THE ABSURD TIMES — STILL

The Absurd Times Isis and NATO: Really stupid activity

Posted in Uncategorized by @honestcharlie on September 5, 2014

THE ABSURD TIMES

Illustration: Saladin

Ok, now things are getting too weird. Looking for a way to defeat the Caliphate by air? Do what Biden says: Follow them to the gates of hell where they will have to watch a Joan Rivers Marathon eternally. Or everyone could apply for a job with Al Baghdadi, Calif, IS, (sorry, zip code unknown)

Everyone seems to think they have a perverted interpretation of Islam. Actually, they have a hero in Saladin, not Mohammed, and they have him wrong too.

Yet, who was Saladin? His history has been ignored in the West. In fact, I did not even know of him until my senior year when I took a course in Spenser. He wrote the third longest poem in the English language, and it was only 25% completed. It was published in 1595. The poem itself has this reputation: “Only 5 people have read it from cover to cover and three of them are still asleep.” Keats thought it was great. No, I’m not going into telling you who Keats was.

Saladin was the great warrior in the mid to late medieval period (ca. 1187, esp. or so) who rid the Mideast from the pillagers known as the “crusaders”. The Crusades were just another series of invasions and rapine disguised as “Holy Wars”. It is a hallmark of monotheism that war is carried out in “God’s” name. The ancient Greeks had a lot of wars and a lot of gods, but they just called upon their god’s for assistance from time to time, much to their regret. In fact, I believe it was Homer who said “When the Gods wish to laugh at us, they grant our wishes.” Anyway, Saladin put an end to the crusades or at least started the liberation of Palestine. Today, Palestinians are basically secular. Leave it to George Bush to resurrect the term “Crusades”, much to our regret.

Putin also comes into this. The Caliphate threatened him because he supports Assad. Now, they have made a big mistake. Remember the pirates off of Somalia? They were getting one ship after antoher until they captured a Russian one. That was it. They never even looked at another Russian ship because of the response.

Also, if this group is such a threat, why not join Assad and Iran, its natural enemies, and work together? Another example of stupidity.

The next issue is Ukraine. The two interviews sum up the situation very well, so there is no point in further elaborating. You might also want to consult the article in the Nation. The point about Neo-McCarthyism is well-taken.

Well, here are two interiews on Russia, one with Stephen Cohen and the other with a former Ambassador to Russia.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2014

Ukraine Ceasefire Takes Hold, but an Expanding NATO on Russia’s Borders Raises Threat of Nuclear War

The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels are reportedly set to sign a ceasefire today aimed at ending over six months of fighting that has killed at least 2,600 people and displaced over a million. The deal is expected this morning in the Belarusian capital of Minsk as President Obama and European leaders meet in Wales for a major NATO summit. The ceasefire comes at a time when the Ukrainian military has suffered a number of defeats at the hands of the Russian-backed rebels. In the hours leading up to the reported ceasefire, pro-Russian rebels launched another offensive to take the port city of Mariupol, which stands about halfway between Russia and the Crimea region. The Ukrainian government and NATO have accused Russia of sending forces into Ukraine, a claim Moscow denies. The new developments in Ukraine come as NATO has announced plans to create a new rapid reaction force in response to the Ukraine crisis. We are joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, and the author of numerous books on Russia and the Soviet Union.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMYGOODMAN: Well, now to international news.

JUANGONZÁLEZ: Well, the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels are reportedly set to sign a ceasefire today aimed at ending over six months of fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed at least 2,600 people and displaced over one million. The deal is expected to be signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk as President Obama and European leaders meet in Wales for a major NATO summit. The ceasefire comes at a time when the Ukrainian military has suffered a number of defeats at the hands of the Russian-backed rebels.

A new dispatch from The New York Review of Books reveals the remnants of at least 68 Ukrainian military vehicles, tanks, armored personnel carriers, pickups, buses and trucks are littered along one 16-mile stretch in eastern Ukraine where the rebels launched an offensive last week. The reporter, Tim Judah, writes, quote, “The scale of the devastation suffered by Ukrainian forces in southeastern Ukraine over the last week has to be seen to be believed. It amounts to a catastrophic defeat and will long be remembered by embittered Ukrainians as among the darkest days of their history.”

In the hours leading up to the ceasefire, pro-Russian rebels launched another offensive to take the port city of Mariupol, which stands about halfway between Russia and the Crimea region. The Ukrainian government and NATO have accused Russia of sending forces into Ukraine, a claim that Moscow continues to deny.

AMYGOODMAN: Meanwhile in Wales, NATO has announced plans to create a new rapid reaction force in response to the Ukraine crisis. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the new force could be deployed anywhere in the world in two to five days.

PRIMEMINISTERDAVIDCAMERON: So we must be able to act more swiftly. In 2002, NATO stood down its high-readiness force. I hope that today we can agree a multinational spearhead force, deployable anywhere in the world in just two to five days. This would be part of a reformed NATO response force, with headquarters in Poland, forward units in the eastern allies, and pre-positioned equipment and infrastructure to allow more exercises and, if necessary, rapid reinforcement. If we can agree this, the United Kingdom will contribute 3,500 personnel to this multinational force.

AMYGOODMAN: In another development, the Pentagon has announced 200 U.S. troops will be sent to Ukraine later this month for a multinational military exercise dubbed Rapid Trident. Another 280 U.S. troops will work with Ukrainian forces next week for a military exercise aboard the USSRoss in the Black Sea.

To talk more about the crisis in Ukraine and the NATO summit, we’re joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, also the author of a number of books on Russia and the Soviet Union. His latest piece in The Nation is headlined “Patriotic Heresy vs. the New Cold War: Neo-McCarthyites Have Stifled Democratic Debate on Russia and Ukraine.”

So, welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Cohen. Talk about the latest developments, both the decisions out of NATO and what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine.

STEPHENCOHEN: One latest development is related to what Juan just said about New York kids. There are about a million refugees from eastern Ukraine, most of them having fled to Russia, a lot of kids. Traditionally in Ukraine and Russia, the first day of school is September 1. There are about 50,000 to 70,000 kids who needed to have started school. The Russians have made every effort to get them in school, but there are a lot of little Ukrainian kids who won’t be going to school this September yet, because they’re living in refugee camps. And that’s the story, of course.

This is a horrific, tragic, completely unnecessary war in eastern Ukraine. In my own judgment, we have contributed mightily to this tragedy. I would say that historians one day will look back and say that America has blood on its hands. Three thousand people have died, most of them civilians who couldn’t move quickly. That’s women with small children, older women. A million refugees. Talk of a ceasefire that might go into place today, which would be wonderful, because nobody else should die for absolutely no reason.

But what’s driving the new developments, and partially the NATO meeting in Wales, but this stunning development, that Juan mentioned, reported in The New York Review of Books, though a handful of us in this country have been trying to get it into the media for nearly two weeks, is that it appeared that the Ukrainian army would conquer eastern Ukraine. But what they were doing is sitting outside the cities, bombarding these cities with aircraft, rockets, heavy artillery. That’s what caused the 3,000 deaths and the refugees. They’ve seriously damaged the entire infrastructure, industrial infrastructure, of Ukraine, which is in these eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, the so-called Donbas region.

It turned out, though, that the Ukrainian army didn’t want to enter these cities, where the rebels were embedded, ensconced. It’s their homes; these fighters are mainly from these cities. And while this killing was going on, the rebels were regrouping. Now, there’s an argument: How much help did they get from Russia? Some people are saying Russia invaded. Others say, no, Russia just gave them some technical and organizational support. But whatever happened in the last 10 days, there’s been one of the most remarkable military turnarounds we’ve witnessed in many years, and the Ukrainian army is not only being defeated, but it’s on the run. It’s fleeing. It wants no more of this. It’s leaving its heavy equipment behind. It’s really in full-scale retreat, except in one place, the city Juan mentioned, Mariupol, where there’s a fight going on as we talk now. The rebels have the city encircled. Whether that fighting will stop if the ceasefire is announced in the next couple hours, we don’t know. It’s a very important city. But everything has now changed. If there’s negotiation, the government of Ukraine, Poroshenko, the president, our President Obama and NATOthought that when negotiations began, the West would dictate the terms to Putin because they won the war in Ukraine. Now it’s the reverse.

JUANGONZÁLEZ: Now, what about this whole issue of United States forces now actually being introduced, the exercises in Ukraine? To what degree do you see the Obama administration being drawn more and more into the conflict?

STEPHENCOHEN: Well, we have to ask ourselves, because we don’t fully know, because Obama is a kind of aloof figure who disappears in moments like this, then reappears and says kind of ignomatic things. But are we being drawn into it, or are we driving these events? It has been true, ever since NATO was created, that the United States controlled NATO. Now, it is also true now that there—that NATO is deeply divided on the Ukrainian issue. There’s a war party. And the war party is led by Poland, the three Baltic states, to a certain extent Romania but not so much, and Britain. Then there’s a party that wants to accommodate Russia, that thinks that this is not entirely Russia’s fault. And moreover, these people—the Germans, the French, the Spanish, the Italians—depend on Russia, in many ways, for their economic prosperity. They want to negotiate, not punish Russia. Where is Obama in this? It would appear nowhere, except occasionally he comes in, as he did in Estonia—was it yesterday or the day before?—and seem to give a speech that favors the war party.

AMYGOODMAN: Let’s go to the comments of President Obama when he was in the former Soviet republic of Estonia blaming Russia for the fighting and vowing to defend the Baltic states.

PRESIDENTBARACKOBAMA: It was not the government of Kiev that destabilized eastern Ukraine. It’s been the pro-Russian separatists, who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia and armed by Russia. And the Russian forces that have now moved into Ukraine are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission. They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks.

AMYGOODMAN: That’s President Obama. Professor Stephen Cohen?

STEPHENCOHEN: Yeah, it is. It certainly is President Obama. Look, here’s the underlying problem. What Obama just said implies, if not asserts, that if it wasn’t for Russia, Ukraine would be stable, that Russia has destabilized Ukraine. No serious person would believe that to be the case. Ukraine is in the throes of a civil war, which was precipitated by the political crisis that occurred in Ukraine last November and then this February, when the elected president of Ukraine was overthrown by a street mob, and that set off a civil war, primarily between the west, including Kiev, and the east, but not only. There’s a central Ukraine that’s here and there. This civil war then became, as I said it would or might when we first started talking earlier this year, a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

Now, it’s absolutely true that Russia has made the destabilization of Ukraine worse. It’s also absolutely true that the United States has contributed to the destabilization of Ukraine. But if tomorrow the United States would go away and Russia would go away, Ukraine would still be in a civil war. And we know what civil wars are. We had one in our country. Russia had one. There were many civil wars around the world in the 20th century and elsewhere today. The point is, the only way you can end a civil war, either the one side completely conquers and the other side gives up, as happened with the Confederacy in the United States, or there’s a stalemate or somebody says, “Enough killing, because these are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, they’re part of the same family,” and you negotiate.

So we will see later today, perhaps, or tomorrow whether this ceasefire comes and if it holds. Now, negotiating a civil war is terribly complex. In some ways, we’re still arguing about the American Civil War. I grew up in Kentucky, segregated Kentucky, and in my childhood, people were still claiming we, the South, won. So, this isn’t going to end if the United States and Russia goes way. But both sides have the capacity to get these negotiations going. But when Obama says that Russia destabilized Ukraine, it’s a half-truth.

JUANGONZÁLEZ: Well, Stephen Cohen, I wanted to ask you—you’ve come under some criticism by other Russia experts in the U.S. as being an apologist for the Russian intervention in Ukraine, I think in Forbes magazine. Op-ed piece there claimed that you were questioning whether Ukraine had the right to exercise control over its own territory, that it was plotting to seize its own territory. I’m wondering your response to that criticism.

STEPHENCOHEN: Yeah, I mean, many very harsh and unpleasant, probably libelous and slanderous things have been said about me, which suggests to me that they have no factual response to me. Rather than call me a toady and an apologist and a paid hiring of the Kremlin, I’d like to hear what factual mistakes I’ve made. And I haven’t seen any, because I’m a scholar and I try not to make factual mistakes.

It’s not about whether Ukraine has the right to take back its territory. The problem is, as I just said, that a civil war began when we, the United States, and Europe backed a street coup that overthrew an elected president. When you overthrow a constitution and when you overthrow a president, you’re likely to get a civil war. It usually happens. Now, when you have a civil war, the country is divided. And in this case, the government in Kiev is trying to conquer where the rebels, so to speak, are located. The problem is that the rebel provinces do not recognize the legitimacy of the government in Kiev. The United States recognizes the legitimacy, but that doesn’t make it legitimate.

Now, let’s go to what’s going on in Kiev now. I mean, Obama also said—and I kind of chuckled and cried—that we are helping Ukraine build a democracy. What kind of democracy is unfolding in Kiev? All right, they had a presidential election. About a fifth of the country couldn’t vote. Now, Poroshenko has called a parliamentary election in October, a month from now. But where the war is, in the south and the east, they won’t vote. So you’re going to end up with a rump country, further dividing the country. Meanwhile, they’re shutting down democracy in Kiev. Communist Party is being banned. Another party that represents the east is being banned. People are being arrested. There’s censorship kicking in. There’s no democracy in Kiev, because it’s a wartime government. You just don’t get democracy. So, these assertions by the United States that we’re democracy builders, we’re virtuous, and it’s all Putin’s fault, this is—it’s worse than a half-truth; it’s actually a falsehood.

AMYGOODMAN: The possibility of Ukraine in NATO and what that means and what—

STEPHENCOHEN: Nuclear war.

AMYGOODMAN: Explain.

STEPHENCOHEN: Next question. I mean, it’s clear. It’s clear. First of all, by NATO’s own rules, Ukraine cannot join NATO, a country that does not control its own territory. In this case, Kiev controls less and less by the day. It’s lost Crimea. It’s losing the Donbas—I just described why—to the war. A country that does not control its own territory cannot join Ukraine [sic]. Those are the rules.

AMYGOODMAN: Cannot join—

STEPHENCOHEN: I mean, NATO. Secondly, you have to meet certain economic, political and military criteria to join NATO. Ukraine meets none of them. Thirdly, and most importantly, Ukraine is linked to Russia not only in terms of being Russia’s essential security zone, but it’s linked conjugally, so to speak, intermarriage. There are millions, if not tens of millions, of Russian and Ukrainians married together. Put it inNATO, and you’re going to put a barricade through millions of families. Russia will react militarily.

In fact, Russia is already reacting militarily, because look what they’re doing in Wales today. They’re going to create a so-called rapid deployment force of 4,000 fighters. What is 4,000 fighters? Fifteen thousand or less rebels in Ukraine are crushing a 50,000-member Ukrainian army. Four thousand against a million-man Russian army, it’s nonsense. The real reason for creating the so-called rapid deployment force is they say it needs infrastructure. And the infrastructure—that is, in plain language is military bases—need to be on Russia’s borders. And they’ve said where they’re going to put them: in the Baltic republic, Poland and Romania.

Now, why is this important? Because NATO has expanded for 20 years, but it’s been primarily a political expansion, bringing these countries of eastern Europe into our sphere of political influence; now it’s becoming a military expansion. So, within a short period of time, we will have a new—well, we have a new Cold War, but here’s the difference. The last Cold War, the military confrontation was in Berlin, far from Russia. Now it will be, if they go ahead with this NATO decision, right plunk on Russia’s borders. Russia will then leave the historic nuclear agreement that Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987 to abolish short-range nuclear missiles. It was the first time nuclear—a category of nuclear weapons had ever been abolished. Where are, by the way, the nuclear abolitionists today? Where is the grassroots movement, you know, FREEZE, SANE? Where have these people gone to? Because we’re looking at a new nuclear arms race. Russia moves these intermediate missiles now to protect its own borders, as the West comes toward Russia. And the tripwire for using these weapons is enormous.

One other thing. Russia has about, I think, 10,000 tactical nuclear weapons, sometimes called battlefield nuclear weapons. You use these for short distances. They can be fired; you don’t need an airplane or a missile to fly them. They can be fired from artillery. But they’re nuclear. They’re radioactive. They’ve never been used. Russia has about 10,000. We have about 500. Russia’s military doctrine clearly says that if Russia is threatened by overwhelming conventional forces, we will use tactical nuclear weapons. So when Obama boasts, as he has on two occasions, that our conventional weapons are vastly superior to Russia, he’s feeding into this argument by the Russian hawks that we have to get our tactical nuclear weapons ready. So, bring NATO—I mean, bring Ukraine into NATO, and all this stuff will be up and ready. And then it will just take the shootdown of a Malaysian aircraft, about which everybody has forgotten. Still nobody knows who did it. There seems to have been an agreement among the major powers not to tell us who did it. Was suggested wasn’t the rebels, wasn’t Russia, after all. But it would take something like that, which can happen in these circumstances, to launch something that was unthinkable.

AMYGOODMAN: What do you mean there seems to be an agreement between the major countries?

STEPHENCOHEN: Well, in addition to the insurance company for the airplane, which technically has legal responsibility, the major countries that are doing it, Britain has the black boxes, the Netherlands are involved. There was a report the other day that these parties, these states, have agreed that they would not divulge individually what they have discovered. Now, they’ve had plenty of time to interpret the black boxes. There are reports from Germany that the White House version of what happened is not true, therefore you have to look elsewhere for the culprit who did the shooting down. They’re sitting on satellite intercepts. They have the images. They won’t release the air controller’s conversations in Kiev with the doomed aircraft. Why not? Did the pilot say—let me speculate—”Oh, my god, we’re being fired on by a jet fighter next to us! What’s going on?” Because we know there were two Ukrainian jet fighters. We don’t know, but somebody knows. You might ask—you might get somebody on who’s been investigating this to find out what they actually know.

AMYGOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much—

STEPHENCOHEN: That’s a digression. I apologize.

AMYGOODMAN: No, that was very interesting. Thank you very much, Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton, author of a number of books on Russia and the Soviet Union. His latestpiece in The Nation, we’ll link to, “Patriotic Heresy vs. the New Cold War: Neo-McCarthyites Have Stifled Democratic Debate on Russia and Ukraine.”

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2014

Fmr. U.S. Ambassador: To Resolve Ukraine Crisis, Address Internal Divisions & Russian Fears of NATO

Ukraine has retracted an earlier claim to have reached a ceasefire with Russia. The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko initially said he agreed with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on steps toward a ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. But the Kremlin then denied a ceasefire agreement, saying it is in no position to make a deal because it is not a party to the fighting. Ukraine has accused Russia of direct involvement in the violence amidst a recent escalation. The confusion comes as President Obama visits the former Soviet republic of Estonia ahead of a major NATO summit in Wales. On Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest outlined NATO’s plans to expand its presence in eastern Europe. Ukraine and NATO have accused Russia of sending armored columns of troops into Ukraine, but Russia has denied its troops are involved in fighting on the ground. We are joined by Jack Matlock, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMYGOODMAN: We turn now to the crisis in Ukraine, where more than 2,600 people have been killed since April. Earlier today, Ukraine said its president had agreed with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on steps towards a ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, but the Kremlin denied any actual truce deal had been formalized. Initially, the Ukrainian presidential website had claimed a permanent ceasefire had been reached, but then the statement was retracted.

The confusion comes as President Obama visits the former Soviet republic of Estonia ahead of a major NATO summit in Wales. On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest outlined NATO’s plans to expand its presence in eastern Europe.

PRESSSECRETARYJOSHEARNEST: The United States, in cooperation with our allies, plans to significantly increase the readiness of a NATO response force to ensure that the alliance is prepared to respond to threats in a timely fashion. This will involved training, exercises and discussions about what kinds of infrastructure will be required in the Baltics, in Poland, in Romania and other states on the eastern frontier to deal with the world in which they face new concerns about Russian intentions.

AMYGOODMAN: Ukraine and NATO have accused Russia of sending armored columns of troops into Ukraine, but Russia has denied its troops are involved in fighting on the ground. Over the past week, the Russian-backed rebels have made a number of advances in eastern Ukraine. On Monday, rebels took control of the airport in the city of Luhansk. Now they’re storming the airport in Donetsk, the biggest city under their control. On Tuesday, an Italian newspaper reported Putin had told outgoing European Commission President José Manuel Barroso that he could take Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, within two weeks, if he wanted to. The Kremlin said the remark was taken out of context.

Joining us now is Jack Matlock, served as U.S. ambassador to the former Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, author of several books, including Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray—And How to Return to Reality, as well as Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended.

Ambassador Matlock, we welcome you to Democracy Now! What do you think is most important to understand what’s happening in Ukraine today?

JACKMATLOCK: Well, I think one of the most important things to understand is that, practically speaking, the Ukrainians and the Russians have to agree on what would be an acceptable way to proceed within Ukraine. That is the fact of the matter. And one can, you know, talk all one wishes about how impermissible it is for Russia to intervene, but the fact is they are going to intervene until they are certain that there is no prospect of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO. And all of the threats by NATO and so on to sort of increase defenses elsewhere is simply provocative to the Russians. Now, I’m not saying that’s right, but I am saying that’s the way Russia is going to react. And frankly, this is all predictable. And those of us who helped negotiate the end of the Cold War almost unanimously said in the 1990s, “Do not expand NATO eastward. Find a different way to protect eastern Europe, a way that includes Russia. Otherwise, eventually there’s going to be a confrontation, because there is a red line, as far as any Russian government is concerned, when it comes to Ukraine and Georgia and other former republics of the Soviet Union.”

AMYGOODMAN: On Sunday—

JACKMATLOCK: I would say, with the exception of the three Baltic states. They were a special case.

AMYGOODMAN: On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for immediate negotiations on the statehood of southern and eastern Ukraine. On Monday, Putin blamed Kiev’s leadership for declining to participate in direct political talks with the separatists. This is what he said.

PRESIDENTVLADIMIRPUTIN: [translated] What is the essence of the tragedy that is happening in Ukraine right now? I think the main reason for that is that the current Kiev leadership does not want to carry out a substantive political dialogue with the east of its country. And so, right now, in my opinion, a very important process, a process of direct talks, starts. We have been working on it for a long time, and we agreed upon that with President Poroshenko in Minsk. We start to have—or renew, to be precise—this sort of contact.

AMYGOODMAN: Ambassador Matlock, the significance of what President Putin is saying?

JACKMATLOCK: Well, it does seem to me that, practically speaking, there needs to be an understanding between Russia and the Ukrainians as to how to solve this problem. It is not going to be solved militarily. So the idea that we should be giving more help to the Ukrainian government in a military sense simply exacerbates the problem. And the basic problem is Ukraine is a deeply divided country. And as long as one side tries to impose its will on the other—and that is what has happened since February, the Ukrainian nationalists in the west have been trying to impose their will on the east, and the Russians aren’t going to permit that. And that is the fact of the matter. So, yes, there simply needs to be an agreement.

And most of the—I would say, the influence of the West in trying to help the Ukrainians by, I would say, defending them against the Russians tends to be provocative, because—you know, Putin is right: If he decided, he could take Kiev. Russia is a nuclear power. And Russia feels that we have ignored that, that we have insulted them time and time again, and that we are out to turn Ukraine into an American puppet that surrounds them. And, you know, with that sort of psychology, by resisting that, in Russian eyes, he has gained unprecedented popularity. So, it seems to me that we have to understand that, like it or not, the Ukrainians are going to have to make an agreement that’s acceptable to them, if they keep their unity.

AMYGOODMAN: Speaking to reporters Thursday, President Obama said the U.S. will collaborate with its NATO allies in dealing with the Ukraine crisis, but he ruled out military action against Russia.

PRESIDENTBARACKOBAMA: We will continue to stand firm with our allies and partners that what is happening is wrong, that there is a solution that allows Ukraine and Russia to live peacefully. But it is not in the cards for us to see a military confrontation between Russia and the United States in this region. Keep in mind, however, that I’m about to go to a NATO conference. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but a number of those states that are close by are. And we take our Article 5 commitments to defend each other very seriously.

AMYGOODMAN: So, that’s President Obama. Ambassador Jack Matlock, you say, you know, Russia is very threatened by the possibility Ukraine would join NATO. Most people in the United States, I don’t think, understand the politics of NATO. It’s not on people’s radar. Why is NATO such a threat? And what was the agreement that was originally worked out around NATO, with Ukraine and also in the Baltics, in Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia—Estonia, where President Obama is right now?

JACKMATLOCK: Well, they are members of NATO. They will be defended. Russia is not threatening them militarily. Of course we will defend them, because they are members of NATO. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. And why we react as if it is and has any claim on our cooperation in defending them from Russia, this is simply not the case. These are different cases. And, you know, by saying we have to increase our military presence in the Baltic states, this just reinforced the Russian perception that they must, and at all costs, keep Ukraine from that happening, or else they’ll have American bases in Ukraine, they’ll have American naval bases on the Black Sea. This is the fear. And it seems to me that it is not necessary to protect the Baltics, which are not being threatened by Russia, and it is apt to make the Russians even more demanding toward the Ukrainians when it comes to Ukraine. However, you know, we’re on that course, clearly. The Estonians and others feel that they could be threatened. But I think there is no question that as members of NATO, they would be defended by the United States, and Russia is not going to present a military challenge to them. But they are going to do whatever they consider necessary to make sure this doesn’t happen in Ukraine.

AMYGOODMAN: What about NATO officials saying they plan to approve a NATOrapid reaction force that would, what, be a 4,000-member force that could be rapidly deployed to eastern Europe in response to what they called Russia’s aggressive behavior?

JACKMATLOCK: Well, I’m not aware of what that aggressive behavior in regard to the Baltic states is. And again, I think that’s unnecessary, and it tends to make the Russians even more demanding when it comes to Ukraine.

AMYGOODMAN: And talk about the original understanding of NATO and Russia. Go back a ways to understand what the deal was worked out between Russia andNATO allies.

JACKMATLOCK: Well, when the Berlin Wall came down, when eastern Europe began to try to free itself from the Communist rule, the first President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, met with Gorbachev in Malta, and they made a very important statement. One was we were no longer enemies. The second was the Soviet Union would not intervene in eastern Europe to keep Communist rule there. And in response, the United States would not take advantage of that.

Now, this was a—you might say, a gentlemen’s agreement between Gorbachev and President Bush. It was one which was echoed by the other Western leaders—the British prime minister, the German chancellor, the French president. As we negotiated German unity, there the question was: Could a united Germany stay inNATO? At first, Gorbachev said, “No, if they unite, they have to leave NATO.” And we said, “Look, let them unite. Let them stay in NATO. But we will not extend NATO to the territory of East Germany.” Well, it turned out that legally you couldn’t do it that way, so in the final agreement it was that all of Germany would stay in NATO, but that the territory of East Germany would be special, in that there would be no foreign troops—that is, no non-German troops—and no nuclear weapons. Now, later—at that time, the Warsaw Pact was still in place. We weren’t talking about eastern Europe. But the statements made were very general. At one point, Secretary Baker told Gorbachev NATO jurisdiction would not move one inch to the east. Well, he had the GDR in mind, but that’s not what he said specifically.

So, yes, if I had been asked when I was ambassador of the United States in Moscow in 1991, “Is there an understanding that NATO won’t move to the east?” I would have said, “Yes, there is.” However, it was not a legal commitment, and one could say that once the Soviet Union collapsed, any agreement then maybe didn’t hold, except that when you think about it, if there was no reason to expand NATO when the Soviet Union existed, there was even less reason when the Soviet Union collapsed and you were talking about Russia. And the reason many of us—myself, George Kennan, many of us—argued against NATO expansion in the ’90s was precisely to avoid the sort of situation we have today. It was totally predictable. If we start expandingNATO, as we get closer to the Russian border, they are going to consider this a hostile act. And at some point, they will draw a line, and they will do anything within their power to keep it from going any further. That’s what we’re seeing today.

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