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From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: April, 2022
By: Editorial

Ukraine: Neutrality Or Atlanticism

In the wake of Russia’s recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk and its subsequent invasion of Ukraine, the EU has finally capitulated to Atlanticism—subservience to the US in ideological and geopolitical matters. After many years of foot dragging, Germany and other EU Member States are now complying with instructions from across the Atlantic. Economic ties with Russia are being phased out and military spending is being increased to the level America expects of its NATO allies. The idea that Brexit would cause the remaining 27 states of the EU to follow a course independently of the US and Britain, that Europe would become a new pole in a brave new multipolar world, is no longer credible.

In mild defiance of the US, Angela Merkel persisted for years with the construction of Nord Stream 2, a set of gas pipelines bringing Russian gas to Germany, owned by a subsidiary of a Russian state company. Gazprom. At a cost of €6.6 billion the project was completed in 2021 but the new Social Democratic Chancellor, Olaf Schulz, decreed that its certification should be cancelled when Vladimir Putin officially recognised the two separatist entities in Eastern Ukraine on the 21st of February. Following that initiative, Schulz’s Government has set about closing down the Nord Stream 1 gas pipelines. They will be replaced by importing Liquid Natural Gas from Qatar and the US and perhaps by reverting to coal-fired and nuclear forms of energy.

The other watershed change being implemented by the new German Government is that a once-off fund of €100 billion is being created to rebuild the German army, and annual public expenditure on the military is to be increased beyond the 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product required by NATO. The anti-militarist orientation of German politics dating from 1945 has been abandoned.

European Commission in Disarray

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has exceeded her authority on several occasions. In this instance, she issued a number of statements regarding Ukraine. On the first day of the invasion, she said that European Sanctions will have the aim of gradually destroying the industrial base of the Russian economy. A few days later, supporting a request from Ukraine that it should be fast-tracked into membership of the EU, she said: “Ukraine is one of us and we want them in the EU” (Guardian, 2 March).

By supporting the Ukrainian request for a quick entry into membership, she made a commitment she cannot deliver. French President Macron wants all proposals for further enlargement stalled until a change in the EU Treaties is adopted that would remove the unanimity rule regarding EU foreign policy. Ukraine’s request is also problematic as the country now has disputed borders and, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, it is the second most corrupt state in Europe. In 2008 Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were among a group of Member States that blocked any reference to Ukraine from a joint communique.

There are also indications that the Commission is prepared to back-peddle on its sanctimonious interference in the sovereignty of Poland and Hungary over how judges are appointed.

"According to two sources, the commission is ready to release Poland’s billions [€36 billion] if the government moves forward with plans to scrap the disciplinary tribunal of the supreme court, a central aspect of the long-running dispute between Warsaw and Brussels over the rule of law. “There is a strong willingness from the commission to unblock it”, said an official, who added that money could be released within a “matter of weeks”. To release the funds, the commission would not require Poland to reinstate judges ousted from their posts as a result of policies pursued by Warsaw to increase political control over the court system" (Guardian, 17 March).

This represents a significant climb down by the Commission and begs the question why some such political approach was not taken in the first place. Given Poland’s strategic importance in US plans for NATO in Europe, the Poles would be well advised to hold out for more concessions from Von der Leyen.

With Germany’s change of course, and the European Commission in disarray, it is not surprising that British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is threatening to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol before the May Elections in Northern Ireland, unless the EU makes further concessions regarding the Protocol. During the Brexit negotiations liberal media outlets in both Ireland and Britain vied with each other in decrying the incoherence of the UK position. A complete lack of realism on the British side was contrasted with a measured and realistic approach on the part of the EU negotiators. At that time, and in opposition to that narrative, Irish Political Review construed the Brussels institutions, despite the obvious competence of Michel Barnier, as ‘toy town’.

We argued that the technocrats populating the corridors of power in Brussels had no solid knowledge of Europe’s political history, not even the history of their own countries and, consequently, they had very little understanding of contemporary geopolitics. That reading of the limitations of the EU elite has, unfortunately, proved accurate. The response of Brussels to the Russian invasion has been to toe the US line and defer to America’s most loyal ally in Europe, the UK. The tables have thus been turned in the UK versus EU confrontation. Liz Truss is simply taking advantage of that turn-about.

Atlanticism now rules in Brussels so any suggestion that Russian anxieties over its security may be well-founded, or that the US has been stirring up trouble in Ukraine since at least the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004, now lie outside the bounds of permissible EU discourse.

Ukraine Since 2004

An article published in Multipolarista, a US magazine devoted to “documenting the transition to a multipolar world” contains an informative account of recent history in Ukraine. Written by Yuliy Dubovyk, a citizen of Ukraine now living in the US, it has the title, “Russia: US is using Ukraine as ‘cannon fodder’” (14 March 2022). Much of what Dubovyk has to say is already well known but, by signing his name to the piece and adding his photograph, and through the detail he provides, his account adds credibility to a narrative that is critical of the general Western position.

A source of evidence he cites is an article from the Guardian in 2004 headed, “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev” (26 November 2004). This describes US efforts to fund ‘Colour Revolutions’ in Serbia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine and can be easily retrieved from the Internet. The remaining paragraphs of this section are a summary of Dubovyk’s article with some quoted extracts.

The US Government has been meddling in Ukraine for decades and has backed two coups in that time. The first began in November 2004, following a Presidential Election in which the US-backed candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, lost out to Viktor Yanokovych. Western Governments refused to recognise the result and declared electoral fraud. The ‘Orange Revolution’ then moved into gear and a second run-off vote was held in December. The result was that Yushchenko was declared President. Like previous holders of that office, Yushchenko pandered to the interests of oligarchs. He also pursued a Western agenda. He

“implemented a programme of austerity, reduced social spending, bailed out large banks, deregulated agriculture, advocated for NATO membership, and repressed the rights of language minorities like Russian speakers.”

In the Presidential Election of 2010 Yushchenko received just 5 per cent of the vote. The winner on that occasion was Yanokovych, who was labelled pro-Russian by Western media but who was simply neutral. In 2013 Yanokovych refused to sign a European Union Association Agreement that would have been a step towards integrating with the EU. In that instance, Brussels demanded that Kiev impose neo-liberal structural adjustment [usually meaning unemployment], sell off Government assets, and give the International Monetary Fund greater control over public spending. Yanokovych rejected this for a more favourable offer from Russia.

Enraged by the rejection of the Association Agreement, Western-backed organisations brought out their supporters to overthrow the Government. Control of the protests was taken over by far-Right forces like Svoboda (a neo-Nazi party) and Right Sector (a coalition of fascist organisations). US politicians like Senator John McCain attended the protests and spoke from platforms alongside far-Right leaders.

A leaked recording of a conversation between Victoria Nuland of the US State Department and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, provided solid evidence of US involvement in the coup. In the conversation the two officials agreed that Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a neo-liberal, should head the new Government. Anti-coup protests across Ukraine were violently broken up by the far-Right, but two areas in the East, Donetsk and Luhansk rose up and declared independence.

“Seeing the hesitation of the Ukrainian military, far-right groups (and the oligarchs that were backing then) formed so called ‘territorial defence battalions’, with names like Azov, Aidar, Tornedo, etc.”

. . .

“In May 2014 neo-Nazis and other far-right forces assaulted an anti-coup demonstration in the major city of Odessa. 48 people were burned alive in a labour union building.”

It should be noted that the far-Right, despite having much influence in the security forces and in the governmental apparatus, has failed to win electoral support. In an Election after the 2014 coup, Petro Poroshenko, projecting a moderate image, won the Presidency but was unable to sustain a moderate stance.

"The new President had the impossible task of trying to appear sufficiently patriotic for the far-right while at the same time sufficiently “respectable” for the West to continue backing him publicly."

How difficult it was to keep up the ‘respectable’ appearance can be seen in the way a holiday celebration was moved to October 14th, the day the Nazi-backed Ukrainian Insurgent Army was formed. Some Ukrainian soldiers wear red and black badges to show support for the Fascist tradition. Stephen Bandera and Roman Shukeych, both of whom organised massacres of Poles, Jews, Russians, and other minorities during World War Two, are heroes of the Ukrainian far-Right. However, it should be remembered that, in the 1940s, the majority of the Ukrainian population supported the Red Army and actively resisted Nazi occupation.

The brunt of the civil war with Luhansk and Donetsk was waged during Poroshenko’s tenure. The Ukrainian army and its far-Right paramilitary allies were responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties. Between 2014 and 2019 over 13,000 people were killed with 28,000 injured. In the last Presidential Election in 2019, Poroshenko received 24 per cent of the vote as against Volodymyr Zelensky who achieved 73 per cent. Zelensky ran on a platform of peace, even going so far as to address the Russian-speaking Eastern parts in Russian. Much like the initially-moderate Poroshenko, however, Zelensky did a 180-degree about-turn from his peaceful rhetoric on attaining Office. He was told that he risked losing Western backing otherwise.

All of this goes to show that Ukraine is essentially a US puppet regime.

“When Washington tells Zelensky he must continue the civil war in Ukraine against his own electoral promises, support NATO membership, ignore the Minsk II agreement of 2015, or even ask for nuclear weapons, he does everything he is told.”

The Irish Response

Former President Mary McAleese, backed up by former President Mary Robinson on an edition of the Late Late Show in early March, aspired to speak for the nation when she said that Ireland, while remaining militarily neutral, is not neutral politically or morally. Leaving aside the motivation of RTE in ignoring the sitting holder of the Office of President, while giving prominence to long-retired former Presidents on an issue of national importance, the concept of a neutrality policy that is one thing in the military realm and something else in politics is a patent nonsense.

The Government’s approach as represented by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is that the issue of neutrality needs to be debated but that the debate should not be held now. They want the matter to receive due deliberation only when a future Citizens’ Assembly devoted to the issue has concluded its work. From that you might expect the Government to hold to the existing policy pending a full debate at an indeterminate time in the future.

Actually, they have chosen to view the Russian invasion in isolation from the chain of events that led up to it, as was obvious in the way that Coveney denounced Russia’s recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk in the days before the invasion as a violation of international law, a charge that even Israel avoided making. They have acted as cheer-leaders for the US position at the UN, used their influence at the EU to support the application of extreme Sanctions against Russia (and indirectly against Germany and all European States which depend on Russian gas supplies), and expressed wholehearted solidarity with a Ukrainian regime that is far from blameless in the matter of military targeting of civilians.

Perspectives on Neutrality

To appreciate the viability of neutrality as a response to the Ukraine conflict, it is only necessary to examine the positions adopted since the invasion by states like China, India, Pakistan, Iran and South Africa. A statement by Russia’s Chief of Mission in New Delhi, Roman Babushkin, describing Western Sanctions against Russia as a means of strengthening US hegemony, may partly explain the attraction of neutrality for such States. He said:

“Russia and India don’t recognise such unilateral sanctions that are illegal and confront the UN Charter and international law. These are a major tool of the West to pressure other countries and to establish a unipolar world order” (Hindustan Times, 26 February 2022).

A concern of the Chinese is that NATO expansion in Europe sets a worrying precedent for the expansion of the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy in Asia. Such expansion may lead to a US proxy war against China in the way that the war in Ukraine is essentially a war between Russia and the US. China has been careful not to endorse Russia’s recognition of the two separatist republics in Eastern Ukraine and has repeatedly called for a political resolution of the conflict while maintaining relations with Russia.

Outlining the position of the South African Government, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated:

“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region” (Aljazeera, 18 March 2022).

Referring to the invasion he went on to say that South Africa cannot condone the use of force or the violation of international law. Ramaphosa has thus shown, like the other above-mentioned states, that a neutral stance is compatible with a refusal to condone the invasion.

The Irish Debate

Ireland is a neutral country whose neutrality rests on the ideal of preserving international peace through international organisations that curtail Great Power machinations likely to result in war. In a nutshell that was the policy pursued by de Valera in the 1930s and 1940s. In line with that precedent, Ireland should remain militarily and politically neutral regarding the Ukraine war. Being neutral should also mean refraining from involvement in the imposition of economic sanctions against Russia.

John Bolton, a US politician described on Wikipedia as an American nationalist, conservative and neo-conservative as well as a foreign policy hawk who advocates US military action against, and regime change in, Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen and North Korea, was interviewed on RTE radio on March 3rd. Asked for his view of Irish neutrality, he said in a sympathetic tone that he understood that we had an issue with Great Britain historically but that now, “Ireland should turn the page and join NATO”.

In truth Ireland has little need of advice from a US neo-con about joining the Western alliance, a voluble group of Irish opinion-formers have been straining at the bit on that issue for decades. The Russian invasion is their big moment. Sifting back through articles in the Opinion section of the Irish Times since February 24th, we see Michael McDowell and Alan Shatter pressing aggressively for a no-fly zone over Ukraine as though we were already in NATO, while Stephen Collins, Patrick Smyth, Pat Leahy and Noelle O’Connell each argue that neutrality is out-dated. The most explicit case for NATO was made by Séamus Murphy, an Irish Jesuit who lectures in philosophy in Chicago. He says:

“After 1991 and the USSR’s collapse, small eastern European countries fled to Nato desperate for shelter before the bear reawoke. Yet Ireland, deaf or indifferent to their experience, has the gall to think itself morally above Nato” (IT, 7 March 2022).

Not one of the above commentators makes any reference to US interference in Ukraine’s affairs, the problem of the neo-Nazi battalions, or the threat to Russian security. The last time that Séamus Murphy had an opinion piece in the Irish Times he maintained that the 1916 Rising should not be celebrated. He said:

To celebrate the Rising is to celebrate their [the rebel leaders] anti-democratic elitism and bloodlust. One cannot have the Rising without having its meaning, and that meaning empowers Provo-land" (IT, 12 January 2016).

Here we have the nub of the problem with the Irish neutrality debate: those on the anti-neutrality side are the same people who have been anti-Republican in the Decade of Centenaries debates. Séamus Murphy is as deaf to the Russian case regarding Ukraine as he was to the reality that the War in the North arose from factors internal to Northern Ireland and was unrelated to commemorations of Independence. Those who advocate against neutrality tend to be hostile to any recognition of the Republican origins of the State. Their arguments rest on ahistorical feet of clay, not a good starting point when engaging with a demos born out of the Rising, the 1918 Election and de Valera’s statecraft.

Alan Barrett, Director of the Economic and Social Research Institute, made an interesting comment about neutrality on the Brendan O’Connor radio show on RTE (13 March). Speaking not as an expert but as a citizen, he said he thought many Irish people were uncomfortable about American foreign policy as it was applied in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and as it is operated in South America. At the same time, he believed, they mostly felt guilty about not participating in the war against Nazism. That point is relevant in assessing the views of the only two contributors to the Irish Times Opinion pages who showed the slightest understanding of the origin and meaning of Ireland’s policy on neutrality: Noel Dorr, the eminent former diplomat and Diarmaid Ferriter, a columnist and history professor.

Dorr and Ferriter, in separate articles, were respectful of the traditional policy and of de Valera but neither attempted to describe what is happening in Ukraine from a neutrality perspective. They both laboured from the disadvantage that scholarly work has not been done on Irish foreign policy during World War Two. The problem is not that there have been no studies of the subject, but that a history of the War from a de Valeraite perspective was never attempted.

That is why the British and American view prevails and why the Irish position is not appreciated by the wider public as referred to by Alan Barrett. Fortunately, a solid foundation for an Irish history of the War has been provided by writers associated with Irish Political Review—see the contributions of Brendan Clifford, Jack Lane and Dr. Pat Walsh to Elizabeth Bowen – ‘Notes on Eire’, Aubane Historical Society, 1999.

US Debate

In contrast to the Irish debate, Ukraine’s tragedy is being forthrightly discussed in the US. There are at least three prominent US contributors whose arguments take account of the full story and whose views are readily available on the Internet. The first is Michael Hudson, a radical economist who considers that the Sanctions against Russia will force Russia and China to trade in an alternative currency to the US dollar, thus undermining the “dollarized imperial economy”. His most relevant recent article is titled, “The American Empire self-destructs”.

Another, John Mearsheimer, is a Professor of Political Science and an International Relations scholar at the University of Chicago. A YouTube video recording of a lecture he gave in 2015 headed, “Why Ukraine is the West’s Fault” is insightful on the deep causes of the Ukraine crisis. He identifies the West’s policy of peeling Ukraine away from Russia’s orbit and making it a Western bulwark on Russia’s border as a primary cause.

The third contributor is George Friedman, a Hungarian-born US geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs. Author of nine books, Friedman’s academic credentials—he has a doctorate from Cornell—are in political science. He is strongly pro-the US Empire. A lecture he gave to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on 15th March 2015 has attracted a lot of attention on the Internet because in it he expounds the view that the complex relationship between Germany and Russia has long been a concern for the US.

In that talk he is refreshingly honest in describing how the US Empire is like a teenager that sometimes behaves stupidly as when it tries to establish Democracy in places like Afghanistan. It needs to admit that it is an Empire, he argues, and learn from older Powers like the British Empire in the way it ran India. He also states that a Ukraine that is aligned with the West rather than being neutral poses an ‘existential threat’ for the Russians. Joining up the dots from his statements, it can be argued that a war between Russia and Ukraine would be to the advantage of the US because it would end the relationship between Germany and Russia.

The US wants Irish neutrality to be ditched. But, from the above contributors and a wealth of other evidence—like the article by Yuliy Dubovyk—it is clear that the US has had ulterior motives for its various involvements in the internal affairs of Ukraine. The war there has already had the effect of consolidating Atlanticism by binding Europe more closely to NATO and sundering relations between Germany and Russia: good outcomes for the US. The Ukrainian Government has not been following the best interests of its people by allowing itself to be used as a pawn by Washington.

From an Irish perspective, on conservative grounds in a time of rapid political and geopolitical change, considering the way that US hegemony is being secured, neutrality should continue to be defended.