Ukraine War: Defensive Response to NATO Expansion or Putin’s Offensive Neo-Imperialist Eurasian Agenda for a Multipolar World Order?
The green taz today published a programmatic article about the left and its relationship to Russia, which rightly questions the thesis of the left that Putin’s Ukraine war is only a defensive reaction to NATO expansion.
“The Left and the Ukraine War: The NATO-was guilty
Some leftists are still stuck in old ways of thinking. Instead of keeping their distance from Putin, they keep blaming the US and NATO.” Rethinking is tedious, exhausting, sometimes painful, because you have to say goodbye to a piece of your own past. If certainties that have given you a hold in your thinking for years or decades crumble within days, this is not without influence on your own self-image. Why has one only seen the world as one wanted to see it – not as it is? Maybe you wanted to be deceived? And does one therefore bear a share of the responsibility? Those who continue to declare war in Ukraine with NATO’s eastward expansion are refusing to learn After Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, these questions are on the minds of many people across different political camps. If you look at the German debate, however, you have to realize that the deep turning point that February 24, 2022 represents has not yet really reached a not so small part of the left. What is meant is that part of the left that has been so certain over the years that Russia’s aggressive behavior can only be explained as a reaction to the expansion of NATO. And it’s not just about Sahra Wagenknecht. The resistance to rethinking can currently be observed in many texts and statements, all of which follow a similar structure. At the beginning they condemned Vladimir Putin as an aggressor, usually with the sentence: „This war of aggression cannot be excused by anything.“ Then follows a big but – and the same text modules that have been used for years: NATO’s supposed breach of its promise after the reunification, the encroachment of the alliance into “Russian spheres of influence”, US militarism and the humiliation of proud Russia.
The fact that countries like the Ukraine or Georgia are degraded to pure buffer zones, whose own will is considered negligible and to which Germany recommends neutrality – often from above – is studiously ignored. Just like the fact that it is a classic perpetrator-victim reversal when one blames the western orientation of Ukraine after Euromaidan 2014 for the Russian attack. Those who continue to explain the war in Ukraine with the eastward expansion of NATO are either refusing to learn or have not really listened to Putin. If the dictator in the Kremlin were actually concerned with NATO, he wouldn’t need the crude historical phantasmagoria he repeatedly uses in his justifications for the invasion: Ukraine is actually not a real nation, the Bolsheviks robbed Russia when they conquered large areas hit Ukraine, Lenin made a fatal mistake 100 years ago and so on. For his neo-imperial visions, Putin calls NATO as an opponent – but he doesn’t need it as a reason for wanting to incorporate the neighboring country into his empire.
Who can really still believe that they would have been satisfied with a neutral Ukraine? Behind the narrative of NATO’s eastward expansion as a geopolitical original sin, there is often a left-wing anti-Americanism that finds it more important to cling to one’s own beliefs than to adequately describe reality. The short version of the story is yes: The Ami is to blame. The consequences of this could also be observed in dealings with Syria. On the left, the role of the United States in the origins of the war was discussed at length. And about the question of how devastating Barack Obama’s decision was to first draw a red line when using poison gas, but then not to punish anyone who crossed it. But when Russia sent its bombers to attack Assad in 2015, the German debate was largely silent. Back to Ukraine. With the insistence on the NATO eastward expansion as a trigger, a section of the left still lets the Kremlin dictate the talking points and constantly looks back. But it’s not just about an argument about who was right in hindsight. A left that clings to traditional patterns of thought cannot contribute anything useful to the debate about the foreign policy consequences of the current crisis.
Because the declaration with the NATO eastward enlargement obscures the view of today’s Russia. The narrative is also so convenient because the West then only has to deal with itself. That’s another reason why no one has looked more closely in recent years at how the Kremlin countered the country’s faltering economic modernization with extreme militarization. How civil society and independent journalism have been suffocated since the nationalist frenzy of the annexation of Crimea, how Putin has turned state television into a hate machine and borrowed the cues from the far-right thinker Alexander Dugin for his neo-imperialism. On the other hand, sticking to the NATO-is-blame narrative also hinders an honest debate on the left about February 24 – and what follows from it. Every day in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin demonstrates how he is dealing with a country that is militarily weaker. A leftist who then only thinks: „But NATO…“ or „Create peace without weapons“ excludes itself from the discourse. A hell of a lot of people in this country are very happy right now that NATO exists. Other countries will now push into the defense alliance. And German rearmament will come. These are facts that will have to be dealt with in the coming years. Left-wing politics will only be able to have a constructive influence – also in the sense that the military does not get the upper hand – if it says goodbye to traditional thought patterns and faces this new world soberly. https://taz.de/Linke-und-der-Ukrainekrieg/!5834130/
There’s some truth to that. But I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration to claim that NATO’s eastward expansion has nothing to do with the behavior of the Russians. And whitewashing the USA and the Iraq war or the NATO war in Yugoslavia and Libya shows that there are also dogmatic and ideological transatlanticists among the Greens. The reorientation of Russian foreign policy actually began under Yeltsin after the Kosovo war. But Yeltsin was still considered the good guy and people ignored when he threatened to use nuclear weapons or saw this as being due to excessive vodka consumption and his trip to China also went largely unnoticed. And Yeltsin already started a war in Chechnya, not only Putin. Nevertheless, it is correct that Putin is pursuing a neo-imperial agenda with ethnic Eurasianism from the house of Dugin and other Eurasianist schools, so it is no longer a question of a defensive reaction. This is also made clear by the Russian draft treaty at the latest, which calls for a rollback of NATO before 1997 as the first interim step in order to force the USA out of Europe. .
Very fundamental questions arise that go beyond the tactical little things and mutual provocations. First: What are the strategic goals of the USA and Russia in Europe and worldwide and the respective Europeans in the EU and NATO. Multipolar world versus pax americana and broken down New International Security Architecture and then European Peace Architecture. Secondly, to what extent is Putin still addicted to Realpolitik or the ideology of Eurasianism ala Dugin. In addition, a short history of Eurasianism and its four essential currents. Especially since that started with Primakov’s Eurasianist RIC vision(Russia- India-China) and Yeltsin after the Kosovo war and not just under Putin, although not everything is congruent. In terms of realpolitik, Putin’s behavior can no longer be explained with Kissinger’s defensive realism, but only with John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism. Mearsheimer sees the NATO expansion as an „existential threat“ for Russia and culminates in the pointed rhetorical question of how great powers, including the USA, would react: :If you poke a 800-kilo gorilla with your finger in his eye, how do you think he will react?“.
First, it should be clarified to what extent offensive realism only sees its world view from an assumed behavior of great power nation states independent of their political and economic system and largely ignores systemic contradictions between them, i.e. Yalta with spheres of interest versus value-based international order, which gives the USA a worldwide sphere of interest, secondly, whether the existential threat is primarily meant in terms of security policy and military matters, as the apologists describe Putin’s behavior as a purely defensive reaction to feared long-term NATO expansions, or whether it is more of Putin’s own neo-imperialist agenda, which strives for a new multipolar world order , also feeds ideologically on the claim to power from ethnic Eurasianism at the Dugin house and other Eurasian schools such as Primakov’s RIC and anti-liberal hostility to the West, especially Putin officially published the Russian draft treaty and wanted a rollback of NATO before the 1997 borders. Officially, it is no longer about preventing further NATO expansions, which is not at all a question in the medium term, but about a NATO rollback before 1997 as a first intermediate step to push the USA out of Europe..
Also a stratgeic question isis whether diplomacy and a negotiated solution should be preferred in Ukraine and the prevention of mass murder and destruction of the country for the price of a neutral Ukraine without Donbass and Crimea and without NATO membership, perhaps EU perspective of the remaining rump Ukraine should be preferred, thus rewarding Putin and givehim a face-saving exit or prefer a guerrilla warfare as Syria or Chechnya with mass murder in order to involve Putin in a second Afghanistan and hope for a regime change, which is also not certain. And would a negotiated solution mean that Putin stays in office and then recovers and so encouraged next strikes in the Baltics, Scandinavia or the Balkans? And anyone who thinks the Baltic scenario is unlikely because they are NATO members should read Michael O Hannon’s book The Senkaku Paradox – Great Power wars on small stakes.
But anyone who shares O Hannon’s assumptions would then have to agree to the existential threat theses also militarily on the part of Mearsheimer and Putin, since it would mean that one does not share the assumption that if the first NATO soldier crosses the Russian border, nuclear war will ensue and NATO and the USA would not risk it, which would make the „existential threat“ a chimera, but could assume that NATO could do it with the reverse assumption that Russia would not react immediately with a nuclear attack. Thus, Moscow’s security policy concerns would then again be logical, since they did not want NATO troops „300 kilometers from Stalingrad“ (Scholl Latour) or in the immediate vicinity of the border with minimal distance to Russia’s central cities. An important detail is also repeatedly forgotten: Regardless of whether the alleged promises of the West not to expand NATO to the east were made under Gorbachev or not, nothing was ever fixed contractually, Yeltsin approved the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997, which provided that the post-Soviet states could freely choose their affiliation to a military alliance and thus also to NATO, but conversely applies that the NATO may not maintain any permanent military bases, troop contingents or weapon systems east of Germany, only limited maneuvers and on a rotating basis and NATO stick to these treaty obligantions till now. Now Macron has proposed to cancel this NATO-Russia Founding Act, which would mean the NATO border with permanent, extensive and permanent NATO troops would be relocated to the new iron curtain from the Baltic States via Poland to Ukraine, including advanced military bases and weapon systems and missiles. But the time has not yet come that NATO, the USA and the European states have imposed this as the ultimate military sanction against Russia in addition to all the economic sanctions. So far, NATO does not want to be so much an “existential threat”.