Will Ukraine ‘go nuclear’? Looking scarier…

CNN reports April 26 of a "perilous face-off" as Russian state news complained that Ukraine has mobilized 15,000 troops in the suburbs of Slavyansk in the country's east "in order to wipe out the city and its residents." A Defense Ministry source said the number of Ukrainian troops put the pro-Russian militants who control the city at a disadvantage, as the latter are "armed only with small amount of pistols and shotguns." Of course, Russia's military massively outweighs Ukraine's and the Defense Ministry's statement is a barely veiled threat of intervention. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that Russian warplanes have entered Ukrainian airspace several times in the last 24 hours, according to the Pentagon. The violation of Ukraine's airspace follows war games that have moblized some 40,000 Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Earlier this week, the Pentagon deployed 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltic states "to reassure NATO allies in the region about the US commitment to their defense." Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk charged that Moscow "wants to start World War III" by seeking to take over Ukraine.

Of course, we argue that the next world war would actually be World War 5, the Cold War having been World War III, and the post-9-11 "war on terrorism" World War 4. But perhaps Yatsenyuk can be forgiven, as Cold War scenarios are playing themselves out again…

The Cold War deja vu is not lost on Loren Thompson in Forbes, who lists "Four Ways The Ukraine Crisis Could Escalate To Use Of Nuclear Weapons." These are: "Bad intelligence," "Defective signaling," "Looming defeat," and "Command breakdown." This last category is the most frighteningly plausible:

Strategic nuclear weapons like intercontinental ballistic missiles are tightly controlled by senior military leaders in Russia and America, making their unauthorized or accidental use nearly impossible. That is less the case with nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which at some point in the course of an escalatory process need to be released to the control of local commanders if they are to have military utility. U.S. policy even envisions letting allies deliver tactical warheads against enemy targets. Moscow probably doesn't trust its allies to that degree, but with more tactical nuclear weapons in more locations, there is a greater likelihood that local Russian commanders might have the latitude to initiate nuclear use in the chaos of battle. Russian doctrine endorses nuclear-weapons use in response to conventional aggression threatening the homeland, and obstacles to local initiative often break down once hostilities commence.

Of course, the USA is the only nuclear-armed nation to have never adopted a "no first-use" policy. Russia abandoned its "no first-use" doctrine in 1993—ironically, after the end of the Cold War. Thompson concludes:

When you consider all the processes working to degrade restraint in wartime — poor intelligence, garbled communication, battlefield setbacks, command attenuation, and a host of other influences — it seems reasonable to consider that a military confrontation between NATO and Russia might in some manner escalate out of control, even to the point of using nuclear weapons. And because Ukraine is so close to the Russian heartland (about 250 miles from Moscow) there’s no telling what might happen once the nuclear “firebreak” is crossed. All this terminology — firebreaks, ladders of escalation, extended deterrence — was devised during the Cold War to deal with potential warfighting scenarios in Europe. So if there is a renewed possibility of tensions leading to war over Ukraine (or some other former Soviet possession), perhaps the time has come to revive such thinking.

In which case, we (meaning progressives and anti-war activists in the West) may have to revive a Neither East Nor West position—and build solidarity both with anti-war activists in Russia, and anarchists and others in Ukraine who oppose both Russian imperial designs and Ukraine's own reactionary nationalists…

We've already noted the threat of nuclear escalation in the Ukraine crisis. 

  1. The Nation betrays Ukraine

    Stephen F. Cohen has a piece in The Nation co-authored with the mag's longtime editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, warning of a new "Cold War Against Russia—Without Debate." This is yet another parroting of Putin propaganda of the type that Cohen has been spreading all over the "left" (sic) and even mainstream media in the US since the Ukraine crisis erupted. Cohen and vanden Heuvel use a sucker-punch approach here, starting off sounding reasonable to draw in the naive. They rightly warn of the potential for escalation to "World War III,"  and offer a few nods to a neither/nor position that rejects the imperialism of both sides (e.g. noting the "inflammatory American, Russian and Ukrainian media misinformation"). However, these are quickly revealed as mere lip service through such rhetorical devices as referring to "Putin's 'aggression'" (yes, in quotes). And despite the perfunctory acknowledgement of Russian inflammation, we are exhorted to consider "Moscow's side of the story"—in utterly "misinformed" terms. E.g.:

    "That twenty years of NATO's eastward expansion has caused Russia to feel cornered." Undoubtedly, but the eastward expansion was only facilitated through the eager partnership of eastern and central Europe's post-Communist governments, which had plenty of reason to "feel cornered" themselves, after generations of living in the shadow of Russian aggression (no quotation marks, thank you). This refusal to acknowledge the eastern Europeans as actors in their own drama only gets worse from here…

    "That the Ukraine crisis was instigated by the West's attempt, last November, to smuggle the former Soviet republic into NATO." Is that what happened? The Maidan protests were a mere creation of "the West"? All those demonstrators were paid agents of the CIA or State Department? Ukrainians were perfectly happy under corrupt oligarch Yanukovich before "the West" went in and stirred things up? And is Ukraine, even now, a NATO member? Seems to me Ukraine only approved a provisional stationing of NATO forces within its territory in April—after Russia had illegally annexed the Crimea. So what could Cohen and vanden Heuvel  mean by "November" other than the start of the Maidan protests? Utterly paranoid (or outright dishonest), and utterly contemptuous of the Ukrainian people.


    "That the West's jettisoning in February of its own agreement with then-President Viktor Yanukovych brought to power in Kiev an unelected regime so anti-Russian and so uncritically embraced by Washington that the Kremlin felt an urgent need to annex predominantly Russian Crimea, the home of its most cherished naval base." Interesting. The same co-authors who are blind to the fears that drew Poland and the Baltic republics into NATO's arms make excuses for Russia's revanchist aggression on the basis of an unfriendly regime coming to power in its smaller and weaker neighbor. And again, Yanukovich re-igniting the protest movement through his attempted power-grab isn't even acknoweldged. The Ukrainians apparently play no role in Ukraine—only "the West."

    "And, most recently, that Kiev’s sending of military units to suppress protests in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine is itself a violation of the April 17 agreement to de-escalate the crisis." So now armed separatists almost certainly backed by Russian covert military forces become "protesters." Cute. And of course no mention is made of Russia's repeated violations of Ukrainian airspace—or the thus far unverifiable but almost certainly real Russian ground forces posing as homegrown militias in eastern Ukraine.

    As we urged above, the appropriate stance for anti-war activists in the West is not to echo Moscow propaganda and cover up for Russian aggression, but to support the progressive and dissident forces on both sides in the Moscow-Kiev conflict: the thousands of anti-war protesters who have taken to the streets in Moscow (showing greater skepticism for their own government's war propaganda than The Nation), the Crimean Tatars seeking autonomy under the restored rule of their historical Russian oppressors, and the progressive forces in Ukraine who oppose ethno-nationalist politics (whether Russian or Ukrainian).

    Does anyone else get it?