Ukraine: As history returns to haunt the world…
Hegel viewed human history as a continuous struggle between opposing ideas till all conflicts get synthesised finally into the perfect State.
In the early 1990s, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that with the liberal democracy and the free market economy of the West finally emerging as a one-size-fits-all model for all nations, all conflicts that were the source of history had ended. That became the “moolmantra” of globalisation. Fukuyama ambitiously saw the convergence of the conflicting opposites — Free Market and Liberal State with Communism and Stateless Marxism — as the end of history leading to the perfect society-State envisioned by Hegel, the 18th century German philosopher. How? It calls for a recall of the short socio-political history since Fukuyama wrote his thesis.
Faking “End of history”
Hegel viewed human history as a continuous struggle between opposing ideas till all conflicts get synthesised finally into the perfect State. Karl Marx adopted the Hegelian process to understand the historic struggle of the human race from slavery to feudalism and to capitalism, and concluded that the Hegelian perfect State would be Stateless communism. Fukuyama made one small change to Karl Marx and said that the perfect State would be the Stateless free market, nicknamed globalisation. With the title of his book End of History itself declaring that the history of conflicts had ended, Fukuyama proclaimed that the Hegelian goal of a perfect nation-state was almost at hand. Through the attractive package of globalisation that assured prosperity for all, the West made the Rest believe that with the end of cold war, all conflicts had ended and the naive world believed it. But the short 30-year history since the prophecy on the end of history shows that neither could communism that Marx held out as the only way for the future to obliterate the past history, nor could the free market capitalism that was held out as the highway for the future, forget it. The Ukraine war has exploded the myth that the history of conflicts had ended or could ever end. It proves that the human propensity for conflict is so inherent that no ideology can subside or subsume it. The power of history to return to run over the human race is clearly unstoppable. The promise held out by the West, particularly the US, that the cold war was over was false, intended to fake the end of history. Coming to the real world in recent history, the continuation of the NATO alliance was itself a remnant of the cold war. But, Russia had ignored it. With the eastward expansion of the NATO alliance from the late 1990s, bringing in some 15 countries into it, Putin clearly saw the embers of cold war beneath the US moves. Russia had truthfully moved away from the cold war psyche in the 1990s, but the US did not. This explains what created the Vladimir Putin we see today. Here is a brief recall of how history did it.
“America created Putin”
Russian-born French journalist Vladimir Pozner explained to Yale University in a brilliant lecture way back in 2018 how the US created Vladimir Putin. Pozner said all efforts of Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin for harmonious relations with the US and the West failed. Why? He says an Under Secretary’s note in 1997 had convinced the euphoric US that it should not ever allow anyone again to challenge its supremacy. That started the eastward expansion of NATO. George Kennan, an acclaimed US foreign policy strategist, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine under the pseudonym “X” in 1998 that it signalled the restart of the cold war. Despite fierce opposition from Putin, in 1999, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic joined NATO. Keen to avoid the NATO vs Russia scenario that was bound to reignite cold war, and saying that Russia was part of European culture, Putin even offered to join NATO in 2001. “One has to apply to be our member, NATO doesn’t invite,” responded the arrogant NATO. Putin was even willing to join the EU, Posner said. But the US, keen to be the sole power, was not ready to share power with Russia. In 2004, street protests, popularly known as orange protests, took place in Ukraine. Putin suspected the West was engineering pro-West democracy elements at its door. As if to confirm it, within months, seven central and east European countries — Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania,Slovakia and Slovenia — joined and the expanded NATO. With Estonia and Latvia right on Russia’s border, Putin was convinced that the end of cold war was fake history. Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. It needed no seer to say that NATO expansion was aimed at Russia and was a clear threat to it. In 2014, when pro-democracy protests rocked Ukraine, Crimea, an autonomous region, two-thirds of whose population comprises Russians, joined Russia under a disputed referendum preceded by Russian occupation. The Crimean action led to a greater divide between Russia and the West. Now come to Ukraine.
From the mid-17th century Ukraine was part of the Russian Tsardom. The modern Ukraine culture is dominantly Russian. Nikita Khrushchev, former USSR chief, was born almost in Ukraine. He loved Ukraine so much that he merged Crimea with Ukraine province in 1954. On the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1994, Ukraine declared itself as a neutral state with limited military partnership with Russia on the one hand and with NATO nations on the other. When in 2013 the Ukraine government opted for closer relations with Russia, there were mass protests that led to the overthrow of the Ukraine government. The result was the partition of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Despite its complexities, till 2013, in form at least, Ukraine was neutral between Russia and NATO. But in 2014 the US began manoeuvres to de-neutralise Ukraine, which shares a 2,300 km border with Russia, and to integrate it with NATO. That is the root cause of the ongoing war.
Leading American thinkers opposed the US effort. Opposing Ukraine’s admission into NATO, Henry Kissinger said in 2014, “To Russia, Ukraine can never be a foreign country.” Besides Kennan, Pozner and Kissinger, US experts like John Mearsheimer, leading geopolitical mind, Jack F Matlock Jr, US Ambassador to USSR, former US defence secretaries William Perry Bill and Bob Gates, Stephen Cohen, renowned scholar on Russian studies, Bill Burns, CIA director, and many others had said they were against Ukraine joining NATO. But with Ukraine allowing dual citizenship, 80 per cent of all Ukraine officials now are said to be American citizens. Is any further proof needed that Ukraine is operated by the US? All that Putin wanted so as to avoid war was an assurance from the US and West that Ukraine would remain neutral and not be made a NATO member. But the West underestimated the nationalist Putin it had created and thought he would not dare a war. But it is a public secret that the post-2008 US and the West are considerably weaker than they were before 2008. Putin knew that if he could keep China neutral he could go to war. And that is what he did. Reports say that Russia deferred the Ukraine action to enable China to complete its winter Olympics. Result was that, by sheer misjudgement, the US invited Putin for war and pushed Ukraine into it. From the battlefield, Ukraine is crying for “NATO intervention” and seeking a “No-fly zone”. The West is only shouting slogans, but doing nothing that Ukraine wants. The West has left Ukraine high and dry. Why?
Russia’s mission, US confusion
Pozner said that like Americans, Russians believe they have a mission. But Russia is clear about its mission. For that, it knows first it has to protect itself. But, deeply divided from within, the US is confused about its mission to lead the world. The division within NATO also has added to the confusion of the West. Clear about its mission, right at the start, strategic Russia opened its nuclear options. Insisting that the third World War would be nuclear, it threatened that anyone who assists Ukraine will be at war with Russia. A stunned and speechless West did not know how to respond. Russia was clear that bruised in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan; the US and the West had no appetite to fight a war for another nation. So, the US and the West had to resort to trade, economic, and financial sanctions against Russia and force private entities banks, Google, Amazon and Apple to join in. Poor Ukraine is bearing the brunt of the Russian attack. As John Mearsheimer said way back in 2015, the “West is leading Ukraine down the primrose path and the end result is that Ukraine is going to get wrecked and what we are doing is to encourage that outcome.” His prophecy is proving to the dot. The only mission in which the West has succeeded is in its narrative that the war is a Russian invasion and that it is killing civilians. Watson Institute estimated the civilian casualties in the wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan at almost a million. The civilian casualty in Ukraine till March 15, 2022 according to the UNHCR, is less than 1,000. Yet the Western media shamelessly went racial and lamented that “Ukraine is not Afghanistan or Iraq, it is relatively civilised” — implying the less civilised Afghans and Iraqis could be killed but not the civilised Ukrainians!
The Ukraine war — undoubted return of history — haunts not only Ukraine and Russia but the West and the Rest. The war has already changed all global relations and global rules. It’s likely to force more changes and its effect will continue for an indeterminate time on all global partnerships and relations between all nations. The West-led world as we knew it for the last 30 years will hardly resemble the one evolving in the future. About that — The war that has changed all relations and rules — tomorrow.
Editor, Thuglak, and commentator on economic and political affairs