Jeffrey Sachs certainly has many interesting things to teach us about the history of Western-Russian relations, particularly around the time of Gorbachev’s fateful transition to capitalism in the late 1980s. I once had the privilege of meeting Gorbachev at his foundation in Moscow and while I do believe that he was in many ways a fine leader, and a courageous, warm and sincere human being, and while I have no principled objection to certain forms of capitalism (more Adam Smith, less Bill Gates), it is as obvious to me now as it is to Sachs (a modest but not insignificant party to the events of this period) that something went terribly wrong.
I do think that Gorbachev, had he not been directly challenged by the simplistic pro-western shibboleths of Boris Yeltsin, or by the heady swing to deceptive, PR-driven and western-applauded nationalist ideologies in various parts of the former Soviet Union, might possibly have navigated the Soviet Union along a path somewhat similar to communist China’s “capitalist road.” This has proven incomparably more effective than the fanatical and criminal handover of public wealth to the managerial class that to this day has besmirched and problematized the revolution of 1990-1991 that birthed the modern Russian Federation.
Perhaps even more regrettable than the turn of events that inaugurated the revolution was the absurd speed with which a new class of young Russian economists, naïvely trusting of Western politicians and economists, naively innocent about the dark underbelly of capitalism itself, thought they could transition the managed Soviet economy to “free” (i.e. unregulated, immoral, extremely inegalitarian) market capitalism, at the expense, as it turns out, of the desperate impoverishment and depopulation that was characteristic of Yeltin’s Russia in the 1990s.
Well, now Jeffrey Sachs gets to lecture the UN Security Council about how it could, at a stroke, bring an end to some of the most pernicious conflicts of our time, including Ukraine, Gaza, Syria and the Sahel. How would the UNSC do this? Simple, says Jeffrey, who needed all of 15-20 minutes to unpack the program. They just need to follow their own rules and enforce their own judgments, something that would involve, on the way, an end to the criminal meddling by the USA in the affairs of sovereign nations around the world for the purposes of “regime change.”
Sachs cited a scholarly counting of 64 countries since World War Two that have been inflicted by this hellish curse of the Unipolar Hegemon, although I suspect the real number is much, much bigger when covert operations and other, parallel forms of subversion are included — not just in the Global South/Global Majority but in the Western world as well. I like to regale my own students with accounts of successful CIA regime-change operations in the UK, Australia, France, Greece, and Italy, though I fear I may be short-changing them. And then, of course, in this moment of the 60th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, we must not forget occurrences within the USA itself. And if we decided to open our investigation to pre-WW2 meddling … .
This theme of regime-change and color revolution is hardly original: any half-awake scholar or practitioner of international relations is, or should be, fully cognizant of this tragic and evil history of our modern epoch. Should be cognizant, but, of course, many are not — as seems to be the case with those academics, Russian Studies academics prominent amongst them, who allowed themselves to be fully taken in by the the Democratic Party’s Russiagate hoax (see Russiagate Revisited) — one of the most egregious, if simplistic, pieces of political propaganda in the history of the western world (still unacknowledged by those vaunted guardians of the public interest, Western mainstream media).
But somehow the meme of regime-change is not so unoriginal that Sachs is not invited to share these very unoriginal, not to say, embarrassingly obvious, truths with the UNSC, whose members are hardly in need of the lesson and who will do absolutely nothing in response to it. Such is the steep hierarchy of US institutions of learning that fundamental, well-known truths are allowed the glare of daylight only when uttered by persons, (generally just one or two faintly dissident individuals) who are members of, or have safely been ushered along the cloisters at the apex of this pyramid of intellectual excellence (Ahem).
As it is more and more obvious that the conflict between NATO and Russia over Ukraine (Ukraine-as-pretext) has moved towards its end-game, for now, and in Russia’s favor, Western political and media chatter is preoccupied by at least three contradictory issues: how to keep the conflict going, how to stop the conflict, and how best to pretend that the conflict really isn’t very important when compared with another, much more important, conflict (China, of course, but I won’t dwell on this here). Those who want to keep the conflict going turn out to be not a million miles away from those who worry about how to stop the conflict. We can keep the conflict going, they say, by admitting setbacks, ramping up more Western aid for Ukraine, perhaps allowing a temporary freeze (the “frozen conflict” scenario), mobilizing more Ukrainians to fight — turning up every rock to find them (maybe disabled, maybe seriously ill, maybe very old, maybe very young, men or women both), and persuading NATO powers to put their own “boots on the ground.”
There are extremely obvious problems with this approach, which is now favored, I would venture, more by neocon Europeans than neocon Americans. These are as follows: most European citizens are not stupid enough to believe that boots on the ground are viable or desirable or even possible (their armies are relatively tiny; Turkey’s might provide more weight, but Turkey is not going to be putting any boots on the ground in Ukraine); European citizens are growing angrier with the Ukraine hoax by the day as they witness the impoverishment of Europe, the hypocrisy of Washington, and the extremely poor returns (for everyone other than the arms industry and other components of the military industrial complex, dominated by US corporations) on Europe’s investment, so far, in the Ukraine hoax; the draining of European and US armories; the de-industrialization of Europe in favor of the US economy; the diversion of European energy from cheap Russia sources to expensive US sources; the growing enslavement of Europe by the USA.
But most Europeans have been subjected to, their brains softened by, a century of intensive and all-pervasive anti-Russian propaganda (must recently resuscitated by the Russiagate hoax) whose main function was to distract their attention from the routine abuses of the working classes by the political and industrial plutocracies of Europe and the lies of their European media barons, diverting it instead to both real failings and imagined horrors of the vast, exotic, oriental and eternal mystery of Russia. They have been conditioned to imagine that Russia has been and always will be a problem for Europe, overlooking the more obvious reality that it is Europe that has always been a real problem for Russia (think Napoleon and Hitler for starters).
Europe’s leaders, just as conditioned to think everything bad about Russia and everything exalted, pure and marvelous about themselves, have over-invested horribly in their own stereotypical and self-interested belief system and are on the brink of being exposed for the dimwits that, indeed, they really are. Saving them, for now, from the threat of social revolution, are the equally brainwashed under-classes of Europe.
They refuse to acknowledge that Russia has authentic national security interests, and that the easiest possible way of satisfying these concerns would be to preserve Ukrainian (and Georgian, Moldavan, etc.) neutrality vis-a-vis both NATO and the EU membership. Instead, convincing themselves that Russia is really a threat (when it actually wasn’t, being, if anything, a star-struck admirer of Europe), they have brought their continent, recklessly, foolishly, to the very gates of nuclear annihilation.
Because European leaders, aping their Washington masters, have taken pains to show Russia that no Western agreement can be trusted (think Minsk, think the peace agreement nearly reached in Istanbul in March 2022 until Boris Johhnson kicked over the chess board), that Russia is not taken seriously, nor ever will be, by the West, they have required — they have forced — Russia to become the threat that Europeans fear so much. This does, indeed, radically change the contours of the current crisis. A Europe without the US Big Brother? Might Moscow reach Lisbon, after all?
Some Europeans, therefore, fear that Washington will decide to sidestep the eventuality of something far more drastic than subjecting Ukraine to defeat on Russian terms, by entering into negotiations directly with Russia, throwing Zelenskiy, certainly, and Ukraine itself, perhaps, under the bus. This would be par for the course for Washington as we saw in Vietnam and in Afghanistan. Would, could, the USA simply abandon Europe to deal with Russia?
Yes, that is certainly (but implausibly) imaginable because the USA might rightly wonder about Russian nuclear superiority, and Russia’s de facto alliance with China and other major powers, in the context of the clear diminution in the symbolic power of the US’s own military forces, and of the weakening influence that the US can now exert in diplomatic crises such as that of Israel v. Hamas.
On this front, for the sake of example, resolution seems to owe much more to Qatar and Egypt than to the USA. The USA, having overreacted with a disproportionate show of force that foolishly invited war with Iran, while giving a green light for genocide to Netanyahu, has only very belatedly — and only after Israel’s outright and eternally shameful murder of 14,000 innocent citizens — signalled (in Biden’s recent comments to Al Sisi of Egypt) to Israel that it will not tolerate the forced exodus of Palestinians, the changing of the boundaries of Gaza, nor the beseiging of Gaza.
What difference will these signals make? The rightly skeptical are not holding their breath.
Those who would want the war with Ukraine to continue, therefore, are mainly European, and they think they need the war to continue because they think that this may dissuade the USA from reaching a separate deal with Russia. I think it is highly unlikely that there can be any Russian deal with Washington about anything because Washington has shown itself to be a resolutely hostile force whose agreements with other powers are rarely more than temporary and are backed by little or no real commitment. This is only ever likely to be changed if the USA itself is backed into a corner that forces it to choose between its own destruction, or something akin to that, or participation as equal in a multipolar world. As for Ukraine, I don’t think Russia is remotely interested in talking to anyone in Kiev except under conditions of total surrender of Kiev to Moscow.
It is hard, however, to imagine that the USA, having re-established its economic prowess over Europe by blowing up the pipeline that provided Europe with cheap oil and gas, and by reducing Europe as an economic competitor, would likely step back and allow Russia to extend its influence, direct or indirect, over more of Europe than it already has.
It is hard to imagine because it is still hard to imagine a weak USA. Hard it might be to imagine that, but that does not make such a thing unimaginable.
Cake or death? Washington’s neocon cabal has seemed tragically programmed to prefer death. There will never be a mistake that it owns up to. Even as the Ukraine Maidan fairy story crumbles, Washington messes about in Georgia hoping at some point to stage an anti-Russian regime change in Tbilisi. In Armenia, local leader Pashinyan foolishly seems to think he can sustain the allure of collaboration with Brussels and Washington. He threatens an ouster in their interest of Russia’s military base from Gyumri, and offers arms to Ukraine (what arms and who would want them?). Yet he maintains Armenia’s membership of the CSTO, provokes further Azerbaijani threats to seize Armenian territory, and irritates his powerful neighbors Turkey and Iran. Stupid is as stupid does; Zelenskiy comes to mind.
When tectonic plates of great geopolitical magnitude begin to shift, even the imagination is a limited tool in assessing what might be, what might become.
(Featured Image: “Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, February 14, 2023 – 230214-D-TT977-0473” by U.S. Secretary of Defense is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)