany buying their gas there would be no wars. This has been a major miscalculation. Germany was dependent on Russia for 55% of their gas, this having gone up when then they closed their nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster. They still get 39% of their gas from Russia and are reluctant to turn it off as it would cause a major recession there. This is very controversial in Germany at present. Someone calculated that German purchase of Russian gas can pay for a tank every 20 seconds.
Here is an article by Gregory Clark, who spent 10 years with the Australian Dept. of External Affairs (which was the Foreign Relations Dept.) and resigned in 1965 in protest at Australia going into Vietnam. He went to Tokyo and was the lead correspondent for The Australian in Japan 1969-74 and a Japanese academic. He came back as an advisor to Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1974-76 (the Whitlam era), and returned to Japan after that.